Comments from Colossians (1:28-29)

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29; New Living Translation)

Some folk say, “I pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on me.” It makes me smile but it also reflects a biblical tension.

TensionOn the one hand, many Christians do little to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). They live so passively or apathetically that faith seems of little or no consequence. If anything is going to happen, God will have to find a supernatural way to pull it off on His own. No help from these people. Their faith is personal and private. They have families, careers, and hobbies to attend to. They might slip into a Christmas or Easter service but not much beyond that.

On the other hand, other believers just work their hearts out. They volunteer for everything in the church and attend every major event. They always raise their hands when things need to be done. They work tirelessly, it seems; Christian Energizer bunnies who “work hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:12).

But there IS a tension, and should be.

The Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Colosse, “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Hang on a minute! Paul is working and struggling hard, but at the same time he depends on Christ’s mighty power that works within him? Whose strength is Paul really using or relying on?

Both.

The journey of faith is neither apathetic passivity not frenetic activity. It’s partnership. Anything less than our best effort is unworthy of our calling. But self-reliance dishonors the Presence and power of Christ..

Some days I put my shoulder to the wheel FOR Him, and while the results may impress others, the effort usually drains me or draws attention to me. However, when I put my shoulder to the wheel WITH Him, I discover that indeed “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

When the journey of faith feels exhausting or futile, when we feel disillusioned or depleted it may be that we’re struggling hard in our own power. Similarly, when we assume that everything depends on Christ, with little discipline or devotion on our part, we may feel distant, disconnected, and dissatisfied.

Can we struggle hard for the Cause of Christ while also depending on (and appropriating) His mighty power? We must. But His power flows from His Presence. Only as we abide in Him will we bear much fruit.

May God grip us, guide us, and go before us today as we surrender “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength” (Mark 12:30) to Him.

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Hope Changes Everything

The research is in. Suffering itself does not lead to despair. It’s suffering that we can’t control, for which there is no apparent way forward, that breaks our spirit. And that’s why hope changes everything.

Gabe GrunewaldGabriele “Gabe” Grunewald was one of the United States’ best middle-distance runners. She inspired tens of thousands of fans with her courageous, public fight against a rare cancer of the salivary glands, but died two weeks ago (on June 11) in Minneapolis. She was just 32.

Gabe raced and ran as long as she could (right up through 2017) and left people in awe of her indomitable spirit, even when she trailed far behind the other elites. She helped found two new races to raise funds and public awareness for research into rare cancers. She also had 72,000 Instagram followers who received her frequent updates and hopeful messages. Google her name and her story. (Here’s a link.) It’s inspiring. She modeled hope in the midst of adversity. She would not let her disease define her or rob her of touching the lives of others.

Hope is not wishful thinking. “I hope I win the lottery Jackpot!” Rather, from a Christian perspective, it is the conviction that Christ in us, for us, and with us can improve our future. We are not stuck.

The apostle Paul concluded that the three great distinctives of the Christian life are “faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

When we are certain that today’s trials are but a pathway to tomorrow’s triumphs, everything changes. Hopelessness prevails in the midst of helplessness. Darkness descends when we have nowhere to turn, nobody to turn to, and nothing to see beyond this moment. Fear and anxiety prevail when we drop our gaze and see only the struggle of this moment. It’s easy and natural to go there. But we dispel the darkness as we (again) turn to the Light.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul put it like this:

Therefore, do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

These are words of hope in the purest sense of the word. Christ is at work in us, through us, and for us … and the things that are happening to us cannot overcome Him or us.

Facing some challenges or afflictions right now? In family or friendship? In workplace or church place? In health or finances?

It’s easy to become utterly absorbed by conflict, loss, or fear. But hope changes everything. Because of Christ we have a future that is not defined by our past or determined by our present. It is governed by His promises and His Presence. Take a breath. Fix your eyes on Him again today (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 

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Jobs, Careers, & Callings

The ancient prophet Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet. As a teenager (in all likelihood), the word of the Lord came to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated (called) you…” (Jeremiah 1:5). Six hundred and fifty years later, Saul of Tarsus was breathing fire against Christians when the Lord confronted him on the road to Damascus and “called him” to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-22).

