Addicted to approval?
Failure is N ot a V irtue ( but admitting it is ) Encouragement B eyond the T oken G estures
A publication of On My Own Now Ministries, Inc.
GENUINE MOTIVATION Young Christian Man June/July 2014, Vol. 5
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On My Own Now Ministries, Inc., Publisher
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Donna Schillinger Editorial Support Chandler Hunter Page Design Contributors Rob Beames, Will Dole, Sam Harris, Thom Mollohan, Jason Moore, Tullian Tchividjian, Jen Wilkin Except where noted, content is copyright 2014 On My Own Now Ministries. Articles may be reprinted with credit to author, Genuine Motivation and www.OnMyOwnNow.com. On My Own Now Ministries, Inc. is a nonprofit organization with a 501 (c) (3) determination. Your donations aid in our mission to encourage faith, wise life choices and Christ-likeness in young adults during their transition to living on their own. We welcome submissions of original or repurposed articles that are contributed without expectation of compensation. May God repay you. Visit us at www.OnMyOwnNow.com.
Failure Is Not a Virtue Jen Wilkin
Foremost Response Acknowledging Failure IS a Virture by
Family Tradition: The Impact of Your Choices on Generations to Come
Summer: Just Another Season Sam Harris
Can You Relate
Going Beyond Token Gestures of Encouragement by
Addicted to Approval Rob Beames
Begin Again Unfinished... by
Real Relationships by
Failure Is Not a Virtue
By Jen Wilkin
hristian, you cannot obey the Law. Your certain failure is a means to show forth the grace of God when you repent.” “We don’t need more lists of how to be a better spouse/parent/Christian. We need more grace.”
“My life strategy for today: fail, repent, repeat.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? These sorts of statements compose a growing body of commentary that regards the Law of the Bible as a crushing burden, not just for the unbeliever, but for the believer as well. Enough with “checkbox Christianity,” these voices tell us. No more “how to’s” on righteousness. In the righteousness department you are an epic fail, so toss out your checklists and your laws, and cast yourself on grace. 3 GM
Failure Gets a Makeover
Set Free to Obey
In recent years church leaders have rightly spoken out against moralistic, therapeutic deism, which is really just a fancy name for legalism—the idea that we earn God’s favor through external obedience to a moral code. Moralistic therapeutic deism, as in the days of Jesus, pervades our culture and even our churches. It’s as harmful today as it was when Jesus spoke against it 2,000 years ago.
The gospel grants both freedom from the penalty of sin and freedom to begin to obey (Rom 6:16). And what are we to obey? The Law that once gave death now gives freedom. God’s Word teaches us that behavior modification should absolutely follow salvation. It just occurs for a different reason than it does in the life of the unbeliever. Modified behavior reflects a changed heart. When Peter says we have spent enough time living as the pagans do, surely he means that it is time to stop disobeying and begin obeying. Paul tells us that grace teaches us to say no to ungodly passions, not merely to repent when we fail to say no. He goes on to say that we are redeemed, not from the Law, but from lawlessness (disregard for the Law). If, as John attests, all sin is lawlessness (disregard for the Law), ought we not to love the Law (Psalm 119:97) and meditate on it day and night, as those who desire deeply to cease sinning? When Jesus says “Go, and sin no more,” don’t we think He means it?
As a response to this skewed view of Law, some have begun to articulate a skewed view of grace—one that discounts the necessity of obedience to the moral precepts of the Law. I call this view “celebratory failurism”—the idea that believers cannot obey the Law and will fail at every attempt. Furthermore, our failure is ultimately cause to celebrate, because it makes grace all the more beautiful. These days, obedience has gotten a bad name. And failure has gotten a make-over. Interestingly, Jesus battled legalism in a different way than the celebratory failurist does. Rather than tossing out the Law or devaluing obedience to it, He called his followers to a deeper obedience (Matthew 5:17-48) than the behavior modification the Pharisees prized. He called for obedience in motive as well as in deed, the kind of godly obedience that is impossible for someone whose heart has not been transformed by the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than abolish the Law, Jesus deepened His followers’ understanding of what it required, and then went to the cross to ensure they could actually begin to obey it.
