I am what I am

When I was a new Christian, my focus was on the doing. Because James 2:26 really tripped me up. When I first heard, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” I panicked. Because in the beginning, I had no works to accompany my faith. And quite honestly, a time or two, I doubted my salvation for this very reason. Because my thought process went something like this… Why, oh why, if I am a Christian, do I not feel like everyone else? Why don’t I burn inside with a fire for the cause of Christ? Why don’t I burn because there are souls separated from Him? Why don’t I go out daily to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit orphans and widows, and evangelize on every street corner? Where is the love? Why, oh why, don’t I exhibit the works that should accompany faith? Because James 2:18 states, “I will show you my faith by my works.” Quite clearly, if there were no works evident, then I wasn’t really His, right? These are the thoughts that have plagued me off and¬†on for years. Even as recently as this past year. But today, I am beginning to understand the truth. And the truth is, we don’t know what we should do. At least not by our own power.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28, 29

First comes belief. We simply must believe God, and everything that He says through His word. But after the belief is where so many of us mess up. I’m saying so many because I cannot believe that I am the only one who has lived in this manner. I first believed in 1997. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for something before I even knew His word because I thought I had to. And then I moved away. In 2004, when I found a good church, my faith was deepened… but I got busy. I volunteered for some stuff because I thought I should. In 2008, upon moving back and rejoining this good church, my faith was established and my prayer life took off. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for more than I should have. I do not say this to deter anyone from volunteering… certainly not. But, I do wish to caution those new to the Christian faith. Because we must get to know God before we will know what His work is. If we don’t take the time to know Him, then our works will crumble away and leave behind an embittered, angry soul. I am proof of that.

But here’s the good news. We don’t have to do anything that we don’t feel moved to do. When we are ready, God will move our hearts. We will know when we are supposed to do something, because Jesus will call. Just like with the apostles as they were fishing along the banks of the sea. He said, “Follow Me…” and they heard Him and followed. Just like Moses who was tending sheep. God appeared to him, and Moses heard and was used by God. And just like the apostle Paul, who was formerly known as Saul. Saul persecuted the early Christians and he consented to their deaths. He was actually breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus. And there was Saul, an anti-Christ, but he heard Jesus. Because Jesus selected him. He said, “for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15, 16. Jesus chose Saul, and Saul heard Him when Jesus appeared. Jesus said, “I will show him…”

Later in his life, Paul proclaimed the gospel. It’s what Jesus had appointed him to do. Paul said, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…” I just love what he said. “I am what I am.” And that is the best news for me today. “I am what I am.” I am what He created me to be. I will do what He created me to do. And I will know when He so moves me. As long as I am spending time with Him, and soaking up His word… and as long as I have an intimate relationship with Him, I’ll know. There will no longer be the question, “To be, or not to be,” or “To do, or not to do,” because I’ll just know. I now see that not every work is for me. Because I am a chosen vessel, and I bear His name. And at the right time, He will call me for what He has planned for me to do.

There’s no question about it. If we are His, then there should be works. Just not forced ones. And the good news is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Bear with me… just one more visit to the dictionary… workmanship means, 1) that which has been made 2) a work a) of the works of God as creator. He made us for a purpose… His purpose. We’re His handiwork. And as we are transformed daily, we begin to naturally walk in the works He created just for us. We will fulfill our purpose here on His earth as we walk in Him.

So for now, I will rest in that knowledge. I’ll stop beating myself up when I don’t feel moved like the next person. Because whatever it is that person is doing may not be for me to do. Rather, I will embrace what I am today… a child of God, created by Him and for Him, and created for those works I shall walk in… in Christ Jesus. Because who knows what tomorrow will bring. Who knows who I will be tomorrow. Because every day is a new day with God. And every tomorrow holds promise.

… and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

There were some men…

There were some men… fisherman by trade. Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew were casting their nets when Jesus called out to them. He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately, the brothers left their nets and ¬†followed. There were two more men in a boat with their father. When Jesus called, James and John immediately followed. There was a man named Matthew sitting in a tax office. Jesus said to Him, “Follow Me,” and he arose and did so. One day, Jesus went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. He appointed the twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out…

There were some men and their names were Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter, James and John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thadaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. These were Christ’s apostles… and where He went, they went. These men saw the wonders of Jesus. A sea was stilled, demons were cast out, the sick healed, and sight, speech and life restored. As Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching and preaching, these men went, too. They sat under His teaching, hearing firsthand the Beatitudes and parables that we study so closely today. And when Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes, He sent the men out to serve. And when they returned to Him, He cared for them, and said, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

There were some men, the disciples who were with Jesus, and they witnessed everything. They saw when His own family rejected Him, and when the religious leaders of the day questioned His every word and action. One of the men, Simon called Peter, knew just how special Jesus really was. Because God the Father revealed to him that Jesus was in fact the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was three of the disciples who witnessed the glory of Christ on top of a high mountain… His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light. All twelve of the disciples were told beforehand that Jesus would suffer, and be crucified. But did they understand what He meant when He said He would rise on the third day? They traveled to Jerusalem with Jesus. They witnessed a triumphant entry into the city as there was a great multitude crying out “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” Afterward, they witnessed His righteous anger as He overturned the tables of those who bought and sold inside the temple. See, God’s house is a house of prayer, but the people conducted unfair business trade instead. Not long after, conflict arose. The religious leaders didn’t agree with what Jesus was doing and with what He was saying, and they wanted to stop Him. They became jealous, and so they devised a plot. It was one of His own followers that agreed to betray Jesus for a price.

