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Follow the Leader

“We’re following the leader,
The leader, the leader,
We’re following the leader
Wherever he may go!”

It’s a game we all played in childhood. It’s human nature, really, to play “follow the leader.”

It’s a curious game, in that each person chooses when to join in and when to drop out. A child will join in, thinking “This is fun!” or “I wonder what will happen?” or maybe just “Well, everyone else is doing this…”

But eventually, they will start to question. “This isn’t so much fun anymore.” “I’m bored.” “Hey look, they’re having more fun over there.” “I don’t like what the leader is doing.” “I want to do what I want to do now.” And soon they will leave the game.

Actually, follow the leader is more than just a game for children. It’s a game we all play in life. We started out playing it with the people who raised us. They taught us their values, what they felt about right and wrong, what their concept of God was, what it meant to be a good person, and maybe how to get to heaven if they believed in such a place. Because we were children, we at first accepted what they said and started playing follow the leader. Later, we pick up the direction that our friends or social circle or church or just the world at large is going, and we keep following along.

But somewhere along the way, we all start to question the path that we’re on. We find out that life isn’t always simple or even pleasant. We get disillusioned with life, and with the path that we are following. “This doesn’t make sense.” “This isn’t much fun.” “This other path looks so much better…”

The reasons may be varied, and come in different forms, but they all point to the same thing: self-determination, wanting to be the captain of your own ship. In some form or fashion, the status quo isn’t working out, and so you strike out on your own.

It’s not wrong to question, to honestly seek out the truth, to make sure you really are on the right path. In Isaiah 1:18 God even pleads, “Come, let us reason together.” But usually the reason for leaving the path isn’t a quest for truth, but a quest to pursue pleasure or escape from pain.

We’ve all done this. Sometimes it’s dramatic, as when Eve ate the apple, or when a governor decides that his wife isn’t enough for him. Other times it’s much more subtle, and we just take a few steps off the path, just to see where it may lead. However it happens, we all want to stop playing “follow the leader” when the path that we’re on in some way doesn’t suit us, when we see another path that looks better to us.

And so we leave the path, and take up a new direction that we choose, that seems to lead to a much easier, more fulfilling destination. But to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for ya?” How is it? How is that little compromise, that little detour you’ve taken? Can you really see the end of the path that you’ve chosen? Do you really know where that detour may one day take you?

No, you can’t, can you? If you’re honest, you have to admit that you can’t see the future, you can’t know for sure which path will actually have you end up where you want to be.

But there is One who does know the future, and fortunately, He is One in whom we can absolutely trust:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

We can’t trust our own intution or understanding. We are finite creatures who are limited and so prone to error. But there is one with infinite knowledge, infinite power, and infinite love for His children. He invites us to follow Him. Will you be willing to trust Him, regardless of whether you understand or desire His path? Will you lay down all your objections and follow the leader today?

“It is God’s business to decide if it is good for me. It is my business to obey Him.” Elisabeth Elliot

Reflections on Being Half Way to Ninety

God must have had something special in mind when he made years.

Time passes, and we humans have a need to mark it. Marking the passage of life once every 365 days, beginning with the day of your birth, is a curious custom. Some people try to ignore it, some celebrate it, some lie about it, some dread it, but no one escapes it.

It’s strange to think that I’ve had forty five of these days in my life now. At first I think forty five seems like a lot, but then I consider it is not very many at all.

These singular events in our lives tend to make us to reflect, assess, & plan— to look at the past, present, & future.

I look at my past, & most of all I see God’s mercy & grace so evident. I think of the words that Charlie Peacock once penned:

Time is a gift of love and grace
Without time there’d be no time to change
Time to be tried, tested & broken
Time to hear the word of love spoken.

God gives us the gift of time, so that we have time to change, to turn toward Him & become like Him. I am slowly realizing that the whole purpose of time is for this one goal of God’s: to make me like Him, to restore the original intent in the Garden that man was to be in God’s image.

I presently only dimly grasp what it means to be made in God’s image, to become conformed to the image of His Son as Paul wrote in Romans 8. This much I do know: it is more than simply doing good things, more than finding happiness, more than even “walking with God.” It is becoming holy as God is holy. It is a reality that is staggering beyond all my ability to conceive.

