Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Matter of Affection and Perspective

As Christians, we often feel torn between living for Christ and getting caught up in the things of this world. It almost seems like we are double-minded or schizophrenic at times. We want to do right, but it seems like we just keep messing up. Jesus expresses this so eloquently when he tells his disciples, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He understood the struggle it would be for us to overcome the temptations of the world and to remain true to Him.

So what is the solution? Colossians 3 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It seems so difficult to attain, but at the same time, there is so much hope within the first several verses.

Colossians 3:1-3 - Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Therefore, when Christ, who is your life, appears, you will also appear with Him in glory.

Paul begins the chapter by telling the Colossians that have been raised with Christ, meaning that their position is already established. In essence, the work of Christ has already been accomplished in their lives. He then gives them their responsibility. They should in response set their hearts on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This is a command of affection. He reminds them of the victorious position of Christ. These affections will then drive their thoughts. This leads to the second command. In verse 2, he tell them to set their minds on things above, not on earthly things. This command shows that they should be intentional about their thoughts. It is not something that would come immediately or naturally. The tendency would be to think about the present earthly concerns because they are the seeming direct priority at the time. However, Paul gives the reason why they should have this upward perspective. He tells them that their old selves have died and now they are hidden with Christ in God. Therefore, they are not who they once were. Since they are hidden with Christ, their hearts and minds should now be conforming to His. The world should no longer be seeing them, but rather Him. They are not alone on the journey. They are with Christ. It is an intimate partnership. The following verse shows the extent of the intimacy as well as the reward for perseverance. It states that when Christ, who is your life, appears, you will also appear with him in glory. Therefore, Christ's future glory at His return will be ours as well. This gives us hope. This is what we should be looking towards: our future glory with Christ.

When we compare compromising our integrity over a promotion at the present job verses our future glory with Christ, the former seems minuscule. When we throw all of our affections on the "person of the moment" instead of trusting Christ for our future, it seems futile if we look at it with the end result of our future glory in mind. God has so much more to give us than we realize most of the time. Often times, we simply want to settle for whatever tickles our fancy at the moment. This leads us to stray from the one we love the most. Yet, when we decide to place our affections and our thoughts, not on the things going on presently in the world, but on what God has in store for us through Christ, the battle does not seem so formidable. However, it is a continuous decision we must make. We have wandering hearts and minds. The world is flashy and flirty, daring us to stray. However, take hope that Christ has already done the work in you. He is partnering with you and He is with you for every step of the journey.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pure Joy and Trials?

Have you ever wondered why you have to go through hard times?

James 1:2 states, "Consider it, pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. In the Greek, it actually states, think of it or regard it it ALL joy whenever you face trials or temptations of various kinds. I was a little surprised at the small differences the Greek relayed. First, it defined what pure joy is supposed to be; it is a joy that is not lacking, but is complete. Therefore, every thought about every trial and temptation should be considered positive. That is a hard command to swallow. The second nuance I took from looking at the Greek was that the Greek word for trials actually is a broader word that is used for trials and temptations. It is used in a way to exemplify a surrender to human weakness (Matt. 26:41; Mk. 14:38; Lk 22:40, 46). The word is also used in reference to a situation of testing that might lead to sin (Lk 4:13; Lk 8:13; Lk 11:4; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Tim. 6:9; Hebrew 3:8). Finally, it is used in a more generic sense, indicating trying circumstances (Lk 22:28; Acts 20:19; Gal. 4:14; Ja 1:12; 1 Pe 1:6; 1 Pe 4:12; 2 Pe 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Therefore, it is possible that the author had all three in mind when writing this command, seeing that he included the modifier "various kinds". So, we are to think of all trying circumstances, temptations, persecutions, and situations where we might fall into human weaknesses as a good thing and be glad about it!!! Every time I struggle to give in to pride, judgement, gossip, anger, etc., I should be glad. Every time I have a health issues, suffer from heartbreak, experience a loss of a job, or an embarrassing situation, I should be glad. Every time I feel overcome by the pressure of the world and the struggle to fit in, I should be glad. It is a good thing that James goes on to explain why because without a reason, it would be a very difficult concept to grasp.

Verses 3 and 4 give the reason behind the command. It states, "because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Those he wrote to already knew that the result of their faith being tested would produce a quality of character that would allow for them to hold steadfast and maintain fortitude in the face of difficulty. He then charges them to allow that character in them to continue in the process and develop to maturity and completion, so that in their lives, they would lack noting. By maturity, James was referring to a sense of complete goodness or a state possessing all positive qualities. When he told them that they would be complete, he meant that they would have met all expectations and would be seen with integrity and blameless. Therefore, when the two terms are paired together, the person is whole, possessing all good qualities, yet unblemished and complete in their character. It is through these trials that one's faith yields the fruits of the Spirit and one is an exemplar of the change Jesus Christ has made in them.

I am not saying that the trials or temptations will be less painful, but when you consider them in light of the reason behind them, you are better able to hold onto a right perspective and persevere. It is through our perseverance that God is able to shape us into the perfect likeness of His Son. Therefore, if for a little while, I must endure physical pain, emotional distress, financial burden, etc., if it makes me more compassionate, more understanding, more patient, more peaceful, more grateful, more appreciative, more joyful, more kind, more gentle, more self-controlled, and ultimately more like Christ, it is a cross I am willing to bare. The way in which to endure is by looking beyond the circumstance to what lies ahead.

The temptation for us, when going through a trial, is to question or to accuse God. Often times, when my son asks why I made a decision, if I think the answer is too complicated for him at that time, I simply say, "because I said so." It is not that I am trying to be mean or play a power trip on him, but I know that he will not understand. I have learned to accept this with God. Sometimes He allows things to happen that I do not understand. Instead of questioning or arguing, I simply hear the words, "Because I said so." And it is my faith in His Sovereignty that sees me through.

