See the Shore

I recently had the privilege of knocking a couple of items off of my bucket list.  There are a few things I really want to do in life.  One was to go to Hawaii – which we were blessed to do.  Another was to learn to surf – which I got to do.  To be honest, I expected more instruction.  I expected the lesson to be longer and harder.  The balance of standing up on a board flowing through the water was as difficult to figure out as I had imagined, but the process did not take as long as I thought it would.

Really were given just a few instructions.  One was about how to place ourselves on the board from back to front.  The second was about how to get to our feet.  The third was, “look at the shore.”  A pretty simple set of instructions – simple does not, however, mean easy.

As my son and I both started figuring out how to stand up and stay on the board, I realized the importance of keeping my eyes on the shore.  As I watched the GoPro video from the camera I was wearing, I realized that every time I wiped out, I had looked down before I went down.  I was looking at the wave and not the shore.

I am also aware that riding 30 plus waves during one surf lesson with someone helping me know the timing is far from being a surfer.  I feel, however, the lessons I learned looking for the shore, catching a wave, and riding a board might help me discuss some key marks of maturity we should all strive for our as Christ-followers.

Philippians 3:12-4:1 teaches us some important lessons about maturity in life and in our relationship with God.  There are three key points from this text I want to explore with you deeper.  I will give a quick breakdown of all the points I shared Sunday from this text (plus one) and then go further with 3 of them.

  1. Remember you’re not there yet. There is more maturity.  You can experience more growth.  You can walk in fuller obedience.
  2. Keep Looking Ahead. Don’t take your eyes off of Jesus – the Author and Perfecter of your faith.
  3. Press for the right prize. There is nothing more discouraging to realize you’ve been running hard – just the wrong race.
  4. Seek maturity through imitation. Paul tells others to imitate him as he imitates Christ. We all need to find people to imitate.  The right people!
  5. Measure your appetites. Consumption tells us where we are; appetites tell us where we are headed.
  6. Remember your citizenship. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. Your life is meant to look and sound different.
  7. Stand Firm. It’s not always about gaining ground; some days you win if you simply do not lose any.

Keep looking ahead is the lesson we took to the water and used on a board.  Michael from Houston taught me this truth on a beach in Kihei, Hawaii and I did my best to apply it.  This lesson, however, is consistent in Scripture yet absent in the majority of our decisions.  How often do you really consider eternity when making a decision?  When was the last time you considered what effect that decision you were making about your finances or about your time was going to have on eternity?  Look ahead and never forget that our life here is not the point of our life here.

Seeking maturity through imitation is a key to living a healthy spiritual life.  You need people in your life that are good examples of following Jesus.  You need people you can ask questions.  Who are you learning from?  Who are you allowing to speak into your life?  One of the saddest things in Christianity is how people treat other believers when they start struggling with convictions.  They distance themselves from the very people they would have said just a year earlier were key examples in their Christian faith.  Then as they wrestle with issues and beliefs they lose their compass.  This is usually the result of arrogance or shame.  Some feel shame because they know better than where they are headed.  Others are arrogant enough to believe that all the other believers they have trusted and viewed as true Christ-followers (sometimes for years) have really all been wrong about Jesus all this time.  You need people to imitate and if you come across a place you feel imitating them does not imitate Jesus, don’t abandon them, influence them.  You might find they are not as wrong as you think they are…and then you both mature.

Maturity will never be found through isolation – although you do need some times of solitude.  It will never be found through jumping from place to place to find the truths you want to find – although God might move you along the way.  It will never be found outside of strong relationships with other believers who can speak into your life and you can speak into theirs – although this is very uncomfortable.  Maturity is an imitation issue and true imitation requires a level of intimacy in your relationships with other believers.

Measure your appetites; not just your consumption.  What are you desiring?  If you find yourself considering and thinking about the same things over and over again in life; you might be consumed.  You might even have an idol.  I encourage you to not just measure your consumption.  Don’t just measure what you are taking in.  Measure what you want to take in.  What is growing as an appetite?

Is it a hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Do you want more of the things of God or more of the things of this world?  Which is growing?  Your appetite will tell you where you are headed.  Be aware.  If you realize you have a dangerous appetite growing…tell someone you are imitating.  Tell another someone that you believe has the spiritual maturity to help you.  Don’t fade away alone.

