Archive for the ‘Sanctification’ Category

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“SILENCING CRITICS” – Oct 25

October 25, 2013

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the Brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.”  1 Peter 2:15-17

Killjoy, prude, wet blanket, spoilsport, party pooper…

Christians have been called all of these words and many more.  We have been mocked in movies, television, and political speeches.  We have been cast as being repressed, oppressed and regressed.  Popular culture frequently paints the landscape of Christianity with rigid lines, stark geometry, and drab colors.

I hate the representation of my faith that is commonly presented in the current culture.  I feel so misunderstood when my hope becomes lumped in with religions of works.  I cringe when I see grains of truth twisted in the legalism of a fear of the world that does not demonstrate the freedom that I know in Christ.

I understand that secular society and the media are not friends of Christ.  What is our basis to expect them to be fair in their presentation of Christianity?  Why would I expect them to give a fair and balanced presentation of what I believe?  Much of what is shown in the realms of entertainment and journalism comes from the ignorance of people who have not had their eyes opened to the reality of the God of the Bible.

We can shout until we are blue in the face about the injustice of our image.
We can fight a media campaign to spin our message into the world.

I think that all those attempts will fail.  Peter tells us how to fight the good fight.  We will put all those naysayers to silence by doing one thing – doing good.

church_lady_could_it_be_satanSo much of our Christian lives are spent saying “no”.  Many are saying  “no” because they are afraid that there is a demon under every bush and if they don’t keep a prescribed set of rules they might be thrown with the chaff into hell.  That is not living in freedom.  That is not doing good by saying “yes”.

We are to live as people who are free.  A free persons does not say “no” to enticements from a fear of the world.  A free person’s abstinence from the things of the world is a “yes” to living as a servant of God.  Therefore, our lives should be awash in doing what all people will recognize as good from a motivation of freedom.  Our good works are to come from a joyful response of getting to serve God.  Our good works are a response of love.

That is how the ignorant portrayal of the followers of Christ will be silenced in this culture.

When our friends and neighbors fail to recognize what is presented by Hollywood as the Christians that they know, then they will reject the culture’s portrayal of a twisted and false faith.

The problem is that even I see truth presented in many of these derogatory manifestations of my faith.

Consider a world where followers of Christ were consistently living as free servants of God:

 

Honoring everyone:  Those offensive signs condemning the lost would be gone.  The rude and insensitive debates would vanish.  Honor everyone does not mean that we have to agree with everyone but it does mean that we follow the “golden rule” and treat others as we would like to be treated.

first-ame-church-lawsuit-against-former-pastor-p1-normalLoving the Brotherhood:  The incessant bickering amongst the followers of Christ would be replaced by loving debate and respectful disagreement.  We would not be in the courtrooms of the world having our disputes settled by common law rather than the Word of God.  I don’t have the answers to how we work through theological differences that do really matter but I know that we can do it so much better than it has been done.  We should be cognizant of the reality that a lost world is watching how we treat each other.  Why would they want to be part of a faith that espouses love but whose members can’t even love each other?

Q9Fearing God:  The high profile scandals of the tabloids would not include the children of God.  Christians do a lot of really stupid acts that earn the title of hypocrite and diminish the power that we profess.  I know that we are all on the road of sanctification.  We all stumble.  However, the colossal moral and public failures of Christians should be much rarer than they actually are.  If we all lived with more of a fear of displeasing our Father in heaven rather than pleasing ourselves, we will be a better representation of what we claim to believe.

Barack Obama / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Honor the emperor:  The vilification of political opponents would not be cast in the mantle of the Church.  There are few topics more divisive than religion and politics.  There is nothing more divisive that the combination of religion and politics.  I realize that we Christians should speak out for many of the moral affronts and persecution that governments do.

DonkeyHotey / Foter / CC BY-SA

The issue is how we do it.  President Obama should feel honored by the religious right even though he knows that they disagree with his direction.  Our Facebook pages and discussions should not be strewn with disrespectful and offensive caricatures of our leaders.  Our obedience to Christ should extend through all aspects of our lives, even honoring and praying for leaders we don’t agree with.

Just imagine if these characteristics were the common experience of the world for a person who professed Christ.  It sure seems like the ignorance of false representations would be silenced.

I would love to see that.

PRAYER: Lord, forgive us for not living as a servants of God like we should.  Father, do your work in me; fill my life with good works that come for a heart that just wants to serve You.  Help me to be honoring to everyone.  Help me love those brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I have disagreements.  Help me to fear you as I should.  Help me to honor and pray for all my leaders, especially the ones I don’t like.  Lord, be with your church.  May I be a part of a larger working of your Spirit that silences the ignorance of foolish people.  May the good works of a people set free in Christ be a beacon to a lost world.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP” – Oct 18

October 18, 2013

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:28

VinothChandar / Foter / CC BY

All of life should be worship gratefully offered to God for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  I consider how many hours of my day that I live in a manner that will probably be determined as unacceptable.  I hate to think of the times I have stood in Church singing “How Great Thou Art” with a wandering mind.  Acceptable worship does not just happen by the action.  The motivation for worship determines whether it is acceptable to God.

We continually develop opinions regarding moral motivation.  I try to discern the motivation of people all the time.  We strive to know a person’s motivation because it deeply matters to most of us.  It matters because our response to an action is often weighed based on the actor’s moral motivation.

I respond to the disobedience of my kids differently depending upon whether they are willfully being disrespectful or just being a kid.

