God planned it for good

dog-growlingTwo boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid friend. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.” “That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye and his big teeth. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?” You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face adversity in your life. Sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the adversity confronting us.

In Genesis 37-50, Joseph was able to see how God planned years of adversity in his life to ultimately bring about a good result. God encourages us to “consider it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). God promises that He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Still, we wonder, “What if we consider adversity a joy and it comes back to bite us?” In the end, it all comes down to trust. God’s Word assures us that we can trust Him to fulfill His promises as we demonstrate our faith in Him through all the adversities of life.

As Joseph looked back over the course of his life to see God’s loving control through his personal adversity (betrayal, false accusations, unjust imprisonment, abandonment), he could also look ahead to God’s fulfilled promise to his family by faith.

20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.
21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
22 Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph. 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt. Genesis 50:20–26

Joseph lived to see God’s blessing on his children’s children. He died 54 years after his father’s death when he was 110 years old. He found God to be absolutely trustworthy – through all things.

As believers in our promise-keeping God, we know that He will surely come to our aid, in spite of death and discouragement. The nature of our adversity alone does not determine its spiritual value in our lives. It is our reaction to adversity, the way we deal with it, the way we respond to God, that makes it valuable. God is extremely interested in how we respond to adversity because our response determines whether or not it is going to bring about its intended result.

Joseph shows us how to respond to God by faith through all things – especially through adversity.

1. Accept God’s perspective of adversity. When tragedy strikes or difficult times overtake us, our worldview, and our view of God, comes under attack. Questions of fear reach the surface of our consciousness. We begin to worry and doubt.

road-blockIf we are only marginally interested in maturing as followers of Jesus Christ will have a difficult time with adversity. Our tendency will be to blame God or blame others, and become bitter. Instead of seeing adversity as something God is trying to do for us, we will see it only as something He is doing to us. If our perspective of life is comfort, convenience, and pleasure, we will have very little tolerance for adversity. We will see difficulty as a road block rather than a part of God’s plan for us. But when we truly embrace God’s perspective by faith, adversity takes on a whole new meaning. We see pain as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. Like Joseph, we begin to understand that adversity is a means to God’s greater good.

The person who has God’s perspective in this life and the life to come will always emerge victorious. Like Joseph, however, we are often forced to deal with the prolonged silence of God in the midst of grave adversity. When God is silent, you have only one reasonable option – trust Him. Hang in there, wait on Him. Yet, often He remains silent. God’s silence is always amplified by the anguish of adversity. Then more than ever we need a word from God. Joseph was able, by faith, to trust God’s perspective and plan to bring about something good through the painful years of difficulty – “the survival of many people.”

We learn from Joseph’s perspective that God’s silence is in no way indicative of His activity or involvement in our lives. God may seem far away, but He hasn’t forgotten. He may be quiet, but He hasn’t quit on you. He may be silent, but He’s not still. Trust Him.

2. Rely on God’s promises through adversity. The book of Genesis ends with the Promise yet unfulfilled, but with the expectancy of God’s deliverance. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they died, Joseph’s greatest concern was the fulfillment of God’s promise (cf. Genesis 24:1–7; 28:1–4; 47:29–31). Like his father before him, Joseph requested that his bones be taken out of the land of Egypt when God returns them to the Promised Land. His repeated expression “God will certainly come to your aid” guarantees that the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in the future (as Exodus 3:16–17 affirms). The Hebrew verb pāqad, “come to your aid” also translated, “visitation,” usually carries the connotation that destinies would be changed because God is faithful to His promises. Joseph expressed his complete belief that God would keep His promise to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (vs. 24). Hundreds of years later, Moses would keep the Israelites’ oath by taking Joseph’s bones with the people into the wilderness (Exodus 13:19). Finally, Joshua would bury the bones of Joseph at Shechem after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32). The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). What’s amazing to me is that God, through writer of Hebrews, approves Joseph for believing the wagging tail of His promises. Joseph is praised, not for his faith through adversity, but specifically for his faith in God’s promise that was not yet visible (Hebrews 11:22).

night-drivingOver the past year, I’ve had the privilege of teaching our oldest son, Michael, how to drive. Recently, while driving at night on two-lane road, I reminded him of what you have to do to keep from crashing into the oncoming vehicle – avert your eyes from the blinding light of the oncoming traffic to, instead, focus on the road ahead and the white line on the right that leads the way. In the same way, the oncoming difficulties of adversity can often blind us, but when we avert our eyes away from it and focus, instead, on the promises of God, we find He’ll lead us through the darkest nights. God keeps His promises. Trust Him.

