Saturday, August 29, 2015

Me WITH a Goal Will Always Have the Advantage Over Me Without a Goal

On Thanksgiving Day a few years ago, I ran a 10K race called the Turkey Stampede.  I had my personal best time for a 10K at that race … 52:10.  Not bad for me, but certainly not going to win first place.  But, I did beat a man named Bart.  I can tell you in six words how and why I was able to beat him to the finish.  Are you ready?  OK.  Here it is:  He didn’t know we were racing.  There ya have it.  A simple yet effective strategy that helped me beat the man, the myth, the legend … Bart. 

Now, let me explain a couple of things about my ingenious strategy.  First, I have no ill feelings toward Bart.  No rivalry.  No bad blood.  I honestly have never talked to the man and didn’t even know his name until I saw the online results.  But, with about 200 yards left in the race, I noticed this man (Bart) about 50 yards ahead of me.  As soon as I saw him, the competitive voice inside of me said, “Beat that man!”  So, from 200 yards out, the entire race was now between Bart and I.  At that moment, I decided I was going to beat Bart to the finish, so I just took off.  Determined to get to the finish before him, I sprinted as fast as I could.  And, just before my very last hamstring snapped, I beat him to the finish.  You can’t see Bart in the picture from the race above, but you can see the poor lady’s face over my left shoulder that I almost knocked over in pursuit of my victory!  If you’re reading this … sorry, mam. 

The online results of the Turkey Stampede say that I beat Bart by two whole seconds!  The dude just didn’t stand a chance against my genetically engineered body and my blazing speed!  And, oh yeah, he didn’t really know we were racing.

You see, with a 50 yard head start, Bart would have easily beat me to the finish if he understood that the race was now simply between the two of us.  But, he didn’t.  He had no clue.  While he was simply trying to make it to the finish, I was trying to beat him to the finish and that gave me the advantage.  I was intentional, deliberate, and calculated. I was a man with purpose.  At the end of the race, I was determined to beat him and that gave me all the advantage I needed to raise my hand victoriously in a race the other guy never knew he was in.

I think the application of that story is this:  Me WITH a goal will always have the advantage over me without a goal.  Without a goal or a vision, I make the race a 100-meter-mosey instead of a 100-meter-dash.  Without a goal or a vision, I’m not very focused.  With one, I’m deliberate and intentional.  Without a goal or a vision, I can easily let others dictate my pace or my schedule.  With a clear vision, I begin to prioritize my time with what matters most. 

I’m learning more and more about the importance of having a vision in ministry.  Whatever your profession, having a clear vision for what you want to do is important.  I really want to grow in that area.  But, honestly, my most important goals have nothing to do with what I hope to accomplish in ministry.  My most important goals revolve around who I want to be, or should I say, who Jesus has called me to be.  Who I am will always show up in what I do (Stanley).  So, I long to allow the grace of God to show up inside of me … shaping me, molding me and helping me “to lead a life worthy of my calling, for I have been called by God.  I need the grace of God to help me be humble and gentle and to always seek to be patient with others, making allowance for other’s faults because of love.” (My personal paraphrase of Ephesians 4:1 – 3) If God wants me to be it, He will help me to do it. 

It’s not that God isn’t concerned about what I’m doing.  Our faith has to do some good around us! I just believe He’s more concerned with who I am becoming.  The more I keep my eyes on Jesus, the less I see of me and the more I see you.  Oh, God, help me to live that kind of life.

So, yes, set your “do” goals, but don’t do it at the expense of your “be” goals.  God’s grace is up to the task of helping us live out His vision for our lives. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Hurried Life

I live in the fourth most populated part of the country.  I moved here a year ago from rural Indiana.  Needless to say it's been an adjustment.  While living in Indiana, if I had to drive 20 minutes, I said I needed to take a "trip."  Now, when I drive 20 minutes I say I'm going to the office.  Things have changed.

The above picture is of my morning commute.  Turn the picture around and you'll have a glimpse of my afternoon commute.  Traffic is simply a part of life in this area.  

One thing this much traffic causes me to do is slow down.  But, slowing down is exactly what I do NOT want to do.  When I'm on the road, I want to speed up ... and, apparently, so does everyone else. Being forced to slow down only seems to lead everyone to being in a hurry.    