I will take an elbow to the head if it is an accident.  I will respond differently if it was flung with intent to hurt me.

I have different opinions regarding a person who steals to feed his family and the one who steals to buy crack.

BrittneyBush / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Most of us have experienced that our actions stem from both belief and desire.  Belief is insufficient to get us off our couch.  In addition to belief, we need a desire to open the door to action.  This is why we seek so diligently to try and understand a person’s moral motivation when their actions seem to contradict their belief.  Actions that are inconsistent with our belief stem from a failure in desire.

I believe that consistent exercise is fundamental to my health; however, my desire to relax often keeps me on the porch.

I believe that overeating will give me a pot-belly; however, my desire to have a full belly often keeps me at the table.

I believe that hell exists; however, my desire to look sensible often keeps my mouth shut.

I believe that obedience to God’s commands, living according to the Spirit, is necessary to please God; however, my desire to please my flesh often keeps me at the trough of all sorts of iniquities.

The Humean view of moral motivation holds that beliefs aim to fit the world, desires aim to change the world. (Moral Motivation)  Our beliefs reflect how we see the world.  My beliefs reflect a world view as revealed in the Bible.  I have experienced the Bible to be true and trustworthy.  Therefore, my beliefs fit the world as I understand it to be.  It is a mind-to-world direction of fit.

On the other hand, desires have a world-to-mind direction of fit.  Our desires attempt to change the world to what we want it to be.  This is where our actions often become inconsistent.

Severin Sadjina / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

My desires will vacillate from wanting the world to make much of God to wanting it to make much of me.  I still have sinful desires that effect what I want the world to be.  Those sinful desires result in acts that are inconsistent with my beliefs.

Inconsistent actions are why we will develop opinions of a person’s moral motivation.  When two people do the same action based on two completely different beliefs (worldviews) but the same desire, the result is differing moral motivations.  Two people can have the same action based on the same belief but vastly different desires.  The result is differing moral motivations.

God requires that both our beliefs and desires to be aligned with His will for our actions to be pleasing to Him. Therefore, acceptable worship only comes when both our beliefs and desires are aligned with God’s will.

A person can do many righteous actions but if they don’t believe in the God of the Bible then their works are like filthy rags.

A person can do keep all of the commandments but if their desire is for a love other than God then those works are worthless.

My worship problem is not an effort problem.  My worship problem is a moral motivation problem.  I don’t want to waste my life.  I don’t want my works to be worthless.  I want my life to be a pleasing fragrance to the King.

For those actions to happen, I need to know my problem.

I need the Spirit to help me through my unbelief in all its forms. 
I need a heart that loves God more than anything else.

Fortunately, the Spirit will complete both of those works while I am walking with Him and setting my mind on the things of the Spirit.  Then my steps will be acceptable worship to the consuming fire who is my God.

PRAYER: Lord, you know that I struggle with a worship problem.  Forgive me for all the time that I have wasted in doubt, worry, and unbelief.  Forgive me for all the time that I have wastes loving other things more than you.  Thank you for welcoming me to a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to help with my worship problem.  Help me in my unbelief.  Help me to love you more and more.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“WORLD CLASS” – Oct 16

October 16, 2013

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22

The moniker “world-class” has a very specific connotation to me.  It gets bandied about with other titles such as phenomenal, genius, and awesome, but just like those adjectives, it often loses its meaning due to a lack of context.  To be described as world-class, one has to be among the best in the world at a given activity.

There are some activities whose practitioners are world-class and I can appreciate what they do.  However, I cannot grasp the level of their achievements because I am a mere observer.

Jascha Heifetz is generally considered the greatest violin performer of the modern recording age. English: Russian violinist Jascha Heifetz in T...He is one of the very few players who was capable of hitting the high note at the end of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto .  I don’t play the violin, I don’t have a practical concept of how hard it really is.

Rembrandt: Self Portrait (Altman)I love Dutch Realist paintings.  So, it is not surprising that I have a deep appreciation of Rembrandt and his use of reflected light and shadows.  One of my favorite paintings is the Night Watch .  I am not an artist.  Reproducing a Dutch Realist painting is beyond my wildest optimism.

There are other world-class practitioners who I find incredible, precisely because I HAVE tried to do what they do.  I understand their level of achievements because I can compare it to my achievements in the same activity.

Mal Booth / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The Ironman World Championship was held in Kona, Hawaii this last weekend.  Mirinda Carfrae won with a course-record time of 8:52:14.  She ran a marathon in just 2:50:35.  That was very close to the 1971 marathon world record, but Carfrae’s marathon was after swimming 3.8 km (2.36 miles) and biking 180 km (111.85) miles.  I have never done an ironman distance triathlon but I do know my times for those separate distances, except for a full marathon.  She is awesome because I know the context of her speed;  she is world-class.

Chris Froome wins the 17th stage in the Vuelta...

Chris Fromme won the Tour de France this year.  He won the Stage 16 time trial by averaging over 20 mph on a course with two category two climbs and a very twisting, technical route.  Based on my personal riding experience, I am under no delusion that I would have been anywhere close to Chris Fromme on that stage of the Tour (or any stage for that matter). His performance was simply world-class.

rphipps75 / Foter / CC BY-SA

Mo Farah is the current 10,000 meters Olympic and World champion and 5000 meters Olympic, World and European champion.  The time it takes him to run 10,000 meters is just slightly longer then what it takes me to cover half that distance.  C’mon, that is ridiculous.

