Tuesday, September 30, 2014

3 Reasons to Never Give Up

People quit all the time. I run an employment agency and at least once or twice a month I talk to people who are quitting their jobs for "no good reason".  Many Christians also quit. They stop actively following the Lord. They shift the car into neutral and coast. They still go to church, drop some money in the offering, and listen to the message. They may even hang around after the service to drink coffee and "fellowship",  but they've stopped growing in their relationship to the Lord. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.  Many people quit something because it is difficult. Being a DH in Hong Kong is one of the world's toughest jobs. Quitting because something is hard is almost always the wrong thing to do.  Last Sunday as our Pastor was teaching on Philippians 3 I began looking at Philippians 3:12-21 from the perspective of quitting. He preaches in Filipino, so I have a good excuse for letting my mind roam. Here is what stuck out to me:

3 Reasons we should never give up

  • Jesus has a purpose for me and he is working in my life  

 But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me."  3:12b

Jesus had something in mind when he first took hold of my life. Earlier in this letter, Paul says "God is at work within you both to will and to do his good pleasure". God has a purpose for my life and he is actively working to bring that goal to fruition. If God hasn't given up on me, how can I give up on myself????

  • Jesus has promised a reward to finishers. 
"I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." (3:14)  What is "the heavenly prize"? Is it heaven itself? Is it a reward or status we receive in heaven? Is it simply me actually becoming the person that Christ wants me to be? Living out your God given potential? Over and over again God promises rewards to those who don't give up, who perservere through trials and tribulations, who overcome. I won't know what that prize is unless I "press on". 

  • I am a "citizen of heaven". Citizens of heaven don't quit. 
"But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. "

Family and friends say "It's not worth it. Just give up and quit. It's okay." They say "it's so unfair, you shouldn't stand for it anymore. Quit." God says "I have a plan. I called you. I'll bring it to pass." When I look to the Lord to ask "Can I quit?" I see nail pierced hands and a thorn crowned brow. I know the answer. "No". 

Sometimes we need to end one thing in order to move onto the next thing that God has for us. I've done that recently. That is not quitting. It is just changing direction and focus. In our pursuit of God's purpose for our lives, we should never give up. 

Tomorrow I'll post about "How NOT to give up". 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Where is the awe? Fear and trembling

"I can live in a way that pleases God." This statement ought to blow our minds. Christians readily accept this because we think of God as a warm and loving father who will always love his children unconditionally.  We confuse God's unconditional love with "being pleased". I love the child who disobeyed my order to "don't touch that", but I'm not thrilled that my $400 new toy is now in pieces on the floor. Experiencing the love and acceptance of God AND experiencing the pleasure of God are not the same things.

Most people cannot even conceive of God as a loving Father. If you ask them "Do you have assurance that God accepts you and will accept you into his kingdom?" they readily answer "No." They can't be sure of his unconditional love and acceptance, so they try to live in a way that pleases him, hoping to gain that assurance of love and acceptance. Christians, on the other hand, think that because they have assurance of God's love and acceptance - then it follows that their lives are pleasing to God. We're wrong.

Living a life that is pleasing to God takes effort. Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi (2:12-13) says,
"My dear friends, you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I’m absent. In the same way continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him."

  1. These Christians were trained to obey. Paul discipled them. They learned a lifestyle of obedience under Paul's tutelage. When he was with them, he already observed that they knew how to live the Christian life, to walk as followers of Jesus. He exhorts them to keep on obeying even though he is no longer with them.
  2. Living a life pleasing to God takes work.  He tells them to "work out" your own salvation. It is not automatic, but rather takes effort. After 61 years I am still fighting to establish godly habits that will help me live a life pleasing to God, and to stay free from ungodly habits that will take me away from God. 
  3. Living the Christian life, a life that habitually pleases God is possible. Paul says "work out your own salvation with "fear and trembling". Why does he add "fear and trembling"? Is it because we are supposed to be afraid of making a mistake? People who are afraid of making mistakes NEVER DO ANYTHING. They are paralytics, afraid to move for fear of inciting anger. They are like the servant who buried the gold talent in the field because he was afraid of his master. His master called him "lazy and evil". The "fear and trembling" comes in because it is possible to live as God wants us to.  It is the fear and trembling of AWE. Have you ever held something of great value: a 5000 year old vase, keys to a new house, a newborn baby? You heart is afraid, your body is trembling in awe. Is this real? Is this little baby really mine. She is so delicate, so beautiful, so perfect ... wow... Today you and I can live lives that will please Almighty God. You and I have within us a power, a supernatural ability to live like Jesus lived, to live for Jesus. Be in awe.
  4. Living for Christ is possible because God is at work in us. God is at work in me. I have often disobeyed the Lord. I have ruined whole patches of my life, and YET God is at work in me, creating the desire and the actions that please Him. I can because HE DID. I can, because HE DIED. He is at work, so with fear and trembling, I need to WORK to develop holy habits that will help me live in a way that habitually brings a smile to the face of my Father. 
I'm amazed. I'm awed. Lord, it is possible to please you today. Thank you for making it possible. I'm in awe of you.

