Sunday, September 27, 2015

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

Because of the reward, because of eternity Paul does not run without purpose. He is not as one who beats the air, because what is the point of beating the air, it doesn't move or anything. He knows his goal and beats his body, putting it under pain and discipline so that he is in control of it, so that he will qualify for the prize.

A man who runs in a race aimlessly will not subject himself to strict discipline. He may know of the crown that could be gained, but it may seem unfeasible, not worth putting in the effort for. Why does he even bother running then? I suppose that he is just in for the ride, only wants to be a part of the action but not committed enough to run purposely, in pursuit of the gold. He doesn't even dare hope for it, and will never attain the joy that comes in attaining the prize.

Am I in it just to get in on the action or in it to win the prize? Too often I find myself in that trap. Running aimlessly, just in it for the action, along for the ride. Not committed enough to go for the gold, it's not feasible, it's far out of my reach. Even if I might he able to win the prize, it would take way to much effort. Only running to be a part of what's going on, wouldn't want to miss out on anything exciting you know?

When I run like that, half hearted, uncommitted, without purpose, I am totally missing out. Sure, running for the prize means sacrafice, but the reward is so great. Why do I choose to live my faith in this small way, afraid of sacrafice, of putting in too much effort, thinking that the prize is hardly attainable, not worth trying for? I am missing out. No, like Paul, I must beat my body and make it my slave so that I will be qualified to win the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:25 "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

Those athletes do not take their training lightly. They make their bodies their slaves. They sacrafice physical comfort, time, energy, certain foods--- no sacrafice is to great--- all for the sake of competing to win the prize. It is their focus, their aim. Their life and daily routine are all centered around this one goal. They put themselves through the pain and perseverance of training because they have a larger aim in mind. These athletes were willing to sacrafice all such comfort in light of the hope of winning the prize.

All that the athlete could gain in running this race is a crown. A moment of glory. Recognition that will probably die before he does. This is his hope. And even though it is finite, it is worth it to him to put his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength into it. But what is my hope? A reward that will last forever. The Savior welcoming me into heaven saying "Well done." Eternal gain. The pain is great but the reward is greater. If this athlete can put all that he is in hope of the possibility of receiving a reward that is temporary, why do I hesitate to put all that I am into gaining a greater reward than this.

Matthew 6:19-21 says, " Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thrives break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Our life here is but a breath. One day I really will stand before God to account for what I have done. One day I really will meet Jesus as I enter into heaven. He has promised in Revelation 22:12, "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give everyone according to what he has done." One day I really will be in his presence, worshipping him forever with all people, ever, who have trusted in Christ for salvation.

The athlete's hope is earthly gain, that will not last, that will never satisfy. I have been called to something greater for this life and the next. In application I will begin reading the book of Revelation to remind me of the things that are to come.
1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."
I played volleyball during high school and one thing I learned while playing is that you can practice all the time and have a lot of skill, but when it came down to the game, it depended largely on mental discipline. One person's attitude had the power to drag the entire team down. Discouragement could quickly be seen in performance. And when we were defeated in the mind, we were also defeated on the court. If we were facing an opponent and accepted defeat or doubted that the victory would be ours, we would give up far sooner then we would've if we would've played to win. It was important to intentionally prepare our mind before a game.

The same is true in our spiritual race. I can attend church, read the Bible, pray and do all of these "spiritual excercises," but if I do not discipline my mind and decide to run the race with all that I am, I will quickly become discouraged and loose heart. I am not saying that that I shouldn't do these "spiritual excercises" because, like it is in sports, I can discipline my mind all that I want but I will get nowhere if my body has not been discipined. I am only pointing out that the outward discipline must be followed by the mental discipline. When I decide in my mind to run for the prize, my outward actions will follow.

As I am here in training, we are constantly surrounded by excercises to train us. We study the Bible, pray, go to class, attend church bi-weekly, worship, read wholesome books, etc. All of this is important, but will be meaningless if not accompanied by a mental discipline and a decision to run as for the prize. A runner who has the prize in mind is not half hearted, he is devoted and has his eyes fixed on one thing. 

"...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring it's shame, and sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3-4).

1 Corinthians 9:22b-23 "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that i may share in its blessings."

This is humility and love in one of its purest forms. Sacraficing ones identity and selfish thoughts for the sake of the gospel. It wasn't enough for Paul to come walking in and claim everything that he did without stooping low to understand. He sacraficed identity and self interest to be able to relate to any person.

I have a friend who had been dealing with a difficult situation in her life, and as I looked on the situation from the outside, I saw how I thought it should be done better. I was quick to pass judgement, and become frustrated with her choices. I was not afraid to tell her what I thought and would give my opinion whether or not it was asked for. What I lacked most of all was compassion. To often I would speak rather than listen and give my opinion rather than try to understand. If I would've always had her best interest in mind I would've stopped talking and started listening because I would've known that she didn't always need another opinion, sometimes all she needed has someone to listen who actually cared, and to often I caused hurt by speaking without trying to understand.

Whether I am entering a new culture or relating to a fellow American, I must listen to truly understand them and how they think to be of any effect in their life. If I come and tell them everything I think and know without truly stopping to listen and to understand their life, I will shut them out. They will see my motives, that i lack compassion and do not truly care for their best interest. Speaking without first listening is dangerous. Words have power to build and to tear down and trying to build without knowing without understanding what you are build is sure to create chaos. Listening just to speak is selfish, but listening to understand allows me to relate on the deepest level.

As I enter a new culture I must bear this in mind and be intentional about observing the culture around me to be able to understand why they are who they are and be willing to sacrafice identity and comfort to relate to their culture. This is exactly what Christ did for me. He became a man, related to my sufferings, died as a perfect sacrafice and is now an intercessor on my behalf.
1 Corinthians 9:22a "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak."
Paul writes in the chapter before, "Be careful, however, that the excercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Corinthians 8:9) Paul knew in his mind that he had the liberty to eat whatever food he desired whether it had been sacraficed to an idol previously or not. He knew that, " idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4) Because of this knowledge, Paul reasoned that it did not matter if the food he eat had previously been sacraficed to idols or not.

But on the other hand, Paul knew that there were beleivers with a weaker conscience, ones who were "still so accustomed to idols" (1 Corinthians 8:7) that it convicted their conscience to eat that kind of food. Paul knew that if he excercised his freedom in this way in front of those with a weaker conscience, he would cause them to stumble. And because of the weak conscience of another beleivers, Paul, although he did not compromise his own liberty, was  sensitive to the conviction of others. He desired to "...put up with everything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:12).

It is important that I am sensitive to the beliefs and convictions of others. An improper use of the liberty that I have in Christ could ruin my testimony for another. Paul said "...Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (1 Corinthians 8:1) I must not become prideful because of the liberty I know I have in Christ nor must i flaunt it or look down on others who may be weaker but instead, out of love, seek to respect my brother's convictions and build him up. Again Paul said, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." (1 Corinthians 9:19).

This verse reinforces the importance of disregarding myself, even the liberty I have in Christ, to promote the gospel in the life of another. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Luke 17:10 "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.'"
Unworthy. Unworthy is a difficult concept. I like to think that I am worthy. I look for things in me that I can bring before God so I feel at least a little deserving of his grace. I look at the law and what it has to offer. If I can measure up to the law then I will be worthy. But as I try the law condemns me time and time again. The weight of its demands is heavy on my back and I try in my own feeble strength to meet its harsh and strict demands. But i cant and fall time and time again into dispair. As I try, in my own power to be worthy, I miss out on the God of love. I miss out on grace.

Because grace, it is also a difficult concept. Because i am so undeserving. When i try to be worthy of it, it pollutes what it is. But when I finally come to the place of realizing that I cant, realizing that I have nothing and am unworthy of what he has to offer, that is when I will see grace in all its beauty and the God of love for who he is. Not as a strict master, ready to condemn, but as a gracious Savior who went to the cross, not to put heavy demands of the law on my shoulders but to set me free.

As a servant, if I served with the motivation of receiving a reward when I am finished or out of the desire to be thanked and recognized, it would imply that i am worthy of something and deserve something for my work. But in realizing that I am an unworthy servant, yet I receive grace upon grace for nothing I have done, my service will become wholehearted thank offerings lifted up to the Lord.

This week the Lord is graciously showing me grace, that I am unworthy of his love yet he extends it anyway. "For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace." (John 1:16). I will spend time writing about the grace he has shown me this week.
Luke 17:9 "Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?"
Thankyou implies I recognize that you did that and I appreciate it. If I do something, perhaps something that I didn't have to do but did anyway, I expect at least for the recipient to say thankyou and if I don't get that word of recognition, I may perhaps feel a little bit slighted because they didn't recognize or appreciate me or my efforts.