Until you try an activity, it is difficult to appreciate how special world-class people really are.

We can be deceived into thinking that everything is fine by simply reading the Bible.  Many listen to the Word, don’t apply it to their lives in practical ways, and convince themselves that nothing needs to change.

It is not until you become a doer of the word that you realize the importance of grace and the long road of sanctification.

It is not until you try to forgive someone when you realize you have an unforgiving heart and need the Spirit’s help to forgive.

It is not until you try to keep your mouth shut that you realize you have a problem with gossip and need the Spirit to tame your tongue.

It is not until you go to give your money away that you realize that you’ve got the green monster of greed and need the Spirit to help you surrender the idol of money.

When the instruction of the Bible is academic, we can convince ourselves that we are a good people.  It is in the doing the commandments of the Word where we see all the unrighteousness that still is within us.

Being a doer of the Word reminds us of who we are;
Sinners in need of a Savior.

Being a doer of the Word allows the Spirit to do His work:
To be living and active in our lives.

Being a doer of the Word opens our eyes;
To reveal our self-deception.

We need to remember that we are world-class.  Those who are in Christ are world-class because they are children of God.  We are world-class because we are the only ones in the world who can please God.  The only way to please God is by living in the Spirit; that is possible only for a child of God.

That makes us world-class.

Being a doer of the Word reveals to us what being world-class means.

We are to be world-class in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The good news is that we do not have to be born with those characteristics.  They are gifts.  Therefore, all we have to do to be world- class in pleasing God is to abide in Him,  to set our minds on things of the Spirit, and be led by the Spirit of God.

May we open our Bibles and actually do what it tells us.  Through that act of obedience, we will experience what it means to live as a world-class child of the King of kings!

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for making very special people in this world.  Father, I praise you for the world-class abilities of the exceptional people in this world.  Thank you for allowing  exceptionalism to exist because it points to you.   Thank you for making me world-class in an activity that matters more than anything else – pleasing you.  Thank you for adopting me as your child.  Lord, create in me a desire to live by the Word that you have given us.  Help me to remember who I am and what you are doing in me.  Continue your work in me.  Help me to set my mind on you and to be a doer of your Word.    Help me to please you in all that I do, say, and write.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“SACRICTY OF CHARACTER” – July 31

July 31, 2013

“O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved.  How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you.”  Jeremiah 4:14

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner (Photo credit: maxintosh)

It seems that news stories continue to materialize that are themed upon character and character seems to be scarce.  The character of Anthony Weiner has overshadowed his New York City Mayoral candidacy.  San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has had to answer the questions that revolve around his character.  The main character of Lance Armstrong’s saga is his character.  The bankruptcy of the City of Detroit has been attributed by some to past leaders’ character.

Új fejezetek Oprah-tól: Lance Armtrong - exklu...

The news seems to be a perpetual drip of politicians, entertainers, and athletes who have been caught doing what they should not have been doing.  We have all witnessed the great effusion of apologies and explanations of the famous whose character was tested and found lacking.

John Wooden at a ceremony on Oct. 14, the coac...

I have heard character defined as who you are when no one is looking.  However, I don’t know if that definition goes far enough.

When are we truly alone?  When are we really free from the accountability?  The famous UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, defined character a little better.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. ~ John Wooden

Who I really am is my character. 

My true character is what no one can see. My character resides in a place of solitude beyond the perception of others.  No one can know my true character because no one can know my thoughts.  Occasionally, an unfiltered thought may slip out, but for most of us our self-control plays an effective guardian over what we really are.

However, our true character is:

That curse word that comes out of nowhere.
That appetite for knowing the latest gossip.
That snicker when the proud fall.
That precise accounting of personal sacrifice.
That want for what others have.
That necessity to avoid the indecent.
That falsehood charmed to escape a trap.
That flash of anger from a slight.
That snarky come-back that forms a day late.
That pride in being humbled.
That competition to be better than others.
That warm feeling of praise.
That desire to be made much of.

The fact that these traits rarely materialize into actions does not negate the reality of their existence.  Character is what you really are.  The thoughts of our mind are our true character traits.

Based on this definition, who has character?  There are no people of character when judged upon our thoughts.  Just because you do the right things, even when there is no one around to see, does not mean you are a person of character.  A person of true character will be a righteous person in deeds and thoughts.  We know that there is none righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)  Therefore, we know that there is no person of character, not even one.

We need to honestly examine our thoughts to know are character.

I would be embarrassed for my thoughts to be known.  The war of my mind betrays who I really am.  The battle to set my mind on the things of the Spirit is a continual reminder of my need for a Savior.  I am not righteous.  Any righteousness that is within me comes from the grace and mercy of my Lord.  Any traits that might be called character are a result of the work of the Spirit.  There is no place for pride of character.  I am a man in need of grace from a merciful God.

My thoughts have convinced me of that.

PRAYER: Lord, I am a sinner.   Thank you for removing the condemnation of my sin.  Thank you for forgiving me and cleansing  me.  Forgive me for being proud of my  character.  Forgive me for taking credit for your work within me.  Lord, please continue that work.  I know that there is a lot of work that remains to be done.  Father, I want all that I do and think to glorify and please you.  Help me to set my mind on the things of the Spirit.  Help me to think upon that which is true, honorable, just, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  Help me to think about these things.  Change my thoughts.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“RUNNING ON A FLAT TIRE” – July 26

July 26, 2013

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4

flat tire
flat tire (Photo credit: helga tawil souri)

“Not again,” was my thought as I walked onto our porch and saw the deflated back tire on my road bike.  I have experienced a rash of flat tires.  This was my third flat tire in four outings.  Fortunately, none of the causes have resulted in a deflation that left me standing along the roadside.  They have all been slow leakers.  I get done with my ride and the tire is a little squishy but the damage has been done.  Through the night the precious entrapped air escapes.

