Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Am I Living For?

credit: FURORE Photography

For some time now I've been on a thrilling, agonizing journey with my Heavenly Father.

It has been a journey of change, discomfort, peace, joy, angst, cynicism, freedom, worship, progress and confusion - sometimes all in the same day! Nevertheless, God has been faithfully loving me throughout the whole process.

Because of this journey there are some people - maybe you're reading this right now - who might think I've lost my mind. In some sense, I hope you're right! In fact, if I haven't convinced you yet, the rest of this post might just seal the deal.

At the beginning of 2013 I felt a strong push in my spirit to simply study Jesus and do everything in my power to become more like Him. It seems like a simple goal but it has turned out to be a life-changing process. I am not making any claims to have become like Jesus. I hope, in some small ways, my life is a better reflection of Him, but there are times when I feel like I might have farther to go than when I started!

The problem with trying to become like Jesus, I've found out, is that you don't get to pick and choose which parts of Him you want. If you study, and take seriously, the things He did and the things He said, you will surely want to imitate some and, just as surely, throw some out.

In Matthew 19 Jesus told a rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

That's probably one we'd like to throw out, right? But later on in the same story he says something we all want to embrace: "... with God all things are possible."

Or how about in the famous Sermon on the Mount that starts in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

We might not want to throw that one out, but when somebody hurts us we can easily justify hurting them back, thus ignoring Jesus' words.

Later on in the same sermon, in Matthew 6, Jesus said, "... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I like that one. I think I'll keep that one!

But what about when Jesus touches people with leprosy (Matt. 8:3) or declares Himself homeless (Matt. 8:20) or exorcises demons and kills a herd of pigs in the process (Matt. 8:28-24)?

What about when He says, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)"?

How much of Jesus' life and words should we take literally? Where do we draw the line between really trying to be like Jesus and just knowing about Jesus?

These are the kinds of things my journey has forced me to wrestle with. Maybe you're starting to see why I called it an exciting, agonizing journey.

I'm certainly not done with the journey yet, but I was given a point of reference recently to help me see how Jesus has changed my life.

The picture at the top of this post shows me with the most important, precious people in my life. I cherish them more than I could ever describe. I was talking with one of these precious people recently and the topic of our upcoming move to the mission field came up, as it often does. In the midst of the conversation we talked about the level of risk involved with stepping into the unknown. Then some words came out of my mouth that I didn't expect, but believed with everything in me.

"If we die doing what Jesus has called us to do, it's OK."

Somewhere along this journey, my perspective had changed so much that I now believe Paul's words in Philippians 1:21, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." to be true for me.

Of course, the thought of dying does not appeal to me. The thought of being separated from my family makes me sad. The idea of the future never happening makes me feel like someone close to me died. I have a normal amount of desire to stay alive and grow old with my wife and see my kids grow up. It's not that I despise this life or any of the good things God has given me in my life. I cherish all of it!

It's just that when I look at the life of Jesus Christ I don't see a man trying to preserve His own life. I don't see Jesus seeking more comfort or more stuff. I don't see Him working hard so He can put money in His retirement account and still have enough to go out to eat once in a while. And I certainly don't see Jesus living by His own agenda or seeking His own desires.

I know it sounds crazy when I say it, but I'm saying the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 26:39, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup (death) be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Unlike Jesus, my death on the mission field is far from certain. The chances of anything bad happening to any member of my family while we're on the mission field are very slim. However, I want to have the same resolve He had to fulfill His Father's will!

So, in accordance with Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 my life on earth is Christ and my death will be great gain! I'm ready, Lord, do what you want with me!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Little Context Please

Sometimes because I'm familiar with a particular verse or with a passage of Scripture I think I understand its meaning. However, lately I've noticed I've been missing something in the context.

For example, this morning I read Philippians chapter 4. I admittedly was only about 50% mentally engaged. But when I got to verse 13 I remembered how common a phrase that has become.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

It's a promise we hold onto with fierce diligence because it affirms who we are in Jesus Christ.

But then I noticed something in the context. In this passage Paul is thanking the Philippians for their gifts, which they had not been previously able to give. Paul uses this as a teaching moment, making it clear that financial stability should not effect our contentment.

Here's the passage that includes our beloved Philippians 4:13 ...

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

It's interesting how I never realized what the context of the famous verse was. But now that I see it, I am convicted to be much more careful with how I use the promise given in verse 13. Does the promise apply to many different situations? Sure it does. But it was precisely given for a certain circumstance and should most definitely be applied to that circumstance.

So the next time I'm discontent, worried about money, coveting something I don't have ... that's when I'll recall the promise that "I can do all things (even be content in any and every situation) through him who gives me strength!"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Philippians 3:5-6
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

If I was going to start bragging about what makes me holy I'd probably go in a different direction than Paul does in the verses above. Circumcision is kind of a gruesome thing to think about, let alone brag about. My self righteous rant would sound a lot different. In fact, I've probably said something very similar to this:

"I grew up in a Christian home. I gave my life to Jesus at a young age, always went to church, went to a Christian college, spent part of my time there as a Ministry major, led youth groups and small groups, been to four different countries on mission trips and am currently preparing to enter the mission field."

Yep, my holy bragging definitely sounds different than Paul's. But, in the end, aren't we saying the same things? He was proving his credentials to the religious elite of his day. His peers valued the things he wrote about. My peers value different things, so I brag about different things.

However, here's where Paul goes in a completely different direction than me:

Philippians 3:7-11
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.[c]For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

I have never - not once - followed up my holy bragging like Paul just did. My strategy has always been to let my credentials sink in to the hearts and minds of those listening so they would consider me worthy of whatever ministry I was attempting. Even now, as I really am preparing to enter the mission field, I find myself using my background as a way to validate the call God has placed on my life.

In the New International Version the word RUBBISH is used instead of garbage in verse 8. Since I didn't complete my Ministry studies I sometimes brag about, I don't have the skills to do a thorough word study. But I once heard Francis Chan say the original word for rubbish actually equates pretty well in today's language to a pile of dog poop. So Paul is saying all those things that he and the world look at as holy qualifiers he now considers no more than a pile of poop so that he can be one with Jesus Christ.

So today I find myself wondering what it will take for me to stop looking at my own pile of dog poop as something that validates me. How can I leave all those things behind the way Paul did so I can pursue Jesus Christ, His power, His suffering, His death and His resurrection?