Posts Tagged ‘Paul the Apostle’

I wrote most of this piece five years ago.  We had recently gotten back to Toledo after 4 months in Cleveland following Allana’s bone marrow transplant and after weathering what was easily the greatest test of our lives.  I can remember hearing this song that morning and feeling the impact of the words more than I had ever.

TisSoSweet

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise and to know ‘Thus saith the Lord’

Wonderful words penned by Louisa Stead over 200 years ago ring true today.  She lived in a world that served up tragedy on a regular basis just the same as we do today.  Even as we struggle with the trial of Leukemia the trials of this world impact so many others all around us.  A young bride is bereft of her husband on the way to her honeymoon.  A mother and grandmother passes away.  A child is desperately ill.  Families are losing their homes.  All these things rock the carefully manicured lives that we try to prepare for ourselves and those closest to us.  It is in the midst of grief and turmoil that the words of this great hymn begin to make sense Jesus, Jesus how I trust him.  How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus oh for grace to trust him more.”    It really makes sense because it is grace that makes our trust possible.  I have in my life attempted to trust by study, by effort and by ostrich (sticking my head into the sand).  I can attest to the fact that these paths to trusting our Savior do not work.  In the end they magnify the turmoil and most often leave one sensing an ever increasing gap between God and oneself.  We end up feeling unloved and that God has somehow failed to keep up his end of the bargain.  Thoughts like, “But God I have done everything you asked…”; “Lord I don’t know what you want from me I can’t do anymore…” tear at our faith and bring in a spirit of defeat that can be more devastating than the tragic events themselves.

It is when by grace we detach our faith from circumstance and effort, relying on the Holy Spirit, simply fanning the flame of the gift that God has given each of us through whatever circumstances occur because we are convinced that He will guard us and the Gospel He has entrusted with us through the Holy Spirit (1 Timothy 1:6-14).  Paul follows up this impassioned guidance to Timothy with the difficult circumstances that Paul found himself in and the sustenance that God provided to Paul.  I think that even in his chains Paul would have sung Louisa Stead’s lyrics with an honest heart.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.

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Clock“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

prudent – adj – acting with or showing care and thought for the future

Kempis has uncovered the weak lover.  The one who falls away in the storm, seeking only for consolation.  He has proclaimed the strong lover.  The one who stands fast in the face of temptation and whose love does not rest on the whims of circumstance.  Now we find that there is yet another quality of love that we are called to in our Imitation of Christ.  The Lord turns his conversation to the prudent lover.

How often we mistake the gift for the lover.  This is the sign of imprudent love.   The gift is wonderful and amazing.  We wrap ourselves up in the gift.  We hug it and caress it.  We proclaim the gift to the world.  It thrills the soul, but like all gifts it fades in value.  The storms of life batter the gift and the sands of time wear it down.  Suddenly that thrill is gone, that tingle that we called love has faded away and because we have been so focused on the gift instead of the lover, prudent love that might have been is never found.

Jesus speaks of this love in Matthew 13:5-6.

5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

The gift of the Gospel is heard and perhaps even believed but the faith that springs up is in the gift, not in the giver, not in the lover of our souls.  So when the circumstances of life arise there is no depth to hold our faith because our eyes are not on Jesus.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

As great as the gift is (For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord .Romans 6:23) it is only great because it opens the path for us to focus on The Lover.  If we take our eyes off him….

As is so often the case, the qualities of our vertical relationship with God speak into our horizontal relationships as well.  The gifts of our life both given and received should conduits of intimacy drawing us into relationship with others.  When the gifts are the focus, the love is compromised and when the circumstances change one finds that it is not love at all.  We are all to often ready to believe that gifts (given or received) are enough but there is no endurance in gifts when they do not bring clarity of focus on the lover.

The prudent lover looks to the future, not to the present or the past.  The actions of the prudent lover are framed to sustain and grow intimacy over time with the beloved.  This is the focus of a steadfast relationship, one that will stand the test of time.  It is this kind of love that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Be prudent in love, setting ALL gifts lower in value than the lover who gives them.