"Hurried" is one word that can describe many of us.  A hurried life is a frustrated life.  A hurried life causes me to expect you to live at my pace and to get frustrated when you don't.  A hurried life causes me to focus more on me and what I need to do and less on me and who I need to become.  A hurried life causes me to forget that my barista at Starbucks has a soul and that God is concerned about her soul.  A hurried life causes me to become impatient with my wife when she starts talking about her f ... fe ... fee ... feelings.  "I don't have time for this!"  A hurried life doesn't just cause me to miss my kids' events, but also causes me to miss what my kids pay attention to ... a butterfly on a flower ... the clouds in the sky ... ants working on the ground ... and many other things that have ceased to be a wonder to me.  A hurried life causes me to forget what God has done and causes me to simply think about what I want Him to do.  A hurried life keeps me blind to the issues of my heart.  A hurried life causes me to forget my daily need for God's grace.  A hurried life causes me to become so preoccupied with the next hill to conquer that I forget why I'm fighting. (Zempel).  A hurried life turns people in to projects.  I'll have enough time to tell them what they should do but not enough time to truly know them and love them.  A hurried life is generally a selfish life.  A hurried life can make me an expert without awe, a pastor without love, a parent without joy, and a husband without compassion.  

A hurried life seeks to kidnap our worship and priorities.  Grace seeks to slow us down.  "Grace works to restore my worship to its rightful owner - God.  It is only when God is in His rightful place in our hearts that everything else is in its appropriate place in our lives, and only powerful grace can accomplish this." (Tripp)  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I Cannot Magnify God If I Minimize His Word ... Armor of God # 7

There is no greater battle going on today than the battle for your heart.  Your heart is “high ground” and whoever controls it has the advantage in your life.  Jesus said it this way in Matthew 15:19 “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” Everything thing you do will flow from your heart.  Every word, every thought, and every action it starts on the inside.  Whoever has control of this has the advantage in your life. 

We live in a spiritual war zone.  There is a battle going on around us every day, but I believe the greatest battle happens inside.  Paul Tripp said it this way: “The great spiritual war is fought on the turf of your heart and it’s fought for control of your soul.  Your life is lived every day in the middle of that war.  It’s a war of doubt and faith.  It’s a war of submission and rebellion.  It’s a war of anxiety and trust.  It’s a war of wisdom and foolishness.  It’s a war of hope and despair.  It’s a war of allegiance and disloyalty.”  Your heart is the prize the enemy is after because everything you do will flow from it.  That’s why Solomon said this in Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life.”  Whoever controls my heart has the advantage in my life.  Whoever controls my heart directly influences my actions, my words, my thoughts, and my motives.  If I’m the spiritual enemy, more than anything else, I’m going after the heart. 

If I don’t guard my heart, I’ll run to anything that temporarily massages my spiritual hunger.  There’s no shortage of seductions out there looking to assault my heart and weasel their way into my soul.  My greatest defense and offense against the seductions of my heart is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) 

My heart is Jesus' territory.  Only He can transform the desires of my heart and help me to magnify Him.  But, I will be unable to magnify Him if I minimize His word.  God did not preserve His Word for centuries just to give me some good advice.  His word is designed to transform the desires of my heart and speak the truth to me.  The more I allow the “sword of the Spirit” to cut through all the junk in my life and allow the blade of it’s truth to penetrate my heart; the more I will be activated for the purposes of God.  2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.” 

I cannot magnify God if I minimize His word because I will not be equipped to do so.  Yes, I want swing the sword of the Spirit at the enemy’s lies and have every spiritual right to do so as a child of God.  But, I also want to swing it at my own heart because everything I do flows from it.  I want to allow its truth to penetrate deep in to my soul because God’s truth never harms but always heals.  “If my heart is unhealthy, it threatens everything else:  my family, friends, career everything.”  (Hyatt)  I must guard my heart.  If it is lost in my life, everything is lost in my life. 

That is why I try to give Jesus the first shot at my heart every day.  This is just me, but what I have found is that when I allow Jesus the first shot at my heart every day, I’m less prone to drift toward a lie.  I’m certainly not perfect at this, but I try to start my day out with God.  I’m given 1,440 minutes every day.  In my mind, I’m setting my heart up to be under God’s control when I say, “God, today You’ve given me 1,440 minutes.  So, I’m going to give you the first 5 the first 10 the first 20, etc.  I want You to have the first shot at my heart and allow You to set the ‘course and direction of my life.’”   As He sets the course and direction of my life, my actions begin to follow.  I can now offer grace and patience because I have been saved from an old way of life to a new way of life.  I can offer kindness and gentleness because I have been saved from an old way of life to a new way of life.  I can be generous and courageous because I have been saved from an old way of life to a new way of life. 

Whoever has control of your heart has the advantage in your life.  Are you allowing Jesus, through His word, to have the first shot at your heart?  Who is going to be the authority in your life? 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Our Great Salvation ... Armor of God # 6

My wife was a soccer goalie in college.  During her senior year, some work had been done to the soccer fields.  The goals had to be removed for a day and then put back in place.  The only problem was that when they were put back, they were never secured.  At practice the next day, it was incredibly windy.  So windy, in fact, that one of the goals blew over.  It just so happened to be the goal my wife was standing under during practice.  It fell on her, crashing in to her head, and knocking her out cold. 

