RSS

Do It Anyway…


 

1. People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs Fight for a few underdogs   anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9. People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you   have anyway.

David Augsberger, When Enough is Enough, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984), pp. 109-130

 

leaders1Finding Good Leaders

What kind of person is best able to involve others and himself in good decision making? J. Keith Louden lists seven qualities:

1. The ability to look ahead and see what’s coming—foresight.

2. Steadiness, with patience and persistence and courage.

3. A buoyant spirit that in spite of cares generates confidence.

4. Ingeniousness, the ability to solve problems soundly yet creatively.

5. The ability to help others.

6. Righteousness, the willingness to do the right thing and speak the truth.

7. Personal morality of a quality that commands the respect of others.

Charles W.L. Foreman, “Managing a Decision Into Being,” from the Management Course for Presidents, pp. 3-4.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 8, 2018 in counsel

 

The Day the Angels Sang to Mother


     One day, a young Mother set her foot on the path of life. She was excited and thrilled by what laid ahead of her. Curious, though, by her mysterious journey, she asked her Guardian Angel, “Is the journey long and difficult?”

     Her Guardian Angel replied: “Yes, and at times the journey will seem hard and burdensome. But remember this, no matter how tough it gets, you’ll discover that everything will work out for the best if you have faith in the Almighty One. Trust me, the end will be better than the beginning.”

     The young Mother was happy, and she did not believe that anything could be better or more special 1 Peter 1:12 (34 kb)than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way. Life was good during these early years since the sun always casted its radiance on them. Because of this, the young Mother rejoiced and said, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than these years.”

     Then night came and a violent gathered. Both the wind and the rain drenched them. In no time, the children were trembling with fear and terror. Concerned about their safety, the Mother immediately drew them close to her bosom and tenderly covered them with her mantle. Comforted, the children said, “Mother, we are no longer afraid, for you are near. No harm can touch us now.” The Mother then took a deep sigh and said, “This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children the value of trust and courage.”

     Eventually morning arrived. At the break of dawn, they all saw a rocky hill ahead. The children decided to climb it, but quickly grew weary. The Mother too was weary, but she repeatedly encouraged her children saying, “A little more effort and patience, for we’re almost there.” So the children continued to climb the hill — even when they slipped and fell along the rugged path. When they finally reached the top, they triumphantly cheered, “We couldn’t have done it without you, Mother, and now we know that we can overcome any mountain that comes along our way.” That night, the Mother raised her tired eyes to Heaven and thanked God saying, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned endurance and hope in the face of hardships.”

     The next day, strange clouds came which darkened the earth — clouds of war, hatred, and evil. Overwhelmed by these threatening clouds, the Mother and her children staggered and stumbled. Fortunately, though, the Mother remembered what her Guardian Angel told her. Therefore, she inspired her children saying, “Have faith, my beloved ones. Lift your eyes to the Light, for the Light will bring forth sunshine in the midst of this dreadful darkness.” So the children looked to the Light, and saw an Everlasting Friend above the clouds. The Everlasting Friend guided them, and successfully brought them beyond the horrifying evil. That evening, the Mother wept and said, “This is the best day of all, for I have taught my children to love God.”

     And the days went by. The weeks, the months, and the years took their natural course. The day, however, finally came when the Mother grew old. By now, she was tired, wrinkled, and weak. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. Indeed, when the road was hard, they helped their Mother. When the road was rough, they lifted her. And when the road was too painful, they carried her.

     Ultimately, though, the day came when the Mother and her children arrived at a forest. Beyond the forest, they could see a sparkling trail which led them to some gates that were made of diamonds and pearls. The golden brilliance of this Gate was majestic and breathtaking. At the other side of the Gate, there were some people dressed in white robes.

     With a smile on their faces, they beckoned the Mother to walk through the Gates. Upon seeing the wondrous Gate, the Mother said: “I have successfully reached the end of my journey. My Guardian Angel was right, for now I know that the end is better than the beginning. Indeed, my children can walk alone, and their children after them.” The children then turned to her and declared, “You’ll always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the Gates.”

     Soon thereafter, the children watched her as she walked through the Gates of Eternal Life. When the Mother finally made it through the Gates, the children suddenly heard a heavenly chorus. Unlike anything heard on earth, the chorus sang extravagant songs of praise and admiration in honor of the Mother. The children wept when they heard the songs because they were so grateful for their Mother. At last, though, they were forced to smile and say, “We cannot see her, but she is still with us. A Mother like ours is more than a loving memory. She is a living Presence for all eternity.” It was a day never to be forgotten because it was the day the angels sang to Mother….Unknown Author.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Encouragement

 

Beliefs Matter: One Baptism  Ephesians 4:4-5; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:26-28


Ever made a bad first impression? Have you ever felt like you’ve messed it up enough that you wish you could start all over? That’s one way of describing what baptism is all about, a new beginning, a brand new life.

Ephesians 4:4-5: There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– {5} one Lord, one faith, one baptism; Belief Matters—Eph 4:7 beliefs that really matter, we’ve covered …today One Baptism

When speaking of the one Baptism Paul could not have had in mind the question or debate of where it was of pouring, or sprinkling, or immersion. Only immersion was practiced in the time of the apostles. The earliest case of sprinkling for baptism on record is that of Novation in 251 A. D., who was “baptized” upon his bed while sick by pouring a large quantity of water over him.

According to the historians, immersion was nearly the universal practice until the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church declared at the Council of Constance that immersion and sprinkling were of equal validity.

Paul was certainly not referring to Holy Spirit baptism as the one baptism that was the common experience of the church. Baptism in the Holy Spirit was an exceptional experience. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:4). About ten years later, at the house of Cornelius, Peter saw the Holy Spirit fall of Cornelius and his household.

In telling about this, Peter said that the Holy Spirit fell on them, “as at the beginning. Then remembered the word of the Lord how that he had said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:15-16).

These are the only cases of Holy Spirit baptism recorded in the Bible. The experiences of those who claim to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in modern times are so contradictory that no confidence can be placed in them. If there is only one baptism, surely there ought not be any disagreement as to how it is to be performed, or in what it is done.