3. Embrace God’s purposes for adversity. God planned all of Joseph’s suffering for His good purposes. Perhaps the reason so many of us struggle so intensely with adversity is that we have yet to embrace God’s purposes for it. Adversity is not just a tool that God uses. It’s God’s most effective tool for the growth and development of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as roadblocks are oftentimes the very building blocks that lead us down roads of intense spiritual growth. God uses all things, especially adversity, even the evil of others, to bring about His ultimate purpose in our lives.

Joseph embraced God’s specific purpose for the adversity in his life: the survival of many people. In the same way, Jesus embraced the Father’s will to suffer and die to bring about the salvation of all those who trust in Him.

So what is God’s purpose for adversity? Paul makes it clear:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:28–29

God’s ultimate, goal is that we be conformed to the image of His Son – in other words, Christ-likeness. His aim for us as followers of Jesus is not to make us happy, materially prosperous, or famous, but to make us Christlike. He now uses “all things,” the sad as well as the glad, the painful as well as the pleasant, the things that perplex and disappoint as well as the things they eagerly strive and pray for, to further His eternal purpose for us. In His infinite wisdom He knows what is needed to bring about that transformation.

God’s goal for us in not that we merely imitate the behavior of Christ. His ultimate desire is that the life of Christ be lived through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Christ-likeness is not “self” camouflaged in Christian activities. It is a lifestyle that flows from the very life of Christ Himself and His sufferings as He indwells the believer.

What does all this have to do with adversity? God is not satisfied with well-mannered, respectable “self” on the throne of our lives. He wants to remove all traces of “self” so that we can be presented to Christ holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-4). One way God accomplishes that is by sending adversity into our lives. Adversity stirs us up and causes us to look at life differently. We are force to deal with things on a deeper level. Nothing causes “self” to cave in like suffering. And once our religious façade begins to wear thin, God moves in and begins to teach us what real Christ-likeness is all about. “Self” is concerned with preservation. God wants the “self” life crucified. He does not want it dressed up, patched up, under control, renovated, decorated, or ordained. He wants it crucified.

Christ-likeness is not about behavior modification or self-improvement. Christ-likeness is not simply the imitation of a life – it is the impartation of new life – His life. Adversity is God’s most effective tool to make us live, think, and love like Jesus Christ.

Debbie, my wife’s sister, has had more adversity over the last year than anyone should have to endure. One year ago, she and her husband, Jeff, were working through some difficult issues in their marriage. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, they had an argument. Jeff angrily reacted by getting on his motorcycle and driving at an excessive speed on a two-lane road in rural Mississippi. He lost control and crashed. Care Flight transported him to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg where their daughter, Kaelyn, goes to college at the University of Southern Miss. At first, it seemed that God had spared Jeff’s life and that he would, over much time, recover. Our thoughts and prayers began to turn toward how his choices and the crash would impact their marriage and family. Debbie had many unanswerable questions. “Why would God allow this when their marriage seemed to be getting better?” “Why would Jeff put our family through this pain?”

Wolfe FuneralOver Thanksgiving, Jeff’s health began to decline and his body began to shut down. He died just a short time later on December 1. Debbie and Kaelyn’s grief and pain was, and continues to be, beyond measure. More questions rose to the surface. As they began putting the pieces of their lives back together, even more adversity came their way. Over Spring Break, a tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and the USM campus where Kaelyn goes to school. This summer, they discovered that someone had stolen Jeff’s identity and filed a US Tax Return under his Social Security number. The resulting financial mess, personal headaches, and continuing heartaches are very real. Yet, with all the pain and all of the adversity, something incredible, something amazing, is happening in Debbie’s life. She has responded by faith that “God is good, all the time.”

She is demonstrating heroic faith in the LORD God to fulfill His promises by conforming her to live like Christ through all these things. God’s ultimate purpose is being accomplished through her blinding adversities. There are still many questions left unanswered, but she is trusting that “God planned it for good to bring about the present result” (Gen. 50:20). Those watching Debbie and Kaelyn live and grieve can clearly see God’s ultimate good – Jesus living through them. God has been good, thru so much that has been bad, to make both of them more alive through His Son.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can choose to avert your eyes to see beyond the growling teeth of adversity confronting you to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises to transform you. Whatever your difficulty, God planned it for good. Trust Him.