Without air in my tires, the rim will grind into the asphalt if I were to try to ride it.  The air in the tire creates some very important separation.  Road bike tires are impressive for the very small amount of area that actually comes in contact with the pavement.  The smaller that area can be results in less friction, which means you go faster.  However, you must have air in your tires.

I have come into contact with my world for my entire life, like a tire to pavement.  I have learned a few things when pressed up against family and friends.  I am aware of the effect when the weight of interaction is applied in school, work, church, or any other social occasion.

Flat Tire

Flat Tire (Photo credit: sam.d)

The more of me that comes into contact with other people the more friction there will be.

My flesh only knows the interaction of self-interest.  The pursuit of one’s self-interest will always result in friction.  I can grind into my world with a purposefulness of my self-interest that reveals itself in rivalry and conceit.  My values can get squishy when I pursue what I feel is best for me.  I become about as effective as a flat tire when my self-interest is given the lead.

Flat repairI know that I need separation.  I know that the less of me and my self-interest that interacts with the world the better.  That is why I need to be filled with the Spirit.  It is only by the filling of the Spirit that rivalry and conceit can be banished.  It is only through the power of the Spirit that our flesh can be pushed back so we can even see the interests of others.  The fruit of the Spirit is like a tire pump.  With each sustaining pump of the Spirit into our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), the amount of interaction between our flesh and others is reduced.  That reduces friction.

I have never wanted to seek other interests when I have been spiritually flat.  There was way too much of me grinding into my world to care about the interests of others.  We need the work of the Spirit in our lives to fill and lift us.  As the Spirit fills us from one degree to another, our sanctification will increase like the pressure in a tire.  I look forward to the day when my flesh is completely destroyed.  Until that day, I will rely upon the power of the Spirit to separate the remaining tentacles of my flesh from the world.

How is the pressure of the Spirit in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, I realize more each day how much I need you.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to teach and guide me.  Thank you for filling me and making me a new creature.  Father, help me to set my mind on you and not on myself.  Lord, develop the fruit of your Spirit in my life.  Transform me so that my nature will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  That is who I want to be.  Father, raise me to be that kind of man.  May the world see more of you and less of me.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“COME DEATH…BUT NOT YET” – July 24

July 24, 2013

“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”  Philippians 1:25

I can relate to Paul’s longing for death.  For Paul, he knew that it was far better to depart and be with Christ.  I believe in the sweet release of death and look forward to being with Christ.  However, there is a difference between longing for what is far better behind the veil of death and simply wanting to escape the stress and unpleasantness of life.

Dark Night

Dark Night (Photo credit: Mat Sheridan)

Typically, I only think about death when the view on this side is bleak.  “O Lord, if you are going to take me, then now would be a good time,” has been a prayer that has crossed my lips on the eve of an important test that I was ill prepared for.  The oppression of discouragement and meaninglessness leads the eye to look to for what is far better beyond the horizon of life.  Feelings of being ill-suited for this world and without a role tend to increase the desire to go where you know you will belong.

On those dark nights, escape has been my primary motivation behind the desire to leave this world.

The duplicity of my motivation was revealed when the doctor explained the cancer that was confronting my mortality.  Suddenly, the attractive escape of death was not as appealing.  There was within me an earnest desire to remain here a little longer to help raise my kids and grow old with my wife.  “O Lord, if it is your will  then your will be done but please give me a few more years.  Allow me to be a father and husband a little longer,” was my prayer when the reality of death knocked.

The Lord graciously granted that prayer and I have been cancer free for more than ten years.  However, the earnestness of being purposeful wanes as the years have removed the palpable taste of death’s reality.  The taste may diminish but the reality remains.  We all are a missed heartbeat away from crossing the veil into the arms of our Savior.  The time that we have been give is precious and should not be wasted.

For those who are in Christ, it is far better for the Lord to take us home.  So, why doesn’t he?  We are here for a purpose:

For to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.  (Philippians 1:24)

sunrise silhouette

sunrise silhouette (Photo credit: LJ Mears)

Like Paul, we remain in this world not for our own account but for others.  We all have a necessary purpose that we can fulfill in the time that God has given us on this earth.  We are here to help others progress in their faith.  Our purpose is to increase the joy in their faith.  It should be said of every departing brother and sister that they brought joy, encouragement, and progress to the faith of those in their life.

We are never too old or young to bring joy and encourage progress in someone else’s faith.
We are never too immature or mature to be about the purpose of others.

My hope and prayer on the day that death is allowed to take me is that my life will have brought joy to the faith of those I love.  I want those in whom I have invested my life to say that they have progressed in their faith because of the time that we were together.

