Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We Love Jesus Far Too Little!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ... 
Philippians 3:7-8

It's easy to overlook the verb tense shift in these verses from "I counted" in verse seven to "I count" in verse eight. Paul says that at some time in the past he counted (past tense) as loss all the things that were previously gain to him. All the things that were to his credit in this world, he laid down in order to gain Christ. Paul is talking about laying aside all of his hard-earned religious achievements that impressed men in order to receive Christ by grace. 

I believe Paul serves as an example of what happens to all believers here. All of us, in order to receive Christ at salvation, must let go of the things of this world. In order to receive God's grace and grasp hold of the cross, we must first empty our hands of our current gods. It makes no difference if that god is pleasure, or self-reliance. Jesus will not share the throne of our hearts with anyone. 

If you haven't already, let go of all that our world considers gain so that you may gain salvation in Jesus. Turn to Him in faith asking Him to forgive you of your sins, believing that His death on the cross paid the price for your sin and His resurrection from the dead set you free from the power of sin. Look to Him for grace and salvation.

For those of us who have already accepted Jesus, Paul has a further word. In verse eight Paul makes a subtle shift to the present tense to indicate that now, having progressed further in his Christian walk, he has let go of even more things to gain Christ. In the past Paul counted as loss the things that were previously to his gain. He had to do this for salvation. Now that he has tasted of Jesus' grace, now that he has seen how surpassingly good Christ is, Paul has willingly counts all things in this world as loss in order to have more of Jesus.

Many believers fail to live as courageously for Jesus as Paul did. Why is that? Why was Paul willing to suffer to take the gospel to new places? Why did he never take a wife, build a home and have children? Why was he willing to lay down his life and die as an example for the church and as a testimony to unbelievers? Because Paul was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was far better than anything this world has to offer. Here is a man who was deeply in love with Jesus, and he was willing to sacrifice anything...everything in order to that he might grow closer to Him. Paul wanted to know Him more and serve Him better.

Why is it that we can never find time for Bible study or prayer? Why is it that we are still so entangled by the cares of this world: by money, fear, reputation, success, and the opinions of men? Why is it that we are still struggling with the same old sins so many years after our conversion? It is because we love this world far too much and we love Jesus far too little!

O Lord, help us to fall more deeply in love with You today! Remind us of Jesus' surpassing greatness. Give us a glimpse of His beauty and His goodness again. Call us back to you in gentleness and in love. As we grow in our relationship with You, help us to let go of this world and to cling to the cross of Jesus more closely day by day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pray for Paris. Pray for ISIS.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5:43-48

Five days ago, ISIS launched a coordinated attack on six different locations in Paris killing 129 people. The brutality and scale of this attack captured the world's attention. Of course this was only the most recent example of the heinous barbarism of which ISIS is capable. Over the past four days many have stood in solidarity with Paris pledging support. Others have called for renewed efforts to combat ISIS. And many have called for and offered up prayers for the victims' families. Each of these responses is appropriate and Christian.

But one response remains. One that is deeply Christian. In fact, it is commanded of us as Christians. Yet, I hesitate to write the words. It's almost unthinkable; it seems un-American even, to say that we should pray for ISIS. 

For me the admonition to pray for my enemies has always been more or less an abstract concept. I haven't ever really had any enemies. I haven't ever really been persecuted or in danger. But for me this attack brought it home. The Lord whispered to my heart two days after the attack that a truly Christian response would be to not only pray for all those affected and for justice but also to pray for the radical muslims themselves. His words landed like a thud on my heart. I didn't want to offer up such prayers. How could I honestly pray for these men? How could God expect me to do something so absurd? 

God calls us to imitate Him by loving our enemies, by praying for those who seek to kill us and our religion. Let us not forget that Christianity's greatest missionary, the man who wrote roughly half of the New Testament, began as Christianity's most zealot persecutor. This same Paul would later write these words:
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10- emphasis added)

Still it took a few days for me to find the words. This is the prayer I have formulated over the last few days. Perhaps it can help you find your way as you pray not only for the victims' families and for peace, but also for our enemies. 
I pray for the Islamic State, Father, because You tell us to pray for our enemies. I know that they deserve to be annihilated, wiped out. I pray for justice. I pray for vengeance and vindication for Your holy name. But I know Lord that you are often most glorified by displaying the wonders of Your glorious grace. I know that You have been just in forgiving the sins of many terrible sinners, including myself, by pouring out Your wrath toward our sins on Christ in our stead. It is hard for me to imagine anything that would prove Your infinite power and worth more readily to our world at large and to the Islamic world specifically than for Your Spirit to move in mighty power and start saving souls throughout ISIS. So do so, Father. Not for their sake, not because they deserve it (because they don't), but for the sake of Your great name. Do this so the whole world will know that there is but one God and His name is Yahweh. But for those who refuse to repent and bow the knee to Your infinitely worthy Son, Jesus; Lord I pray that You would bring them to Your eternal justice in punishment and rescue Your children from their murderous intentions even now. Even those who do cry out to You for salvation must be brought to earthly justice, Father, so give our leaders wisdom as they determine the best way to combat and punish such men. In the righteous name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

A helpful article written on this topic by Dr. Russell Moore can be found here: Should We Pray for ISIS to be Defeated or Converted?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Humble Much?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:1-4

What do people most easily notice about you? 

For me, it's being hairy. I know. Probably not what I would have chosen, but tall, muscular and handsome were all off the table. Hairy is what I got, so you play the hand you were dealt.

