Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MVP of a game that doesn't matter

Philippians 3:4  "Though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:"

Paul lists his flawless credentials as a Jew and a Pharisee.  Indeed, if anyone could earn favor with God by keeping the law, it was Paul.  But he had been guided to the realization that his personal credentials and accomplishments meant nothing in terms of bringing him any closer to God.

Only faith in Christ's redeeming work on the cross can bridge that gap.  Paul went on to explain that he counted all of his personal credentials as loss and rubbish compared to finding his true life through faith in Christ.

Paul is like the best player on the field, head and shoulders above the other players in his skills and abilities.  He dominates every game and is generally considered to be the MVP of the league.  Only, he comes to find out that he has attained the pinnacle in the wrong game- a game that doesn't matter.

Make sure you are playing the right game.  If your game involves racking up personal achievements and accomplishments for your own glory or to somehow prove your worth to others, you're in the wrong game.

Monday, September 17, 2012

There are none who do not know Him

Psalm 19:1-3  "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard."

Everyone knows God to one degree or another.  Some may believe that the purpose of the Great Commission is to carry the news of the existence of God to peoples all over the earth.  But as David writes above, even those unacquainted with the Gospel message have a sense of God's existence through their interaction with the physical world.

Nature proclaims the existence of a Creator even to those who don't know the full Story.  The Great Commission, then, calls us to take the Gospel to those who have a sense of, but don't personally know, God. 

When we do this, our job is not to convince someone that God exists- He has already done that through His creation.  We are simply carrying to them the revelation that will allow them to make sense of the God with whom they have already come in contact. 

The Bible reveals the full character of God and explains just how far He has taken His love for us.  Physical creation is not the end of the story, and only gives us a glimpse of what He has to offer us. The Gospel message revealed to us in the Bible completes the Story.

Monday, September 10, 2012

God's plan or my plan?

1 Corinthians 16:8-9  "But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door of effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me."

Paul changed his travel and ministry plans when he recognized God opening another door for him elsewhere.  Paul had intended to leave Ephesus for Corinth, but recognized that there was still work to be done and that God had presented him with additional ministry opportunities.

It would have been easy for Paul to ignore or overlook these opportunities in favor of his own plans.  We often become a slave to our plans and don't ask or respond to God's plans.  Staying in close contact with God and constantly seeking His will can help us not blindly follow our own plans. 

When we see doors open or opportunities presented that don't fit within our plans, we also have a duty of obedience to respond.  As is stated in my daily devotional book, "God writes opportunity on one side of the door, and responsibility on the other." 

Staying sensitive to God's promptings, recognizing opportunities He provides, and responding in an obedient manner are how we can constantly align our plans with God's plans.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Turn down the volume

Proverbs 15:1  "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Dealing with tense situations and diffusing situations involving angry people is a true art form.  There comes a point in the confrontation where the original point is no longer the point because emotions have taken over.  Sometimes the emotions can be diffused early enough that a conversation can be steered back on course to the original point of discussion.  But other times the emotions have escalated beyond a level where rationality is easily re-introduced.

Recognizing that tipping point and knowing which way to go next is crucial in restoring fellowship and bringing about resolution.  As Solomon advises, tone is as important (and sometimes more so) than the actual words spoken.  Words often carry enormous weight, and choosing words carefully can make a world of difference in communication.  But what can make even more of a difference is the tone and manner in which those words are delivered.

It is hard at times to not return harsh words when you have received harsh words.  Sometimes a more harsh approach may be warranted (remember Jesus creating chaos in the temple courts?)  More often than not, though, a kind and gentle return can keep emotions in check and re-institute true communication. 

We see many examples where Jesus refrained from matching the volume or emotion of His naysayers, and it helped Him turn them away.  Winning by "out-angering" or "out-screaming" someone is usually a hollow victory that may only serve to satisfy our flesh.

(NOTE:  While I actually wrote this entry in my journal a while back, it seems even more fitting in this election season.  I read the papers and see clips from the conventions and feel sick to my stomach.  There is no communication going on right now in our country.  There is simply "our side" and "their side", and God forbid if you are on "their side".  Class warfare and an "us versus them" mentality was a key component in the fall of the Roman empire.  I fear we could be next if there is truly no middle ground to be found.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Peace through God depends on peace with God

Romans 5:1  "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

There are two aspects to the peace that Paul describes as belonging to believers- peace with God and peace through God.  I think the second type of peace is the one we focus on the most when we consider the concept of peace.  We want our relationship with God to result in peace in our daily lives (thus, "peace through God").  We want the tangible benefit of a relationship with God to be smoothness and harmony in our circumstances. 

While God doesn't promise us a completely peaceful existence in our daily lives, He does promise an overriding peace that doesn't ebb and flow with our circumstances.  This is peace that comes to us by way of our reconciliation with Him. 

"Peace with God" means that we have been fully reunited and reconciled with our Creator.  We are no longer at odds or in conflict.  Our hostility toward Him and our transgressions against Him have been erased, and our relationship has been reset. 

All else pales in comparison to being at peace with God.  Gaining peace through God simply flows from this reconciliation with Him.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are you driven by love or fear?

James 4:1  "What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?"

I'm a strong believer that our words and actions flow directly from our thoughts, fears, worries, desires and priorities.  If you want to know what really makes a person tick, dig below the surface of what they say and do and try to identify the motives that drive their outward actions.

I know when I am at peace internally, my thoughts, words and actions reflect that peace.  The same holds true, in the opposite direction, when I am disturbed inside. 

I believe the biggest negative motivation that drives many of us is fear.  We mask fear in a multitude of ways, from cowardice behavior to self-important boasting.  Fear can have an equal role in driving outward success or failure.

James encourages us all to stay focused on what we should be focused on- our Father.  If we were all focused on Him and let His Spirit indwell us fully, fights and quarrels among us would magically disappear.  In the meantime, pay attention to the desires within you and how those desires manifest themselves through your words and actions.  The key is not to simply modify your behavior, but rather to let God's redeeming work on the cross transform you from the inside out. When you are at peace with yourself and with God, it is amazing how conflict with others lessens in your life.