Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The freedom to change

Philippians 3:13-14  "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Paul's words above describe an important tenet of the Christian faith- progressive sanctification.  Sanctification is different but equally important as justification.  Justification is the full and complete forgiveness we receive when we place our faith in what Christ accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.  Sanctification describes what happens over the course of our lives after justification.

After we accept Christ's unmerited grace, we become His children and start a lifelong process of coming to know Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to progressively transform us to be more like Him.  Justification is more like an event that happens at a particular time, whereas sanctification is a process that does not end during our time on earth.

If we allow the process to work as it should, each successive day brings us slightly closer to (and more knowledgeable of) God than we were the day before.  Our words, beliefs and actions at any particular point in our lives are constrained by what we know and where we are in the sanctification process at that time.  Later, we may look back on choices we have made and see a different path than we were able to see at the time.  We might even forcefully argue than someone facing a similar situation today take a different path than we did.

Our past thoughts, choices and actions do not set a precedent for us that can never be changed in the future.  We don't continue to give someone an F in math all the way through high school because they answered a math problem incorrectly in 1st grade.

In the same way, we shouldn't label someone a hypocrite for holding different beliefs and advocating for different choices today than what they themselves have held and done in the past.  This is exactly what Paul means when he talks of forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  How many times must he have had his past life and beliefs as a persecutor of Christians and zealot against the Christian faith thrown in his face as he was preaching the Gospel of grace through faith alone?

Even those (especially those) who have made opposite choices in the past (divorce, adultery, idol worship, etc.) and held different beliefs can forcefully argue against those choices and beliefs at a later point.  To place someone in a permanent box and deny their ability and freedom to change and grow is to deny the sanctification process that is described in the Bible.

If our destinies were set in stone by the actions we took and the beliefs we held at an earlier point in our lives, none of us would stand here today as believers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The gospel of "more"

1 Thessalonians 4:10  "And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."

We are entering the season of "more".  Our society has turned Christmas season into a season of massive gluttony.  Yesterday was "Cyber Monday" and before it was "Black Friday".  Reports are out about how many billions of dollars were spent over this four-day period. 

One the one hand, spending is what supports our economy and provides jobs, increased standard of living, less reliance on government resources, etc.  These are good outcomes.  But the cost to us is continuing to feed the consumption engine and buying into the fallacy that our level of happiness and our status in this world is based on our possessions.

If you believe this life and this world are all that there is, accumulating the most or the nicest things is the measuring stick you by which you judge yourself.  But it's not just unbelievers who fall into this trap.  It ensnares many believers who are very keenly aware of the true meaning of Christmas. 

We should want and should pursue "more", but not more of what the world tells us we need.  As Matt Chandler once said, my fear for you is that you'll never have enough (wealth, possessions, etc.) to realize that it will never be enough.  In other words, we will never realize that the happiness and fulfillment we seek can never be found playing the world's game of "more".

We all know this, we just won't (or can't) admit it.  Today's shiny new treasure is tomorrow's Goodwill donation.  And are we any happier or more fulfilled on the back end?  "No, but if I had ____ ..."  The cycle continues and so does the chase. 

Our thirst remains unquenched despite the fact that we drink to the point of making ourselves sick.  Why?  It's the wrong well, as John Eldredge would say. 

What we truly seek is living water, found only in the well of Jesus.  The "more" we truly yearn for is more of Him and more of the life He showed us through Jesus.  Brotherly love, grace, compassion, service of others- these are the things we should be seeking more of.

These gifts are available to us anytime and anywhere through God.  They aren't on sale for a short window of time nor do they require us to stand in line at a store at midnight.  But these gifts are not free.  The cost to us is refusing to fall for what our flesh and the world tries to convince us is so vitally important.

What is it that I am seeking "more" of today?

Monday, November 26, 2012

His life was about much more than His death

1 John 3:16  "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

When we read this verse, specifically the phrase "laid down" in reference to what Jesus has done for us, we naturally focus on Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross.  We read the next part of the verse and the natural conclusion is that we should be willing to "die" for our brothers.

The note in my study Bible, though, make a very interesting (and I believe true) observation.  It says the following:

"Sometimes it is easier to say we will die for others than to truly live for them."

