Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Focus When Suffering

(14) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.“ (John 3:14-15)

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John 3:14-15 helps us gain focus and perspective when suffering. Some have been abused and want the Bible to give hope that their abuser will go to jail for his crimes. Some have been deeply and painfully betrayed and want the Bible to give hope that their friend will repent and seek reconciliation and all will be made right again. Some have lost fortunes and want the Bible to give hope that they will be prosperous again. Some are dying and want the Bible to give hope that they have years left on this earth.

But the truth is we are hoping in the wrong things. I can’t promise he will face jail time. I can’t promise your spouse or friend will repent and return. I can’t promise faithfulness leads to riches. I can’t promise you healthy years. But, if those are your ultimate hopes, you are hoping in the wrong things.

But, what I can promise you is that Jesus will be exalted. If you are a Christian, that is enough. The pathway to peace and happiness is not through finding justice, reconciliation, wealth, and health on this earth. Rather, joy is found in the depths of your soul not in your outer circumstances. Might sound odd, but God-the-Father and God-the-Spirit found happiness in God-the-Son. Their pleasure was found in lifting Jesus up?!

John Pitman was committed to get Jesus up, even when suffering. Pitman was a Revolutionary War hero who got converted and became a Reformed Baptist pastor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Pitman’s life was marked by many forms of suffering. He survived a violent war. He buried his wife and young daughter on the same day. He faced financial ruin, losing his business and livelihood. He longed to be in ministry but the door really didn’t open for him till late in life.

At the end of his life he became very ill and knew the end was near. Jesus was Pitman’s desire, and as he neared the end he wrote:

“Let us adore the rich grace of God in calling us in early life, in keeping us by his power through faith unto the present time, in still making us his care, in enabling us to bear testimony to the truth and its glorious effects in old age, and in all circumstances…Should we have a hard battle with the last enemy that is to be destroyed, it will be very short, and then we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us, and enjoyed his presence forever…It is a blessing to be tried, a blessing to be delivered, a blessing to have a grateful heart for both.”

Then, on the day he died, he wrote:

“In a short time our glass will be out, and the sands run low; not far distant is the change to which all other changes were directed, and the afflicting portion of them will add an eternal weight of glory to the soul.  Let these things animate us to run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God, whose intercession is prevalent for all that love and obey him.”

Friends, we don’t need earthly justice, we don’t need need all things to be made right here and now, we don’t need wealth, and we don’t need long healthy years. But, what we do need is to see Jesus exalted. Today, as you pray, confess to Jesus areas of your life where you are not seeking to exalt Jesus. Confess if he is not your greatest desire. Believe again that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, greater than him. Believe again that your greatest joys will be found as you lift him up in your heart and life.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living

Using the Gospel, Preserve Your Decaying City

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

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We need to begin by pointing out that Jesus says  ”you” are the salt! Jesus is our hope and the truth, but individual Christians, as well as the institution of the Church, have missionary calls.

But, what does salt represent? There is a debate about the meaning of salt and Christians have interpreted the meaning differently. First, some say that salt brings a satisfying taste to bland food; thus, Christians are to bring taste to the world. Second, some have lumped all the interpretations together and tried to interpret a broad category. All the interpretations benefit the world in some way therefore they simply interpret this image to mean Christians are simply to benefit the world…sort of like the United Way. These interpretations could be right, but we can only be sure about one usage of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt was used to preserve decaying food. The heart of this illustration is Christians are to be a preserving force in their decaying city.

But this preserving salt metaphor means something regarding the nature of Christians as well as the nature of the city. The biblical view of the world is that it is decaying. This does not mean it is decaying as fast as it possibly can or that every aspect of our world is constantly decaying. However, the general and basic trajectory of our world is one of decay. It also means that the Church, individual Christians as well as the institution, are to be the preserving element for this decay.  You and I are called to fix this problem! You and I are the medicine for this disease!

But, what does losing saltiness represent? Some have tried to say losing your saltiness and being trampled upon means that you lose your salvation. We did not earn our salvation…Jesus did. Thus, so we can not lose our salvation and this can not be the meaning. We can not lose our salvation, but we can lose our missionary effectiveness and become useless missionaries. Salt really can not lose its saltiness but it can lose its taste or effectiveness if it is mixed with too much other stuff. If you mix in a bunch of sand into a bowl of salt, it is going to become useless to prevent the decay in the meat. Here is what this means for us; we can love the world in the flesh and be like the world rather than distinct from it, thus losing our missionary effectiveness. You can mix so much of the world into your life that the distinctiveness of the salt loses its effectiveness. If we lose our distinction we lose our purpose. If the salt gets diluted, the mission is lost. We are to be missionaries, not monks, striving to preserve our decaying world.

