Eyes on the Prize

From my view, a great short-coming with a large portion of the teaching/preaching in the much of the western church is – an over-emphasis on the temporal.

What I mean is that many believers are so focused on perceived rewards and/or benefits of following God is this life that they have unintentionally misplaced their hope. Many have placed their hope and their faith in the “Cosmic-vending Machine” version of God. They say their prayers, they ask with intensity, and they try to stir up faith over temporary issues. And then they get disappointed or disillusioned with God and the church if things don’t pan out the way they had hoped. Many have even walked away from their faith and their relationship with God because when they put their quarter (their prayers) in the vending machine (God) they did not receive the item they had selected. And as a result they conclude that God doesn’t care about them or that maybe He doesn’t even exist.

Whereas what motivated the New Testament writers, what kept the early church on mission regardless of their circumstances or consequences, was a focus on eternity rather than a focus on things that are temporary. As the Hebrew writer said concerning the saints, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises … But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:13,16).

Read the Book of Acts and you will find that what kept Paul motivated throughout beatings, stonings, prison, shipwrecks, snake bites, persecutions, rejections, and false accusations was not a misplaced belief in rescue from his temporary circumstances. Rather, his hope, his faith, and his ministry; the times he was miraculously delivered – and the times that he was not, were all a result of the hope of an eternal reward.

That is not to saythat what is happening right now, right in front of us is not important to God. Nor is that to say that God never intervenes or that He has an agenda to leave us hanging without any hope for things in this life. Indeed He has intervened when we ask, and He continues to do so.

It is merely to say that our judgement of the goodness of God should not be based on these things.

Shifting our eyes and our focus to the eternal changes our priorities. It realigns our purpose. It gives us peace.

Listen: God loved you and I so much that He gave His only son, to stand in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment that was due us, to repair the breach so that we could be reconciled with God Himself – for eternity. There is nothing more He could do that tops this tremendous gift. Nothing. Everything else pales in comparison.

Think about this: Imagine that I built a mansion constructed completely with you in mind and then I simply gave you, free and clear. But, sometime later you asked me for a framed photo to use as decor. If, for some reason, I did not give that photo to you when you asked for it, would you deem me as unkind, unloving, or not giving? Would you conclude that I must not care about you? And yet – this is what many so often do with God.

What more does God have to do to be deserving of our faith, our love, our devotion and our allegiance? God has a completely different view, a different perspective, than we do. He sees things, He knows things, that we simply do not. He is infinite, we are finite. Our brains and our cognitive ability is limited. His is not. And, He is not obligated to explain Himself all the time.

This is not because He is uncaring. Actually, quite the opposite. My feeling is that God trying to explain to us why He did or did not do certain things would be much like a parent trying to explain to a 2 year old why they can’t have every piece of candy in the check-out line. Even if they understand it – they aren’t gonna accept it. And the tantrum and fit are soon to follow.

Look, I don’t know why God didn’t give you the photo that you asked for. I am not sure why you weren’t allowed the extra toy or the piece of candy. I wish I did. I really do. I wish I understood it and I wish that I could explain it to you. But honestly, I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. In fact, I will keep asking along with you because I know how much my Father loves to give to His children.

This is where trust comes in. It’s not that because He has already given me the mansion that He now refuses to give me anything else. Rather, the mansion is PROOF that He loves me and therefore, I can trust He will give what He deems best and He will withhold what He deems best.

What He has given, and what He has withheld, are all because He is madly in love with you; because He cares so much for you that He is willing to allow you to be a little angry with Him when you do not understand. He is always looking out for your best interests, and mine; and He is good, at all times, and in all circumstances.

(Postscript: I promise I am not minimizing. I am only illustrating. I know some of you have real and desperate needs. I know you are in a lot of pain. And … I am standing with you. Peace.)

I’ve Fallen – But I’m Getting Back Up!

Many times when we look at our history, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the mistakes and successes, it can be easy to beat ourselves up.  And truthfully, maybe we should beat ourselves up from time to time.  But, the wisest man who ever lived once made this astounding statement, He said “The godly (good or righteous) may fall seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” (Proverbs 24:16).

There are two things I want to say about this verse …and about you.  First, it seems clear that the real issue is NOT about never falling. Never falling only makes one self-righteous, not godly-righteous.  Never falling makes one arrogant and haughty, not humble and meek.  Never falling can make a person self-centered, and prideful rather than others-centered. Never falling does not make one good, righteous, or godly.

Surprised?

No, the truth is, for the good man, stuff happens. Stuff knocks him down. Stuff knocks the wind out of him. Stuff catches him by surprise. Stuff causes him or her to get discouraged, depressed or at the very least, off-track.

(Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise)

Yes, sometimes a good person gets knocked down. But sometimes, he just falls down of his own volition.  Nobody pushed him there.  Nothing caught him by surprise.  No, sometimes decisions are made, intentional choices, mistakes, and as a result failure arrives.  Sometimes, a good man just … falls down.

Here’s the interesting thing, Solomon never told us how or why the good man falls.  He never discussed what caused it.  He simply said, “a good or righteous or godly man falls down seven times.” It appears that the source of the falling is irrelevant to the author.  Falling down because he was caught by surprise or falling down by bad choices.  The issue simply isn’t the falling down.

Possibly the most important piece of this verse is …

“HE GETS BACK UP AGAIN!”

It seems clear that Solomon was saying the thing that makes a person godly, righteous or good is the fact that they get back up. This is the piece that separates the men from the boys, as they say.  Getting back up.  Knocked down, but getting back up.  Falling down, getting back up.  Good people – drop the ball … and get back up.  Make bad decisions … and get back up.  Don’t plan appropriately … and get back up.  Get disappointed but … get back up. Question God … and get back up. Fail …and get back up.

knocked down2

Let’s be clear: this is Solomon’s description of a good person, a …Righteous person … a godly even. Seriously?

This roller coaster ride, this up and down, this battle, is not what I picture when I think of a righteous, godly man.  No, not at all.  I think of Moses, face glowing, holding the newly etched Ten Commandments.  I picture David slaying the giant Goliath.  I think of Elijah calling down fire from heaven.  These are depictions of righteous men …right?

The truth is that when you study the scriptures you will find every single man or woman that was greatly used by God fits the description found in Proverbs. Every single one of them dropped the ball, made mistakes, reacted poorly, made bad decisions, questioned God, or even defied God.  Every single one … Falling … and getting back up again.

This is what I know about you.  I know there have been times you have declared, “I just don’t really get it, I don’t know the next step or where to go or what to do.”  But, the key is …getting back up.  Yeah, I know you’ve been down. I know you’ve made mistakes. I know you’ve even experienced failure.  But, those things really aren’t the core issue.  The issue is, figuring out how important it is to simply … get back up again.

Sometimes when stuff happens and a person is knocked down it can bring them to a point of questioning their purpose, their abilities, and their hope. And sometimes falling, whether by our own volition or by the surprises of life, can cause us to even question God. Can I trust God?  Has God forgotten me?  Have I blown it so bad that I am permanently derailed?

But listen, there is something deep within you telling you, “I’ve just got to get back up …again.” I can picture God standing by your side right now, whispering in your ear, “you’re gonna make, you’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna get through.  I know because … I’ve seen this before.  I have watched you before.  I KNOW, yes I know, you will … pick yourself back up again!”

Here’s the second thing.  I am convinced that Solomon came to the conclusion that a person can’t really be “good” in the sense he is talking about unless they have fallen down a few times.  How can someone truly have compassion, understanding, forgiveness, grace, or mercy for others unless they have “been there?”  How can a person truly understand someone’s pain unless they’ve experienced some of their own?  How can someone empathize with another’s failure unless they have failed a few times themselves? A person who has fallen and has received the grace to get back up knows how to reach down and help others who have fallen.

This, my friend, is part of your great calling on this earth.  Embrace people.  Love people.  Give them compassion.  Feel their pain.  Where ever they are at that moment in life.  And help them … get back up.  You know what it means to battle, to struggle, to fail.  But, you also know what it means to get back up – sometimes out of your own strength, sometimes through a measure of faith, and sometimes by the sheer grace of God. So help them … help them get back up.

From my view, your gifts, your abilities, and your talents, though important and part of the call of God on your life, are not the most important thing.  There is no denying those are real and significant gifts.  You really are talented.  But, my friend, in my humble opinion, they are not what make you who you are.  What makes you a good person, a righteous person, a godly person is this: a good man falls down a few times, but he always gets back up.

The New Testament reiterates this concept.  In my opinion, the great call of God on your life embraces this verse, “He comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4).

So, get back up, righteous man or woman.  Get back up … and help others do the same.  Amen.

Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise