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God’s Hands vs. Our Hands

boy baseball base-runner by egarc2 via flickr

My youngest son is playing Little League baseball this spring for the first time. One of the skills all the players must master is base-running. What’s so hard about running around bases? Well, it’s really not hard, IF you have these two rules locked into your thinking:

DO look at your coach— when he says run, run. Don’t hesitate, don’t think twice, don’t second-guess, just run. That’s all you need to do.

DON’T look at anything else— the ball, other players, people in the stands. You don’t have to worry about where the ball is or where the other players are, you don’t have any control over them, you just have to stick with what you DO have control over— running as fast as you can toward that base. You can count on your coach to be keeping track of all that other stuff. In fact, if you try to keep track of it, you won’t be able to run.

Come to think of it, it all boils down to trusting your coach and knowing the difference between the job that is in his hands vs. what he puts in your hands.

I wonder…. are our lives off the baseball field any different? In Matthew 6 Jesus is teaching about the difference between what is in God’s hands vs. what is in our hands:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Notice Jesus lumps all our concerns into 2 categories: what we are to be concerned about, and what God is to be concerned about. All of the things that we typically get concerned about, all the stuff in our lives, is actually in God’s hands, not ours. He knows we need them. He is going to make sure we get them. When we spend our energy worrying about them, we’re no different than the base runner looking at the ball or the other players— we can’t control them, and it just slows us down.

Now what does Jesus say we ought to be concerned about, what is our “base-running” in this life that we are to focus on with all our strength? That’s right, seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s why Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14 that there was only one thing he was focused on:

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.

Are you focused on that one thing? Are you fully grasping with all your might what God has placed in your hands, while trusting that God will take care of what is in His hands? May God open your eyes and your heart to see what you are holding onto that you need to let go, so you may fully press toward the goal of God’s Kingdom.

Overcoming Temptation by Focusing on God

Temptation— it’s something we all face every day.  There has been much written to help Christians understand and apply what the Bible teaches us on overcoming temptation.  This short article will remind us how focusing on God is a key to overcoming temptation in our lives.

A first step to take when confronted with temptation is to focus on God’s presence.  To focus on God’s presence is to think about how God is with us, and for the Christian in us, right now, right at the moment we are tempted.  A simple way to focus on God’s presence is to meditate on a passage like Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

To be aware of God’s presence should next lead us to focus on God’s holiness.  An essential part of God’s glory is His holiness, and the Bible repeatedly instructs us to focus on God’s holiness as a means to our holiness.  In Leviticus 19:2 God specifically states, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he immediately brings God into the conversation as the reason for his refusal to sin:

How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?  (Genesis 39:9)

As David did in Psalm 51, we must always frame sin first and foremost to be rebellion against God and His holiness.

After focusing on His holiness, we can focus on God’s provision.  God has not left us alone and helpless: He will always provide for us, even in temptation.  We can bring to mind 1 Corinthians 10:13—

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Note that there are two promises in this verse: first that God will never put us in a situation that is beyond us, and second that he will always supply what we need.  This “way of escape” may take many forms.  Sometimes it is literal, a way to physically walk away from the temptation.  Other times it may be the wisdom and strength to refuse, while at other times it may be the prayers or help of a friend.  Regardless of the way God chooses, we can trust that He will be faithful in every circumstance.

However, we cannot take God’s presence or holiness or provision lightly, for we must also focus on God’s judgment.  God judges sin, and although our eternal penalty in hell has been atoned for, that does not mean that God will simply pass over our sin.  As a loving father he wants us to grow in holiness, and part of that growth involves discipline when we rebel against Him.  Paul is teaching us for our benefit in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  As we focus on God we must never forget that there are consequences, sometimes very bitter consequences, for our sin.

Lastly, as we are faced with temptation we can focus on God’s reward.  Our lives of holiness and faithfulness will not go unrewarded by a faithful and holy God.  As we say no to temptation, we can look forward to the future when our present faithfulness will be repaid.  We can strengthen our hearts as we focus on Christ one day saying to us what the master said to his faithful servant in the parable of Matthew 25:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

As we focus on God in His presence, His holiness, His provision, His judgment, and His reward we will find the means to overcome every temptation that we face.  Let your focus on God strengthen your heart today.

Enduring to the End

Note: The following is article #25 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.  