That will be a life well spent.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for every day that you have given me.  Forgive me for not making the most of them.  Forgive me for allowing my limited days to be consumed with thoughts of my self.  Father, I want to live purposefully.  I want those whom you have placed in my life to be joyful as a result of my love for you.  I want those whom you have called to go further in their sanctification as a result of seeing my desire to seek you.  Lord, may you grant this purpose to my life.  Keep it in the forefront of my intentions.  Help me to be purposeful with the fleeting hours that I have been given.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“GOD SETS THE CRUISE CONTROL” – June 19

June 19, 2013

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:58

Freeway

Freeway (Photo credit: Wyrmworld)

A long stretch of interstate freeway lay in front on me with no significant driving changes.  I am mindful of the road ahead but I need not be concerned with my speed.  My vehicle has the wonderful little tool of cruise control that relieves my mind of the obligation to manage velocity.  I have the job of keeping on course; staying between the stripped lines and not running into the car in front of me.

As every second brings me closer to my destination, I notice another car far behind in my rear-view mirror.  The image of this fellow traveler grows over the lapse of 30 minutes.  My fellow companion has obviously engaged the same tool as mine only with the difference of a few miles per hour in advance.  His pursuit is gaining on me but only in small degrees.

Finally, the car that was once a speck in my mirror concludes its pursuit and settles itself just off my back bumper but not for long.  The driver decides to pass me.  The pass is a long, annoying, stroll down the interstate with a stranger at my shoulder as we hurl through space at 75 mph.  This stranger does not change the setting of his cruise control.  Therefore, he passes at a speed that is slower than that which I have walked past people .  We may be speeding toward our destination but it does not feel that way.  It feels as if we are moving agonizingly slow.  The presence of this other car, barely moving in the adjoining lane, steals any sense of my own speed.

I feel like I am not moving but any observer alongside the road will know that is not true.  I am traveling at a speed that travelers of an earlier time could not comprehend.  However, my rate of travel is difficult to judge within my car when traveling with other cars moving at the same relative speed.

We often describe out sanctification as a walk.  We are called to follow Christ.  My mental picture has always been a long, walk on a dusty, narrow spiritual path.  However, consider the distance in the transformation from rebellious God hater to glorified child of God.

Maybe, our sanctification is more like racing down the interstate with other travelers flying alongside at relatively the same speed.

God sets the speed of our sanctification.  We may feel as if there we are not moving at all.  We may think that the passage of distance along our path has become a grinding procession of inches.  I have a sense that is never the case.  We may be in a period that relative to others we are being left behind or motionless but that does not mean we are not moving.

God controls our speed.

We have all felt the temptation to jump start our sense of be stagnation.  We may want to change something, anything just to get the tingling sensation of movement.  We can become so addicted to relative motion that we are never satisfied without that sense of spiritual acceleration.  However, we can become flighty when we attempt to control the speed of our sanctification.  We flicker from one thing to another.  I have seen many brothers and sisters jump into a ministry with passion and excitement only to fade away in less than a year.  They are invigorated by the feel of forward speed that comes from newness and possibilities but become disillusioned when that sense of speed fades to the relative motionlessness.

Paul encourages us to be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Being steadfast and immovable does not mean that we are without motion.  The labor that we do for the Lord is never in vain even when we don’t feel like it is going anywhere.  As long as we are working diligently for the Lord, we don’t need to worry about the speed of our sanctification or the value of our work.  We don’t need to take control of the accelerator in search of a sense of spiritual rush.

Melbourne freeway

Melbourne freeway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have a tendency of thinking that what we are doing in the Lord is in vain because we often cannot see any relative motion.  I am sure that we will be amazed at the distance traveled toward glorification that has accrued when we think nothing was happening. Our job is to keep on the narrow road.  We are called to follow Christ – steadfastly keeping our course set upon Him.  We are called to follow Christ – immovable on the Truth.  A follower does not set the pace.  The pace is set by the leader.

We need to be content with being followers even when it does not feel like we are moving – we are probably moving faster than we know.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for being in control of all things – even the pace of my sanctification.  Forgive me for being impatient and not really trusting You with my heart or where You currently have me.  Increase my faith.  Help me to be steadfast in You.  Give me the strength to stand immovable in you.  Thank you for bringing value to all that I do by your Spirit.  Remove the unbelief of thinking that my labor is in vain.  Grant me the contentment and joy of being a follower no matter where that road leads.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“SETTING THE PACE” – June 4

June 4, 2013

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.”  1 Corinthians 3:1-2

Pace is difficult to gauge.

SwimmingIt is particularly difficult to gauge in swimming.  The problem is associated with being unable to see your accumulating time.  I never know my time until the last stroke of my set is finished.  Many times I have anxiously touched the end of the pool in anticipation of a new personal record (PR).  My swim felt great.  I felt faster.  The water just glided past me as I slipped through its restraints.  During those sets, I have day dreamed of race days in the near future; days when the pace I was swimming would keep me from being dropped by the real triathletes.  I tickled the thoughts of running into a transition area with most of the bikes still on their rakes because my swim was that good.

Those dreams of grandeur have been dashed more than once by the reality of my watch.  I get to my self-imposed finish line and stare down at my watch through fogging goggles.  That can’t be right.  I pull the goggles off to see better but that does not change the numbers.  I felt so much faster but my time is about the same as always.  I wonder if I lost count of my laps.  Maybe, I swam a couple extra laps without knowing it.  I make excuses for all my little lapses along the way.  Five seconds here and there to check my lap counter.  A three-second pause to spit out a gulp of water.  Two seconds for slipping on a turn.  None of my excuses add up to much time.  I am not as far along as my senses had convinced me.  The timer does not lie. Progress cannot be determined based on feelings.

Progress needs a gauge.

I have had another day dream.  I have wondered what Paul would have taught those immature Christians of his time.  I want to know the solid food that he held back because they were not ready for anything more than milk.  I am so disappointed in those early Christians for not staying on pace in their sanctification because they deprived us all of Paul’s teaching.

I have tickled the thoughts of listening to Paul teach the secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Cor. 2:7).  How wonderful would that be?  Just imagining this solid food of God that Paul could teach us.  I feel like I am ready for that solid food.  I feel like my pace of sanctification has been enough to keep from being dropped by the really mature believers.  I imagine that I am sufficiently mature to be prepared for the advanced class that Paul denied those early Christians.

However, Paul told those early Christians that they were not ready for the deeper things of God because they were still of the flesh.

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  (1 Cor. 3:3)

It is when I stop for a moment and really examine myself that I am all too aware of the myriad of actions in my daily life that are all too human.  I like to think of myself as mature and I know that I am in comparison to some.  However, I don’t know if I am all that much more mature than those early Christians.  I realize that the Church in Corinth had some huge problems but the Church in America has just as significant of problems.  We need to be very careful not to allow our feelings to be the metric of our sanctification.  The progress of our faith needs a gauge.  We are told to examine ourselves but that examination is not measured in comparison to those around us.

Spiritual progress is gauged by the scriptures. 

We need to periodically look at our lives in the reality of scripture to see how we are doing.  Is there progress?  Is the fruit of the Spirit more evident in your life?  Are you desiring God more?  Spiritual maturity is not measured by days on a calendar.  It is measured by the Spirit of God continually transforming us into the image of Christ.  Are you more Christ-like than you were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago?  If you have been keeping pace in your faith, you should see a difference.

We need to periodically make an assessment of where we are and then get back to work.  This is where good pace-setters are helpful.  Most of us will dog-it when we are on our own.  It is so helpful to have someone more mature in their faith help us by setting a spiritual pace that is more aggressive than what we would have set on our own.  Now, we are not gauging ourselves based on this pace-setter but we are using them to see what is possible.

We will find ourselves in a lot of different situations throughout our lives.

swimming

swimming (Photo credit: Jim Bahn)

Swimming – In the group I swim with, I am the pace-setter.  The other guys are not as fast in the water so they are using me to push themselves.  They don’t like to be lapped.  So, they pick-up their pace when I am swimming beside them.  They end up going much faster.  I end up going faster because I don’t want them to catch me and I want them to get better.  I end up swimming faster when I am setting the pace.  It is the same in a spiritual sense.  There will be times when people are watching us and determining what spiritual maturity looks like based on our faith.  We have a responsibility to be setting a scriptural pace for them because they are imitating us.

English: Military cyclists ride in a pace line...

Biking – In the group I cycle with, I am not the pace-setter.  There is one guy who is much faster and stronger on the bike than I am.  He can keep a pace on flat stretches that exhaust me.  He can accelerate up hills when I am down-shifting.  He sets the pace for me.  I work much harder when I am trying to cling to the back of his tire.  He shows me that I can get a lot better.  He encourages me to want to get better.  We need people like that in our spiritual lives.  We need people to show us that we can go deeper with our Lord.  We need those people who will challenge pace complacency in our lives.  We need flesh and blood examples in our lives that will encourage us to go harder after our Lord.

so [alone]

so [alone] (Photo credit: Wsobchak)

Running – I run alone.  This is the hardest of triathlon disciplines for me because I have no one to train with me.  I run my routes in solitude; alone with my watch.  There is one stretch where I run into the sun, that is about two miles long and I can see it from one end to the other.  It can be a discouragingly endless section.  I have a horrible time keeping pace on this section.  I have no one pulling me along.  I have no one lapping at my heels to spur me on.  This is when I pull the visor of my hat down.  I look about twenty feet in front of me and I just run into the sun.  I check my watch a lot more frequently.  I count the number of strides in 15 seconds; all to help me keep pace when I am all alone.  There will be times in our Christian walk when we will be alone.  We won’t have a good pace-setter and no one is setting the pace off of us or it seems that way.  It is easy to start dogging-it.  It is easy to lose the pace of our sanctification when we feel that we are alone.  This is when we need to dive into the scriptures even more.  Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16); we are to be imitators of Christ.  When we are alone we need our gauge even more.  When we feel like we are all alone, we need to just keep walking into the Son and checking ourselves much more frequently with the scriptures to make sure that we are on pace.

I want to stay on pace in my faith.  I want the solid food that is given to the spiritually mature.  I want to run the race of this life well, to the glory of God.

Let’s see if we can pick up the pace a bit.

PRAYER: Lord, I don’t want to be an infant in Christ.  I want to being maturing in you.  I want to know you more.  Yet, I know that there is so much of me that is still tangled up in the web of my flesh.  Father, please continue to free me of my sin.  Continue to transform me more into you.  Lord, give me pace-setters in my life to encourage me; allow me to be a pace-setter for others.  Help me to be an example that is worthy of being imitated.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“…BUT I’M RIGHT” – May 28

May 29, 2013

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”  Romans 14:1

English: St. Augustine arguing with donatists.

English: St. Augustine arguing with donatists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A discussion about the subtleties of particular theological positions can feel like a mine field.  I have some family members with whom I have agreed to an armistice regarding certain branches of theology.  They never seem to go well; just hint at predestination and the tension in a Sunday School class will escalate.  Most of us have experienced discussions that are religious in nature which have quickly turned into various degrees of quarrels.  After one of these chats, my wife no longer accepts my explanations that start with, “All I said was…”  It is why I am effectively banned from such discussions at most social gatherings.

I don’t know why I get myself in those situations.  It is the rare occasion when I have one of these discussions with a person with whom I disagree and I walk away feeling uplifted, encouraged, and joyful.  I wonder how often God is glorified in these intense theological discussions.

The list for which we Christians have drawn hard theological lines is very long:

Bible Translation             Style of Worship   Eschatology                    Predestination
Days of Celebration  Baptism    Clothing          Alcohol  Tobacco         Days of Worship

We get all worked up about them because we are so convinced in what we believe.  Yet, I wonder how many of these quarrelsome issues will really matter in the end.

The fact that we are so convinced is actually a good thing.  We should be convinced about how we live our faith.  Our faith should matter to us enough that we have at least an opinion.  We should be confident about how we walk in the Spirit.  We should be decisive in the decisions we make regarding that which we partake and abstain.  It is a good thing to have conviction.

We are told that everything that does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23b)

Therefore, we should have very strong opinions about our faith.  What we believe about all the minor issues of our faith does matter.  We should not be wishy-washy about theology.  I have be told by friends that they have no intention of becoming convinced about a certain theological position because they are going to follow Jesus and Jesus alone.  I do not see where Paul is encouraging that sort of non-committal approach in order to avoid conflict.  Faith is center to our lives.  Everything that we do that does not come from faith is sin.  That is serious.  So, we should know what we believe and why we believe it.  We should have strong opinions about how we live our lives.  That is what it means to be fully convinced in our own mind.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Romans 14:5

The question is how we are to handle these strong opinions?

As Paul teaches, we all are going to give an account of ourselves to God.  I will stand before our God and you will stand before our God and we will both have to give an account for all of our strong beliefs and how we lived them out.  The implication of this teaching is to lead us to conclude that there can be more than one right answer.

Just because something is wrong for me does not mean that it is wrong for you.
Just because something is right for me does not mean that it is right for you.

 I don’t like that very much.  It does not fit into my tidy, black and white, world.  I like things to be right or wrong.  My comfort is found in crisp distinctions.  I would prefer there to be one correct answer.  How can I be glorifying God in my actions and a person doing the direct opposite also be glorifying God?  That just messes with my head.

I think that the reason our discussion rise to quarrels is because we are fully convinced that there is one right answer.  Think about all of those conversations that you have had on theology that seemed to go in circles and were so wholly unsatisfying.  Maybe, they were so unsatisfying due to the fact that the equally right answers already resided in each of your hearts.  The fact that two people with opposite opinions can both be right is a concept that I have to be continually reminded of.

Therefore, we can relax when it comes to one another.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?  It is before his own Master that he stands or falls.  And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  Romans 14:4

The real issue that we should be concerned about is whether someone is saved; whether someone has been welcomed by God (Romans 14:3b).  The essential issue is whether someone is justified by faith in Christ Jesus.  If they are saved, then they are responsible for their own faith before God.  The good news is that our Lord is able to make all of His children stand before Him.  Just think about what an incredible promise this is.  Every follower of Christ is empowered in Christ to stand before God.  We just need to learn to trust God to complete the work that He has started in our lives and the lives of others.

That is why we can chill-out about all these non-essential theological issues.  God has it all under control.   God is the founder and perfecter of both of our faith.  He is more than capable to uphold his own children.

Our strong convictions free us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

It is because of our strong opinions that we are free to really love one another and seek their well-being.  The reality that we can both be right should motivate us to lay aside those non-essential issues and seek our brother or sister’s well-being more than being right.  Being right does not matter nearly as much as someone feeling welcomed and loved.  Our goal should be for them to feel welcome and encouraged rather than judged.   In fact, the confidence that we have in the Lord, by being fully convinced of what we believe, obligates us to bear with the failings (differing opinions) of our brothers and sisters  and to to not seek to please ourselves(Romans 15:1).

Also, we are set free  from other people’s opinions.  Ultimately, my faith is between God and me.  It is not subject to community polling.  This does not mean I can kill people to the glory of God; commit adultery to the glory of God; or cheat on my taxes to the glory of God.  This does not free me to be a false teacher or to embrace heresy.  However, it frees me from the opinions of other on non-essential issues.  I have felt judged by others on how I live my life (spend money, take vacation, hours worked, etc.), but I was not convinced in my own heart that what I was doing was wrong.  This sort of judgmental attitude by our brothers and sisters in Christ can really steal our joy and rock our faith.  We are freed from their opinions because we can both be right.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit Romans 14:17

We need to be convinced of our faith in our own hearts and live the faith He as called us to for the glory of God.  We need to walk faithfully in the Spirit and bask in the peace and joy of our faith.  Our faith is not a burden.  Don’t let the opinions of other people make it a burden.  We are called to live in the joy of our King.  Let’s embrace the freedom of the hope of God to live in all joy and peace of believing with a fully convinced heart.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for for setting me free in Christ Jesus.  Forgive me for those times where I have made a fellow brother or sister feel unwelcome and judged.  Forgive me for caring more about the rightness of my doctrine rather than your righteousness, peace, and joy.  Forgive me for not loving my fellow heirs of God like you do.   Lord, help me to see your children as You do.  Help me to love as you do.  Make me a man who pursues peacemaking for mutual upbuilding.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“A HEADWIND OF MY OWN MAKING” – May 27

May 27, 2013

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealously.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  Romans 13:13-14

I have a century (100 miles) bicycle ride coming up way too fast and I am not ready.  I have not had the time to ride any distance greater than 34 miles.  So, I was determined to solve that problem yesterday.  I went for an early morning ride on a route that would garner me 60 miles.  I left my driveway with the sun still coming into its full light.  There were dark clouds in three directions but I figured that I would risk it.

