Michael Kelley's Blog, page 7

May 2, 2016

Judging by the traffic over the past year, Nashville is a pretty popular place to move to. As a guy who commutes into downtown everyday, I’m finding that drive time to stretch out a little longer each day. And in the midst of the gridlock, I am also finding that the drive is a good time to become anxious. You’re puttering along at a snail’s pace, knowing that with every passing moment another email could be hitting your inbox and your list of responsibilities could be growing larger and larger.

In light of my tendency to worry about such things, I’m also finding that the drive time is a great time to devote to prayer, and specifically prayer about work. But what to pray? That things will go well? That there won’t be a lot of opposition or criticism? That the stress level will be lower? There’s nothing wrong necessarily with any of those prayers, but prayer, I think, is not only about what we think we need but also an opportunity for God to form in us the kind of character He desires. Given that’s true, the way we pray should reflect it. It’s true about life as a whole, and therefore it’s also true about work.

Here, then, are 5 prayers to pray on your work this morning, that hopefully embrace a redeemed view of what work is:

1. Help me to remember who my true boss is.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? You have someone you report to, someone who holds you accountable for your performance in your job. And yet the Bible shows us that something deeper is going on at work, for the authority that sits over you or me sits there because God has seen fit for he or she to do so (Romans 13:1-2). The way we submit to our boss, then, is really a reflection of the way we submit to our greater Boss who put that person in their place to steward our energies. When we remember who our true boss is, we can work with fervor and focus trusting that we are serving Jesus through our efforts, whether plumbing sinks or making Bibles.

2. Remind me as I work that I am at rest.

Work is one of those aspects of life into which our identity can be easily intertwined. We use our work to define our worth and personhood and not just our livelihood. When we do that, we find ourselves continually trying to prove ourselves day in and day out through the work we do. But Jesus has already proven Himself on our behalf, and left us with nothing else to justify. He has given us, in the gospel, not only a day of rest, but a state of rest (Hebrews 4:1-13). When we know we are at rest, secured in Christ, we can cease our striving to prove and justify ourselves and are able to work in freedom and joy.

3. Help me to see people as eternal objects of glory not temporal objects of utility.

Most everyone has coworkers. And when you have coworkers, you depend on others to get their work done just as they depend on you. But the temptation in that situation is to view those people who work alongside you as a means to an end. If we’re not careful, we can begin to view those around us not as people for whom Jesus died, but only as those whose worth is determined by what they can give to you. The people who surround us in our offices everyday are more than temporal objects of utility; they are image-bearers of the Living God, and should be treated with dignity, care, compassion and respect. When our only focus is on delivering the product or service we’ve been hired to do, we can easily forget that.

4. Thank you for the chance to express both your saving grace in the gospel and your common grace in the world.

Martin Luther said that God Himself is milking the cows through the milkmaids. Luther, as I understand, argued that God uses the work we do as an expression of His common grace toward the world. So when we produce a good or perform a service, we are doing so for the organization and betterment of those around us. Sometimes in our work, we have the chance to share the gospel with our co-workers or those we come in contact with. That is a good and right thing, and when we take that opportunity, we are a conduit of expressing God’s invitation for saving grace. And beyond that, we have the opportunity to serve humanity through the work we do. That means our work is an opportunity to be an expression of God’s common grace in the world. What we are doing everyday is more than earning a paycheck; that’s a perspective changing truth to ask God to remind us of in prayer.

5. Guard me from the temptation of “more.”

Godly ambition is a good thing, but ambition in general is seductive. We can be ambitious at work for power, for money, for prestige – none of which are godly, but all of which represent an insatiable desire for “more.” But because we know that we are rich in Christ, that God does not withhold good from His children, we can be content with what we have. We take opportunities around us to excel in our vocations, but we also need the voice of the Holy Spirit to help us discern between godly ambition and selfish ambition for “more.”

Chances are you’re going to be doing some work today. You might do it in an office or you might do it on the road; you might do it outside or you might do it in the home. In any case, be encouraged not only in the work that you do, but be encouraged to ask God to frame your perspective on it before you get there.

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Published on May 02, 2016 06:25 • 2 views

April 29, 2016

by Rob Tims

As a young boy growing up in the 1980s, I made room in my life for a handful of television shows on the few of channels we had. I absolutely loved Hee-Haw (“I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and pppbbbttttt —you were gone.”), and I hated to miss the Solid Gold dancers. The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Incredible Hulk were favorites as well. Yet none of these were as gratifying as The A-Team.