Every day I still see so much selfishness and chaos in my soul and it grieves me, but I can also catch a glimpse of something that gives me hope and indescribable joy. It is more than just the bad stuff being improved or cleaned up. It is something new, something glorious, something that could only come about through God’s miraculous power. It is happening to me now bit by bit, as the very core essence of who I am is being reworked, is being remade by the Spirit of God. I have so far to go and it is a task far too great for me; this keeps me humble and always seeking after God. But the very fact that my ultimate success is not in my hands but His grants me an unassailable confidence as I go.

And so I journey on, on a path that feels like I’ve been on a long time, but on the timescale of eternity have only just begun. Even through my weakness, my sinfulness, stumbling, & mistakes, there is a song in my heart and in my life, a song that I will sing to My Savior today, tomorrow, when I’m ninety, and stretching out for all eternity. I think Sarah Reeves expresses it best:

I am an instrument of the living God
My life a melody to His name
More than the songs I sing
Worship is everything
I live to glorify my King

Hear the song of my life
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
I raise this anthem high
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound

Through all the mire and clay
You’re washing me with grace
You carry me, oh Lord, through it all
So I will testify even in the fire
I live to praise my Savior

Hear the song of my life
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
I raise this anthem high
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound

Lifestyle Implications

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)

Yes, it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s a great Bible verse, yes, indeed, I’m just like Paul, I treasure Christ more than anything.”

Easy words to say.  But how do we live those words out, in this age of iPhones & Abercrombie?  How do we really treasure Him?

If our hearts have been changed, if we truly have counted all things loss, then there must be some lifestyle implications.  There must be something different, radically different, about our lives compared to anyone who doesn’t treasure Christ above all.

Anyone could look at Paul’s life and tell he wasn’t just blowing steam.  He had went from a respected academic and political position to an outcast and a prisoner.  No one ever looked at Paul & thought, “Hey, man, you say that you’re a Christian, but you’re no different than me.”

Take three minutes and watch this video:

Money is given to you so that you might use money in a way that shows money is not your treasure… Christ is.
Food is given to you so that you might eat it in such a way that it will be plain food is not your treasure… Christ is.
Friends, family are given to you so that you might live with them in such a way that it will be plain to the world they are not your treasure… Christ is.
Computers, toys, houses, lands, cars are given to you that you might use them in such a way that it will be plain to the world these are not your treasure… Christ is.

I have listened to those words over & over, and they still go deep into the core of my heart.  How do I use money in a way that shows money is not my treasure?  How do I eat, how do I love, how do I live a life that makes it plain that nothing is my treasure but Christ?

I don’t think this kind of life comes automatically once you become a Christian– it comes with a lot of thought and prayer and tears and sweat.  And it’s a path that you have to keep focused on, keep coming back to, keep asking God to show you more and more.

My two year contract on my iPhone is up this month.  As I discussed last year, I really had to think & pray over whether getting an iPhone was honoring to God, whether it was a God-focused desire or not.  Well, I’m putting a lot of thought and prayer in it again.  I have no doubt that it is a useful tool for me (I used it while writing this post), but is there any problem with treasuring Christ with it?  Would the $70 a month I’m spending for mobile internet access be better spent elsewhere? 

Honestly, it’s not as much what my final decision will be, as much as it’s that I’m down on my knees, knowing that it’s an issue, asking God for wisdom, trying to honor Him as best I can.  That’s where I need to be on every facet of my life, taking it to God with an open hand and a God-focused heart, knowing the lifestyle implications.

A Reason Beyond All Reasons

“I have my reasons.”

All of us have heard that phrase, whether in the movies or maybe from our own lips.  Even if we’ve never spoke the words, we’ve thought them.  In fact, we think those words continously, every day, whenever we think or feel or act.

When we look forward to going into work, we have our reasons, whether we have them written down in a list (like I have) or not.  When we are angry because we lost out on a bonus.  Disappointed over a relationship.  Anxious about a test result.  Grieving from a loss.  For every single emotion & act, we all have our reasons.