Any profession of faith not followed by evidence is empty (James 2:14-26). And faithful profession without faithful obedience is spiritual schizophrenia. It is to affirm that God exists and then to turn and live as if he does not. Celebratory failurism asserts that all our attempts to obey will fail, thereby making us the recipients of greater grace. But God does not exhort us to obey just to teach us that we cannot hope to obey. He exhorts us to obey to teach us that, by grace, we can obey, and therein lies hope. Through the gospel our God, whose Law and whose character do not change, changes us into
Foremost those who obey in both motive and deed. Believers no longer live under the Law, but the Law lies under us as a sure path for pursuing what is good, right, and pleasing to the Lord. Contrary to the tenets of celebratory failurism, the Law is not the problem. The heart of the Law-follower is. Obedience is only moralism if we believe it curries favor with God. The believer knows that it is impossible to curry favor with God, because God needs nothing from us. He cannot be put in our debt. Knowing this frees us to obey out of joyful gratitude rather than servile grasping. Imagine telling your child, “I know you’ll fail, but here are our house rules. Let me know when you break them so I can extend grace to you.” We recognize that raising a lawless child is not good for the child, for our family, or for society as a whole. We don’t train our children to obey us so they can gain our favor. They already have our favor. We, being evil, train and equip them to obey because it is good and right and safe. And how much more does our heavenly Father love us?
Moving Beyond “Fail and Repent”
We must not trade moralistic therapeutic deism for celebratory failurism. Sanctification is about more than “You will fail, but there is grace for you.” Growing in holiness means that we fail less than we used to, because at long last we are learning to obey in both motive and deed, just as Christ obeyed. There is a difference between self-help and sanctification, and that difference is the motive of the heart. Earnest Christians look to their church leaders and ask, “Teach me to walk in his ways.” We owe them an answer beyond,
“Fail and repent.” We owe them, “This is the way, walk in it.” This way is often delineated by lists—a list of ten don’ts in Exodus 20, a list of eight do’s in Matthew 5, a list of works of the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23) and spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:2223) in Galatians 5, and so on. These lists crush the unbeliever but give life to the believer. They make straight the paths of those who love them, and though this way is narrow, it leads to life. The Law becomes a gracious means of conforming us to the image of the Savior. We love the Law because we love the God of the Law, who has engraved it on our hearts. We do not start our days planning to fail, nor do we celebrate failure. Rather, we set our faces like flint and resolve by the power of the Spirit to obey. Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. Jen is the author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (Crossway, forthcoming). You can find her at jenwilkin.blogspot.com.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.
Acknowledging Failure IS a Virtue by
’ve been asked to respond to Jen Wilkin’s article, Failure is Not a Virtue . I won’t rehash Jen’s point. There’s lots that could be said. On the surface, it’s not easy to see what’s wrong with it. She quotes the Bible and she makes some valid points. But something is missing. And you can’t know what that is unless you dive beneath the surface and explore her post at a deeper theological AND existential level. So, let me just point out two major “under the surface” points that seem to be the source of the theological muddiness on the surface.
When You Fail To Distinguish Law and Gospel…You Lose Both Jen’s concern seems to be a reveling in moral laxity. She calls it “celebratory failurism.” She writes, “Some have begun to articulate a skewed view of grace—one that discounts the necessity of obedience to the moral precepts of the Law. I call this view celebratory failurism—the idea that believers cannot obey the Law and will fail at every attempt. Furthermore, our failure is ultimately cause to celebrate, because it makes grace all the more beautiful.” I have to be honest and say I’ve never encountered a Christian who “celebrates failure.” And I’ve been around
A Response to Jen Wilkin for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I see moral laxity in everyone, everywhere. But I don’t see real Christians reveling in it or bragging about it. Anyway, it’s not just the diagnosis that I question. It’s her proposed solution to this “celebratory failurism” which reveals some pretty deep theological confusion. Things get very confusing when you don’t properly distinguish God’s law from God’s gospel. Theodore Beza (John Calvin’s successor) rightly said that, “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is the principal source of abuse which corrupted and still corrupts Christianity.” Both God’s law and God’s gospel are good, but both have unique job descriptions. Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the law endorses the need for change but is powerless to enact change—that’s not part of its job description. It points to righteousness but can’t produce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly. The law can inform us of our sin but it cannot transform the sinner. It can show us what love for God and others looks like, but only love can produce love for God and others (1 John 4:19). Nowhere does the Bible say that the law carries the power to change us. The law can instruct, but only grace can inspire. We can tell people about what they need to be doing and the ways they’re falling short—
instructing, exhorting, correcting, rebuking, preaching “the imperatives” —and that’s important. But we’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us. His love for us is what motivates love from us. The Bible is very, very, very clear that grace and grace alone carries the power to inspire what the law demands. Love, not law, compels heartfelt loyalty. Ask your spouse. Ask your teenagers. Ask your employees. Ask yourself! Too many people assume that championing ethics will itself make us more ethical; that preaching obedience will itself make us more obedient; that focusing on the law will itself make us more lawful. But is that the way it works? With God, or your wife, or your husband, or your children, or with any other human for that matter?
intensify our exhortations to behave. Therefore, what we desperately need is a renewed focus on ethics, duty, behavior, and so on. I mean, surely God doesn’t think that the saving solution for the immoral and rebellious is His free grace? That doesn’t make sense. It seems backwards, counterintuitive. Matt Richard describes well how naturally we take it upon ourselves to reign the gospel in when we fear too much of it will result in lawlessness: I have found that as Christians we many times attribute “lawlessness” to the preaching of the Gospel. Somewhere in our thinking we rationalize that if the Gospel is presented as “too free, too unconditional or that Jesus fulfills the law for us” that the result will be lax morality, loose living and lawlessness. It’s as if we believe that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. Because of this rationalization we find ourselves strapping, holding and attaching restrictions to the Gospel so that we might prevent or limit lawlessness. In other words, the Gospel is placed into bondage due to our rationalization and reaction to lawlessness.
It's as if we believe that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. I completely understand how natural it is to conclude that, given our restraint-free cultural context, preachers in our day should be very wary of talking about grace at all. That’s the last thing lawless people need to hear, is it not? Surely they’ll take advantage of it and get worse, not better. After all, it would seem logical to me that the only way to “save” licentious people is to
The truth is that lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it. In One Way Love , I share the following letter I received from a man I’ve never met. He wrote: “Over the last couple of years, we have really been struggling with the preaching in our church as it has been very law-laden and moralistic. After
Foremost Response listening, I feel condemned with no power to overcome my lack of ability to obey. Over the last several months, I have found myself very spiritually depressed, to the point where I had no desire to even attend church. Pastors are so concerned about somehow preaching ‘too much grace’ (as if that is possible), because they wrongly believe that type of preaching leads to antinomianism or licentiousness. But, I can testify that the opposite is actually true. I believe preaching only the law and giving little to no gospel actually leads to lawless living. When mainly law is preached, it leads to the realization that I can’t follow it, so I might as well quit trying. At least, that’s what has happened to me.” Gerhard Ebeling wrote, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel” because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living,” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend and New Testament scholar Jono Linebaugh says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.” Jen confuses these two “shots” and therefore fails to deliver the real bad news which prevents the reader from hearing (and being relieved by) the real good news.