What area of your life is getting diluted? What worldliness do you need to repent of today? Pray that God would take you out of the monastery and use you as a missionary today!

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Head Home to Your Father

Luke 15:17-19 reads, “(17) But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! (18) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.

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Luke 15:11-32 is the story about a wild son whose selfish loveless heart produces reckless living. He shockingly asks his father to cash out his property in order to get his inheritance early! He would rather his father be dead so he can get his stuff! He took that money and lived like a brute with no regard for virtue.  He lives opposite of John 8:42 which says, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” He rejects the idea of John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This animal-like kid does not love his earthly father and does not keep his earthly father’s commandments. This is a heart issue that points back to his love for his heavenly Father. This selfish, loveless, animal-like behavior is the result of not loving his heavenly Father.

But, by God’s grace, “he came to himself.” The brokenness in his heart doesn’t lead to depression, but to repentance. Broken repentance should mark our lives. We don’t use the word “repentance” in our everyday lives, it is sort of a hard-core Bible term. It is the idea of saying, “I’m wrong here.” God’s way is one path, but I am going down another path. Repentance is honestly (and even emotionally) hating the condition of your heart about something, then believing that Jesus’ way is better, then resolving to walk down his path. He resolves to confess his sin to his father, and heads for home.

Is there an area of your life that you need to repent and return home to your Heavenly Father? Maybe this area has manifested itself in reckless brutish behaviors. Maybe this area is still hiding itself in a dark corner of your heart. Whatever it is, don’t slip into depression, rather repent and head home to your heavenly Father.

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Church, Church Planting, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship with Our City

Our church has been challenged by the idea of Biblical Friendship. According to James 2:23, the gospel is that God has made us His friend through our faith in Christ. James also teaches us that if this faith is genuine, then it will produce good works. Friendship is a good work. Over and over again in the New Testament we see calls for the church to love one another…forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32), bear with each other (Colossians 3:13), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), out of love we even need to rebuke each other (Luke 17:3). All of these are examples of the good work of friendship…friendship to His Church.

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However, Biblical Friendship does not stop at the door of the church. Friendship with each other is a pleasant spiritual blessing that we can’t rush past. However, it should become an apologetic for the truth of the gospel. Again, remember what Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They are to know that we are his disciples. They are to know this by our love for each other. But, Jesus wants them to know the truth of the gospel. This means that we are be known for friendship and love, but not just for each other, but also for our city. Jesus loves “all people.”

Like friendship with God’s People, friendship with our City takes time and intentionality. I am not going to be a good friend with my neighbors if I don’t take time with them or if I am not intentional to get to know them and serve them. Do you know those around you? Are you a good friend to your neighbors, and your co-workers, and those you share activities and hobbies with? Do you patiently listen to that lady in the office? Do you care for the needs of the family next door? Are you encouraging to the other parents on your kid’s team?

But I also want us to ask some hard questions of ourselves this year with regards our city. Are we truly serving the needs of our city? Are we living openly and generously with our city? I followed a contentious political debate in our city this Fall, and I was struck by some of the needs in our city that I did not know about. Personally, as your pastor, I am committed to learning more about the needs of our city this next year.

Our Pastors have felt a deep conviction about being a friend to our city. We have spent much time praying about and thinking about how to be a friend to our city. We haven’t done a poor job, but we want to improve our efforts as a church.

This month we began a new monthly effort we are simply calling Service Sundays. Service Sundays are a way we can be a friend to our city. Even though we are a new church and a small church, we are committed to making the biggest impact we can.

January 17th was Sanctity of Life Sunday followed by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 18th. I preached on the church being a Statue of Hope. The 17th was also our first Service Sunday. We began a three week baby bottle fundraiser to help support the Woman-to-Woman Pregnancy Resource Center. This campaign is designed to support a ministry wholistically addressing the sin of abortion. This group lovingly ministers to gospel of grace to those in need and brings truth and healing to our city. Even if you weren’t able to grab a baby bottle, if you feel led, bring an offering to the center this Sunday.

