This is Not That Day

I’m not much of a runner, but I did run another half marathon last weekend. It was long and sweaty and all the usual stuff. But we did it.

Around mile 8 or a little after we passed a sign that looked just like this:

yard sign

I teared up.

I know, I know, there’s nothing particular special about me having tears in my eyes. But this was a powerful message of encouragement to me in that moment. I know that I won’t always be able to do such a thing. But that day I was fully capable.

As I’ve reflected on that sign and the powerful reminder therein, I was reminded of the very common theological sentiment that God will never give you anything you cannot handle. That’s a very comforting thought, perhaps, but there is one small detail about it that bothers me: it’s absolutely untrue.

Hear me out.

Everything about our human condition is utterly beyond our own ability to overcome. We are all born broken and full of selfishness (which God calls sin). We cannot overcome that.

But there is a much more accurate and much more important truth: what God requires, God provides.

Did you catch that?

What God requires, God provides.

It’s like that great hymn said it, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided – great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

That means that, whatever challenge or issue is in our path today, God has provided what we need to endure and even grow through it.

So let me take this sign in a different context. The day that I cannot run the race set before me will never come simply because God will faithfully provide what each day requires when it is needed… but seldom before.

What difference does it make?

Well… it changes how I see the race. It changes how I see that monstrous hill rising in front of me or the rocky path ahead. It doesn’t make the bumps go away or even really take away the sting of weary muscles, but it does give me a comforting assurance that the struggle and the difficulty is temporary.

But there is something deeper, more powerful that I see. It means that the pain of the struggle—and there is always pain in the struggle—will not be wasted.

One of the most misunderstood assurances in the Bible is found in Romans 8 where we read this important truth:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8.28)

Paul goes on to explain that God’s purpose for all those who believe is to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus. I think what he is getting at is that God is using all of the hardness of this life to accomplish His transforming work.

I want to encourage you today by simply reminding you that, no matter what this day requires, God will provide it. In fact, He most like already has done so.

Run your race. You can do it.

You can do it because you can trust Him to give you every ounce of strength required.

You can do it because He is faithful.

You can do it because He promised.

And His promises are true.

Comfortable or Conformable

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

I was reading some devotional material and came to what my eyes registered as a common, familiar word. But context caused me to stop and look again.

Comfortable or conformable?

What difference does it make?

In spiritual things (and many others), the different is vast.

One is like a slow-acting poison that almost ensures our lack of growth. It is the most dangerous of luxuries and yet the default to which we cling. This limiting force entices us to thicken into spiritual couch potatoes.

The other reflects a softened lump of clay flung onto the potter’s wheel. It is that readiness to be remade, reshaped, rebuilt. It is a softness of heart, an eagerness of spirit, a submission of will that expects the result to be worth the process. This stretching  warm-up prepares us to become what we were made to be.

One is reflexive and soothing and a necessary part of our lives.

The other is often awkward and sometimes painful and also a necessary part of our spiritual lives.

Centuries ago a prophet by the name of Jeremiah was directed to walk down to the potter’s house and learn. While he watched the potter shape the lump of clay over and over until he was satisfied that it would fulfill its purpose, God helped Jeremiah see that he and you and I are just like that lump of clay. (Jeremiah 18.1-6)

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God’s intention for every follower of Jesus is to be “renewed after the image of its Creator.”(Colossians 3.10) That means that He intends to shape us more and more and more to be like Jesus.

So… does your life look more like you or like Jesus?

Right. Me too.

So there’s more work to be done in this transformation. And the reality that’s hard to accept is that very little growing happens when we are COMFORTABLE. It’s the same as the way that I can’t get in shape without doing uncomfortable things and things can’t be surgically repaired without being uncomfortable.

Let’s be frank about it. The only time our healthcare priority is making a patient comfortable is when there’s no more hope of healing treatment. It’s called palliative care.

Is it possible that many of us are spiritually resigned to just sit and remain comfortable? Are we ready for spiritual hospice?

There is just so much more to experience of God’s wonder and grace. And, to really get the most out of a lifelong journey with Him, we should strive tobe CONFORMABLE to His plan, yielded to His hands, like a moistened lump of clay upon the potter’s wheel.

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

Stay, Grow.

Abide.

Just stay. Live. Abide.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about living in this relationship with Him and the Father. He was trying to recenter their understanding, to open their eyes to the relational reality that He had come to usher them into in this personal knowledge of Him.

In John 15, the word abide occurs 10 times in the first 10 verses. Maybe it’s important.

[Read John 15.1-17]

Jesus begins to build this understanding by painting a word picture that is familiar to these men from mostly rural areas. You couldn’t walk around Judea much in those days without passing by or through a couple of common things—vineyards full of grapes and groves full of olives.

He paints a picture of a grapevine and identifies Himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser (the one who tends and cares for the vine).(1) He points at the vinedresser’s practice of cutting away branches that do not bear fruit and pruning carefully those who do that they might be even more fruitful.(2)

Jesus points to the disciples and reminds them that, by receiving Him, they have been made new, clean, alive.(3) He is making sure they know He is talking about His intention for them.

Then He speaks these words that have been a cornerstone for understanding what it means to walk with Jesus:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.(4-5)

He urges them to abide in Him. Like the branch has to be firmly attached to the vine, drawing all of its nourishment and sustenance and life through that connection, we are to abide in Jesus, finding life and spiritual health and full nutrition in Him. He tells us that this is the key to a fruitful spiritual life.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? A branch that is not connected to the vine will shrivel in the sun and crumble. It simply cannot bear fruit. Jesus compels us to abide, to stay, to remain, to LIVE in Him.

The branches that are not rooted in the vine will be gathered and burned up. They are worthless, fruitless, dead.(6) But, there is real power and connection for those rooted in the vine. Jesus told them that being connected in Him like this would give them favor with the Father, that our heart’s true desires the Father would grant.(7)

Of course, if we are truly rooted and abiding in Him, the desire of our hearts will be for Him, not for ourselves.

God’s greatness is revealed as we abide in Jesus, allowing His Spirit to bear all kinds of spiritual fruit through our lives.(8) Jesus assured us that He had loved us just as the Father loved Him and urged us to abide in that love.(9)

Ok, we get it. We’re supposed to abide in Jesus, in His great love. But what does that look like?

It looks like Jesus. It looks like what He did. He took great joy in doing what the Father asked Him to do. We abide in His love by taking joy in doing what He asked us to do. We find our life, our purpose, our meaning, in pleasing Him.(10-11)

I have come to comprehend joy as the consciousness of grace. To have joy is to be aware and mindful of how great His love is for us and to recognize how free and undeserved that love truly is.

And just as Jesus taught us that all of God’s law boils down to two commandments—to love God with all that we are and to love others at least as much as ourselves—so we best love Jesus by demonstrating His love to others. (12) In pouring out ourselves for Him and for one another, we are reflecting His love most fully.(13)

There is a pivot point there in verses 13-15 where Jesus begins to refer to them as friends and not merely servants. He is drawing them deeper and deeper into this relational understanding of God’s plan for them. And He reminds them that He chose them (and us too, by the way) to join in His plan, to go and bear good fruit as He works in them by His Spirit.(16)

And what do we gain by joining in with Him? We gain the intimacy to ask the Father for whatever is on our hearts and know that He hears and will surely act in our best interested for His own sake.(16b)

Jesus was teaching us that the key to a fruitful, thriving, abundant spiritual life is simply to abide in Him, dwell in Him, live in Him. And in doing so, grow.

Funny how simple it is, don’t you think?

Stay, grow.