Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Are you OK Being a Loser?

Let's face it, the first item on our goal list is not to be the most unpopular person within our social environment.  I was watching a comedian one night, and he described himself as 15 degrees off from cool.  He said that you could take the "cool kids" and compare him with them, and he would be slightly awkward.  While the audience laughed, I think that at the same time, each one could relate to some degree.  We all want to be liked and accepted. We want to have friends and be considered people of influence within the community.  But when does that desire become too much?

1 John 2:15-17 says -  15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

There is a disconnect between what the world wants and what God wants.  Sometimes, we get a little confused and our minds start to drift from the things of God to the things of the world.  We begin to think about how nice a newer car, a larger house, a more fashionable wardrobe, a more powerful job,or a fuller day planner would be.  Yet, in the end, none of these things will last.  However, the work that we do for the kingdom of God will make an eternal impact.

Think about the people who have made the biggest impact in your life. Was is because they were the most popular, had be best "stuff", or even had the charisma to impress you the most?  What was it about those people?  Chances are they were humble in nature, not given much credit for what they did, and you would not be able to pick them out in a crowd.  Or at least, it was not their popularity that made the impact on you.  Conversely, they most likely had the love of the Father in them and shared that love with you.

When we begin to focus more on how to increase what belongs to the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, or the pride of life rather than focusing on God, we are heading down the wrong path and need to turn our thinking quickly.  God knows his plans for us and when we look to him and trust him, they will work out as long as we seek him.  Then, wherever we are placed, it is God who is glorified.

The temptation is to have the world tell us how great we are, but when they do that, they do not see how great is our God.  To God Be The Glory!

*Disclaimer - I am not saying that God does not place people in high positions, because we see that in Scripture (a great example is Joseph).  However, our mindset should not be on getting to those position, but rather loving the Father.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Getting Rid of Excuses Part Two

I would love to serve you Jesus, but not in THAT way....

My mantra for this year has been Matthew 6:33.  I must admit that it is not the easiest verse to follow.  As I try to seek first the kingdom and God's righteousness, I find that my own pride sometimes gets in the way.  Often times, we think of God's kingdom as the church, meaning, the church we attend or are affiliated with.  Therefore, our righteousness is sometimes measured by what position we have or how active we are.  If we are truly seeking the kingdom, our church attendance would be at a high percentage.  If we were truly righteous, we would serve in a position of leadership.  However, this way of thinking is far from the truth.

Paul writes about the unity of the Church and the spiritual gifts given among the members in 1 Corinthians 12.  He begins the chapter by discussing that it the Spirit who gives, apportions, and empowers all service to God (1 Cor. 12:11).  However, the Corinthian church had a status problem.  There was a lack of unity between the higher class and lower class and position meant everything to them. Therefore, there was a problem in Corinth with people seeking out the gifts that they were not given.  They were unhappy with the service to which they were empowered.  Some of the roles within the church were being viewed as noble, while others were being viewed as less honorable.  In today's church, it would be comparing a national pastor to the local toilet scrubber of the church.  Therefore, there was potential tension within the community.  The "lesser" members perhaps would feel less important while the "more important" members might look down on the others.  Yet, Paul emphasizes that  God composes the body, gives great honor to those who lack it, and appoints the roles (1 Corinthians 12:28).  Therefore, in God's eyes, each role is the same and is all useful for His glory.  However, the Corinthians continue to "earnestly desire" the greatest gifts. 
Paul then tells the Corinthians that there is a way to unity that far surpasses the direction they are going.  His next section is his famous lesson on love: 1 Corinthians 13.  For Christians, pursuing the kingdom is not about what gifts you have or what position you hold because God gave you that gift and placed you in that role.  The way to building the kingdom is love.  The Corinthians had it wrong: seeking higher gifts and status were not the answer because the sovereign God gave them out in His plan for the Church.  Love is what will build the kingdom and unify the Church.