(Acts 2:38-39 NIV)  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. {39} The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

The difficulty comes in the simple definition —  or redefining – of the word eis. Is it saying that baptism is to receive the forgiveness of sins or baptism is because my sins have  already been forgiven? To say the same thing in another way: is baptism necessary in order to have your sins forgiven?

If the word eis in Acts 2:38 means their sins were already forgiven before baptism, it has to be interpreted the same way in Matthew 26:28: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Does anyone here believe that forgiveness of sins was possible for the masses BEFORE the death and the “shedding of blood” by Jesus?

The One Baptism is an immersion in water of a person who understands and believes the good news about Jesus and who is willing to follow Jesus as his One Lord.

  1. Is an immersion – Word means immerse or dip (ship sinking, man drowning), parallel w/ DBR; some vv. refer to “much water” or “going down into the water” and indicate that immersion is what was going on (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). Some may wonder if sprinkling is okay. Wrong Q—don’t need to be trying to figure out whether what we may have done is good enough but figuring out what God wants.
  2. Understands & believes the good news— (vv. Acts 2:24-38; Col. 2:11-12) not a ritual, must be understanding & faith, not for babies or others who don’t understand or believe.
  3. Willing to follow Jesus as their one lord—(vv. Acts 2:36, 41) not magical & not the end of the journey, rather the beginning.

The purpose and meaning of baptism is broad:

  • It is associated with being a part of the church, being clothed with Christ, repentance, death, the Holy Spirit
  • It is associated w/ forgiveness of sins and salvation. I believe a proper understanding of it fits with the clear biblical teaching that we are saved by grace through faith. The best simple way I know to say it is that baptism is one of the responses to God’s grace in order to be forgiven and saved.
  1. Salvation is by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Grace is the basis for salvation, no way we can save ourselves. When we get baptized, we are not saving ourselves (but cf. Acts 2:40-41).
  2. Baptism is a response to grace. Grace is primary; grace is the basis; baptism is a response to it. Without the grace, baptism would be meaningless.
  3. Baptism is not a work (Titus 3:4-5). Rather, it is a response to Christ’s work.
  4. Baptism is a matter of faith (Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:11-12).
  5. Baptism is one of several responses to God’s grace (faith, repentance, confession).
  6. Baptism is a necessary response (vv. Acts 2:38; 22:16; I Pet. 3:21; John 3:3-5).
  7. Baptism is the beginning point for new life (Rom. 6:4), I don’t know of any other point in time that the NT says we die to our old life.

Every “religious group” teaches some response to God’s grace is necessary for salvation, to believe in Jesus or accept Jesus or pray to Jesus etc. The idea of responding to God’s grace is biblical (“those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace,” Rom. 5:17). I believe the NT teaches baptism is a part of receiving it, one of the necessary responses, in view of the clear statements that connect w/ salvation.

If you are familiar with “the sinner’s prayer” I encourage you to think carefully about that. I can’t find that in the Bible, Rev. 3:20 is talking to Christians.

People feel a need for a tangible beginning point, and baptism is that beginning point…a particular event at a particular point in time and an actual act which is deliberate and able to be witnessed. I believe the sinner’s prayer is a way of filling the void left when people remove baptism.

So baptism is an immersion in water of a person who understands and believes the good news about Jesus and who is willing to follow Jesus as his One Lord.

  • This is the One baptism shared by all God’s people. It holds us together as God’s people.
  • This is what we believe & teach at Parkway & something you need to do if you want to be a member of Parkway.
  • If you’re not quite there yet in your thinking, that’s okay. Our walk w/ God is a journey. But I encourage you to be thinking, praying, & studying about this.
  • It is a vital part. I’d love to talk with you about it if you wish. Or if you think I’m wrong about this, I’d be glad to dialog with you.

(Galatians 1:6-9 NIV)  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– {7} which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. {8} But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! {9} As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

(Galatians 3:26-28 NIV)  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, {27} for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. {28} There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Why is this so important? Because the religious world is good at giving “false confidence” in this area. We’ve got to spend some time today in Acts 19:1-5

Paul found some disciples who had been immersed in water: “in the right way” for the wrong reason. Why was it such a big deal? What was the recourse? How does it affect us today? 

Throughout this series of messages on Belief Matters we’ve been saying it’s not enough merely to understand what the Bible teachers or merely to concur with it. It needs to change our lives.

If we believe in the One Baptism, we’ll do two things: Get baptized, w/ understanding, w/ faith, w/ the intent to follow Jesus. If you haven’t done that, I urge you to do so. If it’s associated with being saved, it’s really, really important. Wouldn’t want you to do it just to do it; need to understand. Glad to discuss it with you further.  Live like you’ve been baptized (not “follow the rules”). Parallel <> baptism and death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 1, 2018 in Baptism

 

Beliefs Matter: One Faith: A Call To Arms! – Philippians 1:27; Jude 1


A note posted on a religious website, discussing sexuality as a spiritual experience…says “it is OK be monogamist OK to be Gay,  Bi, Straight; OK to be different; OK to follow our own path; OK to make our own choices without being judged, particularly in this community.”

The truth tells us that while people may indulge their sinful desires in that way, we don’t please God like that.

How do we know? Where do we go for direction? We believe there is One Lord, and today we see there is one place where we can go to find the written directions. The “one faith” does not refer to the act of believing, but to the body of doctrines which we believe. The one faith is the Gospel.

(Philippians 1:27 NIV)  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

(Jude 1:3 NIV)  Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

It is not scriptural to speak of “many faiths” or “interfaith activities” as many do. There are not two faiths nor several faiths. There is only one faith that leads into God’s presence and that is the faith founded by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what Oprah and others are teaching, there is no other approach to God. If a person wishes to live with God—to be approved and accepted by Him—that person has to approach God through the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 NIV)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. {14} He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The point is this: every believer has come to God in the very same way—by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is the only way, the only true faith. Therefore, standing before God and having come to Him through the same faith, there is no room for any differences. We all stand on the same ground, on the same level: the ground and level of faith.

If you want to be a member of this congregation, realize that we believe there is One body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, and One Faith.

Jude 1:1-4 (ESV)
1  Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2  May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3  Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
4  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Why did Jude write this letter?