The A-Team was an action and comedy show about a group of former US Special Forces soldiers who used their talents to make a wealthy living. They earned their income while on the run from the U. S. Army who wished to incarcerate them for war crimes they supposedly did not commit. Each of the team members made great contributions to the show, but as far as this ten-year-old was concerned, no team member surpassed the greatness of B. A. Baracus, played by Mr. T. His trademark phrase has forever stamped my generation: “I pity the fool.” It’s a phrase Mr. T would use in other cinematic greats like Rocky III, and one that would title his own television show in 2006.

While Mr. T is famous for the phrase, the sentiment is universal. We’ve all had a conversation with someone, while listening to their plans and reasoning thought to ourselves, “I pity this fool.” We’ve also been that person with ideas we’ve shared with someone, and they lovingly replied, “You’d be a fool if you did that.” We’ve had opportunities come our way that we almost passed up, and someone grabbed us by the shirt collar and said, “You’d be a fool not to do that.”

In a very short parable, Jesus does the same to those of us who are church members only … to those of us who generally agree with what hear about Jesus on Sunday mornings, but never actually do anything He says.

46  “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” Luke 6:46-49.

Jesus’ imagery is powerful. Everything around us is chaotic and disorderly. Circumstances batter us, but we stand firm when we do what Jesus says. It is our obedience that reveals the quality of our foundation and gives us confidence in our salvation. Conversely, disobedience leads to crisis in the midst of the chaos. It dims the truth of the gospel and calls our faith into question.

Jesus does not mince words in this parable. He wants us to know the blessings associated with a faith that goes beyond the minimums, and feel the risk that stems from a faith that does not. Failing to follow the words of Jesus invites the question, “Am I even a Christian?”

And what is more foolish than that?

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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Published on April 29, 2016 05:09 • 3 views

April 28, 2016

The other day I asked a friend of mine who also has 3 young children how much time, as a percentage, he spends in disciplining his kids. “85%” was the answer he gave. My response?

“Really? That little?”

As a parent, you have to be engaged in the discipline of your kids in one form or another. Sometimes that discipline is reactionary. They make a bad choice, and you bring the discipline. Sometimes it’s just teaching, disciplining them about how to live in the world. But discipline seems like a very important part of parenting to me. If you need proof, I bet you could ask any childcare worker at your church or the YMCA or the local daycare what is one thing a parent could do to make their job easier, and you’d probably get back, “Play a more active role in disciplining your kids.”

But discipline isn’t the same thing as punishment. In fact, discipline is a heck of a lot harder than punishment. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Discipline takes longer. If you are strictly punishing your kids, then just put them in time out. Or spank them. Whatever it is you do in your house. You can do it quickly, and then it’s over and done with. The reason why punishment is quicker is because the goal of punishment is exclusively reactive; they did something bad, and you need to make sure they don’t do it again. But when you discipline, your goal isn’t just behavioral; it’s about the heart. Heart formation takes much longer than behavior modification. That leads us to the second reason why discipline is harder:

2. Discipline requires teaching. If punishment is about behavior modification, then the “why” isn’t really important. All you are doing is trying to create compliant kids. But with discipline, you have to go deeper. You have to (in 5-year-old language) help a child understand not only that what they did was wrong, but why what they did was wrong. It requires you to help them think about their actions not just in terms of consequences, but in terms of motivation. Which leads us to reason 3:

3. The focus of discipline is deeper. Punishment is about behaving; disciplining is about becoming. When you choose the hard, long, thoughtful road of discipline, you are more concerned about the future – the long future. You are seeking not just to break bad habits, but to instill a need for the gospel now in your kids that will form not just their actions but their hearts in the years to come.

For how to discipline rather than punish, we look to the Lord as our Heavenly Father. Indeed, if we spend so much of our time as parents disciplining our kids, then we can’t really talk about God as Father without realizing that He’s engaged in that work of discipline, too. God is committed not to our behavior but our hearts; not just in what we do but to what we are becoming. That’s why He disciplines rather than punishes His kids. God help us to do the same.

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Published on April 28, 2016 04:45 • 2 views

April 27, 2016

Here are a few links to some things you might have missed, or at least ones that caught my attention this past week:

1. Listen to the Little Guy Too

Thankful for this post from Jared Wilson, exhorting us to recognize the wisdom, value, and experience the less-celebrity-fied pastors bring to the table.

2. A Gutsy Prayer for Grown Men

Marshall Segal helps us, even if we are grown men, see what it means to pray like children, being brave enough to let our guard down with God.

