I got memed!

push

Or at least I think I got memed. Something I said got put on a picture and posted on the world wide web! I think that is a meme. I know I should not care. I know. I know. I know pastors are to have no ego whatsoever. I know I should not care about my quotes being status updates and tweeted and retweeted. I know.

But, I got memed! Ego aside, meaning when it is for pure purposes and not just about feeling better about myself as a man and preacher, I love seeing something I said shared. It means it hit home and helped someone. It means that the truth sunk in at such a level they thought it worth sharing with others.

Here is the meme. A day pushing with Jesus is better than any day coasting without him. This meme-worthy quote was a last minute thought describing a quote that illustrated a point I was making. No one memed the point. It did not make any status updates or tweets. It went unrepeated. And there is the point.

Faith is both personal and practical.
That was the point.

Tommy Nelson says this about romance, “Early on it was instinct to be romantic. Later it must become discipline.” Even romance is personal and practical. It has all types of feelings and emotions, but some times it is a discipline. You know when life piles up and kids push the pile. Romance is something you do practically. You plan it. You put reminders in your phone calendar to remind yourself that you went on your first date with your wife 17 years ago. Why? Because at this point I need the discipline to remember, but that does not make it not worth celebrating. I am so glad that was my last first date…even if I need an alert from my phone to remember. It is not what you thought would be meme-worthy but who cares…it was.

 Faith, love, grace, hope…these wonderful realities of life are personal and practical. They are from our deepest emotions and are at the same time our most practical decisions.

You love Jesus so you obey Jesus. Why? Jesus said so. “If you love me you will obey my commands.” It is not always uber-personal. Sometimes it is practical. You do the right thing because it is the right thing. But, at the same time it is personal. You do the right thing because you love God…who you love because he first loved you.

One such command comes in Philippians 4 when we are told to “Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!” It is a command. Be Joyful! Right now. Do it! Sounds odd, but joy is a choice. It is personal and practical we choose it but we also feel it. We choose to feel it even when we do not feel like choosing it.

I want to give you some practical points to push forward toward the life God wants you to have. These practices are found in Philippians 4:4-9. These are personal and practical. So go do them. Go feel them. Do them when you feel them and when you don’t.

  1. Choose joy in Jesus.
    Joy in Jesus not from Jesus. When you want joy from someone and not in that someone you are dysfunctional. Jesus, himself, is the source of joy. Love him.
    2. Extend Grace to others.
    You cannot extend what you have not received. I have heard that food is for energy, not entertainment, but I prefer things that cause a party in my mouth. Entertainment food, however, never inspires feelings of a coming marathon but of an arriving coma. They do not provide the needed energy. Take in God’s grace and then you can give it.
    3. Pray about everything.
    Pray for general wisdom in life. Read a Proverb a day. Pray about things particularly and practically, that is how you pray personally. It might not sound romantic, but it is. I went on my first date with Wendy 17 years ago this past week. On that date I did not ask her if I had any clean underwear. I might ask her that tomorrow if I don’t see any. (Truth be told, I always have plenty because she rocks.) But I would ask her that without hesitation now. Why? Our relationship is way more personal than that, therefore, it is also particular and practical. Get real with God today in your prayers. If you need some underwear, ask.
    Little side note – this verse also says to be “anxious for nothing.” I know that verse makes some of you very anxious, but choose prayer as how you care instead of fear. Anxiety is nothing more than being afraid about what you cannot control. Prayer is better care than fear.
    4. Give thanks in everything.
    Give thanks in everything not for everything. You can be thankful in every season because you know what…you are here and so is God. Be thankful. Being thankful in a tough situation is not the same as being thankful for the situation. Thankfulness is never a fake shiny plastic people smile.
    5. Train your thinking.
    The renewing of the mind is a process. Train your thoughts. We not only have to tune into the right things we need to tune out the wrong things. Listen to truth and learn to reject the jargon this world is selling. Tuning into the right station includes turning the dial away from the wrong one.
    6. Do the good you know to do.
    Quit focusing on what you do not know and focus on what you do know. You will be amazed how much you will learn by doing what you already know. You know that relationship is sinful. Change it or end it…right now. You will be amazed what is on the other side of obedience. If we would simply do the good we know we would know more good to do, so get started.

