Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 2

In Hebrews 12:1, the author counsels us to lay aside every weight and sin in our lives so that we can run the race set before us with endurance. In the last blog post I said a few things about the "weights," and in this one I will say a few things about sins. The sins in our lives are those things that are not good and that have to go. They’re not neutral. They’re not healthy. They’re not friends of Christ. 
 
In fact, they’re faith-killers. They sap our energy for Christ. They blind our eyes to Christ. They harden our hearts to Christ. They bend our will away from God’s will and toward ourselves. They wrap our legs together and tie our arms to our body so that we can’t run. They cover our mouths and noses so that we can’t breathe. 
 
Friends, our sins kill our faith, impede our race, and steal our joy. Our sins keep us from knowing, growing, and going with Christ. Our sins are a major problem and so Jesus draws near to us in love, through the author of Hebrews to say, “Put them aside. Take them off. I’ve given you everything you need to kill the anti-faith in your life, so fix your eyes on me and do it. It’s for your good, it’s for your fruitfulness, it’s for your joy, it’s for the good of others, it’s for the glory of my name.”

While this topic is on the table, let’s ask the Lord to help us draw to mind two or three things in our lives that fit into this category. Let’s ask ourselves questions like these: What habits or patterns in my life are clearly displeasing to the Lord? In what ways am I cooperating with the enemies of my faith in Christ? What sins do I love more than I love Jesus?

As we ponder these questions, let’s remember that we live by faith in the faithfulness of Christ, and that the power for fresh obedience comes from looking to him and surrendering to his work in us. 
 
Indeed, Jesus himself is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He’s the one who created it and he’s the one who will prosper it. He’s the one that implanted it in our souls and he’s the one who will cause it to grow and sprout and bear 30- and 60- and 100-fold for his glory. Thinking about and repenting of our sin is uncomfortable but it’s so good. So let’s surrender to him and allow him to have his way in us both now and forevermore.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grace for the Race, Part 1

As I highlighted in the last blog entry, the race to which Christ calls us is not recreational, rather, it’s a war. It’s an intense race. And because this is so the author of Hebrews gives us several words of wisdom that we really need to hear. For those who play Christianity or who play church, these things won’t make a lot of sense or have a lot of impact.

But for those who truly desire to know Christ and grow in Christ and go with Christ together, these things will give life, refreshment, focus, and power for the race. I pray that we’ll be among those who truly desire to run this race and live our lives by faith in the faithfulness of Christ. I pray that we’ll have ears to hear what the author has to say, and for this reason, I plan to write five blogs it.

The first thing the author tells us to do in Hebrews 12:1 is to lay aside the weights and sins in our lives which so easily wrap themselves around us and constrict us from running by faith as we should. Or if I can use different words, the author is telling us to remove from our lives all the obstacles to faith; all the things that constrict our faith; all the things that make it hard to believe Jesus and all he is and all he has said and all he has promised to do; all the things that are impeding us from knowing, growing, and going with Christ together.

The weights in our lives are those things that, in themselves, are neutral or even good but that for whatever reasons are keeping us from running with Christ as far and fast as we can. Weights include things like personal time, hobbies, family, work, material things, sports, gadgets, games, and even obsessive Bible study and theological reading. All of these things and more have their place in life but we need to learn to reflect on the way we do things and determine if x, y, and z are keeping us from believing as passionately as we should and running with Christ as far and fast as we can. We need to determine if our own habits and priorities are sabotaging our faith in Jesus and impeding our ability to know, grow, and go.

While this topic is on the table, let’s ask the Lord to help us draw to mind two or three things in our lives that fit into this category. Let’s ask ourselves questions like these: how do I spend my free time? How do I spend my extra money? What are my true priorities in life? What am I really after? Is there anything in my life that, if I’m being honest, takes precedence over Jesus?

Friends, as we ponder these questions, let’s allow Jesus to speak to us right now. Let’s allow him to draw some things to mind. Let’s allow him to show us what we ought to do and let’s commit ourselves right here and now, embracing what he has to say and walking in his will and ways. And let’s remember that we live by faith in the faithfulness of Christ, and that the power for fresh obedience comes from looking to him and surrendering to his work in us. That may sound a bit too simple but it’s true. The key to running our race is simply surrendering to the work of Christ, so by his grace let’s do that right here and now.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Running Our Race: It's a War not a Recreational Sport

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about Hebrews 12:1-3 and the race that Jesus has set before us, specifically, to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together. In invite you to click on the links to the right and review what I have written, but for today I want acknowledge this point:

While it’s a great privilege to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together, it’s not easy.

