Small steps are best…

Yesterday I was reading in Proverbs 6 and jotting down a few thoughts for my daily Tweet from the book of Proverbs. Verses 9 – 11 snared my attention. While the context of the passage concerns the lazy and foolish, nestled in verse 10 I caught the glint of Bible gold, and tried to dig it out.

“9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Straight away you notice that the word “little” is used three times in verse 10. As verse 9 provokes the sluggard to wake up, and verse 11 describes the sudden arrival of the consequences of laziness (you might want to insist that your teenagers read this), verse 10 tells us about the steps that link laziness and the certain ruin that follows. In describing the process that leads to that trouble, the word “little” pops us three times. Intriguing. Ponder on it a bit.

Here’s an application that I want to pass along to you: we live in a day, culture, and church culture which salivates for things that are new, big, and fast, and this trend should be resisted. Before you balk at this please think back to all of the new programs that your church has started, the big conferences that have been promoted, and the sermons and books that have promoted quick spiritual results (those types of sermons and books use terms such as “keys to success, steps to growth, secrets of growth,” etc.) over the past five years. Here is the stern-faced, straight-talk truth — there are no quick steps to sound spiritual growth. Christian growth is a process, not an event. In fact, it is a process that involves discipline and determination, not secrets or keys. For example, Jesus stated in John 15:5 that we are to abide in Him as the True Vine. Abiding is not an event, it is a dedicated process. In the same vein, Paul declares in Philippians 3:

“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that knowing Christ, gaining Christ, walking by ongoing faith in Christ, and knowing Him and the power of His resurrection are the aims of his life. Each of those elements that Paul mentioned involves a process, not a singular a-ha moment or spiritual big bang.

Here is a pragmatic reason why growth in Christ is a process and is not caused by infrequent leap-frog events — incremental growth nurtures good habits and grows character over time, while lightning-strike moments are difficult to build into your daily life, and to maintain. In other words, one type of growth is sustainable, the other type is rare, and tricky to weave into your life.

Am I saying that the impact from a powerful sermon, statement from a book, or attendance at a Christian seminar or conference is bad? No, absolutely not. What I am saying is that those moments aren’t the norm, they are Holy Spirit- driven moments that are extraordinary. On the other hand, the insight and wisdom that the Holy Spirit grants to you as you study and ponder on your Bible (or my Tweets and blog, heh-heh), pray, talk with fellow believers, and participate in worship are ordinary, frequent, and solid means for growth. This is where the real growth happens. It’s day to day, not from big event to big event.

This should come as a soothing balm to our consciences and souls. God does not expect us to have Moses-at-the-burning-bush encounters each day. He does expect us to devote daily time to Him, meet with Him in His Word and prayer, and live with our hearts and minds ready to encounter him throughout the day and around the bend.

To nearly exhaust the point, the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul wrote at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:7:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

He said that he had fought the fight, not that he had won it in the second round of the match; he had finished the race, not that he had won it in record time; he had kept the faith, not that he had discovered keys or steps to make it happen rapidly.  You get the idea.

You are probably wondering how Proverbs 6:10 and its repeated use of “little” ties into all of this. Here is how. It’s the little things that matter and have great impact in your life of following Christ. The lazy man in Proverbs 6 is not ruined by momentous events; he is wrecked by all of the miniscule choices, and tiny things that he avoided doing. In turn, your life is made of up a million mini choices and events. Your Christian walk is composed of the day-to-day, little things previously mentioned. Don’t seek the large and lively, stay true to the small and simple. Go little by little.