Progress is a process we pursue from our position in Christ.

We must always remember salvation is not the destination push toward, but the foundation you push upon.  Do not confuse God’s grace for growth with God’s grace in salvation

Progress is, however, a process. When you give up on the process you give up on the progress. If you are dieting and want to quit, start weighing every day. You will give up on the progress because you are disrespecting the process.

If I want to be a better husband tomorrow than I was today, you know how I do that? I do the good I know to do today and I will be ready for more good tomorrow. It is how it works. It is personal and practical.

Life is not always romantic, but sometimes that is exactly what makes it romantic.

P.S. I got memed!

Four Signs Your Confidence Is Misplaced

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” (Philippians 3:3, ESV)

Historic, biblical Christianity teaches us several key truths regarding the relationship between humankind and God…

  • God is the Creator of all- which means that God created
  • As Creator of all, God is the sovereign Lord of all- which means that you are accountable to
  • God is perfect in all His ways, and His law demands perfection- which means that if you are to stand in right relationship with Him, you must meet that perfect demand.
  • All humans are desperately imperfect and sinful- which means that on your own, you have no standing before Him.
  • Jesus Christ is the perfect substitute sacrifice for all sin- which means that when you put your faith in Him, you can stand before God accepted as eternally righteous.

These are bedrock biblical truths, agreed upon by orthodox Christians for centuries- at least in theory. Chances are, if you come from a reasonably conservative theological background, you’re nodding your head in affirmation right now.

The problem is, when it comes to the way we practice our faith in the ins and outs of everyday life, many of us are prone to leave these convictions behind. In their place, we plant our “confidence” before God- to use Paul’s word- not in Jesus and His work, but in ourselves and in our work. In short, we put our “confidence in the flesh.” Even if the theology in our heads would claim otherwise, the practice of our hands, feet, and (especially) our mouths shows this is so.

So how can you assess if you’ve fallen into this all-too-common trap? What are the signs that your confidence before God is mis-placed in yourself and your efforts? Here are four to watch out for…

  1. You ride a “roller coaster” of pride and shame. Jesus, being “in very nature God,” and as a result perfectly righteous, never changes. He doesn’t have “good days” and “off days” spiritually. We, on the other hand, do– to put it mildly. If you find that your strong days give birth to a swell of prideful self-righteousness, while your bad days send you sinking in a storm of shame, then you may be guilty here.

Note that I’m not talking about the natural (and healthy) ebb and flow of the joy of obedience and the “godly sorrow” of disobedience, but something beyond this- something that leaves you in a near-constant state of spiritual and emotional disorientation that questions God’s love and approval.

  1. You feel a compulsion to “prove yourself” spiritually. If you find yourself with a constant need to rehearse your “spiritual resume” of religious activity for yourself and others, you may be in trouble here. God has not called you to impress anyone- not even Him (as if that were really possible)- but simply to trust and humbly obey. The simplest acts of obedience done in faith are far more spiritually significant than the most impressive things done without it.
  2. You are quick to condemn. Note that this can be condemnation directed inward toward yourself or outward toward others. If God Himself doesn’t condemn you (or anyone who is in Christ) in the midst of struggle, who are you to take up that responsibility? If you get a jolt of spiritual energy from judging others’ struggles, repent now and ask God to give you a fresh understanding of the grace you’ve received in Jesus.
  3. You- not Jesus- are the hero of your faith story. Here’s a simple but helpful exercise for the next week- Observe and examine your language when talking about your faith, and evaluate how much time you spend talking about yourself versus talking about Jesus. If your language is peppered constantly with, “I overcame this,” “I succeeded in this,” or even “I failed at this,” you need to watch out.

Certainly you and I have an important part in the process of spiritual transformation, but the power we ultimately need to please God isn’t found in us, but in God Himself. He- not you and me- is the Hero of our story. The heart that puts it confidence in Him is filled with praise, thanksgiving, and evident reliance on Him.

Pastor and author Timothy Keller has said that the person who really grasps the grace of God is both humble and confident, while the one who is trusting himself is simultaneously prideful and insecure. Take some time this week to consider where you are placing your “confidence” to stand before God. Get off the “roller coaster” of self-centered pride and shame, and anchor yourself in the perfect righteousness of Jesus and the unchanging grace of the Father. It will fuel your faithfulness like nothing else can.

Keep Pushing

“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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”
Philippians 3:14-15 (ESV)

I mowed my grass this weekend.

I know, I know…hottest weekend of the year (maybe the decade?) and all that, but trust me when I say it couldn’t be put off any longer. Thankfully (and on a weekend like this, I am really thankful), my current yard is not a whole lot bigger than the office I’m sitting in as I write this, and it takes less than an hour to give it a good shape-up.

This yard, however, was not where I learned to mow grass. No, I got my training a long time ago in a much different- and more difficult- context. I grew up on three acres, and needless to say, the maintenance required on that property was just a tad bit more than that which is required where I am now.

Most Saturdays, starting as early as March and extending through at least September, our family would spend the better part of the day mowing, weed eating, raking, Roundup-ing, and on and on to make our little homestead look as it should. It was a big job- and one that had to be done over and over again.

On other days, my Dad and I would take a short drive across town to another yard belonging a widowed friend of our family’s, named Ms Betty. Now her yard was much smaller than ours, but let me tell you- I would have gladly mowed those three acres at home ten times before I took on the unkempt mess that was her place. It had bumps, holes, roots, weeds, and grass thicker than any I’ve ever encountered before. It was a hard job- and like the one at home, one that had to be done over and over again.

So why on earth am I spending so much time recounting for you the highlights of my lawn care career? Because I think that mowing the grass, mundane as the task might be, is a tremendous real life picture of the process of progressing in maturity in Christ- or, to use our current series language, of pushing. Much like grass cutting, Christian progress is a process that takes time, energy, and at times a maddening amount of repetition. Just about the time God takes care of certain “weeds” in our hearts, minds, and lives, others pop up (or back up) and must be addressed again.

Consider with me for a moment the nature of this process. Where do we access the power to change? Is it in our own will, wisdom, and strength? If it is, and you’re anything like me, we’re in big trouble. No, it is the transforming grace and power of God Himself that gives us what we need to progress in Him. Attempting to enact deep, lasting change in your own heart, mind, and life is the equivalent of trying to cut down three acres with a pair of scissors. It just isn’t happening- and in heat like we’re experiencing right now, you just might die doing it!

No, just as the power to change the look of a lawn is beyond you– i.e. in a piece of equipment uniquely designed to accomplish such change- the power to alter the state of your heart is beyond you too. It comes from God alone, working through His Word, His Holy Spirit, and His people in His church. Don’t allow the illusion of prideful self-sufficiency or the lie that your struggles are somehow greater than God’s abilities to lead you to forfeit the power to which you’ve been given full access in Christ.

But there’s another side to this as well, and it’s important that we don’t miss it either. Though the power to truly change is not our own, our participation is always required. We must seek God. We must search the Scriptures. We must labor in prayer. We must pursue healthy relationships with others. We must make the sacrifices required to invest in others and impact our world. Using our grass cutting imagery, we must get behind the source of power and keep pushing.

That’s what Philippians 3- the text which we’ll be exploring throughout this series- is all about. It’s simultaneously about laying aside any confidence we might have in ourselves and “glorying in Christ” alone, and “pressing on toward the prize” of knowing and becoming like Christ. It’s about participating in a process of progress, drawing on a power far greater than we could ever muster for ourselves. Here’s a quick and memorable “formula” to help you remember what we’re talking about here…

God’s Power + Your Participation = Progress In Christ

Today- and every day that follows- keep pushing, but remember that you’re not pushing alone. The “weeds” will keep coming, but the good news is that God is going anywhere anytime soon- and His power to transform knows no limit. Be encouraged by another great truth from Philippians…

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Have Fun!

