Forgetting what lies behind.


What is your background?  Do you think fondly of your life story to this point?  Or have you had a difficult past that has shaped you through struggles and pain?  Are you generally proud of your accomplishments and confident in your experiences?  Or are you ashamed of your past, your decisions and your life’s path?  Maybe you are somewhere in between, confident in your identity but embarrassed of that one story or those few years tucked in back there.

The root of both dispositions, when it impacts our personality and worldview, is pride.  Either was have the normal expression of pride which considers our thoughts, values and experiences as superior or we exemplify the victim and shame mentality which draws on pride saying “I deserved better” or “I should have known better”.  God gives us experiences and plans our lives very intentionally.  It is not wrong to remember fondly or to feel sorrow over the past, as long as we intentionally turn the glory and honor back to God.  We should praise God for the successes and we should cling to God for the strength and truth needed to repent from failures and sin.  Both responses rightly bring glory to God.  Anything else robs God of His glory and brings praise or attention to ourselves.

The Apostle Paul, arguably the most influential man in Christianity after Jesus, wrote poignantly on the subject.  Before his conversion, Paul was the shining example of Jewish religiousity and legalism.  Not only did he keep the rules and preform above and beyond his peers, he also had the pedigree which set him apart from birth.  He had everything going for him.  He knew it, and everyone else knew it.  Then Jesus radically transformed his life.  He literally knocked him off his horse, called him to repentance and salvation verbally, and blinded him for a few days to consider Jesus’ power and calling.  After his sight was restored and he was baptized, Paul went away to the wilderness for three years where Jesus and the Holy Spirit personally taught Paul and prepared him to be the first missionary to the non-Jewish world.

After years of successful ministry and disciple-making throughout the known world, Paul wrote this in a letter to one of the churches he founded, in regards to his personal past:

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 3.8-14

Paul consistently shared his testimony of conversion and church planting.  This is, in fact, how we know so much about him:  he wrote it in his letters which are much of the New Testament!  He had achieved unmatched success and position in the Jewish world before Christ, and after his conversion he almost single-handedly planted churches throughout the entire known world.  At the point of his conversion, Jesus revealed to him that his efforts were in deed persecuting and hurting the Church and Jesus personally, and his life was radically transformed – such that he became just like those whom he sought to kill.  Thus, he had reason to boast in himself, he also had reason to be ashamed of himself, and he had reason to boast in his accomplishments for the Church.

His response, however, was to give glory to God for that path down which he had walked, but to always look forward to eternity with Jesus.  His focus was so eternal, in fact, that he essentially “forgot” what was behind him.  He did not literally forget, obviously, but he considered it to be of no consequence to where he was going.  It did not define him, hinder him, or give him grounds for boasting.  He was focused only on Jesus, on becoming more like Him and striving after the goal of eternity with Him.

This is perhaps the greatest example of true humility.  Often times we consider humility to be when a person thinks less of himself than his value, thus the truest opposite of pride would be some form of self doubt or self hatred.  But in reality, Biblical humility is spending one’s efforts to focus on God and not one’s self.  It is not thinking less of one’s value but spending less time thinking about one’s self and thinking more about God and others.

We can also learn from Paul’s example that no matter where we are in life we should always be looking forward and pressing on to maturity and growth.  It is easy to become complacent.  It is easy to allow ourselves to think that we deserve a break from work, ministry or discipline once we reach certain mile markers in life.  But God never gives us a pass.  God does not allow our Spiritual growth to reach its fullest potential until we are freed from our physical bodies and in His presence, thus even if we are retired or confined to a bed, we can still grow in our prayer life, in our witness, in our knowledge of God and in our devotion to Him.

Let us leave it to those who write our eulogy to determine our greatest moments and achievements.  Let us never consider our past to be our glory days, nor our moments of shame.  Let us continually look forward to the prize, to the goal of eternity with Christ and let us forget what lies behind.  We should always remember what God has done and the victories He has won, but let us always be expectant of His miraculous movement yet to come.  Let us remember the sin from which He has freed us and because of it press on to greater maturity and more intimate fellowship with Him.  Let us remember the trials through which He has brought us, but let us continue to seek to die to ourselves and let Him live through us more.

It is morally impossible to come before the cross with pride.


The Holiday Season brings about a variety of unique situations.  We unite with family and friends to spend a day being intentionally thankful for everything that we have, for everything that has happened the past year, and to enjoy a meal together.  The very next day we exert our energies (and finances) to shop at absurd hours in order to get the best deal on stuff.  We may be thankful, but we are selfish.