Let’s allow Proverbs 13:11 to summarize and make the final point about how the little steps make a big difference:

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Nuff’ said…

It had slipped by…

Yesterday I was reading in John chapter 1. The Gospel of John is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Each time that I read it I gain insight, pray differently, and “sense” Christ better. Yesterday did not disappoint. As I was reading in chapter one a verse leapt off of the page. It was John 1:30:

“29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

There was a simple statement that caught me off guard: “because he was before me. I myself did not know him…”

I don’t recall that verse ever striking me before, but it didn’t slip by yesterday. A couple of thoughts sparked. First, John the Baptist was born before Jesus, so the “he was before me,” must refer to rank and authority since Jesus is God the Son. No problem there. It was the next phrase that snared me, “I myself did not know him…” Now wait a minute. John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. They did know each other. Since Jesus and John didn’t live time zones apart — there was no such thing back then, maybe sun-dial zones apart though —  what was being said here? Again, John was referring to more than relational knowledge of his cousin Jesus. He was referring to Jesus’ stature and role as the Messiah. That is given by the context of John declaring Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in verse 29, and followed by the revelation of Jesus as Messiah to Israel in verse 31. Hermeneutical problem solved.

Before I read further I took some time to ponder why this verse, and its content had not caught my attention before. I have read through the Gospel of John dozens of times, yet this verse had not ever caught my eye or attention. I wondered why it had slipped by so many times before. The simple, and overly spiritual, answer was that the Holy Spirit had not ever “impressed it” upon me during previous readings.That answer seemed to put the weight of the matter on the Spirit and serve as an excuse for me. Perhaps I am over-thinking the matter. I doubt it. Examination is a vital part of meditative reading of Scripture. So, in order to take responsiblity for not getting-a-hold-of this verse before, I jotted down some questions that helped to prompt me on how I should read the Bible. They were a sound reminder for me, and I pass them along to you:

How am I reading the Bible?

  • Am I reading it at a nice mosey, or at a jogger’s pace?
  • Does it have my full attention, or is my attention divided among other things? A fine antidote to this is to keep a pad and pencil handy. If a stray thought about work, family, or such starts barking at you it can be chased out of the back yard of your mind by writing it down.
  • Am I reading it meditatively — soaking it in as I go — or moving along at a pace that causes me to miss things?
  • Is my mind clear, neutral, and unfettered so that the Holy Spirit can bring insight, conviction, encouragement, or show connections to other passages? Having a clear mind that is not moving in any pre-determined direction with a text creates an ideal chalkboard for God to write upon.
  • Am I eager to receive truth and insight from the passage that I am reading? We must be active readers of the Word, not passive ones; spiritual growth is never by osmosis, or Osteen, I must say.

A walk this evening fitly illustrated all of this for me. I took Lucy, our Australian Shepherd pup, for a walk on our farm. I took her around the pond and up the first hill for a little piece. She had never been this far. She was excited. Her nubby tail vibrated.  Instead of walking at a pace that I prefered, I allowed her to walk, run, zig-zag, sniff and explore. She seemed to smell each blade of grass, pause at every sound, and quiver with excitement as she went. That’s how I should read God’s Word, and how you should too. Treat it as if it’s brand new each time, expect to see new things, and to meet the Living God.  With our spiritual ears perked, eyes widened, and noses ready we should enter the Bible like an eager pup … determined and delighted to see new things. Then, truth won’t slip by.

Beautiful work…

 

Matthew 26:1-10

In this passage both the woman and her act are familiar to us.  Jesus said that both would be famous (verse 13). This singular act by a common person will be shared throughout time wherever the Gospel travels. In my mind that is un-get-a-hold-able. To put ourselves in the middle of this passage, and gather in the magnitude of what was being done and said, imagine that Jesus took one of your acts of service to Him and declared that it would be forever known to and remembered by His future followers. Gulp. It is a remarkable scene.

Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders were gathered at “the chief priest’s palace” plotting to kill Jesus (verse 3, note: a good rule of thumb is to avoid any clergy, pastors, or leaders who have “a palace”). While the murder of Jesus was being planned by the elite at a palace, Jesus was settling in at the house of a leper named Simon. Remember that a leper in Jesus’ day was rejected by society and forced to live a hermit’s life, and a life of shame. So, here in the home of this social outcast, reclining at the dinner table was the Lord of the universe and Savior – Jesus of Nazareth. Grace was actually sitting at Simon’s usually vacant and lonely table.