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Clock“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

prudent – adj – acting with or showing care and thought for the future

Kempis has uncovered the weak lover.  The one who falls away in the storm, seeking only for consolation.  He has proclaimed the strong lover.  The one who stands fast in the face of temptation and whose love does not rest on the whims of circumstance.  Now we find that there is yet another quality of love that we are called to in our Imitation of Christ.  The Lord turns his conversation to the prudent lover.

How often we mistake the gift for the lover.  This is the sign of imprudent love.   The gift is wonderful and amazing.  We wrap ourselves up in the gift.  We hug it and caress it.  We proclaim the gift to the world.  It thrills the soul, but like all gifts it fades in value.  The storms of life batter the gift and the sands of time wear it down.  Suddenly that thrill is gone, that tingle that we called love has faded away and because we have been so focused on the gift instead of the lover, prudent love that might have been is never found.

Jesus speaks of this love in Matthew 13:5-6.

5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

The gift of the Gospel is heard and perhaps even believed but the faith that springs up is in the gift, not in the giver, not in the lover of our souls.  So when the circumstances of life arise there is no depth to hold our faith because our eyes are not on Jesus.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

As great as the gift is (For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord .Romans 6:23) it is only great because it opens the path for us to focus on The Lover.  If we take our eyes off him….

As is so often the case, the qualities of our vertical relationship with God speak into our horizontal relationships as well.  The gifts of our life both given and received should conduits of intimacy drawing us into relationship with others.  When the gifts are the focus, the love is compromised and when the circumstances change one finds that it is not love at all.  We are all to often ready to believe that gifts (given or received) are enough but there is no endurance in gifts when they do not bring clarity of focus on the lover.

The prudent lover looks to the future, not to the present or the past.  The actions of the prudent lover are framed to sustain and grow intimacy over time with the beloved.  This is the focus of a steadfast relationship, one that will stand the test of time.  It is this kind of love that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Be prudent in love, setting ALL gifts lower in value than the lover who gives them.

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Why

The question was actually posed to me some time ago by a young German woman. I had befriended her and her husband in an online game that I was playing. She quickly became aware of my faith and one day as we chatted about life she abruptly posed this question.

Why do you serve God? What does he do for you?

My mind quickly went to all the theologically correct answers that I had learned over the years but quickly discarded them. First of all I don’t think her English was up to taking in a bunch of “Christianese” (and my German was certainly not up to conveying anything other than hello and thank you). Secondly my guess is that perhaps somewhere she had already heard the platitudes. She was looking for something more intimate, more personal. She really wanted to know , why did Sam Guidry (or Flamefanner as my gaming friends know me) choose to serve this god. I gave her an answer. I do not even recall what it was, however it set me to thinking and so I give you:

Five Reasons that I serve God

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Reason #2: God has engaged me without condition

In a world that is conditional, God is unconditional.  We often talk of God’s unconditional love but I think that sometimes we envision a schizophrenic god who has many aspects and that he changes from aspect to aspect based on what we do. I serve God because he exists unconditionally. What I mean by that is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change the way that God is or the way that God interacts with creation. This means that no matter how screwed up I got or acted, no matter how fast I ran from Him, He still is God. I cannot manipulate a single change in His being through prayer, through sin or any other behavior or attitude that I can conceive of. Uh oh, does that mean it is useless for me to pray or that it doesn’t matter what I do? With Paul I say “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2) Paul continues on to say, “How shall we who die to sin live in it”. Of course this is Paul’s answer to the questions, “Should we sin more that grace may increase?”, however the real question being asked is can we manipulate God by our behavior? How does Paul answer it? It is not about God, it is about us!

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask.  Matthew 7:11

God provides for His children not because we ask, he does so because it is in His unconditional nature to do so.  The barrier to receiving good gifts is not that we need to manipulate God into giving them, it is that we need to position ourselves to receive them.  When we allow the Great Unconditional to impact the conditional  we move into a relationship that opens us up to what God has for us.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:23

For this reason we can say with Jeremiah and Thomas Chisholm, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:22-23, Great is thy Faithfulness. 1923)  No matter what circumstances I encounter, no matter what I do  God is my rock that I can count on to remain my heavenly Father.  It is with this great comfort that I can turn from trying to manipulate Him to maturing myself in the Faith.