Then we take a break for a few weeks, preparing for our second round of family celebrations.  We decorate our houses, we drive ourselves crazy and broke looking for the perfect gift for aunt so-and-so.  We get in arguments with people who would greet us saying “Happy Holidays” because they have removed Jesus from Christmas, but yet we never slow down to consider Him in our festivities.

We are almost always disappointed with how the holiday season unfolds.  We each have different love languages, and those who need gifts to feel loved are rarely satisfied because the gift giver was not thoughtful enough with the purchase he made, those who need quality time feel overwhelmed by the masses and chaos, those who need words of affirmation get lost in the hubub and it is all but impossible for everyone’s expectations to be met.

Because of the root of almost all of our sin:

Our ego and selfish desires are what naturally drive us until we begin the discipline of the Christian walk.  Until we recognize our sinfulness and our deserved damnation, our worldview revolves squarely around what we think, what we want, and what makes us happy.  We may learn the art of compromise or mutual respect:  giving to others what they want in order to get what we want, but it is always to the end of our personal gratification.

When we meet Jesus, however, we are transformed from the core.  In order to enter into a relationship with Jesus, in order to assure our eternity with Him, in order to “be saved”, we must recognize our sinfulness and His provision of forgiveness by paying our debt of death and damnation.  You cannot be saved if you do not recognize your sin, understand the wrath of God against that sin, and ask for forgiveness while repenting from it.

The very nature of salvation is humbling.  There is nothing that you or I can do to earn merit with God.  We simply cannot be good enough.  We are not worthy.  But He loves us anyway, and offers us salvation in spite of our wickedness.

Thus our pride is consequentially slain.

Salvation means recognizing your guilt and inability, and submitting to Jesus.

The death of our pride will be slow and often painful.  Jesus commands us to love our enemies – the same way He loved us while we were His enemies (Matt 5.44, Rom 5.10).  It is not easy to love our enemies, to pray for them, to bless them, or to give ourselves to them.  It is even more difficult to truly desire in our hearts for them to be saved.  We may be able to discipline our actions, but it takes much transformation by the power of God to care for our enemies on a heart level.

Jesus teaches us that the way to learn the discipline is to remember that which you have been forgiven:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been  forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

The more deeply you understand your own pardon, the more freely you can give it to others and love them.  And this is a necessity, not an option.  Jesus said,

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

This sounds like a threat, but it is a teaching method of cause and effect much like we use with children.  The result of having been forgiven is that we forgive and love others.  If we do not forgive and love others, we prove ourselves not to be in Christ, and therefore we have not been forgiven.  The result of our salvation is humility and offering love and forgiveness in the manner we have received it.  If you do not offer it, you have not received it.

The cross is the most humbling aspect of Christianity.  Jesus took the punishment that you and I deserve and paid for it.

The glory of the cross is that it puts us in right standing with God, and we can approach the throne of grace with confidence:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

– Heb 4.16

Our confidence is not within ourselves, however.  It is in Christ and what He did.  We cannot draw near to the throne of grace in pride.  If anyone thinks He deserves to draw near to the throne of God, He will be greatly disappointed.  If anyone would attempt to draw near to the throne and consider another unwelcome, he will receive a terrifying judgment.  Because God alone is the judge and if we understand our own guilt, we would never pass condemning judgment on another who would seek to repent and be saved.

In the same manner you have been forgiven and loved by God, you will forgive and love others.  The cross is the very symbol of our guilt, and we cannot approach it in pride.  It is morally impossible.

Therefore, as we continue to wade our way through the holiday season, let’s take a moment and die to ourselves and turn to Jesus.  Are you thankful for His provision for your life which He paid on the cross?  Did you stop and thank Him over our weekend of Thankfulness?  If not, do so today.  As we approach the day which has been set aside to remember His birth, be mindful first of all of the sacrifice He made in simply coming to Earth, and most importantly for paying our debt.  And let the measure of your own forgiveness and the love which He has lavished on you be the measure of love you pour out on others.

Put your family and friends before yourself these next few weeks.  Does someone else desire and expect gifts?  Then love them in that manner.  Does someone else long for quality time and good conversation?  Then make the time.  Is there anyone whom you have not forgiven or against whom you are holding a grudge?  Then get over it, for by the same manner you judge you will be judged (Matt 7.2).

Remember Jesus first.  Love others second.  And let us lay down our pride.

The one whom God opposes.


