Monday, August 31

Despair At Our Imperfections Is a Greater Obstacle Than the Imperfection Itself

In a small book entitled, Let Go, François Fénelon (French priest & theologian, 1651-1715), wrote some sage advice to an unknown woman. The following comes from chapter 13:

Do not be overly concerned about your defects. Instead concentrate on having an unceasing love for Jesus, and you shall be much forgiven, because you have loved much (Luke 7:47). However, we need to beware of the tendency to seek the good feelings and selfish thrills of love (which are the by-products of love) instead of love itself. We can so easily deceive ourselves on this matter. We can concentrate so much on love that we miss the point entirely. You are more occupied with the love, says St. Francis of Sales, than with the Well-beloved. If Jesus were the sole object of our love, we would be all wrapped up in Him. But when we are concerned with constant assurance of His love, we are still in a measure busy with self.

When we look at our defects in peace through the spirit of Jesus, they vanish before the majesty of His love. But when we concentrate on our defects, forgetting that Jesus loves us, we become restless, the presence of God is interrupted, and the flow of God’s love is hindered. The humiliation we feel about our own defects can often be a greater fault than the original defect itself if it keeps you from moving into the realization of God’s love. So don’t let yourself get taken up with lesser of the two. Do not be like a person I just met a short time ago, who, after reading the life of one of the saints, was so angry about his own life in comparison that he completely gave up the idea of living a devoted Christian life. I know this will not be true of you.

When I receive your letters, I can just about tell how faithfully you have lived by the amount of peace and freedom you manifest in your writing. The more peaceful and free you are, the nearer you seem to be to God.

Sunday, August 30

Sign Readers or Pilgrims?

It's one thing to read the signs along the road, quite another to journey toward a destination. To point the way is less involved than putting your foot to the path. Some "Christians" attend church and only ever learn the signs. They adroitly point in the right direction, but wince at the thought of allegiance to the heavenly Companion. As an example take the chief priests and scribes who pointed the Wise Men in the right direction, but did not take a step to see (much less worship) Jesus in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-6).

Which are you--sign reader or pilgrim traveler? Much depends on how you learned Christ or how you were taught. The scribes knew the answer, the wise men sought the savior. Tremendous difference! In this information-glutted age, how do we who follow Christ become more like wise men and less like scribes? Psalm 25 sets our feet on the right path!

The Psalmist begins with, To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Lifting up the soul is another way of saying I desire or yearn for God. There is a sense of expectation in it, of destitution, of dissatisfaction with the status quo. We come to God ready, needing help, wanting filling. For what? In verse four he pleads,
Make me to know your WAYS, O LORD; teach me your PATHS.
I have highlighted two words--ways and paths because they indicate far more than mere knowledge. As Spurgeon puts it, "Four times over in these two verses [4-5] he [David] applies for a scholarship in the college of grace" (Treasury of David, 1:392). This is the kind of grace we need in order to live holy lives not just talk religiously. Talk is cheap. Path and ways stress lifestyle change, or an alteration in our worldview. A person's worldview is his philosophy of life--how we view good and evil, politics and religion, work and play. Point? It is not enough in church to surface facts about God, to merely inform Sunday School classes of Noah's ark, Aaron's budding rod, or the lions in Daniel's den. Rather, we must ask what these well-known stories teach us about God, his power, love for him--in short, the way God thinks and moves. What do they mean? We must do more than give the WHAT of Bible knowledge; we must answer the WHY of Scripture as well. Only then can we be said to have entered into the ways of God, and begun learning his paths. The purpose of a path is to travel it. To know about the path, or to have taken a myriad photos of it is not the same. Walking in the way of God requires intimacy, relationship, a certain vulnerability in conversation, and time. Time! I fear that what we have inadvertently been teaching our churches is the art of visitation, not of people, but of God himself! We walk the pathways of this world, and then satisfy ourselves with a mere visit with Jesus on certain days of the week! That is not what salvation is about on any level. Does it not border on blasphemy to relegate our wonderful Savior to few short disengaged minutes each week!? No wonder so many people find God boring and so many churches grow anemic. There is honestly little that can be termed relationship at all. God help us!

Let us seek out what David teaches in Psalm 25, lift up our parched souls in holy dissatisfaction and seek him who by his grace draws us into the path of yearning and love and joy. The call of Christianity is not to "drop-in" on God once in a while but to quit this world and throw all effort into walking with Jesus every day! Put yourself into the path of grace today.

