February 28, 2012

Sorting out values

Randy Alcorn wrote several books about the principle of giving. This principle includes statements such as “you cannot out-give God” and “you cannot take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” He emphasizes the folly of making worldly possessions our focus because all of them eventually wind up in the dump. 

Paul also had much to say about human value systems. When he wrote Philippians, his focus was on status, popularity, public opinion, and the confidence he once had in his spirituality and religious background. As a follower of Jesus Christ, he gave up all allegiance to those values, even considering them as trash for the dump, because he had a new and far better goal.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:8–14)
Paul once lived a “righteous” life in his own eyes and the eyes of his peers. However, after an encounter with Christ, he realized that all his “goodness” was nothing in the eyes of God. He humbly accepted the righteousness that God gives through faith and began a new life. 

When Paul wrote the above words, he had been following Jesus for many years, but all that time his goal had not changed. He pressed on to be more like Jesus, seeing this as the most important goal and Christ as his most important possession. 

Both Alcorn and Paul had problems and trials. Alcorn tells of being on the wrong side of a lawsuit that threatened his livelihood. Paul wrote Philippians while in jail. Both men realized that an important aspect of being entirely dedicated to serving God, no matter what happened to them. Both understood that knowing Christ means learning how to deal with the past, including mistakes made and other trials outside our control. 

Paul’s life was filled with trouble. He implies that he also made mistakes after being saved and calls himself the chief of sinners. This fits with the experience of all Christians. We make errors in judgment and might even commit sinful acts with far-reaching consequences. Put in Alcorn’s financial terms, we make bad investments and sometimes useless and stupid purchases. Mistakes and stumbling are part of our battle against sin. What we do after we experience these reverses should be distinctly Christian. 

Today’s devotional reading sums up this passage of Scripture with wise counsel about mistakes. It says that I cannot move ahead by simply regretting my irreparable past. All that happens to me makes me who I am, and God wants me to make the best of what I am, not try to cover it over or make excuses for it. 

Neither can I balk at moving ahead by complaining that I blew it, or that am not trained well enough, or that I don’t have the right abilities, or that I don’t have enough money, or live in the right place. What and where I am is God’s providential arrangement — His doing. While I am responsible for my “life’s series of mistakes” and false steps, God’s hand is there. The devotional writer says that the best Christians are not those who makes the fewest false steps, but those who win victories by the “retrieval” of those mistakes, learning from them how to be more like Jesus. 

Alcorn writes about his financial fiasco and how God used it to make him a deeply generous man. Paul writes about his desire for status, outward appearance, and performing perfectly before a critical world and how God used that to teach him the fading value of personal prestige. Like money and possessions, it too will fade away when we leave this place. What is valued by the world around me and what I once valued is of no account. The only thing that will last forever is pressing on toward the goal of being like Jesus.

Lord, I’m thankful that You promise to work all things in my life together toward that goal. Being like Jesus is a worthy goal that will not fade away or wind up in the dump when I die. Instead, that goal will be reached and completely fulfilled when I see You face to face.

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