It runs! Barely, but it runs.

Yesterday I helped my dad get ready for the day. Millions of people around the world do this for their elderly parents every day. This week Ione and I will join their ranks. I didn't realize that he had an electric shaver, so I shaved him the old fashioned way with shaving cream and a razor. It was like shaving a giant raisin. His skin has so many folds in it, his neck looks like the gullet of a turkey, and I almost despaired of achieving a clean shave without nicking his thin skin. 

As I helped him dress I saw how many scars and dents his body had. One side of his chest was injured in the past and it shows. There is a large scar across his midsection from an emergency operation.  He looks like an old model T. No one would expect it to run, but it does! 

This body took him through the Great Depression and World War 2. It took him through 70 years of marriage and raising 6 kids. It has weathered the world for 93 years, AND it is still running. His mind remembers only events from 50 years ago, and sometimes those details get mixed up. He struggles to remember his children and sometimes his spouse. Yesterday we took mom to the hospital because she was suffering chest pains. Dad couldn't articulate his thoughts but he was so worried. They released mom and she didn't have to stay overnight, but the whole incident disoriented dad. "My wife is in the hospital" he repeated even though she was sitting across from him at the table. The mind is a strange thing. Dad is amazing, worn, beaten up, his wheels are about to fall off, but he loves and worries about his wife. He runs, just barely - his mind is mostly gone - but his heart is still fully there.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You are not a muggle: Working out the work of Christ in us

Harry Potter was not a muggle. He grew up in a muggle family and he thought he was a muggle, but he was, in fact, a wizard. There was something stirring inside of him, longing to come forth, a power, an identity, the real Harry Potter. After he discovered that he was magical Harry was taken to the Hogwarts School of Magic, so that he could learn the nature and use of the magic that was already within him. You know the rest of the story.

If you are a child of God, there is something greater than magic inside of you. The Spirit of God lives inside of you and the nature of Christ is daily being re-created in you. God is at work within you, producing the desires and actions that please him.  Because God is at work in us, we are called to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling". We are not working FOR our salvation, but rather working OUT the salvation that God has worked within us. Like young Harry, we need mentors and others to help us develop, but make no mistake, this greater magic is there.

This greater magic is called the saving work of God. It was given to us as a gift from God. The gift was paid for with the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Paul puts it this way:

"He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. My dear friends, you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I’m absent. In the same way continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him."  The apostle Paul to the Christians at Philippi."  Philippians 2:8, 12-13 GW

Paul says that Jesus "humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross." Theologians call this the "finished work of Christ". What they mean is that Jesus, through his death, accomplished the salvation of mankind, and even the restoration of all of creation. When he said "it is finished" he was saying that the work of salvation was fully achieved. Jesus achieved salvation by obeying the Father and allowing himself to be nailed to the cross. It is his work, NOT OURS. We should never confuse "working OUT salvation" with "working FOR salvation". We are told to work out our salvation, but never to work FOR our salvation. Jesus already did that. If you asked Christ to forgive your sins and trusted in his work on the cross, then you are redeemed. The greater magic of salvation is at work inside of you.

I can't work FOR salvation because Jesus already finished that work. What I can do is work OUT the salvation he has achieved for me. Jesus through his death and resurrection has put the greater magic back into those who put their trust in him. We work out our salvation by obeying him, by walking in step with him. The good news is that he has already put the "want to" into our hearts. The magic is there.  Do you sense the magic inside of you?

"Lord, today I want to cooperate with your Spirit, to walk in step with you, to obey you. Thank you for putting in me the desire and ability to live out, work out my salvation. Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hiding from the all present God

I've been reading Your God is too safe by Mark Buchanan. In the chapter on practicing the presence of God he suggests that since God is everywhere "in Him we live, move and have our being", then interacting with the omni-present God should be natural and easy. The truth is that we go out of our way to hide, and like Jonah, to run away from God. As I read this, I realized that I avoid God. I avoid talking to him, I ignore him, I attempt the impossible: to hide from him.

Why? I want to understand this. Is it shame? Am I like Peter saying "get away me from Lord, for I am a sinner" or Isaiah "I am a man with unclean lips and I live among a people with unclean lips." Is it stubborness? Do I want to do what I want to do, without asking God's opinion? For many years I've operated under the maxim "it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission". At it's core, it is a disrespectful rebellious attitude.

Lord, show me why I hide from you. Help me deal with those things that keep me in a "distant land".