So, set your eyes on the shore.  Don’t look back.  Find some people you can imitate and measure your hunger.  Today’s desires will be tomorrow’s decisions.

“Just Stop It Already!” Why God Commands Us To Rest

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“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, ESV)

Which of God’s commands do you find most difficult to obey? 

For simplicity’s sake, let’s boil it down to just the Ten Commandments to identify an answer.  There are some pretty strong candidates here, aren’t there?

I mean, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff?  Especially in our consumeristic, media saturated culture, that’s a tough one.  One trip to your Facebook or Instagram feed proves this.

And don’t lie– I mean, about anything?  Maybe we can avoid the “big ones,” but to tell the whole truth all the time?  That’s a high standard- and a costly one at times.

Even the seemingly easy commandments like “don’t murder” and “don’t commit adultery” aren’t- according to Jesus- all that easy at all.  As Matthew 5 makes clear, harboring anger against someone equals “murder,” and entertaining lustful thoughts equals “adultery.”  Yikes.

Today, though, I don’t want to talk about any of these seemingly more “scandalous” acts of rebellion, significant as they are.  Instead, I want to zero in on perhaps the least carefully considered commandment in all of God’s law- the Fourth Commandment, God’s directive to “observe the Sabbath,” or put more simply, to rest regularly.

The command itself has an odd history, finding its origin in God’s work of creation in Genesis 1-2.  As the account goes, God creates everything out of nothing in six days- heavens and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and ultimately humankind.  And then, on the seventh day, the God “who never sleeps or slumbers” rests.  Now why would a Deity of such unlimited capacity choose to take a day off?

To be clear, I don’t believe that God in any way had reached His end.  He wasn’t tired from all that creating.  He wasn’t stressed out.  There was no internal tension in the Trinity.  Instead, I believe God was establishing for us- as a model, which He would later make explicit in a command- the critical importance of taking time to “stop and be still.”  He created this world to operate according to certain laws, principles, and rhythms- and one of the most significant of these rhythms is that of work and rest.

Work is a good thing, created by God for His glory and our good.  We know this because work existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered God’s good world.  Part of God’s curse on sin was that some aspects of work would become difficult and toilsome, but prior to the Fall, work was a God-given gift designed for flourishing.  There are many of us who need to be reminded of this today, and approach our work with a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose.

That being the case, God never intended that our work would be unending or all-consuming.  Just as work has an important role to play in our lives, so does rest– so much so that God not only suggests that we rest, but actually commands it.  He even provides us with a “schedule”- once out of every seven days, take the day to “stop and be still,” to focus on unhurried time with Him and with those whom has placed in our lives.

So here’s the question that we must grapple with today- Why is this so important to God, so as to put it on the same level as commands such as “don’t worship other gods” and “don’t kill people”?  What are the benefits of taking seriously God’s command to rest regularly?  Let’s take a look at a few…

  • Regular rest reminds us that God is God- and we are not. One of the foremost idols with which we wrestle in our culture is that of control.  To put it bluntly, we all struggle with a “God complex” to some degree.  We believe the Serpent’s lie that we can “be like God”- knowing it all, fixing it all, and being everywhere for everyone in our lives.  Taking time to “stop and be still” reminds us that the world will keep turning even when we aren’t “on”- because we were never holding it in our hands anyway!
  • Regular rest honors God’s creative design. God created human beings with amazing capacity physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.  But let’s be clear- He did not create us to “live without limits” in any of these areas.  And when we unwisely attempt to press against the outer edges of these limits by failing to rest, His design demands that we will pay dearly for it.  For some, this will mean physical breakdown…for others, a mental or emotional crisis…for still others, a relational implosion.  In any case, it is critical that we submit to the sovereign Designer on this.  We will be far better off for it.
  • Regular rest opens the door to rich, thriving relationships. Pastor and author John Ortberg says it well- “Hurry is always the enemy of love.”  You and I know this to be true; we experience it on a near-everyday basis.  The more hurried we live, the less time we have for people- or for God.  We may fool ourselves into believing that we keep the pace we do “for others” (or even more dangerously and deceptively, “for God”!), but dig down deep enough, and you’ll find that there is some self-serving motive underlying all that unbridled busy-ness.  When we live well rested, as God intends, we are able to give our best to God and to others- not our leftovers!
  • Regular rest enables us to make wise, God honoring decisions. Let’s be real here- Exhausted people make pretty awful decisions.  It is when we are tired that we are at our most vulnerable to the deceptions and temptations of our Enemy.  Why?  Because we possess little reserve left to “fight the good fight,” and even worse, we can begin to believe the lie that we “owe it to ourselves” to compromise.  After all, look at all the great things we have done!  But in this blinded state, we can throw away true “Kingdom greatness” simply because we cannot bear to “fall behind” in our pursuit of what we have deemed “great.”