There were some men, His closest companions, and they celebrated an intimate meal with Him. It was their last supper, but did they know it? Could they fully understand what would happen just hours later? Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He said, “Drink… for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus told them of what was to come. He told these men that they would all stumble because of Him. Peter boldly proclaimed, “I will never be made to stumble… Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples. They came to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus told some to sit, but He took Peter and John and James with Him. He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful… stay here and watch with Me.” Jesus went a little farther and fell on His face asking for God the Father to let this cup pass from Him, but nevertheless, not His will, but as God willed. That’s when He found His followers asleep. He singled out Peter, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” Two times more Jesus went a little further to pray, telling them to “Watch and pray.” But they could not. They slept until the last moment when Jesus’ betrayer was at hand.

There were some men who witnessed the arrest of Jesus. They saw a multitude arrive with clubs and swords, and one of their own kissed Jesus on His cheek to give Him away. Peter pulled out his sword to fight, but Jesus said not to. And so, they laid hands on Jesus, and all the apostles forsook Him. They fled. Although Peter ran away, he did continue to follow Jesus for a while. But at a distance. And when people accused him of being a one of Jesus’ followers, he vehemently denied it… three times. Just as Jesus predicted. When he remembered what Jesus said, he went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus had six trials within a matter of hours. While it was dark, He went from the father-in-law of the high priest, to the high priest, and then as soon as it was day, to the Sanhedrin. He was mocked and beaten before He even made it to Pilate. The Jews accused Jesus falsely, but Pilate found no fault in Him. Pilate sent Him to Herod, but Jesus answered Herod nothing, and was sent back to Pilate. Pilate again said that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death. It was Passover, and Pilate’s custom was to release one prisoner. He left it up to the people… he could release Jesus, or he could release a murderer named Barabbas. And so Barabbas was freed, and as for Jesus, they cried out, “Crucify Him!” And that’s just what happened.

There were some men, followers of Jesus, who fled when He was arrested. But we know that two followed for at least a little while. Peter and another disciple followed Jesus to the first trial. But eventually Peter denied Christ, and then went out and wept. I don’t know when the other disciple left, or if he left at all. I wondered about where all followers were during the crucifixion. Did they rally to Jesus’ side, or did they stay away behind closed doors for fear of being next? I find references to women watching from a distance, and His “acquaintances.” Could these acquaintances be His followers? I wouldn’t think so, because the disciples knew Him. Why after being referred to as disciples and apostles would they later be called merely acquaintances? But who am I to know for certain. We do know that John, one of the first called followers, was there when Jesus died… along with certain women. But what about those certain men?

You may be wondering why I’m going on about this right now. Well, it’s because tonight I was cut to the heart in thinking about these men. At a special service at our church, I was broken over my condemnation of them. I judged them for not being present at the empty tomb, and for being behind closed doors in hiding. And these are the very men that Jesus called to Him that He Himself wanted. I have been judging His people… harshly. Tonight when I thought about these men, the original followers of Christ, I got an idea of what they must have gone through. See… oh, how they loved their Jesus. They left everything behind to follow Him when He said to. They walked with Him, and talked with Him, and ate with Him, and prayed with Him, and sang with Him. Jesus even washed their feet. He was their best friend, and they had to witness His arrest and His death. These men were mourning the loss of a loved one. They were heartbroken. I’m sure they didn’t know what to do with themselves, because although Jesus said He would rise after three days, I don’t think they understood.

Yes, there were some men. And after Jesus’ death, they stumbled and fell away. They hid out for a little while, and were disbelieving when Jesus did rise from the tomb. But you know, Jesus knew it would happen. Before He died, Jesus told Peter, “But when you return to Me, strengthen your brethren.” And oh, how He cared for Peter. When the women found that empty tomb, they were instructed, “But go and tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” And Peter. Don’t you know Peter was reassured when he heard that. Because he messed up royally. Not only did he run, but he denied even knowing Jesus. But Peter was called by Jesus. And the mistakes he made did not render him useless. On the contrary, he was stronger for them. After Jesus arose from the grave, He appeared to Peter and asked three times, “Do you love Me?” Three times Peter said yes. And then Jesus said, “Follow Me.” And that’s what Peter did.

There were some men… and it wasn’t that they were really seeking Jesus. No, they were in the middle of their busy lives. But Jesus came to them. And something about Jesus drew them. And so, when He called out, “Follow Me,” they did so without hesitation. Jesus still calls out to us today… will we do the same?

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die. John 12:32, 33