Saying One Thing & Doing Another

Eliza, in the musical My Fair Lady sings:

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Eliza is right. What really matters is not so much what we say but what we do. We can tell our children we love them, but if our work consumes us, the words matter very little.

The Apostle Paul was continually concerned that the churches he loved and served would not only talk about the Gospel but live a life that was appropriate and consistent with the Gospel. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, cf. Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12, 2 Thess. 1:11). Their walk needed to match their talk.

What would a life worthy of the Gospel look like?

  • They would live in humility, recognizing that they were sinners saved only by the grace of God.
  • They would live in trust, recognizing that the same Father who gave up His only Son would not fail to give them all other things as well.
  • They would live in obedience, recognizing that Jesus was now the exalted King, Ruler, and Leader of the universe.
  • They would live in unity, recognizing that the Father was saving a body of people and not merely individuals.
  • They would live in charity, recognizing and valuing others above themselves.
  • They would live in generosity, recognizing that they who had received so much cannot fail to give generously to others.

When we consider this list, we have to admit, what we do often does not match up with what we say. Why is that?

First, we act in large part based on how we really see things. Our view of reality has been shaped from our youth by many different experiences and ways we’ve thought about them. These are much more powerful than a mere profession that the Gospel is true. In order to change our way of acting, we need a lot of meditation and imagination that reinterprets life from a different perspective (see my post and the footnote on this point here).

Second, we don’t let the little things train us to live a life worthy of the Gospel. I remember working third shift in a cheese factory in Michigan after college. I would take an 80 foot hose and climb up the factory equipment to clean it from the top down, pressured to get the cleaning done in the few hours we had before the processing equipment would come back to life in the morning.

Inevitably, high above the factory floor, I would start walking forward with the hose and it would snap back because it got stuck on some of the contours of the machinery. It would make me so mad. I’d have to shut off the hose and climb back down to get it loose and then climb back up until it happened again.

Eventually, I realized, if I can’t handle these little frustrations, how will I handle big ones? It gave me a new perspective. I can’t say I never got mad, but it did help.

How we relate to our spouses and children, to the things that break in our homes, and to slow drivers are the little frustrations of life that give us the opportunity to train ourselves in living a life that is worthy of the Gospel.

The third reason our walk doesn’t match our talk is because the urgent presses out the important. If I asked you, what would be better for you to do today? To give an uninterrupted hour to your children or to spend an hour looking at things on your cell phone?

But which one did you actually do today?

I think most of us know what we should do. We can talk the talk, but when we examine our day, we find we do exactly the opposite. Why?

Because the notifications on our phone seem to have a greater urgency than our already occupied children.

Time has a way of slipping away, if we are not deliberate about it. It will take thought and planning to make our actions match our words.

This is our calling, that whatever happens, we would “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). It’s not just about what we say. It’s what do that will enable us to shine like stars in this generation as we hold firmly to the Word of life (Phil. 2:16).

Would You Prefer to Die?

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Rather shocking words. Death, according to the apostle Paul, could actually be a good thing.

Some people feel this way because life is so bad that they want escape from it, but that’s not what Paul was thinking at all.

He was not tired of life, and he had no morbid fascination of death. Instead, his desire for death was based in his firm belief that death would bring him closer to Jesus. He loved Jesus so much that he could say that being closer to Him would be “better by far” (1:23).

Paul’s thinking may seem rather strange to you. Why would anyone think this way?

In order to understand his thinking, let’s ask this question: what makes life worth living at all?

Let me suggest that it is primarily one thing: relationships. Whatever else we may enjoy, without relationships, they are pretty much worthless. We desperately need people.

However, people can never satisfy us. Even at their best, they cannot supply the love we truly need. This points us to a more fulfilling relationship with our Creator.

Jesus Christ is a human being, born 2,000 years ago, but He also claimed to be the eternal God and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus is no mere man, we are not talking merely about devotion to an historical person. We are talking about a human who is also God. This is the basic claim of the Christian religion.

In light of that, here are a few reasons why someone might consider death “gain” to be closer to Jesus.

  • He is our Creator. He made us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • He is the ruler of the universe. There is no one who can do more for us than Jesus Christ to whom “all authority and power in heaven and earth” have been given.
  • Continue reading “Would You Prefer to Die?”

What Really Matters

What really matters to you? And is your life aligned around it?

Two crucial questions that have the power to re-shape our lives.

For many of us, our life is cluttered with things that are not really that important.

Living a fulfilled life is about learning to clean out the clutter and focus on what really matters.

There are two types of things that really matter to us. The first category consists of things that make us personally feel good and whole. These include economic security, intellectual stimulation, rewarding work, mutually beneficial relationships, and physical health.

But there is another category. You find this category by asking the following question (read it slowly):

What is the thing that could cause you to have joy, even if things don’t go well for you personally? Continue reading “What Really Matters”

Living by Grace

In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This indicates that love is the result of God’s grace in us.

This is further confirmed by what Paul says at the end of the prayer. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ–to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, they can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:11).

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?” Continue reading “Living by Grace”

Love Needs Wisdom

Wisdom without love is worthless. Love without wisdom is not quite worthless, but it may be fruitless.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, he told them that he prayed “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (1:9).

You often hear, just love people, and that’s all you need.

But that’s not all you need.

Sometimes people with the biggest heart are not as effective as they could be because they just move on emotions rather than thinking through what would be best. Continue reading “Love Needs Wisdom”

What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist

In my previous post on the “end times,” I suggested that the church is going to make progress throughout history. This should provide some optimism about the possibilities for good in history.

However, this opinion needs to be balanced with a consideration of the possibilities of evil in history. This is what we can learn from the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of history.

Why is this so significant to the church? Because the power of antichrist is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

I believe there will be a final manifestation of evil in history, the Antichrist, but I also believe that the spirit of antichrist is already present in history and relevant to each one of us. Understand that the Antichrist takes something that is good and makes it evil. When you realize that this evil is primarily about exalting self, then you realize that the spirit of antichrist is not nearly as far from us as we’d like to think. Continue reading “What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist”

The Anxiety Cure

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6–7

Sometimes the things I need to learn are the most basic things.

This week, I attended a conference in Mississippi. I believe I went with an open heart to see what the Lord would teach me and what He would do through relationships.

What the Lord showed me was that there are many places in my life where I let frustrations or anxieties just sit there. In virtually every area of my life, there are low-grade frustrations. I don’t think I’m particularly weird because of that. Most of us have them.

But what had I been doing with those frustrations? Nothing. In some cases, they would build up with unpleasant results. Continue reading “The Anxiety Cure”

The Progress of the Church in History

What progress can the church expect to make in history? What are the prospects of the church before Christ returns?

There are several places in Scripture that indicate a progressive growth in the kingdom of God before Christ’s return. For example, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:32).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel envisions a kingdom that breaks all other kingdoms. It “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

I believe that it is very hazardous to predict the future, even with the images that the Bible gives us of the future. Most who have tried to do it in any detail have been totally wrong. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons.

That being said, I predict that Jesus will return on October 25, 2134. Just kidding. Not going to make that sort of prediction.

However, I do think that history has shown us enough for us to believe that these images of progressive progress do tell us something about the direction of history. The movement of history seems also to teach that the kingdom will continue to make progress throughout history before the consummation.

Consider the early church. It grew from a small group in Jerusalem to a multitude of congregations throughout the world.

From there, the church continued to grow until it overran the Roman Empire and displaced the pagan religions there.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian missionaries went out and brought the Gospel to those who had overran the Empire. The conversion of “barbarian” tribes continued throughout the Middle Ages. Continue reading “The Progress of the Church in History”

Easter: Think Bigger!

The are several problems with the common perception of life after death. Here’s what people think: when we die, our souls go to heaven to float around there forever. This is only partially true.

When we die, our souls do continue to exist (Phil. 1:21), but our ultimate hope is in the resurrection of our bodies. Our hope is that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). With the ancient church, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Nicene Creed).

A second problem is that people think it is only our individual bodies and not the whole creation that will be redeemed. But the vision of our destiny in the Scriptures is one of a redeemed world (e.g., Is. 65:17–25). As the Apostle Paul says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). Continue reading “Easter: Think Bigger!”