But this not what the servant in this passage expects. He does not even expect to be thanked. He does not selfishly demand recognition for the long hours he has faithfully worked in the field or for serving dinner at the end of the day even after long hours of work. He does not demand this recognition, He is not owed a thankyou, and he accepts that as he continues to serve his master.

Often I crave recognition when I serve. To often I serve to be seen. I selfishly look for some way to somehow build up myself even through acts of service. Even when doing this seemingly selfless acts of serving, I am still looking for ways to satisfy my selfishness. But as a servant of Christ this recognition should not be my drive. I am nothing and am owed nothing, not even a thankyou. I have already been blessed immeasurably, I should be the one thanking God. In fact, my service should be like a thank offering to God. It should be like, 'God you did this for me so out of gratitude I am going to do this for you.' I would not be expecting even a thank you in return for that would I? No because it is my reasonable service as Romans 12:1 says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrafices, holy and pleasing to God----this is your spiritual act of worship."

I want his love to be my drive so that I live my life as an offering of thanks for all he has done for me. I want to grasp how  In application I will write out verses reminding me of his love that I can carry with me.
Luke 17:8 "Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'?"

The servant thinks only of his master's will. All day he has been in the fields laboring, working hard. His muscles are tired, sweat drips off of his brow. It is almost dinner time and he feels the pangs of hunger. If it were me, I would grab some already prepared food, and make myself comfortable on the couch for a while. I worked hard so I deserve it right?
But that is not what this servant does. The concerns of the master are his first and foremost interest. After a hard day in the fields he does not consider it his right to quit and take a break but faithfully and dutifully does as the master requests. He is always ready at the master's request to do the master's will.

The analogy of the worm in the book "Calvary Road" (by Roy Hession) comes to mind. A snake will hiss and rear it's head, demanding compliance. But a worm does not resist to whatever may happen to it, whether it's trampled or poked, it is not like the snake who resists and strikes to what it is displeased with. I need to be a worm at the feet of Jesus, in full compliance of whatever he asks of me or does in me. A true disciple of Jesus will deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ. Firstly, I must deny myself. In denying myself, I must act as though myself does not even exist. As a servant and follower of the Lord, there is no room for selfishness if I am to be wholeheartedly devoted to his commands. I must be like this servant who faithfully toiled all day and then came once more before his master to do his will. This servant did not protest to what was being asked of him despite his own desires.

It is so difficult to deny my own desires. But this servant did. He acted like his own hunger and weariness did not exist as he faithfully served his master. In serving my master, I must do the same. It is surrendering my fleshly desires for his lasting fulfillment as Psalm 63:3 says, "Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." And Luke 9:24, "For whoever wants to save his life will loose it, but whoever looses his life for me will save it."

Luke 17:7 "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he  say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat?."

As servants we have no rights neither are we entitled to anything. Romans 12:1 says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrafices, holy and pleasing to God----this is your spiritual act of worship." It is by God's mercy that we are servants at all. Offering our lives in their entirety to be used by God is what is reasonable, what is duly expected. To do otherwise would be to diminish the impact of the cross on our lives.

The servant went to the fields, plowing, watching sheep or whatever was asked of him. He did not do it to try to gain for himself personal pleasures, he did not work hard because he thought he would get a better reward or more favor from the master, no he did it because it was his reasonable duty as a servant.

We are servants of Christ and slaves to righteousness. It is by the mercy of God that we are allowed this priveldge at all. I used to be a slave to sin, in chains to the yoke of sin, but the Lord has called me out of that so "that I might belong to another." (Romans 7:4). But the yoke of Christ is not like the yoke of sin. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).

In view of the mercies of God, my reasonable act of service is to offer all that I am to be used by him. Not serve him in hopes of winning more of his love-- he already loves me unconditionally. Not serve him in hopes if gaining for myself selfish pleasures, but out of a deep and humble appreciation for the cross.

1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." Such as realizatiom will compel love for him because of who he is and what he has done for us.
Luke 17:6 "He replied, 'If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.'"

Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." And the famous "Chapter of Faith" continues with example after example of one human after another simply taking God at his word and the Lord doing mighty things because of their steadfast belief that God is who he says he is, and that he will do what he said he will do. Moses "persevered because he saw him who is invisible." The walls of Jericho fell because of a simple trust and obedience in God's battle plan. In faith, Abraham submitted to the Lord's command in sacrificing his only son Isaac, knowing that the Lord would keep his promise.