You see, our “reasons” structure our entire lives, exerting a great influence over all that we think and feel and do.  We can call them reasons or mental models or self-talk or whatever we like— they are constantly at work, though often subtly, behind the scenes in the deep places of our souls.

Although we don’t like to admit it or may not even realize it, many of our reasons in life are shallow or self-centered or just plain wrong.  They make us feel foolish emotions and cause us to take foolish actions.  We reason “I need to feel secure” and so we strive to accumulate money for ourselves instead of meeting the needs of others.  We reason “I’m lonely” and end up in a relationship that we knew was wrong.  We reason “I’m empty” and fill up on food or drink or something more damaging.  We reason that we need to be in control and manage to make ourselves and others miserable in our futile attempt to have everything perfect.

Our reasons always seem, well, reasonable to us.  We are daily using our mental models to justify our behavior. If we get a higher paying job opportunity away from family & friends, we’d be foolish not to take it.  If that church project would make us give up a summer vacation, well, of course we need some time to relax.  If we really love each other, it doesn’t matter whether we’re married before we sleep together.

Don’t automatically assume that all the reasons operating in your mind at this moment are right, just because you are a Christian or love God or are a “good person.”  In fact, I can guarantee that they are not.  We all have many faulty mental models, both from absorbing the warped world all around us and the twisted thinking of our own sin-stained minds.

We all need work, a lot of work, to renew our minds.  Part of how we grow more like Christ is the process of taking on the mind of Christ, having our thought processes align with His.  Paul speaks of this in several passages, especially 2 Corinthians 10:5—

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

Hebrews 4:12 speaks of how the Spirit uses the words of Scripture to open up even the deep places in our souls:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It would be great to have “five simple steps” that would give us a mind perfectly aligned with Christ, so that every thought and intention of our hearts becomes pure and perfect.  The only problem is that there is no such list.  The renovation of our hearts is not so simple, not so easy.  It is a lifetime process for all of us.

But as the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  So here’s one step you can take today:

Look at how the Apostle Paul lived his life.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul described his thoughts and reasons for his life and his actions.  At the end in verse 23 he summed it up by stating:

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

That was Paul’s reason for all that he did— “for the sake of the gospel.”  Paul was single-mindedly fixated on making Jesus Christ known to others in all His fullness, glory, beauty and love, and guiding them to walk with Him.  He had one supreme reason beyond all other reasons in his life.

cross by wingnutAA via flickrIf you are a Christian, I challenge you to use the sake of the gospel as the reason for everything in your life.  If you stay in shape, don’t let it be so you can look good or so you can live a long life.  Those are good things, and if they come with the exercise well and good, but let your motivation be for the sake of the gospel, so that you can minister to more people with a healthy body.

If you marry, don’t do it for love or companionship or children or security or money.  God may or may not grant those things to you, but make the decision and keep your vow for the sake of the gospel.  If you take a new job offer, don’t let it be for prestige or power or money, but let it be for the sake of the gospel.  If you buy new shoes, if you go on a mission trip, if you go over to a friend’s house, let anything and everything be for Christ and His Kingdom.

Let that sink in, and let it blow your mind.  Think of what it would mean to live every minute empowered with a reason beyond all reasons.  Think, with Paul, of the blessings of striving with all your being to bring “every thought captive” to the single focus of making Christ known and loved and followed, both in your life and in the lives of others.  If you decide to do everything for the sake of the gospel, It will surely change your life, both today and for all eternity.

Simple List, Simple Truth, Big Change

write2 by woodsy via sxc.hu“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

We’ve all heard those words from Romans 12:2, but what do they actually mean?  Exactly how do we radically change and transform our lives?  What does it really mean to renew our mind?

One step in renewing our mind is being able to see clearly what in our mind needs to be renewed.  It is a hard thing to know ourselves, to truly see how distorted our perceptions, our values, & our thinking has become.

How do we see what needs to be changed?  Reading and meditating on Scripture, prayer, wise friends, and reliance on the Spirit all play a role.  I’ve found that God can often use a simple thing to open the door to a big change in my life.  This is hardly new:  Jesus often used simple things: a word picture, a question, or a few loaves and fishes to open up his disciples’ minds.

