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Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for May, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

PERILS OF INTIMACY WITH GOD (Part 2 of 4)

 

Misplaced prioritiesFor the past several months I have been on the phone numerous times a week with a pastor who allowed his church work to take precedent over his primary calling of pursuing intimacy with Christ. The consequence?  A life dictated by the passions of the flesh that consummated in adultery, the near break-up of his marriage, and the disintegration of a dynamic church.  Only God knows the ruined lives that will flow from his mis-placed priorities. This pastors tragic example should be instructive to the lay person who also struggles with priorities as it relates to cultivating intimacy with God.

We can learn about the importance of priorities from Jesus refusal to allow the demands and opportunities of ministry to thwart his time with the Father: The news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk. 5:15, 16).  (See Mt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35; 6:46; Lk. 6:12)

SatanJesus, Peter, and Paul pointed out that our Enemy is hell-bent on preventing us from developing an intimate relationship with God:  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroyThe devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. The enemy seeks through deception and cunning – as he did  with Eve – to lead our hearts astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (Jn. 10:10b; I Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:3)  (See Gen. 3:1 – 13; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph 6:11)

Martin Luther penned these immortal words about Satans power in his famous Reformation hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal

OurselvesRemember Pogo, the cartoon character who stated, We have met the enemy, and it is us!?  St. Paul, like us, was his own worse enemy: I decide one way, but than I act another, doing things I absolutely despiseThe moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up  (Rom. 7:15b, 21b Msg.).  Our greatest enemy of intimacy with God is not lack of time, or discipline, but of appetite and desperation for God. The reality is that we make time for what is truly important to us.

Jesus identified two other reasons for our spiritual indifference as it relates to knowing God:  (1) Spiritual dullness:  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (2) The love of evil: Light (Jesus) has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."  (Rev. 3:15, 16; Jn. 3:19-21)  (See Jn. 8:12)

A temporal focusBecause Jesus knew that most of us are focused primarily on the temporal over the eternal, he put the challenge before us in stark terms:  "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Frankly, most of us are not [seeking] first his kingdom and his righteousness,  so we find it difficult to believe his promise that if we do, all these things will be given to [us] as well, (Matt. 6:33) (See. Josh. 1:8) Thus we end up living frantically and fearfully, idolatrously seeking the material over the spiritual.  When we do, God simply backs away and leaves us to our self-destruction.  (See Pro. 1:20-32; Rom. 121-32).

Prayer:  Lord, amidst the daily pressures and seductions of life, help me to make the hard but rewarding choices that will lead me to develop an increasingly closer relationship with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

INTIMACY WITH GOD (Part 1 of 4)

 

For most of us the idea of intimacy with Christ is a difficult concept to get our minds and hearts around.  Especially for men, many of whom are rumored to be relationally challenged!  Competition, getting projects done, or banging heads and egos on the gridiron come naturally.  But intimacy?  The truth for most of us men (and women?) is that we would rather be busy for God than intimate with God. 

Here are four reasons why intimacy with God is essential:

To fulfill the purpose for which we were created.  I concur with The Westminister Confession which states, God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. Think of it:  The purpose of creation and the purpose of the cross is about our intimacy with God. Unless and until intimacy with God becomes our reality, we, like Cain we will continue to be restless wanderers on the earth. (Gen. 4:14) In James 4:4 we are cautioned not to commit spiritual adultery with the world by cultivating its friendship. Why? Because, as verse 5 puts it, God is a fiercely jealous lover of our soul. The picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem forcefully drives home his desire for intimacy with us: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalemhow often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing  (Matt. 23:37) (See Isa. 65:2; Matt. 22:1-14; Lk. 22:15; Jn. 17:21, 23)

 

The tragedy is that most of us are unwilling, as evidenced by our running here and there, hungrily seeking this or that experience, forever searching for something other than Christ to quell the restless vacancy of our callow souls. In our affluent, pluralistic society our options for multiple choices leads us to decrease our commitments to everyone, including God.  Thus, we live with a sense of fragmentation, saturation, overload, and incoherence. There is simply too much to do and too little time to do it. So, the first thing that goes is our time with God. Pope John XXIII wisely stated, "The older I grow the more clearly I perceive the dignity and winning beauty of simplicity in thought, conduct and speech: a desire to simplify all that is complicated and to treat everything with the greatest naturalness and clarity."

 

To glorify God.  Picture a man on earth gazing at the moon.  The light of the moon is reflected from the sun.  We could say that the moon glorifies (or reveals) the sun.  Remember Moses, returning from 40 days on the mountain with God, and putting a veil over his face to mask Gods glory?  The glory manifested on his countenance was the result of spending time with the Holy One. (2 Cor. 3:7-18; Ex. 34:29-35)  In like manner, as we engage with Christ, obediently living out his mandates, we naturally reflect his beauty to others.  (Mt. 5:16)

 

To control our lifeAt age 18 while in the U.S. Marines in Japan, a young prostitute approached me, asking if I would like to spend the night with her. You can imagine the jolt and the rush. At that moment, 2 Corinthian 5:14 flashed into my mind, The love of Christ constraineth us  (KJV) Lord, I breathed, Lord, if I go with this woman, I will destroy the love and intimacy we enjoy with each other.  I cant do it. And with that, I slowly walked away.  As His follower I made it a regular practice of storing His word in my heart. Thus, in that time of testing I experienced the reality of Psalm 119:9, 11: How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your wordI have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

To bear fruitIt is the man who shares my life and in whose life I share who proves fruitful. The plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all. The man who does not share my life is like a branch that is broken off and withers away… This is how my Father will be glorified in your becoming fruitful and being my disciples. (Jn. 15:5b, 8 Phillips)  The fact is that fruit bearing is the natural result of intimacy with Christ. No intimacy: No fruit.

QUESTION: Is it your sincere desire to know Christ intimately?  The proof is in whether you make brutal choices to make time with him your first priority. Are you man or woman to just do it?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

THINKING KINGDOMLY +

 

Jesus constantly taught about the kingdom.  His message was the Gospel of the kingdom.  His parables gave insight into the kingdom.  His invitation was to enter the kingdom.  When he sent out seventy followers to prepare for his arrival, he told them to announce, Gods kingdom is right at your doorstep!  The kingdom is the existence, the presence and the authority of the king. And Jesus is the King. All the time he is coming to every person, looking for a Yes to him as their king.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world, wrote John.

The word kingdom appears 121 times in the four Gospels, the word church appears three times. Jesus spent almost no time describing the forms or activities his followers should employ when they gathered. He spent years describing the heart, the attitudes, the loyalty and the conduct of his servants as they lived, suffered, and represented him in a world gone wrong.  The kingdom is not represented by cathedrals, worship centers, organized religion, or festive events. It is represented by people who are like their king humble, gentle, generous, loving, full of faith but unimpressed by wealth, power, or position. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting mens sins against them.  And he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.  We are therefore ambassadors for Christ, as though God was appealing to you by us. We implore you on Christs behalf: be reconciled to God.  Il Cor 5:19,20. What an astounding calling!

This is not an anti-church theme. Its simply a paradigm that is larger than church and precedes it.  When we talk about going to church we mean the church when it is gathered.  But the church gathered is not the messenger.  The church scattered is the messenger.  Thats why the New Covenant is marked by the gift of the Holy Spirit given to every believer! As relational insiders we advance the kingdom into our extended families, into our workplace, into our neighborhood, into the gym, etc.  Instead of inviting the lost to church, we need to invite them to coffee, to lunch, to our homes. We need to dialogue with them in circumstances that build rapport and treat them with God-like character. Let your light so shine before men Believers, of course, should gather to encourage one another, to learn from one another, and to pray. But, we dont need to gather to impress the lost or even to offer them a chance to worship.  Worshipping is fashionable these days but without faith in the King, its ineffective. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are from me.  Lets be the kings ambassadors all over town 24/7.  Lets use our lives and homes to be the churchs half-way houses, open to the disinterested and unconvinced.