He who would valiant be 'gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There's no discouragement
shall make him once relent,
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

John Bunyan

Saturday, August 29

Holiness More Rewarding Than Lust

The Preacher rightly said, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." And right here at the launching of a new school year there are those who after a few weeks will empathize with this inspired text even if they will not bow the knee to it. But better to bow than to sneer.

It is this text upon which Thomas Watson builds his raison d'être for writing the wonderful little book, Religion Our True Interest. It was out of publication for three centuries, but is now thankfully in our hands! The modern reader will be apprised that the term "religion" in the Puritan era meant what we mean by Christianity and not just a mere external observance of rites or ceremonies.

While there is much to write from this book, it is simply Watson's "To The Reader" that interests me today. In a sort of apology for writing yet another book, of which there is seemingly "no end", Watson stirs up our interest with his inimitable flair.

The main design of this excellent scripture [Eccl. 12:12 above], is to encourage solid piety [holiness] and confute the atheists of the world, who imagine there is no gain in godliness. It was the speech of King Saul to his servants, "Will the son Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards?" (1 Sam. 22:7). Will the world of men's lusts give them such noble recompences of reward, as God bestows upon his followers? Surely, it is holiness carries away the garland. As for this treatise, it comes abroad in a plain dress: Truth, like a diamond, shines brightest in its native lustre; Saint Paul came not to the Corinthians with the excellency of speech (2 Cor. 1:1), or the pride of oratory. His study [intent] was not to court [entice], but convert. It is an unhappiness that in these luxuriant times, religion should for the most part run either to notion [informal imagination] or ceremony [formal liturgy]. The spirits of religion are evaporated. When knowledge is turned into taste, and digested into practice; then it is saving. [emphases mine]

What a wonderfully concise closing statement is his last! Read it again. I include this quotation for two reasons, 1) as an example of Watson's deeply biblical style, but more 2) for an enticement to witness his heart, which if exemplified will lead us into higher and more noble path to our Lord Jesus. Perhaps this is not enough to whet your appetite for Watson. Perhaps it is. I hope it's the later.

Perhaps more later on this man.

Friday, August 28

How To Hear From God

As a matter of practice, we do not turn to just anybody for advice, at least not if we really want help. What determines whom we consult? We get a good inside look from Saul and his servant prior to Saul's being made king. The issue was simple, his father's donkeys had escaped, and Saul along with his servant were to go find them. But after failing to do so, Saul became very concerned that his father might be worried as to their whereabouts and planned to return home. But the servant stopped Saul saying he had heard tale of a prophet in the area from whom they might gain advice:

But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” (1 Samuel 9:6)

In this one verse, we get a sort of inside look at what kind of man one might seek out if he wanted godly advice--the kind that will really help.

FIRST, he should be a "man of God". A man of God is essentially a godly man. And according to Thomas Watson, "‘Godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal he is made spiritual.' When godliness is wrought in a person, he does not receive a new soul, but he has 'another spirit' (Num. 14:24). The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected." Samuel was clearly a man whose heart had been "tuned" to heaven, and he welcomed the heavenly strummer to make music with his soul.

SECOND, he is "held in honor". In other words, he is respected because how he lives comports with what he believes. "Let your life speak even louder than your sermons. Let your life be the life of your ministry," said Robert Murray M'Cheyne (19th C. Scottish Pastor).

THIRD, He is right; "all that he says comes true". One hundred percent accuracy is the test of a true prophet of God (Deut. 18:22, When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him). We do not typically seek help from someone who seems perpetually to come from "left field." We look for common biblical sense.

FOURTH, one must "go there," or put his foot in the path. Knowing the truth is not enough. And knowing whom to contact isn't either. Acting on it is necessary. But the truth is more convincing than that isn't it? When we are convinced someone has helped others and can therefore help us, we have no problem "going there" to receive the help.

FIFTH, one must move in faith, "perhaps he can tells us the way we should go". Nothing is lost in the attempt is it? "It can't hurt," we might say. We put confidence in those whom we trust. Perhaps he can show us the way. Why? He has shown himself to be faithful in walking in God's way. He's the one we want to follow.

The kind of help, or advice we all need, and should want comes from God. Obvious, you say? Perhaps on paper. But only experience proves its reality. "Follow me as I follow Christ," Paul encouraged the Corinthians. In this sense, Paul and Samuel were comrades in God's service. Seek out those who seek out Christ!

