BETA

Facts of the Matter

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

Archive for March, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

LIFE LESSON #9: AVOID BITTERNESS LIKE THE PLAGUE: (9 of 10)

My guess is that more people get into trouble spiritually through bitterness than through immorality. Bitterness is a cancer of the soul that can destroy our walk with God and poison those around us. Thus, the Scriptures stern warning against becoming bitter : See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12:15)

How many people do you and I know who are angry and bitter? Somewhere along the way they were dealt a blow and have nursed a grudge ever since. At the root of our bitterness is the mistaken idea that life is all about us and our rights; that it is our right to have our dreams and expectations fulfilled; that God owes us a wonderful, pain free life. After all, isnt that the American dream? And when it doesnt happen we become angry, shake our fist at God and go our own way. The fact that God has a sovereign plan for us that focuses on His glory and not primarily on our fulfillment, and the fact that His plan may well include suffering, sacrifice, and persecution escapes our comprehension. St. Paul chose suffering over self-preservation in obedience to the prompting of the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Said he, "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, 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. (Act. 20:22-24)

There are three issues that we will need to come to grips with if we are to remain free from bitterness:

1 Recognize Gods Sovereignty in our lives

We need to acknowledge the fact that God is sovereignty molding our lives into the likeness of His Son, using the grief and pain of life as the crucible. Two passages forcefully drive this truth home:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselvesgroan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodiesAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposeFor those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:22, 23, 28, 29)

The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:6, 7, 10, 11)

When I was a boy, our family lived a very privileged life style. But God was totally out of the picture. At age 8 our world collapsed. Years of great difficulty followed including the untimely and tragic death of my mother when I was 15. While God did not cause the pain in our family, He certainly used it to prepare my heart to receive His grace. Without those years of difficulty I dont believe I would be a follower of Christ today. In my 20s I began to grasp the reality of Gods sovereign hand during those difficult and formative years in preparing me to embrace Him. My bitterness  was turned into praise and surrender.

That Joseph understood Gods sovereignty during his nightmarish years of enslavement, which prepared him to lead Egypt and rescue his clan from tragedy is evident in his statement to his murderous brothers, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Gen. 50:20)

QUESTION: Do you have a clear, biblical understanding of Gods sovereignty in your life, and have you joyfully surrendered to it?

(Part #2 of this Facts will continue next week)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LIFE LESSON #8: (Continued) WHAT WE SOW WE REAP: (8 of 10)

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal. 6:7, 8)

In last weeks Facts we focused on the negative consequences of sowing to please our lower nature. In this Facts the focus is on the reward for those who sow to please the Spirit. In John 10:10 Jesus promises us an abundant life that is, eternal life. When we sow to please the Spirit we also enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in this life: Love, joy, peace, patience, etc. How could life this side of eternity not rise to a higher plane? A worthy study would be to compare the blessings and curses of obedience and disobedience in Deuteronomy 28. God does not promise us a Pollyanna, pain-free life, but he does furnish us with the inner spiritual fiber to live life joyfully and victoriously as he conforms us into his image. (See Rom. 8:18- 39)

Don Walkers life beautifully illustrates a man who has sown to please the Spirit. Don grew up in a severely dysfunctional family with an exceedingly masochistic step mother. Through his brother he found Christ. In the ensuing years he faced one issue after another from his abusive upbringing, as the Spirit and word of God brought about healing to his broken life. Two years ago we reunited after 45 years of separation. Don had matured into a gracious, Christ-centered man of God who exuded the beauty of Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God challenges the Israelites to give themselves in total to God and his service, and then makes this wonderful promise: Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guardThe Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isa. 58:8, 11) Talk about an upward crescendo!

Speaking from my own experience, I was astounded at the habitation of dragons that lurked beneath the surface of my newly found life in Christ. During the first decade or so after conversion, by Gods grace, and with the help of others, these critical and potentially devastating issues (lust, anger, pride, fear, bitterness, etc.) were identified and dealt with. How many intense times of prayer, repentance, pouring over and internalizing the Scriptures; how many years of inviting the transforming power of the Spirit to renew and empower me. In those years there were epic struggles and setbacks, but always a determination that the only option was to move forward toward a disciplined life lived consistently and victoriously under the enablement of the Spirit, and lived out through the Person of Christ. I can testify today from experience that such a life is possible, but only if we make it the only option, at whatever the price. Now in my 70s, I can testify from the depth of my being and from the top of my lungs that my life in Christ is more satisfying, more fulfilling, and sweeter than anything I could have ever imagined. It is true: What you sow, you reap. For better or for worse!

QUESTION: Are you inviting Gods divine scrutiny and transforming power into the inner sanctum of your soul? And are you taking the necessary measures to insure that you are in fact sowing to the Spirit and not to the flesh? If not, are you prepared to live with the inevitable consequences?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

LIFE LESSON #8: WHAT WE SOW WE REAP: (8 of 10)

Our lives are moving in one of two directions: Toward God or away from him. Like a crescendo in a symphonic orchestration, we advance in Christ likeness, or descend into an increasingly hellish nightmare. Often the deception we embrace is that we can sow what we please and jury-rig the outcome. No so, God warns, Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  (Gal. 6:7, 8)

In the early stages of our spiritual lives the innocuous little seeds of embracing Gods values, or pandering to our lower nature appears rather innocent. Dont be deceived. Like the illustration of the mustard seed, what we sow will mature into a powerful force. As someone has sagely observed:  Sow a thought, reap an action, sow an action, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. Or as the western ballad proclaims, Sin will take you farther than you want to go, sin will cost you far more that you want to pay. The drunk in the gutter, upon taking his first drink at age 14 certainly did not chart his future with, Gee, I think I will make it my goal to end up in the street, face down, a hopeless lush.

Recently I received a notice that Kirk Black had died. A sadness crept over me as I reflected back over his life. Kirk was a rugged mans man who had a powerful influence on scores of men for Christ. Then the bottom fell out of the marriage and the family disintegrated. Kirk became an alcoholic, bouncing from one job and locale to another until his untimely death. The problem? A long unresolved issue of sensuality that finally got him by the throat and ripped him apart. Somehow he was able to mask it for many years, until the rancor of it seeped to the surface and blew his relationship with his wife and kids into smithereens.

I have observed many others with secret, unresolved issues, (bitterness, lust, insatiable pride, paralyzing fear, etc.) that were never dealt with, who ossified spiritually and became rigid, and unreachable. Their spiritual stagnation did not necessarily result in a dramatic flameout, but in paralyzing immobilization and stagnation.

Richard Foster observes, If certain chambers of our heart have never experienced Gods healing touch, perhaps it is because we have not welcomed the divine scrutiny. The most important, most real, most lasting work is accomplished in the depths of our heart. This work is solitary and interior. It cannot be seen by anyone, not even ourselves.  It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart purity, of soul conversion, of inward transformation of life formation.

If we have not welcomed Gods divine scrutiny and experienced his transforming touch, we can anticipate a downward descent. In Psalm 106:12 we observe the faith of the Children of Israel: They believed his promises and sang his praise. Then tragically, they began their downward descent. Among other things:

They soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel

They gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs

They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters Until finally,

[God] handed them over to the nations, and their foes ruled over them. (Psa. 106 Selected) (See Pro. 1:21-33;  Rom. 1:21-31)

(Part #2 of this Facts will continue next week)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #7: (Continued) LIFE IS A PARADOX: YOU GAIN IT BY LOOSING IT. (7 of 10)

In Luke 9:23, 24, Jesus speaks of three phases of discipleship: 1

1) Denying ones self is to live without a modicum of self-centered thought; to be devoted exclusively to Jesus and his work; to be willing to let go of anything that competes with his kingdom; to give up all individual rights possessions, passions, and people that might distract us from following him.

 To deny ones self means striking a blow to self-centeredness; it means putting his agenda ahead of ours; it means denying the gospel of self-esteem and self-love. To deny self is to disown ourselves in the manner that Peter disowned knowing Jesus. (See Lk. 9:57-62)

 2) Taking up the cross is not some mystical level of a deep spiritual life the religious elites. To take up the cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christs sake to be willing to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom.

3) Following Jesus means being where Jesus is and doing what Jesus is doing. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. (Jn. 12:25) Jesus was challenging the disciples to follow him to Jerusalem where he would drink his own cup of death on the cross. They would in time mount their own crosses as 10 out of the 12 disciples died as martyrs. We see this self-sacrificing spirit exemplified in the life of St. Paul: I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, 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. (Act. 20:23, 24) (See Act. 21:13) Following Jesus means truly imitating him in his radical and costly obedience to the Father: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:5-8) (See Mt.20:28; 26:39; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor.8:9; Heb. 12:2)

Here is the remarkable paradox: While it appears that following Christ is initially a death sentence, in reality the pay back is a life amidst pain and suffering that is free, joyful, expanding and fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine; a life that extends into eternity.  In John 12:26 Jesus makes a wonderful promise to us in this regard:  My Father will honor the one who serves me. Imagine, being honored by God for being where Jesus is, and doing what Jesus is doing. And the exact opposite is true for the one who clutches his life to himself: He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. (Jer. 17:6)

Jim Elliot brilliantly summarized it in stating, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

QUESTION: Surly we must ask ourselves whether we in fact have chosen to lose our lives into His, so that he can live his life in ours. If the answer is no, our life is a living tragedy; if the answer is yes, our life is a miraculous expression of the beauty of Christ and we are the richer for it. What is your answer to the question?

1 Some of the key ideas and phrasing in this Facts are drawn from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #7: LIFE IS A PARADOX: YOU GAIN IT BY LOOSING IT. (7 of 10)

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Lk. 9:23, 24)

In this passage Jesus is calling us to relinquish our lives for his; to lay down our lives to take up his cross. He then makes an astounding promise and warning: If you hand over your life to him, he will save it. But if you grasp it to yourself, you will lose it.

Jesus call to self-renunciation in order to follow him goes down hard for the simple reason that self is securely established at the center of most of our lives. Jesus uncompromising call on our lives is  simply too radical for most of us to accept, much less comprehend. The reason? Because in the natural it looks like a suicide mission. Our suicide. And that is exactly what it is. Look at the different ways the translators put Luke 9:23. The woduld be disciple must:

– Disown himself. (Amp)

– Lose sight of himself and his own interests. (Wuest)

– Give up all right to himself. (Phillips)

– Understand that he is not in the drivers seat. Christ is. (Msg)

Here again is Christ on the subject:  Solemnly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces many others and yields a rich harvest.  (Jn. 12:24 Amp.) Here Christ is saying that he, a kernel of wheat must die on the cross to provide a rich harvest of redeemed lives. He then turns his attention to the twelve whom he expects to follow in his footsteps: Anyone who loves his life loses it, but anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. [Whoever has no love for, no concern for, no regard for his life here on earth, but despises it, preserves his life forever and ever.]  If anyone serves Me, he must continue to follow Me [to cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying] and wherever I am, there will My servant be also (Jn. 12:25, 26 Amp.)

In my 20s God pinpointed my insufferable self-centered pride and instructed me that unless I, and the pride that had engulfed me was crucified, I had no future in terms of usability for His Kingdom. An inner battle royal raged until Gods loving but firm discipline overruled. The truth of Hebrews 12:11 became my reality: No discipline is enjoyable while it is happeningits painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. (NLT) (See Isa. 32:17)

(Part #2 of this Facts will continue next week)