Category: How We Grow

You even put up with that?

You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:3-4)

My first reaction to this passage is to say uh-oh, you know all my ways? (Sometimes I am not too proud of them!)

But on closer thought I’m glad God has this knowledge. Because God is a loving Father who wants to use that knowledge for my own good. If God were not driven by love, then I would be fearful of being smitten because I have had (and still have) some ways that are not admirable.

But the Lord who drew me to Christ is a loving Lord who wants to forgive me when I screw up and to change me. It’s this Lord who knows everything about me throughout the day. And that’s something for me to welcome instead of dreading.

This friendly familiarity that God has with me helps me be honest with him. Since there are no secrets between me and the Lord, when I am groaning, I can express that to him. So, rather than stewing inside and letting my dissatisfaction slowly eat away at me, I can bring my discontent out into the open. Look at what it says in Psalm 142:2.

I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble

This is something great about the Psalms: How often the Psalmist pours out heart and soul —sometimes in praise and sometimes in complaint.  We love to express joy but what about a day where we lack joy? We can be brutally honest when something has us annoyed or even boiling with anger. We do this not to justify ourselves but rather as part of a plea for God to act.

We can look at how the Psalmist’s complaint gets handled:

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

And rather than dwelling in the bondage of complaint the Psalmist asks with confidence:

 Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.  (Psalm 142:7)

Now, God may or may not fix the situation we are complaining about. I love it when he does set it right! But, at the very least God gives us a positive attitude adjustment in the middle of whatever we were whining about.

He Preserves Us

The book of Philippians begins with “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus.” I think of us being God’s people when our men’s Battleground group gathers on Saturdays. Philippians continues in 1:6 by saying being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, and reassures us by saying that it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2: 13)

Last week our Battleground lesson was about control and many of us expressed how that idol shows up in our lives. I mentioned how I react when we receive a bogus bill and my wife says these five words: “Why are you so angry?”

Indeed, I need to confess what happened when we got a bogus bill early this year from our cable company. I ended up yelling at the representative on the phone. When I calmed down, I apologized for yelling at him, and he said, “No problem, that is what I get paid for.” Well I don’t think the yelling honored God but perhaps the apology did.

Scripture says that perseverance is especially important in our Christian life. But I have often failed in my perseverance. Does that mean I am doomed? That I might not carry on? Does it all depend on me? The Lord says no!

I am thankful that he gives us another word that starts with “P” that is even better than perseverance. It’s preservation. It’s Jesus who sustains me and preserves me.

Yes, God preserves us to allow us to take the next step after falling flat on our faces. And along that line, let me tell you how God has a sense of humor and timing.

After talking about my reaction to bogus bills at that Battleground meeting last week I got home and the postman rang our bell delivering a certified letter that said we were being fined by our homeowner’s association. It was punishment for something we did not do !

For a change, I wasn’t fuming and stewing over the unfairness of it all. My wife said I wasn’t handling this perfectly but I was handling it much better than I did with the cable company. Anyway this time I sent a polite but firm email to our association property manager protesting the fine and explaining why we did not owe it.

I said, “It’s in your hands, Lord.”

And early this past Monday an email came from the property manager apologizing for the misunderstanding and saying we did not owe the fine. Yes, God engineers circumstances to grow us and test us in our commitment and gives the grace to achieve it.

We really do spur each other on, broken vessels who nonetheless are growing in grace. I conclude with some words from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song In Christ Alone which remind us how it does not depend on us:

Till He returns or calls me home-
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Patient ? I Don’t Have the Time To Be Patient!

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Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9)

We believe that Jesus is coming again. That’s been the hope of the Church since Bible times. But when we take our eyes off the hope, then it’s easy for crummy attitudes to slither in. Today’s opening passage warns that when we are indifferent to Jesus’ coming our grumbling increases.

That’s why Scripture often reminds us that the Kingdom is not far away — indeed, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

It’s been 2000 years since today’s opening verses were written and Jesus is still standing at the door.  Does that seem like an overly long time to be waiting? Well, we need to think of God’s time scale: What is 2000 years compared to eternity?

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Note that we have two passages today that use the word “patient,” but in two separate ways. The first passage is how we need to be patient and the second is how the Lord himself is patient.

God is patient because he wants to give us time to repent of crummy attitudes. And since God is so patient with us, he asks that we echo his patience by being patient with each other. But if we impatiently whine and complain about each other, we test God’s patience with us.

As we learn to be as patient with each other as God is with us, then our worry about the warning of judgment fades.  Instead, our love for each other increases as our grumbling about each other decreases. We flourish as a church and look forward to Christ’s return with hope and not fear.

Growing Like Wildfire?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

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Paul urges abounding love. Growing in this is not quick and it is not easy. But trust God and praise God, it does happen!

Some people grow in Jesus like wildfire, and never really stop. You hear of someone who comes to believe in Jesus, a week later they know they are called to be a pastor, and for the rest of their life they walk strongly and keep growing.

But what about the rest of us who aren’t always growing like wildfire?

Over the years, I have hit some major rough spots.  God was gracious to rescue me from them, but overall growing in “depth of insight” has taken me decades. God sure has been patient and faithful during that time! It’s good to remember that this is what God is like — because the devil will mess with how long we have been Christians and twist it to be used against us: What? You still have doubts??  OR Look at how much growth brother so-and-so has. You are such a waste!

One way I love to counter the devil’s attacks is to be encouraged by honest stories, featuring lives of pilgrims who have both victories and defeats!

I’d like to put in a plug for my men’s group which is named Battleground ; here you have men who love Jesus but who have good stories about how patient God has been with their foul-ups ; and instead of scorn for  those weaknesses and flops, there is joy at how God has given repentance, forgiveness, and (steady if sometimes slow) growth over time!

I can’t get over how patient God is with us, when it takes so long to get what he’s saying through our thick heads.

Yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God. Maybe you have, too. But God calls us to a life of repentance and forgiveness, rejoicing that his kindnesses are new and fresh each morning and that he really does view us as pure and blameless because of what Jesus achieved for us.

God loves to help us see what is best, so that we can lead a fruitful life for him. Then we can truly say, thank you for filling me with more of your love.

 

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church.  And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”

But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.

After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  

Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners!  Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.

And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:

 Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)

What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!

Replacing the Slop

As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
    along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the Lord,
“so no one will live there;
    no people will dwell in it. (Jeremiah 50:40)

This verse in Jeremiah was part of my  recent daily Bible study. The context : the Jews had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, but now not only were they going to be allowed to return to their homeland, but their captors  were going to suffer retribution. The destruction that’s awaiting the Babylonians is like the judgment and disaster that already befell Sodom and Gomorrah.

This prophetic word was great news for the original Jewish readers. But how does it connect for us in 2019 ?

God still does overthrows today.

Today’s example : Smoking.

Using my own best efforts, I had quit smoking (and relapsed!) many, many times before. But  God engineered my final successful quitting. Was it a mystical deliverance ? Not quite. Here’s what happened : we were washing the smoke stained walls in the kitchen of 2 heavy smokers. Filling bucket after bucket as each turned black ! I had a vivid picture of my own lungs turning black. God used this incident plus being around some supportive non-smokers to free me, after 13 years of smoking bondage.  So there was not a sudden supernatural miracle, but God was in control of each of the steps that set me free,  starting with how it was no coincidence that I was assigned to visit the kitchen of the heavy smokers.

The main reason that quitting was finally successful was that it no longer depended only on my own willpower. Sure, my will was involved, but what God did was far more important. And it’s by God’s grace that there has been no relapse since I was set free of smokes over 30 years ago.

God is still freeing me from bondages. Now he is working on some stinky, self-centered attitudes in my heart —-which are less visible than having smoke pour out of me like a human chimney.  But changing these crummy attitudes is at least as important.

But why even bother ?

Because we are putting off slop and putting on more of Jesus.

Jesus says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Are you troubled by an area of your life that is in captivity ?  God wants to set you free from bondage and give more of Christ’s abundant life to you.

Can I make Jesus Lord ?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

What happens when someone tells us “You need to make Jesus Lord” ?

First, we feel guilty because we know how far we fall short of obeying Jesus in all things. But then the preacher tries to get us all pumped up with the feeling that yes, we can do it if we decide to surrender to Jesus. We might even be invited to come forward while “I Surrender All” plays. We feel euphoria coming over us and get on a spiritual high, feeling that, this time, we can do it.

I remember one service where, before internet porn, the pastor put a dumpster up front, told the men to go out to  their vehicles, bring in their dirty magazines and throw them in the dumpster.

But I’m afraid that attempt, even if done with good intentions, didn’t really get to the heart of why the guys had the magazines in the first place. So after the spiritual high wore off the guys would buy replacement magazines and then feel more guilty than ever. This gloomy pattern of failure occurs because it all basically revolves around what we think we have the power to achieve.  Thinking we can, on our own, make Jesus Lord of any area of our life is trying to do the impossible.

Is there any way out of this mess ? Yes there is ! Here’s the secret : Jesus already is Lord. He’s a member of  the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father has appointed him Lord !

When I bow my knee, I don’t make him Lord, I simply acknowledge that he is Lord.

I don’t need to worry and  obsess about my own efforts falling short anymore. Instead I can do what Paul commands when he says to

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12b-13)

Since the Lord God is already working in me,  I simply want to line up with what he is doing.

So the answer to whether I can make Jesus Lord is “NO.”

But can I have ever-increasing fruitfulness because he IS alive and IS working in me and IS my Lord? The answer is “YES!”