To warn his readers that the apostates were already on the scene! Peter had prophesied that they would come, and his prophecy had been fulfilled.

He wrote to “exhort” them (Jude 3). In the Greek language, this word was used to describe a general giving orders to the army; hence the atmosphere of this letter is “military.” Jude had started to write a quiet devotional letter about salvation, but the Spirit led him to put down his harp and sound the trumpet! The Epistle of Jude is a call to arms.

The Army (Jude 1-2)

The Captain of the army is Jesus Christ, and the soldiers He commands are people who share a “common salvation” through faith in Him. Jude called them saints and addressed them as sanctified.

Not only are God’s saints set apart, but they are also preserved. This means “carefully watched and guarded.” The believer is secure in Jesus Christ. This same word is used in Jude 6 and 13 (“reserved”) and also in Jude 21 (“keep yourselves”).

The Enemy (Jude 3-4)

I must confess that I sympathize with Jude. I would much rather encourage the saints than declare war on the apostates. But when the enemy is in the field, the watchmen dare not go to sleep. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground. Jude wasted no time in identifying the enemy.

They were ungodly (v. 4b).

This is one of Jude’s favorite words. While these men claimed to belong to God, they were, in fact, ungodly in their thinking and their living.

They were deceitful (v. 4c).

They “crept in unawares.” The Greek word means “to slip in secretly, to steal in undercover.” How could false brethren get into true assemblies of the saints? The soldiers had gone to sleep at the post! The spiritual leaders in the churches had grown complacent and careless. This explains why Jude had to “blow the trumpet” to wake them up.

They were enemies of God’s grace (v. 4d).

Why did they enter the churches? To attempt to change the doctrine and “turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4). The word lasciviousness simply means “wantonness, absence of moral restraint, indecency.” A person who is lascivious thinks only of satisfying his lusts, and whatever he touches is stained by his base appetites.

Many scriptures warn us that the apostates would argue, “You have been saved by grace, so you are free to live as you please!” The apostates, like the cultists today, use the Word of God to promote and defend their false doctrines.

They seduce young, immature Christians who have not yet been grounded in the Scriptures. Every soldier of the Cross needs to go through “basic training” in a local church so that he knows how to use the weapons of spiritual warfare.

They denied God’s truth (v. 4e).

Jude was affirming strongly the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God! But the apostates would deny this. They would agree that Jesus Christ was a good man and a great teacher, but not that He was eternal God come in human flesh. The first test of any religious teacher, as we have seen, is, “What do you think of Jesus Christ? Is He God come in the flesh?”

Anyone who denies this cardinal doctrine is a false teacher no matter how correct he may be in other matters. If he denies the deity of Christ, something will always be missing in whatever he affirms.

They were ordained to judgment (v. 4a).

Jude did not write that these men were ordained to become apostates, as though God were responsible for their sin. They became apostates because they willfully turned away from the truth. But God did ordain that such people would be judged and condemned. The Old Testament prophets denounced the false prophets of their day, and both Jesus Christ and His Apostles pronounced judgment on them.

Why should these men be judged by God? To begin with, they had denied His Son! That is reason enough for their condemnation! But they had also defiled God’s people by teaching them that God’s grace permitted them to practice sin.

How, then, should the church respond to the presence of this insidious enemy? By earnestly contending for the faith.

“The faith” refers to that body of doctrine that was given by God through the Apostles to the church. The word doctrine is found at least sixteen times in the Pastoral Epistles alone.

What does it mean to “contend for the faith”? The Greek word is an athletic term that gives us our English word agonize. It is the picture of a devoted athlete, competing in the Greek games and stretching his nerves and muscles to do his very best to win.

You never fight the Lord’s battles from a rocking chair or a soft bed! Both the soldier and the athlete must concentrate on doing their best and giving their all. There must also be teamwork, believers working together to attack and defeat the enemy.

Sometimes you hear well-meaning people say, “Well, it’s fine to contend for the faith, but don’t be so contentious!” While it is true that some of God’s soldiers have been the cause of quarrels and divisions, it is also true that some of them have paid a great price to defend the faith.

As Christian soldiers, we must not fight each other or go around looking for trouble. But when the banner of Christ is in danger of being taken by the enemy, we cannot sit idly by, nor can we ever hope to win the victory by wearing kid gloves.

Paul admonished both Timothy and Titus to make sure the believers were being taught “sound doctrine,” which means “healthy doctrine,” doctrine that promotes the spiritual health of the local church.

While individual teachers and preachers may disagree on the fine points of theology, there is a basic body of truth to which all true Christians are committed.

He exhorted Timothy to entrust the Word to other faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). You and I would not have the Word today were it not for faithful believers down through the ages who guarded this precious deposit and invested it in others.

The church is always one generation short of extinction. If our generation fails to guard the truth and entrust it to our children, then that will be the end! When you think of the saints and martyrs who suffered and died so that we might have God’s truth, it makes you want to take your place in God’s army and be faithful unto death.

False doctrine is a deadly poison that must be identified, labeled, and avoided. We must always speak the truth in love, and the weapons we use must be spiritual. At the same time, we must dare to take our stand for “the faith” even if our stand offends some and upsets others. We are not fighting personal enemies, but the enemies of the Lord.

It is the honor and glory of Jesus Christ that is at stake. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).

The Victory (Jude 5-7)

Jude 1:5-7 (ESV)
5  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
6  And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
7  just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Jude reached back into Old Testament history and gave examples of God’s victory over those who had resisted his authority and turned from the truth. The point Jude was making is that God judges apostates. Therefore, the false teachers who had crept into the church would also one day be judged. Their seeming success would not last; God would have the last word. 

The sin of Israel was rebellious unbelief (Heb. 3:12). The sin of the angels was rebellion against the throne of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was indulging in unnatural lust. Unbelief, rebellion against authority, and sensual indulgence were sins characteristic of the false teachers.

The conclusion is obvious: the apostates will be judged. But, meanwhile, God’s soldiers must stay on duty and see to it that these false teachers do not creep into the ranks and start to lead people astray.