3. Harriet Tubman

She’s back in the news! This article is a good primer on the life and times of the woman soon to be on the $20 bill.

4. Clayton Kershaw and a Brief History of the Blooper Pitch

Fun article here for the baseball fans.

5. Introducing the “Word Matters” Podcast

This will be quite a good listen. It’s a new podcast from Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith in which they tackle a contested or puzzling passage of Scripture each week.

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Published on April 27, 2016 04:35 • 2 views

April 26, 2016

I haven’t always been a family devotion guy. It’s not because I didn’t want or aspire to be; I did. But we went a long time as a family before pulling the trigger and trying to integrate this practice into the regular rhythm of our family life.

We’ve been doing morning devotions together for about 5 years now – long enough to where our kids expect that we will. It’s a long road, as are most things with young children I’m finding out. Though revival doesn’t break out every morning over eggs and toast, our continued hope and prayer is that times like these builds into the love and discipline our children will have in the future when it comes to God’s Word.

And through those 5 years, we’ve tried different things, failed at a bunch, and maybe learned some things about starting and continuing in this pattern. I hope some of these things will be encouraging to you to kick this off, or affirming to you if you’ve found yourself in the middle of it. In my opinion, then, here are 6 things you must have to start a family devotion:

1. Consistency.

There’s a pattern to everything, a routine for most every part of life. And any time you disrupt that routine, even for the noblest of reasons, there is going to be backlash. So before you get started, you’ve got to commit to consistency. Decide on the time of day. And keep it at that time. For us, it’s 7 am at breakfast. That will likely change in the coming years, but if you don’t pick a consistent time then it’s doubly difficult to keep the practice going.

What’s more, in our experience, the days that feel like discipline to do this far outweigh the days where you feel like the kids are actually engaged and learning something. But then again, isn’t that often the case in our own lives with our own spiritual growth and development? And yet we keep going because we believe in the power of God and the power of His Word.

2. Variety.

For us, we try to change things up once a week. Monday through Thursday, we do a Bible study and prayer (probably around 15 minutes), but Friday is different. On Friday, everyone shares one specific thing they are thankful for that week, and one prayer request. For a while, those prayer requests were pretty predictable – that I would have a good day, that I would do well on a test, that I would be kind to friends… that kind of thing. In recent days, we’re tried to bring more variety into those prayer requests as well, asking the kids to share a prayer not for themselves but for someone else, or to share something they’re thankful for that’s not about an activity they get to do that weekend.

3. A Sense of Humor.

One of the great things having a family devotion time does for me, as a dad, is helps me not to take myself too seriously. Every once in a while we will be talking through some great truth from the Bible, I’ll be making an incredibly insightful and valuable point in a truly beautiful way… and someone will burp.

Game over. But such is life with kids. And in truth, that’s okay. I can’t help but think it was a pretty undignified scene when the kids were crawling all over each other to try and get into Jesus’ lap, and yet He let them come. Snotty noses and all. Keeping a sense of humor while trying to instill this discipline, in the end, is a helpful reminder that we, as parents, are really stewards of these children. We do the best we can in faith, but ultimately it is only God who convicts of sin and brings our children – any children – to an understanding of the gospel.

So we laugh, and then we go at it again.

4. Tools.

This isn’t just about a husband and wife working together (although if you have that option, it’s obviously helpful). It’s about using a tool to help you. It’s incredibly intimidating to sit with you family with only the Bible in hand and open it up and read. I think that probably works better when the kids are a bit older, but for now, we’ve found the book, Long Story Short and The Jesus Storybook Bible to be really age appropriate and helpful tools that make family devotion time manageable.

What’s more, we recently finished a season where we read through an abridged version of Pilgrim’s Progress together. The point is you don’t have to go at it alone. There are a lot of great tools out there. Make use of them.

5. Preparation.

I don’t mean preparation in the sense that you have spent 2 hours studying the devotion you are going to walk through the next morning (though that’s a fine practice if you can manage it). I mean “preparation” more in the sense of creating the environment. In order to make sure we have time before school for devotions, Jana and I have to get up earlier than we used to. We have to be completely ready for the day with breakfast going with the kids get up at 7 (and they get up at 7 every stinking morning). While it often means that I read through the devotion the night before, it also to a greater extent means doing anything we can do to make the morning run more smoothly. This would be things like making sure lunches are already packed, clothes are laid out, and you haven’t left any lingering homework assignments to be done over the eggs and toast (going to have to reinforce this with our new middle schooler next year).

