We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
--Romans 12:6-8 (Read Romans 12)
If you asked me to point out people equipped to write a devotional on discerning your purpose, I never would have volunteered myself. From “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to “what are you going to do with that degree?”, I’ve always scrambled for an answer. A lifelong process of discernment has often left me feeling purposeless, directionless, and simply, lost.
I, like many, could easily identify where I fell short and areas which were of no interest to me. I was never meant to be an athlete, and I hated math from the day we started to learn long division. But it still felt like there were an overwhelming amount of activities that I enjoyed, and I was okay at all of them. Although I still couldn’t tell you a ton about my purpose, occupational or otherwise, the Lord has revealed to me some key aspects through knowledge of my gifts.
Like the above passage in Romans implies, the Lord gives us gifts individually, gifts to be used for His glory. I only realized that this actually applied to me when people started to point my gifts out to me. Even then, I could name spiritual gifts that I had been given, but I couldn’t seem to connect them to everyday life, let alone my future. When we read this passage in Romans, it’s easy to disconnect the gifts that Paul names from ourselves and our purpose. What does it even mean to have the gift of mercy or encouragement or giving? And how could these gifts translate into a career?
Over time, God revealed to me a gift of discernment: the ability to see things the way they are. The Holy Spirit works through me to communicate truths about people and situations. Although this can sometimes get me into trouble if not utilized correctly, acknowledging this spiritual gift and others has brought me closer to the purpose for which the Lord has designed me. Combined with other gifts, the Lord has taught me that my gift of discernment makes me well-suited for situations in which I can listen, evaluate, and respond with truth. Because of this, I hope to pursue a career in social work or counseling.
The spiritual gifts that God has given us directly relate to our individual purposes and the work that the Lord has set out for us.
Every person in relationship with the Lord has been gifted with talents and strengths that directly relate to kingdom work. Heads up: kingdom work is designing medical devices or bridges, just as much as it is being a preacher. And your spiritual gifts actually may play into both. If you’re fuzzy on what a spiritual gift even is or which gifts you have, I highly recommend taking this survey.
This week, dive into a search for purpose by starting small. The very first step is asking God questions about yourself and noticing the way He’s made you. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family what gifts they see in you. Others often see us shine, even when we are living in doubt. You have a purpose specifically designed for you by the One who knows you best. Set aside fear, and ask Him what it is! The Lord has given you all kinds of gifts that He wants you to use in accomplishing His purposes! Ask Him how you can begin to live into these gifts in small ways on a daily basis. Ask Him to help you grow in gifts that you lack and give you opportunities to glorify Him.
—Savanna Lattanzi is a CCO Associate in partnership with Bellefield Presbyterian Church.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” --1 Thessalonians 5:18
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” —1 Peter 2:15
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” --1 Thessalonians 4:3
I have an uneasy relationship with grandparents; it’s awkward between me and my actual grandparents for various reasons. But in the church I grew up in, an older lady and an older man each took me under their wing, and I came to see them as grandparents. They have both since passed away, and because I wasn’t part of their legal or blood family, I wasn’t included in their wills.
That led me to think about what a will means. Legally, a will refers to what a recently-deceased person wants to happen in the world, usually around the things they had autonomy over: assets, money, family drama, and the like. This reminded me of God’s will. This will refers to what God wants to happen to His world, and God has autonomy over all things; He holds the whole world in His hands after all.
Many people who are a part of the Church will go on and on about doing God’s will or staying in God’s will or even just knowing God’s will. No one ever defines it. It stays as this nebulous concept in the back of people’s minds. We go through life, making decisions, avoiding other decisions, and stepping around on this invisible roadmap we have made for ourselves, hoping that it fits in the “will of God”.
That all changes today.
In the above verses, God clearly and distinctly tells the Church what He wants to see done in the world. If you were ever wondering what the will of God is, this is it: give thanks, do good, and be sanctified.
Now, these aren’t the only things that are in the will of God, but they’re a good start. If you look closely, whenever God asks something from us, He always has a reason. The verse doesn’t say why God wants us to be grateful, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the God of the universe has a good reason for us to say thanks. He wants us to do good so foolish people can be silenced, and His Word can shine through. He wants to be set apart from others, so that our sexual lives glorify Him and how He has designed the world.