Sometimes we get so caught up in "refining our gifts" so God can "use us for His kingdom" that we forget who gave us the gift and who placed us in His service. Oftentimes, the far superior way of the kingdom is staring us in the face.  It is the child asking us to read him a story.  It is the friend who looks like she needs to talk.  It is the stranger we feel convicted to share the message of Christ.  Yet, we get so distracted by what "tier" we are on in this false hierarchy of the Church. We get mad when someone does not complement our “service”, be it a solo at worship or a lesson in Sunday school.  We get hurt when we are not asked to join a committee.  Yet, all the while, when it comes to our work, what God asks of us is fairly simple: serve where He places you, utilize the gift He gives you, and do both in love.

 ESV  Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17 ESV)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Getting Rid of the Excuses Part One

Luke 9:62 - Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

In my last post, I wrote on laziness. God can do very little with a lazy person when it comes to building his kingdom. However, one who is just as useless is the one who continually makes excuses to God. In the next few posts, we are going to look at why we make excuses when it comes to serving the Lord.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus is call disciples to follow him. Their responses are, "I will follow you, but let me first...." One man was concerned with his provision, and one man was concerned with his familial duty. In essence, they saw something else as more important at that time than proclaiming the kingdom of God. While Jesus' words seen harsh in verse 62, if you imagine the word picture, it makes sense.

If a farmer is plowing a field, it is necessary that he plows straight rows. That way, the crops have enough room to grow and will not get intertwined with each other. In order to plow a field, one must hold the plow straight and look straight ahead. Otherwise, he will get off course. Knowing from experience (sorry little garden), when you look back while your hand is on the plow you begin to plow in the direction where your head is turned. The result is a messy garden and unfruitful labor. Applied spiritually though, we cannot follow Christ with our hands or our actions while our head and our hearts are still hung up on something that belongs to the world. If we do, we will simply be making excuses to either delay obedience or worse.

Jesus says that you cannot serve two masters. You will either love the one and hate the other or you will despise the one and love the other. If you have been making excuses lately about serving Christ to the fullest, I would like to ask you to examine the reason why. Could one of the reasons be that there is something else that has priority in your life? If so, ask God to begin to change your heart and help you prioritize your life around Him.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dealing with Laziness

Proverbs 6:9-11 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

As winter settles in, it suddenly becomes harder to rise out of bed. Suddenly, the warmth of the covers seem to entice you to hit the snooze button more times than you ought. And we often think to ourselves, "what is the harm in giving ourselves ten more minutes?" However, Proverbs 6:9-11 holds a great deal of wisdom on the subject of laziness. The essence of these verses is that with laziness comes a slippery slope leading to disaster. We often do not realize the effect laziness has had on us until it is too late. For instance, the lazy student does not realize his transgression until he reaches his test and has no knowledge of the material.

We all like to take breaks and enjoy times of rest. However, when we allow these "rests" to become more than just a season of refreshment, we settle into a realm of complacency and sloth. The result is an unproductive life. We begin to have the mindset of ,"just a little more sleep, just a little more rest, just another hour of television or facebook." When we have this mindset, not only will we be physically impoverished, but we will do a disservice to the kingdom of God. We are called to be active agents of the kingdom of God. When we allow ourselves to become lazy, not only do we hurt ourselves, but we miss out on having an impact on the world.

In what ways have you been lazy lately?

How can you overcome your laziness?

What can God do through you if you actively seek Him?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pursuing Righteousness

The last two days, I have focused on Matthew 6:33 which says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Yesterday, I discussed what it meant to seek the kingdom. Today I want to focus on how we can seek righteousness. As I have mentioned before, the because the Greek verb "to seek" is in the present active imperative, the writer is stating that the pursuit of righteousness should be continual and active. This is not a one time occurrence that happens at salvation. Pursued righteousness should be a focal point of the believer. It is not simply right living that we should seek, rather we should desire to live the way in which God lives. We should devote our behavior to his standards.

I have heard much debate as to whether it is actually possible or not to achieve complete righteousness on earth. That is not what this blog is about. Rather, it is about how we can pursue righteousness. God tells the people of Israel in Isaiah 1:16-17, "“Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” Here in these verses we see that righteousness includes the omission of evil, the addition of good, the accountability of others, and the defense of the needy. James writes it more concisely in James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

When it comes to righteousness, a pictoral image is an unstained garment. There is no residue of sinful behavior, selfish ambition, and ignorance of others. Rather, it is pure and clean due to living justly and seeking justice for others.