For this reason also, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father… Colossians 1:9-12

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For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

I watched my Twitter Feed explode with one-liners a few months ago.  The words “Blown Away”, “Amazing” and “Life Changing” were bandied about with some regularity.  The many, many conferences held every year feature so many incredibly talented public speakers and so much good material.  I want to be clear that almost without exception I highly respect the achievements, concepts and talents of every one of them.  Why then is there not an international explosion of amazing Christian leadership throughout the world after such a life changing, mind-blowing, billion dollar events?

I grew up in the developing years of what I am going to call the “Conference Culture”. Whether it was “The One Minute Manger”, “Evangelism Explosion”, FISH (that was a fun one), Service that Sells, Promise Keepers, The OZ Principle, Who Moved My Cheese, Emotional Intelligence, 21 Irrefutable Laws…well you get the picture…I found one thing to be true:

The more “blown away”, the more “life changing”, the more “amazing” attendees found the speakers and content of any given conference, the less likely it was to have a lasting impact.  The men and women who were truly impacted by the content of any given conference were those who already had a framework that the principles and concepts could fit into.  

Hupomone living is about building that framework.  Notice the end of the last word in that sentence, work.  Paul called Timothy to exactly that kind of work.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:  Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19

It is on this firm foundation that we can build the framework of Hupomone living.  We engage the prayer, direction, promises and thanksgiving that will remove us from the reactionary world of circumstances and place us solidly in the steadfast, persevering world of the will of God.  It is only then that those “blown away”, “life changing” sound bytes that are all too quickly lost in the clutter of life to be soon replaced by the next “blown away”, “life changing” sound bytes will no longer blow you away.  They will find that niche, being plugged into a persevering lifestyle that is about maturing and growing anchored on the firm foundation.  That sound byte is unlikely to change your life, but Jesus will.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

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Demolition

“O Foolish Galatians…” Paul says in Galatians 3:1.  Solomon said it this way, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Proverbs 26:11  Unfortunately as a whole we are rebuilders.  This is not always terrible.  It can demonstrate a certain resilience.  However when it comes to our Life in Christ it is terrible folly.  Everyone of us before coming into a personal relationship with Jesus and accepting the Holy Spirit into our very being, had built a house.  It was a house of beliefs, of axioms.  It was the house that defined who we were and how we chose to live.  In some cases these houses are terribly dysfunctional and destructive.  In other cases they are simply not a fit abode for the mature or maturing Christian.  Take for instance the child raised by believing parents, schooled in the Gospel.  The child grows up accepting the Gospel and believing on Jesus as his savior in the context of his faith and love for his parents (or her).  At some point the child must allow the Holy Spirit to demolish that home and move into a deeper personal relationship with Him that rests on that relationship not on the faith of others.

In this scripture Paul is specifically referring to Judaizers who would have required the largely gentile Galatians to adhere to the Law of Moses and all the corollaries that had been added over the centuries, for their salvation.  While Jesus did not destroy the Law and its significance (indeed he came to fulfill the purpose of the Law), He did destroy the “faith house” that called for salvation by works.  Jesus had also demolished the house of paganism that ruled their lives.  Why in the world would they begin rebuilding another house that had been demolished by the cross?  Over the past weeks we have been looking at the house already established, the house of Faith in Christ and the final work of the Cross.  Any other house is foolishness.  Consider the parable of man who built his house upon the rock.  The Cross takes that parable a step further, the house is built and prepared for us.  We simply accept God’s invitation to move in.

Peter expresses the dangers of rebuilding, “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.What the true Proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire”  2 Peter 2:21-22.  I am not here to debate the doctrines of Salvation only to say that when we leave our Hupomone house to rebuild what Christ has torn down in our lives there are consequences.