Thursday, August 27

Unsearchable Riches of Christ

In praise of Christ may I praise his servant?! Thomas Brooks' works are simply jam-packed with gold upon gold. But don't take my word for it. C. H. Spurgeon said: "The volumes now before us are by that marvellously rich author Thomas Brooks, whose wealth of imagery surpasses all others of his age." I hope this post will at least whet your appetite for this puritan of Puritans!

Under the heading, "The Unsearchable Riches of Christ," the following is but 1 of 18 properties (characteristics) of a humble soul. Imagine that--eighteen! It comes from volume 3 of his Six-Volume Works published by Banner of Truth Trust:

The eighth property of a humble soul is this, It can never be good enough, it can never pray enough, nor hear enough, nor mourn enough, nor believe enough, nor love enough, nor fear enough, nor joy enough, nor repent enough, nor loathe sin enough, nor be humble enough, etc.

The Humble Soul Disregards Greatness

Humble Paul looks upon his greatness—all as nothing at all; he forgets those things which are behind, and reaches forth to those things which are before, "that if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead," Philip. 3:11-14; that is, that perfection of holiness which the dead shall attain unto in the morning of the resurrection. [It signifies the straining of the whole body, a stretching out head and hands, as runners in a race do to lay hold on the prize, Psalm 10:17. It signifies so to desire and long after a thing as to have one's teeth water at it; so in Micah 7:1. But proud hearts sit down and pride themselves, and bless themselves, as if they had attained to much, when they have attained to nothing which can raise them above the lowest step of misery.]

The Humble Continue Aspiring After God

No holiness below that matchless, peerless, spotless, perfect holiness that saints shall have in the glorious day of Christ's appearing, will satisfy the humble soul. A humble heart is an aspiring heart; he cannot be contented to get up some rounds in Jacob's ladder—but he must get to the very top of the ladder, to the very top of holiness. A humble heart cannot be satisfied with so much grace as will bring him to glory, with so much of heaven as will keep him from dropping into hell; he is still crying out, Give, Lord, give; give me more of yourself, more of your Son, more of your Spirit; give me more light, more life, more love, etc. Caesar in warlike matters minded more what was to conquer than what was already conquered; what was to gain than what was already gained. So does a humble soul mind more what he should be—than what he is; what is to be done—than what has been done. Truly heaven is for that man, and that man is for heaven, that sets up for his mark the perfection of holiness.

The Humble Soul Longs After God

Poor men are full of desires; they are often a-sighing it out, Oh that we had bread to strengthen us, drink to refresh us, clothes to cover us, friends to visit us, and houses to shelter us, etc. So souls that are spiritually poor they are often a-sighing it out, Oh that we had more of Christ to strengthen us, more of Christ to refresh us, more of Christ to be a covering and shelter to us, etc.

I had rather, says the humble soul, be a poor man and a rich Christian, than a rich man and a poor Christian. Lord, says the humble soul, I had rather do anything, I had rather bear anything, I had rather be anything, than to be a dwarf in grace, Rev. 3:17, Isaiah 65:5, Luke 18:11-12.

The Humble Soul Increases In Humility By Degrees

The light and glory of humble Christians rises by degrees: Cant. 6:1, (1.) Looking forth as the morning, with a little light; (2.) Fair as the moon, more light; (3.) Clear as the sun—that is come up to a higher degree of spiritual light, life, and glory. Lord, says the humble soul, give me much grace, and then a little gold will serve my turn; give me much of heaven, and little of earth will content me; give me much of the springs above, and a little of the springs below will satisfy me, etc.

Wednesday, August 26

Four Essentials to Finishing Well

Jerry Bridges (at the Bethlehem Conference)

Paul endured to the end but Demas, as far as we know, did not (2 Timothy 4:7,10), even though he was once a fellow worker (Philemon 1:24). This is a sobering thought because so many of us are still very young. Finishing well is guaranteed to none of us, apart from the grace of God. How can we, like Paul, endure by God's grace?

1) Daily time of focused personal communion with God. It must be daily, otherwise we will find ourselves drifting in the wrong direction. Demas was in love with this present world. Our time with God must build in us affections for God that trump the temptations to love this world. It's helpful to have a plan, but the plan must direct us to God himself.

2) Daily appropriation of the gospel. The gospel is for sinners. Before we spend time in communion with God, we must come to him with the attitude of the tax collector who prayed, "Have mercy on me, a sinner," and trust God alone to make us righteous. This alone will give us the confidence to approach God and have communion with him.