Forgiving Others

Inigo_Montoya“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
For over 20 years, Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride, 1987) was in the revenge business. His father was a great sword-maker who worked for the king. When a six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, Inigo’s father took the job. He slaved a year before it was done. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at one tenth his promised price, so his father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. At the age of 11, Inigo challenged his murderer to a duel, but failed. The six-fingered man left him alive, but gave him two scars on his face. When old enough and strong enough, Inigo dedicated his life to the study of fencing so the next time they met, he would not fail. He vowed to go up to the six-fingered man and say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Another man who had a “right” to be in the revenge business for personal wrongs, family injustice, and just plain evil was Joseph (Genesis 37-50). His brothers had badly mistreated him for a dream that turned out to be exactly right. Their selfish hatred and jealous actions had led to years of slavery in Egypt, unjust accusations by Potiphar’s wife, the hardships of prison, and untold loneliness for Joseph. He had every right to get even with his brothers… but he didn’t.

In Genesis 50 things changed dramatically for Joseph. His father died, and his brothers began to fear what he would do. They knew of his deep love for their father and, therefore, assumed that Joseph would have done nothing to grieve their father any more while he was still living. Joseph previously assured them upon their reunion during the time of famine that he had no hostility in his heart toward them. Both his words and his actions demonstrated his heart of forgiveness based on God’s sovereign plan:

Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. – Genesis 45:4–5

Even with Joseph’s assurance, they were overcome with feelings of paranoia. Now that Jacob was gone, they braced themselves for the worst! They feared there was no one to protect them from their brother’s wrath.

This nagging question kept going through their minds: “’What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’” (Genesis 50:15). What if Joseph is still in the revenge business?

Their problem was that they didn’t comprehend God’s sovereignty or understand His grace. They believed the only reason Joseph took care of them was for their father’s sake, but would now seek revenge.

What was Joseph’s response? He wept. Not because of their sin this time, but because the forgiveness he had already extended to them had not been fully accepted. So, Joseph reiterated what he had said the day he had revealed his identity to them 17 years earlier. At that time, he told them not to “be worried” or “angry at themselves” because God had a sovereign plan that incorporated their human failures.

What we learn from Joseph is a key principle that can transform our relationships, too, if we are willing and rely on God’s Spirit for the enabling: Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and experience of His grace personally. Joseph’s reply to his brothers is a model to help us bring restoration to our relationships by completely forgiving others who have hurt us deeply. His forgiveness is also a type of the forgiveness and grace we receive through Jesus Christ by faith.

Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride"

Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride”

1. Forgiveness refuses to replace God by retaliation of others. Joseph quickly reiterated why he would never retaliate. He made this divine point of view very clear when he asked his brothers a revealing rhetorical question: “’Am I in the place of God?’” (Genesis 50:19). Even more than his gentle spirit and compassionate heart, Joseph’s faith in God affected his attitudes and actions. Because he had a divine perspective, He could not and would not retaliate. Joseph understood God’s perspective regarding what had happened.

Joseph was also modeling what Paul wrote hundreds of years later. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (12:19). Joseph may have been tempted to use his position of power to deliberately get even, but his divine perspective and God’s power in his life enabled him to overcome that temptation just as it had helped him overcome temptation with Potiphar’s wife – “how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

For us today, does that mean I don’t press charges when a law has been broken or a crime has been committed? By no means. Romans 13 affirms that the government and its legal system is God’s servant for justice. Forgiveness rejects personal retaliation – whether actively or passively. So, guard your heart when you have the power to place guilt on someone else. Refuse to take the place of God by trusting Him to be just and deal with the sin of others.

2. Forgiveness requires a realistic appraisal of sin. Joseph’s brothers had sinned terribly when they sold him into Egypt as a slave. They had also sinned exceedingly when they lied to their father and put Jacob through such terrible suffering. His brothers needed to hear him acknowledge that what they had done was indeed wrong. Their attitudes of sin and eventual actions of sin had to be clearly acknowledged and exposed for what they were. And so he did!  “You planned evil against me,” Joseph said (Genesis 50:17-20a). Joseph didn’t go into detail about their sin, but for complete forgiveness to take place, the evil in their hearts (you planned) and their evil actions had to be addressed for what it was: sin.

