Saturday, July 2, 2011

Success God's Way

Success. Power. Position. Influence. Money. Status.  Boss. Ruler. Judge. CEO.  Driving words in our world.
Reading in 1 Chronicles I was struck by the life of Saul, King of Israel.  He had it all.  All the driving words above applied to him.  He was the man you wanted to be seen with.  Saul would have been the one to know for business and politics.  He is the one people wanted to be like.  When you looked up success in the Hebrew dictionary there would be Saul’s picture. 

The end of Saul’s life came on Mount Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines.  Three of his sons died that day.  The army of Israel was being crushed and Saul was at his end so we are told he fell on his sword and died.  That was a tragic day. 

The death of Saul as described in 1 Chronicles 10 also includes a summary statement in verses 13 and 14 which struck me.
13So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD. He failed to obey the LORD’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14instead of asking the LORD for guidance. So the LORD killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

We are told “the LORD killed him.”  Well, that is instructive.  There is more to the story than the physical details.  Just as there is more to the story of our lives than the physical details.  The Lord killed Saul.  The time had come.  The elements lined up.  The Lord was at work.  But there were the three strikes against Saul which are listed: He was unfaithful to the Lord, He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he didn’t ask the Lord for guidance.  It seems the Lord is serious about His people and His expectations of them. 

In human terms Saul had arrived.  He would have been the envy of the people of Israel.  He was a success story.  In God’s evaluation Saul had failed and ultimately God killed him. 

What would that look like, I wonder, for the average American Christian?  The evaluation of success based on “Power. Position. Influence. Money. Status.  Boss. Ruler. Judge. CEO” would still be central.  The Lord would continue to use a different standard for success than many Christians.  He would look for faithfulness, obedience, and a relationship based on humility. 

Even for those who know what really matters it is challenging to stay consistent.  There is a difference in the way many Christians treat those they consider “successful.”  So, churches and Christian organizations use that as a marketing tool in their brochures, web sites and various conferences.  When a pastor or a speaker or an author is introduced the list of how many books written or sold is included, the numbers attending, the many countries ministered in, the accomplishments, titles or degrees are included.  Why?  Is that to indicate the individual’s faithfulness, obedience and humility or to highlight that person’s success?  It seems to me that often it is not just informative, but designed to prove this person’s right as a successful Christian to sell me a book, teach me a lesson, train me in some aspect of Christian living.  I have been sold and taught and trained as a result.  But I would like to move in a new direction.  One in which the Lord’s values are more central.  In my limited capacity I would like to be better at affirming those who practice faithfulness to the Lord, obedience to His commands and are routinely asking the Lord for guidance.  They may have great success or little success on the world’s stage, but they are living the right things and are exalted in God’s eyes. 

I would really like to avoid having my epitaph state that “the Lord killed him.”  And I would like to listen to the Lord and not wind up slowly then finally killing myself like King Saul did. 

The Lord is gracious, patient and kind.  His love is enduring.  I want to go His way.  

To be faithful, obedient and to listen to His guidance is true success.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Going for God's Righteousness

You are familiar with the verse: But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 ESV   It Gives you a sense of what Jesus pointed out to the people around Him was of importance.  “Seek first” has that sense of priority and of quest.  Discovering and embracing the kingdom of God in real time beginning now is worth some effort. And so is pursuing “His righteousness.” 

The idea of what is mean by God’s righteousness has seemed to me to be a striving toward identifying with His character.  That is true, but there is more.  It appeared that righteousness and the process we call sanctification were running neck and neck, but there is more.  In terms of theological usage sanctification is the process by which those who have been justified in Christ are becoming more like Him and losing more of the look of the world and the flesh.  Righteousness includes that concept, but has more. 

God is not called sanctified in Scripture, but He is called righteous. Righteousness is radiating from God and engulfs His own in its light. 

God’s people are to make it a point to do a couple of things those who don’t know God don’t do, and that is to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness.  The emphasis on righteousness is on target we need God’s declaration that we are righteous in order to free us to follow Him.  We need His empowerment of righteousness to activate in us characteristics we cannot cultivate in our own power. 

I came across some great thoughts on this in the book, The Kingdom Life.  Bruce Demarest makes some observations and applications in the realm of righteousness. 

We intentionally trust that God is right when He says we are righteous, and we intentionally trust Him for direction to mature into what is already true—that righteous identity, which is our new heart.  This is the basis for our becoming like Christ. 

Here’s an example of how this works.  About two years ago, someone deeply offended me (Bruce), damaging friendships and reputation and causing a loss of funds, among other things.  At that point, I had a choice: forgive or not forgive.  If I decided to forgive, I had another choice: to will myself into forgiving because I’m supposed to or to trust the vision and counsel of Jesus, rest in His wisdom, and let Him determine the outcomes.  Remember, Jesus is standing with me whenever I sin or am sinned against.  Even if I decided not to forgive, Jesus stayed with me through all my resentment and bitterness.  Jesus was close enough for me to hear Him say, “If you ask Me—and I hope you do—you will forgive this person as I have forgiven you.  Trust Me with this advice, and I’ll heal you, restore you, and free you with the truth it brings to you.”  Since I trusted Jesus, I forgave.  This did not come from willpower, which for me is like no-power, but out of trust.  Notice how trusting him fulfills the command “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13, NKJV). Thus, I participated in God forming me.  Yet even before I decided to forgive, Jesus was still standing with His arms around me.  Because I chose to forgive, I’ve experienced genuine freedom from any residual bitterness. 

Even in the most raw and real interactions in life that of hurt and forgiveness, pain and release, there is the outworking of the power of righteousness.  Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness because for one thing there is nothing like it and nothing that tops it.