When we think about doing His will, just know that God isn’t asking for obscure things from us; He wants us to look at what He is doing and imitate that. The Bible is such a powerful way to see the story and Word of God. Daily time in His Word allows us to see what God has done in the past and is still doing in our lives today.
Sometime this week, take a couple of minutes and look at all these verses in context. Be reminded of what God wants for us. He doesn’t just want us to do all the right things. He wants us to be righteous through Jesus and act righteously through the Holy Spirit. He wants us to love Him and to love others (Hint: these are the two greatest commandments).
When people set up a will, they list the things they desire to happen in the world after they die. Whether or not these things happen is not up to the deceased. They’re dead. In Jesus’ will, He said “not my will, but [the Father’s] be done”. And we know that His will is going to be carried out because Jesus didn’t stay dead. Instead He took it upon Himself to help us make sure that we have the power to be grateful, do good, and be sanctified. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us do the Father’s will after His resurrection and departure. So not only did God give us a will that we can clearly see through the aforementioned verses as well as Jesus’ entire life, but He also gave us help through the Holy Spirit to actually do it. So be encouraged today and follow His living will.
—Jorge Villapier works as a University Ministry Assistant for Bellefield Presbyterian Church.
He Fulfills His Purposes
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. --Exodus 3:1-6 (Read Exodus 3)
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! --Psalm 57:1-3 (Read Psalm 57)
Wouldn’t it be nice if God spoke to ME in a burning bush? If He spoke my name out loud in a thunderous voice from the heavens? Oh how convenient it would be, how simple and straightforward my life would become if God just told me what he wanted me to do.
Yet here I remain in life’s discomfort. Here we all grope and feel about with arms outstretched as though permanently blindfolded. We trudge through the gritty mire of uncertainty on a daily basis as we wonder what our purpose is. As Christians, we understand that Scripture gives us a general purpose with which we are to live. Matthew 22 tells us that we must love God with all that we are and love our neighbors like ourselves, but in what individual context are we to obey God’s commands? What is our calling? Our vocation? Surely the Bible doesn’t tell me if I’m supposed to love my neighbor as Jackson the writer or if I should do it as Jackson the college minister? God’s word certainly does not seem to fill us in on what our occupations should be. It doesn’t seem to tell us what we’re doing here on an individual level, right?
Right. Now is a good time for me to say that if you’re looking for a “life hack” to figure out what God wants you to do with your life, you’re in the wrong place. Maybe try Google for that or even consult your local fortune teller (just kidding, definitely don’t do that), but you won’t find that simple solution here. Instead I hope to provide a Biblical meditation, some Scripturally-grounded thoughts on how we should discern God’s true purpose for our lives.
Anyways, we see that in Moses’ case, God provides clear, bold instructions as to his purpose. He says to Moses, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (verse 10). God gives Moses clear, specific instructions on how to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.” God speaks similarly to most of our favorite Old Testament characters. Think about Abraham, Daniel, Jonah, and all of your other favorite Sunday school heroes. Many of them heard God’s unmistakable voice and received a clear statement of purpose from Him. I’ve certainly not had a similar experience. Have you?
While I can safely assume that your answer is also “no,” I can also write a word of hope. God has provided and continues to provide for His people, and He cares about us and our futures (Jeremiah 29:11) just as He did for Moses and Abraham. Before we begin to despair and complain about our lack of clear purpose from God, let us remember these two glorious provisions that the Lord has given to us.
The Lord gave us His Word.
Just as soon as I start to mourn over the chasm between God and myself, as soon as I wonder how I can know someone, let alone receive a purpose from a God who won’t speak to me, I remember my leather-bound Bible gathering dust over there on the shelf. Let us never take for granted the reality that our Maker has spoken to us, a whole 66 books worth! Let us not forget the power in God’s Word. We know that it is applicable not only to the Church as a whole, but also to each of us individually. Scripture, in its entirety, is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). What wonderful guidance and power for every child of God!
