God Prepares Our Works, Motivates Us, Then Rewards Us. What’s Up With That?

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Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Php 2:12-13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

God is the ultimate “worker,” the great worker of “good works.” He deals bountifully with us (PS 119.17), he is good and does good (68). In fact he rejoices to do good to his people (Je 32:41) and he purposes to bring good to his own (Zech 8:15).

God did the ultimate good work when he sent his son Jesus to redeem us. And Peter preached to Cornelius’ household that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Ac 10:38).

By contrast, we are not good in and of ourselves – “no one does good, not even one” (Ro 3:12). But when he saves us, God makes us new creations. The great worker of good makes us his workmanship, and creates us in Christ Jesus, the one who went about doing good. God creates us for good works.

Not only that, but he prepared our good works beforehand, in eternity past, long before he created the universe. All we need to do is walk in them.

God not only creates us in Christ for good works, prepares the very works we will walk in, but gives us the desire to do those works. He works in us both to will and work for his good pleasure. We who once lived only for ourselves, who worked only evil, and loathed the light, now long to please our heavenly Father, to act like him and his Son. God not only gives us the will but he supplies the strength and energy to do good.

But wait, there’s more. The great Giver gives us gifts to use in the service of others. Mercy, administration, helps, giving, faith, prophecy, teaching, sewing, cooking, artistic gifts and skills in every craft (see Exodus 35), musical and medical skills – every kind of gift. God not only gives us the works to walk in, but the talents to execute them.

But God doesn’t stop there. He rewards us for using the gifts and doing the works he gave us.

What kind of God is this? A wonderful God. A good God. A lavish, generous, amazing, creative, surprising, loving God. It would be enough if he only saved us. But he transforms us, then rewards us. Unbelievable.

And God won’t forget to reward us. He sees every work, no matter how “insignificant” in our eyes, and records it for the last day. Not a single cup of water given to a disciple will go unrewarded. Not a single visit to a sick person, a piece of bread given a hungry one; not a tiny act of kindness done to a child – none will be missed or forgotten.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do (Heb 6:10).

Last night I joined some members of our church who conduct a monthly service in a personal care facility. Patients were wheeled in and handed large print hymn books. The folks from our church went around cheerfully greeting the patients, shaking their hands, making small talk. Then they led the service, playing and singing some good old hymns, Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. Then one of my friends gave a short talk about the love of God from Romans 8. A couple more hymns, then our folks helped wheel patients back to their rooms. These members of our church have been serving the residents of the home every month for years. Last night I thought what a reward they are going to in heaven. Month after month, singing The Old Rugged Cross and What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Loving these people who can’t give much back. Year after year of doing good to the weak. I thought, I want to be there applauding them when Jesus says “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Let’s thank God for his incredible goodness in giving us works to walk in, the will, strength and gifts to do them, and then rewarding us. What an incredible God we serve!

Win A Copy of Sovereign Grace Music’s New Album “30: Three Decades of Songs For The Church”

For the last number of years, I’ve had the privilege of writing songs for Sovereign Grace Music. On April 8th, Sovereign Grace Music is releasing an labum entitled 30: Three Decades Of Songs For the Church, which includes many of the well known songs from Sovereign Grace Music. The cool thing about this record is that the songs were recorded and sung by well known Christian artists outside of Sovereign Grace churches. The list of songs and singers is as follows:

Let Your Kingdom Come (feat. Chris Jackson)
All I Have Is Christ (feat. Paul Baloche)
Jesus, Thank You (feat. Brook Hills Music)
Behold Our God (feat. The Village Church)
O Great God (feat. Matt Boswell)
The Glories of Calvary (feat. Norton Hall)
Oh the Deep, Deep Love (feat. Aaron Keyes)
Now Why This Fear (feat. Sojourn Music)
The Glory of the Cross (feat. Matt Papa)
I Will Glory in My Redeemer (feat. Austin Stone Worship)
Greater Than We Can Imagine (feat. Nathan and Lou Fellingham)
I Have a Shelter (feat. Enfield)
I Stand in Awe (feat. Glenn Packiam)
Before the Throne of God Above (feat. Kristyn Getty)

Today I’m giving away five digital copies of the album. To enter, simply put your name and address in the form below:

God Is “I Am.” You Are Not.

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In the movie Hitch there is a scene where Will Smith’s character is making suggestions to another character of how he should dress for a date. The other character says “I’m just not sure these shoes are me.” Smith looks at him and says “Right now, you is a very fluid concept.” It’s a trite moment in a light-hearted movie, but that phrase “you is a very fluid concept,” is actually profound and profoundly counter-cultural.

