Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
I Want to Know Christ
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11). That is one long passage but, man, does it say a lot. The bottomline is simply this: Paul wants to know Jesus in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Some people drift through life while others make and pursue various goals. What about you? Are you drifting or pursuing? And, if you are pursuing, what is it that you pursue? Some pursue things and riches while other pursue gym bodies and fleeting beauty. The possible pursuits are limitless it seems. For Christians, however, our pursuit is to be singular--to know Jesus and to be found in Him. Paul puts it this way: "...that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."
I must confess I have stumbled into the trap of pursuing worldly things. Thankfully, God has not left me to myself. He always has a way to bring me back to the reality of who I am in Christ. Over the years I have developed some goals for my own life--a mission statement, so to speak. It's what I aim for and although I break it out into four areas or goals, they can ultimately be summed up in the phrase, "So that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him." I aim for these four things: (1) I want to treasure Christ; (2) I want to live the Word (sometimes I refer to this one as proclaim the Word); (3) I want to make disciples (followers of Jesus); (4) I want to finish well.
I made the above image a couple years ago to try and capture these goals. Sometimes I explain the last goal (to finish well) as the strategic focus of my life. If I finish well, then naturally, I will have treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples. At the end of his life Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The ongoing prayer of my heart is that I, too, will be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." By God's grace--and only by His grace--I will finish well.
All this got me to thinking recently what it takes to finish well. I came up with the following list of characteristics of one who fights the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith. It is in no way exhaustive. You may think of additional characteristics. But these are good ones with which to start. And, these all assume one is a believer and surrendered to God and sold out for Jesus. To finish well, therefore, a person must...
1. Be a visionary. The writer of Proverbs wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Vision, especially a vision to finish well, restrains a person in such a way to keep on target.
2. Be willing to suffer. It amazes me the number of so called believers I encounter who think any suffering is a sign of weak faith. The Christian life is not an easy one. If our leader (Christ) suffered, we can expect the same thing. Peter wrote, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier, in 1 Peter 3:17, he indicates suffering is often God's will for the believer. The primary reason for suffering, I believe, is to make us more like Christ. Suffering also serves the same purpose as vision--to keep us on target.
3. Not get bogged down by past successes and failures. Paul said, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). A few verses later he writes, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). It is good to celebrate victories but we should not camp out there. Furthermore, the devil will try to bog us down by pointing out past sins and failures. We must forget those, too. If God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus then we must move on. Otherwise, we'll fail to stay on target.
4. Be patient. In our fast-food world we want what we want and we want it now! James said, "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains" (James 5:7). A farmer doesn't go out and dig up his recently planted crop to see why it's not growing. He continues to "farm" while patiently waiting for the harvest. Likewise, a believer who wants to finish well is going to be patient. Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) is an often slow, tedious, and sometimes painful process. But if we're patient we'll eventually reap the reward of said patience--we'll finish well!
5. Be willing to persevere no matter what. The Bible mentions perseverance or endurance multiple times. In other words, God doesn't want us to give up. Consider Revelation 14:12, which reads, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Finishing well calls for endurance. When you stumble, get back up and keep on persevering. When you fail miserably, get back up and keep pressing on. Run the race set before you until you cross the finish line. And how will you know you've crossed the finish line? You'll see Jesus face-to-face and He'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps you know of more. Feel free to share via the comments section below. Comments will remain open for 60 days following the date of this posting. My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we'd run the race and finish well, having treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples along the way!
Run Like Jack Ran
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). It was C.S. Lewis who said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” The Bible teaches God’s approval comes by way of faith (Hebrews 11:1-2). In fact, the Bible makes it crystal clear that our faith, when perfected, is more valuable than anything we could ever imagine (1 Peter 1:7). Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews goes to great lengths to underscore the importance of living by faith. He teaches us about the nature of faith, the honor associated with it, and its way of seeing things. The entire eleventh chapter reveals the honor associated with faith through the lives of Old Testament saints. In the next chapter the writer describes living by faith in athletic terms—running a race. In so doing, he encourages those of us who name the name of Christ to run the race of life by faith, just like the Old Testament saints described in the preceding chapter.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 5:15; 14:7-9). What is the primary motive for Christian obedience? I posed this question to everyone who receives Thoughts to Ponder. Several responded. The answers given were interesting. However, none were surprising. The reasons given included fear, blessings, self-preservation, answered prayer, avoiding guilt, and gratitude. In fact, in one way or another, almost everyone reported gratitude to God for all He had done for them, as the primary motive for obedience.