CallingEver since, we have had a high level of confusion about “calling.” It has sounded mysterious and exclusive. Some folk are called to full-time vocational ministry, but can anyone be called to plumbing, selling real estate, or stocking shelves at Walmart?

Angela Duckworth (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Scribner, 2016) retells the parable of three bricklayers who are asked “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” The third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Jobs are what we do to pay the bills. Careers are what we do because we enjoy it, and it pays the bills. Callings, according to Duckworth (and I’m inclined to agree), have the added dimension that they are not about ourselves but about the good of others. When our efforts — be it a stay-at-home parent, a business CEO, a youth pastor, or a million other options — have purpose, and that purpose is “to contribute to the well-being of others,” we have a calling.

Many of us take on tasks because “we have to” (survival). Some of us transition with time to tasks because “we want to” (interest). Some people, all too few in number, eventually transition to the highest level. We do things because “we’re called to” (purpose).

By the way, the job can become the career and the calling. It’s about the head and the heart, not the work!

If you are waiting for a divine sign or a profound spiritual experience to provide your “calling” you may wait a lifetime. Some people genuinely have Jeremiah and Saul experiences. But the call of God is every bit as real, rich, and life-shaping for the rest of us. It’s twofold. First, the incomparable call to be His sons and daughters (1 Corinthians 1:26). Second, the call to to find meaning, joy, and purpose in pouring ourselves out for others.

This second call has been heard by firefighters, teachers, Home Depot clerks, pool monitors, and pastors alike. The life lived beyond a job or a career is the life best lived.

A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find. It’s much more dynamic. Whatever you do — whether you’re a janitor or a CEO — you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values. — Duckworth: 153

What does today hold for you? A job to do? A career to pursue? A calling to lean into? Perhaps God’s call on your life is in front of you, and it’s far less mysterious (and far more obvious) than you imagined.

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Front Doors & Back Doors

We are increasingly security conscious.

Many homes are now built in gated communities. Others have small signs in their gardens to warn would-be intruders that the home has a security service. We add security-mesh doors and install Ring doorbells that project a live camera feed to consoles inside the home. We use state-of-the art entry keypads and door deadbolts. And, for an annual subscription, we can even arrange security patrols in our HOA neighborhoods.

Back DoorIt’s understandable. The world is increasingly brazen and violent. Desperate people pose a growing (though perhaps over-stated) threat. Furthermore, door-to-door salespeople can be aggressive and persistent. Consequently, many of us work hard to make our front door safe and secure.

At the same time, ironically, we frequently give little thought to our back door. I’m not talking about the literal back doors of our homes, but “the back door” as a metaphor for the less obvious but easy-access entrance we provide to our homes and our lives.

We’ll lock the literal front door at night, but (as a speaker said this past weekend at my church) we’ll let our ten-year-old son take a tablet to their room at night without filters or safeguards, and permit all the worst things that the world has to offer flood his bedroom and mind.

How many people do you know who have been victims of home invasions? Many of us don’t personally know anyone who has endured such an ordeal. But back door invasions happen every day in bedrooms, living rooms, and other parts of our homes.

The apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus that our true battle “is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). The back doors of our lives through which our addictions come and take residence, pose a far greater risk to our families (and ourselves) than we care to admit.

Have we under-estimated the greatest threat to our well-being? Armed intruders crashing through the front door are the least of our worries. It’s the degradation and corruption that pumps through the back-door via cable and satellite that shreds the fabric of most marriages and families.

I’m not suggesting we abandon technology or return to carrier-pigeons instead of iPhones. But we might be fortifying the front door while the destroyer of our souls marches unchallenged through the back door.

If we want to protect the hearts and minds of our kids — and of ourselves — we may need a renewed sense of vigilance. Our streets may be very safe and quiet, while our homes are under unprecedented assault.

Front doors. Back doors.

How are yours?

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In Jesus’ Name

Few promises rise to this level.

In Jesus NameJesus once told his disciples, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it…. If you ask anything in  my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14). Later, he repeated this promise: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, He will give it to you…. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive….” (John 16:23-24)

Perhaps that’s why we tack “In Jesus’ name” onto the end of our prayers. Without really thinking about, it can become a form of superstition; magic words to catch the ear or eye of God.