Jude 1:17-25 (ESV)
17  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
18  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
19  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
20  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
22  And have mercy on those who doubt;
23  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
25  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

What can we do practically to oppose the enemy and maintain the purity and unity of the church?

For one thing, we must know the Word of God and have the courage to defend it. Every local church ought to be a Bible institute, and every Christian ought to be a Bible student.  The pulpit needs to declare positive truth as well as denounce error.

Second, we must “watch and pray.”

The Christian life must never stand still; if it does, it will go backward. The enemy is already here and we dare not go to sleep! Spiritual leaders in local congregations need to be alert as they interview candidates for baptism and church membership. Congregations must exercise discernment as they select spiritual leaders.

Finally, we must have the courage to maintain a position of biblical separation from those who deny Christ and the fundamental doctrines of the Word. This does not mean that we separate from fellow believers over minor doctrinal differences, or that we practice “guilt by association.” God’s true army needs to stand together in the battle for truth.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 29, 2018 in Doctrine

 

Beliefs Matter: “It Does Really Matter…What One Believes About One Hope” – Ephesians 4:4; John 14:1-3 H


Hope is something that God gives to help us keep our lives together until the very end.

Ephesians 4:4 (ESV)
4  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—

John 14:1-3 (ESV)
1  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
2  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Halford E. Luccock, in Unfinished Business, tells the story of a man who fascinated his dinner companions one night by telling of his experiences in the little town of Flagstaff, Maine, in Somerset Count. The town was to be abandoned and flooded and become a part of a large lake. A dam was being built which would submerge the little town. In the months before it was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it were to be covered with water in six months?

Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more unprofitable, more miserable. Then he added: “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” And I wonder if that’s not a good parable for many people’s lives today.

Hope is something that God has offered us to help us keep our lives together until the very end.

Where are we in our study of these seven 1’s?

There is only one body of believers, the church, which is composed of every saint who has trusted or will trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. There is no denominational, geographical, ethnic, or racial body. There is no Gentile, Jewish, male, female, slave, or freeman body. There is only Christ’s body, and the unity of that body is the heart of the book of Ephesians.

Obviously there is but one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, who is possessed by every believer and who is therefore the inner unifying force in the body. Believers are individual temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17) that are collectively “being fitted together [and are] growing into a holy temple in the Lord,… being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).

The Spirit “is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). He is the divine engagement ring (pledge), as it were, who guarantees that every believer will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).

If all Christians were walking in obedience to and in the power of the Holy Spirit, first our doctrine and then our relationships would be purified and unified. The spiritual unity that already exists would be practically manifested in complete harmony among the people of God.

It is one of the 7 key truths listed in Ephesians 4 that hold God’s people together. Belief matters.  Not so much because we’re going to have a doctrinal test in order to go to heaven, but because healthy beliefs lead to healthy spiritual lives, and unhealthy beliefs lead to unhealthy spiritual lives.

Our hope, in short, is that Jesus is coming back to take us home.

More broadly, based on several texts, our hope is that Christ will return, raise us from the dead or meet us in the air, transform us so that our bodies are like his glorious body, take us to heaven so we can see God face to face & live with him there forever.  Salvation will be complete & we’ll enter into eternal life in heaven.

Our hope is solid. It is not wishful thinking or an outside chance.  According to Heb. 6 it is firm and secure and can serve as an anchor for our souls.

The reason it is secure is the basis it has. Our hope does have a foundation: (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 

(1 Peter 1:21 NIV)  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Our hope is based on God raising Jesus from the dead. 

So, because God raised Jesus from the dead, we have a solid hope that he will return and take us home.

The question isn’t whether we have a thorough understanding of hope but whether our hope is transforming the way we live. Are our lives noticeably different because of our hope that Jesus is coming back to take us home? 

Here are some of the ways the Bible says our hope should affect us:

Give us Joy — (Romans 5:2 NIV)  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

(Romans 12:12 NIV)  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Lead to Praise: (1 Peter 1:3 NIV) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,                

Give us Endurance: (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Cause us to Purify ourselves: (1 John 3:2-3 NIV)  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. {3} Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Speak openly even courageously to others: (2 Corinthians 3:12 NIV)  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

The Bible teaches that our hope should have a noticeable effect on how we actually live our lives.  The one hope of the Christian has always rested upon the return of Christ and the blessings of the- future life” (Titus 2:13 ; I Peter 1 :13).

“Set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” ( I Corinthians 15 :19).

Strengthening our Hope (Bible gives several, I’ll mention 3).

Make sure our hope really is in God (not government or my own abilities; not here & now; not health & wealth gospel)

(Hebrews 13:14 NIV)  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

(1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

 (1 Peter 1:21 NIV)  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

 Choose to trust God. 

(Romans 15:4 NIV)  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:13 NIV)  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Hebrews 10:23 NIV)  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Be willing to learn from our suffering (Rom. 5:3-4).  (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; {4} perseverance, character; and character, hope.

       Ironically, one of the things that often robs me of hope is intended to be a means of increasing our hope.  When we suffer, whether it is for our faith or not, it is a God-given opportunity for us to develop perseverance.  If we persevere, that affects our character. If our character becomes more like God’s, then we have all the more reason to hope. So, suffering gives us an opportunity to develop hope, but it isn’t automatic—we have to be willing to learn from it.

       Be diligent in doing good. (Hebrews 6:10-12 NIV)  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. {11} We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. {12} We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

     Sum: we have a hope that Jesus is coming back to take us home, our hope has a solid basis: the resurrection of Jesus, & we can strengthen our hope by making sure it really is.

In the 1800s, when he was just a small boy, John Todd lost both of his parents.  A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he left home to study for the ministry.  Later on, this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress wrote Todd a letter.  She asked whether death would mean the end of everything, or could she hope for something beyond?  Here is the letter John Todd wrote in reply:

   “It is now 35 years since I, as a boy of six, was left quite alone in the world.  You sent me word you would give me a home and be a kind mother to me.  I have never forgotten the day I made the long journey to your house.  I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your servant, Caesar, to fetch me. 

   “I remember my tears and anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight to Caesar, I rode off to my new home.  Night fell before we finished the journey, and I became lonely and afraid.  “Do you think she’ll go to bed before we get there?” I asked Caesar.

   “Oh no!” he said reassuringly, “She’ll stay up for you.  When we get out of these woods, you’ll see her candle shining in the window.”

   “Presently we did ride out into the clearing, and there, sure enough, was your candle.  I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me—a tired and bewildered little boy.  You had a fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper waiting on the stove.  After supper you took me to my new room, heard me say my prayers, and then sat beside me till I fell asleep.

   “Some day soon God will send for you, to take you to your new home.  Don’t fear the summons, the strange journey, or the messenger of death.  God can be trusted to do as much for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago.  At the end of the road you will find love and a welcome awaiting, and you will be safe in God’s care. “

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 25, 2018 in Church

 

Motive for the pursuit of excellence: The glory of God


So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

In thinking about biblical motives for the pursuit of excellence we are brought face-to-face with the issue of the chief purpose for the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul reminds us that whatever we do (in keeping with our purpose) is to glorify God. This naturally includes pursuing excellence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism echoes this point with the words “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

For the Christian who is be concerned about his motives, this is the appropriate starting place. This comment by the apostle Paul and the statement from the Shorter Catechism brings us to the heart of the matter and it is doubtful if the issue can be more accurately and succinctly expressed. Christians must constantly be reminded that nothing less than the glory of God should be the motive for whatever they do and how they do it. To glorify God means to bring honor and greater respect to God’s name among men and even the angelic world who watch the behavior of the church (see Eph. 3:10). Every other consideration must be brought into subjection to this supreme objective.

Matthew 10:42 (25 kb)The Principle of Redeeming the Time, Using our Opportunities

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

Ecclesiastes 9:10b, “for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” brings us to the climax of Solomon’s point in this verse.

It may be that Jesus Christ was paraphrasing verse 10 when he said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Solomon was not saying anything sub-Christian here. Scripture knows nothing of a purgatory where one can pick up or gain what was neglected in this life. The New Testament agrees that it is deeds done in the body that count.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

The reason for the preacher’s advice in Ecclesiastes is that once death comes we can no longer buy up or use all opportunities for work and service. After death a person will have no further opportunities for work; there will be neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. We must not think this passage is suggesting soul sleep; see comments on our web page regarding “soul sleep.”

Eternal Rewards

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding (excelling) in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

Another awesome reason for the pursuit of excellence is that our toil in the Lord is never in vain if done in His strength or by the enabling ministry of the Spirit of God. All Christians will one day stand before the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ to receive back for what they have done while alive in this life.

“For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12  If anyone

builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13  each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

The consequences of the dishonor to the Lord, failure to be a blessing to others, failing to use our opportunities, and the possibility of the loss of rewards form excellent motivations for the pursuit of excellence.

The Role of Attitude in the Pursuit of Excellence

How does one develop the pursuit of excellence? What are some of the things involved by way of the means for pursuing our best?

From the standpoint of that which affects the way we work, there is probably nothing more important than one’s attitude! Our choice of attitude impacts every decision we make on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. Our attitude can either fire our hopes and the pursuit of the things that are important or it can extinguish our hopes and pursuits. The value of one’s attitude on what we pursue—our values, priorities, objectives, and how we pursue them is very evident in the book of Philippians where one of the themes is that of joy or rejoicing in the Lord no matter what the conditions or circumstances of life.

While chained daily to a Roman soldier in his own apartment, Paul wrote the following which is literally satiated with a positive attitude that clearly fueled his hopes against all odds.

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel. 13 The results of this are that the whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and that most of the brothers, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word without fear.

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me; yet I don’t know what I prefer (Phil. 1:12-22).

Then, in Philippians, as an encouragement to “working together harmoniously for the faith of the gospel” (1:27) Paul wrote:If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:1-2).

Note what the apostle is doing. There is encouragement which comes from our being in Christ, consolation or comfort which comes from God’s love for us, the love of Christians for one another, and there is a marvelous fellowship of the Spirit. This leads to affection and compassion in the hearts of God’s people. So Paul encourages the Philippians to allow the above realities to impact their attitudes in their relationship with one another—to have the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and intent on one purpose.

Then, in a context dealing with two women who had served with him in the gospel, but were having difficulties in their relationship with one another, Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! 5 Let your steady determination be seen by all. The Lord is near! 6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.  9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:4-9).

Finally, in thanking the Macedonians for their support, we are given these words that display the power of maintaining or choosing the right attitude by faith in what we have in Christ:

11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

There is a colorful illustration in the life of the great violinist, Paganini, which shows the value and power of attitude on the pursuit of excellence.

The colorful, nineteenth-century showman and gifted violinist Nicolo Paganini was standing before a packed house, playing through a difficult piece of music.  A full orchestra surrounded him with magnificent support.  Suddenly one string on his violin snapped and hung gloriously down from his instrument.  Beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead.  He frowned but continued to play, improvising beautifully.

To the conductor’s surprise, a second string broke.  And shortly thereafter, a third.  Now there were three limp strings dangling from Paganini’s violin as the master performer completed the difficult composition on the one remaining string.

The audience jumped to its feet and in good Italian fashion, filled the hall with shouts and screams, “Bravo! Bravo!”  As the applause died down, the violinist asked the people to sit back down.  Even though they knew there was no way they could expect an encore, they quietly sank back into their seats.

He held the violin high for everyone to see.  He nodded at the conductor to begin the encore and then he turned back to the crowd, and with a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and shouted, ‘Paganini…and one string!’  After that he placed the single-stringed Stradivarius beneath his chin and played the final piece on one string as the audience (and the conductor) shook their heads in silent amazement.  ‘Paganini…and one string!’[14]

(2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

God has never done or made anything that was not characterized by superlative goodness and excellent quality: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Unfortunately, however, the words excellence and quality sometimes cannot be used to describe the products of our efforts — occasionally we slip into the habit of doing things in a careless, inferior way.

But in the Lord’s work, of all things, it should constantly be our aim to do the very best we are capable of. Should we not be motivated by a commitment to excellence in the work of the Lord?

 In regard to the Lord’s Work, two basic attitudes are possible: one of these tends toward mediocrity.

There is a certain disposition that is concerned with nothing more than “getting by.”

