Commitment


Like many who are reading this today, I grew up with a story that taught me to “stick with it.” The story written by Watty Piper eighty-seven years ago is about a little train engine that has to take over for a bigger engine that has broken down. The trouble is that the tracks take them over a steep hill, and no one is sure whether the little engine is able to pull the heavy train over the hill to get it to the other side. All the way up the hill, the engine pulls and pulls saying to himself in true chug-chug fashion, “I think I can, I think I can.” Upon arrival at the destination station, the smiling engine rests with the words “I thought I could, I thought I could,” echoing through his smokestack.

You might argue that this is a story about positive thinking, but if you look closely you will discover that it is really a story about perseverance. Even when the task is long and hard and arduous, don’t listen to the nay-sayers and pessimists who will continually try to convince you that it can’t be done. Instead, remind yourself—especially in light of your relationship with Jesus—that staying the course and holding on until the task is complete brings the rewards that caving in to negativity will rob you of.

And always remember the best thought that will help you stick it out until completion:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.—Philippians 4:13

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“The wise man built his house upon the Rock/The wise man built his house upon the Rock . . . And the house on the Rock stood fast.” Remember those words from the children’s song? Based on Matthew 7:24-27, this little song is a reminder that when we go to build a building (or a wall, or any structure for that matter), if we want to last we build on a firm foundation.

In matters of faith there is only one firm foundation, only one strong stone on which to build our house—and that foundation is Jesus. Yes, people place their faith in many things. In the 1920s, many people placed their faith in a strong and growing economy. As the ‘20s turned into the ‘30s, the formerly rich and famous discovered just how feeble that foundation was.

People also repeatedly put their faith in other people. Part of the problem with this is that we may attach our belief to the wrong person (or group of persons). At any rate, people have a tendency to act like, well, people; and not being infallible or perfect, people will constantly fail in our expectations.

Others can be found to put their faith in systems—political, economic, educational, religious, and the list goes on. Systems are a man-made commodity, and since men are flawed, flaws find their way into systems. At a certain point all systems breakdown (this is why we are constantly waiting on our smart phones to upgrade their operating system).

And so, if you want to find a foundation to build your faith on that will not fail, look to Jesus. He is the firm foundation that will shore up your faith when the doubts and fears arise.

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.”   —Ephesians 2:8-9

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .” Brings back some memories, doesn’t it? Jim Phelps sitting at a table in some exotic location with a small reel-to-reel tape player and an envelope filled with photos; the disembodied voice describing some clandestine goings-on that require the Impossible Mission Force to correct for the safety of the world and the American way; and closing with the warning that the tape would self-destruct in 10 seconds.

Everyone has a mission. Ours may not be as thrilling or adrenaline-pumping as the ones accepted weekly by the IMF back in the 1960s, but it is important. Our mission is set foundationally on the groundwork laid by Jesus’ own mission. His mission—the most difficult of all—was indeed one that was impossible for any other person who has ever lived to accomplish.

In the Garden, just before His final hours, Jesus surrendered (again) to the mission that His Father set for Him. I could not accomplish it, even if I had wanted to. You would never live up to the task, even if the idea crossed your mind. So aren’t we glad that Jesus found and completed His impossible mission. That way we can live up to the mission we have been assigned through Him.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  —Jesus, Matthew 26:39b

We often refer to the prayer that Jesus used to teach us to pray as “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, there is a better example of Jesus’ prayer to give that name to. We find Jesus’s prayer in John 17. In this prayer Jesus prays about His mission, His disciples (who are with Him), and those of us who would believe because of the testimony of these disciples.

Jesus not only gives an example of how to pray, but He begins by showing us what we ought to prioritize in our prayers—God’s direction for our life. When was the last time that you or I prayed for God’s will to be done in our life? Sure we say the words—even quoting the Model Prayer—by saying “Thy will be done.” But think it through, when was the last time that we really, genuinely, and earnestly sought the direction that God wanted us to go?

My guess (including for myself) is that we gave a head nod to God, and went on about our business as usual, without taking time to consider the full impact that God wants to make on the world through us. Nor do we pause to consider the price that following that path of obedience would require.

Even so, as costly as following Jesus is, as difficult as taking God’s direction might be, it is well worth the effort.

Let us, today, pray with our Master, “Thy will be done.”

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  —Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 6:10

In the devotional book, Voices of the Faithful, a missionary shares how her prayer in the midst of a dark-of-night burglary (that could have and probably would have ended in her physical violation and even death) was answered by God striking fear into the hearts of her assailants. Although bruised and scratched from the encounter, she remained alive with her purity intact. Her faith had grown to the point that she shares, “Even if I had not been delivered, He is still trustworthy and faithful.” (p. 33)

Where is our faith and commitment today? Are we ready, in the middle of a dark moment, to pray for deliverance? Even more, can my commitment to God hold fast if He chooses a different path for me than deliverance as I understand it?

Graciously, most of us will not be face to face with death by a violent means. My prayer is that we, in even our simply uncomfortable tests of commitment, will join this Christian worker in the understanding that God is trustworthy and faithful even when deliverance this side of Glory does not look like we expect it to look.

 “But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel 3:18

Three months ago, I received a proof copy of Thom and Sam Rainer’s new book Essential Church? So I’m finally getting a gander at the pages between the covers. I’m hoping to find some usable material as I try to develop the heart and mind of a mid-Western congregation. One of the questions that keeps coming back to me whenever I read books like this is: What is the most important part of Christian Discipleship? The answer, quite frankly doesn’t re-echo with church attendance.

Before you lambast me with a good amount of proof-texting, I am aware that Christ intended for the church to gather—and I believe that the local congregation for the most part is the expression of that gathering that is intended. At the same time, I get a little curious as to whether Christ intends for us to be more consistent with our church attendance or with our Christ-like demeanor.

And now to the purpose of this entry: one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when reaching a new generation who doesn’t seem to have the brand-name embroidered on its lapel is what I would call inadequate answers. You know about those inadequate answers—they’ve been around as long as people have been asking questions. What makes the answers inadequate is that, though they make complete sense in the mind of the one giving them, they lack foundational trustworthiness in the heart of the hearer.

“Why do I have to clean my room?” is answered with “Because I’m the mother and I said so!”

“Why do we have to learn this?” finds a retort from the exasperated teacher, “because it’s part of the curriculum.”

One of the most difficult for me to swallow was one that I encountered over my extended years of singularity. People would constantly inform me that I would know when the right woman came along. I would badger them with the constant refrain of the single person, “How will I know?” The most inadequate response always returned, “You just know.” Today when I’m approached by a single friend who would like to get married and have a family (it’s the same with men and women alike), and they ask the age-old question of how they might be able to discern whether Mr./Miss Right Now is Mr./Miss Right or not, I know that they are searching for the answer as to whether or not marriage is even a possibility for them or not. I feel the creeping fingers of inadequacy wrap themselves around my throat as the words escape my lips, “You just know!”

So how does this relate to the church and keeping our younger generation from bolting at the first sign of an open door? It has to do with inadequate answers. I am convinced that we as the church are guilty of only halfway fulfilling the Great Commission. I know that it is evident in my own denomination. Check out the (ESV) statement of the Commission from the book of Matthew:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As we go, we haven’t any problem making new disciples, nor do we really have any difficulty running them through the baptismal pool, but we are the worst lot at teaching. Consequently, the younger generation, while they have been led to Christ, and have accepted him as their savior, following up with “Believer’s Baptism” we have neglected to teach them how to grow. This means that when they ask, “Why should I make church an active part of my life?” we only come back with a weak, “Because you ought to,” or “It’s good for you.” Inadequate answers.

Until our children start seeing that church involvement (and following Christ for that matter) is more than just religious activity in our lives, until they notice that there is a difference for us, we will continue to say to them, “We miss you at church, won’t you come back?” And until we teach with our words and our actions that Christ following is more than just church and that church is more than just an event to pass uncommitted time, they will continue to find other avenues to occupy their energy.

What do you think?

It was in a revival meeting—you know, those extended meetings that evangelicals schedule and claim to be revivals—that I got to know the old saint of a man who was the long-time pastor of one of the smaller congregations in our association of churches. He was a small man, full of fire and energy (especially in the pulpit). I recall many things from that particular series of meetings. I recall the night that he threw a hymnal at the church music director because he was either asleep or simply not paying attention. I remember the night that he locked his keys in his car and two or three men spent the better part of two hours trying to get the car opened. It was on that particular night (toward the end of the week) that he sang—I remember because he commented on both his ability to sing and his inability to get his keys out of the car—an old song that I had almost forgotten from my childhood:

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from the Bible

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s word.

The inward look

The outward look

The upward look

From the old, old book

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s Word.

It’s inspiring still to think back on that night’s service. His encouragement was one that I try to practice each day—get a godly perspective from diving into His word daily.

Here’s what else I remember from that particular situation. The church from which this pastor came to preach our revival meeting had the reputation of being very evangelistic and highly successful at their efforts in evangelism. Knowing the man, I suspect that the great success that the church had rested mostly on the shoulders of this fiery preacher who was full of evangelistic fervor. The church itself also had a reputation of never growing.

This is the thing that happens in many of our churches today—even those who are exercising fantastic evangelistic muscles. Even though we have reports of numbers of people coming to know Jesus, these same people are not becoming part of the church. We’ve missed the point of the song altogether. We don’t want the new look from the old book, but the old look from the old way. We have neglected the outward look and the upward look. We have become highly skilled in looking inward toward ourselves.

We worry about buildings and budgets. We concern ourselves with our wants and wishes. And we’ve stopped looking [upward] to the Master for the direction we should go—which by the way is outward.

What do you think? Is the evangelical church evangelical? Or are we just happy with ourselves?

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