Every month in 2016 we are planning efforts to be a friend to our city because God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Friendship with God’s Church

Our church is focusing on Biblical Friendship in 2016. Friendship is one of the great blessings of life. The Bible has much to say about friendship, and as a church we are committed to deepening our friendship with two groups of people…God’s Church and Our City.

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Biblical Friendship can be described as mutual love that interweaves souls. If we are going to knit together our lives, then we must “love one another.” Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My prayer for us this next year is that we would be marked by loving one another.

This passage speaks to the importance of being in each other’s lives, to living in community, to being better friends. There is no magic way to do this, but at our church we do this through Neighborhood Groups. I pray that you would consider being part of one of our Neighborhood Groups and begin that journey of loving one another.

Over the holidays I read a short booklet on Biblical Friendship which included a bunch of practical wisdom on how to love each other as friends. I thought it was so helpful that I purchased some copies and gave them out to our church. We are also starting a new men’s group using this booklet. You can purchase Beeke and Haykin’s book by clicking HERE.

One of the helpful tips the authors point out is that we are not going to be close to everyone. Some people are just going to be our acquaintances. We might not be as close to as many people as we want. We also might have people in our lives that we desire to be close with, but it simply isn’t going to happen.

Also, Biblical friendship requires time and intentionality. Life-giving friendships don’t just happen. We have to carve out time for each other. If we only see you once a month or once every other month, you won’t find great friendships here. This means you have to prioritize friendships with God’s People. We have to be intentional with each other.

Biblical Friendship means that we have to be together…talk together, listen together, serve together, enjoy life together, think together, pray together, repent together, and hope together. If we are going to be marked by friendship this year, then we need to spend time together. We can’t be close if we don’t talk to each other…are you hearing me men?! But, I am not saying you need to be the one who is always talking, because good friends are good listeners. Are we a people who serve each other when we are in need? Some of you are better at this than others, but do we have fun together. The older I get the more I value dudes to just hang with. Laughter is good for the soul. But, some of you are dudes that hang well, but you aren’t going to get close friends unless you think together. Specifically, we are to think about life and family and work and the gospel. You need to process the important things of life with other people. We need to understand that Biblical Friendship moves beyond superficiality. Are you praying with people in your life? Further, are we processing our struggles in a way that we repent, and turn from our sins with other people? Are we also processing our lives where we are hoping together? Over the past few years I have grown closer to some of you during job changes. We have hoped together. It was hard, but it was good.

Guys, let’s be real for a moment. If we can’t be good friends with each other, then any campaign or slogan or program or outreach effort is phony. The Bible, specifically in James, questions the genuineness of churches that have slick efforts, but are marked by shallow unloving relationships. I truly phony-friendships is why so many churches are so weak.

As I look to 2016, my prayer is that we would be marked by glorious loving friendships. We are called “friends of God” (James 2:23) in order that we might be friends with God’s Church.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Friendship For Friendship

Proverbs 27:9 reads, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” The first line is about a physical blessing or pleasantry, the second a spiritual blessing. It is a pleasant spiritual blessing to have friendship, to have people who love you enough to speak into your life. It is a great blessing to have people who know you, and love you, and engage you, and speak up when you are going down a wrong path, and are there for you when you are in the middle of a fight.

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One good definition I found for Biblical Friendship is mutual love that knits together souls. It is a sweet spiritual blessing to have those we love so deeply we feel our souls are interwoven.

We see this intimate intertwined love in the Trinity. Our God is one yet exists as three persons, yet the love is so tight that we are monotheistic. Marriage is supposed to be a loving oneness. Jonathan and David both loved each other deeply and were close friends. Many think of Paul as this bold lone ranger, but the reality is that he always had friends close by. His relationship with Timothy is a glorious example of loving lasting life-giving friendship.

 Also, James 2:23 explains that due to our genuine faith, we have become a “friend of God.” Who are you?  You are called a “friend of God.” These “friends of God” who have genuine faith are also marked by good works. So, out of this glorious friendship, we get a vision and even a calling to the good work of friendship. God makes us his friend so we can be friends with others. And this is no superficial matter, this is a sweet life-giving pleasantry to our souls.

Friends, as I look ahead to 2016, my prayer is that our new church would embrace our standing as being “friends with God” by being friends with God’s Church and being friends with our City. I want us to have deep life-giving loving friendships with each other, and with those around us.

How do you need to improve as a friend this year? Do you have a friendship that you have neglected? How can you deepen the friendships that the Lord has provided? How can you be a friend to the city around you?

God has called you his friend as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

A Year of Friendship

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is finding pockets of time to read. One of the books I have been picking through is a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Anytime I read about Spurgeon I am inspired. Before there were megachurches, his was a megachurch. He became the pastor of a historical London Reformed Baptist church at a young age. When he became pastor there were less than 300 members. 38 years later, at the end of his ministry, there were over 5,000 members of the church. He routinely preached to 15,000 people on a Sunday and many times preached to over 20,000 people.

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I know Denton is not London, and I certainly know that I am no Spurgeon, but I have to admit that reading Spurgeon has given me a renewed excitement about our church in 2016. You see, Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Tabernacle share our same Biblical gospel convictions…the Bible is the Word of God and his gospel is the power of God to save and thus I believe our best days are in front of us.

God has truly been glorified in our new church this past year. We saw God’s glorious faithfulness in 2015. We experienced his grace, saw him save souls, experienced him conforming us to him image, and watched him establish his church. Let me throw some exciting numbers at you:

  • After we launched the church, we averaged 88 on Sunday morning. Then, in 2015 we averaged right at 100 on Sunday mornings.

  • We grew from 44 Covenant Members in 2014 to 59 Covenant Members in 2015.

  • We moved into Game On Athletics, thus saving us some money, and providing a semi-permanent facility for the coming years. This facility enables outreach events and provides an office and a place to gather beyond just Sunday morning.

  • We began 2015 internally covering about 40% of our budget, now we cover 70% of our monthly needs.

  • We launched 2 new Neighborhood Groups.

  • We launched a Shepherd Training discipleship and leadership development track.

  • We added a new Redeemer Kids teaching team.

  • We launched a Youth Ministry and added Reece Bishop as our Student Pastor.

  • We served our city through Service Projects and Attractional Events like Trunk or Treat.

  • We gave away $18,000 to missions efforts.

Each of these graces should be celebrated. However, I believe our best days are ahead of us. As I have spent the past 4 to 6 weeks praying about next year, I continued to come back to a little verse that is loaded with meaning.

James 2:23 reads, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”  In this verse James explains God’s grace as salvation coming to Abraham through his faith in God, which makes Abraham a friend of God.

James is quoting Genesis 15:6 where God’s Word calls Abram to believe in something hard to believe…that a very old childless man would not only have a child but his descendants would be a numerous nation. We have all been at those difficult crossroads of belief, when what God is saying doesn’t really seem plausible. However, we are called to believe. What Genesis 15:6 teaches us is that God’s grace came to Abraham when he trusted God’s Word and thus experienced God’s salvation.

After James quotes this verse, Paul quotes it twice. He quotes it in Romans 4:3 as well as Galatian 3:6. Both passages help us understand the AVENUE of salvation. How do we move from being declared guilty to being declared righteous? Most believe it is by keeping all the rules. However, these passages use Genesis 15:6 to explains the AVENUE of salvation is via faith, not keeping all the rules. Thus, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but by faith in the Word of God. The AVENUE of Abraham’s salvation, and thus our AVENUE, is faith.

James’ goal is a little different. Many have concluded that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other here, however that is not the case.

First, James is likely the earliest NT writing (most likely between 44AD and 49AD), while Romans is most likely written between 55AD and 57AD and Galatians between 49AD and 55AD. This is important because it helps us see that James is not arguing against Paul’s writings, because Paul’s writings had not been written yet.

Second, James and Paul are not at odds because James is not talking about the AVENUE of salvation (which is faith), but rather the NATURE of that saving faith. James is not saying keeping all the rules redeems anyone. James agrees that salvation is through faith alone, but his concern is with the NATURE of that faith. James 2:23 is advocating for genuine faith. So, God’s grace came to Abraham not by strict adherence to the rules, but genuine faith in the Word of God. The NATURE of Abraham’s saving faith was genuine to the degree that good works were evident. Because of Abraham’s genuine saving faith, he was categorized as a friend of God.

James is saying that genuine faith produces faithful works. He is arguing against false faith that remains private, that doesn’t produce faithful works.