Faith will produce a response. If I am confident in what I hope for and certain of what I do not see I will stand on limbs that I otherwise would not care to stand on of i was not certain of him who will catch me.

I have this picture of myself walking with the Lord. He wants to carry me. I lean on him a little, my arm is over his shoulder, but I struggle along still with my own two feet on the ground. I don't allow him to carry my full weight and still depend on my own strength. It is not easy walking this way. I am treating him like he is weak! I must fling myself in his stable and strongly arms, confident that he will catch me. There I must rest, close to him and completly safe and he will carry me. Psalms 62:11-12 says, "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving..." He is strong, He is loving, I can trust him.

His promises and character are sure. The man whose son was tormented by an evil spirit implored Jesus saying, "...if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus responded, "'If you can'? Everything is possible for him who beleives." And the man exclaimed, "I do beleive; help me overcome my unbeleif!" I take comfort that the Lord still helped the son of this father who I can greatly relate to. Of course Jesus can do the things that I ask of him, why then do I ask him in doubt. Everything is possible for him who puts his trust in the character and word of God. My application is to read Romans 8 and write the promises that i can cling to in faith as a child of God.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Acts 2:46-47 "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
They met together in public, they met together in private. They ate together, their hearts were one in sincerity m gladness, praising God. This verse shows how daily they were intentional in their devotion to the fellowship. They meet daily to seek the Lord together and edify each other. Even simple things such as breaking bread were done together. Even their attitude was unified as they gave glory and praise to God from zoner hearts. The power of community is evident in their lives.

The community holds power in accountability. Isolation from the body is an easy place to hide sin and let it dwell. When I am struggling with something, the enemy can really use that to isolate me from the body, to have me withdraw in shame and to feel like nobody will understand what I am going through.

The community holds power in spurring one another on. I need to be constantly reminded of my purpose, or else I forget, I get distracted, I loose zeal. That is why the community of beleivers is so important. That is why as beleivers, we must continually come together for edification, to make sure everyone is on the same page. There is accountability in the body. Seeing others who live out what they beleive, inspire me to do the same.

The community holds power in likemindedness. As they continually met together they were of one heart, glad and sincere. Together they praised God. Attitude is contagious.

Finally, the power of community was seen from the outside and many came to know Christ. In John 17, Jesus prays for the beleivers and says, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Often I go throughout my daily life, forgetting the power of the community of beleivers I am surrounded with. Since we have the same purpose we must learn to work together to accomplish those purposes. Why do I focus to much on the differances I have with fellow beleivers rather than the common goal and purpose? Here I am surrounded by an awesome community of beleivers. I desire to take advantage of that more, by being more open about my struggles and looking for ways to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24) I want to ask my teammates for ways I can pray for them and faithfully lift them up in prayer.
Acts 2:45 "Selling their possesions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
Here we see such unity in this new body of beleivers. They sacraficed what they had to meet the needs of others. Two chapters later in Acts 4 it says, "All the beleivers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possesions was his own, but they shared everything they had... There were no needy persons among them."

Being one in heart and mind, they were sensitive to the needs of others. They did not count their own desires and wants as important, but sacraficed so that others would not be in need. In this specific chapter in Acts, we see the ones whom God had blessed with possesions giving them up to bless those who were in need.

The Lord gave everyone in the body gifts to be used to edify the body, and if all the gifts are used appropriately, nobody will be lacking. The Lord has given me gifts to be used to build up my brother were he may fall short. If I do not use these gifts that i have been given to edify others, I am not being sensative to the needs of the body. I am not working toward the fellowship of unity and interdependence on one another. Likewise when I have need, I must be willing to allow others to help.

This is unity in the body. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." I am not always sensative to the needs of others. Sometimes it is because I do not take the effort to observe the needs around me, other times it is just out of complacency and selfishness. But as a part of the body I am to look out for, to feel the needs of others and to come to their aid when I have the means.

In application I will write out three ways in which I can use the gifts I have been given for the edification of the body and do them.

Acts 2:44 "All the beleivers were together and had everything in common."

It was not about the individual gain, but the common good. They did not count anything their own. One body, one purpose.

Ephesians 4:3-5 says, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit---- just as you were called to one hope when you were called---- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

They shared one body, they shared one Spirit and one Lord. They shared one hope. They shared one faith and one baptism. They shared one God. They had everything in common. No more was it about the individual's edification, but it was about the edification of the body. It was not about exalting oneself higher than another, but it was about looking out for the common good of all.

They had a common goal. That goal was to make disciples of all the nations. As a unit they moved toward this goal. A unit does not allow for one part to only look out for himself, no it is a constant in-pour out-pour system. As one part in-pours to fulfill need, another part is out-pouring to fulfill the need of the first part. In this way, one part of the body, does it need to look out only for himself because he has all the other parts looking out for it.

"One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:24-25).

It's amazing how much identity I can find in mere things such as my possesions. But as a part of the body of Christ, just as I am not my own, neither are my possesions. Since being in Guatemala, the Lord has taught me that I need to stop clinging to my possesions so tightly. Once he asked me to give up something that I owned, so I did but I almost cried as I felt like my identity was being stripped away. It was all very selfish. But through that he was shown me more how I need to hold my possesions lightly and with an open hand.

In application I want to look for opportunities to refresh others with my things.
Acts 2:43 "Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles."
The power of the Holy Spirit. Everyone had just seen his work. Peter was a fisherman, rugged, uneducated, even at times lacking common sense. But they had just seen a radical transformation in this man. He spoke boldly, all understood this Galileen in his native tongue. He proclaimed the name of Christ clearly, his message had powerful impact, and  three thousand were brought to the Lord. Awe fell upon everyone as the Holy Spirit's power was evident. Even signs and miracles were performed.

This kind of power they had not seen. The Holy Spirit so radically enabling. Not only were they devoted together and unified through the apostle's teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer, but in every person, there was an awe of God and of the power of the Holy Spirit.

As beleivers, we need an awe of God as a unifying theme. If my view of God is complacent, how can I expect to see amazing things like the signs and wonders that the apostles did? If my faith, my awe and wonder of God is cold, the results of my life will be cold as well.

Not only will the result of a unified awe of God be a body filled with faith, but it will also keep the attention focused on where it needs to be, God. He will be the focus of our worship, the aim of our lives. As a body our eyes will be fixed outward, on him. With an awe of God, we will, not become selfish creatures, because we will be constantly in worship of who he is, not who we are. An awe of God will erase the selfishness of division. An awe of God will increase our trust in him as it did for the Israelites after they saw they hand of God part the red sea and deliver them from the Egyptians. Exodus 14:31 says, "And when the Israelites saw the great power of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Acts 2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

Devotion. Apparently little else mattered. The body of the believers had just experienced the powerful filling of the Holy Spirit, their body had just grown by three thousand after Peter' fiery Pentecost sermon. Filled by the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to four things: the apostle's teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, prayer. They were fully committed to these things as they dived whole heartedly in.

They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship. In Acts 20, Paul speaks to a crowd of believers all night long. The believers in Berea "received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11) Acts 4:32 says that, "All the believers were one in heart and mind." Such was their unity that they didn't count even their possesions as their own. Some even sold land, and brought the money to the apostles.

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer. After Peter and John returned from a short imprisonment they meet with the believers and told them what had happenee and Acts 4:2 says that, "When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God." They praised the name of God and implored him to show his power through the apostles. It says that "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Their devotion is significant. They did not just bring in half hearted attempts at doing these things. And look at the results! A body of beleivers, eager to learn, unified to heart and mind. Praying together and seeing the Holy Spirit come boldly. Here in the IGNITE program there is constant opportunity for these things. Nearly everyday we are in class listening to the Word of a God being taught. Our class is together all the time. Communion is served occasionally. We pray before events, go on prayer walks, pray as a group at the closing of the day and pray with our teams. Yes these things surround me and often are required of me but it is up to me to do them with devotion, to go the extra mile, to put my whole heart into it. Half hearted devotion is not really even devotion at all. Half hearted attempts will not produce the fruit that we see in Acts, a unified body of beleivers being filled mightily with the Holy Spirit.

The Lord has been impressing on my heart my need to put all of my heart into whatever I do. Joel 2:12-13 says, "...'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.' Rend your heart and not your garments..." He wants ALL of my heart. He does not want just the outward motions of repentance, but a heart attitude. In application, my goal today is to apply my mind more to whatever we are doing today. I also want to intentionally seek unity by praying for each individual in my class.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Philippians 3:12-13 "Not that I have already obtained all of this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining for what is ahead."
I am not a runner, so when I do run its sometimes really tempting to quit, especially while trying to go maybe a little faster or a little longer than before. I feel the pain and i look around and see the distance I have yet to cover. And I have quit before, I've decided, 'OK no more I'm walking, this isn't worth this moment's pain.' But at the end I hate myself for quitting. On the contrary, when I push myself super hard til the very end, even though I might feel like I'm about to pass out, I feel accomplished.