Did you know that God opposes some people?  Did you know that all it takes to warrant God’s opposition in your life is pride?

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

– James 4.6

Pride is one of the most difficult sins to fight, let alone conquer.  Scripture lists sins exhaustively, and to study those things that dishonor God is a good task.  It is our sin that separates us from God, that merits our physical death and eternal damnation apart from His saving grace.  We must understand not only that we are sinners, but we must examine ourselves and fight the battle against sin in our lives.  And while there are various lists throughout Scripture that define sin, even a list of seven sins that God abhors, there is only one sin against which God declares open opposition, and that is pride.  (Yes, pride is in the list of seven sins that God detests as well:  Prov 6.16-19)

We see a few examples of how God dramatically dealt with pride in Scripture.  King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon that took Israel – along with Daniel – into captivity.  Daniel was serving him when Nebuchadnezzar had a prophetic dream of his rise and fall.  Daniel interpreted the dream for him, warning him to repent of his sin of pride and to act righteously or else he would be destroyed, but Nebuchadnezzar could not (or would not) turn the glory to God.  He one day, in pride, looked over the kingdom and said to Himself,

“Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”

– Dan 4.30

And immediately God cursed him – he began living like an animal, eating grass, sleeping outside, not caring for himself and his hair and nails grew long.  He lived this way for seven years until he was finally humbled and gave the glory and honor to God.

Now, lest we consider this an Old Covenant phenomenon, let us consider Herod.  He was the king after Jesus had returned to Heaven and the apostles were taking the Gospel to the world.  He killed James, and he would have killed Peter had God not sent the angel to release him from jail.  He was very proud, and when he was addressing the people, their outcry was,

“The voice of a god and not of a man!”

– Acts 12.22

Herod did not turn the praise to God, but received it himself.  God’s response?

“And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

– Acts 12.23

God sent his angel to infest Herod’s body with worms, and he died.

Do you ever sit and look at all of your possessions, your salary, your achievements, and pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished?  Do you set goals for yourself by which you consider yourself successful?

“For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Psychologists tell us that depression and self-pity is also a form of pride.  It is, at the core, an unhealthy focus on self and often defines the self as a victim and not receiving what one deserves.  Humility is not thinking lowly of one’s self, it is thinking highly of God, giving Him the praise, and putting one another before one’s self.  It is giving the seat of honor to another.  It is considering one another more highly than one’s self.

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

– 1 Peter 5.5

Peter quotes the same proverb in his exhortation to elders to serve humbly and to the young men to submit to the elders.  Everyone is commanded to submit to a variety of people.  We all must submit first and foremost to God.  We all must also submit to the government and political authority which is in place over us – provided it does not command us to sin or disobey God.  We all must also submit to the Spiritual leaders God has put in place over us, and we also must all submit to one another.  We must put one another before ourselves, consider one another more highly than ourselves, and “outdo” one another in showing honor and service (Phil 2.3, Rom 12.10).  This is a humble person, and the one to whom God shows grace.

Now, lest we fall into the temptation of legalism and earning our salvation, we must clarify that humility is not the deed one performs in order to obtain God’s grace.  Rather, humility is the mindset, the understanding and the confession that I cannot cleanse myself of my sin, I cannot ever be good enough to earn God’s forgiveness and salvation, and I cannot do anything on my own.  This is the confession that God honors, and upon which God gives grace.  We cannot be saved, we cannot find God’s salvation until we realize our sinful state and our utter helplessness apart from God.  And when we realize our depravity we understand that we do not have anything except that which has been given us by God, and we turn all of the praise and glory and honor back to Him.  Pride prevents us from doing that.  We cannot be a saved people and a proud people, the two are diametrically opposed.

So let us examine ourselves today.  There is nothing more terrible in the universe than having God opposed to you, and all it takes to be found in that position is pride.  Are you proud today?  Are you boasting in anything other than Jesus?  Are you self-confident and self-sufficient?  Or are you depressed and anxious, the negative representations of pride?  Turn to Jesus.  Humble yourself.  Put Him first, and your brothers and sisters second.  Let us be a humble people, for Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matt 5.3

Falling from grace.


One of the most dynamic and terrifying stories in Scripture is that of Saul, the first King of Israel.  God had established His own reign as king over Israel, but after living in Canaan (present day Israel), the people saw the nations around them and desired to have a king as they did.  Therefore they sinned and asked God for a king (1 Sam 8).  This began the downfall of Israel into exile and slavery in foreign lands.  But God chose to allow them to have a king, and the first one was Saul.  Samuel was a prophet in the land and the one through whom God chose to speak regarding the throne.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.”