Enter a woman who came to offer to Jesus something that is so humble, intimate, tender, and sacrificial that it is beyond words. In fact, in the original language of the Bible (Greek in the New Testament) it is tricky to translate her act into plain ole’ English.  The phrase for what this woman did is rendered by different translations as “good work,” “noble deed,” and my favorite … “beautiful thing.” It is the only time that this phrase is used in this way in the New Testament. How about that? The word for her deed is multi-faceted. It has the idea of beauty, goodness, and nobility. Wait, there’s more; it also has the idea of an outward beauty or goodness being expressed due to inward beauty or goodness. Yahtzee! Are your eyes moistening up now? Mine are.

This lady comes with a “very expensive” ointment — think months of wages – in an alabaster flask, and anoints Jesus’ head with it … in humble adoration and worship. The disciples then go Baptist-like and complain about the cost of the ointment, and its misuse, and even find a reason to justify their opinion on the matter. Sound familiar? Jesus then tells the tight-waded, bone-headed disciples to hush their fussing and learn from her. He says, “for she has done a beautiful thing to me” to prepare for my burial.

Jesus was telling them that it was about time for His death – His death for them, and for us – and they were missing it because their heads and hearts were wrongly focused and loosely vocal. We all suffer from that malady. Picture this whole scene, and let it unfold in your mind, and soul: the inner beauty of this woman’s heart for Christ was expressed through her humble, sacrificial, and worshipful act. Jesus declared it as “beautiful!”

What a thought that we could be and do something for Christ that he would describe as beautiful. Is there anything any better, or more humbling, or soul-satisfying than that?

A follow-up question is: what can we do for Christ that meets that mark? Hold on to your noggin, because the answer is in…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

The answer is that to do what this woman did only requires you to be yourself in Christ, for Christ. We do not have to be or do things that are extraordinary to honor Christ and serve Him in ways that are beautiful to Him. Really, we don’t!

Check out three straightforward principles in Ephesians 2:10:

1. God created you.
2. You are “His workmanship.”
3. You are created to do good works – and beautiful ones – for Christ.

The second point deserves some un-packing. In the original language the word for “workmanship” is the Greek work “poiema.” Does that look like the word “poem” to you? Indeed, not a coincidence. The idea of that word is workmanship, or craftsmanship, or a work of art. Here’s the point: God made you as His handiwork out of His perfect artisan wisdom and power. So, your status is one of being His child and poetic workmanship; your role is doing good works unto Him out of that status.

Let’s line this up with Matthew 26:10. The woman’s outward, beautiful service was a reflection of her inward beauty and goodness in Christ. That made her deed “beautiful.” Your good service for Christ is a result of you being God’s workmanship. The poetry of her soul and service were aligned, yours can be too…by design and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, fulfill your poiema role in life – namely, you being who God created you to be in the fullness of Christ – and let Him take what He has made you to be and cause it cascade into what you do. Beautiful!

You may feel like a dusty, scratched up fiddle in God’s closet. In Christ, you are a Stradivarius ready to be finely tuned, and played for Him, so that the finely created instrument and music match … beautifully!

You want me to do what?

 

In Matthew 21:2-3 we find Jesus issuing a straightforward command to a duo of his disciples. There could be no misunderstanding it. It was simple, concise, and odd.

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:1-5 (ESV)

This precedes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. You are likely familiar with these verses, but let’s ease into them, and sit, and splash around. There are a few things present in these verses that could be missed if we zip by them without taking the time to digest what Jesus was saying, and why He was saying it.

Let’s begin by working backwards through these verses. This can help to set the stage. Verse 5 tells us why Jesus gave the command: so that prophecy could be fulfilled about Him. Jesus did not tell the disciples that this act was being done to fulfill prophecy. He just told them to do it; and they did it. Good, straight-line obedience is shown here. While the act of obeying was straightforward — Jesus spoke, and they went and obeyed — the path getting there wasn’t. We could say that this passage shows the non-linear ways and work of God.

For those of you who didn’t like algebra, non-linear simply means that it doesn’t go in a straight line, or a straight path. So, this passage has a non-linear nature to it. In other words, it takes a direction that doesn’t seem like a straight, or common sense, or logical one to us. We know from Isaiah 55 that God’s ways are not our ways…at all. This passage illustrates this profoundly.

To develop this further let’s put some examples up on the workbench and tinker with them.

There are many times in the Bible when God tells His people to do odd things. The crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus comes to mind as an example of this. Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt and walked straight to the Red Sea, yet there is no Red Sea Toll Bridge for crossing. The enemy is closing in … sweaty-arm-pit-time. The next thing that you know they were walking across the powder dry bottom of the Red Sea. This is a great demonstration of the power and the work of God, though it does not strike me as non-linear for two reasons: 1. That was the direction that they were headed to get to where they were supposed to go. 2. The enemy was right behind them, and angry (the Egyptians were not riding hard toward them to remind Moses that he had forgotten his favorite blanket!). So, while it was a miraculous event, it is in my mind a linear one.

When Jesus miraculously fed thousands, or Daniel wasn’t torn apart and eaten in the lion’s den, or Elijah called down fire at Mount Carmel, the visible, powerful work of God was displayed. And, it made some sense. Further, the acts of God in these and other passages show that His miraculous works were in response to a situation and were the sensible resolution to the situations involved. Or in other words, the conclusions to the situations are imaginable. Had Jesus not fed the masses, and instead given them new sandals, or the lions surrounding Daniel turned in butterflies, or Elijah smote the wicked priests with a pox, then maybe that’s a non-linear response.

You are probably wondering why I am making a big deal about this idea of God’s work occasionally, or frequently, being non-linear. It’s because it is at the heart of this story in Matthew 21, and an undercurrent that flows throughout the Bible, and it will help us to see and follow Christ in the manner that He desires, not the manner that we manufacture to fit our own needs or wants.  I hope that I have your attention now. Let’s move on and see this in action.

In Matthew 21, there was no enemy pursuing, or needy crowd to feed, heal, or teach. It was just Jesus and his rag-tag band of followers approaching Jerusalem. Jesus was walking to His death — the death that would be the atonement for sinners like me, and you. As He prepares to enter Jerusalem, he tells two of His disciples to do something simple, or so it appears. Let’s reduce Jesus’ words to a checklist that those two were to follow:

  • Go to the village.
  • Find a donkey and a colt.
  • Untie them.
  • Bring them to me.
  • If you run into someone who wonders what in the goose liver you are doing, then tell them that “the Lord has need of them,” and you will be on your way back to me.
  • An Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled although the disciples did not know it at the time.

Is it beginning to look a little odd, or crazy, to you yet? It kinda looks like the disciples were about to pull off a “donkey-jacking” (now, that is a dandy pun embedded in that hyphenated term, please keep reading while I pat myself on the back.) and go for a joy ride — albeit a dang slow one — back to Bethpage. And, Jesus had told them to do this. Chew on this for a bit. Slowly.

Now, let’s take the same scenario and put it into today’s context. This is where your mouth will drop open, and you will run around your living room shouting, “non-linear and non-sensical” over and over, until you spouse tells you to shut up.

Let’s imagine that we are at our weekly small group meeting and prayer time. All of a sudden we have an Acts chapter 2 experience in which we all sense in unison that two of us are to go and do the Lord’s bidding. It is as follows:

A missionary and his family are returning home to start a farm, which they will use to build an orphanage. God wants to use us to meet one of their pressing needs. He had revealed to the missionary family that two people would show up with the very thing that they had been praying for to enable them to do their work.

Two of us are to go to the local John Deere dealership early the next morning. There will be a brand new John Deere tractor and an F-150 Ford truck (four door of course, with a moonroof too!) that will be unlocked. The keys will be in the ignitions of both the tractor and truck. A bag of cash will be sitting in the back seat of the truck. This very tractor, truck, and the cash will be used to help buy the farm, build the orphanage, and honor God. All of it will fulfill the promise of God to these humble missionaries.