We focus so much on Jesus' death and the provision of salvation that I believe we shortchange Jesus' sacrificial life.  Jesus didn't teach us about sacrificial love only through His crucifiction and physical death.  His entire life on earth is a lesson in sacrificial living and love.

Jesus didn't live as He wanted and solely following His own desires.  He didn't suddenly become the picture of perfect sacrificial love when He was nailed to the cross.  That event was a culmination to the sacrificial way in which He lived.

I believe we as Christians are too focused on Jesus' death and what it means for us than on His life and what it means for us.  The study note is right- it may be easier to make a single sacrificial decision that results in the end of your physical life on behalf of others than to wake up every single morning and die to your own selfish desires on behalf of others.

Jesus not only died to give us eternal life, but He lived to show us how to best serve God and others during our earthly lives.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The fallacy of being in partnership with God

Exodus 13:17  "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' "

God has a plan and has reasons for everything He does.  His ways are higher and better than our ways.  God doesn't make mistakes. 

Those three statements I just made are what a friend of mine would call "Sunday School answers".  They are the right answers to certain questions we might raise with God or about God's plan.  But are they really, honestly what we believe?  Or are they simply what we know we should believe and even want very badly to believe? 

Having faith in God and His plans and methods is difficult.  The most comfortable thing we have to lean on is our own understanding and reasoning.  It's difficult for us to defer to God's judgment and the path He seems to be leading us down when it just doesn't make any sense to us.  When we can see a much shorter, clearer path that seems to accomplish the goal, we want to seize control of the situation.  What we are saying at those times is that God just doesn't understand or doesn't see all of the options available to us the way that we do.  "It's OK, God.  I'm not saying your stupid.  You're just having trouble seeing the clear answer in this situation.  I'll help you out this time, because there will come a day when I won't see something clearly and You will help me out." 

Ever have an exchange with God along these lines?  What are we really saying here?  We're saying that we are God's equal.  We view Him as our partner in life.  It is as if we are saying that we each have strengths and weaknesses, and in combination we make a great team.  Sometimes we do the heavy lifting, sometimes He does.  But together we make up for each other's deficiencies and are complete.

That view is the height of arrogance and idolatry at its finest.  God is our LORD, not our partner.  He is our absolute, unquestioned, unmatched authority.  What He says goes- period.  He allows us by His grace and mercy to petition Him for the things we want and the ideas we have, but He is the ultimate decision-maker.  He isn't learning as He goes along.  He has never looked back on a decision He made and wished He could go back and do it differently.  It is laughable to think that He would ever need us to help Him see something clearly or make up for His deficiencies (as if He had any).

God is perfect.  His plans, His timing, His judgment are all perfect.  It may not seem perfect to us based on our own plans and preferences.  But if we know that what comes from God is perfect, we can know with absolute certainty that when our ways differ from His, it is us who is in the wrong and is in need of adjustment. 

The Israelites would have most likely preferred to take the shortest route out of Egypt.  God, however, led them on a path that made no sense to them.  God had a very good reason for doing this, and that is what we always have to keep in mind when God's path is different than the one we would have chosen.  We must trust Him, knowing that He and His ways are perfect.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You can't handle the truth

John 16:12  " 'I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.' "

I think one of the greatest ways in which Christ blesses us is in being a barrier between us and full revelation of what is to come.  As humans, we all have a desire to one degree or another to know what is in front of us and what is going to happen. 

We usually want to know what is in front of us because we believe it will calm our anxieties.  But the Holy Spirit that lives within believers is much wiser than we are.  He knows that there is a proper time to reveal truth to us. 

The proper timing has much to do with our own ability to handle receiving the truth.  We mistakenly believe that we are ready to know it all, or will at least learn to deal with it.  But the Spirit knows that receiving too much too soon can crush us in several different ways. 

He nurtures us and builds into us what we need in order to receive more and more of the truth.  He brings truth to us when we are properly equipped and spiritually mature enough to handle it. 

If you feel God is holding back truth from you, He may be saying you need to grow more before receiving it.  Press into Him and let Him strengthen and mature you.  Then you can rest in knowing you are ready for more.