This attitude is content with a relatively low level of quality. Nothing is aspired to beyond what is “adequate” or “good enough.”  With this attitude, we offer work and service to the Lord that are inferior even by human standards.

(Haggai 1:4)  “”Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?””

(Malachi 1:8)  “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.”

What object lesson was God teaching by requiring Israel to offer the first and best of what they had physically — if not that we ought in all things to “give of our best to the Master”?

Solomon advised: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Prov. 3:9).

“The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind” (John Stuart Mill).

“Mediocre” = of moderate to low quality; average or inferior.  Mediocrity is to human endeavor what entropy is to physical systems. “Entropy” is a measure of the disorder in a system.

It increases when things are left to themselves and no energy is introduced from outside the system.  In our work, when we take the course of least resistance and do only what is easy, mediocrity increases — without a conscious effort to rise above it, we are left with a “lowest common denominator” quality of thinking and living.

In regard to less-than-excellent work in the church, people have been overheard to say, “Oh well, it’s only the church.”  What kind of attitude is reflected in such a statement? What would be the result of such an attitude in the Lord’s work?

The other basic attitude tends toward excellence

Rather than a contentment with mediocrity, we should have a commitment to excellence in whatever we do:

(Ecclesiastes 9:10)  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

(Colossians 3:23-24)  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, {24} since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Should we not have higher standards of excellence in the Lord’s work than we do in our own endeavors?

(1 Corinthians 15:58)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

(2 Corinthians 9:6)  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Our English word “pride” can mean a sinful attitude toward oneself — but we also use it to mean self-respect, a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value, pleasure or satisfaction taken in one’s work, etc.

Is there not a good sense in which it can be said we ought to “take pride” in what we do in the Lord’s work?

(Galatians 6:4)  “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,”

As an example, consider the conscientious work of Fletcher Lawson, the road grader operator, who was not content to be anything less than “the best that ever did it.”  Zenith, the electronics manufacturer, used to say in its advertising: “The quality goes in before the name goes on.”

What should be the quality of the work that we attach the Lord’s name to?  We have a duty to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10)  “and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”).

Quality knowledge > quality principles/convictions > quality actions.  A commitment to excellence (or the lack of it) often shows up most clearly in the way we do the “little” things.

Should we not have a high commitment to excellence in:

·        Our individual work as Christians?

·        Our congregational work?

·        A commitment to excellence requires extra effort — carefulness and hard work are required. (Ephesians 5:15)  “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,” (2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

We should strive to “give of our best to the Master.”  We should aim to go “beyond ordinary.” We should be striving for the “quality life.” It makes a big difference how high our goals are in the work we do. If we “aim for the stars,” we may not reach them every time, but our work will be more excellent than if our sights were lower.

It is not a shame to fail; it is a shame to aim low. Wherever the Lord’s work is concerned, good enough is not good enough! Our intent should always be to work as those who do “not need to be ashamed”

Indeed, “nothing but the best” is good enough for the Lord who gave His life for us.

“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14,15).

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Church, Doctrine

 

A Strong Desire Toward Excellence: “Good enough” is not good enough


In keeping with the biblical goal of spiritual growth and greater levels of maturity, we often find in Scripture the call to abound or excel in Christian character, especially in the various ways we can express love to one another. Spiritual maturity is a quest for character for which there will be little progress without the pursuit of excellence.

Without pursuing excellence, life will remain bland, very vanilla, lukewarm at best (see Rev. 3:15-16). The quest for excellence fuels our fire and keeps us from just drifting downstream gathering debris. This focus and need becomes quickly evident from the following verses.

Hebrews 13:5 (230 kb)(Ecclesiastes 9:10)  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

 (1 Corinthians 10:31)  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

 (2 Corinthians 8:7)  But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us –see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

 (Philippians 1:9-10)  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, {10} so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

 (1 Thessalonians 3:12)  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

 (1 Thessalonians 4:1)  Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

 (1 Thessalonians 4:10)  And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

From these verses, it should be clear that God wants His people to abound or excel in both what they are (inward character) and in what they do (behavior or good deeds). It would seem obvious that there is simply no way one can love God with all his heart (Matt. 23:37) without seeking to do his or her best to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Since that is so, the pursuit of excellence is both a goal and a mark of spiritual maturity. However, for this to be true, the pursuit of excellence must be motivated by the right values, priorities, and motives. If we go astray here, the pursuit of excellence can quickly become a mark of immaturity and just another result of man’s obsession with his own significance, which, as mentioned previously, is a perilous pursuit.

It is known that Admiral Hyman G. Rickover’s interviews were legendary and one of the reasons is he always wanted to cut through the glib and rehearsed answers to get a look at the person underneath. He especially wanted to know how candidates would act under stress. On occasion he had them sit in a chair with the front legs sawed off an inch or two shorter than the back, to keep them off-balance. In his autobiography Why Not the Best?, President Jimmy Carter tells about his Rickover interview.

The admiral asked how he had stood in his class at the NavalAcademy. “I swelled my chest with pride and answered, ‘Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!’ I sat back to wait for the congratulations. Instead came the question: ‘Did you do your best?’ I started to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ but I remembered who this was. I gulped and admitted, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’ He looked at me for a long time, and then asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget—or to answer. He said, ‘Why not?”[1]

Because of who Christians are in Christ, because of our eternal hope, and because of the enabling grace of God available to all believers in Christ,  seeking to do our best and choosing what is best is part of God’s will and an evidence of genuine spiritual growth and maturity. However, there is one distinction that needs to be stressed up front.

As Edwin Bliss once said, “The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time.”[2] As finite human beings, none of us ever arrive, as they say, and there will always be room for growth and improvement.

(Philippians 3:12-14)  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. {13} Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

While this reality should never promote negligence or apathy or slothfulness, and while we should seek to grow, mature, and do our best, understanding this reality should help us all relax and rejoice in the Lord.

Pursuing Excellence is not to be a Quest for Superiority

In the first definition in The American Heritage Dictionary, excellence is defined as “The state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority.[3] The word excel is defined as, “to do or be better than; surpass; to show superiority, surpass others.” Then under the word excel, the following terms are listed and explained as synonyms for excel.

The words excel, surpass, exceed, transcend, outdo, outstrip all suggest the concept of  going beyond a limit or standard.

To excel is to be preeminent (excels at figure skating) or to be or perform at a level higher than that of another or others (excelled her father as a lawyer).

To surpass another is to be superior in performance, quality, or degree: is surpassed by few as a debater; happiness that surpassed description.

Exceed can refer to being superior, as in quality (an invention that exceeds all others in ingenuity), to being greater than another, as in degree or quantity (a salary exceeding 50 thousand dollars a year), and to going beyond a proper limit (exceed one’s authority; exceed a speed limit).

Transcend often implies the attainment of a level so high that comparison is hardly possible: Great art transcends mere rules of composition.

To outdo is to excel in doing or performing: didn’t want to be outdone in generosity.

Outstrip is often interchangeable with outdo but strongly suggests leaving another behind, as in a contest: It is a case of the student outstripping the teacher.[4]

Competition or being better than others is a prominent part of the above definitions. But when we think of the pursuit of excellence from a biblical standpoint, is that what is meant? No! As the above terms and their explanations suggest, those who approach or look at life from the viewpoint of the world typically think in terms of competition, of outstripping others, but such is usually done for one’s own glory or significance or for the praise or applause of men.

Brian Harbour picks up on this issue in Rising Above the Crowd: “Success means being the best. Excellence means being your best. Success, to many, means being better than everyone else. Excellence means being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Success means exceeding the achievements of other people. Excellence means matching your practice with your potential.”[5]

Gene Stallings tells of an incident when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins. They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the final score?”[6]

As these men illustrate, excellence isn’t determined by comparing our score or performance to someone else’s. The pursuit of excellence comes from doing our best with what we have to God’s glory and with a view to growing and improving, but not with a view to the score or who is watching from man’s standpoint.

So then, biblically speaking, the pursuit of excellence refers to pursuing and doing the best we can with the gifts and abilities God gives, giving our best to the glory of God. But ideally, it is done without the spirit of competition or seeking to excel simply to be better than others.

Excellence includes doing common, everyday things, but in very uncommon ways regardless of whether people are watching. The reality is that God sees our work and rewards us accordingly (1 Corinthians 15:58)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”).

Pursuing Excellence Is a Matter of Choosing the Best

The pursuit of excellence is never a matter of simply choosing between what is good or bad, but of choosing what is best or superior because it will better enable us to accomplish what God has designed us to be and do (Ephesians 2:10)  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

 (Philippians 1:9)  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,”).

In keeping with the fact that all believers are to abound or excel in the expression of Christian love, the apostle prayed that the Philippians my have greater knowledge and every kind of discernment. But in order to excel in love and wisely express it, they needed to be able “to approve the things that are excellent” (NASB) or choose what is best (my translation).

The term “approve” or “choose” is the Greek dokimazo„, which carries two ideas. First, it means “to put to the test, examine,” and then as a result of the examination or testing, “to approve, make the right choice.” Through the values and priorities that come from the knowledge of God’s Word, we are to examine and test, and then choose accordingly.

What is to be chosen is explained by the words “the things that are excellent” (NASB) or “what is best” (NET). The Greek word here is a present neuter participle from diaphero„, which means in this context, “the things differing, but in accordance with what is best,” i.e., the best or what is excellent.

The pursuit of excellence from a biblical world view is always connected with the issue of God’s values and priorities. This means the pursuit of  excellence must include the elimination of some things even though they may be good and legitimate. The principle is are they the best and will they get in the way or hinder the main objectives of a Christian’s life based on biblical principles and values? If so, they need to be eliminated.

We see this truth in Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (see also 1 Cor. 6:12).  Just because they are legitimate does not mean they should be chosen or pursued.

Film-maker Walt Disney was ruthless in cutting anything that got in the way of a story’s pacing. Ward Kimball, one of the animators for Snow White, recalls working 240 days on a 4-1/2 minute sequence in which the dwarfs made soup for Snow White and almost destroyed the kitchen in the process. Disney thought it funny, but he decided the scene stopped the flow of the picture, so out it went.

When the film of our lives is shown, will it be as great as it might be? A lot will depend on the multitude of ‘good’ things we decided to eliminate to make way for the great things God wants to do through us.[8]

 Pursuing Excellence is an All-Inclusive Pursuit

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Both of these passages point us to the all-inclusive nature of the pursuit of excellence. The words, “whatever your hand finds to do” and “whatever you do” point to the importance of doing our very best in everything we do.

The preacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us that apart from faith in God and living one’s life for Him, life is empty and futile. But this does not mean that men should therefore have a supine attitude by which one simply drifts along since nothing really matters because it does. Life is full of opportunities and there is work to be done.

This means that the strength and abilities we have are to be used to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us as they lie in the scope of our gifts, strength, His leading, and our responsibilities.

Besides encouraging his readers to enjoy life as God enabled them, Solomon also encouraged them to work diligently. The idiom whatever your hand finds to do means “whatever you are able to do” (cf. 1 Sam. 10:7).[9]

If it is a task worth doing, it is a task worth doing right and diligently.

Perhaps it might be worthwhile to make a list of as many areas as we can think of where the pursuit of excellence should touch and change our lives. Be specific! Are there any areas or tasks that I have not really taken seriously and I need to work on? Scripture says, “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). This would mean our occupation, ministries, family, hobbies, recreation, etc.

Pursuing Excellence Is a Matter of a Whole-Hearted Endeavor

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:4-5).

Jesus said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 23:37-38).

These three passages also point us to the importance of whole-hearted endeavor in whatever we do as Christians. But even more basic than that, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 23:37 teach us that pursuing excellence is a matter of the heart, of the inner person and proceeds from a inner faith/relationship with God. Scripture clearly teaches the real issues of life are spiritual and are really matters of the heart, the inner man.

Maybe it’s for this reason the word “heart” is found 802 times in the NASB, 830 in the KJV, 837 in the NKJV and 570 in the NIV. Heart is one of the most commonly used words of the Bible and  most of these occurrences are used metaphorically of the inner person.

