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Archive for the ‘Strength’ Category

Following after Jesus has its many rewards and challenges. The challenges all originate from our sin nature, and “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3) we really have no excuse. This enabling power given to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit helps us to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

God is at work in us for our sanctification, but He also commands us to be diligently about increasing our sanctification: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Because of the lie of Satan that induced the original sin of Adam, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), we now have a sin nature. As a result “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (Romans 5:14), and there is still “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19) To put it plainly, the lie of Satan was that you can do it on your own, that is, be good enough, be like God. Every religion is a way to work your way to heaven or attempt to please God. True Christianity is not this way, that is, works oriented, but grace oriented, because God has and is accomplishing all that is needed to please Him and secure for us a place in heaven. But we sinners by nature and by practice are hooked on the Lie and must throughout this lifetime be diligent to believe what God has said and done in and for us.

I love analogies and metaphors and thought of this situation today as I was describing a friend’s need to find a church where grace is preached. We should seek a church where truth is preached, the Gospel is preached, and the whole counsel of God is preached, right? Most definitely we should, but we are like an old pick-up truck that has a badly mis-aligned front end that constantly wants to steer us into the left ditch which we must persistently fight by holding the steering wheel to the right so that we may track straight. The mis-alignment is our works oriented sin nature; steering to the right is a constant placing of God’s grace before our eyes and in our thinking; the straight track is the narrow way that God is guiding us along toward Himself.

Or we are setting a course of the narrow way by turning the tiller of grace that has us tacking into the wind of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are always empowered by God, but He frequently accomplishes that through the effort of faith we put forth. This “steering” or “tack” is not a new level of works, but a clinging to God, the only source of life and godliness, joy and heaven.

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Mundane and tedious blights the soul
Clips the wings and dulls life's sheen
Off to the digs, the life of a mole
Outwardly lulled, inwardly lean

Nothing big but challenges galore
Wanting to rise to the top
But daily life pins you to the floor
While pleading that troubles would stop

Why do difficulties continue?
Why do my troubles persist?
Where's a fresh start and a new venue?
Does purpose in problems exist?

If you would be faithful in little
Later entrusted with much
The trials will test your faith and mettle
Spirit's power revealed as such

Hold on and trust in the daily tasks
Find His help in every trial
Cling to Him, doing all that He asks
Don't doubt, turning to denial

Embracing your God ordained story
Bear up under every test
Then to God will go all the glory
And your soul will find joy and rest

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The time of year to attend graduations, send cards and well wishes for the future, and give advice to the bright-faced graduates is upon us. I have no better advice for the graduate entering the workforce than that which I heard from the commencement speaker at my son’s graduation just over a year ago at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. The commencement speaker was former Secretary of the U.S. Mint, Edmund C. Moy. The seven points of advice that he gave are appropriate for the graduate or any Christian in the workplace who desires to live for God. Following is my interpretation of what he said.

Seek a mentor. Find someone who has been there and done that. The emphasis is on a spiritual mentor who can help you to navigate and balance the demands of working and stresses of interacting with people with your desire and need to grow spiritually and demonstrate God’s love to those around you. This mentoring relationship requires time and scheduling. Start right away seeking such a person you may trust in this role. At my stage in life I have offered and mentored younger employees and students.

Find or form a like-minded group with whom to pray and fellowship and witness. Certainly a church may fulfill this need but a sub-group within the organization of your employment is an added help to you and your colleagues. Seek out other Christians; there is strength in numbers. These groups change over time and my present one is outside my workplace.

Be trustworthy with the small things. As Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12) Integrity matters. Certainly this is good workplace ethic, but even more to the point, how can you expect people to entrust to you to talk to them about eternal things, the Gospel, if you are not trustworthy with material things? Don’t shame Christ’s name for trivial pursuits.

Do good work; it praises God. Are you a team player? On time for work? Meet deadlines? Do quality work so that someone else does not have to come behind you and fix it? Stay positive and refrain from complaining? “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33). If you would live openly as a believer, then let your words be kind and truthful and your actions sound and pure. I will add that you should not pursue the easy way out by hiding your faith. It may show you don’t have any.

Make a “to be list” to become spiritually mature. “To do lists” are everyday business that we must do to complete each day’s tasks. God is most concerned with us coming to understand who we are in Christ, which will most profoundly affect what we do. Set goals for becoming more of who you are. This is not works religion. This is spiritual discipline.

Consider public service. The private sector is good, but we need honest, hardworking, honorable, high-order thinking individuals in the public sphere as well. Your skill set is needed to set things right.

Many resumes have a zig-zag path. That’s OK: God is behind it. God is sovereign in His providential care and direction. Rather than get frustrated and ask why, pray harder instead, and enjoy the ride. My personal route has certainly been circuitous. God is good.

May the truth and application of this advice assist you as you enter the workforce, college, or the military.

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Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:12-13) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3), and more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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I have always struggled to get a handle on the essential essence of integrity. It is far more than honesty and deeper than mere examples. While studying Daniel 6 I was struck with new force by Daniel’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, whole and undivided spirit that resulted in him being the same in public as he was in private. That is to say, Daniel exhibited godly integrity. What is the source of integrity and what does it produce? As I searched for answers in the passage and on the internet I came across an interesting statement by  Larry Sternberg that says,

“In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.” (reference

Though not stated directly, the take away I gained from this short article was ‘Integrity produces courage and courage reveals integrity.’

And even though the wicked can be ‘true to himself’ (a phrase I’ve heard a number of times), it is godly integrity that is admirable. It is unselfish and gives glory to God, its source. It frustrates the wicked as with the satraps (provincial governors) and counselors who envied Daniel, but impresses those who see its purity and simplicity as with Darius the king. Daniel is not called upon to state his refusal to obey the edict as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in chapter 3: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) He does state his innocence after the fact: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s unstated trust in God points to God’s trustworthiness. So Darius gives glory to God because he recognizes the miracle that God did for Daniel:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
    and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Darius also recognizes that Daniel’s integrity points to God: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?…The king was overjoyed.” (Daniel 6:20,23)

And this has long been my desire, that I would have the integrity of Daniel and that my life would point to God. I have not been so faithful as Daniel but God has been faithful to work wondrously in my life so that I pursue the goal of integrity each day so that I might give glory to Him and hear one day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

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He said, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I had heard this and similar phrases many times, but I went off on a mental tangent of evaluating it in the light of Scripture. I think that I understand the intent of the saying, namely that we have an active part to play in growing righteousness in our life and God completes what is lacking in us. Thus far I have no problem, but I think we may do better in our understanding and representation of the interplay of our effort and God’s empowerment. Toward a theology of effort and empowerment consider the following diagrams with their perspectives on the topic:

effort-empowerment-arrows

The arrows are somewhat self-explanatory, but I want to clarify them for my own benefit and yours. Though, as I said, the #1 was stated with right intentions, I believe that at face value it is really saying that I exert effort to the extent of my ability and then God kicks in for the rest. But the Scripture says,“for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), and “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot even breathe apart from the grace He provides, but the “nothing” here seems to me to be ‘nothing of eternal significance’. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 3:11-15, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

I think that #2 is closer to the right perspective. God wants us to be involved and tells us through Paul to work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13) Our part is working with God by faith that He provides all we need to obey Him. He is actually the one willing and working and He receives all the glory as only He should. We receive no glory for effort, seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (II Peter 1:3-4) The “magnificent promises” and “divine nature” afforded believers far exceed our efforts. For this reason I have the ‘me’ arrow inside the ‘God’ arrow. God is in, through, and around all that we do and amplifies it to a magnificent and divine level, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).The result is that “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11) and “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

#3 is not only lazy but detracts from the glory of God by not proving His purpose and plan as revealed in such passages as Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” We are not to be idle. Our flesh will consume us the moment we stop clinging to God and moving forward in the strength He provides, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Conversely, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

#4 may seem like a statement of working with God, but I have seen consistently that the people who use this phrase are just trying to be good in their own right and have little concern for godliness or God’s glory. He intends and expects of those whom He is saving and the whole world as well that they acknowledge Him in all things: ““Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:7) 

Our hearts tend to be lazy when it comes to spiritual disciplines, but I believe that God has ordained that His will is frequently accomplished and His kingdom built by enabling the efforts He orchestrates within us (#5), as we said above from Philippians 2:12-13. So we work hard and bring God glory as you see Paul and the Thessalonians did: For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:9-12) It is right and proper that we should work hard at spiritual progress in the strength God provides in order that others might be drawn to God and God be glorified.

And with all of this effort, remember that God needs nothing from us and can accomplish His will without us whenever and however He pleases (#6). “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) But He has made us involved in so much of what He is doing, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19) For  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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