Finish The Race!

Acts 20:24

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

What an interesting personal assessment Paul gives here in this verse: “I consider my life worth nothing to me.”  He goes on to provide some context for his statement – which I think is important for us to include so that the value of his life … our lives … is put into better perspective.  Up to this point in Acts:20, Luke has been documenting the missionary journey undertaken by Paul and the evangelical opportunities for ministry afforded to him along the way.  It has been a fruitful journey, but there have been hardships and challenges in the midst of preaching the Gospel and discipling elders in the churches he labored to establish.  This is the backdrop when we reach Verse 22.

Acts 20:22-24 (NIV) – Paul is speaking

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This is a more useful context to understand what Paul meant regarding the “worth of his life.”  It was not that Paul thought his life had no value; rather, it was a comparison to the calling of preaching the Gospel and completing the “job” which he had been “assigned” to do.  I think this is the more salient point for us to consider.  Each of us has a life given to us by the grace and will of God.  I say will of God because if He did not ordain for you to be conceived, then you would not exist.  Likewise, I say the grace of God because if He had not orchestrated a course around all of the threats and obstacles to your life, you would not continue to be here.  In short, our lives are miracles on many levels of contemplation, and we have been allowed our own free will to navigate it towards meaning and purpose within our mortal limitations.

When we find Christ Jesus … when the testimonies of the Apostles and the Word of God convince our souls of the Truth, a new dimension of life enters our existence.  Our spirits … our beings are born again!  Our concept of “self” is radically altered with the knowledge of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are changed!  The old has gone, the new is here! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) And so the value or worth we placed on our previous existence is changed as well.  What we thought we valued for our lives becomes replaced with a “purpose” of far more significant value … eternal value.  Our lives, hidden in Christ, have a new motivation … to live worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way and to be productive in His Kingdom for His glory!

I think when Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me,” I believe he was referring to his former life and the former meaning he had placed on it.  In light of his authentic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was radically changed and his new life in Christ took on a “life of its own” … a life lived in the context of a close, personal relationship with Jesus and his new assignment to be an ambassador of the Gospel in all its fullness and truth.  In essence, Paul was saying that nothing (prison or hardships) would deter him from completing the good work he was created in Christ Jesus to do, which God had prepared in advance for him to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And he expressed this in terms that we can relate in a way to communicate that whatever the risks of following the Lord Jesus and accomplishing His will for my life is more important … of great value … than my own inward, personal aspirations for this experience of life.  It represents a complete surrender to the will of God, and I believe this is an important principle for us to embrace in our journey of faith….

As Pastor Steve shared during his sermon Sunday morning about the life of Joseph (Cf. Genesis 37-47), he observed that Joseph from a youth had a life within the will of God, and yet, Joseph suffered being ridiculed, mocked, abuse, threatened with murder, sold into slavery (human trafficked), lied about, imprisoned, and forsaken, before he finally came to the place of accomplishing what God had purposed in advance for his life.  Surely, all of these horrific hardships and challenges tested his faith in God, yet he remained steadfast in his belief in the ultimate goodness and love of God. The entire time, Joseph was within the will of God, yet his life was far from “perfect” from a human perspective.  Yet Joseph spiritually understood that God was ever present in his life to bring about His will … His good purpose … and with perseverance he awaited it in faith.

Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV) 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God

Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

As we contemplate the visions and dreams God has instilled in our spirits for our lives … as we seek significance, purpose, and meaning for our lives … let us remember both Joseph and Paul – who despite tremendous opposition and hardship – went on to complete their respective roles in the Kingdom of God.  They did not consider their “own” lives worth anything compared to the rewards of faithfulness to what God called them to do.  And the application of these biblical lessons is for us to persevere in faith to accomplish the work God has given each of us to do in Christ.  As the writer of Hebrews suggested:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

So I pray that each of us will run the race; reach the finish line; and receive the reward – the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. James 1:12) I pray we will remain courageous and steadfast in the pursuit of the visions and dreams God has given each of us to guide our journey of faith … and to bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father.  I encourage you to read John 15:1-17.  As Jesus shared with His disciples (and with us), we must remain (abide) in Him in order to bear fruit.  Further, we should understand that the Father will “prune” us in order to bear even more fruit; and that in Christ Jesus we were chosen (appointed) to bear fruit and that it should remain….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God – I Don’t Understand

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This verse is referenced and quoted quite often … and with good reason.  Isaiah helps us have a healthy and appropriate perspective about God.  In short, He is God and we are not.  He created us … and not the other way around.  He is the potter and we are the clay … as Isaiah used this metaphor to bring this truth to light:

Isaiah 29:15-16 (ESV)

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” 16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah 64:7-9 (NIV)

7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.

So with this perspective in mind, we usually come to the realization that God is ultimately beyond our comprehension.  He is the mystery that each human soul wrestles to attain.  As King Solomon wrote: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) So we do not know all the hidden things of God … the mysteries of His wisdom and counsel … nor should we be able to comprehend all His knowledge. It is too great for human minds. As Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29) So God determines what He will reveal to us, but note that the glimpse He gives us “belongs to us and to our children forever.”  That is profound for us to contemplate. And consider that God HAS revealed many things to us … mysteries as Paul described them … and He appoints the times and circumstances of His revelations.  But all of this is for one purpose: “that we may be obedient to His Word … His laws and decrees.”  God has revealed “enough” of Himself to us in order for us to know Him, to fear Him,  and to keep His commandments. Consider this example:

Ephesians 3:1-14 (ESV)

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.  Of this Gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

What we find here is that the mystery of Christ – though written in the Old Testament Scriptures – had not been revealed (unveiled) until Jesus actually appeared on the earth to fulfill all that had been written and prophesied about Him.  Even then, Jesus came to His own (the people of Israel), and yet, they rejected Him.  As the Apostle John wrote: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own people, and His own people did not receive Him.But as many as did received Him, to them He gave the right (authority) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:10-12) To me, this is an illustration of how people can fail to connect with the thoughts and ways of God. The Messiah did not come as the Jewish authorities had expected nor did they entertain what God had declared through the Prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13) Yes, that means God had always purposed from the foundation of the world for everyone who believes in Him (Jews and Gentiles alike) to receive salvation and eternal life.

God declared, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and neither are your ways my ways.” And yet, I see through the Scriptures that God HAS intentionally revealed Himself through His Word and through His Son. What the religious leaders could not comprehend … or perhaps refused to entertain because their own thoughts and their own ways were seen as superior … was not the absence of revelation or light that God had made available to them. It could have been the hardness of their hearts. As Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 3:14-16 (NIV)

14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

So my point is that when we come to the place that we just do not understand what God is doing or how He is doing it or why He is doing it, we need to just trust what we do know … what He has already revealed to us.  When we do not understand the affliction of a chronic disease in our bodies … we do know that God loves us with an everlasting love.  I know that seems incompatible – suffering and love – but God has revealed both human experiences in His Son.  We know that suffering has a role in teaching us obedience (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) … which God in His love for us orchestrates for our good.  O, His thoughts and His ways are higher!  God knows the ultimate end … the ultimate goal … and He is determined to get us there for His own glory.  As Paul wrote, and I often quote, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I am convinced that God provides us what we need … when we need it … to uphold us and sustain us even when we do not understand what He is doing in the moment. As King David affirmed: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:11-12) Yes, God knows how to provide us with the knowledge and wisdom that we need for life. For we have been advised: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)  And God knows how to bless us with every spiritual blessing. (Cf. Ephesians 1:3) Yes, He knows what is best for each of us and He does not withhold it.  Even spiritual discipline through physical distress can refine our faith in ways we could not imagine for our good. I think that is why Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock when approaching Father God in prayer:

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread,  4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Oh, I think there is a lesson here.  When we do not understand the thoughts and ways of God, we need to ask for wisdom and discernment and it shall be given.  We need to seek what has been revealed to us and we shall find it.  We need to knock on the door of mystery and it will be opened to us.  But as Jesus points out in His parable above, we need to be persistent in our prayers! We have been created by a God who deeply cares for us and loves us with an everlasting love!  As Paul wrote: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32) What does ALL things mean?  Does it not include wisdom, discernment, grace, knowledge, prophecies, healings, miracles, forgiveness, and so forth?  Does it not mean the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit?  Are these not meant for our good?

So what can we conclude? Well, there is a vast depth of knowledge of God that will always be far too great for us. It will most likely always be incomprehensible unless God ever decides to reveal the depths of those mysteries and hidden knowledge.  The thoughts and ways of God manifested in creation through His eternal power are just higher!  I encourage you to read Job Chapters 38-42, and you will receive a great “education” on why God is God and why human beings are not. It brings appropriate rationale to our limited, finite minds and provides the context for why it is reasonable for us to embrace and worship such a Being as God.

But on the other hand, there is the work of God within our individual hearts and lives that draws us to Him … that brings us to faith … that tests our faith … that brings us into an abiding relationship with Him.  I believe the work of God within us can be known and understood.  I believe God is willing to reveal those aspects of His thoughts and ways to us if we are diligent to ask, seek, and knock.  I believe such inner revelation would be consistent with His love for us.  Yet we need to be willing to accept that even His silence in response to a question might actually be for own good. We need to embrace that His decision to withhold disclosure of His thoughts or ways is better than our perceived need to know them.  That situation could be a “test” God uses to build our faith and trust in Him….

Well those are some reflections on this verse today.  I hope it has been useful and somehow draws you closer to God in your prayer time when you are looking for answers to things about God you do not understand.   When you are frustrated with God and prayers appear to go unanswered; rather than looking for answers that do not come to you … go back and look at all the truth that God has already revealed to you through His Word and His Son.  Take hold of His promises to never leave you nor forsake you. Let your heart embrace His love and grace and peace that you know He has for you.  It could be that those might just be the answers you were looking for all along….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 01/20/19

James 1:2-3 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Our Verse of the Day continues to focus on our theme of personal holiness.  Yesterday we examined 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul reviewed the issue of temptation (also translated ‘testing’) and how God is faithful to us … knowing what or how much we can bear as well as providing a way of escape from it so that we can “endure” it. Remember, this encouragement was given to the Corinthian Church which was had received the Gospel message and turned toward God from idol worship and pagan religious practices.  Paul used the history of the Israelites to illustrate to them the reasons they should persevere in their pursuit of holiness (separation unto God) and to not continue in their idolatry; sexual immorality; unseemly conduct; or testing the “grace” of God given to them in Christ Jesus.  Without holiness, no one will see God. (Hebrews 12:14)

The Apostle James approaches the same issue in his epistle, and his encouragement takes us a little deeper into our spiritual understanding of how temptation and testing works to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The “trials of many kinds” is quite broad, but the point here is that in our desire and zeal to attain holiness as Christians our faith is going to be tested. I think is has to do with the sincerity of our profession of faith.  I am reminded of what the Prophet Isaiah shared in his writings:

Isaiah 29:13-16 (NIV)13 The Lord says:

These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is in vain because it is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon       wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:16-31; 2:1-14) 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

We need to understand something more here.  Hearing and understanding the truth of the Word of God is only the beginning of faith!  Receiving it … believing it arouses the spirit of a person to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior … for in truth He is! This is the born-again experience that Jesus explained to Nicodemus (Cf. John 3:1-12) But this is just that – the birth of a new creation.  There is a spiritual maturation process that must ensue after our birth in Christ just as we have experienced a physical maturation process after our physical births into the world.  As Paul taught and ministered to the Galatian Church on these matters, we observe his sense of frustration with their “turning back” from the truth they had received. (Cf. Galatians 4:8-20) As the writer of the Book of Hebrews put it: “1Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts (useless rituals) that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites (baptisms), the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-3)

Spiritual maturity is produced through the testing of our faith.  It comes through endurance of temptation and perseverance through trials. Both testing and temptation (trials of many kinds) are designed to strengthen our wills to attain the “obedience that comes from faith”. (Cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26) Therefore, trials can be opportunities for the suffering which we have learned can facilitate or produce obedience in our hearts.  So the perspective of James is to count this spiritual maturation process as “joy”.  He urges us to rejoice in the sufferings produced during trials because we should know this will produce perseverance in our faith.  We will not desire to go back to “Egypt” or the bondage of sin in our lives.  No, through this process our spirits will mature and our hearts will grow deeper in love for God … and we will desire to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. Philippians 3:14)

A few final thoughts (Scriptures):

James 1:13-15 (NIV)

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV)

 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

John 14:15-16

Jesus urged, “If you love me, keep my commands16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to help you and be with you forever.

John 15:9-11 (NIV)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

I pray we will meditate on these things and grow in the obedience that comes from faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!