The Gift of Holy Ambition

What are the most important things in the world? My list looks something like this:

  1. My God. The One who created and sustains the universe, who loves me and molds me into his image, who forgives me and is always present with me.
  2. My family. Leslie, Caleb, Katie. My parents and in-laws. My siblings. My extended family.
  3. My friends. The people I share meals with and games with and ride motorcycles with and enjoy life with.
  4. My work. The job that I get to do and all the things that come along with it, including preparing to do it better.

I bet your list looks like my list. These are the things that matter most. Here’s my question this week: do we live our lives in a way that demonstrates our priorities?

People with Passion can Change the World for the Better

If I tell you that my family is important, but I never spend time with them because I’m always at work, you can see that something is out of balance. My actions have communicated that, in reality, they are less important than my job. If I tell you that my job is important, but I work half-heartedly and put in the bare minimum to get by, my actions say that my job is not that important. If I say that I’m a Christian but rarely do the “things” of Christianity—pray, worship, study, serve—my actions suggest that my faith really isn’t that important.

One of the best gifts that we can give ourselves and our families is the gift of holy ambition. Holy ambition is having a good and healthy desire for the things that matter most. Have you communicated to your family that your faith really matters? Are you passionate for the kingdom?

It’s so easy to get our priorities wrong.

We might work and play too hard all week long, then we find ourselves with a case of “Sunday Sickness” – that strange malady that strikes around 9am Sunday morning and miraculously clears up by 1 or 2 that afternoon.

We always can find a way to buy our next toy, but we’re always putting off giving to help others to next week.

We would never dare miss a practice for our sports team, but we wouldn’t bat an eye over skipping dinner with our kids or a study with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Paul said, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:11).

These are pictures of holy ambition—a desire to live passionately for all of the things that matter most. Give yourself and your family the gift of living for the things that matter most.

The Gift of Contentment

Some people are never satisfied. Their waitresses never do a good enough job. They always see the newer car and newer toy. Their kids’ coaches never coach quite right. At work, they are always underpaid, overworked, and overextended. They are tired and in debt, but they still haven’t quite kept up with the Joneses. They are never satisfied, and they’re not a ton of fun to be around, either.

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves and our families is the gift of contentment. Contentment isn’t the normal way of life—it’s way better than that! Desire and greed are monsters that are never satisfied. Proverbs calls them leeches who cry “give, give” (Proverbs 30:15). “Never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).

Contentment is the ability to be at peace regardless of the circumstances around us. Contentment doesn’t pretend that things are perfect; it is the choice to be happy now instead of waiting for a perfect world to magically appear.

Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Isn’t it interesting that Paul had to learn that skill? He told Timothy that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6-11) because all of our material circumstances can and do change.

Nurturing the virtue of contentment will make you happier and more pleasant to be around. It will make life’s difficult days a little bit easier, and will make your life a testimony to the peace that comes from knowing Jesus.

Society tells you that if your circumstances change, you’ll be happy. Contentment reminds us that the path to true happiness is in the heart. Will you make the choice to be content?

The Gift of Consistency

consistency_quoteBetween now and Christmas, we’ll use this space to think about some of the non-tangible gifts we can give our families.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Slow and steady wins the race. The hare is more fun to watch, but the tortoise brings home the prize. Real progress in most important areas of life is made incrementally through the slow and steady work of consistency.

If you want to get healthier, there’s not an instant fix. Improvement requires healthy choices repeated consistently over time. If you want to learn a language, there’s no way to cram it in your brain overnight. It takes learning and repetition over the long haul. If you want to develop a skill, practice makes perfect. One study suggests that ten thousand hours of practice is the likely requirement for true mastery of most subjects.

Consistency is one of the best gifts you can give yourself or your family. Children thrive in homes with consistent discipline; they learn what to expect and how you will respond. Your friends appreciate it when you are a consistent person.

Very little of value develops sporadically and spontaneously. Christian spiritual formation doesn’t happen automatically after years of sporadic church attendance. It happens when a person makes a habit of intentionally following Jesus.

being-consistentNietzsche said, “there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Paul said, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Finding the Perfect Gift

blackfridayshoppersBlack Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping craze. Americans will spend nearly $500 billion on gifts for friends and family this holiday season. There’s no way to begin to total the number of hours spent examining store shelves and browsing online sites trying to find the perfect gift. The gift exchange is an engrained part of our cultural identity. If we don’t overextend ourselves, it can be a wonderful way to celebrate and bring joy to those we love.

I want to remind you of something that you already know: some of life’s most important gifts cannot be found on a store shelf. This holiday season, I hope you’ll remember some of the things that matter most.

What spiritual gifts are you giving your family? Don’t take me too literally here; I’m not asking if you’ve bought a Bible for everyone in your family. I’m asking if you’re investing in them, not just buying junk for them. Remember that Jesus said we should lay up treasures in heaven, not just on earth (Matthew 6:19-20). Perhaps as we shop for Christmas gifts, we could think about the other kinds of gifts we leave our families.

Have you given your children the gift of a Christian father? Not just a guy who shows up to church, but who is truly a follower of Jesus? Have you given the spouse the gift of your presence? You have chosen to intentionally spend time with her, paying attention to her and turning off the TV and the phone. Have you invested in creating experiences and memories and opportunities to grow as a family or with your friends? Or are you just going to buy another iPad?

I love my toys—but the gifts that will last are the eternal ones. As you shop for fun Christmas gifts, don’t forget to spend some time searching for ways to give spiritual gifts, too.

Bible Memory Challenge

memorychallengeSo many useless things vie for the limited space in our brains. Our minds are constantly bombarded with messages of fear or pleasure or inanity that simply doesn’t deserve the space we give them in our brain. Why not try to fight back by making room for some truly important ideas? Here are seven passages that I wish every Christian had buried in their hearts and minds. Try memorizing one each day this week.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

What passages would you add?

Brace Yourselves: Election Day is Coming

54502273“Democracy,” according to Winston Churchill, “is the worst form of government. Except for all the others.”

The fundamental flaw with democracy is the fundamental flaw of all the other government systems we’ve come up with: human beings are running the place. If you haven’t read your Bible lately, human beings share a fundamental problem: we sin. We like easy things better than hard things. We play favorites and mess up justice. In all human history, there is only One who didn’t sin.

Whether you are pleased or depressed by the results Tuesday night, remember the bad news and good news. The bad news is that humanity is in no state to save itself. No politician can fix all that is wrong with us. The good news is that we don’t need a politician, because we have someone better.

John brought a message to the seven churches of Asia straight from God’s throne. His message came from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5). He might not acknowledge it, but earth’s cruelest dictator does not wield total power.  He is under authority! God alone is sovereign. Jesus alone is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14, 19:16). To him alone we bow.

Take comfort in knowing that we bow to Jesus Christ the ruler of all things. Take comfort in pledging allegiance to an incorruptible kingdom. Take time to pray for God’s blessing and guidance on our feeble attempts to rule ourselves.

Eve

saintcWhen you hear about a day that ends in “eve,” it’s a reminder that the next day is even more special. Christmas Eve is the warmup to Christmas. New Year’s Eve is the celebration of the new year that begins on the next day. Those are the only two eves that most people remember—but I’d like to remind you of a third eve that I find meaningful.

“Halloween” is a shortened version of “All Hallows Eve.” So what this “All Hallows” that gets a special day just to prepare us for it? All Hallows, better known as All Saints Day, was a feast day that began somewhere in the mid-700s AD. Remember that, Biblically speaking, everyone who is in Christ is a “saint.” During this feast, Christians would remember and celebrate the lives their brothers and sisters in Christ who had already gone on to their reward. They would especially remember and honor the memory of those who were martyred for the cause of Christ. Now it is certainly possible to go to an excess with a day like this, but the basic idea is worthy of our attention.

It would do us good to stop and remember some of the saints who have preceded us in death. Whose faith has aided your walk with God? Can you think of a person? A grandparent? A parent? A historical figure? A missionary or elder?

We ought to thank God for the legacy they left us. Their lives and sacrifices amaze us. Their faith inspires us. Their love of God and neighbor motivates us to follow in their steps. We are who we are because of who they were. Hebrews 11 encourages us to look to great men and women of faith as an example to strengthen our walk with God.

These godly men and women also remind us to think about the legacy that we will leave behind when we die. How will our life and death affect generations of Christians yet to come? All Saints Day is a great reminder to think about eternal things.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…” (Revelation 14:13)

Decision Making for Christians

Before we make decisions, it’s a good idea to ask some questions. These questions help decisionsus to make better choices and live with fewer regrets.

We might ask…

  • Will this work?
  • What will people think?
  • How much will it cost me? Do I have time for it?
  • Can I get away with it?
  • Am I capable of doing this?
  • Will it make me happy?

Questions like these are pretty useful tools when we make those choices. These are the sorts of questions that many really smart people rely on. I’d like to suggest that Christians should add another set of questions to their lists:

  • How does God feel about this?
  • Will it bring glory to God’s name or is this more about me?
  • Am I helping others or am I just advancing my personal agenda?
  • Is this truly wise?
  • What eternal difference will this decision make?
  • How will it affect my walk with God?
  • Will this decision make it easier or harder for me to follow Jesus?
  • Will this decision make it easier or harder for my family and friends to follow Jesus?
  • Would Jesus make this decision?
  • Is this the best use of the resources I’ve been entrusted with?
  • How will this decision affect eternity?

It’s good for us to think strategically and long-term. It’s better for us to think with God’s perspectives.

What questions would you add to the list?

Would you jump off Niagara Falls if…?

authorityScripture is the authoritative guide to a life that pleases God. It builds faith and makes us wise. Despite the Bible’s great potential, we’re not all in the same place in how we respond to it. Try a little thought experiment with me:

If the Bible said, “All Christians should jump off Niagara Falls,” what do you think would happen?

Some people are so convicted by the authority of scripture that they would run and jump with no hesitation.

Maybe a group would be scared and confused. They’d think about it. They’d pray about it. They’d ask for wise counsel, but when they decided this is what the Bible really said, they would walk to the falls with knees trembling, but they would jump.

Others of us would say, “God knows what he’s doing, so you guys go ahead and jump. I’ll catch up with you.” After our Christian friends jumped, we’d probably come up with a reason to explain why that command didn’t really apply to us, so we’d go home without jumping. We might feel guilty about it, but we’d let it go.

One sneaky group would point out that the command didn’t say where to jump off at Niagara Falls. They’d build a trail to the very bottom of the falls with a little 1-foot drop. They’d probably charge admission to let people use it.

Another group would probably spend a lot of time yelling at the people who didn’t jump without ever getting around to jumping ourselves.

Some of us wouldn’t be sure what to do. Jumping off a cliff seems like a bad idea. Not obeying the Bible seems like a bad idea. We’d just kind of ignore the question and hope it goes away, and get mad at anyone who ever brought the question back up.

I imagine that some of us would say, “No way, that’s crazy! I’m not jumping off a cliff!” Some around us would go a step further and try to prevent others from jumping off a cliff.

Which group would you find yourself in?

This thought experiment isn’t great, because the Bible does not command stupid, dangerous, or immoral things of Christians, but many of the commands of scripture feel nonsensical to non-believers. Non-believers can’t comprehend the meek inheriting the earth, self-sacrificial love of enemies, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and a strict personal code of right living that denies many apparent pleasures and opportunities.

I share this article with my Christian friends for two reasons:

First, I want to you to examine your relationship with scripture. How closely do you listen to God’s word? Do you follow it when it is easy and when it is hard? Is the Bible your guide or your weapon to bully others with? Jesus said that hearing and obeying the words of God is the bedrock of life.

Second, I want you to be more aware of the world in which we live. Fewer people in our culture accept the authority of scripture in the same way that our parents and grandparents did, and that shift affects how we speak to the world of Jesus. For my friends who trust in the authority of scripture, it is sufficient for me to say, “The Bible says so,” and they will comply. For my friends who don’t trust in the authority of scripture, I have to have an entirely different conversation.

The Bible is God’s book. It is the only book that is “God-breathed,” “living and active,” able to make us “wise to salvation,” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It deserves a careful hearing.

How We Can Guard the Truth

Print“How can you tell if a politician is lying?” “His lips are moving!”

How sad it is to live in a society where truth has been replaced by her more popular cousin, opinion, and few can tell the difference anymore. How sad it is to see that we have reached a time when we require fact checkers who then need fact checking of their own.

Andy Andrews researched the Holocaust and found a chilling question—and answer.

“How do you kill eleven million people?”

“Lie to them.”

When truth erodes, we will find its replacement incapable of bearing the weight of society.

Too often, though, Christians have understood “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” too narrowly. We have rightly complained about politicians who lie, media that spins, and cons who deceive, but often, we have failed to see our own contribution to the decay of truth.

Every time we gossip and repeat a story about someone in town, we erode the foundation of truth.

Every time we make an assumption about someone’s motives and tell it as fact, we undermine the foundation of truth.

Every time we forward an email or share a message about our political opponents that we didn’t verify, we mar our credibility.

Every time we cling to an old wives’ tale, a tradition, or a superstition when facts tell a different story, we are chasing truth’s shadow, not its substance.

Every time we quit listening to a person because we don’t like what they have to say, we might be muzzling the voice of truth.

Every time we naively accept what we hear without question, our faculties for identifying truth get a little bit weaker.

Every time we use a bad argument or bad evidence in service of a good point, we suggest that falsehood is better than truth.

Every time we exaggerate the story or caricaturize people who disagree with me, we make lies bigger and truth smaller.

Every time we place a higher burden of proof on the claims of others than we do ourselves, we relativize and trivialize truth.

Every time we refuse to be persuaded by valid and true evidence and reason, we build another door to lock truth behind and live in a world of hypocrisy.

Every time we make an accusation on the front page and print the retraction on the back page, we mute truth’s volume.

Every time we sweep our problems under the rug or stick our heads in the sand, we attempt to falsify reality and cover up the truth.

A friend once said that since Jesus is truth that sets us free (John 14:6, 8:32), we should love the truth so much that we wouldn’t misquote the devil.

Never forget that all the world’s sin and pain began with lies from the father of lies.

Do we really want to advance his work, even in a small way?

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson