Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

One More Thing

Over two years ago when I considered starting to blog about Christian growth, there were a number of aspects to think about. A lot of those dealt with the technical side - how to set up the blog page, how often to post, figuring out the process, and so on. One particular facet pertained to the content itself. I didn't want to start something that would soon fizzle out for lack of ideas.

I had some concern that after several months I might run out of things to write about. I actually got a notebook and starting jotting down ideas I already had, and I was encouraged to see that my initial list could probably keep me going for a year or more. The funny thing is that most of those ideas are still waiting to be written about. I have those topics to peruse and utilize from time to time, but most of the posts are "fresh." That is, they come from what God is currently showing me or working in my life. Sometimes that means an entire list or series that I progress through over the course of several months, and sometimes a last minute topic will emerge just when I am searching for what to write about next.

It has been encouraging to see God direct me to these various topics and series. More than once I have kind of grinned at the naiveté of my initial concern. After all, the entire premise of my blog is that the Christian life is an ongoing journey that will continue until the believer reaches heaven. So as long as I continue to pursue that journey, there will always be things to write about, because God will always be teaching me new things.

Recent months have reminded me again of this truth. There are times in the Christian walk that seem fairly uneventful, when life proceeds steadily onward. Then there are times that God shakes things up. Life suddenly becomes a perplexity of challenges, a multi-pronged assault that throws everything out of whack and therefore becomes a great opportunity for learning and growth. As I recently considered and recorded the lessons that God has been teaching me, the list got rather lengthy. I figured that if I develop each of those lessons into blog posts, I will have something to share for around six months, (and undoubtedly other topics will come up in the meanwhile).

This realization does not reflect credit to me; rather, it reflects the gracious and patient hand of God. When I obviously have so many things in my life that I need to learn, I have a God who thoughtfully and progressively addresses each one of them. He knows that I am no longer what I used to be, but He also knows that I am not yet what He wishes me to be. His training program addresses each of these topics in its time as God works to mold me more and more into the image of His Son and as He helps me to know Him better.

As long as God continues in His grace to keep my heart tender to Him and continues to help me grow in various areas, I will never lack for something to share with others. That's really what this blog is about - reflecting on how God has helped and is helping me to grow, and then sharing that with others to encourage their growth as well. The ultimate value comes as I accurately share God's truth and as I reveal the Christian walk through the truth of the Word.

From a human standpoint, I believe such sharing to be more effective when it is not merely a rehashing or synopsis of things I have already known, but rather the passion and excitement of learning fresh things. I thank God for His continued work in my life so that I can share testimony of His work and so that, by God's grace, others can benefit as the result of my struggles. Yes, as long as I remain flexible and responsive to God's work, there will always be one more thing to learn.

These thoughts remind me of several verses. There are many others throughout Scripture, but I believe the three below clearly illustrate the truth under consideration.

"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6 NASB). God has started His work in me, but He has not finished it yet. Since it is not finished, He will keep doing it as long as there is life and time.

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18 NASB). The transformation is a process. It is happening and continues to progress until I see the glory of God revealed.

"Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2b NASB). Even when I have grown enough that God is able to use me, my growth and adjustment is not finished. God continues to work to improve my fruitfulness for Him, just as a farmer would continue pruning his trees year after year.

I am truly thankful for what God has done, and I anticipate His continued work in my life as over and over again He teaches me the next thing.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Weakness

Lately I've been very aware of my own weakness, and not just physically, though that has been true. Socially I've struggled with misjudging people and causing awkwardness in relationships. Partly due to the effects of my illness, I've found it challenging to build new relationships or to maintain existing ones. Emotionally I'm aware of how easily I can be overwhelmed and held down by the troubles of life. It's difficult to be joyful and at peace - and even harder to be consistent in those. Spiritually I struggle to keep my gaze on God in the midst of difficulties and to let His truth sustain me. Victory seems elusive, as does the capacity to rely on my all-sufficient God instead of people.

In each of these areas and more, I find myself struggling - over and over again. I am weak. I choose the word weakness instead of failure, although certainly there have been failures. Failure merely implies that I have messed up again, that I've had another incident of blowing it. Weakness further reveals that I don't even have the capacity for doing the right thing. This is where my recent awareness has grown. I realize that it is not in me to do what I ought to do or to be what I ought to be. Due to my human weakness, I simply am unable.

A recent message from Philippians 3 helped and encouraged me, as it touched on many truths that God has been bringing to my attention in recent months. Many of these truths have something to do with weakness. "We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (v. 3). Because my flesh is weak, it is certainly not worthy of my confidence. Paul goes on to list all that he could have had confidence in - his heritage, his training, his passion, his reputation. Those things are not his confidence; as a Christian, my confidence cannot rest in such things either. Even if I were not weak, even if I were successful at everything I tried, that would not be a reason for confidence or standing before God. So maybe it's better that I perceive my weakness so that at least I am closer to realizing my actual condition. It is right that I do not trust in my own abilities or achievements; anytime I start to do so, I am failing to remember how weak I am.

"And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (v. 9). Since I am so weak, what a wonderful truth it is that my standing before God is not dependent upon my own strength. If I had to work for it and be successful at jumping through the right hoops, I would be hopelessly and miserably lost. Praise God, it is not dependent on me! When I trust God in faith, He gives me the righteousness of His Son. No other way could I ever come close to hoping to stand before God. My weakness illustrates my need for God's righteousness, and His righteousness is exalted when it does for me what is absolutely impossible for me to do on my own.

"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (v. 10). Weakness and suffering are not synonymous, but they do often come hand-in-hand. Suffering can both cause weakness and can also reveal the weakness that already exists. Such suffering has a purpose. When I suffer, which inevitably shows my weakness, I am learning about Christ. I am sharing something of what He suffered as a man of sorrows. I am being drawn to Him and driven to seek Him. In the process I come to know Him more fully. Rarely can people fully understand these struggles or the condition of my soul in them, which can leave me feeling isolated. When I go to God in that isolation, to the only one who can truly understand my soul, I realize that God is really all I need, and He alone can meet my needs. Times of struggle and suffering bind me to the heart of God as He walks through those times with me, sustains me through them, and reveals Himself to me in the midst of them. My weakness is not without purpose. It serves to pull me to exactly the one place and the one person that I really need.

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (v. 12-14). These final verses give some perspective regarding weakness. Even Paul with all of his achievements was not perfect. He still had weaknesses in his flesh and things for which to strive. This realization helps with the discouragement that can come with weakness. Instead of letting his episodes or demonstrations of weakness defeat him, Paul put those behind him and just kept reaching forward, striving to grow in Christ, in really knowing Him, and in living for Him. So even if my life has lately been filled with and characterized by weakness, that does not mean I have to be forever bound by that weakness. It does not mean that I can never do anything right going forward. Every day is a new day. God can forgive any sin, heal any wound, and give a fresh start. Today I can rest in His strength, and my knowledge of Him can empower me to move on and to live right.

Recently someone at church told me (to my amazement) that she sees me as strong and admires my strength in the midst of difficulty. With this recent keen awareness of my weakness, I was able to sincerely say, "If you see any strength, it is God's, because I don't have any." That is true. Paul himself said exactly the same thing in II Corinthians 12:9-10. Such a weak vessel only serves to highlight the strength of God that shines through it.

Yes, I am weak. I have nothing to boast about. The good news is that my standing does not depend on my own strength, but on the righteousness of Christ. My weakness has a purpose as God draws me to Himself through it. My past weakness need not control my life, but I can strive each new day to do what is right. My weakness is a showcase for God's strength to be revealed and an opportunity for His grace to be magnified.

"He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power." Isaiah 40:29 (NASB)

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Giving Up

Could there ever be a Christian who is ready to give up on God? Could a Christian become so frustrated with life that he decides living for God is no longer worth it? Could a believer become so disillusioned and disappointed that he decides to stop trying? Could he stop fighting the battle and determine just to wait for heaven when everything will finally be put right?