Too often we think of ourselves as “me”, a static person, unchanging and unpliable. This is to limit ourselves to our own detriment.

“That’s just who I am.” We’ve all heard people say it and very likely said it ourselves. It’s that ubiquitous explanation (read: excuse) for an action or attitude that strikes someone else oddly or even offends them. Sometimes it’s innocent, like when we’re explaining our accent, clothing choices, or cultural peculiarities (hugging, being loud, talking fast, hurrying, running late, etc.). More often, though, we say it to justify ourselves when we are offensive or hurtful. We brush away our missteps by blaming them on our own identity. “I can’t help it if you’re hurt by that; it’s just the way I am.”

“That’s just the way I am.” “That’s not me.” Well, that’s just arrogant.

Thinking this way smacks of faithless fatalism. It assumes a certain achievement and superiority in the status of “me” and “I am”. We are created from dust; we are clay. Only God can rightfully be described as “I AM”. The rest of us are becoming.

We ought never to be satisfied or limited with who we are. It should never remain the same for long. Yes, God did give us tendencies and personalities through our genetic code and our familial and cultural upbringing. But God also gives us grace to grow those in positive directions or overcome them. “Who I am” is much less relevant and meaningful than who I am becoming.

If you are a person who hides behind the mantle of “me” you are choosing conflict, disappointment, and frustration. You are risking alienation from those around you as you plant your flag in one place and they move on. You will be a stationary obstacle in their way as they travel on the path to who they are becoming.

Let “you” be a fluid concept in the hands of God. Have the humility to recognize needed changes and to appreciate outside input. Yes, God gave you tendencies and a personality. But God is I AM. You should become.

How To Beat The Big One

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A couple years ago I was having some slight burning in my chest when I’d jog.

So I went to my doctor, who scheduled a stress test which revealed I had a blockage in my heart. Went to Pittsburgh, got a stent, spent one night in the hospital, and was back home. A few weeks later, my doctor shook my hand. “We beat the big one,” he said, pumping my hand as if I’d just won a marathon. “It was so good that you came in as soon as you felt that burning. When that particular artery is blocked in most people and they have a heart attack, they die 90% of the time. It is so good that you came in quickly. We beat the big one!”

The secret to “beating the big one” was dealing with it while it was a “small one.” This applies to lots of problems in life. If we deal with them quickly, while they are small, we can often solve them quickly and easily. If we don’t, they can become bigger problems that cost us time and money. If we deal with that leak in the roof when it’s a few drips it will be better than letting it go until our ceiling caves in from water damage.

This principle applies to anger and conflicts as well.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph 4:26-27)

One of the best vows my wife and I made on our wedding day was that by God’s grace we would not let the sun go down on our anger.

As one person said to my wife and me early on, keep short accounts. And by God’s grace, that is what we have always tried to do. It wasn’t always easy to keep this vow, especially in the first couple years of our marriage. There were times we’d be up really late trying to resolve a conflict. I even remember a few times when I said, “Kristi, It’s really late and I have to go to work tomorrow. Maybe I’m wrong and just not seeing it, but I’m committed to you and committed to working this out. So we will definitely work on this tomorrow.” And by God’s grace we always did.

When we let the sun go down on our anger – when we don’t try to resolve conflicts quickly – our anger festers. It simmers. It grows. We give the devil an opportunity. He adds his lying thoughts and tempts us in other directions. Our offense turns to bitterness and resentment. The devil loves it when we give each other the cold shoulder for days at a time. He loves unresolved conflicts in marriages and families and churches. He loves to divide and conquer.

Over the years I’ve found it best to deal with conflicts as quickly as possible. To go to someone as soon as I become aware they are offended with me, or as soon as I am tempted to be angry with them. The same day if I can. Sometimes there’s simply been a misunderstanding that can be quickly resolved. Other times it’s been something that required multiple conversations. But tackling conflicts quickly has spared me lots of temptation and grief.

There’s a spectrum from “love covers a multitude of sins” to “if your brother sins against you go to him.” Some sins we can simply forgive and overlook – cover in love. But other sins need to be tackled together. But whether you can deal with it simply and quickly – “Father, I forgive them, they didn’t realize what they were doing” and forget it – or it’s a sin that needs discussion, don’t let it fester.

Is there someone you are offended at? Or someone you know is angry with you? Go to them. Or pick up the phone and give them a call. Maybe you need to ask their forgiveness. Maybe you’re the one with the log in his eye. Maybe you misunderstood them. Maybe they didn’t intend to hurt you. It might simply be a communication problem. Or maybe you need to get together for a more serious conversation. But keep short accounts.