We are entering into an election season (yuck) and politicians are in pandering mode. Many politicians are trying to demonstrate their religious credentials. However, in a secular age, many don’t want to come off as too religious. Thus, one path for them is to simply say they are a Christian then say their convictions are private and they don’t want to talk about them. That leads me to believe they are hiding something, that they are not genuine in their convictions. It leads me to believe they are just sleazy politicians.

Look at our passage again. James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.” What does genuine faith produce? It doesn’t produce quiet private politicians who don’t let their faith impact any area of their lives. No, genuine faith produces faithful good works.  How does genuine faith change us? When we have genuine faith in the gospel, we don’t remain enemies of God or objects of his wrath. No, genuine faith changes us to become friends with God.

When looking at the three New Testament citations, James is the only one who makes this point about “friendship” when citing Genesis 15:6. Once we have genuine faith in Jesus’ gospel, we become friends with God. BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIP is what I pray Redeemer Church is all about in 2016. Over the coming weeks, I will be laying out our vision of friendship with our Church and with our City.

All Christians should love Spurgeon. We should love his theology, his sermons, his books, and his classic quotes. But I have always loved that he left a legacy of more than sermons and books.

You see, Spurgeon lived during the Industrial Revolution of the mid and late 19th Century. The population of London had just doubled from 1800 to 1850. Rapid urbanization brought new social problems. But Spurgeon didn’t just preach sermons and write books, he sought friendship with his city. He started:

  • A Pastor’s College where young pastors could come and prepare for the ministry free of charge.

  • 23 mission stations around the city of London.

  • Hundreds of new churches all around Great Britain.

  • A gospel literature society to get the truths of the gospel into the hands of London residents.

  • Almshouses for people who lost their jobs.  They could come and stay and be fed and have time to get back on their feet.

  • Nursing Homes, before there were Nursing Homes, where the elderly could live their final years with dignity.

  • Orphanages for boys and girls.

  • Homes for single mothers and their children.

Matt Carter wrote in his book “For the City”: “It got to the point that if [the] Metropolitan Tabernacle had shut down during that [those] decade[s] of grappling with the problems of the Industrial Revolution, the city of London would have been crippled.  They would have grieved the loss of the Tabernacle.

I love that! Friends, I know we are new and don’t have millions of dollars and don’t even have a building like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I know Denton isn’t London, and I am no Charles Spurgeon. But, I want to us to ask the question, “If we were to cease to exist, would our city grieve our loss?”  Would our schools miss us? Would our neighborhoods feel a void?

In 2016, my prayer is that we would fulfill the call of James 2:23. My prayer is for us to be good friends to each other and to our city. God has called us his friends as a call to be a friend.

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Church, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Equipped to Shepherd from the Word

I don’t want this to be one of those “best kept secrets,” but one of the most exciting things happening in our church these days is an intense training that all our Neighborhood Group leaders and co-leaders are going through. If you are one of our small group leaders you are going to very early morning meetings or after-the-kids-go-down meetings on how to shepherd people from the Word. For the next 12 months they are going through the Association of Biblical Counselors’ “Equip to Counsel” training.

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When we say they are shepherding from the Word, please don’t hear that we take a flippant small-minded “a Bible verse a day keeps the Devil away” approach. However, we understand the Bible as our ultimate authority, and where we turn during life’s most difficult seasons. It is amazing how practical it is for difficult marriages, the minefields of high school and college, as well as navigating problems at work. We not only want to quote Scriptures, but understand the broad redemptive theme of the Bible…the gospel. It is hard for a wife to withhold forgiveness when you go back to the forgiveness given her on the cross. It is hard for a someone to feel condemned when they know that Jesus died for their past sins.

Our church has a heart for our leaders to genuinely walk with the folks in their groups. We care less that our small group leaders are driven executives or impressive orators, we want them to be loving pastors. We want them to walk with people through those dark nights of the soul.

We understand that our leaders have been “given His revealed Word” and thus are to “convey His Word to others so that others may live well in the presence of God” (pg23 of the Leader’s Guide). I don’t know how you are struggling, but know that God’s Word is sufficient and relevant and it is where you can find abundant life. I don’t want to oversell it, I know our leaders are imperfect. However, they are a group that desires to truly love people with the gospel of grace. Learn more about our Neighborhood Groups by clicking HERE.

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Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Hope for the Choked

Last week I lost a friend. All funerals are sad, but this one was especially tragic. He was young (only 37-years-old), the father of young children, and had been entangled in the suffocating web of alcoholism. The despair that led to his death was especially powerful for me because this Fall our church is launching a Celebrate Recovery ministry. I have sensed the Spirit moving in the start of this ministry, but felt the weight of its importance as I sat through the funeral.

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As we all tried to navigate meaning from this tragedy, I continued to go back to Philippians 3. The Apostle Paul models some very important things in this passage. Even though Paul was imprisoned and abused in his life, he still had the perspective to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). There were moments he suffered greatly, but he embraced it as an opportunity to “gain Christ” (3:8).

Philippians 3:12-14 gives us some needed insight on how to overcome our pain and sufferings. It reads, “(12) Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

First, like Paul, our goal should be the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Our hope for happiness is not in the circumstances of this world. Our hope for happiness is being with Jesus and looking increasingly more like Jesus.

Second, like Paul, none of us “have already obtained this” nor are “already perfect.” No one at our new church is perfect like Jesus. The more they get to know me as their pastor the more they see moments when I am not like Jesus.

But, third, is what we need to hold onto. Paul also explains how Christians live in this tension of not being like Jesus, yet having a hope to be like him. We have a tension of not being with him in perfect joy yet, but having a hope that we will some day. Paul explains how he did it and thus gives us what we need to hear. The Word of the Lord tells us to go about our days “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

The past can be dangerous. The past can entangle. The past can reach up and choke out our lives. The past can be like Darth Vader hands reaching up to choke us. The past can destroy the present. Friends, hear me, I am someone who has made real mistakes in the past. If you have blown it in the past, you are in good company. We don’t need to make light of the past, but we MUST fight against letting the past strangle our present lives.

Our present task is to struggle toward Christ. It is never too late to start. It is never too late to say I have made a mess of things and I want to now struggle toward a new hope, I want to press toward Christ. Some of us have heard wrong voices or had faulty expectations. We think that this present life is going to be without struggles. We think that if we are faithful then we won’t have failings or difficult circumstances. Don’t mean to be too harsh, but you and I are not as faithful as Paul and he had extreme struggles that the average American Christian will never face. As Christians, we should expect struggles. Then, we should remember that our prize is not health, wealth, or prosperity. We should remember our prize is Christ. We should resolve to struggle toward him, because he is where our joy will be found.

This passage is especially important when we feel like we are between a rock and a hard place. Pressing toward Christ is the really the only happy joyful way out. I promise you he is where happiness and freedom are found. Even in your struggle, do you believe Christ is your prize?

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Gospel Spirituality

Boaz the Great

We tend to toy with sin. Many days we think sin is fun and not deadly.  Our heart’s desire is not for right living, but rather thinking about and touching and watching what we should not. Also, many days, following the Bible’s path seems rigid and life-draining. We know what is right, but our emotions and feelings are not for righteousness.

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Recently I saw sin for what it was.  Two things happened. First, I was walking with a buddy whose life got blown up by sin. It is a movie we have seen before, but it is still a bad movie. Second, I saw some Christian leaders be very indifferent towards a vulnerable person. Those two real life scenarios hit me at a gut level.  I was both broken-hearted for my buddy, and angry for the vulnerable and how apathetic the church can become. In that moment I knew the truth, but those glorious biblical truths overflowed into my emotions.

I think that is why Boaz looked so great to me. Recently, in my devotional reading, I read the short story of Ruth. You might know the story, if not, grab your Bible turn to the index, and take 15 minutes to read the whole story. As I read, I was overcome with how Boaz entered the story.

He walked onto the scene, and my soul rejoiced at how he greeted his employees and how he cared for a vulnerable woman. He walked up to his field and greeted his field hands with “The LORD be with you you!”  They joyously responded to their righteous boss with “The LORD bless you.” Boaz was not a harsh and manipulative and wicked boss. No, he was a man who loved the Lord and loved those who were put under his charge. His employees didn’t hate him, they didn’t need a union, they didn’t need lawyers to protect them. They prayed blessings upon him! Then Boaz encourages the vulnerable Ruth to stay under his care, and he instructed his men to also care for her. He blessed his workers as well as those in need.

The Spirit moved in my life to see the glories of Boaz’s life. In the face of destructive sin and disappointing indifference, I was reading about the glories of righteousness! Friends, God’s ways are not soul-killing…but life-giving.

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