Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

Sunday Reflections – Developing Character to Eliminate & Prevent Pride

Ancient Edom – Photo courtesy of Atlantic Baptist University

Pride is a tough topic. It’s seems so easy to see in others but difficult to identify in yourself. Certainly, projecting and magnifying pride is easy to do. After all, if pride seems bigger in others, maybe it won’t be so noticeable in me.

My personal struggle with pride currently lies mostly with my reputation. What others think of me as a writer, mother, wife & teacher matters a lot to me. Too much. With that lens only do I look at pride today, a mirror not a magnifying glass.

Many stories in the Bible illustrate the truth that “pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The story of the Edomites is one such example, giving a full picture of pride’s destruction. (See the full story in the book of Obadiah.) The Edomites’ security, prosperity, popularity, education, arrogance and sense of entitlement led to pride that eventually became their downfall. This story fully illustrates that pride eventually results in consequences that grow ever more severe as pride grows.

As I seek to focus on pleasing God rather than pleasing man in my efforts to address pride in my own life, I first look at why eliminating pride from this and every area of my life is so important.

  1. Pride leads to shame. (Proverbs 11:2)
  2. Pride leads to arguments. (Proverbs 13:10)
  3. Pride cuts us off from God and others. (Luke 18:9-14)
  4. God does not reveal Himself to the proud. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
  5. Pride is incompatible with the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-26)

When I consider my current struggle with pride, specific examples of these points proving true readily come to mind. Shame. Disunity. Disconnection. Separation. Lack of direction. Not only do I hate feeling these things, I am even more aware of how my pride has displeased God. It occurs to me that the only way to eliminate and even prevent pride in my life exists through developing my character into one that pleases Christ.

For this reason, focusing on character over reputation must be a priority. Yes, reputation is important, and we should seek to have a good one (Colossians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 8:18-24). But character provides the foundation on which a solid reputation is built. Focusing only on reputation takes my eyes off Christ.

How can I develop my character in a way that eliminates & prevents pride?

  1. Learn endurance. Endurance strengthens character, which increases confidence in Christ. (Romans 5:3-4)
  2. Grow in the knowledge of God. As I know Jesus more, I receive His glory and goodness. This allows me “everything [I] need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3-11)
  3. Fix my thoughts. Routinely consider the role of my thought life and the necessity of being controlled by the Holy Spirit. (Philippians 4:8)
  4. Guard my heart. Several places in scripture, including A Father’s Wise Advice in Proverbs 4, instruct me to guard my heart above all else.
  5. Choose my company wisely. Avoid letting my relationships lead me away from Christ or corrupt my character. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

As my character develops through the process of sanctification, areas of pride continually come to light. My goal lies with addressing pride in its infancy, which means my confidence must not lie with myself but with God who is the source of all that I am and have. I must continually see pride as the poison that it is, and I must realize my responsibility for caring about others. Following Christ’s example to “love one another” as He loved me (John 15:12-14) provides the only real hope for keeping pride at bay.

DISCUSSION: Talking about one’s pride can be very difficult. Please share any reflections, lessons or additional thoughts you may have on this topic.

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Sunday Reflections – A Foundation with No Building is Just a Swimming Pool

For 30 years, the Moskva Pool (Moscow Pool) was the largest open air swimming pool in the world. Originally the foundation for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the church was demolished to make way for the Palace of Soviets. That palace was never built. Construction began in 1938 and was abandoned three years later when the steel for the project was instead used for war material during World War II. The foundation was then made into a swimming pool.

Without a building, a foundation has little purpose. And certainly, a foundation is not even built without plans for a building to be built on top of it. In a spiritual sense, however, foundations are built often without anything being built on top of them.

Let’s be clear that for a Christian, the only true foundation is Christ, and the life of a Christian exists as “God’s building.” At some point, someone laid the foundation of Christ in the life of a Christian. Then, the process of sanctification (holiness or being set apart) hopefully takes place and builds a “building” that will survive the fire (1 Corinthians 3:9-15).

This process of sanctification serves as the building process that takes place over a Christian’s life. But what if that process never takes place? What if the foundation remains but is never used for its intended purpose? As with the Moskva Pool, the foundation will have to settle for less rather than for fulfilling its intended purpose.

Fortunately, Christians don’t have to settle. Through the process of living the Christian life and by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us to conform us to the image of Christ, Christians can build upon the foundation that is Christ. The following points exist as crucial aspects of that process.

  1. Be willing to be pruned. The Word of God prunes in order to prepare Christians to bear fruit. Likewise, life’s circumstances lead to additional pruning that allows for the process toward perfection to continue.  Be teachable and willing to change.
  2. Understand that there’s always more. Even when a building is complete, there’s always maintenance needing done. There’s always cleaning that needs to happen. As a Christian continually spends time with God, the light gets brighter to allow cobwebs and dust to become obvious even in the deepest and hidden corners. Stay open to correction.
  3. Focus on the top priority. A building is usually built for a very specific purpose. Likewise, a Christian exists to be with Jesus. That is our #1 calling. As we focus there, we remain joined to our Heavenly Father (John 15:1-6). Remember that your focus determines your reality.

For the Christian, sanctification comes through living a life of excellence. In practical terms, this means gradually increasing in the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This lifelong commitment comes as we walk daily in obedience to Christ. This process of sanctification exists in a progressive sense in that we increase in holiness as we conform to the will of God.

Not sure where to start? Consider Paul’s advice for how to live life in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12. He advises living a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands. Doing so sets a good example for others as well as creates a life that “lacks nothing.” A quiet life, one absent of focus on constant drama, earns respect, which opens doors for sharing Jesus. Such a life allows Christians to live out the sanctification process in a way that encourages others to build on the foundation that already exists and to ensure they fulfill their purposes rather than just settling for anything less.

On a final note, realize that the best time to build on the foundation is now. Learn from the past and then move forward. While the Moskva Pool remained a foundation that missed its purpose for 30 years, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was eventually reconstructed, thus returning the foundation to its original purpose. Christians don’t have settle for where they are with building materials being used for other purposes. Returning to Christ is always an option.

DISCUSSION: What are some things that distract us from building on the foundation of Christ in our lives? What steps can you take today to eliminate distracts and return to His will?

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