The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit.
We would each do well to consider that there might be a means of communication stronger than speech. Maybe God’s non-verbal leadership is not a let-down but a rich blessing according to His perfect will. As the Lord tells us through Paul in Romans 8:24, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” So if God were to audibly speak to all of us, then why would we need to hope? Why would we need faith? His chosen methods of communication with us are part of His perfect plan for our salvation and the redemption of the world. If we start to let go of the fear that God is holding back from us His guidance and direction for our lives, we can begin to rest in the knowledge that the way He has chosen to lead and communicate with us is sufficient. We are called to live in the freedom and the love that Jesus brings, and we don’t actually have to fret about our individual calling, even if it is not clear yet.
When we think about Scripture and the faithful followers of the Lord portrayed therein, it becomes evident that very little emphasis is usually placed on their occupations. How often do the gospels tell of Jesus' woodworking? In our modern, secular society, we are constantly told to follow our passions, to pursue our dreams, and to do what we love — what makes us happy. But what if we don’t even know what that is? I think that’s actually okay, maybe even good, because searching for these things and pouring ourselves into these pursuits can be beautiful and fulfilling. They can also be distracting and dangerous. Our obsession with finding an individual calling can tear us away from our truest and fullest purpose. We are here on this earth to love God and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31), are we not?
Certainly God does care deeply about our individual callings. He carefully crafted each of us with unique, beautiful passions, talents, and dreams. These are not to be rejected or undervalued. The thing is, they also aren't to be prioritized above God’s will for all of his people as it is revealed in Scripture. As we see in Psalm 57, part of the human experience is crying out in confusion and feeling remarkably uncertain as to what we’re supposed to do (verse 2). But in response to our plea for help, God probably won’t send a voice from heaven. Instead He will answer all the more mightily. He will fulfill His purposes for us. He will. Not us. Him. God.
Here we have a promise that God will do what He wills to do through us. This guarantee mercifully removes the burden from our weary hands.
Let us journey on not panicked and frenzied about what our individual calling is, but instead living in God’s freedom that He won for us through his Son’s death and resurrection. Thank the Lord that we can let go of our worry and trust Him to fulfill his purposes through us.
Reflection and Application:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. --James 4:13-17
--Jackson Elling is a CCO Fellow working in partnership with Cornerstone Campus Ministry of Bellefield Presbyterian Church.
Waiting for the Lord
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?’ Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary: his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might, he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
—Isaiah 40:27-31 (Read Isaiah 40)
I’ve been falling asleep with the lights on. It’s not because I’m scared of the dark or because I want to hand all my money to Duquesne Light. It’s because these days, I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. It’s because I’m exhausted.
All day long, my thoughts race. I think about the weight of sin: an ocean on fire, a still-raging global pandemic, another Black person killed by the police, a loved one lost to cancer, words that should never have been spoken and can’t be taken back. I wonder why, but wonder isn’t a strong enough word. I obsess about the why and the what’s-the-point?
I do think about the good: the beauty of Creation even still, the healthcare heroes, the holy anger, the time that we do have, words that heal. Iced lavender lattes. The color yellow. The faithfulness of a God who owed me nothing and yet died for me while I was a sinner still (Romans 5:8). But even as I meditate on these blessings, I wonder/obsess over when the next shoe’s going to drop. I know I am not alone in this.
We are a people who feel entitled to answers. We hope understanding will bring peace, but the more we know, the more we wonder. Thus it is so hard for us to comprehend this God we serve, this God who does not faint or grow weary and whose understanding is unsearchable (Isaiah 40:28). Because we struggle to comprehend God’s attributes, we press on in our search for understanding at any cost. Our desperate attempts to make sense of a world stained by sin can contribute to the soul-deep fatigue that many of us know well. Yet the prophet Isaiah suggests another path.
Isaiah writes that the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow faint or weary and promises a supernatural power and strength to those who wait for Him. What a God! Praise the Lord that we can pray against a spirit of obsession and entitlement and trust the One whose understanding is unsearchable, who does not change (Malachi 3:6), and who cannot lie (1 Samuel 15:29)!