We could go on, of course, but I think we’ve said enough here.  Here’s the challenge I want to pose to you in light of all this- Take one day in the next week to really rest- to “observe God’s Sabbath”- and see how you respond to it.  If you find it difficult to do this (and trust me when I say that some of us are going to find it agonizing), ask God and yourself why.  Measure the benefits and the costs, and weight them against each other.  Ask God with an open heart and mind to really teach you through this time.  Give Him time and space to speak and work.  I believe that if you’ll take this simple step to trust Him, that He will do a good work- though perhaps not a comfortable work- in your heart, mind, and body that will be to His glory and others’ good.  Will you take one day this week and “just stop it already”?

Don’t Get It Twisted

Do you think you are “good enough”? Have you caught yourself comparing yourself to others? Sometimes we get it twisted when it comes to how good we think we are compared to other people’s “goodness.” We do not have much a measuring stick if we use ourselves as the standard, “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” When we pray, are we exalting self, or God? Do we acknowledge that we fall short?

Read Luke 18:9-14. Look the Pharisee’s prayer. Luke 18:9-12

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

The Pharisee is basically saying he is better than everyone else. The Pharisee’s were the religious elite of their day. These dudes were the example for everyone to follow when it came to knowledge and being “spiritually fit.” But what this Pharisee didn’t see, was that he was as sinful everyone else. This Pharisee got it twisted. The Pharisee’s added to God’s law, making it an impossible standard to live up to. The believe themselves to be the standard.

THINK: Do you know all the answers to the bible? Are you known for doing “good things”? Do you thank God you are not like others?

Now read the Tax Collector’s prayer. Luke 18:13-14

13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

The Tax collectors were huge outcasts of society. Everyone hated these peeps. They stole and stole and stole. Yet look at his posture. He stood far off and could not look towards God. He had a posture of humility. The second thing we see is his desperation: “God be merciful me.” The Tax Collector knew he deserved punishment, but cried out his need for God’s mercy. The third thing we see, is the confession of the tax collector. While the Pharisee thanked God for not being a sinner (which we know is a lie) the tax collector confessed this truth. He was indeed a sinner!

Are you aware that you fail? Are you aware that you are broken and need to be restored? Are you aware that there is nothing on this earth that can save you other than Jesus Christ?

There are some ways we get it twisted and need to repent of.

  1. MY sin is not as bad as THEIR sin. #twisted
  2. I have been saved, so God must forgive me, which gives me freedom to do what I want. #twisted
  3. All sins are equal, so this particular sin is not nearly as condemned. #twisted
  4. I pray every week at church on Sundays. That covers it. #twisted
  5. It is mine and God’s little secret, He’s given me peace about me sleeping with my girlfriend beause we love each other. #twisted
  6. I don’t think God is as harsh about sin as he used to be. I think He is okay with us sinning as long as we love him. #twisted

Never believe any of these lies! Do not allow Satan to deceive you from believing the truth in God’s Word! Sin is not something to toy with!

The beauty of the gospel, is that God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, has saved us from darkness to live in the light, not to return to darkness. What God says, goes! He is our ultimate authority and loving Father. Don’t get it twisted!

Further Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:1 Romans 8

 

What Does Money Mean To You?

Cash Stack

“But godliness with contentment is great gain…for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pieced themselves with many pangs”- 1 Timothy 6:6, 10 (ESV)

“Money is a tool, a test, and a testimony”- Ron Blue

Let’s take a test together- When you think about money, what is the very first thing that comes to your mind?