– 1 Sam 9.17

God spoke to Samuel and told him about Saul, and when Saul came to Samuel seeking his lost donkeys, God revealed that he was the one who had been chosen to be king.  Saul was confused, as he was from the smallest of the clans and not of great name, but Samuel encouraged him that this was indeed God’s plan.  He prophesied about the events of the day to come and promised the anointing of the Spirit of God:

“Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.”

– 1 Sam 10.6

As Saul left Samuel to go home, God did a mighty work in his heart:

Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.

– 1 Sam 10.9

Then the Hebrew people were attacked by the Ammonites.  By the prompting of the Spirit Saul became angry and recruited the Israelites to come out with him and fight.  Many people scoffed and said, “Who does Saul think he is that he will reign over us?”.  But the people came out and Saul led them to victory.  At the end of the battle, Saul’s supporters made a bold claim:

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.”  But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”

– 1 Sam 11.12-13

The people wanted to kill those who had spoken out against Saul, but Saul had great humility and mercy and united the Hebrew people by giving glory to God for the victory.  Saul’s supporters sought to glorify Saul for the victory, but Saul knew that it was not him – that it was God alone who defeated the Ammonites.  And he wanted the people to remember the same.  Then Saul was declared king and he began his rule.

Almost immediately another battle broke out with the Philistines.  Samuel delayed in coming to make an offering to the Lord over the battle so Saul stepped in and did it himself, even though he was not a priest and was not to do so.  This was a great sin.

Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

– 1 Sam 13.13-14

One of the first things that Saul did as king was to disobey and remove himself from God’s favor.  Samuel confronted Saul, and Saul repented, but only to the extent that he did not want to lose his position as king – not on the heart level.  And because of that, God regretted having made Saul king and removed His spirit from Saul.

“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.

– 1 Sam 15.11

Then [Saul] said, “I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.”

– 1 Sam 15.30

“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.”

– 1 Sam 16.14

God chose David to take Saul’s place, and even though Saul reigned for years after the Spirit left him, it was a reign of chaos and sin.  Saul spent years of his life hunting David to kill him, and trying to hold on to the kingdom by his own power.  And he was terrorized by an evil spirit from the Lord.

So what is the take home from this story?  

In short it is the fact that we can start out so strong, with the anointing of the Spirit, with a humble attitude and godly focus, and then fail miserably, under the curse of God.  Saul knew his position as a Benjamanite (the smallest of the twelve tribes of Israel).  He was the low man on the totem pole and he knew it.  He was humble and he was timid.  So much so that when God chose him and set him apart, he doubted it and did not see how this was possible.  Then, after God worked only one victory through him and appointed him as king, he got cocky and power hungry.  He thought he could do things his own way, and he failed miserably.

Has God ever asked something of you that you thought you were incapable of doing?  Has He ever provided the strength and ability that you thought was not in you?  Have you ever become comfortable in a position of leadership or authority and taken the credit within yourself?

Jesus came as our great example, and he profoundly changed the Christian concept of leadership and love by being a servant.  He washed the disciples feet – the job of a servant – and he taught that in order to become great in the kingdom of God we must become servants of all.

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

– Matt 20.26-28

We also learn that the responsibility and expectation of the Christian is to fight against the desires of the flesh and seek to be humble, living godly lifestyles.  We see terrifying examples of New Testament Sauls like Demas.

Demas was a partner missionary of Paul.  Not much is said about him, but we know that he was working alongside Luke (the author of Luke and Acts), and Paul, but at some point he proved himself to not be a believer by falling in love with the world and abandoning the work:

“…for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…”

– 2 Tim 4.10

We learn by revelation of the Spirit that this can only happen because these people were never truly saved.  They never had a heart transformation by which they fell in love with God and were made into a new creature:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

– 1 John 2.19

God is sovereign over every event.  He is sovereign over appointing a man who would be self-righteous and a wicked leader, just as He was sovereign over appointing David – “a man after His own heart” as the next king.  He had His own reasons for doing just that.  God was also sovereign over utilizing Demas who was never a true believer in the ministry and then in abandoning the ministry.  Saul and Demas are warnings for us.  We know that all that God has given to Christ will be saved – not one will be lost (John 6.37).  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, if we are children of God (Rom 8.35).  But let us take warning of these examples of people who appeared to be of God and ultimately proved themselves to not be of God.  Those who persevere to the end are those who will be saved (Matt 24.13), and that not by their persevering, but their perseverance to the end proves them to have been saved at the beginning.

Therefore, let us be intentional to die to ourselves and to remain humble.  Let us follow the example of Jesus to be a servant and establish ourselves at the seat with least honor at the table.  Let us remain in the Spirit and allow God to do mighty works through us without taking the credit ourselves.  Let us always give glory to God and be ready and willing to serve God in whatever capacity He calls.  And let us fight the temptation to glory in any position or role with which He would bless us, and let us be quick to surrender that role should He ask.  Everything is a gift, and we should not boast as though it were our own strength.

“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Are you a name dropper?

name dropper

At some point in life we all learn that “networking is key”.  And that is the nice way of saying that in order to get ahead in your job, in your social life, in your role, the most important thing is who you know – not so much what you know.  If you went to college, or even high school, you saw that guy (or you were that guy) who idolized the professor, who was looking for your way into the community, who always had the savvy question, who followed the professor around, you know…the lackey.  And when this guy finds himself out in normal social interactions, he drops the professor’s name as his authority or as his validation.

The name dropper.

Are you a name dropper?  Either you are, or you know someone who is.

Do you find your identity in the people you know, and the people who know you?  Do you try to prove yourself by the circles in which you run?

Insecurity and the need for approval are core problems for humanity.  They have been around as long as people have been around.  The root of the problem is pride, and wanting people to notice and affirm us.  If we know that we have not yet earned a voice in a community, we often quote those who are widely recognized as experts in their fields.  Those who need affirmation will often seek out those experts and attempt to latch themselves to the expert’s coattails and ride into the inner circle.  Those who have failed to make a name for themselves will often surround themselves with the experts in order to be found in good company and be able to throw out names as “friends”, in order to be elevated by proximity.

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.  Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”  Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

– 1 Cor 1.11-12

The Corinthian church had this very problem.  Paul planted the church in Corinth, and after he moved on Apollos succeeded him as the pastor.  The congregation began to break down and form factions and they split themselves by who they considered the best teacher.  Some were loyal to Paul, some were loyal to Apollos, some branched out and said that they submitted to the teachings of the Apostle Peter (Cephas), and those “holier-than-thou” few tried to trump the game by saying, “We are loyal to Jesus Himself”.

Paul, when he heard of the divisions, was appalled.  He was humble and loved God and fully understood his role in the game.  His response to the division was to write the letter of First Corinthians and to tell them that the very fact that they are having the debate and division is wrong.  He could have affirmed himself and told everyone to follow him, but he knew that even though he was the “expert” and that he was one of the voices being idolized, he loved God enough and was humble enough to tell them not to look to him, but to look to God.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walkin like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?  What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

– 1 Cor 3.1-7

Planting alone is nothing.  Watering alone is nothing.  If you plant a dead seed, if you water seedless dirt, you have done nothing.  God alone takes the dead seed and causes life to emerge from it.  Paul knew this and Paul was grateful for the opportunity that God gave him in planting seeds, but he never gave himself credit where credit was not due, and he was not impressed by anyone’s name or role.  God alone was worthy of honor and praise in Paul’s eyes, and he desired that those he taught would learn to have the same heart.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

– 1 Cor 1.30-31

God causes the growth.  It is by God alone that we are spiritually alive and that we have any spiritual maturity.  Therefore, if we are going to boast, we should boast in God.

Now, some of the people at Corinth were saying “We are of Christ”.  But their heart was not one of humility, they were trying to play the trump card and win the game.  What is the difference?  It is like saying we have a sports team and God is our supporter, rather than joining God’s team on which He is the captain and we are the support.  In your mind, is God on your side?  Or are you on God’s side?  Have you taken yourself out of the picture enough to be humble and ask God what He is all about?  Or are you trying to force Him to bless your decisions and efforts?

So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.

– 1 Cor 3.21-23

Paul says that we should not boast in man or in who we know because by the very nature of being in Christ, everything belongs to us.  Jesus Christ is the heir of the world:  everything in it belongs to Him (Heb 1.2).  And we, when we are found in Christ, become coheirs with Him (Rom 8.17).  Therefore everything belongs to us, and thus it is futile and silly to boast in something of the world!  We should boast in Christ alone – in who He is and in what He has done.  Not that He supports us, but that we support Him – that we are in Him.

So are you a name dropper?  If so, then check your heart.  God is not impressed.  And those who are in Christ are not impressed, either.  Are you the expert whose name people drop?  If so, be careful of the responsibility and remember to point people back to God and encourage them to boast in Him and in their salvation, not in you.  Look to Jesus, focus on Jesus, remain in Jesus and everything belongs to you.  You will be satisfied, you will be loved, and there will be no need to affirm yourself or make more of yourself by self-adulation or assertion.  Jesus is enough.

Let us be careful of the opposite extreme, too, which refuses the voices of the wise for the sake of rebellion.  The heart problem here is the same; namely pride.  If one despises the system of networking and wants to prove himself and pull himself up by his own bootstraps, then he throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  We can and should learn from the example of those who have gone before us and we should learn from those who are mature.  We must be careful only to keep people in their appropriate place.  We will find that when our focus and hearts are right, when we are resting in Jesus, that we can affirm the teachings and words of the experts without being caught up in pride and searching for approval.



You’ve done it again.

You lied about honorariums and tips on your income taxes and two years have passed without a thought, but you just received a notice from the IRS that you are being investigated.

You returned once again to that alluring pornographic website where you fantasize about women and situations other than your wife, but you forgot to clear the cookies in your browser and it popped up when your child turned on the computer.

That heat wave of primal instinct to fight or flee is washing over your body from head to toe and panic is settling into your heart.  Everyone is going to know.  You are ruined.

Shame is a unique experience, because it often is the resulting feeling of being caught in a sin.  Guilt is the conscience of the self condemning the sinner for his actions, but shame is the weight of the burden associated with losing one’s reputation.  Shame is not typically a concession to the sinfulness of the action committed but rather the grief of the knowledge that the action is sinful and it is now known to the world that the offender has acted without remorse.

As we mature, we become more crafty in covering our sins.  I saw a video floating around the internet this week of a young girl, perhaps five years old, who was telling her mother that a ghost had drawn on the table with a permanent marker.  “Call the police” she said, because the culprit needed to be caught.  By the time we are adults, we learn to redefine our terms and manipulate the facts so that we can assert that we have had not had sex with someone – meaning natural, vaginal intercourse – but oral sex preformed under the desk of the oval office slips by.

“Be sure that your sin will find you out.”

 – Num 32.23

Unfortunately, no matter how crafty we become in manipulation and self-justification, there will come a day when everything will be laid bare.  Our sin will find us out.  God will judge.  Everything.

“For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

– Luke 8.17

But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.

– Luke 12.2-3

And shame, while it deals primarily with pride and not the heart of the sin preformed, can be a factor that leads to our repentance and salvation.  One day whatever act you are doing right this moment will be made known – shouted from the housetops, as it were, and all who are standing in line for judgment will hear.  Now, we might try to appease ourselves to know that everyone will be in the same boat, but the standard is our holy and perfect God.  He will not be put to shame.

If your pride is your concern, it will be shattered.  But do you know that there is hope?

But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

– Ps 130.4

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

– Is 55.6-7

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

Our pride and fear of being shamed can lead us to salvation.  As we confess that we know that we have sinned and ask God for His forgiveness of those sins, He puts His Holy Spirit within us who will convict us of sin such that we despise the very act of it.  It will no longer be the fear of being caught the drives us, but the hatred for doing that which God forbids because we love Him and want to honor Him.

Test yourself today.  Why do you do what you do?  Do you keep the rules?  And if so, do you keep them for your pride?  Or do you keep them because you love God and want to make Him happy?  Do you break the rules and cover it up?  If so, do you know that one day everything will be brought to light, if not on this earth than at the judgment?  There is hope.  Come to Jesus while there is still time.

What do you have that you did not receive?

From where does your success and security come?  It is often said that women want security.  They want a man who will take care of them emotionally and physically and plan well for their future and their family.  Men, on the other hand, often have the drive to care for and provide for their families.  Their role most often is provider, leader and “man of the house”.

God gave us these roles to mirror the relationship of Jesus Christ to His Church (Eph 5.22-30).  But just because we have been given these roles and our natural desires are intended to portray the beauty of Christ in our lives, we cannot rely on our spouses to fulfill us.  We must see the bigger picture.  Women want to feel secure and cared for.  A man will always fail; there is no perfect man.  He will respond emotionally poorly, refuse love or fail to financially provide at least once in his role as husband and father.  A woman will despise her role, disrespect her husband or neglect her children at least once in her time as wife and mother.

It will happen.

It is not all right and excusable that we sin.  But sometimes God allows us to sin to remind us that we are not yet perfected, that we still need to rely on Him and His strength.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

– 1 John 2.1-2

We have an advocate who stands before God, declaring our sin as punished in Himself.  We are guilty, but our punishment has been paid.

Sometimes our spouses will fulfill well their roles.  Some men might provide beyond all that his wife and family could ask or need.  He might be emotionally available and strong to love and lead his family.  And a wife might be a tender, nurturing mother and encouraging and supportive wife.  She might work a part time (or full time) job and keep the home running without complaint.  Yet even in our successes, we must remember that our satisfaction and fulfillment does not come from our spouse.

If the physical and emotional home stands forever or if it struggles to survive, we must always remember that:

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”

– John 3:27

Nothing.  We cannot be successful, we cannot be the under dog.  We cannot have children nor can we maintain a life of abstinence or even be barren.  We cannot impact or serve the world, and we cannot be worldly and frivolous.  Nothing happens except by the permission and grace of God.

“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

If you have monetary success, a strong and healthy marriage, a happy family, your dream job and great community, remember that it is all a gift from God.  You have received it.  If you are financially strapped, if your marriage is difficult, your children rebellious, a terrible job and no friends, remember that God has promised to supply all of your needs and is working your circumstances out for His glory and your good.  Do not revel in your trials and draw others into your pity party, but praise God for the blessings of life and salvation and pursue Him to His glory through it.  Because it is all from Him.

You have nothing that you did not receive.  Good or bad.  Whatever you have is entrusted to you for stewardship and whatever you lack has been withheld for your good and His glory.  Trust Him.  Do not find security in your spouse, your belongings or your job.  Find your security in the author of the universe.


Body Image?

self image

I am a woman.  I have heard the conversations about body image, eating disorders, diet and exercise all of my life, just like you.  Some companies have attempted to push back against pop culture’s position on beauty by advertising to “normal people” using women who have shape.  Celebrities speak out often to affirm that they themselves do not have perfect bodies and encourage women to be confident that they are beautiful just the way that they are.  “Believe in yourself” and “You are beautiful” is the mantra we preach to our preteen girls, hoping to release them from the cycle of self-loathing and comparison.

But that’s not the answer, is it?  

I studied performance piano in college.  Having started classical lessons when I was very small, I learned to play by ear around the age of thirteen and enjoyed it immensely.  I would sit for hours at the piano, figuring out songs, playing old favorites, memorizing classical pieces and preparing to play at church most Sundays.  I never compared myself much to others, as I simply did not have many friends who played.  I simply loved it.  But when I went to college, I was surrounded by the best in the world.  The practice building was round, with two rings of rooms (one inside of the other) five+ stories high.  The rooms themselves were insulated so you could not hear the surrounding rooms from within, but the doors let sound seep through to the hallway.  For the most part, I loved the music that I played.  But as I would walk those long halls to my practice room I could hear hundreds of other pianists perfecting their art on much more intricate and beautiful pieces than I would ever dream of playing.

There is always someone better.

There is always someone more beautiful.

There is always someone smarter.

There is always someone more talented.

Is the answer to just make peace with yourself and say, “It is how it is.”?  Is the answer to find self confidence in who you are and your abilities and appearance and scream from the rooftops, “Stop judging me!”?  I once heard a mother say that she would never speak to her daughter any affirmation or condescension about her appearance.  She thought that if appearance was never a conversation the girl would never think about it.

Ignoring reality, trying to redefine reality, being self-confident in reality are all shots in the dark and leave unanswered the root problem:  sin.

Self absorption is a sin.  It is called pride.  Self-loathing is pride expressing itself negatively and arrogance is pride expressing itself affirmingly.  Both are wrong.  Why?  Because ultimately it’s not about me and it’s not about you.

God has given us bodies and abilities to be used unto His glory.  Our physical bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we have been charged to be good stewards of them (1 Cor 6.9).  That means we must take care of them!  Exercise and thoughtful eating are important, but must be done unto the glory of God.  To thank Him and praise Him for the life that He has given us and to care for the temple which He has entrusted to us.  If we diet and exercise for vanity’s sake, that is pride.  If we refuse to diet and exercise and take care of ourselves, that is sinful too.  We do not have to be in perfect, swim-suit ready shape, but we do need to make an effort to be healthy, for His sake.

He has also given us talents and abilities to serve His Church and Him.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

– 1 Peter 4.10

We should refine those gifts and skills unto God’s glory.  We serve the creator of the universe.  The very one who invented and dreamed up music, art, preaching, teaching, cleaning, encouraging, etc.  So to do something not unto the best of our ability shows the value we place on Him.  If we are too busy to be prepared for service (in music, in teaching, whatever) then we show the priority that He takes in our lives.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3.17

What does the mean practically?  Some might say, “I can’t just stop thinking about how I look” or constantly be comparing themselves in ability.  We must fight it like any other sin:  It starts in the mind.  The moment these thoughts come up, take them captive by Scripture and prayer.  Instead of praying, “God help be me confident in how you have made me” we pray, “God I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I want to honor you with how I care for my body.  Help me represent you well in my habits and appearance.”  Attack the thoughts.  Set a plan.  Pray.  Turn to God and focus on Him.  Because there will always be someone prettier, smarter, funnier or more talented.  So let us give unto God the best of our abilities and do it all for His glory, rather than our own.

Deal Breakers

Dating.  The wonderful, terrible, emotional, draining, exhilarating ritual in which we here in the United States engage to find our spouse.  Everyone has their own approach to dating, I’m sure, but one thing of which everyone is aware and which everyone sets is our personal standard.  The essentials.  The non-negotiables.  Those things on which we will not waiver when considering another human being as our life-long partner.  The “deal breakers”.  Each person’s list is unique, and I wholeheartedly support the practice of examining one’s self and knowing those things which you value and cherish and hope for in your marital relationship.

I had a wonderful conversation last week with a girlfriend about such things.  As we were talking about the Biblical outlines for marriage, roles for men and women and expectations that we have as women in how we want to be treated, I began to reflect on some of the things on our lists and things the regularly get put on lists.  There are character issues which are important but then there also was a category of things that I would label “The Past”.  There are a multitude of things that one might put on his list of deal breakers that were simply past experiences.  Family of origin, having been arrested, divorce, having children, education…this list is inexhaustible.  But as I thought about those things, those things that are not exemplary of one’s character, I began to grow uneasy with our quickness to condemn and our lack of humility.  Internally, for those standards which I hold.  And externally, for the ways others would consider me unworthy of relationship without knowing my heart.

Here’s the good news.  There are no deal breakers with God.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).  Jesus said that “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9.12), and that He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  If you would come then God would have you.  All who believe, all who repent, all who turn to God are saved and He welcomes.  Period.  No matter what you have done, no matter what was done to you, and no matter from where you have come.  One of the most beautiful pictures in all of Scripture to me is of the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her hair:

“Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’  And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’  ‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  So which of them will love him more?’  Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’  And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’  Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.  For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.‘  Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.'”

– Luke 7.36-48

Our inability to forgive, our pride, our lack of compassion is directly correlated to our lack of understanding of that for which we have been forgiven.  We have all broken the heart of the Almighty God.  We have all spat in his face.  Our sins – from the least to the greatest – are what put Him on the cross.  He died because of your sin.  My sin.  That lie.  That indiscretion.  That outburst of anger.  Do you realize the weight of your sin?  Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit.  One. Little. Sin.  And because of that they were kicked out of the Garden, they incurred a curse, Eve was granted pain in childbirth and ordered under Adam’s headship and Adam was doomed to struggle to provide for his family for the entirety of his life.  And they were cursed with death.  Death!  For eating a piece of fruit.  Did you ever eat that cookie when your mom said don’t eat that cookie?  You deserve to die for that.  Why?  Because God is perfect.  And He does not tolerate sin.  Any sin.  And the weight of a sin is proportionate to the one against whom the sin is committed.

But because of the infinite value of Jesus as God, His death was enough to satiate the wrath of God for your sin, for my sin, no matter how grievous it might be.  Let’s take a look at those who are documented in the “Hall of Faith” – those people who are esteemed by God for their faith:

Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Sarah.  Drunkard, moon worshiper and abandoner of wife, one who chose one child over the other, mocker of God.

Or how about the lineage of Jesus Himself:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz by Rahab, David, Solomon by Bathsheba, and a whole line of ungoldly kings.  Abandoner of wife, theif, harlot, murderer, lover of the world (just to name a few).

The patriarchs of the faith committed the most heinous of crimes and they were chosen, forgiven, accepted, loved and ultimately sanctified.  And it was the realization of the depth of the forgiveness they were granted that gave depth of love for God and for others.  If you have lived a perfect life then by all means, cast the first stone (John 8.7).  Set deal breakers based on the past for your relationships.  But if you have been forgiven, then forgive and accept in the same measure by which you have been forgiven.  Because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little loveth little”.  But he who has been forgiven much loveth much!  “Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love” (1 John 4.7-8).