God promises us the renewal we seek if we wait for Him. This is a beautiful promise, but the call to wait is difficult to live out. What does it look like to wait for the Lord?
The prophet Micah writes that to wait is to look to the Lord (Micah 7:7 ESV) or to watch with hope (Micah 7:7 NIV), which suggests that waiting is not altogether passive. Looking/watching is an intentional posture. We must choose to fix our eyes on Jesus, remembering His acts of love on our behalf and expecting that He will appear once again as promised (Hebrews 12:2).
To know what He has done and promised to do, we must continue to return to Scripture. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul, too, demands that we hope for what we do not yet see, waiting eagerly and with perseverance (Romans 8:25). In Psalm 5, King David promises the Lord that prayer will be central to His waiting, trusting that the Lord will move in His timing. The Book of Lamentations encourages us to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:26). There is a wealth of Scripture that addresses waiting; the Lord is faithful to teach us how to draw near to Him.
Father, We pray against the impulse to seek answers more fiercely than we seek You, the One with the answer to every question we will ever ask. Thank You for being God so that we do not have to try to be. Like the proud at the Tower of Babel, God, we fail so tragically when we pretend to be You. Thank You for humbling us, for knowing and desiring what is best for us and for revealing Yourself to us as You see fit. Help us learn to wait for You.
Jesus, we are tired, and You want to give us rest. You are the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. You do not faint or grow weary: Your understanding is unsearchable. You give power to the faint, and to us who have no might, you increase strength. If we wait for You, Lord, You shall renew our strength; we shall mount up with wings like eagles; we shall run and not be weary; we shall walk and not faint. Thank You, God, for these promises of renewal. You are so very good to Your children. Amen.
—Morgan Crane is a Cornerstone Student Leader who manages the Cornerstone Devotional.
Things That Are Above
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! —Luke 12:4-5 (Read Luke 12)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
—Colossians 3:1-6 (Read Colossians 3)
Death has been at the forefront of many people’s minds throughout the pandemic. As a nation and as individuals, we’ve gone to great lengths to avoid it. In a society rapidly turning from God, it is not surprising that we have turned to self-preservation as the highest good. For those who have no hope of greater things, their only hope lies in the preservation of their dying bodies.
As Christians, we live with the hope of future glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:3-4). If you are truly in Christ, your life is sealed for eternity with Christ whether you live or die (Romans 14:8). If, however, you are not in Christ, the greatest threat to you is not the physical state of your body, but the eternal state of your soul.
Death is inevitable; it is the normal course for all to die once (Hebrews 9:27). It is not physical death that we should fear then, but eternal death justly imposed by the wrath and judgment of God. For as certain as death is, so is judgement (Revelation 20:11-15); and how much more should we fear the eternal death of one rejected by God!
The fear of death paralyzes, intimidates, and isolates. It stifles community and the fulfillment of our duties to one another. Christ, however, has freed us from this bondage through his work on the cross. With His own death and resurrection, He has freed believers from the fear of death through the hope of resurrection and the promise of eternity. Those who are in Christ can then live with the confidence modeled by Paul, and proclaim that for them death is gain (Philippians 1:21). We can take heart that through Jesus we have been given victory over death itself (1 Corinthians 15:54-58).
How often are we consumed with fear of a physical death while having little to no regard for the condition of our soul? How many precautions have we taken to avoid a condition that can do nothing to us except hasten the time of our arrival in the presence of the Lord (or fearfully, the time of our eternal separation)? How often have we carefully and exhaustively guarded our physical health from all sorts of illness while our soul languishes under the weight of sin! While the world struggles against the reality of physical death, what action have you taken to protect the condition of your soul?
In a time when the focus of the world is on physical death, we who “have been raised with Christ” can find comfort and clarity in setting our minds on the things that are above and the promise of eternity with Christ. However, If we stop at simply the knowledge of that promise, we, I believe, err greatly. We must heed the warning of Paul that follows in Colossians 3:5-6 and which is stated in Romans 8:13. That is, we must put to death the sin that is within us. Those who are raised with and are in Christ Jesus must do this through the work of the Spirit that dwells in us. We cannot live in the Spirit and continue in carnality and unrepentant and unaddressed sin; for those are things of the flesh for which God justly pours out his wrath (Romans 8, Colossians 3:6).