I love these verses because in the race of life, quitting, easing up, settling is at times a tempting option. Looking around and seeing the serious pain that it took only to make a little progress can quickly discourage. But that is because I start looking around. That is where I need to take my eyes off of the situation and the pain and on to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Is is about a matter of focus which gives me the strength to press on. 'Press on' tells me 'yeah you feel tired, you feel stuck, you feel like you cant, ok, just put one foot in front of the other, just move forward.' 'Press on' acknowledges the difficulties, but does allow just sitting in them.

"I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1) "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Ephesians 1:4) "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)

"When Esther's words were reported back to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to and royal position for such a time as this?'" (Esther 4:12-14)

Like Esther I have been called to such a time as this, only this time does not need me and if I choose not to grasp it, the Lord's purposes will still be accomplished but it will very much be to my loss. I want to take hold of the purpose for which Christ took hold of me. I have not yet obtained but still I must press on. How can I take hold of my purpose? For starters, it's taking hold of the day, seeking Christ, living it to its fullest and finding joy in putting all my heart in what I'm doing.
Philippians 3:11 "and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

In Christ's death I see humiliation as he counted himself nothing putting himself a victim before man. Stripped of dignity. In humility not retaliating or using his power for his advantage, a plea with the Father to change his plan but a quiet submissiveness as he carried his cross up the hill to where he would be put to death. I see intense physical pain, I see him, hung up on his cross, exposed for all to see and mock. And then finally, when all this suffering had climaxed, his death. His followers looked on at what they thought was the end. There was Jesus, hung on a cross, dead and never to live again on this earth.

For three days it seemed like all was lost as he lay there lifeless in the tomb. But on the third, there was life, power, death was defeated and conquered. The war was won, the devil overcome. The death that had bewildered the disciples, leaving them discouraged was not in vain. All of the agony he had suffered and the death he suffered was worth the victory that he won in living.

The death and resurrection of Christ is a promise to me. That in dying to the flesh, I will somehow be given a live a life far greater. The death will not doubt be painful. It will require suffering and humiliaiton. It will strip of of the dignity I try to save. I will cry out to God asking him if there must not be another way, but it will require me, in submission, to pick up my cross and carry up the hill to where my flesh will be crucified, exposed in all of its ugliness for all to see. In the moment it may seem that when death comes all is lost, because this flesh, it is all I have ever known. But there is the promise of life. This death will not be in vain. And we can be assured, as the disciples were not, that the death not the miserable end, no it is only the passageway into a far greater life.

"Now if we died with Christ, we beleive that we will also live with him." (Romans 6:8) Psalm 126:5-6 encourages, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with him."

I want to grasp more the promise of the life that death brings. Jesus asks me to give something up, and I hesitate, 'no I'll keep it I think.' And then he makes me miserable in that sin. He shows me how it is a lie, he exposes the prison that it is confining me in, until I finally hate it is well and want to be rid of it because I see the life that is far better outside of those bars. My flesh is like the ring that Gollum would not give up. It destroyed him and made him a miserable, selfish, ugly, pitiful, and wretched creature. The ring consumed his thoughts, it became his identity. Gollums bondage to the ring controlled his life and drove him to his downfall. Such is sin. And we have the power to be rid it and the promise of a far greater blessing.

In application I want to take to meditate and write about how personally I have gained life through death and exort myself to continue forward to remind me that it is worth it.

Philippians 3:10 "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
Paul wanted to know Christ. Not just to know about him, not just of him, holding him at a distance, having only a taste of who Christ was. No, he wanted to know him, deeply and intimatly, drawing from his source of power, even relating to him in his suffering.

The power of the resurrection of Christ. In Ephesians 1 Paul said, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know... his incomparably great power for us who beleive. That power is like the working of his mighty stength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead..." This same power that raised Christ from the dead is made available to me because of Christ. But how often my eyes are blind to this power and I leave it unused, untapped. Then quit, drained, discouraged, and defeated because I tried through my weakness to win the battle, overcome, through off the weight, myself, through my own strength which is nothing. Like the Israelites, who by trusting in the strength of God, managed to defeat the great city of Jericho, but when faced with the little city of Ai, went on their own power and suffered a miserable defeat. Oh the victory that comes in admitting inablity, surrendering to his easy yoke, and finally tapping into the power that is in Christ. This is the same power that raised him from the dead, how much will it also give us victory over death.

Sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Paul wanted to know Christ to the point that he was willing to put himself through trials in order to experience the sweet fellowship of being able to relate to Christ and his sufferings. When going through a difficult time, there are often people there who are willing to sympathize with what is happening. But that sympathy is nothing compared to having someone come alongside who has experienced the same thing because they know. They are able to relate on a deeper level because they understand, they have experienced exactly the same thing. The level of fellowship is so much deeper and so much sweeter, because each side can relate, each side knows what the other is feeling. Paul does not take any hardship into account as long as he can know Christ more. The circumstance didnt matter, only the sweet fellowship with his Savior.

Knowing Jesus is the greatest thing. What God showed me through this is that i have been searching harder after the blessings of Jesus more than the relationship with Jesus himself. I hunger for his peace and love to flow through me, I want his joy and his power and victory to overcome sin. But I have not been seeking as hard after Jesus himself. I want to know Jesus. I want to know his resurrection power and have sweet fellowship with him in suffering. I want to know Jesus personally, intimatly, trusting him, as I would trust a good friend. I love this promise, Hebrews 11:6 which says, "...anyone who comes to him must beleive that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
Phillipines 3:9 "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--- the righteousness that comes from  God and is by faith."

Paul had plenty to boast in. He had everything as far as the righteousness of the law was concerned. He was a circumcised Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee. He had so much zeal for the law that he aided in persecuting the church. He kept the law perfectly. But he gave up all of these statuses willingly to be found in him, to claim his righteousness. He came to the place of seeing these things as nothing that he could bring before God, nothing that he could put his confidence in. And in bringing nothing, he gained everything.

As a human, I long to be of worth, to have something to offer. So, I look around me and in me for something to cling to for identity, hardly being able to fathom that God loves me enough to take from my nothingness and give me something far greater. When I look for something to credit myself with, something to put my confidence in, it is often in disbelief of his goodness and personal love. But no, my righteousness is as filthy rags. There is nothing in my flesh that God looks at with favor. Like Paul, I must come to the place of bringing nothing, counting these things as loss. It is then that he will take my broken emptiness and fill it with his righteousness.

As Jesus said to Paul, so it applies to us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Then Paul said, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (1 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God can use nothing. He made us out of nothing. When all we bring is nothing, God's power is so evidently seen and glory is brought to him because of our nothingness. It is a trade, counting all things as loss and finding his righteousness, that only is gained when in coming out of faith bringing nothing of ourselves.

Philippians 3:8 "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, I consider them rubbish, that i may gain Christ."

'It is worth it.' Many times before I have longed for someone to tell me that this was true, to look me in the eyes and implore me with those four words to let go and push ahead. I wanted to know if it was worth it. Because I sat there in the miry clay clinging in frustrated desperation, thinking that somehow this miserable state was better then letting go and pursuing Christ.

Here Paul is, telling me that it is worth it. In fact he says that, compared to the value of knowing Christ, everything else that I must give up has the value of rubbish. Paul's words here are not empty or hypocritical because he lost everything to gain Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul describes the trials he has been through since following Christ. He went through hard work, imprisonment, flogging, severe beating, exposure to death many times. He had been stoned, shipwrecked, and spent a night on the open sea. He was all the time moving around. He faced danger nearly everywhere he went. He faced labor, toil, and lack of sleep. He knew hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. And then in Philippians, Paul expresses,  it is worth it. It is worth taking on discomfort, pain, constant danger, no place to call home, and hunger--- to gain Christ.

Christ truly is enough. To gain Christ will be to loose everything else, but IT WILL BE WORTH IT. There is so much value in knowing Christ that i don't realize because I still see myself clinging to other things. Everything else is rubbish in comparison. And clinging to rubbish will make me feel like the rubbish itself. Is this desperate state of clinging where the freedom really is? How, as I miserably hold tightly to what I must loose, how can I think that to gain Christ instead will not be worth it. Yes it will be worth it. It is trading rubbish for the immeasurable gain of Christ.

This study has brought to mind something that I had outwardly given up to the Lord, but inwardly I stilled grasped it so in application, I want to bring that before the Lord in prayer. Also I want to make a list of things that I cling to and write next to each one, Christ is enough.