3. Forgiveness requires complete reliance on God’s sovereignty.  Joseph revealed his trust by saying to his brothers, “God planned it for good to bring about the present result.” (Genesis 50:20b) Jacob’s sons were responsible for their sins against Joseph and their father, but God took their evil deeds and used them to accomplish His purposes.

God’s display of His sovereignty is scary sometimes, isn’t it? In our need for control, we want circumstances and relationships we can manage, so we prefer a god who is manageable. So during times when we question His management of our lives, we want to take over. Ok, Jesus, that’s enough, it’s my time to drive – Jesus, let me take the wheel. But the great hope we find in the truth of God’s Word is that God is not like us, and we can’t manipulate Him. Over and over throughout the pages of Scripture God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God controls His desired ends regardless of the choices we make. His total sovereignty blows the circuits of our finite minds. God took the evil of Joseph’s brothers, turned it around, and made something good come from it. It takes a mighty God who is nothing like us to accomplish something like that. Joseph understood that God is sovereign, so nothing happens to us without Him knowing it. He is in control, even when things seem completely messed up.

“God’s sovereignty is first painful, then slowly powerful, and only over much times is seen to be profitable, if in this life at all.” – James MacDonald, Gripped by the Greatness of God

God was so much a part of Joseph’s life and breath that he saw and trusted the LORD in every circumstance, and through every difficulty. Everything that happened to Joseph, both bad and good, he viewed through the lens of God’s control. By faith, Joseph was able to move beyond his pain to see God’s power, and eventually how His sovereignty was profitable for everyone. The reason Joseph was able to forgive had nothing to do with his brothers’ apology and everything to do with his trust in God’s sovereignty. Let that sink in: Our ability to forgive others has nothing to do with their apology and everything to do with our trust in God’s sovereignty.

The-Princess-Bride4. Forgiveness results in the personal application of God’s grace. It’s easy to use words of forgiveness, but impossible, apart from the sovereign work of God’s Holy Spirit, to forgive with a heart of grace. Joseph said to his brothers, “‘I will take care of you…’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (vs. 21) Joseph’s forgiving spirit was the result of a heart that had been emptied through all the troubles of his life only to be filled to overflowing with the sovereign grace of God. You must first experience God’s grace before you can extend His grace to others.

To Joseph’s brothers, grace was counter-intuitive. It’s the same for us. Grace feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. It’s not rational. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness because it wrestles control out of our hands and destroys our safe, conditional world.

The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our selfishness with His goodness. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living.  Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

Joseph was led by God’s grace. He spoke by grace. He forgave by grace. He remembered by grace. He forgot by grace. He loved by grace. Because of grace, when his brothers bowed before him in fear, he could say, “don’t be afraid. I will take care of you.”

“Don’t be afraid” is Christ’s word to us just as it was Joseph’s word to his brothers. In their blindness, they wanted to work for his forgiveness (“We are your slaves” v. 18), but Joseph had completely forgiven them through grace. Some of us face the same problem when we learn that God forgives our sins—not because of any works we’ve done, but only because of His grace. This is why some go through life trying to compensate for their sins as a slave to guilt, rather than accepting God’s forgiveness as a free gift—an act of His grace. Grace is God’s gift for us to freely enjoy and personally experience.

Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and experience of His grace.

This is the power of the Gospel: while we were still sinning, Jesus, God’s Eternal Son, died for us when we deserved to die (Romans 5:8). What we deserve for the sin in our hearts and the sin we have done is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Before you and I could possibly forgive others completely, we must first believe that Jesus has forgiven our sin completely through His death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. Then, by trusting in God’s sovereignty, we can be kind and compassionate to others, forgiving just as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ by His grace.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. – Colossians 3:12–13

Joseph challenges us to make a difference in our world by being different in our lives—by God’s grace and for God’s glory. Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our trust in God’s sovereignty and our experience of His grace.

Inigo's Revenge

Inigo Montoya’s Revenge

At the end of The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya finally gets his revenge. Inigo corners Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s. He runs him through with a sword and shoves him back against the table. The six-fingered man falls to the floor, dead. When it was all over, he said to the Man in Black, “I’ve been in the revenge business for so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with my life.”