No one can visually see the kingdom. The kingdom does not come with careful observation, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the kingdom is within you.  The kingdom may be active when you are at church, at work, with your family, or with your neighbors. Or it may not. The question is whether Jesus is free to express his presence and influence in us, whether the light of the King in our lives is ON. If the assembly of believers can occur in any number and at any time, then Jesus promise makes even more sense. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.  Obviously, local congregations who have a desire to see everyone present on Sunday morning need to mix this traditional expectation with all other valid expressions of life in the kingdom.  We are not encouraging a lack of enthusiasm about the regular assembly of believers. We are encouraging freedom and creativity as we serve our King all week long.

For further study on the Kingdom of God:  Ps. 47:2; 103:19; Dan. 2:44; 4:17, 25-37; Mt. 3:2; 6:9; 10:33; 13:24-52; 19:23, 24, 28-32; 20:1-19; 21:28-32; 22:2-14; 25:1-46; Mk. 1:14,l 15; 4:11-20, 30-32; 10:14; Lk. 8:1; 11:14-20; 14:15-24; 17:20-37; Jn. 3:1-21; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9-11; 1 Th. 2:10-12

 

+ Contributed by Dan Greene, Navigator Staff

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

THE FACTS OF THE MATTER

 

A weekly letter of encouragement to business and professional men and women

 

THREE MEASURING STICKS OF GODLY CHARACTER

Good character today is in short supply.  For example, in a recent survey, 61% of college students admitted cheating at least once. Of them, 73% felt no remorse, and getting caught stopped only 7%.  The IRS claims that 40% of Americans are out of compliance a nice way of saying they are cheating on their taxes. The sacred mantra of postmodern values is not absolute truth, since truth is now what you define it to be, but the twin pillars of independence and tolerance.  Translated: I get to do what I want to do, and I allow you to do what you want to do. 

 

By way of contrast, godly character is living out biblical imperatives with integrity.  Following are three measuring sticks of that character: +

 

Core: What you are at the core of your being reveals the essence of your character.  David said of God, You desire truth in the inner parts Literally, ones inmost thought. (Psa. 51:6b)  Solomon reminds us that, as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he. (Pro. 23:7 – NKJV)  Only you and God know exactly who you are at the core, as revealed by your thinking patterns.  

Consistency: A persons core character is seen best in what he or she reveals consistently, rather than in a single statement or random act. (Tocqueville)  Tocqueville referred to this consistency as the habits of the heart.  Said King David, My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast (Psa. 57:7a) And the man who fears God? He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  (Ps. 112:7) Nietzsche referred to consistency as a long obedience in the same direction.  Observe the centrality of consistency in both the life and teaching of Jesus: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  "Because lawlessness will abound (in the end times), the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  (Heb. 13:2 (NIV; Matt. 24:12,13 NKJV)  (See Psa. 37:24 Isa. 50:7; Rom. 12:12; I Cor. 13:7; 2 Tim. 2:10, 12; Jms. 1:12)

Cost:  The test of our consistency of character is determined by what we are willing to suffer for our convictions.  If our core values are not worth dying for, they certainly are not worth living for. It is not true that every man has his price. Consider the life of St. Paul: I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace… I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.  (Act. 20:24; Act. 9:1-3) (See Phil. 1:20, 21; 2:27; Col. 1:24)

QUESTION:  Based on these three measuring sticks, how would you evaluate your character? Is there an area where change is needed?

This week, may God grant you His grace, peace, and protection.

R. Dwight Hill

 

+ These three measuring sticks are adapted from Character Counts, Os Guinnis,  pages 12-15, Baker Books, 1999

The Facts of the Matter is also available through the Internet: http://www.factsofthematter.org2008 R. Dwight Hill. Unlimited permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion to this copyright notice