This is interesting. It is interesting because the Bible says very little, if anything, about gratitude being the primary motive for obedience. Consider the Hebrew children in the Old Testament. More often than not, they disobeyed God, despite all the good things God had done for them. However, the Bible never cites ingratitude as the reason for their disobedience. It was always their lack of faith. In Numbers 14:11, God asks, “How long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs I have performed in their midst?” So then, if gratitude is not the primary motive for obedience, what is? Did you notice the interweaving of faith and grace in the passages from Romans at the beginning of this article? I believe the primary motive for Christian obedience, as taught in the Scriptures, is that of faith. In other words, I obey God because I believe God. Such thinking can be summed up this way: Do I really and truly believe God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do? If the answer is yes, then by His grace, I will obey. If it is anything other than yes, then I will begin to struggle with my obedience and run the risk of disobedience.
No matter how grateful I am for those things God has done for me in the past, if I do not believe Him for the future, then obedience is unlikely. The writer of Hebrews says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). Paul wrote that our introduction into grace was by faith with the result that we would hope in God. What is this hope? I believe it is faith in God for the fulfillment of His promises to us in His word. It is faith in God for the future, since the life we live will be lived in the future. All this can be wrapped up in the word hope. It is the essential role of hope that sustains us in our obedience to God, particularly when obedience to God might require me to go into some very dangerous situation and ultimately lay down my life.
I was working with the chapel youth group recently and posed a scenario where one might find himself or herself looking down the barrel of a gun, with a terrorist on the other end who says, “Reject Christ and live or profess Him and die.” My question was what would motivate you to profess Christ in that moment, knowing that doing so would probably result in your death? I was absolutely blown away by one young girl, who is only 14, spoke up and said, “Faith.” It was as simple as that. Not gratitude, not fear, not self-preservation, not guilt, but faith. Only one who really and truly believes that God is who He says He is and will do what He has said He will do, will be motivated by faith. Certainly there is a place for gratitude. But that gratitude should motivate us, not to obey, but to believe that the God who has shown us His grace in the past, will continue to show us His grace in the future. And that belief (faith) should motivate us to obey.
Time and Eternity
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do no be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The Bible has a lot to say about time. We are told to make the most of time – to be careful how we spend our time. We are admonished not to waste time. The unbeliever is warned today is the day of salvation – now is the time to be saved. Why all this emphasis on time? The reason is because God knows time is only for a moment but eternity is forever. We are told to use our time wisely because we do not know how much time we have: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). The truth is simple – God has allotted to each one a certain number of days, a certain length of time. The Bible says, “And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). This is the Word of the Lord!
Because time is so precious we are told to be careful how we use it. We are warned not to use it unwisely but to make the most of it. We are not to foolishly squander it but we are to seek to glorify God in how we use the time He has granted us. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the “author and finisher of our lives” (12:2). However, as long as we insist on spending our time as we see fit, He cannot fulfill His will for us. As long as we insist on cutting our own paths, He cannot lead us into His paths of goodness and righteousness. As long as we insist on holding the reigns of our lives, He cannot be our Lord. As long as we insist on doing things our way, according to our own desires, He cannot bring about His desires or guide us into His wholeness, usefulness, and blessings. Therefore, we must “be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of [our] time.”
Charles Beaty and his wife were living the American dream. The insurance agency they owned was beginning to take off. They had the first of their four children. They bought their first house. His wife began talking to him about missions. She thought they should look into offering themselves for service. His response was, “that sounds good honey, but we won’t be going until our kids are graduated from high school, and we have them out of the house and we’ve finished that mission.” However, after attending a weeklong conference on missions that was filled with the need to reach the unreached peoples of the world, everything began to come together. A year and six months later, they were in France learning French, preparing to go to North Africa to a people group that was restricted.
Most of us think we have forever, that there is another day, another year, another 10 years. This is what Charles Beaty thought. It is troubling that many want to wait until things are “just right” before they will consider God’s will for their lives. However, thankfully Charles did not. He went to North Africa at 31. Three years later, on October 2, 2001, he died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 34. Only eternity will tell what God was able to do through him in the three short years he had to make a difference for the kingdom. How much time do you have left on this earth? Only God knows. Therefore, “make the most of your time.”
Pour It Out
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). No other Thoughts to Ponder has received as much response as one I wrote a couple of years ago entitled, “Time and Eternity.” The basis for that article was Paul’s admonishment in Ephesians 5:15-17: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” I want to consider the subject of time and eternity again from a different perspective. I want to consider the gift of life and what we do with that gift.
Like time, life is a gift. In fact, life, in a sense, is an economic instrument within time. In other words, we can either spend our lives or invest them. We can either do with it as we desire or we can pour it out for Christ. Consider the words of Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” What did he mean by those words? To put it simply, he means we are to seek to pour out our lives so that we will magnify Christ in both life and death. Paul was a man who had singleness of purpose – to so magnify Christ in his life and death that others would be swept into the kingdom. He sought to proclaim Christ where Christ was not known.