These outward features are what people most notice about you, until they get to know you. The longer a person knows you, the less they notice the superficial features of your appearance and the more they view you based on your character. 

What character trait are you most known for among your friends and family? Is it your temper? Is it being funny? Is it your passion for your vocation or hobby? 

Scripture says that believers will be known by our love. But in today's passage Jesus points out another character trait that is all too often lacking in our lives: humility. 

Jesus' emphasis on humility jumped out at me today in a new way as I read this familiar passage. The disciples go to ask Jesus a question, one that reveals they still haven't grasped what the kingdom of heaven is all about. "Who will be first in the kingdom?" they ask. They want to know who will sit at Jesus' right hand, who will be in the inner court. They want to know what they need to do in order to gain a high position when the new world order is put into place.

At first, Jesus bypasses their question altogether. He says, "If you want to make it into the kingdom at all, then you must change and become like children." Then He says, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." This statement has major implications for believers and for our future with God in heaven. You would think that it would cause a ripple effect throughout the church and throughout Christian history of men and women of God racing each other to get to the lowest position of servitude.

Certainly there have been Christians throughout history and still today who are shining examples of this. Sadly, I am not one of them. Are you? 

How would our lives look different if we took Jesus' words here seriously? 
  1. It would change the way we come to God in prayer. No longer would we approach God with a sense of entitlement or with accusatory tones. Humility would teach us both that we have nothing to offer God and that He owes us nothing. Finally, we would begin approaching Him in prayer not with our own agendas, but with questions and with open hands ready to receive answers and guidance from the only One who has the wisdom to give them.
  2. The way we view ourselves would change. Many of us look upon ourselves through rose-colored glasses. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in any situation, and we often consider ourselves to be better than most, above par, better-than-average. Paul instructs us, in Philippians 2:3, saying "in humility count others more significant than yourselves." True humility leads you think less of yourself. It does not lead to self-loathing or being overly critical of yourself in unhealthy ways for these errors only cause us to think about ourselves more often. True humility isn't merely about esteeming yourself more lowly, it is also about esteeming others more highly. 
  3. Lastly, humility would increase our compassion for the downtrodden and forgotten in the world. In verse five of Matthew 18, Jesus continues by assuring His disciples that when they receive one such child in His name, they receive Him. Humility increases our compassion for the lowly and oppressed by reminding us that we are not so very different from them. We don't deserve better than them. Thus, humility leads us to begin putting others ahead of ourselves, as Jesus Himself did. Truthfully, most days it is difficult for me to put my own family ahead of myself, let alone others. Humility would change that.

Father, cultivate humility in our hearts so that the way we view and treat You, ourselves and others is in line with Your good Word.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Rarest Attribute

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:19-21

What a surprising statement! Among all of Paul's associates at the time, Timothy alone seeks the interests of Christ?! In the present context this means showing genuine care for the welfare of the Philippian church. Another rendering of verse 20 could read that, "For I have no one like him, who is willing to be genuinely troubled with cares over your welfare." Timothy alone was willing to be troubled for this church. Everyone else was too busy seeking after their own interests to seek after the interest of the Lord. On second thought, maybe this isn't so surprising after all. Isn't this true of nearly everyone we know as well. 

How many people do you know who truly seek the interests of Christ and not their own? Not many I'd guess. You see, Paul presents it as though a person can't pursue their own interests and Christs. You see our natural interests oppose Christ's. None of naturally seek after being troubled with cares for other people. None of us naturally seek after suffer for the sake of the gospel. No! Our interests almost always run counter to the interests of Christ as He advances His kingdom on earth. 

What about you? Are you seeking after your own interests or Christs? What are your future plans? Do they lend themselves more to building your dreams, your legacy, your nest egg, or are they directed at building the kingdom of God? I suspect many believers would struggle to think of a single goal they are seeking after or a single plan they are working towards that truly advances God's interests. Instead we all make plans to advance our own kingdoms: plans to get a bigger house for our family, plans to get that next promotion or raise, plans to get in better shape. Notice none of these plans are wrong in themselves. But they are all focused on this world, not on the next. They are focused on making our lives and the lives of our families more comfortable. As long as we are focused on seeking after our own interests we will never be willing to place others ahead of ourselves, to go out of our way to bear their burdens, or to make sacrifices for the cause of Christ. 

Whose interests are you really seeking after, your own or Gods?

Let me drive this home a little more by clarifying what it looks like to seek after God's interests at the expense of your own. In 2:3 Paul introduces himself and Timothy as God's slaves or bond-servants. Not many of us think of ourselves this way on a regular basis. But this is exactly what we are. Paul puts it a little differently in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. He says, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Just eight verses before today's passage, in Philippians 2:4-11, Jesus is held up as the ultimate example of this type of living. Though He was equal to the Father in His divine nature, He willingly submitted Himself to seek God's interests, to be troubled with the cares of others and to suffer to advance the kingdom above Himself. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). He became obedient to seeking after God's interests even to the point of dying on the cross. 

How far are you willing to go? How much are you willing to suffer? Will you spend your life advancing God's kingdom or will you spend it on your own ends? The truth is that your life is not your own anyway. You were purchased with a price. The world is full of people who are focused on their own needs, who are living for themselves. You want to distinguish yourself before the Lord? Live for Jesus! 

Father, work in our hearts so that one day we may honestly say with the Apostle Paul, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). May our lives be Christ and nothing else.