If we don't daily appropriate the gospel then we will begin to base our spirituality on our performance, which will eventually lead us either towards pride or despair. But reminding ourselves daily that we are sinners and that, by God's grace, we've been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, will equip us with true and pure motivation to continue following Jesus and renouncing the desire to love this world. We ought to work hard, not in order to earn God's approval but because we already have it.

3) Daily commit yourself to God as a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1. The Old Testament sacrifice that Paul alludes to was daily performed by the priests. He carries that same significance over to new covenant saints. Our bodies are on loan from God, and we must daily re-consecrate ourselves to him. Just as Paul appealed to Philemon (Philemon 1:8-10), even though he had the right to command him, so also he appeals to us to give ourselves to God. The sheer wonder of the mercy of God should cause us to spontaneously give it, and this we will do if we daily bask in his love.

4) A firm belief in the sovereignty and love of God. Lamentations 3:37-38. Life is full of pains, through natural circumstances and the ill will of others. But God is sovereign over all such evils, and—by faith—we can give thanks for them. God is using them to conform us to the image of Christ and will never leave us or forsake us. The gospel and the promises of God will never fail, nor will he take them from us.

Tuesday, August 25

Does Jesus Command Us To Succeed? Part 2

Continued from yesterday . . .

How Does God Define Success?

Jesus never asked a disciple to be successful. He asked us to be faithful.

In our society, only a few can be rich, powerful, at the top of things. In the Kingdom of God, all can serve with honor, all can be faithful, and many can be great. Why? Jesus says that those who serve will be greatest in the kingdom.

Not only is serving the way to God’s upside-down definition of success, but God uses failures. Again and again in scripture and in history we see that great men and women of God endured great hardship and disappointment. They did not get their “first wish.” They were not necessarily the most talented. God has often used “losers” who believed in him to get things done:

· God used a failed Egyptian second-rate aristocrat, whose career was crippled because he was not the right race and he committed a serious crime: Moses.

· God used a Hebrew boy whose homeland was ravaged by war, who was carried off captive and forced to work for the empire that had broken his dreams. But God gave him new dreams: Daniel.

· God used a British boy who was kidnapped and forced into slavery for ten years or more. This boy ran away from his masters and tried to become a priest, but his academic record was so bad and his past was believed to be so questionable that when he applied for a missionary assignment he was at first rejected by the church as incompetent: St. Patrick, the evangelist of pagan Ireland in the fifth century.

· God used a coal-miner’s son who had become a neurotic monk, fearful and angry at the God who knew and punished every sin. And in his quest for righteousness, he re-discovered the message of grace through Christ: Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation.


But one of my real heroes is a nineteenth century Christian named William Wilberforce. He was a young aristocrat, a member of British Parliament. He had been converted to Christianity as an adult, and wanted to do something useful with his life. He and his friends decided to address the problem of the British trade in slavery, shipping the human cargo from Africa to the West Indies.

In 1787, he decided to bring the cause of Abolition before Parliament in early February 1788. In January 1788, Wilberforce fell so sick that his doctor gave him less than a year to live. He recovered, but did not appear again in Parliament for 11 months.

In May of the next year (1789) he finally brought before Parliament a measure to abolish trade in slaves altogether by British shipping and merchants. His opponents argued the House did not have enough evidence to draw a conclusion, and the resolution was dropped.

The next year (1790) Wilberforce managed to get Parliament to agree to investigate the slave trade, and testimony both for and against the slave trade was heard—enough to fill over ten thousand folio pages. The issue was debated in Parliament a year later (1791). One of the opponents of Abolition (a Colonel Tarleton of Liverpool) tried to trash Wilberforce by saying that his band believed they were led by “a religious inspiration”, obviously implying they were fanatics! The pro-slavery forces argued that the abolitionists were all misinformed. Slaves were well treated; hardly any died on the voyage from Africa; they really lived happy lives. And the vote to abolish the slave trade failed.

Wilberforce made no secret of the fact that he was motivated by faith in God: “There is a principle above everything that is political. And when I reflect on the command that says, ‘thou shalt do no murder’, believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, Sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life which should make any man contradict the principles of his own conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?”

Although four years’ work went into that failed attempt, he did not give up. Although he was ridiculed in the highest ranks of British society, he did not give up. Although the King of England himself publicly scorned Wilberforce and humiliated him, he did not give up.

Another bill was brought to Parliament in 1792, and failed. And another. In fact, nine more bills were brought before Parliament from 1792 to 1804 and every one failed. Finally in 1807, nineteen years after starting his efforts, the bill to abolish the slave trade in all British possessions and ships passed. And even that was only a partial victory. For it banned the trade (carrying slaves from Africa to the West Indies), but not slavery itself. And only on British ships: it did not affect slaving by French, Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch ships. Wilberforce worked to the end of his life to try to get other nations to abolish the trade and to see slavery for what it was: inhuman, unchristian, not fit for civilization. And thanks to him, not only was slave trading banned in the British empire, but indirectly he contributed towards the end of slavery in America also.

Did Wilberforce believe he was a success? In fact, he most often felt a failure; and even after the ban on the slave trade of 1807, he believed he had achieved only a fraction of what needed to be done. For what he really wanted was to see the trade banned by all nations, slavery outlawed altogether and the slaves emancipated. Looking back on his life, we can count his efforts an important success for the cause of abolition (not to mention Christian values). But was Wilberforce a success only because his legislation passed? My point is this: Wilberforce was not merely doing God’s will when he succeeded. He was doing God’s will for the nineteen years when his legislation failed. He was faithful. He was a witness to the truth. He was trying to bring God’s justice to his nation.

The Human Soul Matters

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “You never met a mere mortal.” He meant of course that Christians believe every human being, created in God’s image, has an eternal soul. Long after this building collapses, long after this galaxy ceases to exist, your soul will still be around. And you are important to God. Your salvation is important, and affects your eternal destiny—even if you and those who taught you about God are not important or famous here on earth. And so it is with the souls of those you will touch throughout your life. It does not matter if you or they are perceived by the world as great, successful, or famous; they are important because they matter to God. After all, God gave his best for you, in sending his Son.

We never know what God will do with our lives. We cannot see ahead to what our faithfulness to him will mean. Without faith, your success is meaningless. With faith, even your failure may redeem someone. Trust God. Act on that little you have in faith, for you will make a difference in life for someone. If because of you even one soul is encouraged to not give up on God; if because of you even one soul is turned from a life of skepticism, despair, and sin to find life with God; and if because of you even one soul is nurtured, cared for, loved into the Kingdom of God—is not that something marvelous?

A life of faith is a beautiful thing—however ordinary the life may be. But really, a life that is faithful to God can never truly be just ‘ordinary’; it will have a beauty all its own. It will mediate the presence of God to others. It will hold out relief from the buffeting of life, like a rest stop on a long highway through a dreary country. You will be that for others. And others, in turn, will be that for you; and you will thank God for those ordinary people.

Monday, August 24

Does Jesus Command Us To Succeed?

It's chancy putting so much on a blog, but I feel it's worth it for you to read this 2001 Baccalaureate speech for Houghton Academy from Terence Paige, Associate Professor of New Testament at Houghton College, Houghton, NY. I was so impressed by his focus that I asked him afterward for a copy.

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.” (2 Cor. 10:12)

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another (Romans 12:3-5).

On the eve of your graduating and going off to make your own way in the world, I want to pause and think about success. For most of us want success, and if you’ve learned anything here at the Academy, you’ve learned that (a) you need to know what the assignment is; and (b) you have to plan to do it. But I also want to talk especially to the “second-bests” in the audience, about being second best for God. Yes, you heard me correctly: second best.

Statistically speaking, most of us will be second best (or third or fourth) in life. By definition, there are few “bests.” Statistically, the majority of sports teams do not win the championship. Only one student can be Valedictorian. Most of us will never make the top ten list in any magazine of the best dressed or most beautiful people. Probably none of us here will be famous. Few will be rich.

What does this have to do with Baccalaureate and graduation? What does this have to do with an hour in which we contemplate God’s will for our lives? The answer to both is, everything. For God’s will cannot be a will for the perfect only, a will for the best only, a will for the successes only, else it would be a cruel joke.

No, the God who is Lord of all is also Lord of the mediocre; Lord of the ordinary; Lord of losers. Not only that; He is Lord of the blessings of the ordinary; God of the glory of the plain. It must be so; else, there would be few followers indeed, and God himself would have ordained a scarcity in worshippers. But Scripture tells us, and reason echoes, that the Creator wishes to embrace all people; that his blessings are for as many as believe. He does not merely call those who are (or will be) the greatest in their field. He does not only call the “successful”—at least, not success as we usually measure it.

All of you will face disappointments of various sorts in the years to come. It may be disappointments about college, about work, about love, or churches, or health, or just your own abilities. It is not pleasant, but true. Part of the disappointment comes from circumstances you cannot control. But part of it comes from how you face those circumstances, and how you evaluate yourself.

When we look around us and compare ourselves to people we see in the media, or read about in books, we may often be tempted to become jealous, dissatisfied with our looks, our clothes, our houses, cars, physical strength and athletic ability, or our intelligence. Perhaps even compared to others in this school you may fear “you are the weakest link.” We want to be “the best” but we despise ourselves or our condition because second best, just ordinary is not good enough.

The irony is that being obsessed with success, with being “the best,” can ruin your life and prevent you from enjoying whom God has made you and what you do have. However, I have something to tell you tonight that will make your life more fulfilling, joyful, and meaningful. And it is about what kind of “success” God requires of us.

To tell you this truth, we have to begin by noticing something about Jesus’ teaching that may surprise you: Jesus never asks anyone to succeed. In fact, the noun “success” is not found in the NT. Study the gospels as much as you want, you will never find Jesus commanding or demanding that anyone be successful. He may make requests that they do this, say that, go here or there, or proclaim the gospel, but he does not order them to succeed. In fact, his instructions include explicit directions for what to do when you fail (e.g., “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” Mt. 10:14). Jesus anticipated that there would be disappointments.

What was it then that Jesus demanded of his followers? To be faithful. To believe in God; to follow and believe in him (Jesus); to not give up, no matter what. In one parable meant to illustrate the point that “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”, Jesus spoke of a master who left on a long trip and comes back unexpectedly. “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives,” Jesus says (Mt. 24:45-46). Doing what the master expected. But success? That is up to God. Some of our Academy students were called home to meet Jesus this year at an unexpected hour. They did not realize they would be meeting him so soon—nor did we. Do you think when they meet Jesus they will be judged on their success? Their grade average? Or on their faith?

If you can get this into your head now, at the start of your life, and if you are determined to be faithful to God, you will be blessed indeed. This is a goal you can achieve. This is a goal that does not depend on someone else losing; or on your being “the best” at whatever you do. This is a goal that everyone in this room can achieve, and as you live in faith you will help others also to find faith and to find life in God. And those who find life in God have found a new existence that lasts forever. How’s that for success?

Desire for success can backfire: it can breed disappointment, bitterness, hatred of others, jealousy of others who succeed where we do not. Such feelings will poison your life, and make you blind to the blessings that God has given you now. Obsession with success, and failure to be happy with being lesser or just plain ordinary, may in fact be a symptom of a deadly spiritual pride. The author of Genesis tells us that our first parents gave up paradise because they begrudged God for what he had not given them. They had land, companionship and a family, God to visit them, all the free food they could eat, a pleasant climate, and no dress code! They threw it all away. Why? They were tempted to want one thing more, and to despise what God had already given them because of the one thing more that they did not have.

It has been said that gratitude is the beginning of worship. You could also say that lack of gratitude to God, which usually goes along with lack of faith, is the beginning of sin.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not telling you not to try, not to dream. You should. I am not encouraging you to be lazy, for sloth is a sin. You should continue to do your best work, put forth your best effort. There is every reason for Christians to strive for excellence in their work, whatever it be. What I am saying is this: be the best person you are, in faith. Live every day with God, in faith; doing whatever you do in faith—whether or not it is the best compared to others; and whether or not it is your “first wish.” Live up to your best wherever God has placed you, whether or not you think that is “successful”. And if the best you are is just average—then live that average in faith. In this way, you will be a blessing to others. You will make a garden among the weeds of this world. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about some conceited false teachers that, “When they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense” (2 Cor. 10:12). Neither do we when we measure our “success” simply by comparing our performance to others.

In the scripture I read at the beginning, Paul reminds the church at Rome that we are all like the various parts of the body. We are different. We are also necessary to each other. God loves each of you and wants each of you to do your individual part in the work of God in the world. We are not to think too highly of ourselves (not to think we are indispensable, or absolutely “the best”); but neither are we to think too little of ourselves! Minor body parts are still body parts. You are still important to God, however small your abilities are.

After all, when you think about it most of the work in this world is done by average people. Most families are led by average people, with average children. “Average” does not mean “worthless” or “bad.” Get that notion out of your head. Most Christian work is done by average people—often talented, yes; but not the very best at what they do, not famous. There is honor in being God’s people and being faithful, whether or not you get any recognition in this life.

Tomorrow: "How DOES Jesus Define Success?" A great answer for our day. Don't miss it!