Are you pouring out your life for Christ or are you spending it on yourself? Consider these two true stories from “Don’t Waste Your Life,” by John Piper: In April 2000, two missionaries, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty and Laura was pushing eighty. They were both medical doctors. One was single all her life, the other a widow. They both lived for one great thing: to pour it out in order to make Jesus Christ known. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they both were killed instantly. Then there is the story of a couple in the northeast who took early retirement from their jobs. He was 59, she was 51. Now they live in Florida, where they sail on their 30-foot yacht, play softball and collect shells. Now I ask you to consider which one of these two stories is a tragedy. Which one of these two stories is an example of pouring it out for Christ? Can you imagine getting all the way to the great Day of Judgment only to say, “Look, Lord. Isn’t my shell collection impressive?”
For whom are you living? I would encourage you to consider again the words of Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Think about pouring your life out in such a way so as to magnify Jesus Christ in both your life and in your death. I remember when I was a child three of my friends from church made decisions to be missionaries. In recent years, after much prayer and wrestling with God, I have made the same decision. I was thinking about those three individuals recently. None of them are missionaries. In fact, as far as I can recall, none made any effort to even pursue such a calling. One married and moved away. One is living in grievous sin. One I have no idea about other than he’s not a missionary. Maybe you’re in a similar situation. You felt the call of God to go and proclaim Christ among the unreached only to allow the demands of life to distract you. Well, let me remind you of two things: (1) “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” and (2) “Make the most of your time.” We do not know how long we have left on this big blue ball in space. In fact, we don’t even have the promise of tomorrow. We only have today. Some reading this article have lived most of their lives, others have only just begun. Only God knows how much time each of us has left. Therefore, I encourage you to invest your life rather than spend it – to pour it out for Christ!
A Bondservant of Jesus Christ
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). I believe Paul’s letter to the believers’ in Rome has been rightly described as The Constitution of Christianity. It is a twenty-two page, 7,100 word letter, which according to A.M. Hunter, has “century after century has been the flame at which one great Christian leader after another has kindled his own torch to the revival of the church and the enrichment of Christendom.” Samuel Coleridge said, “I think that the Epistle to the Romans is the most profound work in existence.” John Knox said, “[Romans] is unquestionably the most important theological work ever written.” How is it that such things can be said about this letter? It was written by a former Jewish Pharisee who hated Christianity (Acts 9:1). He helped kill the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58; 8:1). He persecuted the early church with passion (1 Timothy 1:13).
However, this persecutor of the early church had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ and it forever changed his life. God took a man who passionately hated the church, Christians, and Christ and used him to write most of the New Testament. This man we know as Paul came to view himself as a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” The use of this term expressed his complete submission to Jesus Christ. He further viewed himself as totally set apart for the gospel. The word means slave, and Paul saw himself as such. He was a slave to Christ. He saw himself as God’s property. I wonder how many believers today see themselves as slaves to Christ.
Three things can be said of a bond-servant of Christ. First of all, a bond-servant is one who has been redeemed. There are two types of people in the world today, the redeemed and the condemned. We are redeemed on the basis of Christ’s death. Romans 3:24 says, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Secondly, a bond-servant is one who has resolve. He has resolved to live for Christ. Paul said he had been “set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). He was resolved to live for Christ. Furthermore, a bond-servant has resolve to live a life of holiness (Eph. 1:4), to proclaim Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:14-15), and to please God (1 Cor. 7:23). Finally, a bond-servant is one who has the promise of reward. God’s Word makes it clear that all those who faithfully serve Jesus Christ will be rewarded (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
It is the combination of redemption, resolve and reward that sustains the bond-servant of Christ. We can face whatever circumstances life might bring our way. We can remain faithful to God no matter what. We can be assured that God will fulfill His purpose for us. This is the message of Romans 8:26-39. We have been redeemed. We can resolve to live for Christ. We will be rewarded for our faithfulness. Are you a bond-servant of Christ?
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
"Go therefore and make disciples…" These are our marching orders from our Commander-in-Chief. We are to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It is here that we see the power, purpose and promise of our Saviour. His power is seen in that He has all authority. His purpose is seen in that we are to proclaim His message. His promise is seen in that He will always be with us. Unfortunately, far too many believers have adopted a "let’s stay at home" approach to missions following the events of September 11, 2001. I’ve heard it over and over and over again, "There’s plenty of work to be done here." But how is the missions minded believer to respond to such statements?
Jesus said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14). He also said, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This is the Word of the Lord!
Bill Cashion says, "Fear and caution should never dictate how we respond to the Great Commission. Never should circumstances, no matter how terrible, influence us to make our world smaller than the one Jesus died to save. Osama Bin Laden and al Qaida are not the first of their kind. Their sort has afflicted God’s people throughout history. Now is not the time to circle the wagons. To the contrary, now is the time to go forth in Jesus name!" THE GOSPEL MUST BE PREACHED!
You are welcome to leave comments and you don't have to necessarily agree with me. However, I expect a civil tone and charitable spirit. We can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6)
Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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