We are to take the tractor, truck, and cash and bring them to the missionaries.

And, if anyone stops us and asks what in the heck we are doing, or flashes a badge, we are to tell them that “the Lord has need of these things.” And, they will let us go. Uh-huh.

The point here is striking, and kicking us in the shins. Oftentimes, the things that God does, or leads us to do, make little sense to us, and they won’t follow the straight-line sense or logic that we use in everyday life. That is because when we walk with Christ there is no such thing as everyday life, or common place, or usual. Our life-walk with Christ won’t be on a linear path, or smooth path, or easy path. So, all of this to make this point: an authentic, biblical Christ-following life isn’t a simple line; it is non-linear!

Many sermons, books, TV “preachers,” and such present the Christian life as a set of keys that unlock life’s mysteries and problems, formulas that yield success, and steps that bring prosperity and peace, etc.

The Christian life — as presented in the Bible — is non-linear. There are no magic keys or secret steps, though many books are sold that suggest, or outright claim this. There is no formula either. It isn’t “A + B = C” every time, or ever. It is life of faith. Keys, secret steps, and formulas are ways to walk by sight, and our own senses, and to try to maintain control of our lives, or manufacture our preferred outcomes. God’s ways are above us and beyond us and our faculties. We must walk by faith … faith that is fed and informed by God’s Word and applied by His Holy Spirit.

This non-linear nature of Christ-following can be challenging, or frightening. But, it is actually thrilling. Children, or at least my children, do not have any problem with the wonder, fun, and excitement of non-linear living; they enjoy it. They rarely, if ever, know the outcomes, or connect the dots of different events. Yet, they love, laugh, soak in moments, and look forward to things to come. As God’s children we are to do the same. Child-like (not childish) faith honors Christ. It also embraces paths that aren’t straight, and that do not seem to make sense to us. This post is about to come to an abrupt halt. That is intentional. It is so that the punctuation at the end of this meditation on Matthew 21 and the non-linear — at least to us — ways and work of God is two verses that cause us to pause, ponder, and realize that…

“… give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

His ways are not our ways; they are the way of life. It’s a non-linear life. Buckle up, it’s incredible.

Emptiness to fullness

 

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul states that he wants believers to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all of the fullness of God.”

Christ’s love for us does something amazing: it surpasses our very knowledge and understanding of it.

When I have thought of the word “surpass” in the past, I have thought of it wrongly — as I have just discovered.

Here are the variety of definitions that I previously had filed in my head for “surpass:”

  • to outrun, or catch up to and run past.
  • to rise above, as in gaining stature or position above something else.
  • to have more than another, as in surpassing riches.

All of my descriptions show an error in thinking. Namely, my error was thinking that two things were equal, or close to being equal, with one eventually overtaking the other. While this may describe an earthly definition of “surpassing,” it is wrong when thinking of the love of Christ surpassing our knowledge. Bad wrong.

Christ’s love and my knowledge, or any human knowledge, have never been peers, or stood within any measure of being comparable. Christ’s love has always exceeded my knowledge, or yours, or all of humanity’s combined. At the bottom of the rung of Christ’s love and the top rung of our knowledge of it lie an incalculable chasm.

The correct definition of “surpass” in Ephesians 3:19 is that one thing (Christ’s love) transcends the reach, capacity, or powers of another (our knowledge). So, Christ’s love for us transcends the reaching hand, available capacity, and weak powers of our knowledge. Or, to put it more plainly, the greatest reach of our knowledge, deepest capacity to learn, and keenest powers to know fall eternally short of comprehending His love. Period.

I can only know the infinite love of Christ when He makes it known to me, and fills my weak, shallow, groping mind beyond its ability to grasp, contain, or appreciate it.

Thankfully, His Holy Spirit will reveal His love to us. In fact, Romans 5:5 tells us that God’s love is poured out (abundantly) into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. So, the pressure is off. My mind and heart cannot strive for, or grab hold of the depth of the love of Christ. Rather, it is given freely by His grace and poured into my heart. It’s the same for you too.

