“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:13-14

Paul knew the kind of man he was becoming.

He knew where he had come from. He knew the former zeal he had for the law. He knew all about his old reliance on rules and traditions and deeds to make himself right with God. He accepted the fact that he was formerly against God, persecuting and killing those who served the true God.

Paul was intimate with the details of who he used to be.

But he didn’t let that define the man he would become.

He didn’t allow his past sins to stop him. He didn’t let his old thought life hinder him. He wasn’t going to continue letting his old self dictate who he was.

Paul recognized that every action he took, every command from God he obeyed, every time he stepped out in faith, every thing he did was shaping the person he would become.

Both good and bad.

So Paul did the one thing many of us hesitate to do.

Paul took the time to work on his character.

He allowed God to point out the areas of sin in his life. He wrestled with destructive thoughts in his life. He pushed and pulled and faced the shame of his old self. He made amends with those he hurt.

Paul focused less on what he was doing for God and more on who he was becoming in God.

That’s not an easy path to take.

It’s easier to do stuff for God. We can put a value on what we do. How many messages we’ve given, how many people we “won” to Christ, how often we’ve evangelized, how many people are in our ministry, how many times we’ve volunteered. It’s easy to figure out what you’ve done for Him.

But who we are becoming? There’s no quantitative value to show how far we’ve come. It’s all about looking inward, dealing with areas of nagging sin, working on character flaws, dredging up the dirt and muck in our lives and dealing with the things we’d rather keep buried.

Who really enjoys finding their flaws and trying to fix them?

If we want to do big things for God, if we want to make a lasting impact in the lives of those around us, we need to develop our character.

Those nagging sins and character flaws we think aren’t a big deal, have the potential to bring a lot of hardship and pain into our lives.

  • “Just looking” at that guy or girl will eventually lead to you wanting more.
  • Telling little white lies to get what you want will lead to bigger, and more hurtful lies.
  • Finding value in popularity or job status will lead you to use others.
  • Pretending to be someone you’re not will eventually blow up in your face…or cause you to lose yourself in the lie.
  • Spending more time watching TV than with God or your family will eventually cause you to be disconnected and alone.

Every decision you make today – how you spend your time, how you respond to hurts and pain, who you hang out with, how you respond to criticism – all will set the pace of who you will be in 10, 20, 30…even 50 years from now.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as we prepare ourselves to experience resurrection, may you remember that what you do is not more important than who you are. May you have courage to do the hard work of shaping your character. And may you, as you prepare yourself to experience the risen Christ, find that you are changing who you are becoming for the better.

How is God working on your character?

Consider it Pure Joy

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
James 1:2

Every time I read the book of James, every time my eyes try to stroll pass that second verse without taking it in, every time I’m in a trial and trying to find comfort, I can’t help but think James was a little crazy. Or high on drugs. Or maybe just completely off his rocker.

Consider. It. Pure. Joy.

When you are let go from your job, consider it pure joy.

When your marriage is falling apart, consider it pure joy.

When the checkbook doesn’t have enough to pay your bills, consider it pure joy.

When you are being persecuted, mocked and tormented, consider it pure joy.

When life as you know it is falling apart, consider if pure joy.

When the pregnancy ends abruptly, consider it pure joy.

When your child chooses the ways of the world over the ways of Christ, consider it pure joy.

When the car breaks down, the house is broken into or the neighbor tries to sue, consider it pure joy.

When trials and tribulations come, my immediate reaction isn’t to jump up and down with joy. I don’t relish the idea of going through hard times. I don’t pray for them. I don’t ask God to make me more joyful by putting me through trials. I don’t consider trials the joyous times of my life.

Trials and joy don’t really go hand in hand for me.
And I think it’s safe to assume, they don’t go hand in hand for you, either.

Joy in trials goes against our very nature.

And while James’ statement may make it seem a bit weird, while his command to consider it not just regular joy, but pure joy to go through, seems a bit crazy, maybe he was onto something. Because trials produce something in us that no amount of blessing or comfort or gift ever could.

Trials help us grow.

If we allow them to, the trials and hardships we face have the potential to build our character, deepen our faith, and widen our compassion. They help us weed out our bad attitudes and thought patterns and pride. They push us to depend on fully on God for everything. They shape us, mold us, and smooth out our rough edges.

Trials bring us into maturity and make us more like Christ.
And that is something to rejoice over.

Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because those trials and hardships and nights you find yourself crying out to God with seemingly no answer are producing in you the character and maturity to walk into all God has for you.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you face trials and hardships and difficulties in life, may you find yourself rejoicing. May you come to see that every season of life, both good and bad, are being used to mold you into the person God has called you to be. And may you, as you push into Him in your trials, find that the very hardship you want to run from, is the very thing you needed to grow closer to God.

How has God turned your trials into something  joyful?

Lent Deeper: Made New

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s not always easy to believe that we’ve been made new.

We know our sins. We know our mistakes. We know the ways in which our minds haven’t been renewed. We know the regrets that still haunt us. We could immediately point out those temptations that still plague us. We still have those deep dark secrets we hide from the world.

No point in time in our walk with Christ can we honestly say we don’t know how we’ve sinned.

We know the mistakes we made yesterday.
The thoughts we let run through our minds last night.
And the selfish desires that run through our hearts on a daily basis.

We are intimate with our faults.
Which makes it hard to believe that we’ve changed.

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Lent Deeper: Received by the King

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.”
Psalm 27:10

David was familiar with rejection.

When the prophet Samuel came calling, looking to find King Saul’s replacement and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king of Israel, Jesse, David’s own father, barely acknowledged him.

He brought all his other sons before Samuel.
He tried pushing each one into that position.
He hoped and prayed and desired that one of his other sons, one of his stronger sons, smarter sons, more manly sons would be anointed king.

He wanted one of his other sons to be king.
He didn’t even consider David in the running.

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