A simple exercise I’ve recently used is making up a list.  I first read about this type of list exercise as used by business professor Srikumar Rao, but I changed it to give it a Biblical perspective.  Taking a few minutes to write this simple list could trigger a big change in renewing your mind and transforming your life.

Step One: Make a list of things that do or would make you happy or fulfilled or successful in life.  You can include big things and little things, things you currently enjoy and things that you wish you had.  Go ahead, right now, and spend a minute and really think about this and write down your list.  This won’t work if you just read this article, so go ahead and get out a piece of paper and write down a list that really reflects who you are.

Have you written your list or are you reading ahead?  Come on now, write down your list!

Ok, are you done now? Me too.  Here is some of my list:

Loving God, walks in forests, spending time with my kids, my iPhone, romance (and all the trimmings!), going to DisneyWorld, time to rest, reading books, teaching, writing, friends, helping people, a beautiful garden, good food, feeling healthy.

Step Two: Cross off everything on your list that’s optional, things that are “nice” but that you don’t really need to be happy.  Get the list down to only what you decide you absolutely could not be fully happy without.  It may be only one thing, or it may be a whole list of things.  If you’re unmarried and unhappy about it, your list may have “be married” even though you don’t possess that right now.

Step Three: Now look at your list, the things that you would truly be unhappy, or even miserable, without.  Ok, now, cross off all of them.  Every single item.  Take your pencil or pen, and draw a line through every one.

Here’s the simple truth that will change your life, if you can grasp it: you don’t need any of those things to be happy, unless one is your relationship with Christ.  God may or may not bless you with friends, financial security, success, love, health.  But you don’t need any of those to have a heart filled with joy and peace.  All you need is Christ.  This is what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Philippians:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  (Philippians 3:7-8)

Everything Paul had counted as gain, as important for his happiness, he “counted as loss.”  He realized that he didn’t need any of them if only he had Christ.

I know, you might be thinking, “Well, that might be ok for someone super spiritual like Paul, but I don’t think God wants me to be that radical— I don’t think I even can think that way.”  But Jesus repeatedly made it clear that he wanted every follower of His to think this way.  Think of when He spoke with the rich young ruler:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  (Mark 10:17-22)

The man wanted eternal life, but why did he go away sorrowful?  Because he did not think he could be happy without his possessions.   Jesus knew exactly what was on this man’s “list”— and he directly asked him to cross it off.

But why? Why would Jesus ask this?  Just to prove a point?  Just to make him unhappy?  No, just the opposite: he was wanting to make this man happy, and this was the only way to do it.  Jesus wanted him to see that nothing on this earth can bring true joy and peace, and that the young man had to let go of the thing that he was looking to give him life to receive true life.

Jesus wants the same for me, and for you.  Look at your list.  You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24); you can only love one thing with all your heart (Mark 12:30).  God wants you to be able to see and rejoice in Him as the only thing you need in your life:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

Christ wants us to joyfully embrace Him as the only thing we need for our happiness.  He wants us to be so overjoyed with Him that in that our joy we are willing to “sell all” that we used to think would be necessary for our happiness.

This simple truth, that we don’t have to have anything but Christ to be happy, can profoundly change your life. Why not take a new sheet of paper, and write one item on it— “Jesus Christ.”  Look at your list now.  Let Christ renew your mind to embrace Him as the only thing you need to bring you happiness.

One more thing: if you’re saying, “Wow, I see that, but that’s so hard.  I want (fill in the blank) so much.  Some days I am fully satisfied with Christ alone but other days it doesn’t go so well.”  Well, join the club.  Me too.  It’s a process, one that we will continue on until we meet Christ.  He is loving and patient with His children.  Keep walking with Him, looking to Him, and being open to His love and His ability to renew your mind and transform your life.

How Grace Triumphs Over Lust

Note: The following is article #27 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.   

There is much that has been said about the Christian and sexual lust.  We all face it, and we all know what the Bible says about it.  We’ve all felt its power in our lives, and we’ve all felt defeated by its power in some way at some time.  For some, its power enslaves their whole lives.