So how is this pursued on a daily basis? The first way is to know the character of God through his Word. If you do not know his character, it is hard to emulate. The second way is to start evaluating not only your actions, but your motives. The third way to pursue righteousness in your life is to begin to have a consciousness for the needs of others.

A righteous young man might not make it to the top of his company, but he will know that he never harmed anyone or took unfair deals to advance himself. A righteous young woman might not be seen as the most desirable by the world's standard, but she kept herself pure and modest in order to honor her God.

What is your current standard of righteousness? Is it everyone else, or is it God?

How can you increase your standard of righteousness this year?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Starting out with a heavenward mindset

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Yesterday, I posted about how we are supposed to seek first the kingdom for God. As a New Year begins, it is easy for us to make commitments and have good intentions, but they are much hard to place into practice. So how do we hold to our commitment to continue to seek God's kingdom first?

The first answer is to understand the importance of God's kingdom and our participation in it. The kingdom of God (heaven) began at the beginning of Jesus' ministry of earth. It can be defined as God's reign being applied on earth. Where sin and death had victory over the earth, through the death and resurrection of Christ, they have been overcome. However, the kingdom of God has not reached it's fullness, but will occur at the second coming.

The importance of the kingdom to us is that, as believers, we are now a part of his kingdom. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). With citizenship comes both opportunity as well as responsibility.

So, here is no question about the importance of the kingdom. The question now becomes, how do we continue to seek the kingdom of God? The Greek word "to seek" refers here to a continual strive to make the kingdom the center of one's existence. The way in which we do this is to place our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). When we wake up, we think first about how we can help God's kingdom expand and be glorified, whether it be in the way in which we act towards others or the words we say. We are not to strive to build our own "kingdoms" of power, wealth, fame, or friends. As believers, we are to have a kingdom focus.

The process of maintaining a kingdom focus is a discipline. It is not simply relying on our emotions to carry us through the day. Rather we are to continually set our minds on the kingdom rather than the earth. Being a faithful disciples requires training (1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 4:7).

The Challenge for today is to brainstorm ways in which you can develop disciplines that will help you stay focused on the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Perspective on Resolutions

As I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish for the upcoming year, ultimately I began to think about the things that I had let slide in 2011 (ironically, one of those being this blog). Regardless of which of my "resolutions" of 2011 were not banners of success, the reason was all the same, I had made a sincere declaration, had started off with fervor, but because I had not developed a discipline for each goal, no matter how high of a priority, when demands came, my goals shifted a little in order to accommodate the need of the moment.

In Jesus' discourse about being anxious, he tells the people to "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33). In essence, he is saying that believers should actively be seeking God's eschatological kingdom. This is not some aimless treasure hunt, but rather it is a focused pursuit of our desire. We should continuously be striving heavenward. This focus paired with the second should be the priority of our lives. The second command is to seek his righteousness, meaning the righteousness of God. We are to continually strive to live upright. If we fall, we are to continue the journey.

So what does this passage have to do with my New Year's resolution and goals? Well, initially, I wanted to sit down and make a list of all these thing that I wanted to accomplish: write on my blog every day, get published, contribute financially to the family, help Daniel learn to read, etc., etc., etc. But God's message to me was much more straight forward. This year, I am to seek first the things of heaven and pursue God's righteousness. God is big enough and sovereign enough to add whatever else he feel that I need. This is not a passive resolution or a cop out to where I can sit home all day. Rather, it is a decision that I am actively going to pursue ways to grow and glorify God's kingdom. My desire is to be a vessel in whatever way God allows. Yet, even in this quest, it takes disciple, because in the rush of life, the temptation to turn our eyes to the world and make hasty decisions rather than seeking God's benefit first is hard to do.

My question to you: will you join me on this journey? I would love to hear your stories, as it will encourage me. Let's make 2012 a year of difference.