The race to which Jesus calls us is simple but it’s not easy because of our sin and that of others. And so the reason the author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of a race in chapters 11-12 is because life in Christ is intense and difficult, and it calls for endurance.

Indeed, the race that’s been set before us is not a recreational race—it’s a war. The race that’s been set before us is not like one of those local 5k / 10k / half-marathon / marathon events where the primary goal is to get in shape and have some fun. Rather, the race that’s been set before us is more like the first marathon ever run wherein a Grecian envoy was commanded to run as fast as he could from the city of Marathon to the city of Athens to inform the people of three things: (1) the Persians had been defeated at Marathon, (2) they had set sail along the coast and were heading to Athens to attack the city, and (3) the Grecian army was marching double time toward Athens to aid in the battle.

Beloved, this runner wasn’t out for an afternoon jog in the park. He wasn’t out to improve his physical fitness. Rather, this runner was out to deliver serious and good news to his people so that they could prepare for battle and keep from being killed by their long-time enemies.

Christians are like this runner and our race is like his race. Our race is not recreational, it’s war, and we’ve been called to run it with intensity and endurance by faith. It is a war to put Christ first and value his words and read his words and seek his wisdom and seek his power for obedience day by day by day. It’s a war to allow Christ to come close to us and burn away all the dross in our lives so that those things that are unlike him fall away and only he remains. It’s a war to see beyond ourselves and care about the lost and the least of these to the extent that we take action and seek to spread the love of Christ abroad in our neighborhoods and nations.

I’ll have more to say about this in the next blog, but for now I want to encourage you to meditate on the nature of the race to which Jesus has called us, and properly count the cost. Then, as the seriousness and difficulty of it lands on you, I want to encourage you to meditate on the grace Jesus provides to all who call upon his name, enabling them to do by his power what they cannot do by their power.

May the Lord be near to us as we ponder his call and embrace his grace. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Running our Race: Going with Christ


In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. In the last two blogs I’ve said a few things about knowing Christ and growing in Christ, and in this blog I’d like to say a few things about going with Christ.

Christians are also called to go with Christ. We’re called to share in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that overflowed and made a way of salvation for all who would put their faith in Christ. We’re called to take the mission of Christ as our own and join him in the quest of seeking and saving the lost. We’re called to go with him as he reaches out to the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the weak. We’re called to be ambassadors of God and plead with our neighborhoods and nations, “Be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ who is the source of eternal life for all who put their faith in him.”

Beloved, we’ve been called to join the greatest King on the greatest mission in the history of the world. And we’ve been allowed to understand that this King will certainly triumph and that his mission will certainly succeed, so that all of his purposes and promises and plans will be forever fulfilled!

Who can find words to describe the enormous privilege it is for broken and sinful people like us to know Christ and grow in Christ and go with Christ together? I know I can’t. One day as I was walking and worshiping Christ at a park by the Mississippi River, I said to the Lord, “How will I ever be able to say what I’ve seen? How will I ever be able to explain what you’ve shown me in our times together?” And while I’m sure that the Lord will help me to say what’s necessary, I’m also sure that much of what Christians see when we see the glory of Christ is simply inexpressible. We do our best to use words and point toward the manifold excellencies of Jesus and the life-shaping experiences we have with him but at the end of the day human language is not adequate to express all that he is and all that he’s done and all that he’s purposed and promised and planned to do for his glory and our joy.

Going on mission with Christ is a tremendous privilege and joy, but here’s the deal: it takes time and devotion to engage in his mission. So how are you doing? As you come to know him, are you striving by his grace to obey his command to make disciples and love “the least of these”? Are you learning how to pray for others and express the truth and beauty of Jesus to them? Are you entering into the joy of laying down your life for the glory of God in the salvation of others?

The greatest privilege in this life is being a part of the mission of Christ. So let's surrender to him and join in his mission! Let’s seek grace from Jesus and bear the fruit of Jesus in the world.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Running our Race: Growing in Christ

In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. Last time I said a few things about knowing Christ, and this time I’d like to say a few things about growing in Christ.

Christians are also called to grow in Christ. We’re called to be transformed into the image of the one we worship. The aim of seeking and seeing and savoring the glory of Christ is not simply to admire who he is but to become like him. He is utterly focused on his Father and so over time we become utterly focused on him. He is faithful to his Father and to his people and so over time we become faithful to him and to one another. He is loving and wise and gentle and kind and firm and always filled with joy, and so over time we take on these traits as well.

Beloved, we’ve been called to become like the one we delight in. This is what it means to grow in Christ. This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be a Christian. And again, the more we come to understand just who Jesus is, this calling will stun us and fill us with awe and joy inexpressible.

But here’s the deal: it takes time to grow in Christ. So how are you doing? As you come to know him, are you striving by his grace to become like him? Are you content just to admire his character, or are you committed to taking on his character as he does his work in you?

The greatest privilege in this life is being transformed into the image of Christ. So let's play our part! Let’s seek grace from Jesus to become like Jesus day by day, for the glory of his name and the joy of our souls.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Running Our Race: Knowing Christ


In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that’s been set before us?

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. So for today, I want to say a few things about knowing Christ, and then later this week I'll write about growing in Christ and going with Christ.

Christians are called to know Christ. Our privilege is to seek and see and savor the glory of him who saved us; who is the rightful inheritor of all things; through whom the Father created all things; who sustains all things by the word of his power; who is the very radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature; who carries all things along to their appointed end so that that purposes and promises and plans of God are fulfilled with perfect precision; who made the once-for-all sacrifice for sins so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life; who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God as the rightful ruler of all things and the eternal High Priest over heaven and earth (see Hebrews 1:1-4).

Friends, Christians have been called to delight ourselves in the glory of Christ, to indulge ourselves in the richest feast in the universe. We’ve been called to know Christ truly, deeply, intimately, and eternally, and the more we learn of him the more this calling will take our breath away.

But here's the deal: it takes time and focus to know Christ. So how are you doing? Are you taking time to seek him each day through the Word of God and prayer? When you seek him, do you remove distractions like phones and computers and TVs? When you see something of his glory, do you take time to praise and thank him?

The greatest privilege in this life is feasting on the glory of Christ. So let's do it! Let's make the time, and then make the most of the time, by God's grace and for his glory.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Have Nothing Else but God in Everything

In a little book entitled Daily Readings with Saint John of the Cross (Templegate: Springfield, IL, 1985), Saint John writes, “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing in everything, for how can a heart belong in any way to two people at once?” (59). This, of course, is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” I think Saint John is really onto something here, but the question arises, How does one have nothing in everything? Answer: have nothing but God in everything.

For instance, I’m sitting at my computer right now and I have two choices as to how to think about it: (1) I can rejoice in the wonder of the computer itself and the genius of those who invented such a thing, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have resources to own it, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have requisite skills to use it, or I can take it for granted and assume that I deserve it. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of my flesh and rejoice in it as an end in itself, or as a means to rejoicing in the genius of others, or as a means to rejoicing in myself.

(2) I can rejoice in the fact that I am alive and in Christ by the immeasurable grace of God, and that God, in his surpassing genius, created people who could create such things as the computer, and that God granted me the resources to obtain one, and that God provided me a way to use it so that it blesses others and not just me, and that God may take it from me some day with a view to augmenting my joy in and dependence upon him. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of the Spirit and see it as a means to rejoicing in God.

I believe that this basic choice lies before us in all things: nature, food, relationships, money, houses, cars, careers, achievements, fame, and the like. Will we rejoice in these things as an end in themselves, or will we see them as means to the end of rejoicing in God? Will we see these things and nothing more, or will we strive for eyes to see the glory of God in all things and worship him for what we see? Will we live for the joy we get from things and people, or will we live for the joy we get in God himself who freely gives us all things and people?

So, perhaps we can restate what Saint John said as follows: “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing ELSE BUT GOD in everything…” Oh Father, may you give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of you so that we, indeed, would have nothing else but you in everything.