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What Will Your Grandchildren Say They Learned From You?

I read today a list of five things a grandson states he has learned from his 90 year old grandfather.  He penned this short list with obvious admiration and sincerity.  Here is what he wrote:

1) Humility: He (his grandfather) has always been keenly aware that God is God, and he is not. He has always been conscious of his smallness and God’s bigness, his imperfection and God’s perfection.

2) A love for the Gospel: He has always had a deep sense of his own sin, which has led him to a deep love for his Savior. He has always exemplified the sweet reality that you can never know Christ as a Great Savior until you first know yourself to be a great sinner. God’s amazing grace still amazes him — and that amazes me!

3) Faithfulness: Although he has had the opportunity to do many things, he has never wavered concerning God’s call on his life to be an evangelist. He knows he’s not a scholar or a theologian; he’s never tried to be. He has always remained true to God’s calling.

4) Never show favoritism: I have been with him in numerous places with numerous people, and I have never, ever seen him show favoritism. He treats all people the same, whether they are rich or poor, weak or powerful, socially significant or socially insignificant.

5) Be real: He is normal! He gets mad; he gets sad; he’s fun to be around. His favorite restaurant is Morrison’s Cafeteria. His favorite movie is “Crocodile Dundee.” His favorite drink is orange juice, and he loves catfish. He’s just another man with all of the limitations and idiosyncrasies that the rest of us have — and I love him for it!

When I read over this list, I thought, “When I am 90 years old, what will my grandchildren say they learned from my life?  What is my life teaching those closest to me?”

Think about it: what five things do you want your grandchildren to say they learned from you and your life?   What do you think those closest to you would say they are learning from your life today? Why not make a list of five things you want to pass on, and then make a list of five things that need to change in your life so that you can have that heritage for your grandchildren and all those in your life.

By the way, that list was written by a guy named Tullian Tchividjian (I found it here).

You might know his grandfather, who turns 90 this week—  Billy Graham.

Be Perfect

You therefore must be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:48)

Isn’t it interesting how anything that God says to us or asks us to do that doesn’t sit well with us we end up trying to reinterpret? I’ve read commentaries on this verse saying that “perfect” really doesn’t mean “perfect”– it just means mature, grown-up, or something like that— Jesus really couldn’t have meant “perfect”—  could he??  Some modern paraphrases even discard the word “perfect” in favor of something a little more doable.

But Jesus really didn’t give us that option, when He said “as our heavenly Father is perfect.”  I don’t think anyone would try to describe God’s perfection as “maturity” or anything less than, well, perfect.  And consider that in the context this command was just the climax of a whole series of seemingly impossible to obey commands concerning anger, lust, and loving your enemies.

So what does Jesus mean when he commands us to be perfect? Another option is that, yes, we’ll be perfect once we get to heaven.  Sorry, that doesn’t fit the context of Christ’s command either.

What is Christ getting at when he commands us to be perfect?  Christ is saying, “Look, all these commands that you see as impossible that I’m giving you… they’re not optional.  You can’t say, “I’m not cut out to love my enemies” or “I just have an anger problem”  or “I have a weakness in this area, you understand that, Jesus.”  No, YOU THEREFORE MUST BE PERFECT, you have to continually be striving for perfection, to live a life just as perfect and holy as God is perfect.”

Just as holy and perfect as God?  That’s the goal? Yes.  That’s exactly what Paul was meaning when he said in Romans 8:29, “For those whom God foreknew He also presdestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that Christ might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

But how? Paul says it most clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unvelied face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Jesus really does intend for us to become perfect. And the secret to becoming perfect, perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect, being spiritually transformed, is beholding God’s glory.  And that doesn’t come from “turning over a new leaf” “trying harder” or any kind of self effort— it comes from the Holy Spirit doing something supernatural in our hearts as we gaze at God’s glory through worship, prayer, and study of Him through the Scriptures.  Being perfect is not a goal we will “perfectly” attain in this life (see 1 John 1), but it is to be our life’s business.

Be perfect.

Gaining from Godliness

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6)

“Now be a good boy…”—what kid hasn’t heard that a zillion times growing up?  We are all urged to be good, moral, godly people.  And indeed, the Bible calls us to live lives of godliness. 

But…Paul warns us that godliness, religious piety, alone is not enough.  There needs to be something else, something else present in a person’s life in order for us to gain from a life of godliness.  For those of you who once took biochemistry, godliness needs a cofactor.  But what? What is absolutely essential for us to personally gain from being godly?  Contentment.

Why is that?  Why contentment?  As a friend of mine recently told me, if he had been picking character qualities to pair up with godliness, contentment would not have been at the top of his list.

So what is it about contentment being necessary for godliness?  I think it has to do with desire.  All of us have desires, both for good things and bad.  But here’s the catch: desires sabotage godliness.  In our humanness, our attempts at godliness will fall prey to desire in one of two ways:

  1. Using godliness to obtain desire—this was the problem that Paul confronted in 1Timothy 6 when he blasted false teachers who were “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” thinking that godliness was a means of gain.  We will always be tempted to use godliness as a tool to obtain what we want, which inevitably corrupts both it and us.
  2. Abandoning godliness to obtain desire—how often we see this played out—the “pillar of the church” that falls when their desire becomes greater than their commitment to godliness.

So, without contentment our human attempts at godliness are doomed to fail. So, where can I get some of this contentment stuff? For starters, I had to realize that contentment in the Greek carries an idea of sufficency within oneself, not needing anything external in the world.  This idea of “I don’t need anything to keep me happy” is very different than how I usually describe contentment, which roughly translates to “I have ENOUGH to keep me happy” in my mind.  Of course, the problem is that what I define as “enough” changes from minute to minute, and so contentment based on the concept of “enough” is elusive, transitory, unstable, and usually leads me away from God rather than to Him.

No, I definitely need the “I don’t need anything external, in the world, to keep me happy” type of contentment. Indeed, this is the kind that Paul said that he had learned in another letter:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ( Phillipians 4:11-13 )

Now, how does someone “learn” contentment, learn “the secret of facing plenty and hunger”? How do you deal with desires for good things that go unfulfilled in this life?  I see three basic ways:

  1. Eliminate desire—you can be content if you don’t actually want anything.  This is the solution that Eastern religions propose and try to live.  The short answer: it doesn’t work.  Humans are wired to desire.
  2. Internalize desire—set all your desires on yourself, having satisfaction in your health, your moral uprightness, your intelligence, your body, your integrity.  Many moral teachers teach some variant of this path (Covey comes to mind). Ultimately, this doesn’t work either, because we either look honestly at ourselves and realize that we will always fall short in some way, or we will, like Narcissus, become so enamored with our beautiful reflection that it will warp us, or become consumed with trying to protect or keep up the image that we are deriving our pleasure from, knowing that disease and death are the inevitable spoilers of our contentment.
  3. Desire Christ—yes, this is what Paul learned, to set all his desire on Christ, and he found in Christ the contentment and strength to face any and every situation in his life. 

To desire Christ: to obtain the water that will forever satisfy our thirst, is the key to a life of both contentment and godliness.  This is Paul’s, and our, key to obtaining that “great gain from godliness.”

Religion vs. Transformation

I was reading 2 Timothy 3 today, some very familiar verses, about men being “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”—and the image that has always formed in my mind has been of low-life despicable sinners that you wouldn’t get within twenty feet of. But that isn’t what the description is about—the very next phrase is “having a form of godliness”. The greek word for form is actually “echo”—having an echo of godliness in their lives, these people are religious, on the outside they appear to have it all together, they appear to be godly, that is why Paul warns Timothy in the next verse to stay away from these people, because at first glance they don’t appear to be wolves in sheep’s clothing—although all of the above descriptors are true of these people, they must be in a subtle, not obvious way, cloaked in what is apparently a upright religious lifestyle, a “form of godliness”.

So what is the difference? Paul states that although they have a form of godliness they deny its power. What is that about? In the Greek the word “deny” is a strong word, to reject forcefully, it is the same word used when Peter denied Christ. What do they deny? The power the dunamis of the gospel, its power to both demand change and cause change in the lives of the children of God. The person who is religious has already defined his values of right and wrong, good and evil, in his own image, he is a “lover of himself”. For a God to interject into his life and say “Look, your righteousness is as filthy rags before me, You must be born again, and I have the power to do this for you!” is abominable to him. He rejects the power of God, and in doing so rejects God Himself in favor of his own will, his own pleasures.