Dr. Piper makes several points regarding this very important part of our spiritual lives.  The first point is that we must take this battle with sin seriously:

Jesus says that if you don’t fight this sin with the kind of seriousness that is willing to gouge out your own eye, you will go to hell and suffer there forever.

Far too many Christians, under the influence of a culture where there is almost no acknowledgement of sexual sin and that is permeated by it, soften and even abandon God’s stance on the role of sex and the role of purity in our lives.  There are many who have decided “not to make a big deal” of infidelity or sexual media, knowing that God is “loving and gracious.” He warns:

There are many professing Christians who have a view of salvation that disconnects it from real life, and that nullifies the threats of the Bible, and puts the sinning person who claims to be a Christian beyond the reach of biblical warnings.  I believe this view of the Christian life is comforting thousands who are on the broad way that leads to destruction.

If we do not fight any & every sin in our lives, including sexual sin, with every ounce of our strength, we are fools to assume that we are truly saved. We must strive to live lives of holiness.

Dr. Piper’s next point is that God’s grace in our lives is sufficent for every battle, even the battle against lust.  Just like any other part of the Christian life, it is all about grace:

This is the grace we live under— the sin-conquering, not just sin-canceling, grace of God.  Triumph over the sin of lust is all of grace— past grace, canceling lust’s guilt through the cross, and future grace, conquering lust’s power through the Spirit.

Dr. Piper then moves onto the primary means through which grace triumphs over lust.  Willpower isn’t enough. Guilt won’t do the job.  Neither will a sense of duty.  The secret in triumphing over lust or any sin is God Himself seen by the eyes of faith:

When my thirst for joy and meaning and passion are satisfied by the presence and promises of Christ, the power of sin is broken.  We do not yield to the offer of sandwich meat when we can smell the steak sizzling on the grill. The fight of faith against lust is the fight to stay satisfied with God. (Hebrews 11:24-26)… It is the “precious and magnificent” promise that the pure see God that empowers our escape from lust. (Matthew 5:8)

He ends with a quote from a pastor who realized the power of treasuring God in the fight against sin:

I was limiting my own intimacy with God.  The love He offers is so transcendent and possessing that it requires our faculties to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly contain it.

May we all so grow in our vision of Christ and treasuring that vision that every other attraction fades from our view.

Embracing God’s Purposes in Our Trials

Trials.

What trials are you facing right now in your life?

It could be just a ”small” trial like an irritating coworker.  Or you could be running a  ”marathon” trial such as a chronic illness that saps your health and your joy.  Or you may be facing a “crushing” trial of a failed marriage or financial collapse where you feel there is no escape from the unrelenting pressure.

Why is this happening?  When will it end?  How can I make it through? How can good ever come from this?  Will I ever come out of this?

Do those questions sound familiar?

The Bible does not leave us without answers to our heart’s questions about trials. In fact, our answers are found in embracing God’s purposes in our trials. In James chapter 1 we read God’s perspective about trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

On first read, those are hardly comforting words to a soul under siege.  They’re confusing words, a schizophrenic perspective that makes no sense at all. We read those verses and the question immediately forms in our mind:

What is he talking about? Joy? Joy? Joy in the midst of this pain I am facing?

Yes, the word is “joy.” And not just any “joy” either— this is the same Greek word as in the familiar response of the wise men “when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10)  And just for good measure, I love that James uses the Greek word for “meet” trials that means “to fall so as to be swallowed up”— it’s the same word used in the story of the Good Samaritan where the man “met” his trial with the thieves who stole him blind and left him a half-dead bloody pulp on the ground.

So you’re telling me I’m supposed to have joy about this misery in my life? I’m supposed to be happy about it?  Are you crazy?

To which James replies, “Yes, have joy, embrace the trial, because God is at work to make you perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  Have joy as you look toward the end in sight, that this awful trial will result in you lacking nothing in what God has designed you to be.”

How is that possible?  How can I embrace God’s purpose in the midst of this pain?

