Facts of the Matter

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

Archive for February, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #6: (Continued) Life is a paradox: You gain it by losing it. (6 of 9)

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 Luke 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, February 16, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #6: Life is a paradox: You gain it by losing it. (6 of 9)

"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. Oursuicide. And that is exactly what it is. Look at the different ways the translators put Luke 9:23. The would 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)

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)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #5: The fulfillment of the Great Commission flows out of our obedience to the Great Commandment. (5 of 9)

We are a people of action. Hey, just get the job done, whatever it takes! For right or wrong, sitting around pondering the deep things of life is not exactly our national past time. We are the quintessential  Action Jackson poster children.

So, when Jesus calls us to go change the world for him, we are all over it. But 10 years down the road, we find ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically spent, and our relationships strained to the breaking point.  All too easily, we have put the cart before the horse, forgetting that its the Great Commandment first (loving God), and then the Great Commission (loving our neighbor as ourselves). (See Matt 22:37-39; 28:18-20)

How easily we forget that it is only out of the richness of cultivating a love relationship with Christ that we naturally love our neighbors as ourselves. We forget that accomplishing the Great Commission is the fruit of our obedience to the Great Commandment. (See Jn. 15:1-16)

In my senior year at the university I finally ran dry after three years in the Marines and four years of college.  To retain my scholarship I carried a full load, coupled with a killer work schedule.  It was in this pressurized environment that I allowed my time with God to be squeezed to the margin of my life. Without realizing it, I found myself totally depleted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In desperation, I cried out to God, making a life-long commitment to never again  allow anything to usurp consistent and meaningful time with God as my first priority in life.

The Great Commission instructs us to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  How do we know when we are being obedient to this command? Let me propose two measurements:

1) Fervor for God: That is, our love for God goes beyond cold, calculating, and dutiful compliance without heart involvement. Paul wrote about the early enthusiasm of the Ephesian believers, particularly their faith in the Lord Jesus and [their] love for all the saints (Eph. 1:15).  40 years later, John, the Apostle wrote to them about how their love for God had cooled to obligatory endurance: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (Rev. 2:2-4)

2) Obedience to Gods word: That is, simple, uncompromising, and prompt obedience to the Scriptures. It has been aptly stated that delayed obedience is disobedience. Jesus defined our love for him in starkly simple terms: "If you love me, obey my commandments. (Jn. 14:15) (See Lk. 6:46; Jn. 14:21; I Jn. 5:3)

Today, there are so many influences in our lives that can dull our fervor for God, our love for each other, and our concern for the lost: The sheer pace and pressure of life, illness, raising a family, the challenge of staying viable in your professional life, and the pressure of finances, to name a few. And what about the ever present seductions of materialism, climbing the ladder, and sexual impurity?

Question: Tell me, could the transition of the Ephesians from spontaneous love to dutiful orthodoxy be your experience as well?  Did you also once enjoy a fresh love for God that has been ground down to persevering endurance? Would you take a moment to prayerfully ask God if there is spiritual repair work in your life that needs your attention today?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

LIFE LESSONS #4: Without a compelling vision for the Kingdom and Glory of God that is larger than life, and demands faith and sacrifice, we are consigned to a life of spiritual mediocrity. (4 of 9)

And why would that be true? Simply because God from all eternity has had a vision of redeeming his creation through lovingly choosing and drawing us to himself, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn theeHe hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love (Jer. 31:3; Eph. 1:4)

From the Scriptures it is clear that God invitesno, he compels us to participate with him in the accomplishment of that vision of reaching the world with the Gospel, God was reconciling the world to himself in ChristAnd he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:19, 20) (See Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15, 16; Lk. 24:46, 47; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8)

When we join with him in his magnificent enterprise our lives are enlarged and fulfilled beyond anything we can comprehend. When we shun his invitation, our lives shrivel up into self-absorbed meaninglessness. Luke in 9:23, 24 is both majestic and frighteningly true: If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, carry his cross every day and keep close behind me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it, but the man who loses his life for my sake will save it. (Phillips Trans.)

Gods vision is an accomplished reality in his mind, as foretold in Revelation 5:810 (selected), The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb And they sang a new song: You are worthybecause you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation

Rick Warren in his book, The Purpose Driven Life opens with this statement, It is not about you. It Is about God, his Kingdom and his Glory. For the present self-indulged generation, that is a hard pill to swallow.

Close to 50 years ago, Ruth and I without reservation, joined God in his grand vision and enterprise of moving people from alienation to intimacy with God. Looking back, what a breathtaking adventure and privilege it has been as we have seen many lives transformed, including our own.

Do you remember Solomons statement, Where there is no vision, the people perish (Prov. 29:18)? The truth is that without a vision you and I perish! That is, we shrivel up and begin dying spiritually. In light of Gods grand vision, he intends that we gain a vision of how we can partner with him in his vision.

Vision is not a complicated concept to grasp:

Over a half century ago a cartoonist dreamed of  building a clean, child centered theme park that would be a cut above the grimy parks of his day, where kids and their parents would love to come. Disneyland was born. That is vision!

At age 18, a country boy walked through the woods preaching to the trees, dreaming some day that he would share the message of salvation to stadiums filled with the lost. Today, Billy Graham, now in his 90s, has preached the Gospel to more people than any person in history. That is vision!

QUESTION: How would you envision your participation with God playing out? Are you willing to buy in at 100%?