Let’s circle back to last part of Ephesians 3:19. Paul longed for believers to have the fullness of God in Christ. Today, each of us still has that same desire. To receive God’s fullness requires that we must know the love of Christ. To gradually and increasingly — it’s not an event; it’s a process — know this we must first understand that we cannot know it on our own … because it is beyond our reach. So, in a sense, to gain fullness we must continually understand and embrace our emptiness of ability to know His love apart from Him revealing it to us through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.

In sum, realizing our emptiness precedes receiving His fullness. That makes perfect sense; a full container cannot be filled further. If we are full of ourselves, and an expectation that we can attain understanding or growth in Christ on our own, we will not see the need for the thing that we lack. When we see what is missing from or impossible for us, we can then take the first steps toward knowing His love and receiving His fullness. The road to fullness in Christ begins at the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender. It is an intersection that we do not like to approach, but it is where growth begins.

Here are some words of advice: if you decide to proceed to the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender, do not rush through the intersection; pause at the intersection, stop and sit on the curb … and linger there. The time spent there will make a difference later. A big difference.

In Your Light

 

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36:9

His name was Arvil.  He was my grandfather, and my childhood hero. I spent a lot of time with him. Whenever possible, I was at his side. And, when he was hunkered down over one of his many projects, I would often be caught peeking over his shoulder. So many times my shadow would wander over his work and he would softly say, “Son, you are in my light.” That’s Southern speak for “you are blocking the light kid, move out of the way.” I was “in his light” a lot.

Psalm 36:9 is a little perplexing at first. It doubles a thought with one idea, or states an idea with the same thought twice. Make sense out of that sense. See what I mean?

This verse has a beautiful and poignant truth: it is in God that we know God. In other words, we cannot know Him outside of Him revealing Himself, His ways, and His will. God takes the first step, has the first intention, speaks the first word, and gets the first dance…every time. If He didn’t, we wouldn’t; we wouldn’t know Him, be able to, or care to do so.

Let’s see this truth in Psalm 36:9 with some other attributes of God substituted into it:

In Your:

  • love we know real love.
  • truth we comprehend clear and eternal truth.
  • forgiveness we know forgiveness and are set free

It’s a unique way to state something, and very effective once it is pondered upon and bathed in.

In John 1:4  we see this same manner of making a point or stating a truth with repetition, “in Him was life and that life was the light of men.”

Let’s butt this verse up next to Psalm 36:9.

This is not great exegetical work, but given that Scripture interprets Scripture, let’s lay these two verses beside, or even on top of one another here.

The light of men comes from the life of Christ, who is the Light of the world. So, in Jesus (the Light of the world) is the light of the world and the life of men. In this perfect, soul-changing, life-giving, truth-bearing Light is our life, and in Him we see this, and see His beauty and glory. It takes His Light to show us light, and to know what to know, and what to do.

Now, we see….

Son, you’re in My Light. Stay put.

The Main (non)Event

As a follow up to, or overflow from, my previous post on the difficulties of the Christian life, I want to offer some personal application.

All of us have expectations, pressures, and responsibilities that rest upon our restless shoulders. At times, the weight of these may feel like we are shouldering an Atlas-like load. Stress and responsibilities with work, family, and life in general are common to us all. This assumes that you are not a 23 year old skateboarder who buys his jeans three sizes too large, lives in his parents’ basement, and is the neighborhood X-box champion (though the other contenders are 13 year olds). If any of you fit that profile, here is some sage advice from the Ole’ Bearded Acorn: turn your ball cap around to face forward, shower, iron a shirt, and go leap into gainful employee, and into adulthood. Leap headfirst! Your mother and father will beam with nervously optimistic pride.