I will leave you with one last picture. If you were to begin to train for a marathon and you had to choose someone off the street to train you, what would you look for? You would look for signs of someone who has endured the test of time on the track. You would not look for someone who appeared to have stayed comfortably in their home for the last 25 years. Rather, you would look for someone whose muscles had been conditioned through training, whose skin had been painted by the sun, and perhaps someone who still had the residue of their last test on them. Similarly, in life, people are attracted to Christians by the marks of our testing. With each scar of endurance, we become a little more like Christ. While it might look tattered to some, to those looking for something more, it will attract them like moths to a flame. Every physical pain, emotional trial, and circumstantial testing can be used as a part of your testimony to bring people closer to Jesus Christ. The value of that is far greater than a little bit of comfort.

1 Peter 4:12-13 - Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Gift of the Thorn and the Gift of Grace

The theme God has been teaching around me lately has been grace. I was recently looking over 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 which says, "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord for Him to take it away from me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast the more gladly about my weaknesses, so Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake , I delight in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong."

Some of you may know of my recent "thorn in the flesh." For the past month or so, I have dealt with small pieces of bones jutting out of the back of my gums. It has been annoyingly painful to say the least. Yet, this had me thinking about Paul's thorn. Many scholars and laymen alike have debated about what his thorn was exactly. Some have suggested poor eyesight, migraines, or epilepsy. Others think it could have been a temptation he continually struggled with. No matter the case, people have spent many hours on the subject. As I was looking at the theories, I began to think how typical it was for us as humans to focus our attention on the thorn rather than on grace. Yet, God had a lot to teach me about this passage.

In order to prevent Paul from becoming too arrogant in his ministry, God allowed something to be given to him. This was not something that Paul actively did or deserved, but he passively received it. I can imagine what Paul was going through. Previously, he discussed the ministry the revelation he had received. Now, he is the recipient of some troublesome circumstance that has somehow affected his ministry. It was of great turmoil to him, so much so, to the point of petitioning to God three times to take it away from him. His frequency represents the fervency of his request to God. However, God's response to him is that His grace is enough. This all sufficient grace is also a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). So here, Paul has been gifted with a thorn in order to keep him humble, yet also gifted with the grace to endure and overcome the thorn. The reason is further explained when God says, "my power is made perfect in weakness." The thorn reminds us that we cannot do it on our own, but grace reminds us that we do not have to and that through God's power, we can accomplish anything. Paul's response to this revelation is that he will boast more so that he might experience more of Christ's power, indicating that he would experience more of the humbling gifts of the thorn in order to receive the gift of the grace and power of Christ.

I cannot tell you how many times I sit and dwell on the "thorns of the flesh", rather than acknowledging that God's grace is enough. I see the thorns as a curse rather than as a blessing and I often resent God rather than praising Him for the opportunity to show His power through my weakness. Yet, when we look back at how good God's grace, His favorable care towards us, is it makes the thorn seem like nothing more than a small splinter in the grand scheme of His plans for our lives.

I do not know what your thorn is right now, but I would challenge you to look at it as a way for God to display the power of Christ in your life. Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, handle the good times well. It is how you handle difficulties that will show the world the difference Christ has made in your life because when you are weak, He is strong. I pray that the Lord will give you the strength to persevere in whatever thorn you may be facing, whether it is a circumstance, health concern, a family issue, persecution, bullying, or a temptation. I pray that the power of Christ and the grace of God will be enough for you to joyfully conquer each day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Introduction to Becoming Ministries

There is something inspiring about the bud of a rose blossom. Perhaps it is the anticipation of the beauty that will be displayed as it reaches its pinnacle of glory and splendor. In a rose, there is great potential, yet great fragility. If you have ever had a rose bush, you know the care they require in order for each blossom to exert a bloom of extravagant scent and beauty. They need proper sunlight and fertile soil. They also need pruning and weeding. Likewise, roses are prone to attack by diseases and bug infestations. Yet, though a wide array of hostility within their environment awaits them, with diligent care and maintenance, unsurpassed beauty is achieved.

I often equate a woman's spiritual journey with a budding rose. There is great potential, yet great fragility. The Creator has fashioned her with remarkable beauty that comes from within. She is becoming. Yet, at the same time, she continues on a process. In essence, she is still becoming who God created her to be. When planted firmly in Scripture and receiving living water that only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ, she grows in her relationship with God. However, there is still work to be done on her part. She must be aware of her sin nature that creeps in her life as quietly as weeds arise amongst the rose bush. She must get to the root of those formidable issues which entangle and snare her walk with the Lord before they hinder her growth and destroy her potential. Meanwhile, she must also face arduous circumstances which are beyond her control; those which consist of the pests, diseases, and storms of life. Yet, there is hope, knowing she is loved and cared for by the Gardener, who gives her living water which produces hope and allows her to go through the pruning trials in order to ensure proper growth. The end result that comes with steadfast care is maturity of growth which produces a bloom the world cannot ignore. It is a splendid testimony of the work and faithfulness of the Gardener and the perseverance of the rose.

Becoming ministries exist to help women recognize their beauty, value, and purpose in Jesus Christ by providing Scripture focused studies and messages in order to build up the kingdom of God and edify the body of Christ so that by our radiance, Christ may be glorified.

Services Provided: Curriculum Development, for retreats, conferences, small group Bible studies, etc. and messages for women's and girl's programs, conferences, retreats, Bible Studies, MOPS, and other engagements.