6. Faith.

There are spiritual moments with your children that are paper thin, and they don’t seem to happen that often. It’s those times when you really sense they are understanding the nature of sin and our great need for forgiveness, and then they’re thinking about Pokemon again. Paper thin moments, but they’re there. Like the time not that long ago when we were in the book of Joshua talking through the story of Rahab. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s an incredible gospel-laced account of a woman of questionable reputation who was saved from destruction. And how was she saved? Because she put a red rope on her door, marking her house to be spared. And the lights came on for the kids:

“Do you guys remember any other people that put something red on their doors?”

“Yeah. Like when that angel killed people.”

“Correct. It was the Passover. And why was that called the Passover?”

“Because the angel passed over their houses.”

“And what did the Israelite army do to Rahab’s house?”

“They passed over it.”

And so on it went, eventually to remind us that the wrath of God passes over us because our lives are marked with something red – the blood of Jesus. The kids thought this was genuinely exciting, and they felt genuinely smart because they saw how it all fit together.

Every morning isn’t a home run. Sometimes it’s a sacrifice bunt that you believe that God will somehow use in the story of their lives. So we choose, by faith, not to be discouraged, but instead to believe in a God who is drawing our kids’ hearts to Himself.

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Published on April 26, 2016 04:45 • 2 views

April 25, 2016

Homemade bread looks quite different than bread from a package.

Take your average loaf of Wonderbread. It’s going to look the same no matter if you buy it in Pennsylvania, Texas, California or somewhere in between. Wonderbread – always looks the same. It’s mass produced for an audience of millions, always cut the same way, packaged the same way, smelling the same way – completely uniform in order to maximize efficiency.

But homemade bread is different. Sometimes it’s a bit saltier; sometimes it doesn’t rise quite right; sometimes the crust is thicker than the day before. That’s because a machine didn’t make this kind of bread. Instead, it’s personalized. It’s touched, kneaded, and baked by hand, and so what comes out of the oven is not a complete carbon copy of what came out of the oven yesterday.

That’s not to say it’s not still bread; it certainly is. It has the same qualities; the same ingredients. But the end product is always going to be unique from yesterday.

So, too, does the bread God provides for His children look a bit different each and everyday. The bread for today is not the bread from yesterday neither will it be the bread for tomorrow. It has the same intrinsic characteristics of provision, sustenance, compassion, and grace, but it comes out of the divine oven in a little different form each and every time.

Jesus told us to ask God for this bread – today’s bread – not yesterday’s bread or tomorrow’s bread, but to pray like this: “Give us today our daily bread…” (Matthew 6:11).

This single sentence of prayer acknowledges the wisdom, power, and specific provision of God, for we not only believe that God will give us whatever we need for this day, but that He knows the unique composition of what that provision will look like…for this day.

Today the bread might look like patience. Or courage. Or compassion. Or actual physical bread. But tomorrow? Well, God knows what tomorrow holds. And so we pray and ask for not the same bread He delivered yesterday, but the bread for today. And we trust that God knows what the bread for tomorrow needs to look like as well.

Our Father knows our needs before we do, and He knows them to a deeper extent than we ever will. And we can know that what He delivers to us as our daily bread is exactly what we need for that day. Sometimes it might not look tasty to us at all, but we can trust that is is the very staple we need most on a given day with a given set of circumstances.

We can know that on a given day, like today, that before we even pray for what we think the bread needs to look like, God has already been mixing the ingredients and fashioning His provision so that He can cook up exactly what we need.

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Published on April 25, 2016 05:35 • 2 views

April 22, 2016

by Rob Tims

With four kids (11, 10, 2 and 1), there’s no shortage of toys, books, and games in our home. Therefore, there’s ample opportunity for things to break. This morning, it was a cereal bowl in the sink (I look forward to repairing the disposal again). Earlier, it was a part of a “rainbow loom.” Before that, a doll got a lazy eye.

Crushed feelings soon follow broken things. “How can I make this bracelet without that loom?!” “Mom, that doll is creeping me out.” Depending on what and how many objects break, this cycle can result in parents with broken spirits.

We typically discard broken things without much thought. It’s rare that an object, having been ripped, cracked, tattered, or torn, can regain its previous function. But when God breaks a human being, He does so as an act of grace. Brokenness is a divine mechanism to transform us into the image of Christ.

David’s prayer in Psalm 13 reflects this beautifully:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The overall impression of David’s prayer is that while God may seem very absent in trying times, He’s actually profoundly at work. It’s as if the fact that God seems like He’s not at work is proof that He is. As David’s prayer shows, this is very difficult to accept in the moment of one’s brokenness. But ironically, David is seeking GodHe’s pursuing the very God he feels has abandoned him in his suffering, which implies that, deep down, David knows God is very much at work in this crushing moment. This means that seeking God in such moments is a very powerful means by which we become whole people, even while we’re broken.

God is at work in our brokenness, and seeking God can be the means by which we realize how we are being made whole through the pain. We don’t have to like it. Becoming whole through brokenness is not about the quality of your faith, but about the object of your faith. And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. God will determine at a specific point and time to give you more character … to make you a more complete person. And He will do this by breaking you, because brokenness is a crucial part of becoming whole.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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Published on April 22, 2016 04:15 • 2 views

April 21, 2016

We’ve been through this stage before. Twice before. And by God’s grace, we’ve gotten though it both times. But here it comes again, with all the ferocity you would expect.

It’s the knock-knock phase.

Now our youngest has plunged headlong into the hilarity that is the knock-knock joke. That’s not to say he’s perfected the art; just that he’s well into it. Sometimes the punchline falls right in line, but other times he gets confused and says too much at the wrong time. But whatever the case, you’d better settle in once you start answering the door, because you’re going to be there for a while.

It’s at moments like these when you, as a parent, need self-control. As silly as the occasion might be, it’s also a good chance to make your kid feel important, funny, and clever, but that doesn’t happen without self-control. It only happens instead when you’re able to sit and endure knock after knock.

Not just in the joke world, but in parenting in general, is self-control more than an important characteristic – it’s an important weapon. In fact, it might be your most important weapon as a parent today, and not just because you have kids that try your patience. We all do. It’s because self-control is the way by which you establish and maintain authority in the home. Let’s imagine a scenario to help flesh out that premise.

This is the scenario of moodiness. Let’s say that a kid of yours comes wakes up one day and is particularly moody. So you throw on some music, you make smiley faces on the pancakes, you do your best to screw on a smile, but that kid is in the funk and isn’t coming out. Now in this scenario, you know, of course, in the back of your mind the reason they’re in a funk is because you’ve done something to disappoint them. You didn’t take them to get ice cream, or you said you couldn’t go to the movies, or they couldn’t have a friend over, or whatever – so in theory there is a bullet you can fire from your parenting pistol that will fix the situation.

The thing is, though, the moment you fire that bullet you have ceded control from the parent to the child. You have abdicated your authority and set the wheels in motion, at least subconsciously, that if a certain kind of behavior will yield desirable results. The alternative to that is the road of self-control. Though it would be easier to buy the ice cream or go to the movies or invite the friend or whatever, you maintain your self-control and push forward.

So on you go. And on goes the bad attitude with you. Here again is where you need the weapon of self-control at your disposal. Because after a few hours of this nonsense, you’re just about ready to lose your mind and fly off the handle. That kid is being disrespectful and ungrateful and it’s about time you let him or her know it. But here, too, is where authority and power in the home is teetering between two parties. Because if you lose your self-control and do fly off the handle and say things you shouldn’t and go too far with your discipline, then once again you have ceded control to the kid. It might not have been the reaction they were hoping for in the end, but even so, by their actions they were able to manipulate you into some kind of reaction.

The road of self-control is a measured response. It’s the response that shows you, as the parent, recognize that there is a lot more to parenting than this one, single moment, and that you are in the journey for the long haul. So whether you act or not act, and the measure of that action or inaction, you demonstrate that you have a bigger goal in mind than simply getting through a particular situation.

And at the end of all that, whether you’ve lost control or maintained it, you and I are both reminded of the gospel, in which we have a Father who is never out of control. Whose response is always perfectly proportional to the situation at hand. The One who never says too much or too little, and never acts or doesn’t act in an appropriate way. Thank God that God is a God of self-control. Thank God He doesn’t abdicate His authority to creatures like us, lest we think that by our actions we can manipulate His.

He’s too good for that. And as His representatives in the home, so must we also be.

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Published on April 21, 2016 05:28 • 2 views

April 20, 2016

Here are a few links to some things you might have missed, or at least ones that caught my attention this past week:

1. 4 Warnings for Your Twenties

Marshall Segal offers some very helpful questions. And not just for folks in their 20’s.

2. Are You Popular?

I’ve always wondered this. Fortunately, here’s a video from 1947 that fully delivers the answer.

3. Having a Pilgrim Mentality About Money and Possessions

Nobody writes better on this subject than Randy Alcorn. This is no exception.

4. Jesus Paid It All

Great video here that was shown at Together for the Gospel. Elder DJ Ward preaching “Jesus Paid It All.”

5. Living an Others-Oriented Life

I so appreciate Mark Dever’s perspective. This is an excerpt from his upcoming book called Discipling.

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Published on April 20, 2016 04:45 • 2 views

April 19, 2016

The Christian life is about loss. It can seem like everywhere you turn in Scripture, there is a command involving putting away, or taking off, or giving up. Jesus Himself made no bones about it, urging His followers to not have some kind of easy-belieivism, a following without sacrifice, but instead to know what they were getting into. To count the cost. To understand the implications before they jumped in. When the huge crowds were following Jesus, He didn’t try to win them over with clever rhetoric or veiled campaign promises; instead, Jesus would thin the crowds with difficult teachings and counter-intuitive commands.

No one ever accused the Messiah of being a great PR guy.

But the Christian life is also about gain. But godly gain is something that only happens through the pathway of loss. Though we might try to take the short-cut around this either by thinking that Jesus demands nothing from us at all or by thinking that the gain He has in mind is materialistic, Jesus holds out something better for us. Better than money. Better than health. Better than worldly prosperity. He holds out for us true life, but true life can only be found by walking the road of death; true gain only comes after the pathway of loss.

Such is the nature of the Christian life – that we are always… and never… giving up. We are always… and never… losing. But rather than think purely in these abstract terms, here are three specific things that the Christian is always, and never, giving up:

1. Our preferences.

The Christian cannot cling to what they prefer. Whether in church, in friendships, or in the home, we are dying daily to our preferences in favor of what is most needed by others. This is the pattern Jesus laid out for us, and the pattern we are called to follow: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). 

But while we are always giving up our own preferences, we are never giving up on the fulfillment of our deepest desires, no matter how buried and latent they might seem at a given moment. When we believe the gospel, we are reshaped from the inside out by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are awakened to the reality that only in God and through God can we have the true fullness of joy. With this realization comes the other realization that those preferences we so desperately cling to are also desperately weak and short-sighted. We give these up, but never give up the greater desire inside of us that can only be met by God: “You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Psalm 16:11).

2. Our rights.

The Christian must give up their claim on what they think they deserve. These things are what we consider our “rights”, and we have many of them. We have rights in our relationships, in our homes, and in our workplaces. But like our preferences, we must always be giving these up because we know, truly, that what we truly and undeniably deserve is eternal punishment through separation from God. When we lay claim to all these things that are our “rights,” we are dramatically overestimating what we are truly due. The God of heaven and earth owes us nothing. This means we willingly turn the other cheek, we stand with joy under persecution and circumstantial suffering, and we are willing to be the person in our relationships who gives far more than we ever receive.

But while we must always be giving up our rights, we are never giving up on the ultimate justice that the God of justice will one day bring upon the earth. Indeed, the knowledge that God does not forget and will one day put everything as it rightfully should be is the very fuel that allows us to always be giving up our rights: “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

We can give up our need for vengeance because we know that God will bring His own vengeance in good time. We can give up our need for self-justification because we know that God will one day show that we are justified in Christ. We can give up all our claims on what we deserve because we know that God will deliver to us what Christ has deserved in our stead.

3. Our plans.

The Christian is always giving up their own plans, both because of our own arrogance and because of our human short-sightedness. In our arrogance, we presume upon the will of God and make plans that suit us and then ask the Lord to bless what we want to do anyway. In our human short-sightedness, we simply don’t know the circumstances of the future that forever and always are changing the way things turn out in life. It’s no wonder that James cautioned us against making plans, be they big or small:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.’ You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).

Though we are always giving up our plans, we are never giving up on God’s stable, lasting, and perfect plan both for us and the cosmos. Though we might be tempted to despair at our inability to make plans based on our uncertainty regarding the future, that same uncertainty is an opportunity to lean again and again on the God who never changes. We can know certainly that God is doing what He has been doing which is what He will be doing – namely, bringing all things together under the reign of His Son Jesus Christ. And we can know, because of the gospel, that though our plans might fail, God’s plan for us to rule and reign as co-heirs with Jesus never will.

Christians are those, then, that are always giving up.

And Christians are those, then, that are never giving up.

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Published on April 19, 2016 04:05 • 2 views