God created you to enjoy and for you to enjoy him.

God takes pleasure in His people. (Psalms 149, 147, and Jeremiah 9:23-24) God created and said, “It is good.” This does not mean he got it right. It is a word that means it is good and pleasing to him.

God wants you to enjoy the life he created you to live. Ecclesiastes is an entire book about enjoying life. Solomon tried to enjoy life in every way the world will tell you to enjoy life and found it all to be a “vanity of vanities.” In the end he concluded that the purpose of life is “to fear God and keep his commands.” He found that the enjoyment of life is found in the Creator, not the creation.

When the Creator, not the creation, become your source of joy then all of creation becomes a source of joy.

Romans 1:19-25 speaks clearly to the distortion that exists in all of us because of sin. We have exchanged the glory of the Creator and glorified the creation over Him. We desire to fulfill our God given appetites and desires in ways that dishonor the one who designed them within us. This is the very temptation that Eve struggled with. She saw the fruit was desirable before she ever tasted it. She made up her mind that it was good because she was deceived to believe that life would be better fulfilling her own desire instead of honoring the Lord. After eating of the forbidden fruit she and Adam were naked and ashamed causing them to hide from God. And we have been hiding ever since.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” God made life to have many seasons and all types of experiences. He designed us to desire food, physical intimacy, and relationships. The issue is that we begin to put expectations for joy in life on these experiences, people, and opportunities that they were not designed to have. The more defined the expectation the more difficult it is to enjoy the experience (or the person). The more you have decided what joy an experience or a person will cause in your life, the more difficult it becomes for that experience or person to be a joyous part of your life. The experience and the person are often not the problem. Your expectation is. For example, your spouse might miraculously become a much better spouse in your life if you simply dropped your unrealistic expectations.

I want to share a few Biblical perspectives and ideas found from Ecclesiastes that will hopefully help you know How To Enjoy Life by learning to enjoy your Creator.

A time for all things is different than time for everything.
You will experience highs and lows in life. Life is like that. It is what it is. The more you try to make time for everything, however, the less you have time for all things.
Embrace life don’t chase life.
Good times and hard times will come. Embrace life. The more you try to chase the good times in the midst of the reality of hard times the more hard times you face.
Live in it not for it.
You will experience many seasons in life. Live in them not for them. Wendy and I are in a great season with our kids. This summer we had the privilege of taking a once in a lifetime trip with them. Our kids are old enough to hike and mountain climb and bike with us now.   It is great. We can enjoy them in ways we have not been able to in the past but we have enjoyed every season with them. If we begin to live for these moments we will miss out on the moments ahead when they move on. Don’t live for it. Live in it.
Pace matters.
You will have time in life for all things, but you will never have time for everything. Stop trying to do it all.
People matter.
People matter to us and for us. We matter to people and they matter to us. You need some conversations that are not about making decisions. We all need some gatherings that have no agendas. Everyone needs friends and friends have fun.

What makes you breaks you.
Whatever makes you joyful and gives you happiness is also the thing that most easily breaks it. If you are relying on your relationship to your spouse to make you happy, your spouse will break that happiness because no matter how wonderful they are they were not created to be the source of joy in your life. Your kids cannot be your source of joy. Your job cannot. Your money cannot. You cannot. Only your Creator has the potential to bear that burden.

Joy is a product in our life not of our life.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit not a fruit of circumstance. Joy is something God gives us no matter the season. Not something we were created to find depending on our season of life. If you lack joy ultimately you lack Jesus. You need more of him in your life.

Jesus “for the joy set before him endured the cross.” You are a part of that joy.

Love Jesus…and have fun.