We know the damage a head injury can cause.  The NFL is experiencing this first hand.  More than 5,000 former players are one step closer to a settlement in a concussion lawsuit that could end up costing the league more than $1 billion over 65 years.  Many of the rule changes in the NFL revolve around protecting players heads in an effort to help protect their mind as well.

We all know the purpose of a helmet.  It’s used to protect our head and prevent trauma to our brain.  In a spiritual sense, our “helmet of salvation” is worn to protect our mind. So, the idea behind this is that, as followers of Jesus, we have to continually remind ourselves of the salvation we have received from Jesus and somehow that will offer us protection.  Tim Keller said, “Despite the fact that we already have been saved by Christ, we must be continually diligent to remember, preserve, rejoice in and live in accord with our salvation.  We cannot lose our salvation, but we can lose our freedom from enslavement to fear
We need to turn our minds to who we are and what we have in Jesus so often that our hearts are stirred and our behavior brought into line with these unseen realities.”  So, as we consider this piece of the armor of God, let’s turn our minds to who are and what we have all because of Jesus.

Most people in the world today believe that we relate to God with our behavior.  Most religions are based on this principle.  Every religious system offers a way of deliverance from judgment that typically revolves around doing something to earn God’s favor.  It takes different forms, but the basic idea is do less wrong and do more right and God will be happier with you.  And, one day you can stand before Him and hope that you did more to make Him happy than unhappy.  Every religious system offers a solution “Do this, don’t do that one-two-three strikes your out.  Sorry, you’ll just have to try harder.”  Every religious system offers a solution, but there has only been one Person to ever offer Himself as the solution. (Stanley) Every religious system will say “Yes we have a spiritual need.  We have a spiritual emptiness.  We have something inside that causes us to feel guilt or shame or emptiness.  So do this to work your way out of it.”  Only Jesus says, “Trust Me to get you out of it. I don’t just have a solution I am the solution.” When we trust Jesus, our life becomes centered a Person rather than a list of behaviors and we see Him we focus on Him.  When that happens, everything changes.

One of the most powerful passages of the Bible that talks about all that Jesus has done for us was written by the Apostle Paul (a man who literally saw Jesus) and is found in Colossians 1:13 – 14  “For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.”

When I read these verse I see that Jesus has done all the work!  When I reflect on what He has done, I see that His sacrifice rescued me from the kingdom of darkness.  I was a slave in this kingdom.  Being a slave in the kingdom of darkness means I am helpless against my sin nature. It’s why we’re prone to anger and prone to lust and bent toward greed and capable of hurting others and susceptible to addiction and prone to laziness and willing to lie and far to willing to accept the credit.  It’s why I’m so willing to operate my life like I am smarter than God. 

It’s also why I’m bent toward trying to control my own life and be my own savior and trust in my own goodness to be good enough.  I’m bent toward having just enough pride to believe that I may not be that great, but at least I’m not as bad as the other guy, so surely that will be enough for God.  It’s like one day I will stand before God and He will say, “Well, yeah, you weren’t all that great, but _____________ was so much worse than you, so come on in.” The only problem is, when it comes to righteousness, God is batting 1000 and I can barely swing the bat. Romans 3:23 reminds me that even on my best day, I fall far short of God’s standard. So, as I heard someone say once, it’s not just me at my worst that’s the problem. It’s me at my best that’s a problem too!  My natural bent is toward everything the kingdom of darkness offers and there is no way out unless God intervenes.

Enter Jesus.  When we place our trust in Jesus, His sacrifice moves us from the kingdom of darkness to His kingdom.  In this kingdom we are at peace with God. 

The judgment of God on sin is directly aimed at you and me as part of the kingdom of darkness until we allow Jesus to stand between us and God’s anger toward sin.  When we trust that Jesus faced the full wrath of God on the cross, we are then transferred to His kingdom where there is no more hostility, no more anger, no more condemnation directed toward us.  So, now, when God sees us, He doesn’t see our failure or that thing we don’t want anyone to know about or our sexual history or our years wasted in college or our pride or our mistakes.  Rathe,r He sees the righteousness of Jesus applied to us.  Jesus’ righteousness gives us a “right record” with God and we are made new in His eyes.  This is what happens when you are a part of His kingdom you have Jesus in heaven, even on your worst day, interceding for you, advocating for you, coming to your defense.  Not asking for you to be punished. Not asking for to get what’s coming to you, but rather pleading on your behalf. (Chandler)  You are a part of His kingdom and when you place your faith in Jesus, He is for you even if your life doesn’t seem to be for Him right now.  He will always come to your defense and empower you to live out your identity as a part of His kingdom.  He has purchased you out of the kingdom of darkness and given you a whole new zip code the kingdom of Jesus.

Finally, when we look to Jesus and become a part of His kingdom, our sins are forgiven.  Forgiven to absolve from payment of something to relent in being angry no longer looking to exact punishment.  God is never in doubt about the forgiveness of your sin because He has done all the work!  He has delivered us.  He has transferred us.  You are covered by His forgiveness no longer condemned so, your guilt and your shame you don’t have to try to drink it away or spend it away or sex it away or starve it way or eat it away work it away or even religion it away because Jesus’s blood has taken it away.  You are His child!  Jesus’ love repositions you as man and as a woman of the living God. Your debt is cancelled and you are forgiven by the grace of God. 

So, you can bring your guilt and your shame to Him and ask for forgiveness and you can trust that you are forgiven.  You may not feel forgiven, but you are forgiven.

My experience has been that believing I am who God says I am means I have to choose to believe what God says over what I feel.  I have to choose to believe that I am forgiven.  I have to choose to believe that I am new.  I have to choose to believe that since I have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus, there is royal blood flowing through my veins.  I have to choose to believe that God has moved me from the slums to the penthouse that my faith in Him has literally given me a whole new zip code I have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness.  Because Jesus’ sacrifice has delivered me from the kingdom of darkness, I’m no longer facing God’s anger.  He is for me, not against me.

Remember, armor protects us, so the helmet of salvation protects my mind. As I focus on my salvation I remember a few things

First, “No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.”  (Tripp) For that reason, preach the gospel to yourself all the time. Remind yourself of the fact that your identity is not based on the good things you have done or the bad things you have done.  Rather, it is based on what Jesus has done.  “In the gospel, we see that Jesus has died for us and valued us not for what we bring Him.  We are of no profit to Him!  We have been loved for our own sakes.  And to the degree we see that in gospel faith, we respond in kind.”  (Keller)

Second, it protects us from an inflated view of ourselves.  No one is more influential in your life than you.  Because of that, there is also, “no greater danger than the danger we are to ourselves.”  (Tripp)  No one offers grace more than the one who is completely dependent upon it.  Paul Tripp put it like this:  “It is your self-righteousness that permits you to be angry and unkind to your child.  You’re not greeting his laziness with gracious parental wisdom, because you think you are essentially different from him.  You’re saying, ‘If you were as righteous as me, you wouldn’t like this.’  When you assign to yourself righteousness that you don’t have, you expect the people around you to be as righteous as you think you are, and you greet them with judgment when they aren’t You deal with others with grace when you walk around with the humble realization of how deep your need for grace was and continues to be When you admit that there are few struggles in others that don’t exist in some way in your life as well, you caress them with God’s grace rather than hammering them with the law (do’s and don’ts).  The appropriateness of my responses to others is directly related to the accuracy of my view of myself, and for that there is grace too.” 

Finally, remembering our salvation helps us to remember God is for us.  Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but you haven’t been quite “following.”  Your actions are not lining up with who you are and you’re wondering what God is even thinking about you right now.  The conviction that you feel is the Holy Spirit reminding you of who you are and that you’re not living out and living in your identity.  God never excuses sin, but there is also no sin His grace is unable to cover. Remembering my salvation reminds me that I am no longer facing His condemnation.  I can bring my sin before God and trust that He will always empower me to live out who I am.  He knows our sin.  He knows our mistakes.  He knows our failures.  We don’t have to hide them from Him.  We couldn’t anyway. We can bring our guilt and our shame to God and when we trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection, our past and our memories are no longer a reminder of failure and guilt, but rather of God’s forgiveness.  (Stanley)  He sees all the times we have not “measured up.”  He’s looking at the same sin we are, but instead of shaking His head in disappointment, He’s standing right beside us saying, “My blood paid for those sins too.”   So, we can “stop trying to earn something from God.  We can stop trying to gain more of His acceptance.  We can stop trying to earn His favor.  We can stop trying to win His allegiance.  We can stop trying to do something that would pay for His blessing.  We can stop trying to morally buy our way out of His anger.  We can stop trying to reach a level where you will know lasting peace with Him.  We can stop.”  (Tripp)  We can stop living for God out of fear because we are no longer under His wrath.  We can live for Him in faith.  We can stop seeking to live for Him out of guilt because we are no longer condemned.  We can live for Him in freedom. “We have more reason to love God than we ever did before!”  (Keller) 

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

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