Here’s the bottom line: embracing God’s purposes in our trials isn’t easy.  It requires several radical shifts in perspective that can only come through the study of the Bible, prayer, and the action of the Holy Spirit.  Only then will we be able to see through God’s eyes and genuinely have joy in the midst of a painful trial.

Where do we start?  According to James, the first profound paradigm shift that we must embrace in the midst of every trial is: what really matters in this trial is the testing of my faith. 

What does it mean to “test my faith?” First, we must be clear about what kind of “test” this is. It’s not like some “qualifying test” set up to see if we can “make the cut” with God. No, this test is like putting gold through fire, a test to make it clear that our faith is genuine and precious. 1 Peter 1:6-9 states:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Second, we need to know what kind of “faith” God wants to see in us.  It’s not what we often want to have “faith” in: that my marriage will survive, that I will get the job transfer, that my cancer will be healed, that the trial will somehow “turn out all right.”  Those “good” outcomes in our hopes & prayers God may or may not grant to us, but they are not what the Bible defines as faith.  In fact, Hebrews 11 clearly tells us that people of faith sometimes experience God’s miraculous deliverance from a trial but sometimes die in great suffering in a trial.

If a “good outcome” is not what we are to have faith in, then what is the faith that is being tested in a trial?  The passage in 1 Peter 1 tells us it is our faith in the revelation of Jesus: faith that He loves us, that He is in control, and that we can love Him and glorify Him and rejoice in Him even in the midst of our trial.  Peter calls this faith “more precious than gold.”

If we are to do well in this testing of our faith in Jesus, we must ask ourselves, “What is the enemy of my faith in a trial? What am I battling against?”  The answer lies in looking at what James tells us that faith produces: steadfastness, endurance, patience.  In the midst of a trial faith tells us, “God is good! God loves you! Wait! Endure! Have patience!Continue to do what is right!”

The lie that comes against us in the trial says, “God has abandoned you! God doesn’t care! God may not even exist! Do whatever it takes to get out of this pain, this problem, this predicament!”  The Bible is full of examples of men who listened to this lie.  Peter, afraid of being arrested, folded under pressure and lied in Mark 14:66-72.  King Saul in 1 Samuel 15 decided to do what was politically expedient instead of obeying God.  Esau let his stomach rule over his head and gave up his birthright in Genesis 25.  Whatever the trial or temptation, our daily choice is always whether we will continue to endure the trial looking in faith to God, or try to fix or escape the trial on our own terms.

That is how we must frame every trial: that this trial is not a test of how wise I am, or how I can solve this problem or escape this burden or engineer what works out best for me; this trial is a test of my faith that God loves me and that I will joyfully follow Him.

And what is the end result of our endurance, of our holding fast to God day after day, maybe year after year through the trial? James encourages us to keep enduring, keep being steadfast, so that this steadfastness can have its “full effect” (more literally “perfect work”) on our souls.  What is this perfect work? That our souls will develop the complete, perfect maturity of character that God intends for us (Romans 5:4).

Here is the final paradigm shift to truly see what the trial is accomplishing in our eternal souls.  Stop focusing on the pain and perplexity that the trial brings, but rejoice to see that this trial is testing your faith to set your gaze on the God who loves you (Psalm 141:8). Rejoice to see that through it God is teaching you endurance as a lesson to a beloved child (Hebrews 12:3-11). And finally, rejoice to see that endurance is forming your character into Christlikeness as you daily embrace Christ & reject that which is wrong (Romans 8:18-30).

Study these great truths from the Scriptures and pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so you can truly embrace this trial before you in faith and endurance, becoming perfect and complete in Christ.

Facing Your Giants

David, first King of Israel, has been the subject of untold works of art: painting, sculpture, cinema, poetry, and prose, from Michangelo to Veggie Tales. Some describe his greatness; some describe his weakness; all describe a truly incredible life.

But what does David’s life mean to me, today, in the midst of the pressures and pain of the 21st century? That is the subject of this great read by Max Lucado. Each chapter of the book is a chapter from David’s life, from his encounter with Goliath to his life on the lam to his victories to his downfall with Bathsheba. With each glimpse into David’s strengths and weaknesses Lucado winsomely shows how we can apply insights from his life to our own. The truths presented are all Biblical and God-centered, although he sometimes draws out a point he wants to make a bit beyond where the Bible actually points.

There are some helpful study questions with practical applications in the back of the book. Overall, Facing Your Giants is an encouraging and helpful “applicational biography” of a very famous life.

More information from Amazon.com is available here.

Thirsting for Righteousness

Tim Challies, THE Christian uber-blogger, has started going through J. C. Ryle’s classic work Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, and invited others in the blogosphere along for the ride.  This week’s post covered the introduction for the book.  Here are my thoughts:

First, I was impressed by the 1952 foreword written by Lloyd-Jones, where he described the work as “strong and virile and entirely free from the sentimentality that is often described as “devotional.”"  Hmmm, how many books on the current Christian top 20 would fit that description?  This is the kind of book I want to read.

Lloyd-Jones also described the book as “invariably produces that “hunger and thirst after righteousness” which is the only indispensable condition to being “filled”.”  Ouch.  That really, really hurt.  How much am I REALLY hungering and thirsting for righteousness in my life?  I don’t mean being “nice” or not committing felonies, but having a deep unquenchable soul ache to have my whole life be holy, stronger than any other desire?  I REALLY need to read this book.

In Ryle’s 1879 Preface he addresses real, transforming, substantive change:

Do those who attend these meetings become more holy, meek, unselfish, kind, good-tempered, self-denying, and Christ-like at home?  Do they become more content with their position in life, and more free from restless craving after something different from that which God has given them?

His immediate concern was the then current fad of emotional revivalist meetings, but it can be applied to any exercise of religion— going to church, going to excellent Reformed conferences, reading “edifying” blogs, just insert whatever you have done in the past year “to become a better Christian”— did it actually work?  Are you actually more holy than you were last year?

In the introduction Ryle makes a statement that is just as true today as a hundred years ago:

Wordly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion.

Our correct doctrine and sound understanding of the lostness of the world, and sin, and redemption, isn’t worth a plug nickel to others who plainly see that all our talk of “Jesus in our hearts” is just that—talk.

True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions… it is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings.

I don’t want to read about holiness & blog about holiness, I want God to stir up a sincere, fervent desire in me to BE holy, and then for me to live it.  I am praying that God will use this book as a way of doing that in my life and in others.

Dead Ends

Question: Where do you see a “dead end” sign, and why is it there?

Answer: You see it at the beginning of a path that leads nowhere, and it’s there to save you a lot of time and trouble.

The path of one’s life has a lot of dead ends too, roads that consume a  lot of time & trouble, sometimes your whole life, that end up going nowhere. Some of them, like alcoholism, are pretty obvious.  Most are not.  Solomon wrote:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is a way to death.  (Proverbs 14:12)

So, where are the “dead end” signs?  What should you be looking for to keep you from going down the wrong path?  Here are a few “dead end” words:

Secret: If there’s any action or plan in your life that you’re keeping a secret from your friends or mentors or spouse, there should be ear-piercing air-raid sirens going off in your head.  Any kind of justification you offer “they wouldn’t understand”  “I just need to keep this private”  “they wouldn’t be interested anyway”  —guess what, they are just that— justifications for what you know are really lies to yourself.  I challenge you to find any eighty year old who can tell you anything he or she once felt the need to keep secret that did not turn out to be a dead end.  See Mark 4:22.

Bitter: If there’s a situation or person that you feel angry or bitter or resentful about, both the attitude and any actions that flow from it are a dead end. Failing to acknowledge God’s providence and wisdom in any difficult situation or person in your life is one of the quickest and surest paths to sin and destruction.  See Hebrews 12:15 and many other verses.

Things: The old adage says, “The most important things in life are not things.”  Any attitude or plan or path that puts anything but God and people at the center is ultimately a dead end.  Structuring our desires and our whole lives around the getting of things and using of things is so pervasive in this society that we don’t realize what a grip it has on us.  We all need to read Luke 12:13-21 very slowly and prayerfully and apply it to our own lives.

Three words.  Many dead ends.  What signs are hanging in front of you today?