Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tested by Fire

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“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold,
                and a man is tested by his praise.”  (Proverbs 27:21)

When we think of a Christian being “gold” tested by fire, or perhaps silver being cleansed of dross, we usually think of trials.  We think of Christians enduring hardships and pain, and so strengthening their faith.  This is all perfectly sound and biblical, but I believe there is little that tests a believer’s faith like praise.
History shows that when the Church is under persecution, it grows stronger.  It’s when things are going well, however, that the real testing begins.  You see, trusting God in persecution is relatively easy; we have virtually no choice but to fall back on the Lord.  (I use “easy” in the broadest of ways here.  Don’t get me wrong, persecution is tough!)  But when we’re praised, we have a choice as to who’s going to be glorified in the situation.

While trials test our faith in God’s power through endurance, praise tests our true loyalty and love for our Savior.

Praise gives us an opportunity to decide whether we will glorify God or ourselves.  The problem is that most of the time we choose the latter.  As human beings, the sin nature encourages us to seek praise.  Practically everything we do is influenced by what we think others will think of us.  Earlier in chapter 27 of Proverbs, though, we’re given a piece of advice concerning praise:

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
                a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

This exhortation shows us where our focus should be – or perhaps more accurately, where our focus shouldn’t be: ourselves. 

Praise shouldn’t be something we seek for ourselves, because the more we are glorified, the less Christ is glorified.

I think this is generally obvious, but I’ve found that we often fail to realize some of the underlying ways in which we seek praise.  For instance, I can sometimes be tempted to try to impress others by explaining how “busy” I am.  It’s easy to want to ensure that others know just how rough I have it.  But what am I really seeking?  The truth is, I’m just looking for recognition – praise.
Recently, the Lord has been showing me that if I do something noteworthy, whether it’s a sacrifice I make or a kind gesture, I need to keep it to myself.  In fact, He’s been showing me that many times I need to do everything in my power to prevent anyone from ever finding out something that might bring me glorification!
This is truly what makes praise the “testing fire.”  Am I going to seek that I be lifted up, or am I going to seek that Christ be lifted up?  I need to be so Christ-focused, and subsequently so others-focused, that I’m the last person to come to mind.
The purpose of my life is to bring praise to Christ.  Yes, I will receive praise sometimes.  But if my focus is in the right place, the praise that is given to me will simply be reflected onto Christ and those around me, and people will begin to see that I am not worthy of any praise; my life will reflect the fact that the praise belongs to the One Who has given me everything.

There are so many aspects of praise – both practical in principle, so I invite you to continue the discussion with us in the comment section!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Light Pollution

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It’s one o’clock in the morning, but I’m driving – driving for hours and hours.  I pass the grocery store, then the gas station, until I’m finally miles from any hint of civilization.  Some would call it “the middle of nowhere,” but I’ve arrived at my destination.  I step out of the truck, look up at the night sky, and immediately my eyes are met with billions upon billions of bright lights, shining like the very angels of Heaven.

Then I wake up.

I climb out of bed and stare out of my bedroom window.  But, to my disappointment, there is not a star to be seen; only dozens of street lamps, gleaming with a hazy dullness in the foggy night. 

This is light pollution.

Okay, okay, so that never actually happened.  It was just a clever illustration to segue to the point of this post.  Even so, we’ve all experienced light pollution to some extent.  In some places, because of all of the artificial light, it’s nearly impossible to see the natural lights that the Maker of the universe has placed in the sky.

In the same way, we can often become light pollutants, preventing those around us from gazing upon the glorious Light of the Bright Morning Star. 

(Revelation 22:16, 21:23)

You see, we are to be lights shining in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:14-15), but sometimes we’re shining the wrong light.  There’s only one light that is acceptable: the light of Christ.  This light is impossible to produce of our own doing, but is the natural effect of Christ living in our hearts.  Every other form of light is unacceptable, and only prevents the True Light from having precedence.

If those around us are not seeing the light of Christ shining in our lives, it is likely that the “light” we’re displaying is only bringing attention to ourselves.  This real purpose of being a light, however, is that others would look and immediately see not us, but Christ alone (cf. Matthew 5:16). 

In this sense, we are to be like a mirror, simply reflecting the Person of Christ without attempting to be seen ourselves, similarly to the way the moon reflects the light of the sun.  

Let us all be so focused in our love for Jesus Christ and for other people that we reflect – and become – His one true light, not polluting the earth with the dullness of our own self-centeredness but instead pointing solely to Who He is!

Monday, March 16, 2015

"On Fire" for the Lord

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In the modern Church, we have so many “Christian” clich├ęs and words we like to use.  These phrases can often lose their meanings over time, as we continue to use them without a full understanding of what they mean.  Even so, Christian “catch phrases” aren’t bad in and of themselves, so long as we ensure that we know what we’re saying.

One of my personal favorites is “on fire for the Lord.”  We mostly use this in reference to someone who has an outwardly evident passion for the Kingdom of God.  But I think we often forget a number of key aspects of being on fire for the Lord – aspects that are crucial to our understanding of what such a passion looks like.

Fire needs fuel

In order to burn, any fire needs heat, oxygen, and fuel.  You could take each of these three elements and further the analogy, but let’s just focus on the fuel.  If fuel feeds fire, what feeds faith?  The answer boils down to three basic things: scripture study, prayer, and fellowship.

Now, I should clarify that these are not the source of the fire.  They are only three “spiritual disciplines” that help us to connect with the source – Christ.  It is certainly possible to do all three and still not know the Savior.  But this would be like having the wood without the heat!  Nevertheless, scripture, prayer, and fellowship are all necessary for Children of God.

Back when I was in scouts, we would occasionally have fire-building competitions, in which you had to burn a piece of string about a foot off the ground.  The problem was that most of the scouts just threw leaves into the fire without giving it any substantial, lasting fuel!  Obviously, the flame died quickly.  In the same way, if the proper “fuel” is not given to the fire, or not given frequently enough, our “fire” will soon die.

Fire consumes

Let’s face it.  Christian phrase or not, the idea of a person being “on fire” is unpleasant, to say the least.  This is, of course, because fire burns.  It hurts.  It consumes everything in its path.

What does this mean for us?  What is consumed in a Christian’s life?  Well, everything.

If we truly want to be “on fire” for the Lord, we cannot hold anything back from His consuming fire (cf. Hebrews 12:29).  Just as gold is refined, God will burn up everything in our lives that is not of Him, whether it be relationships, hobbies, habits, comfort-zones, or any other idol.  He will leave behind only that which is a part of His desire and plan for our lives.

Understandably, this hurts.  It stings!  We may be pushed to do things we don’t want to do or may not feel comfortable doing.  We may be ridiculed by friends or family.  We may have to give up something to which we’ve been clinging.  Whatever the case, it is up to the Fire to decide.

Fire brightens the dark

Physically speaking, fire releases energy, and it does so in two forms: heat and light.  If fire is present, these two will be as well – guaranteed.  The same is true in the life of an “on fire” Christian.  Since the Bible has so many examples of light in darkness, let’s focus on that.  

If a Christian is “on fire,” there is no question whether the light of that flame will be shining.  Also, it is said that, in complete darkness, the human eye can see a flickering candle from up to 30 miles away.  Combining these two facts about light, it follows that, in this dark generation, the light of an “on fire” child of God will most certainly be noticed by those around them (Philippians 2:14-15).

For this reason, we don’t need to be concerned with whether others are seeing our light.  Our concern must instead be whether that light is even shining – whether we are truly on fire for our Lord!  If that is the case, our light will not be able to be hidden (cf. Matthew 5:14-16).

When we say we want to be “on fire for the Lord,” we have to know what that means.  Fire requires a constant fuel to feed it.  It consumes everything in its path, burning up anything that is susceptible to flame.  Lastly, it brightens the darkness around it without fail.  To be on fire for the Lord is by no means and easy or a comfortable affair.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

"What is That to You? You Follow Me!"

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When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’  Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me!’  (John 21:20)

Peter had just had a humbling, intimate encounter with his Savior – his dearest Friend.  After experiencing the awesome forgiveness of the Lamb of God and declaring His love and devotion for the risen Christ, Peter was given a glimpse of what he was to do and what he was to face as a disciple of Jesus.

Yet, after debatably the most incredible experience he had ever had with his Master, what did Peter do?  He looked around at all the other disciples and said, in effect, 

“But Lord, what about them?”

The truth is, we are way too often just like Peter was.  We look around at those next to us when we should be looking to our Savior.  We compare ourselves to them, hoping that we can somehow measure up.  But all the while, Christ is saying to us, 

“What is that to you?  You follow me!”

There are so many ways in which we compare ourselves to others.  Some of us beat ourselves down for not being as faithful as the rest.  Others of us do the opposite, looking down on others and patting ourselves on the back for our supposed holiness.  Still others look at those more righteous than us and either harbor jealousy or try to live up to their standards.

However, these are all wrong.  It’s as if we’re all scrambling around, trying to align our lives up with someone else’s path, while completely missing the straight and narrow path that’s been laid out right in front of us!

Now, it’s perfectly acceptable – and even encouraged – to try to imitate and look up to those who are ahead of us in the journey of becoming more like Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).  But if we spend our lives trying to live up to any standard other than Christ’s – whether it be a friend’s, church member’s, or even one we’ve created for ourselves – we will stray further and further away from our Heavenly Father.

Are you trying to live your life according to someone else’s standard?  Am I?  Jesus Christ sees our vain, anxious struggles to measure up to others and asks us, “What is that to you?  Are they more important than I am to you?  Did they die for you?  Are they the Alpha and Omega?  You don’t follow them.  You don’t follow those around you.  

"You follow me.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends: Part 2

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In the last post, we began to discuss how to handle friends who are drifting from the Lord.  However, it’s such a difficult issue to handle, that I can’t merely give a step-by-step guide to solve it.  Thus, part one of this post focused on the most important piece of these situations: my own attitude.

Before I can hope to see any change in those around me, I need to keep several things I mind:

I’m not all that close to God either.
Are they truly a Christian?
Is it my place to confront this person?
And finally, I can’t change anybody.

I must understand, then, that even though different situations and relationships may require that I respond differently, the principles outlined in the previous post are always applicable.  And while the four points of part one are important, they are by no means the only things to consider.

Knowing this, if the Lord has directed me to talk to a certain friend about his or her lifestyle or attitude, how do I go about doing so?

As I’ve stated before, every situation is different, because every person is different.  Even so, when I approach a friend who is drifting away from the Lord, I must always do so in two ways: in gentleness and in love.

In gentleness

The most important aspect of gentleness springs from this understanding: My friend is more important than his or her behavior.

Simply put, this means that I must always value my friend more than I value “fixing” their lifestyle.  Ultimately, if I am only making matters worse, I need to stop.  It is not worth losing a brother or sister.  Thus, in order to explain my concerns to a friend in gentleness, I have to be able to gauge how open and honest I can be with them without pushing them away. 

Is my friend someone who will respond well to my pointing out every weak area at once, or will it be better if I only suggest a single aspect of concern for now?  Will they understand the severity of their behavior more if I use scripture, or if I explain to them the consequences of their actions?

As these questions imply, how I confront a friend depends largely on who they are and on the traits of their personality.  Obviously, then, I can’t hope to be gentle if I don’t take the time to get to know them on a personal level! 

In love

At first, love seems synonymous with gentleness.  It is entirely unique, though, mainly because love is completely and utterly genuine.  I can have the wrong intentions and still be gentle, but that is not so with love!

Love (or agape love, more specifically) is wanting and seeking the best for others.  Again, the principle of gentleness is evident: I value my friend more than I value changing their lifestyle.  If I become so focused on trying to “fix” someone’s character, then my focus is no longer on Christ, and therefore no longer on love.

The fact that love is genuine is crucial.  Love is real.  If I act like I have no faults at all, why would anyone want to listen to me?  If I am to be genuine, I have to admit that I need to work on some areas too.  In fact, many times friends will be more open to change if I am open and honest about my own failures.  In this way, we become “accountability partners,” spurring one another on to good works (cf. Galatians 6:1-5, Hebrews 10:24).

In the end, if someone doesn’t see my genuine love and care, I will have no effect.  It’s important for them to know that I am not merely confronting them for confrontation’s sake.  I am doing so because I am concerned for them.  I want the best for my friend, not the spiritual, emotional, and even physical turmoil to which their current lifestyle is taking them.  I want to love them as my Savior loves them.

If the Lord is directing me to speak honestly with a friend about issues of sin, I must begin with my own mindset, knowing my place before Almighty God.  I must first take the matter to Him, and then approach my friend in love and gentleness.  When I approach each situation with Christ as my focus, He will work out everything else.

As I have mentioned before, there are so many situations in regard to friends who are drifting away from the Lord that I cannot possibly explain how to approach each one.  I’ve tried, however, to share some general principles and considerations to take into account, which can be applied to any circumstance.

I invite you to share your thoughts, advice, and questions in the comments section!  I would love to continue the discussion with you.