 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

In Chapter 25 of Future Grace Dr. Piper looks at this passage from 2 Timothy.  Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul in a few short words sums up his life.  Dr. Piper notes:

The criterion of success that Paul used to measure his life was whether he had “kept the faith.”  The criterion applies to us.  Will we be able to say at the end of our lives, “I have kept the faith”? Not just, have I held fast to a body of doctrines.  That is not all that Paul meant.  But more: have we lived by faith in future grace?  Not just for a moment, or a year, or a decade, but all the way to the end?

Paul uses two potent word pictures to describe what “keeping the faith” really means.  He describes it as a fight and as a race.  Piper notes we can conclude two things from looking at our life as a fight and a race:

  1. Enduring in faith for a lifetime must be hard.
  2. We must endure to the end.

But what about Matthew 11:30, where Jesus describes the life of a disciple as being easy?  Piper gives his own word picture, that of a monkey who has reached his hand into a narrow-necked bottle to grab a nut.  Fist clutched around the nut, he discovers he can’t pull his hand out of the bottle.  Opening his hand is easy, but wanting to let go of what he desires is not.  And so it is with us.  Faith that God is loving and kind and far superior than any pleasure of sin is easy, but actually letting go of our desires for sin and only loving God is often a hard fight.

As to point #2, the Bible is full of exhortations to endurance.  As Piper points out, you can run for five miles or ten miles or fifteen miles in a marathon, but if you don’t run to the very last yard you do not get the reward.  Verses such as Colossians 1:22-23, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Matthew 24:13, Hebrews 3:14 and Revelation 2:10 all speak of our need to endure.  Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.

Dr. Piper next gives three important points to keep in mind as we fight this fight and race this race.  The first is that this is a fight for joy, to keep ourselves joyful in God’s grace over and above any other joy in this life.  We can pray as David did in Psalm 51:12 for God to bring joy into our hearts.

The second point to remember is that even great men of God have struggled in this fight.  David Brainerd the early American missionary struggled to keep his faith and joy in the midst of horrible hardship for years.  His personal journal entries detail his fight:

Though my body was so feeble, and wearied with preaching… yet I wanted to sit up all night to do something for God.  To God the giver of these refreshments, be glory forever and ever… My soul was refreshed and comforted, and I could not but bless God, who had enabled me in some good measure to be faithful in the day past.  Oh, how sweet it is to be spent and worn out for God!

The final thing to remember about our fight is that our victory is assured.  As Piper states,

Our assurance does not lie in looking back to a momentary decision we made for Christ, but in looking forward to the certainty of God’s preserving grace, based on the all-sufficient atonement of his Son’s death.

We are promised over and over again in the Bible of the certainty of our perseverance.  In John 10:27-28 Jesus promises that His sheep will never perish.  In Philippians 1:6 and 2:13 we learn that it is God Himself who works in us, and in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 that He will confirm us to the end.  Whenever the race is long and aren’t sure we can make it to the end, we can assure ourselves with the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

Men’s Liberation

 

 

 

Actress Uma Thurman, speaking on being a single Mom to Parade magazine July 2006:

The stay-at-home mom is over not just because of women’s liberation but because of men’s liberation from wanting to be the breadwinners.

I think the consequences of “men’s liberation” are just as dramatic and pervasive in this culture as of “women’s liberation.” 

We have men by either active decision or by passive indecision setting a lifestyle requiring more income than their paycheck, or even worse being so lazy as not to be able to hold down a honest job and de facto forcing their wives to work.

We have men not taking active leadership in their home, leaving their wives to try and fill the gap. We have men not working and leading in their churches and the schooling of their children.  We have men who want to be liberated from any form of marital, fatherly or other masculine responsibility through figuratively or literally walking away from wives, children, job, or any situation, difficulty, or relationship that doesn’t suit them.

For all these men I have a few choice words:

Husbands, love your wives… as your own bodies, nourishing and cherishing (Ephesians 5)

But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  (1 Timothy 5)

Be men of courage, be strong. ( 1 Cor 16:13)

 

 

Rest in Productivity

Last night I finished polishing a theology posting right before bed, and as I looked at it I thought, “Yes, that’s about how I want it.  That went well.”  Although I didn’t consciously think about it, I had a sense of rest, peace, that I could lay my head down and sleep sweetly, for I had accomplished what I had wanted that day for the Kingdom.

The next morning I was reading the t4G blog and came across this post, where someone asked John Piper how he found rest:

At one point the conversation turned to our busy schedules.  One person exhorted another about the importance of rest.  It was then that John Piper quietly commented “I find productivity restful for my soul.” 

Yes, after 42 years I am beginning to understand that.  There is a rest of soul that comes from knowing you are in God’s will, that you have accomplished what God has called you to, there is rest in productivity in faithfulness for the Kingdom.