Why do we rebuild?  There are probably as many answers to that question as there are humans who have lived.  However I have come up with a few that I think can be generalized across the variety of humanity.

  1.  We are creatures made to be followers.  Even the greatest leaders in history were made to follow Jesus Christ.  Some were great leaders because they followed God.  Some were rebuilders extraordinaire, following a blueprint established by men and encouraged by the Enemy of all.  Adam and Eve were just such followers.  They were presented with a blueprint by Satan for a house of rebellion that had been demolished when he was cast out of heaven.  When they took their eyes of their heavenly Father, the following nature took its course.
  2. We are creatures of habit.  It is all to easy to justify old ways that are comfortable and even to fashion them into a rebuilt home that we allow ourselves to believe is a Hupomone House.  It is only when the storms come that the infirm foundation reveals itself.  On top of the poor foundation, the homes we rebuild are often made of inferior materials like pride, arrogance, logic (the human kind) etc.
  3. We are creatures of comfort.  When faith becomes difficult that old house (or someone else’s old house) suddenly looks comfortable.  The corollary to this reason is that we are creatures of limited memory because that old house that suddenly looks comfortable was in fact often not comfortable at all.

I am sure that there are many other reason’s that we rebuild that which the Cross has destroyed.  The key here is:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right had of the throne of god.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

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I drafted this to be posted last Monday.  Obviously it did not get posted and many of you may know that it was a matter of circumstance (or consequence?) that kept it in the ether world for another week.  Since that time more circumstances have hit the national and world stage and at the same time struck close to home here in Northwestern Ohio.  Circumstances, they pummel us from every side.  I sit here with my broken leg propped up and my broken heart in the hands of God, knowing that none of these circumstances can separate me from my identity.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

Practically Hupomone

A friend of my paid me a great compliment and asked me a personal question.  “How do you stay the same as the world happens around you.  So many people I know turn cynical.  You are always kind and ready to help.”  I have to admit unfortunately I gave this person the wrong answer.  It focused on the situation at hand and not on my identity in Jesus Christ.  Why did I give the wrong answer?  Why didn’t I intuitively know what the correct answer was.  I pondered this over the last few days.  I absolutely believe that this question came to me through my friend by the hand of God. My friend did not realize that the question and the observance behind it answered a question that I have been placing before God for some time.  What is the value of this idea, these disciplines that you have placed so strongly in me?  What is practically speaking Hupomone Living?

So here is the answer (and I will email a copy of this to the person in question).

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and  increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. Colossian 1:9-12

Paul is brilliant here.  This passage contains a prayer, direction, promise and thanksgiving.  We find in this passage the core of Hupomone.

The prayer (for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ) is that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will not as the world (are even the church) sees it but through the lens of Spiritual wisdom and understanding as only comes from regular interaction with the Holy Spirit.

The direction is that we walk in a manner worthy of Lord.  As a young man my constant question of God was “What can I get away with, how far can I go without having your hammer drop on me?”.  This led me far from Hupomone living.  It was only when I began to see Him and ask, “What can I do that will be “in a manner worthy” of You Lord.” “What can I do today to please You.” Paul fleshed this out later in Colossians but just coming to the place of asking the question, praying the question is a big step in the right direction.  It begins to eliminate our reaction to circumstance in favor of our submission to God.

The promise is two-fold.  The implicit promise is that when we truly pursue the Hupomone life we will please Him, bear fruit, increase in our knowledge of Him and be strengthened, not according to our understanding or our circumstances but in accordance with His own.  As we pursue him, he pursues us.  It is the crazy train of our relationship with God but in a good way.  This leads to joyously giving thanks to God, not as a result of circumstances but as a result of relationship and identity and on this rests the explicit promise, we ARE qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints of Light.  The rest of the passage references our future, but all of that is based on His past,
“Father, who has qualified us..”  Paul goes on to say “for He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  It is on this that Hupomone living rests.  We are not here to react to circumstances, we are here to walk worthy, please Him, bear fruit, be strengthened and to live as those qualified by God to be heirs along with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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