Back to life for the rest of us, real life — life that is trying and strenuous. When I am treading in deep water, there are a few things that I recall from the book of Philippians that provide some much needed buoyancy:

1 . According to Philippians 1:6 the Christian life is a process; it is not an event. Note the words “began” and “complete” in this verse (I assume that you looked it up). This shows that God’s work in us is an ongoing process. Some approach the Christian life as though it were a string of special events. There are some events – a sermon, a book, a conference, a mime skit (no, not really) – that encourage, shape, and edify us. Those are the exception that should be appreciated and not the rule that should be pursued. The geuine article is the ongoing, daily process of discipleship. Specifically, growth takes places as we read God’s Word, pray, walk in the Holy Spirit, and live wisely. It is a process that moves at the speed of osteoporosis.

Special events such as attending a conference or hearing an exciting speaker appeal to us. One of the reasons for this is that something is being taught to us, or done on our behalf; we are passive to the process, it is the speaker or teacher that is active. I am by no means saying that such events are bad. They are good, and helpful, but should never take the place of our own time in God’s Word and prayer. Events serve as supplements to the process of discipleship, they are not the meal. The pitfall for some is that they will try to live from event to event instead of bearing down on a day-to-day commitment to following Christ (see Luke 9:23).

Following Christ is a process, not an event, or series of events.

2. God is the one doing the work in you. Philippians 2:13 states that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” He does the “willing” and the “working” in you so that your “willing” and “working” aligns with His. We can relax and cease striving from religious exertion because we know that He began, continues, and will complete His work in us. We have to follow and be disciplined, but we do not drive or complete the work.

3. Knowing that He is at work and will complete it gives us a proper view. Namely, we begin to look at our circumstances and obstacles from an eternal, God-honoring viewpoint rather than a temporary, self-focused one.

Two weeks ago this distilled out in my thoughts. After a few days of internal and unnecessary churning over a stressful situation, the application washed across my thoughts: Everything is preparation for something.

The mental storm clouds broke and the downpour ceased. Whatever you or I face is preparation for building Christ-likeness into us for other things that we will bump up against in the future.

For a reminder of this stated in another way please see Eph 2:10.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ESV

This verse tells us that we are created for good works in Christ. They are prepared beforehand. All that is waiting is our readiness to walk in them. That readiness, or preparation, does not come through flashy events, but rather through day-to-day faithfulness in following Christ.

For a hard time call…

“You are going to have a hard time in life,” he said. It was true then, and it’s still true today.

Those tough words won’t ever be the title of a popular Christian best seller. Heavens no. Heck no, too! As a side note — or sarcastic note — here are some titles that you might find on a Christian best seller list:

  • Happiness in Seven Minutes, or Less
  • Full life, full pockets
  • Raising Pets that Honor God
  • Fulfill all of your dreams: God dotes on you because you really are that special and deserve it

Snicker.
Sigh.

Pardon the hyperbole in the titles, but some “Christian” books suggest things that are almost this absurd. And they sell.

Back to life being tough. Who spoke those dreary words in the intro to this post? Uh, Jesus did. Dang.

We all like to receive good news. Personally, I prefer to hear the truth even more. If the two happen to be the same, then great. If not, that’s to be expected in this world. I am not a pessimist. I am far from it. I am an optimistic realist. Moreover, I try to be a biblicist. So, let’s see what the Bible has to say about a tough life for those who follow Christ.

Jesus said things to His early followers like:

  • “count the cost…” Luke 14:28-33
  • “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14
  • “In this world you will have trouble…”John 16:33

In Romans 8:18 and James 1:5, Paul and James add to this line of thought showing that the Christian life isn’t an easy meander from here to eternity. Rather, its a uphill climb, and at times requires some rock-climbing-like effort.

Being a genuine, biblical, non-bandwagon or trend-following Christ-follower means that you will endure some tough times as you live by faith and because you live by faith in Christ.

I don’t want to be a spiritual downer, but the Bible paints a picture that many Christian followers would like to keep swept under the rug. Namely, that the Christian life, though full of God’s best for us, is ripe with difficulty.

I want happiness, comfort, and ease as much as you do. But, those aren’t the primary components of the Christian life. Rather, Jesus promised peace, joy, and abundant living. Please don’t confuse happiness and ease (based on circumstances) with joy and peace (based on Christ and his provision for our needs). Happiness comes and goes like a vapor; joy abides forever, and it can also blossom during hardship.