That’s the point – the purpose of revenge is completely pointless whereas our ability to forgive others by trusting God’s sovereignty in all things fills our lives with purpose.

Are you still in the revenge business? Have you truly forgiven those who have wronged you, ignored you, or been insensitive to you? How do you handle forgiveness, particularly when it comes to forgiving someone who has sinned against you and has not admitted it or sought forgiveness?Are there circumstances in your life where you’re tempted to take the place of God? Is there someone who you need to forgive that you’re afraid that if you do they will have control over you?

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.


Spiritual Fitness in God’s Gym

Spiritual FitnessAs we begin a new school year, there are so many things to keep our kids (and us) cRaZy BUSY. So let’s make sure that all the good things of homework, band rehearsals, football practices, piano lessons, etc. don’t squeeze out the most important thing – relationships – especially our relationship with God. Let’s make spiritual fitness a routine part of our day by exercising in God’s gym.

Take to heart the words of Timothy’s Life Coach, Paul:

Train yourself in godliness, for, the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  1 Timothy 4:7b-8

1. Spiritual Fitness involves repetitive training exercises. “Train…”
Spiritual training is not the self-centered struggle for moral and religious perfection, but the repetitive training and testing necessary for us to pursue God and His purposes.  (Hebrews 12:1-3). There is a price to godliness, and godliness never goes on sale. It never comes cheaply or easily.

FootballThe verb train, which Paul deliberately chose, implies persevering, painstaking, diligent practice. The Greek word for train is gumnazō (γυμναζω), a word speaking of athletes engaging in athletic exercises in the gymnasium. It means to exercise ourselves with a view of winning in athletic competitions. Doing this takes discipline and purposeful decision. Nobody ever wakes up “trained” or stumbles into exercise. The person who benefits most from exercise is the one who does it routinely and with determination. The disciplined athlete stretches and runs because these exercises lead him toward the greater goal of fitness and athletic achievement.

Any good football good coach will tell you that regular, consistent practice is where fundamental skills are developed and muscle memory is formed to make the athlete competitive in his/her sport. It is practice that puts feet to the commitment and applies the teaching of the coach. Spiritual fitness involves the regular, consistent reading of God’s Word and prayer, just as the athlete practices his particular sport. To follow Jesus Christ, especially when we don’t feel like, it is the route to receiving the very best from Him and the best life with Him.

2. Spiritual Fitness is personal.  “Train yourself…”
RunningNo one can condition someone else. The instructor can teach, motivate, and direct, but the student has to take personal responsibility to study and take the test. Spiritual fitness, likewise, is up to each individual. It requires personal dedication, personal discipline, and personal desire.  Many of us may be very disciplined and industrious in our schoolwork, our home, our work, or even in ministry, but it’s easy to become lazy when it comes to exercise in our own spiritual lives because we’re so busy.

We are dependent upon God for His divine enablement, but we have to take personal responsibility for the action; we are not passive in this process.

3. Spiritual Fitness is about godliness. “Train yourself in godliness…” Our objective in this training process is godliness – not following rules, not gaining knowledge, and not even performing, but rather, God-centered devotion (Deuteronomy 6:5). Of course, we want to be obedient, but for training in godliness we want to focus on our greatest responsibility and privilege – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37-38).

Band practice“Godliness,” mentioned eight times in 1 Timothy, refers to the right attitude toward God and to His holiness, His majesty and His love. A godly person is one who progressively moves from being self-centered to becoming God-centered. Godliness is both an attitude in life and the activity of life where our whole focus is consumed with pleasing God (Romans 12:1-2). In the Pastoral Letters of Paul, godly people uphold and practice sound doctrine. As a result, they treat others with love and respect.

SoccerGodliness does not come automatically, but is something into which we must put effort and, especially, help our kids focus. Neither is the training done alone – it is to be lived out in the body of Christ where each one exercises his or her spiritual gifts. Training in godliness is a team effort (1 Peter 4:10). It requires practice with one another to promote godliness – love that results in good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).

4. Spiritual Fitness is beneficial for a balanced life.  “Godliness is beneficial in every way…” Spiritual fitness is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end: Knowing and loving Christ. Disciplines are the spiritual habits by which we develop a deeper friendship with the Lord of heaven and earth. Our ultimate goal as Christians is to become like Christ (Romans 8:29).

