Living With The End In Mind

The mind and heart to understand
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

O God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days. And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.
And may your future make us free,
And guard us by the hope that we,
Within the light of candle three,
Your glory will forever see.

– John Piper (Glorified) 

A few months back I watched a science-fiction movie titled Arrival. The premise of the movie follows a linguist tasked with the responsibility of attempting to communicate with an invading alien species. The film initially seems to follow in a linear timeline, where the beginning scenes are appeared to have occurred in the past as per usual in film sequences. However the sudden plot twist comes when it is revealed that the logographic symbol, a circle, repeatedly used in communication by the invading aliens is a tool designed to alter how they perceive reality. From what was assumed a mere symbol of written communication, instead forms the basis of their entire concept of time.

This tool alters their perception of time, in that, in order to understand the present, the future becomes their past. In essence, life and therefore movement in time is not a single progressive line, but rather a continuous circle, where the future events dictate how to affect the present. The film then ends with the revelation that the entire initial sequence was part of the future rather than the past.

The film, thoughtfully written, and carefully unpacked brings about an existential question of what it would mean to live by acting according to your end. It is an interesting notion, where the impact and potential for opportunity could be expounded knowing how much more certain moments would hold. If knowing the future would be a reality, foresight becomes 20/20. If I could do it all over again, is the wistful thought of man in a mid-life crisis. To be young, re-write history and fix our mistakes we all think would make the world a better place. It is what makes a time-machine so appealing. With the knowledge that I have now, I know I would’ve done it right in the past.

However, i’ll admit thankfully, time is linear, and though advantageous it may seem to live life while watching the rearview mirror of our future, this is not our circumstance. Humanity attempts to play god enough, and in the midst of our fallible mortality, is the reality that we do not know how our life will end. We cannot know where we may get a job, to whom we will marry, and specifically how we may die. Throw in amongst that the thousands of micro life events that could be altogether life altering, and keeping a big perspective on life is like trying to solve a complex thousand piece puzzle with blindfolds on. You can sense edges and shapes, generally knowing where each piece should go, but have no clue about how it all fits together.

In spite of this, by and large, majority of people live their life on their own assumptions. Speculations that are based on their history, and the expectancy that those past trends will continue into the future. It is what forms the basis of mortgages, budgets, job-performance, health insurance, etc. Humanity, lives as though the past will automatically become the future, altogether forgetting the future is not guaranteed.  We assume that we will go to college, find a job, buy a house, have a family, and otherwise live a comfortable life. We assume, and therefore expect. However much foggier is the future, then we would either realize and even more so like it to be.

Yet regardless of the haze that is planning for the future there are a few constants that all people can rely on. Further, the only constants that people should rely on

  1. All people will experience death
  2. All people will face their Creator in judgement

As a Christian we can hold to a few more constants

  1. Promises fulfilled as children of God
  2. Eternal life in Heaven with God

In simplicity living with the end in mind as a Christian, would mean working toward the affect of eternity.  Belief in God, means we do not live our lives inn a linear motion like a movie, not knowing the end of it. Rather it is, seeing the end, and finding out how God effects the present. By the grace of God, we have the very word of God written out for us (John 1:1). The words of God which promise God is sovereignly in control of our life (Jeremiah 29:11). The plans, may not be as expect them to be, nor necessarily what we want, but it calls to move forward in greater dependance on him (2nd Corinthians 12:9). In our movement through life, is our purpose not to live based on our assumptions, throwing a half-guess in the wind, but looking at the Word, and taking it in accordingly. Therefore when we view God in this lens, is the perspective of viewing God’s sovereign end as a reality.

This perspective impacts our perception of life in a two-fold way.

  1. Time becomes all the more valuable, as every moment as an affect toward eternity

Knowing that the time we spend is not just a fleeting moment caught in the transience of time, but rather directly changes how we will enjoy eternity is a sobering thought. Put into this perspective, eternity creates a much more distinct picture of what is important in life. Given that with each passing day the preciousness of time increases, to strive for a living hope and treasures that will not be defiled (1 Peter 1:3-9) becomes a priority. Therefore to act according to eternity and not temporary joys, gives a purpose to strive for, regardless of the haze of the future.

Too often are we caught up with a few pixels on a screen, ensuring that they go right, that when we look at the whole high-definition picture, do we then realize frivolous this really is. Like a cleaner caught up in a spec of dust, are we so often focused on one small section of our lives. Too easy is it to forget that if the rest of the house is out of order, the spec of dust really does not matter! Get the rest of the house in order first, and deal with the spec of dust later. There are much more important things to worry about.