Let us then heed Jesus’ warning and fill ourselves with a healthy fear of God’s wrath and with the guilt of our repeated transgressions against the one who died to save us. Let us examine the state of our soul (2 Corinthians 13:5), and if we find ourselves to be in the faith let us set ourselves relentlessly against what is earthly in us. Let us work through the power of the Spirit to put to death all that is sinful in us that we may live in such a way that boldly proclaims that death is defeated!
If, however, you come to the fearful conclusion upon examination of your life that you are not in the faith, I leave you with the urging of Charles Spurgeon:
“You have had enough of resolving, come to action. Believe in Jesus now, with full and immediate decision. Take with you words and come unto your Lord this day, even this day. Remember, O soul, it may be now or never with you. Let it be now; it would be horrible that it should be never.”
—Daniel Stumpp serves on Cornerstone Leadership as a part of Discipleship Team.
You Are Not Your Mistakes
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
—Micah 7:18-19 (Read Micah 7)
God delights in showing mercy. Hmmm, can’t relate.
The Lord has had me very much in a season of preparation over the last year. It’s been an all-in-one painful, confusing, scary and sanctifying process. I’ve been shedding old, poor habits, thought patterns and ways of relating to people and trading them for holier and more edifying ones. As I have been faithful to God by surrendering every moment—big or small—to Him, He’s taken me beyond what I ever could have imagined for myself. But sometimes, things just get too good and ya gotta mess up a little, am I right?
Three nights before I strayed from the narrow path the Lord had set before me, I asked God to keep me close to Him—to not let me get lazy and fall off course now that I had made so many breakthroughs. But alas, I woke up Friday morning ashamed of what I had done that week. Drunkenness, toxic behavior, complacency, lying—it all made me cringe. I thought about how God had been preparing me for greater things than were before, and thought to myself, “I am a low-quality person.” I am supposed to be a leader in ministry, but I am just a hypocrite. I asked God, “What now?” expecting him to take Himself and His blessings away from me.
The shame became overwhelming, and I had to phone a friend. I told him what I had done that week and how I was feeling. He empathized, then reminded me that this wasn’t the first time I would miss the mark and it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. “So what do I do? How do I stop feeling like low-quality person?” I asked him. His response was so simple: “You’re going to stop talking like that first of all. I mean, a ‘low-quality person’? C’mon.”
And through that response I heard the Lord remind me that I am not my mistakes.
Then I remembered Peter. Jesus found Peter where Peter be most of the time—fishing. Jesus called Peter out of the maritime industry to be His disciple and build His church. Peter was a passionate follower (sometimes to a fault). Even so, the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing Jesus and cussed out a little girl next to a coal-burning fire. Realizing what he had done, he went away weeping. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure it was quite the scene. I get second-hand embarrassment just recounting the incident. But, just a couple days after His resurrection, Jesus reappeared to Peter, nonetheless at the Sea of Galilee where Peter was…fishing.
Peter was out on the water and “threw himself into the sea” (John 21:7) to meet Jesus at the shore. There is where Jesus had a coal fire burning—the same kind burning by Peter when he denied Jesus in the court. Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times in the court, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter says yes, and the Lord tells him, “Then feed my sheep.” In other words, then continue the work I have put before you. Walk in my will. Serve me, Peter, because you love me. And Peter went on to do do the work the Lord had commissioned him—start the early Christian church, perform many miracles and write two books of the Bible.
When we go astray, the Lord will roll up on us in familiar places. He doesn’t come to spite us, but to show us mercy again. As we just celebrated this past Easter, God loves us—so much so that he died and rose again for us, destroying sin and reconciling us to Himself. That is the simple message of the Gospel and of who God is. He is a compassionate God who delights in showing mercy because He loves us.