Deal with your anger while it’s simply a burning in your chest. Don’t neglect it until it becomes a full blown heart attack.

That’s how you beat the big one.

I Want To Be The Biblical Version of Joel Osteen

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Joel Osteen has acquired a bad reputation in some circles. He is known for teaching a prosperity gospel, for avoiding the wrath of God, and for being squishy on key subjects, like homosexuality. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of Joel Osteen’s ministry that I want to emulate: his constant emphasis on encouragement.

Life is really, really hard. Parents grow old, kids get sick, friends get cancer, sons get addicted to drugs, and daughters get pregnant out of wedlock. Our bodies get older and weaker and fatter. We struggle to raise our kids in an increasingly post-modern world. We are constantly aware of our shortcomings as Christians. We need to pray more, read our Bibles more, and evangelize more. We need to do better, try harder, be more productive, get more done. Every day we are reminded that we fall short on pretty much every account.

Because life is so hard and exhausting, every day is a battle. Every day I must fight to believe in the goodness and kindess of God. Everyday I must fight to believe that God is working all things for my good and his glory. Every day I must fight to believe that I serve a God who turns mourning into dancing. What I, and everyone else, desperately need every day, is encouragement. I need fresh hope, fresh faith, fresh strength.

There are enough critics, watch bloggers, angry prophets, protesters, and trolls in the church and in the world. We need more encouragers. We need more people like Barnabas. Acts 4:36 gives us a description of Barnabas:

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)…

His real name was Joseph, but the apostles called him “Barnabas”. Why? Because he was a constant encourager! Encouragement was so woven into his DNA that the apostles gave him a nickname which meant encouragement. Barnabas was constantly encouraging and building up and strengthening those around him. Encouragement oozed out of his pores.

Encouragement is a wonderful, healthy, biblical thing. Romans 15:4  says:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The scriptures are written for our encouragement, that we might have hope for the daily grind of life. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Paul told the Thessalonians to, “…encourage one another with these words.” The Thessalonians were to encourage one another with the truths about the second coming of Christ and the final resurrection of our bodies.

Paul concluded his first letter to the Thessalonians by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

We need encouragement every day. There are so many times when life is hard and awful and depressing and sad. Every day I need to be reminded of the rock-solid, unshakable truths about God’s ways and works. And every day, I need to encourage others with the wonderful truths found in God’s word.

Let’s not let Joel Osteen hijack the biblical practice of encouragement. Let’s be biblical versions of Joel Osteen. Let’s be sons of encouragement, like Barnabas. Is there a place for criticism and correction? Sure. But there are enough critics out there.

What Do You Want People To Say At Your Funeral?

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Lately I’ve been asking myself a question.

I’ve recently done two funerals. At both funerals family members and friends shared memories of their loved ones who had died. They shared a few funny stories about each one. But what they talked about most was the acts of kindness or love they did. About their thoughtfulness and how they served others. About what a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother the woman was. About what a great husband, dad and grandpa the man was. About how each of them loved the Lord and loved people.

There was no extolling their great accomplishments or how much money they made. Nothing about awards or recognition. No list of buildings they’d built or inventions they’d patented or great discoveries they’d made.

It’s had me thinking about a question someone said we should ask ourselves: What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

What will your children say? What will your wife say? Will people say things like, she was a great Mom. He was a wonderful husband – he really took good care of his wife in her last years. She was the most humble woman I know. He was the best brother in the world. He always put others first. My mom always had time to listen to us. Dad did so much with us when we were kids. She was my best friend. He was always serving someone. She never thought of herself.

Or will your loved ones say things like this: I never really knew my Dad because he was always at work. Mom didn’t seem to have much time for us as kids. Dad always seemed disappointed in me. Mom and I didn’t talk that much. Dad seemed like he was angry with us all the time.

If you look at all these statements, both good and bad, they all have to do with relationships and character. Relationships: she was a loving mother. Dad always had time for us. My mom was my best friend. And character: she was the most humble woman I know. Every week he’d read to a blind man. He was always joyful.

Relationships and character. That’s what’s going to matter in the end. I once heard this statement: Success in any other area of life cannot make up for failure at home. This is not to condemn anyone – I’ve failed many times as a husband and dad. But like the question I’m asking today this statement helps me focus. What if I’m the most “successful” man in the world? What if I make all kinds of money or create the next YouTube, yet neglect my wife and kids? Will I really be successful? What do I want people to say at my funeral?

An even more important question: what will God say when you die? Will he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master”? To hear those words would mean more than almost any others.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  This question helps us focus on what’s really important.  It reminds us of what really matters in the end.

We can gain the world and lose our soul. We can go after riches and miss out on relationships. We can pursue success at the expense of character. So I’m grateful for the question funerals make me ask.

Grace Frees You From Trying To Please Everybody

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The simple fact is, you will NEVER be good enough for people. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much effort you put in, you won’t be good enough to meet the expectations and desires of other people.

  • You won’t be spiritual enough.
  • Your kids won’t be respectful enough.
  • You won’t be thin enough.
  • Your preaching will be too intellectual.
  • Your preaching won’t be intellectual enough.
  • You won’t have enough kids.
  • You’ll have too many kids.
  • You won’t serve on enough comittees at church or school.
  • You’ll serve on too many committees.
  • You won’t choose the right method of schooling for your kids.
  • Your kids will eat too much junk food.
  • You won’t go on enough dates with your spouse.
  • You won’t do enough devotional times with your kids.
  • You won’t have enough of the Holy Spirit.
  • You’ll have too much of the Holy Spirit.
  • And on and on and on.

Because you are sinful and you are human, people will always have a reason to criticize and judge you. Trying to constantly meet the expactations and desires of others is exhausting and miserable and futile. The harder you try, the more miserable you’ll be. Even if you get to a place where you have the respect of everyone, you then have to stay there, which is even harder than getting there in the first place.

The gospel allows you to stop striving and fighting for the respect and acceptance of other people.

Romans 8:33-34 says:

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

There is only one person who can legitimately condemn you or bring charges against you, and that is God. After all, God is the one who knows your every thought, desire, and motive. If anyone could condemn you, it is God.

But if you are in Christ, God absolutely does not condemn you or bring any charges against you! He accepts you, delights in you, treasures you, loves you, and cares for you. It doesn’t matter what others say about you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t live up to the expectations of other people. It doesn’t matter if people criticize you. You have the full, unfettered, unhinged, unqualified love of God, and that’s all you need.

You can stop trying to be everything to everybody. You can get off the exhausting treadmill of people pleasing. You can let criticisms roll off our backs. Why? Because your worth and identity and security doesn’t come from other people; it comes from God through Christ. Your security and identity is not tied to your weight, parenting style, social group, diet, family size, or anything else.

The Judge of all the earth has already given his opinion of you, and it is decidedly in your favor!

3 Ways to Support an Author You Like

origin_3192488394This post is self-serving. Many of you know I have a book releasing in July called The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, so yes, I am giving you pointers on how to support me. But I’m also asking you to support Stephen Altrogge, who has written several books and is nice enough to let me blog on his site. And these tips apply to any author, whether they are a NYT best seller or a self-published specialist in something. You might also find it to state some rather obvious ideas. Ok, but are you doing them? These three simple actions can have a remarkable collective effect on the success of authors and their books.

1. Buy their books

Thank you, Captain Obvious, you say. But think about it. You can borrow books. You can go to the library. You can have good intentions. But actually purchasing the books is the best way to support an author. It really doesn’t matter from where you buy from either. In these days of e-commerce, every sale drives more sales, bit-by-bit. The Amazon ranking goes up, more people see the book, more purchases are made, and the author gets his or her royalty. Buy the e-book, buy the print book, no matter – this is the single best way to support authors and books you enjoy.

2. Write reviews and rate the books

Aside from buying this is the most powerful tool you have to help authors. We live a day when customer reviews are enormously powerful. Think of apps like Yelp that help you determine where you will or won’t eat. The star rating and the reviews on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Goodreads are equally as powerful. If a book has ten ratings we think the author’s mom and siblings rated it. If it has twenty-five his college classmates joined in. But if it has fifty or one hundred? Those matter. Add your voice and help the book get noticed. Major e-commerce sites have systems that rank books more highly and publicize them better if they get more ratings too, so you are doing more than offering an opinion. You are creating leverage for that book.

3. Talk about it

Two facts hold true for book sales. First, the greatest obstacle to an author having success is lack of awareness by readers. Second, the greatest incentive to buy a book is a recommendation from a trusted source. If you talk up books you overcome the first obstacle by being the trusted source. Think back to a book like The Help. The author, Kathryn Stockett, wasn’t well-known. The publisher didn’t invest big up front (If they had it wouldn’t have done anything; publishers can’t make small books big, but that’s an issue for a different day.) What made that book a national phenomena? Conversations which became purchases which became reviews and more conversations. Talking is exponentially powerful when it comes to promoting books. You can talk in person or you can talk on Twitter or Facebook or your blog. Just talk. 

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