The abundant Christian life is full of joy, gladness, peace, and purpose. Indeed, those very things are often borne during hardship, and raised up through difficulty.

So, for a hard time call…call yourself “His.” And mean it, and live it.

Know that through hardship comes growth, depth, and a strong message to others.

For example, in Acts 16:16-34, Paul and Silas were attacked, stripped down to their boxer shorts, beaten, thrown in jail, and locked down in stocks. All this happened because they were sharing Christ and upset someone’s apple cart. Please read those verses, it’s amazing stuff.

While in jail, and aching from their beating, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing hymns to God. The last phrase in Acts 16:25 is poignant, “and the prisoners were listening to them.”

The hardship that Paul and Silas had endured amplified their sincerity and steadfastness in honoring Christ. Keep in mind that they were not visiting the prison passing out Gospel booklets, or at home praying for those in the prison, they were in the prison because of their obedience to Christ. When genuine Christ-followers are steadfast during awful times, it points to the greatness of Christ, His promises, and His Holy Spirit. It also reveals to those who do not know Christ precisely what they do not have, or have to rely upon in their lives.

So, for a hard time call yourself “His.” It will lead to some hard times, but to even more great times.

Confirmation number 2929

From the last post you know about my New Year’s goal of looking up Bible verses — ones that I cannot immediately recall or recite — that I encounter while reading Christian books. That new exercise leads into this post. Last Saturday night I ran across a verse that I couldn’t pull out of my mental file cabinet.  So, I looked it up, and then soaked in it for about a hour. So it began…

We live in a society that is nosy, and exhibitionistic, which are a solid tandem for no-good. We often want to know what we can’t know, or shouldn’t know. Hence, the Facebook creeper, or other social media lurkers. This tendency can spill over into our spiritual lives. To be specific, we start trying to figure out what we cannot know rather than focusing on what we can understand and live out. Enter Deuteronomy 29:29. Ahem…look it up before you go any further. It’s a good habit.

The points –and they are pointed ones– in this verse are clear. First, there are things that we do not know, cannot know, and will not know…”the secret things of the LORD.” These secret things belong to the LORD. He is the owner of them. Or, put another way, these secret things are books that cannot perused, or checked out of God’s library. As David said, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain  it.” (Psalm 139:6) Ahem…you know what to do here.

So, the application here is to avoid spending time or energy chasing that which we cannot and will not know. While it is tempting, thrilling, and a natural part of our curiosity, and self-rigtheousness, let the things of God stay where they belong. Instead, let’s settle into humility and the contentment that comes with knowing His revealed Word, which we can know. Let’s use our time to pursue the thing that God intends us to pursue, namely, seeking Him in His written Word.

From the second part of Deuteronomy 29:29 it is worthy to note several simplistic, yet stout truths:

1. God reveals Himself in and through His Word. (Don’t take that for granted).

2. He did this intentionally. In this He makes Himself known, and brings glory to Himself, and edifies us.

3. He has revealed His Word to us, and enables and empowers us by the Holy Spirit to know, understand, and follow His Word (John 14:17  and 16:13). Look ’em up, it’s worth it.

4. We can have, understand, apply, and obey His Word. That’s the tune humming in Deuteronomy 29:29.

In a culture that loves recipes or steps to success, here is one: God has given His Word (and Spirit) to us to know, apply, and follow. He is glorified and pleased in this; we enjoy abudant life in Christ in this.

5. The result of Him doing this is so that we may do the “words of this law.” Deut. 29:29b

 

God has the secret things, and will keep them. He has freely given us more than enough in His Word to know and follow. Let’s not bark at and chase after the exciting unknowns, but rather settle into and study His revealed Word. Here’s a practical hint for doing just that: designate a quiet place, grab a pen and a note pad, and just do it each day. A hot cup of tea might help too.

Begin in Deuteronomy 29:29. You will get confirmation of these things there, and other things too.