The last thing my friend asked me on the phone was what my next step would be. I told him I would pray for the opportunity to get it right. I wouldn’t wallow in shame or revert to sin, but I would step back on the path the Lord has set before me. In God’s infinite mercy, you can do the same.
Pray this prayer when you feel shame threatening to drown out God’s voice:
Father in Heaven, I praise you for adopting me and giving my life purpose. Thank you that you have created me to live in loving relationship with you and others. Please forgive me for not believing your love for me and running to isolation and sin rather than calling on you for help. Thank you Jesus for dying for these sins, so that I may be forgiven, freed, and given a path to live for you. Who is like you, God, who delights in showing mercy and will have compassion on me again? Praise you father for your love and forgiveness. I place my trust in you and commit myself to your ways and your will. Amen.
—Sara Kaempf serves as a part of Cornerstone Leadership.
The Natural & Unnatural
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
—John 11:33-38 (Read John 11)
Have you ever done something that just feels natural? Eric Lidell, a Scottish Olympic runner and gold medalist once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” To Liddell, running was natural—a God-ordained gift.
If there is a natural, there is also an unnatural. Perhaps you see a homeless person down on their luck, a single mother struggling to feed her children and pay rent, a person who can't pay their hospital bills or a person of color that is being dehumanized. We notice these things and realize that something isn’t right. These things are unnatural.
This is what John 11:1-44, the death and resurrection of Lazarus, is all about: the natural and unnatural.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were dear to Jesus, for we often see him in their home having a meal with them. This family loved Jesus, and Jesus loved them. When Lazarus got sick, their relationship was strained. When hearing the news that Lazarus was sick, Jesus delayed his travel for two days, which probably seemed like a lifetime for Martha and Mary. We would love to see that Jesus grabbed the nearest horse or camel and rode off to their rescue. But he did the opposite: he stayed where he was!
Mary and Martha had to have been hurt by this, feeling as if Jesus was apathetic about the situation. The first thing they said to Jesus upon seeing him is, “Jesus, if only you would have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Which is true. Jesus, the great physician, could heal Lazarus with a word. Instead, he chose to delay himself, for something spectacular was about to happen.
You may have heard it said that biblical repetition is God’s way of getting our attention. In verses 33 and 38, the phrase “deeply moved” is repeated. Often, when we hear these words, we think of compassion (which Jesus does have), but that is not what these words mean. The Greek word for deeply moved (ἐμβριμώμενος) is the same word used for the noise a horse makes when it gets angry. It literally means, “to snort with anger.” Jesus was angry.
Who was Jesus angry at? The crowd for their grief? Mary and Martha for their grief? I don’t think this is the case, for we see that Jesus also grieved (verse 35). So, what was Jesus mad at? Jesus was angry at death.
Have you ever wondered why we cry so hard at funerals? Why is this? From elementary school on we are told that both birth and death are natural part of lives. We are born, we live, we die. We are told it’s the circle of life. If so, then why are we caught off guard by death? Why do we experience the deep and complex emotions that we do? Some would say that it is because we miss and cherish that loved one. This is true, but I believe that we also cry at funerals because we realize that death is not natural.
Death was never part of the plan.
In fact, it was never part of the original creation (Shalom in Genesis 1), and we realize that. That is why we feel so uncomfortable. And Jesus, being God, knew full well that death was not natural! That is why he was angry. So Jesus dealt a blow to the unnatural. He walked up to that tomb (which was a no-no in Jewish customs), taking on the unclean to strike that blow. He told Lazarus to come out. And Lazarus did.
God made a world that was perfect for us, a world that was natural. It was very good. It was Shalom. Yet, the world has fallen (Genesis 3). It is now corrupt and evil. The unnatural has corrupted the natural. Yet Jesus Christ, having compassion for his creation, sacrificed himself on the cross to redeem us and start to restore the world to its natural, very good state.
Jesus himself dealt the final blow to death, to the unnatural, and rose again.
Jesus, our God, did the unnatural! He died, so that we might live. Now, he walks to the tomb of our cold, dark hearts, and brings them to life. Just like he did to Lazarus, he cries to us, “Come out of there! Come to me!”