As a kid, if I wanted something from someone (usually family) I’d sometimes hear, “What’s the magic word?” to which I would say “Please” and then get what I was asking for. Is that what this ancient phrase has become? A spiritual “please”?

I’ve listened many believers whip it out and rattle it off so quickly that the words clearly had no particular meaning in that moment.

Growing up, I learned that the phrase (“In Jesus’ name”) signaled the end of someone else’s prayer. If I had been day-dreaming or otherwise preoccupied during the prayer, those three words would jolt me back to consciousness — kind of like “Ready, set, go” captures the attention of a runner at the start of a race. Those three little words, devoid of much meaning, alerted me that we were almost done with the prayer. I could mumble “Amen” and we could all move on.

Ring true for some of you?

Yet, Jesus’ promise to his disciples at that Last Supper invited them to something much deeper. They had listened to him pray over several years, and I doubt that Jesus finished his own prayers with “In my name. Amen.” Something rich and profound was happening as Jesus extended this unique opportunity.

What’s it all about?

Consider four possibilities. First, his name represents his person. “I pray this because Christ is with me.”  Second, his name denotes his authority. “I pray this because Christ has given me authority to do so.” Third, his name captures everything about his work and ministry. “I pray this because Christ has made it possible to approach the Father.” Fourth, invoking his name implies alignment with his will. “I pray this because Jesus would pray this.”

When we have the mind of Christ and the Presence of Christ, and we pray because of the work of Christ and the authority of Christ … the Father will do whatever we ask. This is a promise of the highest order, not a prescription for manipulating the Father.

“In Jesus Name….” How does that phrase roll off your lips? Have you considered the purpose and the promise recently? It might be worth re-consideration.

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Yes and No

We’ve all been in those meetings; the ones where every head is bowed, every eye is closed, and people are invited to raise their hands to “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” While it’s hard to imagine Jesus calling for followers with that kind of anonymity, is it possible that our penchant to make this decision as easy and non-embarrassing as possible reinforces something that fundamentally undermines the Gospel?

Yes and NoLast night our small group grappled with Galatians 5. That chapter begins with the glorious affirmation: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” Then someone asked the uncomfortable questions: Why do so many Christians not experience this freedom? Why do so many of us seem as broken, addicted, wounded, and frail in our journey of faith as those days pre-faith? Why do so many Christian marriages still drift or fail? Why do so many Christian families have the same dysfunctions as their secular counter-parts?

We  bandied around some possibilities. “We continue to live under legalism, not grace. We don’t fully accept our identity as beloved children of God. We don’t walk by the Spirit.”

Then we happened upon the Apostle Paul’s prescription.

The “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we had this in even small (but consistent) measure, would we not have flourishing lives? And all the junk that comes from living in the flesh — immorality, division, conflict, jealousy, disputes, bullying, envying, etc. (verses 19-21) — would dissipate.

Then two truths emerged.

The fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit within us. Paul does not tell us to produce this fruit ourselves. It’s not the fruit of our efforts but the fruit of the Spirit. It emerges when the conditions are right. And what are the conditions?

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified (and daily crucify) the flesh with its passions and desires” (verse 24). Yep. That’s it.

My friend Steve Cuss (who has just written a great book titled Managing Leadership Anxiety) stirred me up by writing that we are not called to become like Christ but to live such selfless and surrendered lives that God can make us like His Son.

The flourishing life emerges when our “Yes” to Jesus is accompanied by a corresponding “No” to ourselves.

In a culture that keeps extolling our individual rights, that keeps telling us how important we are, and that insists we are special and God has a specific plan for our lives, we’re inclined to say “Yes” to ourselves. Why not? But the Gospel is counter-cultural. We say “Yes” to Jesus and “No” to ourselves; no to our selfish ambition, no to our self-importance, no to our need for power or control or clarity, and no to our besetting sins.

What might you say “No” to today that would breathe a whiff of fresh life into your workplace, your marriage, your parenting, your neighborhood, or your church?

Posted in Faith, freedom, Spiritual Formation, Walking by the Spirit | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

End of a Season: THANKS!

Dear friends –

I have decided that Because of Grace (this blog) has run its course.

Well over 1,000 of you have generously received my blog posts — many of you for many years. I am grateful beyond words for your kindness, and the feedback that has so often sharpened and shaped my own thinking.

ThankyouYou have encouraged me to write, and I have been honored and privileged to be part of your lives in this way. But it’s time for a change.

I will continue to write, but I plan to write (Lord willing) on leadership. As Dean of our School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University, I am convinced that we need more leaders in society, and we need different leaders … transformational leaders.

Shape Your WorldTransformational leadership is a thoroughly energizing, biblically-consistent, gospel-honoring, Kingdom-faithful model. As many of you may know, I recently published a book (Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life) on this topic; trying to walk the line for both believers and unbelievers. I feel like it’s the most important book I’ve published in a decade.

Transformational leadership is about producing change and building lives through authenticity, inspiration, empathy, and innovation. These are the topics and themes that burn deeply within me right now, and that our culture seems to have lost sight of. Our churches are not faring much better.

Parents need it. Pastors need it. Politicians and business leaders need it. We all do!

If you have interest in staying connected (or leading your family, church, or community more effectively), I will be writing regularly on these themes at another blog — On Ramp. You can find it at www.jessupleadership.com. I invite you to join me for this new season and new journey. Click on the link, come on over, and subscribe to that blog. I would absolutely welcome your company and feedback.

By God’s grace, I’ve been writing Because of Grace for the past seven years, and a spiritual formation email (In Hope) for eleven years before that. Now it’s time for something new.

THANKS for your company and comments on this site. I’ll leave it open for future searching and reference. But for now, I’m tipping my hat and heading for On Ramp. Grateful to the Lord for this opportunity, and ever so thankful for your spiritual friendship and support.

May the days ahead be filled with His grace and peace for each of you.

David Timms
August 30, 2018

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Trying or Training?

At the end of 2017, I spoke with Dr. John Coe, Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Biola University. He’s a delightful and gracious person.

As we chatted about spiritual formation, he raised the important distinction between training and trying; something Dallas Willard also addressed some years ago.

leaders of the marathon runningMany of us attend trying churches. Week after week we hear (or give) admonitions to try and live better. Angry? Just stop it! Gossiping? Don’t! Battling with an addiction? Get over it! We have assumed that if the command comes with plenty of Bible verses and a dose of deep conviction from the pulpit, people will be inspired to change.

Characterological change, however, doesn’t usually happen that way. It rarely arises from a single act of the will. It rarely results from trying. Instead, it emerges from training; steady self-discipline in many small ways pointing in the same direction.

Trying is a teeth-gritting effort to change ourselves. Training is simply the repetition of positive practices until they become habits. Trying tends to produce momentary or temporary external changes. Training eventually produces transformation at the core. Trying focuses squarely on ourselves. Training generally has a higher purpose and motivation.

When an athlete prepares for a 10,000-meter race, they don’t simply line up at the starting line, burst forth at the starter’s gun, and “give it the old college try.” If they are even moderately serious, they will have been training for months (if not years), usually on smaller distances that grew longer and longer; usually with coaching and some attention to cross-training. Then, even during the race, the training kicks in and restrains the athlete from trying too hard too soon. They run with a “plan” based on training, not sheer adrenaline-induced trying. This holds just as true for us in our spiritual journey.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).

We can run aimlessly, pouring ourselves into fast and furious bursts without making any real progress. Or we can “go into strict (spiritual) training.” Very few people prepare for a marathon by running marathons. Counter-intuitively, you start with short distances, eventually add some intervals (fast-paced, measured, short-distance runs), perhaps make a few changes to your diet, and begin to learn when your body needs fuel and fluid.

Spiritual formation functions the same way. What are several small steps you can take today, repeat tomorrow, add to in a week or a month, and sustain easily for the next six months? That’s training. That’s what produces long-term change…and truly flourishing lives.


Shape Your WorldJust a reminder…

My latest book Shape Your World: Transformational Leadership for Everyday Life is available here. This is the most important book I’ve written in a decade. All proceeds support the Gospel in Chile.

In Australia? Go to bookdepository.com.

 

 

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