  • …Is it the comfort it can buy you?
  • …Or the security it can offer you?
  • …Or the power it can give you over others?
  • …Or the status to which it can elevate you?
  • …Or something else altogether?

Let’s face it- Each of us has a slightly unique answer to this question, a different thing that money does for us.  This is critically important to pay attention to- because inevitably, for better or for worse, our perspective on money shapes our practice with it.  Or to state it differently, our desires always shape our decisions.  Consider a few ways this can play out financially…

  • When money = comfort, we tend to spend big, and at our worst, without planning or discipline.
  • When money = security, we lean hard into saving, and likely experience nagging anxiety no matter how much we have.
  • When money = status, we often spend to make a statement, with mixed motives that can stain even our seemingly “good deeds” (“Have you seen how much they gave to ____________? Wow!”)

All of these scenarios- along with many others we could list here, but haven’t- are visible ways that what the Bible calls the “love of money” shows up in our lives.  Notice that in each circumstance, it isn’t necessarily money itself that we “love,” but rather what money can get us.  Money is like the “key” that promises to open up the doors that we want to walk through.

So why is this a problem?  Because although money can often open the first “door” (and perhaps a few after that!)- be it the “door” of comfort, security, power, status, or something else- there are always more doors to open.  There is never a point at which “enough” is actually enough.

  • There will always be more comforts to be pursued.
  • There will always be more emergencies to avoid.
  • There will always be more people to influence, impress, or (if we’re being brutally honest) outdo.

Most of us, of course, don’t think this way.  We believe the lie that one day, we’ll get “there” financially, wherever “there” is- and then we’ll be satisfied.  But we never do- at least not for long.  We always find ourselves standing at yet another locked “door,” with an insatiable craving for that which we believe will open it yet again.  As Pastor Andy Stanley has said wisely, “Our appetites for more are never fully and finally satisfied.”

So what’s the alternative?  How can we take what we’ve learned from this little exercise and put it into practice in a productive and God glorifying way?  I believe there are three key steps each of us must take…

  • First, understand and own your unique vulnerability in this area. If you’re prone to unwise spending, say it.  If your lean is toward anxious saving, speak it.  If you honestly lack a generous heart, admit it.  I get that this can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s critical if we are ever going to break out of the cycle in which many of us find ourselves.
  • Second, shift your thinking on money from something you live for to something you live with. As Christian financial expert Ron Blue says, money itself isn’t evil, but it can never function as an end unto itself.  It is, instead, “a tool, a test, and a testimony”- something that provides us with an opportunity to grow in maturity and trust in Jesus Christ, and to powerfully share His love with others.
  • Finally, and most importantly of all, consider how Jesus alone can do for you what you’ve been asking money to do. Search His Word for promises that speak to the longings of your heart and mind, and replace your craving for money with a growing craving for Him.  Make Him your comfort…make Him your security…make Him your worth and value.  He alone can fully and finally satisfy.  Don’t trade His truth for money’s lies!

I remember vividly when this became real to me.  I had never thought of myself as a “lover of money” before, but a few years ago, after several years of disciplined budgeting and diligent saving on a relatively modest income, I was feeling pretty good about the “security” that our money had afforded us.

And then, in a rapid fire “series of unfortunate events,” it all went away- and I was incredibly bothered.  Not that it was wrong to be bothered under the circumstances, which were admittedly unpleasant.  But this went deeper than a mere, “Oh, that stinks.”  What the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me was that, in an unconscious way, I had begun to place more trust in money- and in my own ability to manage- than I did in God, and in His ability to provide it.  This was humbling to recognize and admit, but it became apparent to me at that point that this was my unique vulnerability, and I needed to repent and ask God to change my heart in this area.

A few years later, we are working toward some goals once again, seeking to be wise stewards of that which God has entrusted to us.  This time around, though, my hope and prayer is that our ultimate confidence will not be in our own financial savvy, but in God’s good heart and able hand.  We will do our best to be wise, but ultimately we are trusting in Him as our all-satisfying hope.

That’s my story in response to this little exercise.  What’s yours?  I pray you’ll take the time this week to consider it, starting with this simple question- What does money mean to you?