—Andy Moore is a CCO Campus Minister in partnership with Bellefield Presbyterian Church’s Cornerstone College Ministry.
You Are Someone's Enemy
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
—Luke 6:27-36 (Read Luke 6)
My aunt has enemies. That makes it sound like she's in the mob or a gang. She's not. She has enemies that she cares for but cannot stand, people that inspire her to scream, people she cannot fathom changing or being good. Some of those people are all of the above. After not seeing my aunt for five years, we talked about enemies. What do our enemies act like, what do they say, what do they do, how do they do it, and honestly, how dare they?
But we also talked about how to love them. Y'all have likely heard the love your neighbor and love your enemy commands by now. If you haven't, it's a thing, God says it. How do we love our enemies?
I'll tell you right now, one of my enemies is my own cousin. He lives his life like what he has, he’s earned, like his belongings are his own--not like God has shown him mercy for his sins and allowed him the grace of a beautiful and spunky daughter. He thinks we are all dealt hands of similar calibers and scrutinizes those struggling--not caring about systematic inequalities or having compassion on people in situations he could not begin to understand. I could go on. He is my family, and I do love him. He is also my enemy. My cousin inspires me to want to scream, to call him stupid, to flick his ear, to force him to have my perspective. But God inspires me to listen for as long as I can and then a little more, to hear him as a broken and hurting person. My cousin has been sinned against and hurt. He is certainly guilty, but he is also a victim. My enemy is a victim of a broken world. We are all victims of this broken world.
Some of our enemies are people who have sinned against us personally or against people we love, people whom our hearts go out for. Some of our enemies are outside the Church, people who just don't get it yet. They haven't seen God trying to guide them, and they fall short of what He has in store for them. They fall short of what we view as good, kind and holy. Some of our enemies are within the Church and we still see them falling short--which is going to happen sometimes; at different points, we all behave as if we don't know Jesus, as if He hasn't changed everything, as if He hasn't set us free from sin.
But have you ever thought about how you are somebody else's enemy?
Maybe you became their enemy before you knew Jesus, maybe after. Maybe you became their enemy due to your sin, their sin, your holiness in Christ, or their holiness in Christ. They may or may not know God. Maybe you have never even interacted with them, but your beliefs, past or present, make you their enemy. Man, it could be anything! The fact is: you are somebody's enemy.
My aunt shook her head in refusal when I told her I was somebody's enemy. She told me that no one was as kind as me and could not come to terms with my role as an "enemy." To whom could I be an enemy?
Goodness, where do I start? Let's start with God Himself. Jesus loved us when we were still enemies. I was His enemy when I did not know Him. I was cruel and unloving to my family and people at my school. I said horribly targeted words meant to delve into people's cores; I knew that I was good at it, and I was proud about that. I bullied someone when I was nine and got into full out fist fights with my sister until middle school. I was likely those people’s enemy.
More than that: by failing to love them, I failed to love God. I was His enemy.
The fact that I am an enemy means a lot. It means that I have less of a grounds for hating my enemies. The fact that I have enemies because of my sin is humbling. It's a good check to my pride and self-righteousness.
Y'all, as much as I don't deserve it, I want people to love me. I want Jesus to love me, and I'm glad He did so when I was His enemy. I also want those that I am an enemy to, to love me. To not return hurt that I have caused them or their loved ones. To listen to me when I am hurting or lacking knowledge. To not speak horribly of me to their friends. And I want them to pray for me, for my good, for the good God wants for me. I want them to have faith in my God-given goodness, even if they cannot see a single shred of it.
Who are your enemies? How do your enemies and the way you think about them change you? How do they challenge you for the better? How have they built your patience? How does knowing that you were a loved enemy of God affect your life? Who else are you an enemy to, and how does that influence you?
My Love, help us to think humbly and hope for reconciliation. When the time comes for us to love our enemies, let us remember You and Your love. Bring us low.
—Breaunna Villapier serves on Cornerstone’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Team.