Jen Is Right…And Wrong The only other thing I would say is that Jen is right: failure is NOT a virtue. I’m not sure, however, that I’ve ever heard anyone say it is. But (and this is very, very important) failure IS a fact. AND because it’s a fact, acknowledging failure IS most definitely a virtue. Not to do so is delusional at best, dishonest at worst. The painful struggle to which Paul gives voice to in Romans 7 arises from his condition as someone who has been raised from the dead and is now alive to Christ (justified before God), but
lingering sin continues to plague him at every level and in every way (sinful in himself )–what Luther described as simul justus et peccator. Paul’s testimony demonstrates that even after God saves us, there is no part of us that becomes sin-free—we remain sinful and imperfect in all of our capacities, in the totality of our being, or, as William Beveridge put it: I cannot pray but I sin. I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin. I cannot give alms or receive the sacrament but I sin. I can’t so much as confess my sins, but my confessions are further aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer. So when I say, “Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail,” I’m NOT saying, “Go out and sin more so that grace may abound.” I’ve never heard anyone say that. What I AM saying is that you ARE failing and that if you are in Christ, your failure does not condemn you (Rom. 8:1). Furthermore, your failure cannot separate you from God’s love (Rom. 8:31). So, because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail without fear of being cast out, abandoned. Even our most cataclysmic failures won’t tempt God to “leave us or forsake us.” Perfect love casts out all fear. So, regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not “how much I’ve improved over the years,” I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, “Wretched man that
I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24). Paul’s sober mindedness shows itself when he says things like, “I’m the chief of sinners,” and “I’m the least of all the saints.” Ironically, Paul’s honest acknowledgement of how unsanctified he was demonstrated just how sanctified he was. In other words, theologians of the cross (as opposed to theologians of glory) recognize that sanctification consists of an increased realization of our weakness and just how much grace we need. You see, this is what happens: the most common way grace is misunderstood is when people confuse it with cheapened law. Think of the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Or think of Jesus’ crushing line in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. “Love the Lord with all your heart” becomes “try to love God more than sports.” “Be perfect” gets cheapened into “do your best.” J. Gresham Machen counterintutively noted, “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.” The reason this seems so counterintuitive is because most people think those who talk a lot about grace have a low view of God’s law (hence, the regular charge of antinomianism). Others think those with a high view of the law are the legalists. But Machen makes the compelling point that it’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you
believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not “cheap grace” but “cheap law”—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus. As essayist John Dink writes, “Cheap law weakens God’s demand for perfection, and in doing so, breathes life into the old creature and his quest for a righteousness of his own making. …Cheap law tells us that we’ve fallen, but there’s good news, you can get back up again. …Therein lies the great heresy of cheap law: it is a false gospel. And it cheapens— no, it nullifies grace. Only when we see that the way of God’s law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable. A high view of the law reminds us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s perfection, not our progress. Grace, properly understood, is the movement of a holy God toward an unholy people. He doesn’t cheapen the law or ease its requirements. He fulfills them in his Son, who then gives his righteousness to us. That’s the gospel. Pure and simple. Sanctification, simply defined, is love for God and love for others. But what actually produces love for God and love for others? Not the law. Nowhere does the Bible say that the law produces love. Nowhere. What the Bible does say is that love for God and others is produced only by God’s love for us. “We love him because he first loved us.” And this radical one-wayness of God’s love is alone the impetus to realizing the very things that Jen (and I) longs to see happen in the lives of Christian people.
William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.
Family Tradition by
The Impact of Your Choices on Generations to Come
s a well-known song once advised, if we get stoned and sing all night long, we shouldn’t be surprised because it’s a family tradition. For those of us unfamiliar with the music of Hank Williams Jr., the message behind that song may need further explanation. A lot of folks over the years have judged him harshly for his questionable lifestyle, especially in light of the fact that his father died from a drug overdose. His song essentially says, “I am the way I am and I’m not going to change. This is how my family is.” Many of us would share a similar sentiment when it comes to our
lives, regardless of our particular vices and the fact that we don’t write songs about them. We generally feel we are the way we are, our family is the way it is, and we aren’t inclined to discuss it any more. This is the case for my family, anyway. I have often joked that this type of song could be really describing my family. However, while it may describe a certain family’s past, it does not necessarily describe that family’s present or future. People can change. For example, my dad is no longer who he used to be. So although a song like this may have depicted him once,
there was a point in time that he charted a radically different course in life from his father, which was even a different one than he lead while a young man before Jesus saved him. My parents have been married for 25 years. My dad took us to church often and prayed with us at bedtime. My dad is not perfect by any means. He has shortcomings as a man and a father. But by the grace of God, he did manage to change the course of his family history. He reshaped what the Dole family tradition means. An often overlooked biblical principle is at play here. It’s explained in Exodus 20:4-6 saying, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” We tend to think of the 10 Commandments as all very short imperatives. While this is true for the last four commandments, the first five also have clear reasoning attached to them. In this second commandment, which prohibits idol worship, God gives His reasoning in the form of cause-effect. If we sin in this way, our children will reap the consequences down to the third and fourth generation. If we love and serve God, our children will reap the reward for a thousand generations. These verses are important because they explain that our attitudes and actions toward God have consequences which reach far beyond our own lives. We live in a society that is both radically self-centered and impatient. We tend to focus on the here and now. But God’s focus is far-reaching and that is both terrifying and comforting at the same time. While we will not stand before God in judgment for the sins of our fathers, we will certainly reap the consequences of their actions. It is scary
to think that we may feel repercussions from the actions of our forefathers whom we never met and about whom we know nothing. It is terrifying to know that our sins could impact, not only our children, but their descendants, as well. We could easily be talking about people born 70 or 80 years from now. But this doesn’t tell the whole story of the passage above. Verse six contains one of the most glorious and beautiful promises that God gives in Scripture. We can’t imagine 1,000 generations – there have not been 1,000 generations recorded in history. Yet, we are told that we have to choose who we are going to serve and if we choose foolishly, it will not only affect our eternal destiny, but also the lives of people many, many years from now. However, if we choose correctly and love the Lord our God, He will honor that by showing His love to us eternally, even to our progeny. What a great gift to give or to receive! Not all of us have had the privilege of receiving such an endowment. Not everyone can say that their folks loved the Lord, took them to church or prayed with them. It may be easy to respond by saying, “Whatever, that’s cool for you. I am what I am.” But no one has to remain where they are. By trusting in the Lord, we can all change, not only the course of our lives for eternity, and we can also have a very real impact on those who come after us. This is hard to see when we’re young, and often hard to believe; but it is a rock-solid promise from the word of God. My own life bears witness to its truth. When we place our faith in Christ, God makes us a new creature and counts all our sin against Christ. He calls us the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). We are no longer subject to the old man and his passions (Romans 6). By God’s grace, we can trust, follow and serve Him. We can change our family tradition today! Will Dole is pursuing a life in ministry and currently works with South Lake Youth Ministries in Plummer, Idaho. Visit him at www.cdubthinking.blogspot.com.
Summer: just another season by
s summertime approaches, it’s not just the weather outside that’s changing. For some of us, this time of year brings a lot of changes, which can often be bittersweet. As a busy graduate student and teaching assistant, it’s always an interesting time of year. The hectic stress of final exams and long essays gives way to the impending summer freedom, and we have mixed emotions with the realization that another year has come and gone. With it, we say goodbye to another group of friends, coworkers and students. To some it’s only a temporary farewell, but there are others we may never see again. Even after being in school for so long, we never really know how each new ending is going to make us feel. It’s in situations like these that we can get cynical if we’re not careful. We can easily look back on the year and feel like nothing has changed, but in reality, everything is changing. Life is moving forward and people are moving on, whether we like it, or not. Next year there will be a whole new group of students, but before we know it, that semester will be over and they’ll be gone, too. It’s as Solomon writes, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). Sometimes it seems like life is just going on in an endless cycle, and nothing new is really happening. As did Solomon, we can easily get discouraged and start to question what the point really is and whether we truly have an impact on the world at all. 12 june14
Now, Ecclesiastes does say that it is good for man to invest in his work and enjoy doing so (2:24), which is what we should try to do as teachers. We should care about our students and try to help them as best we can. Our work has much bigger and longer lasting results than just a paycheck or a line on our résumé. Again, throughout the rest of chapter two, Solomon says that even the fruit of a man’s labor is meaningless and empty—without God. In the end, human relationships are good, but they’re not the answer to all our problems. We all need friends, partners and fellow Christian to help us along. God has given us relationships for our own benefit and enjoyment. Yes, we should try to invest in the lives of others and be a blessing to them whenever possible, especially if we happen to be in a full-time teaching or ministry position. Yet, human relationships are fleeting; they come and go all the time. All of these relationships mean nothing if they’re not centered on a strong relationship with God. A lot of times, one of the most important relationships is the one that we forget. I’m on my own now, with a job and a busy schedule. Sometimes, I think I don’t have time to spend with God, or I can make it through the day pretty well on my own. I still have a desire to help and bless others around me, but I let myself think I can do that on my own, while neglecting the one source of all good and true blessings. But while serving others and building positive
relationships with them is certainly an important and worthwhile thing, we know that even those we love so much will always leave us in the end. Our relationships with others aren’t permanent, and if the work we do isn’t from God and for Him, then it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Sometimes, we need to be less like Martha in Luke 10:38-42, working hard and trying to do good things that will last, and more like Mary, spending more time with Jesus, experiencing the true meaning and significance only He can provide in everything we do. Paul also tells us that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Some have pointed out that following Jesus is really the only thing we can have to our credit when we die, because nothing else we do here on earth will carry over into the next life. Focusing on God and looking for fulfillment only in the next life seems to agree with Solomon’s points in Ecclesiastes that everything in this life is meaningless. It is sobering to note that even with the best of motives or actions, no relationships we build here in this life in our own strength will have any meaningful impact whatsoever if those relationships aren’t rooted in God. It’s important to remember from time to time that this world has absolutely nothing to offer us. That’s right, nothing...not relationships...not companionship... not love. It cannot offer us a true education, job, ministry. It offers only empty pleasures and incomplete fulfillment. However, if we walk with God and allow Him to use us, then and only then, do we have something to offer this world. Yet, this world still has nothing for us of real substance. Only in light of the next life will anything we do here have true significance. This world is constantly changing, along with the people in it and the circumstances around us. What we have here is fleeting,
temporary, transitory. Like Solomon says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Spring turns into summer; one stage of life moves into another; some people enter our lives and others leave. For me, whenever I start getting disillusioned with all the tedious ebb and flow of life, or when I have a miniature existential crisis where I wonder what my life is amounting to, it helps to revisit the book of Ecclesiastes to put things in perspective. It helps to remember that each one of our lives is really just another one of those seasons that will soon pass away. It is good to take satisfaction from our earthly relationships while we can, so let’s not fail to make the most of the time we spend with others and the chances we have to invest positively in their lives. But those relationships can’t be the source of our fulfillment or our hope. All those other people and relationships will go away one day, while our relationship with God, whatever we have or haven’t invested into it, is all that will remain. Let us never forget to make the most of that one important relationship during our short time on earth.
Sam Harris is continuously striving to follow Jesus Christ more closely and to love others more fully. He is currently pursuing an M.A. in English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he also works as a teaching assistant for English classes. He enjoys writing nonfiction accounts of his life experiences, as well as science-fiction and fantasy stories and the occasional poem. He would like to be either a teacher, a writer, or a superhero when he grows up. You can find his blog at www.sirrahleumas. wordpress.com, or like “Samuel N. Harris” on Facebook. 13 GM
Can You Relate
Going Beyond Token Gestures of Encouragement
hances are good that all of us know someone who is in trouble right now. Battered by circumstances or weighed down by discouragement, this person may even feel at his wit’s end while asking the question, “Why is God letting this happen to me?” Consider that it may be that the hand of God has placed us in the life of this individual to encourage or help. We certainly do not want to offer trite, glib remarks that patronize the pain and suffering others. For example, we might say to another that the Lord 14 june14
never gives us more hardship than we can bear. While well-intended, it doesn’t acknowledge a person’s pain, nor does it sympathize with his or her desperation. Not only is this kind of advice insensitive, in fact, it isn’t even what the Bible says on the matter. Actually, the Lord doesn’t let us have more temptation than we can handle. Paul explains, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Based on this, if we tell hurting souls that God doesn’t permit circumstances in their life that they cannot handle, the result may end in bitterness or despair, especially when they are already overwhelmed in their situation. So what perspective should we share with those who are suffering? What can we say to bring hope and strength in such times of utter brokenness? Simply this: that the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the stars, the trees, the mountains, the seas, the flowers and even each hair on each head will ultimately bring about His deliverance in the life of the those who trust and obey Him. To a heart that perseveres because of this hope in God, the Lord ultimately brings about a great victory! Paul continues, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). So what can we say about hardship and suffering that isn’t the result of sin or selfishness on our part, but seems, instead to be allowed by God for reasons known only to God? First, we should recall that, “... we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Second, we remember that while our Lord will permit us to exhaust all our resources, expend all our strength and even forfeit all our hopes and dreams, He is merely clearing the way in our hearts for His deliverance, His strength and eternal rewards which infinitely dwarf our meager hopes and shallow dreams for this life. “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10).
So if our God can deliver us from the deadly peril of our sin through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, can we not count on Him to hold on to us through the trials and tribulations that He permits in our lives? Paul confirms this, saying, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Now, we certainly don’t want to wax on and on theologically when keeping company with the hurting, but knowing what God says in His Word does empower us to simply say, as your tears mingle with theirs, “Hold on to Jesus. Trust God through this. He understands and weeps with you, too.” But don’t just encourage in word only. As a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement, we should strive to encourage in deed, too. We should be ready to go above and beyond to be a friend in a crisis. Whether it involves simply playing cards, helping with errands or chores, thoughtful gestures that remind this friend or acquaintance that they’re not alone, we may do just enough to help him or her continue to cling to the hope that only Jesus can provide. James uses a negative example to explain how important our actions are: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17). Stay on the lookout for opportunities to help and let God make us a source of true encouragement today.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio for more than 18 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at unfurledsails.wordpress.com. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Addicted to Approval by
ello. My name is Rob.” “Hi Rob!”
“I’ve been a member of AA for 28 years now. I made my last poor decision a few days ago when I told a half truth, so a friend of mine wouldn’t think I was stupid. I’ve been approval free ever since. I vow never to do it again!” You’ve probably never said anything like that in a support group, but most of us probably could. As long as blood runs through our veins, we remain proud members of a much less famous organization also known as AA: Approvaholics Anonymous. Much like its counterpart for alcoholics, many of its members never fully recover, in this case, from the habitual inclination to look for the approval of others. For better or for worse, we are wired to desire and to seek the approval. Originally, created in perfection, this innate need is interwoven into our very fiber, and is, by design, for our good. Our wise and benevolent Creator gave it to us so that we would remain connected to Him. In a state of perfection, it keeps us focused on our dependence
on the only One able to fulfill our deepest longings. Our existence is one of desperate need— He provides every breath and every beneficial action is a prompting of His Spirit. If we hold any other mind-set, we live a delusion. We fool ourselves if we think we live, act or exist for a moment without Him. Because God is (to paraphrase Frozone’s wife in Disney/Pixar’s, “The Incredibles,”) the only good we’re ever gonna need, we do ourselves a huge disservice every time we seek someone else’s approval above God’s. Since we were made to love and to be loved by others, we want others to approve and accept us. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it becomes an issue when our decisions and actions are based on how family and friends respond. It’s tough enough trying to keep this circle of influence happy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. For approvaholics, anyone we meet quickly becomes a prospect for approval. Even those we’ve never met can control our behavior, generally speaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us wouldn’t follow rules, if
we didn’t care what others think of us. But this becomes problematic when try to be someone we’re not in order to please others, and our self worth fluctuates with what others think of us at the moment.
And it’s a good thing that it doesn’t make sense. If at any time we start to feel that we warrant God’s love, then we lack some serious perspective, which in turn inhibits a harmonious relationship with God.
Even when we’re feeling good, we are selling ourselves short. In His Word, God is constantly affirming how great an esteem He has for us. To the degree which we continue to read and believe these truths, we want for nothing more.
On the other hand, when His power is at work within us, we are filled with His fullness, rather than becoming full of ourselves. To be filled with Him is to be emptied of ourselves and to know that we are worthless no matter how well we think we’ve done, or how many people speak well of us. Yet, the reverse is also true. No matter how low we sink, or how much we may disappoint others, we know God proudly embraces us without hesitation.
For example, we are told that: “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence... For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:12,14-20). Maybe we do not feel that God could possibly approve and accept us “as is,” but Paul points out that even our small faith in Christ entitles us to approach God with great confidence. Because God esteems Jesus with the perfect love that only He deserves, we are free, not only to associate with God, not only to be His friends, but we are given His very name and are members of the family of God. It is out of His riches that He plants us and establishes us in a love so great that we are unable to grasp its vastness.
Since we know that, by faith, we have incredible value in God’s eyes and His unqualified approval, we need not seek it anywhere else. Our worth in Christ becomes the power that produces bravery in awkward situations, courage as we face painful rejection, and love when we feel only ridicule from others. Of course, progress can only begin in Aprovaholics Anonymous once we admit we have a problem. Just as the alcoholic learns he doesn’t need a drink to get him through the day, we recovering approvaholics can learn one day at a time, that with Christ dwelling in our hearts, we have all the approval we need. (I believe He wanted me to remind you of this!)
In fact, this just doesn’t make sense, and so give up trying to understand it and instead look to flawed people like ourselves to confirm that we are okay. Unfortunately, the only thing others validate about us is that we are horribly broken, and that we are not even close to mending things on our own. That’s why Paul prays that we will discover that God loves us in spite of our pitiful state. He prays that we believe by faith that God loves us in this amazing, unconditional way, even though it surpasses our knowledge and makes no sense to us.
few weeks ago, I was meeting with one of the leaders of our church. I asked him a question that I’d been pondering for a while. “Are you okay with the reality that, in this life, you will never be finished?” I’d venture to say that most of us don’t like the idea of being unfinished. How do you feel about unfinished business? I like to do projects around the house. I have years of remodeling experience after rehabbing a house in St. Louis and now making changes to my home in Wentzville. I have very little trouble starting a job. My
struggle is with finishing it. As I type this, a piece of baseboard is staring at me. I have an office in our recently almost finished basement. The room is 95 percent finished, but there are a few little jobs that still need to be done—I wish this baseboard would stop looking at me. The unfinished nature of my finished basement would bother me more if I didn’t have so much other unfinished business in my life. There is so much work to be done. So many things that I’d like to do with my time on this earth. I will never be able to complete all that I’d like to start. I will never finish all
the work I could do at home, at church, in the community, with my family and on and on. Maybe I’d be less bothered by all this unfinished business if I myself was finished. In his letter to his friends at Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). That’s good news. The Bible also tells us that Jesus is the founder and protector of our faith. If we are followers of Christ, then God is radically committed to finishing the work He has started in us. That’s great news. But, it’s not always easy to live in light of this reality. With each passing day, I become more aware of how much work God has to do in my heart, mind and soul. I’m in this Christian process called sanctification. Sanctification could be described as the work of God’s free grace by which we are renewed throughout in the image of God. In other words, God in His kindness and mercy works in us to make us new. To restore the weakness and brokenness that comes from being fallen creatures. He forgives our sin, exposes our deepest issues and brings healing to our souls. He gives us strength for everyday living as He empowers us to be more like our perfect savior, Jesus Christ. Our gracious God is working on His people. One of the reasons I like doing projects is because every once and a while I need to see something finished. Building a cabinet or laying tile on a floor gives me hope. It is a reminder that one day I will be finished. But, seeing finished work also reminds me of something else. In order for people like us to be finished, work had to be done. We can’t do the work of saving our own souls. We try. That’s what religion is about: working hard to earn God’s favor. That’s work we definitely can’t finish. But, that’s okay, because it was
finished by someone else. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, has done the work necessary for us to be declared righteous and reconciled to God. Finished work reminds us that Jesus’ work is complete. There is nothing left for us to do in order to be in a right relationship with God. By God’s unmerited favor and kindness, we have been brought into God’s loving care. Jesus accomplishes what we cannot. Because of grace, we can rest from any efforts to save ourselves or to prove our worth. By that same grace, we are being perfected. God, in His mercy, is working to expose the broken parts of me that only He can heal. Through the work of God’s Holy Spirit, we can die to sin and be made alive to righteousness. It’s a hard process, but a good process. Being unfinished means there are still difficult moments. I don’t always love my wife well. I’m not always psyched to do my job. I’m not always an engaged and enthusiastic father. I’m not always a good friend or even a good person. But when I doubt that God is capable of finishing His work on a wretch like me, I can look to the finished work of Jesus. If Jesus has finished the work necessary for us to be saved then He will fulfill His promises to finish His work in us. That process will take time. It might be messy. The baseboards may not get installed until Jesus comes back. But, if God starts something, He will certainly finish it. I’m okay with being unfinished because God always finishes His work, and He has promised to finish me. Jason Moore is a church-planting pastor with the Presbyterian Church in America. More than that, he is a child of God saved by His amazing grace. It is his hope that, come what may, God will use his life to display the love of God and make His goodness known.