Lastly, knowing our own situation is secured, it should open our eyes to the plight of the millions of others around us. Living in the light of eternity, can we no longer be the blind leading the blind. Like a starving peasant for the first time eating a feast at the King’s table, can we no longer be satisfied knowing that there are millions of our desperate brothers and sisters all too content to eat crumbs and spoiled food. There is an open invitation, and they only need to accept it.  Since our eyes have been opened to the wonders of our God and the opportunity at eternity spent with him, there is an urgency needed to point others toward it.

2. Since Eternity is guaranteed, and all the promises thereof, satisfaction and joy presently is possible.

We can rest assured that all the promises of God will be fulfilled, and therefore are satisfied as we find our joy in Him in our current moment. Knowing that in our whatever circumstance, God is working for our good (Romans 8:28), we can learn to abide in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13). We then can take joy, in the wonder of who God is, knowing our greatest needs have already been met in Him. If then we are presently satisfied, we can cease to strive for hope in future satisfaction. Future satisfactions in shallow temporal joys, that are presumed and expected, but never guaranteed.

Though our future may not necessarily hold what we expect, nor what we want, we can cease to fret over what may happen, knowing all along our dear saviour is with us (Matthew 28:20). Though jobless, unmarried, poor, alone, and a career with no upward trajectory, the Christian can endure because their treasure will not fade. Though hardships come, joy can be had (Philippians 4:4). There is a deeper, more satisfying rest living with the end in mind. Rather than fretting over what may happen in the future, we hope toward it, knowing the best is yet to be come.

Run, Not Meander

My knowledge of that life is small;

The eye of faith is dim;

But it’s enough that Christ knows all;

And I shall be with Him.

-Richard Baxter

I often find myself when running to take the opportunity to go down a new path or trail, not knowing where it may lead me. There is a sense of curiosity and wonder as you delve into a new road that deviates from your normal routine. One can explore different paths as the only limiting factor is the amount of time you want to take to get to your destination. Running for me is often not so much about the pace, as much the journey to complete the goal. More than reaching a distance goal, it is to enjoy the nature and the scenery , to challenge myself as I avoid roots and rocks as I go down rabbit trails, and to explore the ravine/neighbourhood around me. My running path resembles much more a meandering river than a straight away at the airport.

However this form of running contrasts greatly to when I ran track in highschool.

By the grace of God, some of my favourite times in highschool were on the track.  Comparison to most other sports I have played, in track, the only competition really is yourself. The question when sprinting is, how efficiently can you run fast? You are the only variable that can answer that question, and how you prepare for it can effect the entire outcome.

There was something comforting about systematically getting ready to run your race. It starts with a slight jog to get the muscles going, then a static stretch, ABC’s, tempo’s, dynamic stretch, and finally accels. Each step is done individually as you mentally visualize running your race over and over again. In your mind you go through the various cues that your coach has told you to focus on as you run your race: high knees, stand tall, stay high, arms at nintey etc. You rehearse again and again, until you can see yourself running the race perfectly.  Finally, when they call your heat, you head to the table to sign in and get ready to take off your warm ups.

There is a world of difference between sprinting and meandering.

When one meanders, one can go to and fro with little regard to what the end destination is. Each deviation from the main path presents a new opportunity to explore, each bend in the road intrigues the imagination with new possibilities. The goal itself is not to reach anywhere in particular, but rather more about enjoying yourself in the journey to get there. Whether you get there or not is a bigger question than how.

However, when you sprint, there is one sole focus: to get to cross the line as quickly as possible. It’s not necessarily about winning, though you try, but it is to run faster than you ever have before. When you take off your warm ups, and you place your hands on the starting line there is absolutely nothing else on your mind. When you settle into your blocks, you think only of a blank canvas as you focus your whole body on one thing: to react. Then, as you explode out of the blocks, you drive with all your might to push everything behind you, locking your eyes on the finish line.

Therefore, since we are surroudned by so great a cloud of witneses, let us also lay aside every wight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

There is a world of difference between running and meandering.

When it comes to my Christian journey, it has unfortunately at times resembled a meandering walk rather than a hundred metre run. I have been more keen on stopping at the side of the road to smell the flowers, or to stop and enjoy a nap, or to deviate from the main path to explore, than crossing the finish line well. I’d rather enjoy netflix, sleeping in, procrastinating, and wasting time on the internet than to seriously think about pursuing Christ. I would plan out my life with the outcome of what I enjoy most, rather than set it on a trajectory for Christ. I would rather stay in my warm ups, taking a brisk walk on a lazy weekend afternoon than to fully commit myself to Christ.

I would rather meander than run, because to run would require effort. To run would require sacrifice, to run would be to die to my desires and to live for Christ. For, ” we have not been given grace to fulfill selfish desires, but freedom to do the will of God who has set us free ” (John Piper).

I have a cd in my car that contains John Piper’s sermon series on Hebrews. The cd came with the car and it has honestly changed my life. I have listened to it dozens of times. In one of the sermons on Hebrews 12, Piper describes the difference between running and meandering. The question that comes to mind  is would we rather meander or run? Would we rather pursue God haphazardly hoping that we gain the prize, or do I want to run as to win Christ? Do I want to lay aside every encumberance and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race that is set before me? All too easy is it to forget there is a race to be won.

All to easy is to get caught up with the question of What is wrong with it? When in reality that is alltogether the wrong question; the question should be does it help me run?

The fight of faith — the race of the Christian life — is not fought well or run well by asking, “what’s wrong with this or that?” but by asking, “is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control? – John Piper

There is a need for Christians to ask the question, does it help me run the race? Warm ups may be comfortable, but there is a need to examine our own life and see what we can take off. There is a need to shift from a perspective of toeing the line of allowance, and move toward complete avoidance.

As a sprinter, you shed every weight, every article of clothing that could possibly cause you to run slower. You go down to being as streamlined as possible, wearing only your spandex, singlet, and spikes. Everything is meant to help you run well. Every extra weight is put aside, everything that could hinder, laid down. The question is not, can I run with it? But, does it make me faster?

It is ridiculous to think of an athlete, who refuses to take of their warm ups, proceeds to get set in their blocks, hears the starting gun, only to come out of it slowly  jogging toward the finish line. The same can be said of the Christian life. Do we really think to pick up our cross daily is only meant for the hyper spiritual? Do I really believe to gain Christ as my all is bound to Sunday mornings and year-end retreats?

Like a sprinter coming out of the blocks fixated on the prize, so should our sole focus be on winning Christ. Our whole life should be systematically focused that we may run well. Like a runner going through his pre-race routine, do we need to prepare well and then run well. It is daily time spent in the word and prayer as we meditate over and over again the application of it in our lives. It is a desire for deeper understanding of God, stretching our minds and strengthening our faith as we delve into books, articles and sermons. It is actively living out our faith among our colleagues and family,  and it is dynamically living it out in our ministries and small groups. All this, that when we take of our warm ups, get set in our blocks, and started our pursuit of Christ, that it may be our only hope. Then, when it is all said and done, in eternity can be said of us “well done my good and faithful servant”.

 

p.s. if you wish to listen to the full sermon, it can be found here. I would highly recommend it!

A Mighty Call

We are the musical instrument that God masterfully plays, like a trumpet that proclaims his thunderous notes, is it His breath that first fills us. The Holy Spirit beckons us to proclaim His glory, as the Performer carefully composes the song.  The Author and Perfecter of our faith then turns the notes into an arrangement of melody as he skillfully presses, limits, and conducts the precise inner workings of our life.  Ultimately the melody is not for the instruments themselves, but rather the player who enjoys it, bellowing His glory. – S. Kang (paraphrased)

Among some of my favourite times in spring is watching the various sports leagues go through their draft process. As an Edmonton Oilers fan, this has unfortunately been a reoccurring highlight of the season. Year after year, fans such as myself, will hang their hopes on these  new prospects, hoping that they will step up and fulfill their potential. For the athletes, it is a hope to hear a call, a hope to hear someone on the other side tell them they’ve been chosen. Each year, hundreds of these athletes will either gather live in the arena, or tune in to their local television station to see if, when, and where they will be selected. As each selection passes by and one by one owners or GM’s pass the podium, the momentous occasion centres around hearing the phone ring. The athlete does not necessarily focus on whom they were chosen by, nor when in the draft they were taken, but simply that someone in authority deemed them worthy enough to select them. For most athletes this is a culmination of a life’s work in the gym, field, and court. They have been called out of the tens of thousands, if not millions playing their sport, and been specifically, carefully, and thoughtfully picked to be a part of an exclusive group who are meant to be the elite. They have been called to a higher calling.

In contrast, when the Spirit calls, how often do we listen? I find myself repeatedly ignoring or missing the prompting to be still and listen to the call in which I must surrender and follow.

If it were in the strong wind, or the earthquake or the fire, would it be easy to listen to the call of our Lord. Yet we know it is not the Lord’s way to go the way of the easy or the obvious. Rather through the “sound of a gentle blowing” is His voice heard. Here in this quiet beckoning of God, it is an easy temptation to turn a deaf ear. In His gentle nudging to let go, in his prompting to go deeper, in his plea to fall into the mystery, do our fears overwhelm is to grip tighter to what is safe, easy, and dull. Like Bilbo Baggins all too comfortable with the Shire, would we rather stay in our humdrum than pursue our adventure set before us.

Why is that when called by God to do great things do we hold back?

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 20 He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him. – 1 Kings 19:19-21 (NASB)

Elijah renowned as a great a man of God personally calls Elisha through placing his mantle on him. The mantle a symbolic representation of a call to total commitment to the work of Elijah and his God. This call would totally shatter Elisha’s current worldview, shake everything he had known up until then; this call would be a call to leave behind the familiar and move forward into the unknown. From a  wealthy farmer to a poor prophet; from leading livestock to leading lives back to God was this a weighty decision. He could stay in the comfortable known, or venture into  God’s big unknown. Till then what was familiar was his family, their land, and their workers. Life was consistent and repetitious. To leave would mean to give it all up and trust that Elijah knew what he was doing; this was an incredible risk.

However, in this hurricane of pro’s and con’s, choices and factors influencing the decision, was in the eye a simple understanding: the only proper response was total submission.

Elisha understood the grandeur of his calling and shared this calling into ministry with joy. He did not hesitate to sacrifice a pair of his oxen, symbolically burning the yolk to which was his now past means of work, and sharing it in a meal with the community he would soon leave. God challenged Elisha to leave his comfort zone to pursue a higher calling.

As Elijah first drew Elisha to him, does the spirit first draw us to a total commitment to God. If Elijah a great man of God personally called Elisha, how much more should we respond to the calling of our mighty King? In our own hurricane of decisions should we look to make a consideration: Am I ready to be completely submissive to God’s call?

The balance of being swayed either way depends on understanding the weight of which we have been called. Do I understand grandeur of my calling, and take joy to what I have been chosen to do? Do I see the reality  to which I have been plucked out of and and the new one on which I have been set upon? Am I willing to be led like a blind-man into a mystery, trusting that it is better than anything I could have hoped to have before? Am I ready to allow God to transform my world? Like a master teaching a pupil, am I ready to listen?

Here in this decision we cannot rest nor tarry, wait nor linger. There is a call, and it requires a response. We’ve been chosen to a higher calling.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14 (NIV)

How much does God love us that he would remove us out of our mundane and dreary existence and instead by the workings of His marvellous grace set us toward a course that would echo it’s effects throughout eternity; one that is already pre-planned, meditated, and thought out toward which we are specifically gifted for. The response? Only radical obedience is required.

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. – Luke 6:92 (NIV)

 

3 Christian Considerations For The Parent Of An Athlete

I was recently asked by someone how to navigate involving their children in sports, especially in regards to today’s ultra-competitive society. This question was an interesting one and made me think as both a coach and someone who grew up playing sports, where that line would be. The problem is, increasingly, there is a trend within youth sport to shift from a recreational leisure activity, toward a performance based competition. While I firmly believe in competition, and see the benefits of playing at the highest level one can, there is an issue with the amount of pressure placed upon athletes. Young athletes are pressured to be ‘elite’ at an early age, and are expected to  progress at the same pace consistently throughout their career, irregardless of different growth rates, maturity, skill acquisition etc . The phrase ‘for the love of the game’ quickly transitions into ‘for the love of fame’, as viral social media hunts down the ‘next one’, rocketing them to worldwide recognition. Veiled behind rhetoric of ‘leadership’, ‘moral values’,’scholarships’ and ‘education’, the reality is that youth sport today for a lot of parents is more about vicariously living through their children than it is desiring the inherent value of sport.

As a Christian myself, I can think of three key considerations to keep in mind, whether as a coach or as a parent involving their kids in athletics:

  1. God is Ultimate

Whether this is sport, another hobby, or even academics, it is especially important that God is ultimate. We’re designed to enjoy God first and foremost, anything else is a mere reflection of that, therefore the pursuit of God must be on the forefront of our minds. We are expected to give God our best, but this in of itself cannot replace God himself . It’s both sad and ironic that children are taught to pray to God to help them in their game, exam, or performance, yet doing daily devos, attending youth group, or Sunday service becomes secondary to practice, games, and studying. In the end sport is not eternal, but God is. The implications of what we value most will reflect on where we spend our time.

2. Sport is a gift

Like anything else, sport is not the end all be all of life, and should not be treated as such. It must be remembered that sport itself is a gift for us to enjoy. As a result, sport becomes the instrument in which we glorify God with, but cannot be the end of the pursuit of glory.  As a society, humanity celebrates distinction, uniqueness, and talent. While this displays the incredible diversity in which we were created, the created cannot be worshiped above the creator. Like a sign that points which direction to go, so does our performance point to whom we should be paying attention to, namely God. The danger lies when the means is seen as the end, and not the end itself.

3. The chances of ‘making it’ are small.

The reality is among the hundreds of thousands of kids participating in sport, by large only a few will make it to a varsity team, even fewer will make it to pro sports. This isn’t to discourage participation in sport, but it should keep in check the expectations placed on an athlete who ‘has a promising future’. Just because you shuttle your child to 6 am practices five times a week, and tournaments every other weekend, will not guarantee them entry into pro sports. Even if you obey the 10,000 hour rule, going above and beyond to provide them with personal trainers, elite coaches, and surround them with the best talent, it will not necessarily mean they will be the next Connor McDavid or Serena Williams. No matter how much yelling to ‘pick it up’, ‘play with some fire’, or  be ‘more competitive’ is done, it will not suddenly induce them into super stardom. More likely is the chance that the child burns out and resents the sport they once loved. In the end, if your child does not ‘make it’ does not mean they wasted their potential, rather it might be that God has a different plan for them than you do.

In conclusion, I think of Colossians 3:17 “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”. In all that we do we are called to do our best, not for ourselves but for God. Remember in all things whether sport, academics or the rest of life, whatever we are given on this earth is a gift. I enjoy sport, whether the friendships, memories, leadership values learned, discipline instilled, or the ability to perform at my best, but I do know none of these are the end itself, but a reflection of my God who has gifted me with them.  Therefore, encourage your child to participate in sport as there is a lot of value in it. On the field, encourage them to do their best, to try their hardest, and be okay with whatever result that is. Inspire a healthy love for whatever God has gifted them with talent in, teaching them to be diligent in what they have. Above all, show them how to love God in all that they do.

God’s Sovereignty In Suffering: Utter Joy

 

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance – James 1:2-3 (NASB)

How can you know what it feel’s like to thirst as a man travelling in the desert parched for water? How can you know what it feels like to hunger for food as a child who has gone weeks without a proper meal? How can you know what it means to gasp for breath as an endurance runner at the last hundred metres of his race? How can you know it means to be so desiring God that you would be wholly and utterly dependant on Him?

The answer in all of these is desperateness. Consistent across all of them is that you would have had to go through that experience to truly know what it feels like.  To know of these experiences could not simply be spoken about, described, or read in a book. There may be glimpses, hints, shadows, and whispers, like an appetizer at a meal, yet unless you have gone through the fire does it remain simply taste and nothing of substance.

Similarly our Christian faith is an easy road when God leads us by green pastures and still waters, yet it is in the howling winds of the stormy sea that we are drawn to cry for someone to save us. Faith can be spoken of without much further ado when all that is required is a verbal confirmation. Endurance is easy on a Sunday morning stroll, perseverance unchallenging when one simply has to place one foot after another. However, we will have little knowledge of  what it would mean to run the marathon God has set before us if all that God requires is a leisurely commitment to Him.

To run the race well would mean to endure at all costs, the confirmation that we would do so would have to be in the face of suffering. It is in the shipwreck of our life does God wreck all preconceived notions of who He is and what it means to be dependant on Him.  Only when all else has been eliminated can we say we are desperate for our saviour.

Contrary to this, is the belief that our faith is supposed to be built on going to Church on Sundays and reading the bible occasionally. God’s goodness prevents Him from allowing  suffering to happen, and when he does, it is a mere by product of sin.

To them, God is a reactionary God who simply fixes the mistakes of mankind- attempting to clean up the mess left behind. It is patchwork rather than designing, a temporary fix rather than a premeditated plan. If God is good, he simply wants my good and nothing more.

However to say that a good God would protect us from all suffering because he wants the best for us is simply not true. A good God would want the best of us not by how good is defined by human construct, but rather on how in his infinite wisdom he determines it to be.  Therefore, a good God would ordain all things so that the believer would be drawn to the highest good there is, namely Himself. If that would mean He take away all that prevents the believer from doing so, so that He alone would be glorified, He does. This is because for the believer, staying Christian is not about avoiding suffering, but about becoming closer to God. The nature of suffering in the Christian faith is not to evidence our faithfulness to our Creator, but rather to be made aware of our ineptness and need for a saviour.

Hebrews 12:4-13 describes this in comparison of a parent disciplining their child.  Where the parent directs a child to live among society well, does God in perfection directs a higher standard in our lives for our benefit so that we maybe become more like the highest good in godliness (v.10). God, knowing what is specifically needed for our good, works all things toward that (Romans 8:28). Therefore, he purposes discipline in our lives not because he does not care, but more importantly because he does. A parent knows what is best for their child, and will sometimes restrain, prevent, limit or otherwise take away what appears to the child good or joy in life. God thus acts in a similar way not because he does not want us to experience joy, but because he desires to have our joy founded in the only thing that is satisfactory. Therefore, when discipline emerges as suffering for the believer are we made more acutely aware of our insecurity, flimsy mortality and otherwise powerlessness. This awareness is not only for humbleness, but a directed attention to one who holds the promise that in whatever we face, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

This is a faith that may found to be more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7), because only when we are drawn to a place where God is our everything, do we let go of everything else. When we are made aware of our desperate need for him, we become utterly dependant on Him, like a child who cries “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15), does God want us cry out to our heavenly father, resting assured that he works toward our righteousness.

In this, can we find absolute joy in all our suffering, knowing that in the sovereignty of God, does it not occur at random, but because God has purposed it for our good. As long as the world remains, we are imperfect. Though justified, we are still being sanctified, though sons of God we are still progressing toward godliness. As cruel, senseless, unneeded, and heartless does suffering appear in the moment, we do not follow a God who knows not the outcome our lives, but ordains all things for our benefit.

The character of faith that allows us to be transformed by suffering and darkness is not doubt-free certainty; rather, it is tenacious obedience. – John Ortberg

Therefore we fight for faith with joy, inexpressible and full of glory knowing that to endure  will be to obtain the outcome in the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:8-9). We fight for joy, by finding our happiness in Him alone who can give it beyond the limited and perishing world that we live in. We strengthen our weak hands and knees that are feeble, and we prepare to face whatever is coming against us, knowing that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Lastly, we hold confidently to the promise that “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). We need to look beyond the world that we live in, holding onto the promise that is to come.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

 

 

Grace not in vain

What patience would wait as we constantly roam
What father, so tender, is calling us home
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor
Our sins they are many, his mercy is more

– His Mercy Is More (Matt Papa & Matt Boswell)

The struggle for sanctification often seems like a muddy uphill run. Though in our initial burst of energy there seems to be much progress, soon a lack of breath and the onset of pain slows us down. Each step is heavier than the last, with our feet caked as though a monsoon had set along the path, the upward progress is less than stagnant. Our grip lessens, as inevitable falls stain our once clean clothes. We press on forcing our feet, yet struggling seems only to make it worse. What was once optimism to reach the top turns into frustration as others pass us seemingly; here regret and guilt for not having the ability to try harder become our minds beacon of failure. Giving up might as well be the only option.

Similarly, do we often approach  the pursuit of holiness. A vain struggle, pushing and pulling against our failing wills, to only do more, to try harder. Yet in the midst of all our incompetencies is a gracious God, our father, waiting against our efforts to abide in Him. In his sovereign love does he not help our independence to succeed on our own, but rather coaxes us to a greater dependence in Him alone. When finally, despite our apparent inexhaustible stubbornness, we let go of the rope and admit our powerlessness, can he begin his work in us. Here, while we are still a long way off he runs to catch us. In our defeat, He is victorious.

Oh to see the Father run toward us! A father so joyous at the sight of a sinner’s return, a resurrection of a lost soul, that he would discard all decorum to embrace his child. What a feeling it is to be held in the arms of a loving father! (Luke 15:20-21).

Though we may we feel unworthy, this is precisely where we need to be. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).When we step back from the striving of running the hill, do we step back to see the big picture of the impossibility we were trying to accomplish on our own. Akin to trying to achieve our own righteousness, the very point in the attempt to run the hill, is that ultimately everybody fails. On our own before the Father, we are dressed in filthy rags, no further at any point than where we started.

By God’s grace, we know this is not the end of our run. We forget there is someone else in this battle. One who has already run the race, and won! One who picks us up and turns us from our futile walk, to instead run with Him. Suddenly, everything seems easier, as we do not run the race on our own, but rather we abide in the “true vine” (John 15:1).

This is the beauty of grace, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), not that we may run our own race, but rather His. This is the key. Christ’s crucifixion does not allow us to strive to run up our own hills, to obtain our own accomplishments, or attain our own standard of righteousness, but in all things be humbled by our own futility. We like helpless babes, must rest in God’s sanctifying work in us, accomplished through Christ’s justification for us (Hebrews 10:14). God’s love for us caused the Son of God, to “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), that we may “cry out, Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15), not that we may be mere slaves forced to follow an abstract code of moral law, but rather that we may be called “children of God…and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 5:16,17), wholly enjoying the benefits thereafter.

Grace in vain, would be to strive in ourselves to follow the Bible’s do’s and don’ts. Grace in vain, would be to be enslaved to our own glory in accomplishing this.  Grace not in vain, would be to abide in the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17), so that we may glorify God the Father (Philippians 2:11).  Grace does not allow us to work harder for God, but abide and rest in God because we enjoy God. Sanctification is a struggle not to run against our desires, but attune our desires toward God’s; to be more satisfied in Him, than we are in ourselves. God loves us, and desires us to enjoy Him;  “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him” (John Piper, Desiring God).

Do we trust in God, like a child trusts his father? Do we trust the sanctifying work of Christ? Do we trust that God can overcome?

God’s sanctifying work in us is not a linear graph straight toward complete holiness. There will be days where it easier than others. There will be entire stretches where the battle toward Godliness will seem like a lost cause. Often, it will resemble a cardiogram, filled with incredible upward trends, falls, and plateaus. However in all this, do we trust all the more in the promise that we are “being justified as a gift, by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Knowing that despite our sin, we have conquered over it, whether it be long-term or short, whether compulsively or a single moment of weakness, nothing can separate us from from the love of God for those who trust in Him  (Romans 8:37-39).

Ultimately, sanctifications means we are on a upward trend toward holiness; though it be the final years, months,  or days, the chains will be broken. By the grace of God, our pride will not consume us, our lust will not destroy us, our self-depreciation will not reject us, our anger will not negate us, because Christ “has perfect for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Through all time our sins are forgiven.

Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need – Hebrews 4:16

 

Thus, no longer do we approach God from a distance, as though we are unworthy to come closer. No longer do we enter the presence of God, hesitant and wary. No longer, do we live in constant struggle in vain. God’s wonderful love for us allows us to approach Him, to rest in Him, and to abide in Him, knowing one day we will be called home.

Dear Heavenly Father, 

Thank you that I can be called a child of God. Forgive me when I sin, and let me rest in you knowing that my sins are forgiven. Turn my heart toward you, and lead me to be completely satisfied in you. Guard my ways that I may not stumble, but instead to stand firm on your promises. Fill my heart to enjoy You, to fall in love with You. Give me grace to help me in my time of need, and draw me into a more intimate relationship with You. 

In your name,

Amen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with sin

* I do no wish to write this post in a haughty or self-righteous way, but rather it is a self analysis and awareness that I sin more than I would like to. Therefore, I write the root of my sin and my thoughts of why I do so.

“When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but [b]I will do as You say and let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ [c]feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken;” – Matt 5: 4-9 (NIV)

How often is it that, when faced with the reality of Christ, are in awe that he who is so holy would regard it worthwhile to be in a sinners presence?

The authority and lordship of Christ should leave us in utter shame of ourselves and in awe of who he is; our apparent wretchedness before him should brings us to our knees. There should be a sense of fear at the holiness and magnificence of our Creator. We should shudder at the thought of the furious and indignant wrath that we deserve.

However, when the wrath and fierceness that we expect does not come, but instead a gentle hand picks us up, does it cause us to tremble at the thought of what potential we have just been rescued from. This mercy offered is not an opportunity to take the weight of sin lightly, but rather to be taken with sombreness in understanding who it is that took our place and in who’s very presence we will stand when reckoned holy at judgement.

So what is it that causes us to sin?

Like Peter, sin begins with a small seed of doubt, planted by a distorted reality of  God. In the fashion of the serpent in the Garden, the question we ask ourselves with  is: did God really say this (Genesis 3:1)? Did God really say not do to this? Does God really prohibit this? Do you really trust his promises? Is Christ really more satisfying?

In consequence, questioning the worthiness of God always leads to doubt, doubt of his promises, character, and sometimes the foundation of who He is. Though I may obey, like Peter in letting down the nets yet again, I do not hold firm that this will lead to much fruition in my life. I question the sovereign power of God in my life. I act without faithful expectation but instead with rather resentful obedience. I no longer taste the satisfying pleasure of Himself, but rather long for something less while acting in spite.

When assurance of the promises of God begins to fade, and the temptations of the world beckon ever louder, does the reality of our God begin distort. Like the dusk foreshadows the darkness of night, does the sinister thoughts of sin grow in disbelief. Eventually, the momentary sweetness of sin eclipses the splendour of God, as I make God a much smaller  than he ought to be. My rooted assurance of  God is weeded out when right before the moment of sin am I wholly convinced that this sin is more gratifying than the eternal joys of God. Undoubtedly, I am left disappointed and unsatisfied grasping for more. I have been slighted, cheated, and left needing what I have rejected.

The pleasures of sin is not that I have disobeyed some arbitrary law put in place at random, but rather that I considered it more worthy and worthwhile to find pleasure in myself than in God. I find it more satisfying to disobey God, than to follow his commandments. In essence, I the created, considered myself above the Creator.  I neglect to believe the character of God. Whether it his goodness, righteousness, holiness, love, or constancy that I deny, I perverse my relationship with Him when I entangle myself with the seduction of sin. I forget that since He is the great I AM, he sets forth the very definition of those in it’s absolute.

He is in all things good, and desires goodness for us. He is absolutely righteous, and desires us to be so. He is unequivocally holy, so that through our holiness we can point toward him. He is inexplicably loving, and loves us perfectly.

God is not only these things, as God will never be limited by human terms, but these things are a few definitions to explain the wonder of our God in our limited perspective.

When the reality of sin occurs in our lives, two prospects occur:

  1. We reject the glory of God, revealed in his character
  2. We reject that God is for us, doing his best so that we desire him best.

Our problem with sin is not that we have done something wrong merely because we disobeyed God. It is not because we have missed a step in the manual, or that we forgot to follow the correct orders; instead it is a direct intrinsic rejection of satisfaction in God. When we sin, it is because we desire something  else above God. It could be instant gratification through spits of anger. It could be reconciling a wounded pride through spiteful words. It could be preservation of self-image through lying, exaggerating, or gossiping. Whatever it is, it is a temporal enjoyment of the desires of the self above God that makes it so grievous. Our fleeting- twisted pleasures trump the eternal joys of God who created us to enjoy Him.

The solution to avoid sin is relatively simple: love God more than you love yourself. It cannot and will not be try harder. This offers no long term solution, for as soon as you are tempted to sin, the attempt to try harder will have little ground to hold to. One cannot by himself will himself to not sin, but must love God above the sin. He must hold God’s statutes as better for himself than His own. He must trust that His promises will come true, even in his darkest hour. He must find God absolutely satisfying, because if God is for us, then he cannot possibly be against us.

So love God. Love God more than anything in this world. Love him so, that you would be willing to endure anything for Him. Love him so, that the things of this world would grow strangely dim. Love him so, that you would cling to Christ above all else.

Here are 3 ways that I found to help increase my love for God:

1. Know God

  • Read the bible, know what he says about sin and different struggles in your life
  • Memorize scripture (Psalm 119:11)
  • Pray to God, meditate on how the scripture effects your life
  • Know that God is with you (Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20b)

2. Trust God

  • Trust that all things work for our good (Romans 8:28, James 1:2-3)
  • Trust that he is faithful (Hebrews 11, John 5:24)
  • Trust that he will forgive (1 John 1:9)
  • Trust his promises above sin

3. Enjoy God

  • Find satisfaction in God ultimate (Psalm 34, Matthew 11:28, John4:14, John 6:35, Philippians 4:11-12)

A supreme love for God begets a supreme desire for God. When we rightly perceive what Christ’s sacrifice meant in relation to our sin, does this cut the vines of temptations creeping up on us. When we hold fast to the promises of God, do we hold sway against the tides of doubt. When we are ultimately satisfied in God above all things, do we treasure the reality of our God. When we desire God most, can we glorify Him best.