Blessings Upon Blessings
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
—Ephesians 3:14-21 (Read Ephesians 3)
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul depicts a God who “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine” through His will. For several years now, I have been blessed with steadfast faith in God’s plan. I do not worry about the future much and I strive to make myself ever available to His call. This, however, does not mean that I have not felt the brokenness of the world or even my own life. There are moments I have felt pain that made me desperate for relief; times when, at my lowest, I even prayed for God to speed up His plan, to work on my schedule.
This, one of my more audacious prayer requests, has been a source of guilt for me, as I ask, “Who am I to crack the whip on Christ” (the ironic severity of this expression is not lost on me). Yet, as I write today, I do not intend to discuss guilt, humility, or the classic ‘God’s timing is perfect’. In fact, I hope to do quite the opposite: to illuminate the blessings that come from a God who “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.”
Before I do this, I want you to ask yourself what your understanding of blessings is. How do you perceive a blessing? How would you define it? Hold these conceptions in your mind as you read.
Now, to finish my part of the story. Shortly after my daring prayer, parts of my life became more exciting. Suddenly, I was meeting new people, going new places, and faced with job opportunities around the world. Without going into personal details, my life was overhauled at a rather rapid pace. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the love of God.
However, what is incredible to me is that none of these were isolated experiences.
In every case, the blessings poured out on me were a direct result of profound blessings in the lives of others, and my blessings would go on to bless my community in ways that I never expected. Little did I know that my request for expediency would impact the way in which the prayers of my closest friends were answered.
The whole process was so complicated that, if delineated would look something like this ridiculous web with each marker indicating an answered prayer. A map of blessings, am I the first person to have done that? Anyways, even this is an oversimplification of blessings, granting understanding to the promise that God accomplishes things that surpass knowledge.
Remember how I asked you to think about how you understand blessings? I suppose I used to see them as part of a linear system: God blesses me this way, which leads me along His path that way, so that I can do this, etc. No, Paul writes of a God who is “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (Read 2 Corinthians 5). His business is not merely working with the prayers of isolated individuals.
The business of the Lord is to restore the entirety of creation; His blessings overflow to change entire communities.
Our longings, our joys, our prayers are all part of such an interconnected web that God has formed like a net over the earth, along which we are being redeemed by Christ.
So, today I encourage you to rejoice in your life. Talk with those close to you about how you have been blessed. Rejoice in how the Holy Spirit has touched others through you and reflect on how we may better work for God’s salvation together.
--Kalan McDonald serves on First Year Ministry Team of Cornerstone Leadership.
Something to Believe
“This is the work of God...” —John 6:29 (Read John 6)
We live in a world that values productivity, perhaps above all else. This mindset seeps into the culture of the church as well, as the American prosperity gospel tells us that health and wealth reflect salvation. We often feel a need to fill our days with work, to be productive, to do something.
But doing something isn’t always to what God calls us.
I only have a few months left in the CCO Fellowship Program, and I’ve been worrying about what’s next for me. I asked the Lord what I needed to do before He would reveal my next steps, and He drew me to John 6. This passage convicted my heart.
For some context, Jesus just performed the miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Those who had witnessed this miracle wanted more, so they followed Jesus. This was their interaction:
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” —John 6:25-28
The people following Jesus wanted to know what they needed to do to get what they wanted, just like me. Jesus answered them, as He always does:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” —John 6:29
This is the work of God? To believe? I realized after reading this passage that I wanted to control my situation and future, and I didn’t believe that God would give me the answer in time. When I came across this passage, I knew that God isn’t calling me to do, but to believe that He cares about my future. He will provide me with what I truly need—even if this looks different than I anticipate.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord reveals this truth to His people:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
—Isaiah 30:15 (Read Isaiah 30)
Your salvation, your defense and your deliverance is in returning to your God and resting and trusting in Him.
Jesus promises in John 16:33 that we will have trouble, but He also reminds us that faith in the work He has already done is the work to which we are called. So, whether you’re facing a big future decision or imminent problems, remember that sometimes the only “work” you are called to is rest and confidence in the God who desires to care for you.
—Essence Suggs is a CCO Fellow ministering to University students at Bellefield Presbyterian Church.