It was a beautiful ride.  There were no cars on the road at that time of morning.  I had the countryside to myself.  The cool morning kept the sweat from my eyes as giant clouds paced me through the undulating hillsides.  It was so quiet that the songs of the birds created a melody with the rhythm of my breathing and the turning of my bike chain.  The words of Matt Chandler and then John Piper were preached from my ipod straight into my mind.  The Word they expounded was confirmed in my soul as I beheld the glory of God in the delicate wild flowers along the fence lines and the power in the gathering storm clouds.

My ride was going so well.  I passed through the town that marked my halfway point and began pedaling the return leg of my long loop.  I felt good.  I was still attacking the climbs and powering through the flats.  I was maintaining a respectable 18.5 mph/ average.  I had not had to stop.  My confidence in being able to do a century ride was rising with each pedal stroke.

I held my crouch with my forearms firmly on my aero-bars as I pushed to better my average speed.  I passed over pavement that had recently been wetted by a light shower.  I craned my neck to see what clouds lay ahead of me.  It did not look very promising.  However, I did not have many choices at that point.  My route was set.  I had decided to head out this morning with threatening clouds so this was not much of a surprise.  Home and rest lay ahead.  So, I had to just keep pedaling.  I was feeling good and my average speed was still 18.4 mph.  I rode through the last town of my route.  I had about 7 miles to go.  No problem.

English: Corn blowing in the wind

English: Corn blowing in the wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It hit me just as I passed beyond the city limits and into the open farmland.  A brutal headwind that stretched flags and bent trees had taken possession of the land that a mere 3 hours earlier had been so pleasant and tranquil.  I geared down and hunched over to try offering the wind the least amount of opposing surface area as it flowed into my face.  My neck began to ache.  My thighs began to cramp.  My eyes dried out.  My heart was evaporating as quickly as my speed.  I struggled to keep a 13 mph pace.  I mourned the loss of my 18 mph average.  I just wanted this once enjoyable ride to be over.  I thought about calling my wife to come pick me up.  I could not do that – I was just 5 miles out.  I could make it but it was no longer fun.  I no longer felt good.  I no longer felt strong.  I was being spent at an alarming rate as I pushed through this wind.

Dave Zabriskie attacking the final 3 kilometer...

Dave Zabriskie attacking the final 3 kilometers of the USA Cycling Pro Individual Time Trial Championship in Greenville, SC. Zabriskie won the US title when defending champion Chris Baldwin fell on the course’s last corner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I finally made it back to my driveway.  I did not feel very good.  I felt a little sick.  However, I was very thankful that I had spent the time that morning to clamp my aero-bars back onto my bike.  My aero-bars had helped me get home by giving that wind the least provision of holding me back.  It would have be so much worse if I had been forced to ride upright.  I was disappointed because the wind had affected me, slowed my average to 17.8 mph and stole the joy of my ride.

That wind makes me think of my flesh.  My sinful desires so often feel like a brutal headwind.  I will be feeling confident in my spiritual walk.  I will be feeling so good and strong.  My joy will be overflowing and no distance will seem insurmountable.

I will turn into the headwind of my own flesh and my pace and optimism will be spent in a matter of moments.

The truly frustrating part is that this headwind is usually of my own making.  I know where the dark clouds of my life are.  I know where the storms reside.  I know where I am particularly weak and susceptible.  I am well aware of where I have stumbled in the past.  I know the routes that hold the headwind of my own sinful desires.

I usually end up bucking a spiritual headwind because I have turned into it.  God has promised us a route around every temptation.  We are not required to ride through our own sin.  There is a route that God has paved that will protect us from the headwind of our flesh.  Every provision for sin that I allow in my life is a road sign directing me to a lie.  It is a lie that I sometimes believe.  It is a route that has always led to difficulty and pain.  It is a route that has ground me to a near halt.  It has stolen my joy and expended my strength.

English: Blowing in the wind Lonely daffodils ...

English: Blowing in the wind Lonely daffodils on the River Trent embankment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is that I have never been abandoned because of poor routes that I have taken along the way.  We can still ride through the headwind of our failings.  God will still give us strength to overcome the powerful resistance of our sinful desires.  He will guide us back to the safe route and into the light.  When we find ourselves confronted with the headwind of our flesh, then we need to hunker down to give it the least area for it to cling to us.  We do that by going to our knees in repentance, preaching the gospel to ourselves, believing the promises of our Redeemer.  We cut off the powerful headwind of our flesh by eliminating all the provisions for it in our lives.  We are told to not give any provision for the flesh in our lives.  Every area of our lives that we expose to the gratification of our sinful desires is an area for sin to cling to and hold us back in our sanctification. God has paved a way for us that is easy, with a burden that is light.  May we not believe the lies of our flesh.  There is no lasting pleasure in the gratification of our flesh.  We have been given a narrow road to glory that already has many challenges.  Let’s not add a headwind of our making to the challenge of our daily walk.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for never abandoning me.  I know that I allow too many provisions for sin in my life.  Show them to me.  Teach me to kill the sin that resides in me.  Thank you for always providing me with an escape from my sinful desires.  Thank you for always providing me a route home to You when I have taken the wrong route.  Father, complete the work that You have started in me.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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