The questions are rhetorical. It might be more reasonable to wonder if there are any believers who have never reached such a point in their lives. If such discouragement has not been part of a believer's own life, he has certainly seen it in the lives of others. Sadly, he has probably seen people who have followed through on their frustration and who really have abandoned any serious pursuit of Christianity.

I can think of three avenues that might lead to such an action. First is the fear or threat of persecution, especially when that persecution is prolonged. This happened to Peter; when Jesus was seized and tried, Peter denied knowing and being a follower of Jesus. The other disciples scattered and weren't even in the picture. Thankfully, within a short time these men were stabilized and went on to serve God boldly.

A second possibility involves the trials of life, especially when they are multiplied. Elijah illustrates this. He faced opposition from the king and queen, danger to his life, journeys and deprivation, and hardness of heart from the people who should have joined him in standing for truth. Even after the great victory on Mt. Carmel, renewed threats caused Elijah to flee in fear and, in his frustration, desire to die. God ministered to Elijah, delivering him from his discouragement and bringing him back to usefulness.

The third possibility is simply the weakness of the flesh. A believer can want to do the right thing and can devote years to pursuing God and growing in sanctification, only to find himself struggling (seemingly) just as much as he ever did. Paul expressed this sentiment in Romans 7. He earnestly wanted to do right, but found himself doing wrong instead. Paul kept his struggle from leading to giving up by focusing on the power of God to give him victory.

In any of these scenarios, a believer could become discouraged to the point of wanting to give up. In addition to wondering if living for God is worth it, he might also wonder if it is even possible. One of the most frustrating things known to man is to give devoted effort to some project, to do his very best, to persevere through obstacles, and then to find that he still fails. It is devastating to realize that one's efforts are ineffective and that he will fail no matter how hard he tries. The natural result of such a realization is to stop trying.

This cannot be the correct conclusion. Before I present the right conclusion, I want to acknowledge some truth about our world. This earth is a fallen planet that is filled with broken people. The earth itself has faced the effects of God's judgment, its productivity having been reduced and being plagued by thorns. The earth is so encumbered and oppressed that it groans under the effect (Romans 8:22).

Fallen people compound the problem. Job's friend declares the truth that man is born to trouble (Job 5:7). Trouble is simply a reality of life. Whether due to one's own actions, the sinfulness of others, or the universal depravity of mankind, this life is filled with trouble. There are some positives along the way, but to some extent this life will always be discouraging because it falls so short of what God has designed. Anyone who looks at this life will see disappointment, pain, and discouragement.

The answer then is to not focus on this life. The focus instead must be on the eternal. If this life were everything, Christians would indeed be miserable (I Corinthians 15:19). Rather than enjoying with abandonment what pleasure there is in this world, Christians would be disciplining and restraining themselves - would be sacrificing - for nothing. Living that way, however, is worth it because there is a world to come. Peter refers to the believer's joy in hoping for the inheritance of heaven even while he faces multiplied trials "for a little while" on this earth (I Peter 1:6).

Abraham was a great example of a saint whose focus was on the eternal rather than the temporal. Hebrews 11:8-16 describes Abraham's eternal view in the midst of a life of challenges. If Abraham's focus had been on this earth, he would not have continued wandering and living in tents. He would have given that up and would have returned to his homeland. His gaze, however, was on a heavenly and eternal city. He saw a promise to come that made every trouble on this broken earth to be worthwhile.

This life and its struggles are so brief that they are nothing compared to eternity. They are actually trivial in comparison to the glories to come. No source of frustration - persecution, trials, personal failure - should be enough to stop a believer from following God. Because focusing on those challenges could cause a believer to turn back, the focus must be kept on the eternal. Like Abraham, the believer must seek a city whose builder and maker is God; he must remind himself that he is merely a pilgrim who is passing through this world on his way to a far better world to come.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18 (NASB)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Soul Interaction

Relationships come in many shapes and sizes. At their root, all relationships are about interaction. Those interactions may be limited to a particular context, such as work, a community group, or a Sunday school class. The interactions may be limited to a particular time frame like childhood, the college years, or a specific summer. Interactions can also be limited in depth, ranging from casual joking to discussing the profound issues of the soul.

God created man as a social creature, designed to interact both with those around him and with God Himself. Relationships are therefore natural and ought to be mutually beneficial. The deepest and most appreciated relationships are those in which the limitations are minimal. A relationship that provides interaction across multiple aspects of life, over many years of faithful friendship, and that cares for the deepest needs of man's soul is a relationship of great value.

Relationships of that depth are rare and special. Some believers may be blessed with more than one friendship of that caliber. For others there may be just one person who fits the description. Many others are aware of the absence of a deep, soul-level relationship with any other person. Realizing that there is no person with whom one can freely or consistently share the most profound and important parts of himself can leave a believer disappointed and incredibly lonely. The soul is where man most needs interaction, and the absence of such interaction leaves a painful hole.

The answer is found in God. God is interested and involved in every aspect of life. God is a constant companion who will never leave. God is a spirit, who is therefore perfectly able to interact with man's spirit; God cares about and is interested in what happens in the depths of a man's soul. In fact, God is more interested in that aspect of man than He is in the more superficial areas. Following is some of what God can do for the soul.

"The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned" (Psalm 34:22). God is able to save the souls of Christians in a very literal sense. There are situations so overwhelming that they would seem to actually destroy. God can rescue in those situations. If He can do that in the most overwhelming and dangerous scenarios, He certainly can do so for any lesser attack.

"Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my soul" (Psalm 54:4). "The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul" (Psalm 121:7). God upholds and sustains the soul. These situations may not be as drastic as the situation in the previous paragraph. Rather than a literal rescue from actual destruction, this is a sense of protection and shelter from the trouble. It is more internal, and the two verses present two pictures of how God sustains the soul. The first picture describes leaning on something, like a heavy load resting along and being supported by a stone wall. All the weight of the burden is transferred to a source that is stronger and more stable. The second picture is that of a thorny hedge that surrounds and protects. God encloses the tender and vulnerable soul in a scaly or spiny durable covering that repels all attacks.

"He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:3). This is an even more personal and intimate interaction. Instead of being on the outside as a shield or protector, God is getting right into the soul. His gaze and actions are not outward toward the attack, but inward toward the hurting soul itself. God reverses and corrects damage that has been done. He takes the soul from the condition it is currently in, and He brings it back to its original condition and makes it again as it was designed to be. Psalm 41:4 speaks of the similar aspect of God's healing the soul. He is like a doctor who stitches up an open wound and binds it together so it can be whole again. While a believer might think the condition of his soul is hopelessly broken, God is able to heal and restore it to what it ought to be.

"On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul" (Psalm 138:3). "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul" (Psalm 94:19). When a soul is broken and overwhelmed, the two things it thinks it will never experience again are strength and delight. A crushed soul has no confidence, no courage, no strength, no idea of ever accomplishing anything worthwhile ever again. God can give strength and boldness to move on, to live life, to serve Him, to interact with others, and to do what needs to be done. Likewise, a hurting soul cannot imagine being glad or delighted. God's comfort makes this possible. God can brighten the spirit, put joy back in the heart, and restore sunshine to the face.

"My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips" (Psalm 63:5). God brings unmatched goodness and blessing to the soul. The outward circumstances may not seem entirely pleasant, but the soul can rest in a place of bounty. God saturates the soul with His blessings; marrow describes the richness of the blessing, while fatness refers to the abundance. God can give more rich blessings than the believer can even absorb.

David was right when he turned to God for the needs of his soul. He was right when he said in Psalm 57:1, "Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by." When the soul is oppressed, afflicted, despairing, hurting, alone, needy, it needs to be lifted to the refuge. It needs to be placed in the hands of the only one who can do what needs to be done - the only one who can rescue the soul, sustain it, restore it, transform it, enliven it, and bless it. God can do all of that. No person can.

"I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul." Psalm 31:7 (NASB)