When so used, they refer to either the mind, the emotions, the will, to the sinful nature, or inclusively to the total inner person. Thus, the term heart speaks of the inner person and the spiritual life as the seat and center of all that proceeds from a person’s life. Like the physical pump, the spiritual heart is central and vital to who we are and how we live.

Both Solomon and the Lord Jesus teach us that the issues of life proceed from the heart (Pr. 4:23; Matt. 6:21; 12:34; 15:18). What we do in word and deed is first of all a product of what we are on the inside from the standpoint of what we truly believe and how we think.

This is easily illustrated by the Lord Jesus in His teaching in the sermon on the mount. There He spoke strongly against the mere external and performance-oriented hypocrisy of the religious Pharisees. Importantly, in Matthew 5:17-48, no less than six times, He contrasted the external teaching of the Pharisees with His own teaching which stressed the inner life. Note the following statements:

· “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 21-22)

· “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 27-28)

· “It was said … but I say to you …” (vss. 31-32)

·  “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 33-34)

·         “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 38-38)

·         “You have heard … but I say to you …” (vss. 43-44)

What was the Lord seeking to communicate? He was reminding the people of the moral precepts they had been taught by their religious leaders for years, precepts which often had their source in the Old Testament Scriptures.

But then, with the words, “but I say to you,” He addressed those same issues again as being first and foremost matters of the heart. This and only this is authentic Christianity and reveals an intimate walk with God by faith. Anything else is nothing more than religious hypocrisy and will fail to pursue excellence, at least from the right motives.

Because of the central place and importance of the heart in all we do, which naturally includes the pursuit of excellence, it would be well to think a moment about some issues concerning the heart as it applies to doing our best for the glory of the Lord.[10] By itself, the heart is not a safe haven. It needs guarding or protection from invasion by the world system around us and from the sinful nature that dwells within us.

In Proverbs 4:23, Solomon wrote, “More than any act of guarding, guard your heart, for from it are the sources of life” (NET).

The heart needs special care because the heart, which includes the mind, the emotions, and will, is the place where we deposit the knowledge of God or biblical wisdom; it is the place of our values (Matt. 6:21) and priorities and where vital choices are made. Thus, it becomes the wellspring, the source of whatever affects life and character (see Mt 12:35; 15:19).

Chuck Swindoll has a good word here: ”Relentlessly, we struggle for survival, knowing that any one of those strikes can hit the target and spread poison that can immobilize and paralyze, rendering us ineffective. And what exactly is that target? The heart. That’s what the Bible calls it. Our inner person. Down deep, where hope is born, where decisions are made, where commitment is strengthened, where truth is stored, mainly where character (the stuff that gives us depth and makes us wise) is formed. . .

“The quest for character requires that certain things be kept in the heart as well as kept from the heart. An unguarded heart spells disaster. A well-guarded heart means survival. If you hope to survive the jungle, overcoming each treacherous attack, you’ll have to guard your heart.”[11]

Indeed, the heart needs guarding. We need to place a sentinel over the heart because it is the storehouse for the treasures that lead to the formation of Christ-like character. But these treasure can be stolen by the variegated deceptions and temptations of Satan who seeks to seduce us to pursue the lust patterns of destruction like power, prestige, pleasure, possessions, fortune and fame and always at the expense of the pursuit of excellence and godly character.

In keeping with the idea of excelling, the pursuit of excellence naturally works against a half-hearted, drift along or go-with-the-flow kind of mentality. As Ecclesiastes 9:10 shows, to do our best requires doing it with all our might.

In keeping with the rest of Scripture, this means “with all the ability and strength that God gives us.” And, as Matthew 23:37 and Deuteronomy 6:5 teach us, pursuing excellence is a matter of giving the whole heart. But this does not mean there is no place for leisure or rest and relaxation.

A certain amount of rest and relaxation is essential to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It is not only okay to relax, but it is essential as long as it is kept in the scheme of its purpose and not used as an excuse for laziness and irresponsibility. The goal is to enhance our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Strangely, however, in our workaholic society many people, and this include a lot of Christians, get their sense of identity and significance from work and a busy schedule. They often give their all, but for selfish reasons—the pursuit of position, praise, or significance. Some Christians even promote the idea that you really aren’t living for the Lord unless your are “overcommitted, hassled, grim-faced, tight-lipped believers… plowing through responsibilities like an overloaded freight train under a full head of steam…”[12]

Some would view such behavior as a sign of pursuing excellence when in reality, it can become a hindrance because of the debilitating impact on one’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

Swindoll writes: ”Strangely, the one thing we need is often the last thing we consider. We’ve been programmed to think that fatigue is next to godliness. That the more exhausted we are (and look!), the more committed we are to spiritual things and the more we earn God’s smile of approval. We bury all thoughts of enjoying…for those who are genuinely dedicated Christians are those who work, work, work. And preferably, with great intensity. As a result, we have become a generation of people who worship our work… who work at our play… and who play at our worship.

Hold it! Who wrote that rule? Why have we bought that philosophy? Whatever possessed someone to make such a statement? How did we ever get caught in that maddening undertow?

I challenge you to support it from the Scriptures…

According to Mark 6:30-34, Jesus purposely sought relief from the hurried pace of ministering to others and advised his apostles to do the same.[13]

The pursuit of excellence will mean hard work and diligence which may take on various forms—research, study, time, sweat, planning, brainstorming for ideas, etc. It may well mean swimming against the stream and sometimes navigating the rocky and swift rapids of life. It will often be exhausting and bring us up against that which is really beyond us.

Thus, in keeping with our own shortcomings and weaknesses, the pursuit of excellence in the execution of our daily routine or special projects is something that must be pursued by God’s strength. Such a mentality can be seen in the attitude and actions of the apostle Paul.  As one totally committed to God’s purpose for his life, Paul gave his all to be all God wanted him to be in seeking to bring men to maturity in Christ, but he did so by God’s enablement rather than by his own strength.

 Colossians 1:25-29: “I became a servant of the church according to the stewardship of the grace of God—given to me for you—in order to complete the word of God,  26 that is, the mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all men with all wisdom so that we may present every man mature in Christ. 29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Church, Encouragement

 
 
%d bloggers like this: