Forgetting what lies behind.

future

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.

What is your life verse?

life verse

Do you have a “life verse”?  I have met people along the way who have a variety of Spiritual journeys and life experiences, and I find it extremely interesting and encouraging to hear how God speaks through different passages of Scripture at different times to impact our lives.  The Bible is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword”, and God speaks through it to teach us “everything that we need for life and godliness” (Heb 4.12, 2 Peter 1.3).  We see this exemplified as we walk through life, experience trials and difficulties, turn to God and are strengthened and purified by His Word.  Some people have been so marked by one experience – typically the salvation experience – that they have a verse that marks their life.  Some of us cling to promises for a season, and thus a particular passage is forever etched in our mind and reminds us of God’s work during that time.

Burying one friend per year from my freshman year in High School to my junior year in college, I wanted very much to be able to say, as Jesus said,

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

 – John 17.4

As a young person experiencing so much death, I developed an eternal worldview and was highly concerned about the salvation of the lost and focusing my time and energy on things that would matter in eternity.

When gripped by an irrational fear of flying which impeded my life and kept me from serving God, I clung to His sovereignty over my life and circumstances:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

 – Heb 1.3-4

If Jesus is continually speaking all things into existence, that included me and the airplane on which I was flying.  Praying this truth and getting on the airplanes eventually freed me of this stronghold in my life.

But perhaps the verse that I most desire to mark my life is this well-known sentiment of Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

 – Gal 2.20

This is a beautiful summary of the Christian experience.  We can argue about legalism and grace, we can debate if it is God’s sovereignty that saves people or their own free will.  But in order to know Christ, we have to have heard the Gospel, understood our sinfulness, confessed and repented, and then begin living a transformed life by His power.  Our flesh must be crucified so that we can live Spiritually.  And when Jesus gives us Spiritual life, He is the one who lives it through us.  We are mutually responsible here:  “but Christ lives in me” shows us that God is indeed the one working in and through us to bring about our sanctification and holiness, and “the life which I now live…I live by faith…” shows us that we are still aware of our lives, we are dying to ourselves and choosing to walk by faith.

It was never Jesus’ intent to die on the cross to give us “freedom” to live however we want to live.  He did not give us a license to sin or live like the world.  He set us apart to love lavishly, give until it hurts, die to our sin and our flesh, and continually grow in righteousness.  However, He remarkably gives us His Spirit to enable us to do all of these things because we are utterly incapable of any of them on our own strength.  Jesus was the perfect example and died a sacrificial death in our place.  He then teaches us that if we want to save our lives, we must lose them (Matt 16.25).  But then He promises to abide and remain in us, enabling us to obey the commands and follow the examples He gave (John 15.4).  To put it simply,

Jesus gave up his life for me
that he might take my life from me
that he might live his life through me.

Have you been crucified with Christ?  Is it no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you?  Do you thus live your life by faith in Jesus?  Let’s not stop at step one, let’s understand the full picture and allow Him to purify us by taking our sinful lives away from us and living through us.

What does that mean?  It means spending time in the Word and in prayer, every day.  It means when we are going about our days, that we listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  It is His job to convict us of righteousness and of sin:  so if you hear a warning bell i your heart as you contemplate an action, stop!  If you feel a nudge to share, to love, to reach out – do it!  It means that we apply the truths of Scripture to our lives, so if the Bible says that something is a sin – even if we do not feel guilty about it – we stop, and we ask God to help us stop.  If the Bible says we should do something – even if we do not want to do it – we do it and ask God to enable us to do it!  We submit to His authority, we die to ourselves, we ask Him to change us and we stand in amazement as it happens!  You may find that a verse stands out to you in a season, helping you and enabling you to do just that.  Cling to those fighter verses and life verses!