ChoirIf we want our kids to merely be good kids, make good grades, have more self-control, or become more peaceful, any meditative religion or discipline will do. What sets Christian spiritual activity apart from all other religions is that we have a relationship with Christ as our goal – not moral perfection, not tranquility, and not even success. What really matters in life is godliness on earth while we wait to see Jesus face to face in heaven (Titus 2:11-14).

5. Spiritual Fitness is the best way to live in the now and the best way to prepare for eternity. “[Godliness] holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

It doesn’t matter if a person invests in physical exercise or careful dietary plans. Inevitably, death confronts all of us. Jesus addressed this truth when he said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). What we become in this life we carry into eternity.

RewardsThe present, literally the “life now,” aspect includes a life of purpose (John 10:10). The future aspect involves finishing well because of greater rewards in the coming reign of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10). Godliness is the result of faithfulness and the reason for genuine love (2 Peter 1:6).

Spiritual Fitness starts in the Gymnasium of the Soul. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance” (1 Tim. 4:9a).

Spiritual exercise is not easy; that’s why we must “labor and strive” (1 Tim. 4:10a). The word translated “strive” is another athletic word from which we get our English word agonize. It is the picture of an athlete straining, sweating, working through pain, and giving his or her best to win. We give our best to God because “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:9-10). We discipline ourselves for the calisthenics of praise, prayer, meditation, self-examination, confession, fellowship, service, sacrifice, submission to others, and loving others because all of these can assist us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to become a more godly person. Through regular spiritual exercise, we gain practical, day-by-day awareness of Jesus and find personal, moment-by-moment experience with Him in a close friendship that helps us become more like Him in every way.

PercussionMaking good grades is important for our kids further education and personal careers. Performing well on the football field is important to learn discipline and teamwork for later in life. Developing the skill of playing a musical instrument with others has significant value for the mind and emotions. But let’s not forget that we want our kids to also work out regularly in God’s gym because of the far greater and longer lasting advantages of godliness in Christ – for the present life and for the life to come.

How does love respond to a busy life in a complicated world?

life viewHow would you live your life if you found out you only had one year left to live? How would it change your focus? How would it affect the way you spent your time? How would it transform the way you respond and relate to your family, your neighbors, your classmates, your boss?

Here is what David Kelley discovered. David is the founder of what many regard as the premier design firm in the country—Ideo—and a professor at Stanford University for more than 30 years. He is a creative genius. Unfortunately, at age 56, Kelley discovered a lump on his body, and the doctors told him he had cancer. What followed was Chemo, surgery, radiation. and mouth sores. A throat so raw he could barely swallow. Nausea so severe he couldn’t concentrate enough to read or even watch TV. “I spent nine months in a room trying not to throw up,” he said. The treatment wrecked his saliva glands and his taste buds. He lost 40 pounds.

David is happily married and has one daughter. As he struggled through the difficult emotions that come with this kind of experience, he discovered a priority for living. David says about his daughter: At first, you think, “I don’t want to miss her growing up.” That’s motivating, but not that motivating. It’s when you manage to get out of yourself and start thinking of her in love that you get the resolve to continue. When you think, “I don’t want her not to have a father”—then you want to stay alive.

What gave David Kelley a reason to endure the suffering of his treatment was not the pleasure he would get out of experiencing life with his daughter, as wonderful as that would be. David realized that what truly motivated him to live was the benefit he could bring as a father to his daughter. What motivated him at the deepest level was selfless sacrifice for another—LOVE.

Simplify life with loveGod’s word tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can have all kinds of gifts talents and abilities, but if we don’t use them from a heart of love, they are meaningless. We can do all kinds of ministry, service, and work, but if we don’t do them from a motivation of love, they are worthless. Without love, life is reduced to busyness. But God calls us to a better way of living than always staying busy. God’s way of living brings value to all of life, but it requires cultivating and valuing love as our #1 priority for each moment, each task, and each relationship of life.

How does love respond to a busy life in a complicated world?
Love focuses on what lasts for eternity – L-O-V-E.  Love is our #1 Priority in life because it’s the only thing that will last forever.

“Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

The best of the temporal things of life are far less important than the eternal importance of love because they won’t last. Even great ministry activities like prophecy, speaking in tongues, and spiritual knowledge, as examples from Paul, still don’t measure up to love because they won’t last. The things we do by faith are great, but they won’t be needed forever. It isn’t that they don’t matter – they just don’t matter the most. Most of us have very busy schedules, but it’s not our schedules that cause our lives to be busy – it’s our misplaced priorities. It isn’t that many of the good things we do don’t matter. They matter a lot. They just don’t matter the most. They aren’t the highest priority. In order to love more—authentically and deeply—we have to rearrange our priorities and do fewer of the activities that enslave our hearts and minds.

Imagine throwing a big party for a special celebration and commissioning an elaborate ice sculpture to be the centerpiece of the decorations. The ice artists get an enormous block of ice, come up with a beautiful design, and begin to sculpt it with their chain saws and chisels. After weeks of work, the time for the celebration comes. The sculptors roll out their 20’ high ice masterpiece, complete with multicolored lights slowly rotating in the center of the outdoor celebration. Party guests ooh and ahh over how amazing it is. It’s truly impressive. the sculpture is the talk of the party. Several hours later, as volunteers are cleaning up, the ice sculpture is mostly a big puddle of water. It was beautiful while it lasted, but there’s hardly anything left. The artists’ work was excellent and admired by all, but it didn’t last. I wonder how many of us are working hard, giving our best energy and time to some very good things that simply won’t last.

What demands and pressures are you living with today that will melt when it’s all said and done?  What’s the solution? How do we make love our #1 priority? Grow up in love!

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

grow_upIn order to make love our #1 priority, we must grow up from childish words, thoughts, reasoning, and actions to live in love. These three verbs – talk, think, and reason – are very revealing. They show us a lot about the difference between children and adults. What do children talk about? Themselves. “I want it.” What do kids think about? Usually themselves. “Mine.” They are very me-focused. They are also focused on the “right now” That’s how they reason. They see their needs and wants as immediate. This is the picture Paul paints of our busy lives with mis-placed priorities. Childish. It’s easy to be interested in our wants, focused on ourselves, and use short-term reasoning.  As we mature, however, and grow up, we talk less about what we want and more about what God and others want.  Love asks, “what’s best for everyone involved? What’s the right long-term solution?” That’s how adults learn to talk. As we grow up, we begin to realize that life isn’t all about us. Our thinking gravitates toward others even when we’ve been hurt, disagree, or seen others fail. We develop an outward focus. And as we mature, we learn to look down the road and plan ahead. We forsake immediate gratification because the benefits of delayed gratification are so much better.

Love gives others what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, and usually, at the greatest personal cost.

In order to see progress in our spiritual maturity and ability to love, we need to comprehend a crucial principle of love.

“For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part,but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

ancient mirrorIn Paul’s day, craftsmen made mirrors out of metal. Corinth was famous as the producer of some of the finest bronze mirrors in antiquity.  An ancient mirror rendered a pretty cloudy image. You could tell the face looking into it was yours, but it wasn’t a precise picture. It was still hard to see.  That’s what our vision of life is like right now, Paul says. We don’t see everything clearly. A time is coming when we will. When Jesus returns, we will see fully and, according to 1 John 3:2, we will be like Him – completely transformed.

The principle of love is this: Cloudy vision leads to a complex, busy life, but a clear vision of God’s priority of love leads to fruitful, peaceful living. It’s our cloudy vision that leads to the busyness and complexity in our lives. Most of us struggle to figure out which things to do, so we try to do everything, but we end up not doing any of them very well, and we neglect our own souls. When things get clear, however, we don’t feel pulled in every direction. When we look at life from the perspective of our temporary lives on earth and the eternal impact they could have in heaven, we make better choices of how we spend our time and how we make love #1 priority.

Why is love the greatest? It lasts! Forever! That’s why we must love God and love others above all else.

“Now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:13)

Faith is believing in what we can’t see— the promises and character of God— but someday our faith will become sight.

Hope anchors our souls in the certainty of God’s plan, but at some point God’s plan will fulfilled. We will one day possess what we once hoped for.

But love continues on. It never fails. It will never end. When we meet Jesus face-to-face, love will take center stage. Do you see why love is the secret to simplifying your life? It’s not about trying harder to “do less.” It’s about seeing clearer to love more. Love is what we need. Love is what the family needs. Love is what the church needs. Love is what the world needs. Love is the indispensable addition that gives worth to everything.

Quite frankly, we’ve tried to love on our own and failed. We’ve loved those who love us in return. But what about others who have hurt us, or for others who are much different than us, and those who have failed us? Well that’s a different story. Where do we find the time and the ability to love in the midst of our busy lives and a complicated world?

heart_windowSo how do we love that way? Rest in God’s love in order to give His love to others. God’s love for you transforms the way you love others when you have been hurt. God’s love enables you to celebrate the dramatic differences in others. God’s love for you impacts the way you respond to forgive when others have failed. Oh, how God loves us! And for us to love this way, it comes only through depending upon God as we love through constant prayer.

“I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  (Ephesians 3:17–19)

You only have one life to live, how will you live it? How will you make love your #1 priority? How will your love respond throughout your busy life in this complicated world?


A few months ago, DeeDee and I got together with some great friends before they moved to the Seattle area. This month is our anniversary, of sorts – the four of us have been friends for 20 years. As we sat and watched our growing kids play together, we reminisced. We had some time to share what the Lord was doing in our lives. We talked about how God was working through both joys and struggles to cause us to grow up in our faith and become more like Jesus Christ. We played, we laughed, and we prayed.  Most of all we just enjoyed being together – as friends.

There are some pretty amazing things that God does for us through friendships. He extends His grace to us. He teaches us the power of forgiveness. He reveals His presence to us. He encourages us. He strengthens us. He protects us. He speaks to us. He loves us. And probably much, much more than I could possibly comprehend. God tells us that “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time” (Prov. 17:17).

Friends are the ones you think of first to share great news. Friends are the ones you call regardless of the time or time zone to share great sorrow. Friends help you discover who God made you to be. Friends help you become who God wants you to be. Friends pray for you. Friends pick you up when you fall and can’t get up. Friends spend time together and make memories together.

Several years ago, my sister and her family moved to Southern California. It was a difficult move for all of us because we’re not only family – we’re friends. Not too long after they moved, our family was able to visit them. In their bathroom, they had hung a picture with these words, “Make new friends and keep the old, One is silver the other is gold.” For whatever reason, maybe because I simply missed them, or maybe because I was very concerned about how they were doing, that picture and phrase stuck with me. Maybe it was what I needed to see in order to know that they were doing okay – making new friends. Years later, that picture helped me as our family moved away from close friends to make some new ones.

In this day and age of social media, the concept of friendship is becoming somewhat blurred.  A person can have a thousand or more friends on facebook and still be friendless. Even the new term “facebook friends” lacks a depth that comes from true friendship. Maybe “facebook acquaintances” is more accurate. How will our kids, the next generation, ever figure out what it takes to be a good friend and have good friends when most of their conversations take place on a screen?

Since friends are so important, one of the things I pray about for my kids most often is that they have good friends. Now that we have two teenagers in our home, with one more on the way, I realize how much their friendships, or lack of quality ones, can influence them. Navigating the shallow waters of immaturity and relationships can be treacherous. I praise God for the godly friends that He has brought into their lives and I pray that they become godly, influential friends to others. During these days of having all of our kids still under one roof, I’m grateful that our kids are good friends with each other and pray that continues as they become adults.

It’s been said that to have great friends, you have to be a great friend. Maybe that’s the strangest part. I don’t feel I’m really worthy of the amazing people God has placed in my life as friends, starting with my best friend, D2. I’m too selfish. I’m too impatient. I’m too insecure. I’m too loud. I’m too… well, my friends, you know my issues, and you look past those things to see who God is making me to be.

Even when God moves us or moves our friends far away, we’re still friends. I’m grateful for lifelong friends from the days of my youth. I’m grateful for friends from college scattered around the world. I’m grateful for older friends who serve a dual role as mentors and for younger friends whom I hope to encourage along the way (2 Tim. 2:2). Even though there are some friends that I don’t see or talk to as much as I would like to, we’re still friends, right?  And friends, let me remind you that you’re still being used by our Father in Heaven to make me more like His Son – a friend who is closer than a brother.

One of the most wonderful things about friendship is that our Father in heaven wants to be our friend and paid a tremendous price – He gave His Son – to make that possible. By faith, Abraham believed God’s promise and was called “the friend of God” (James 2:23). Jesus, the Son of God, said to His friends, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:3). Jesus not only taught about friendship and modeled it, He is our friend. And as friend, He gave us what we needed the most when we deserved it the least at the greatest personal cost. What a friend we have in Jesus!

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.