You don’t understand…

discipleship

I have been mulling the last few weeks over the age-old question and dilemma of the Church, “How do we best disciple someone”?  Jesus Himself came and spent three years with twelve guys who knew the Jewish faith and traditions.  He spent three intensive years teaching them, empowering them, sending them out and helping them understand their successes and failures.  He taught them Scripture, He explained to them prophecies and revealed to them that the missing factor in the religiosity of the day was love.  If someone had purposefully set out to know the Old Testament Law (the religion and practices of the day, and the foundation on which Jesus came), he would see that the first commandment of the ten is:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

– Ex 20.3

God is concerned with our heart being first and foremost His.  The Shema, the foundation of the Jewish faith which is the opening of ritualistic prayers, is what Jesus quoted as the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deut 6.4-9

It is a strange thing to command someone to love.  We know what love looks like, we equate it with an emotional experience, but how often do we expect ourselves and discipline ourselves to love someone?  We want it to be easy.  We want it to be natural.  If it is not easy, then we assume it was not meant to be.

And it is based on this commandment to love God that my thoughts have been affected today.  When someone newly comes to the faith, we must teach them how to read and study the Bible.  We cannot simply tell them what it says, for then they will be dependent on us.  Teach a man to fish, right?  There are historical facts and themes that are helpful to illuminate, and explaining how the pieces of the Bible fit together gives this new believer a foundation on which to build, but the primary factor is teaching and exhorting this new believer to love God.

Most people, when they first come to faith, have no problem loving God.  They realize the weight of their burden of guilt and their expectation of death and damnation, and the relief, joy and love that replaces that burden at the moment of salvation is almost tangible.  If a person truly understands his salvation, he is ecstatic about it.  Then we plunge into the discipleship process and we who have lost that passion force the new believer into a routine of loveless obedience and legalism.  Get up, read your Bible, pray for fifteen minutes, go about your day, pray when things go bad, go to church, and tithe 10%.  Or worse, we set an agenda to teach specific doctrines and cram weighty issues down their throats trying to make disciples of ourselves instead of disciples of Jesus.

“If you’re doctrinally correct, but don’t reflect the love of Jesus, you don’t understand the doctrine you’re correct about.”

– Matt Chandler

Doctrine is extremely important.  Paul wrote most of the New Testament for the sake of correct doctrine, and Jesus Himself praises the Churches in the end who maintained pure and right doctrine and kicked out false teachers.  New believers must be taught how to understand Scripture and interpret doctrine.  All of us are standing on 2,000 years of Church History, we have forefathers who translated the Bible, wrote study Bibles and concordances, who have written books and developed extra-biblical terms like “trinity” to help us understand deep and difficult truths.  We should not rob a new believer of these tools for the sake of letting the Spirit alone teach.  God has given us the gifts of language, printing tools, study tools, and forefathers to teach us, so let’s utilize them to their fullest and help people learn how to do the same.

However.

It all must be founded in love.  You cannot force someone to love God.  You can teach him how to study all day long.  You can teach him how to pray.  He might even develop the same disciplines as you and become a morally upstanding citizen and Church member.  But the main factor, the basis of discipleship is falling in love with Jesus.  And only God can affect that in someone’s heart.  It is the Spirit who calls.  It is the Spirit who breathes life into a dead body.  It is the Spirit who takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  It is the Spirit who convicts of sin, and it is the Spirit who enables us to die to sin and live to righteousness.

We must trust the Spirit.  If a person falls head over heels in love with Jesus, he will desire to be in the Bible.  He will eat it up!  He will be in it every chance he gets.  He will read the Old Testament and have a lot of questions.  He will study the epistles and desire to obey and apply the commandments expressed therein.  We must not focus primarily on the doctrine.  We must teach the doctrine – we cannot ignore it or consider it secondary.  But it can only be built on the foundation of love.

Do you love God?  Do you love His Word?  Do you obey as an outpouring of love?  Honor the doctrine that you hold so deeply by loving Him and your neighbor.  And if you do not yet know the doctrine, find someone to teach you, because in it you learn the heart of God!