Monday, October 25, 2010

Do You Have a Power Shortage?

Growing up as an athlete, you learn that nothing comes easy. Hard work, dedication to training, self reliance all play a part in your success. As a coach, I tried to convey these same principles to my players. In order to improve, you must be willing to work very hard. How much you improve and how well you perform is tied directly to how hard you work. Often times a player who may not have the most talent, will succeed where a more talented player fails, just because of his or her work ethic.
As a young Christian, I always thought it would work the same way in my Christian life. If I just worked hard enough at it I would be a better Christian. I would be kinder, more self sacrificing, loving, and less sinful. I would be more like Jesus. The problem was, the harder I tried, the more I seemed to fail. The more I failed, the more guilt I felt. That guilt would drive me farther from the Lord rather than closer to Him. I didn't want to face Him because I thought He would be angry with me. I would just want to give up and forget trying to be a "better" Christian. Have you ever felt that way? 

I couldn't figure out why this wasn't working. After all, it worked fine in every other area of my life. I would set a goal, work as hard as I possibly could and reach my goal. Let me illustrate. When I made up my mind that I was called to be a teacher and coach, I set my goal to be a Head Football Coach at the High School level, by the time I reached my thirtieth birthday. I started coaching freshman football for no pay, scouted for the varsity, went to coaching clinics in the off season and learned everything I possibly could about coaching and the game of football. As I gained confidence in my abilities and knowledge of the game, I became a varsity defensive coordinator (the person in charge of the defense) and started applying for every Head Football job that came open. I was willing to go just about anywhere to get that job. At the age of twenty nine, (after finishing second at least eight or nine times) I landed my first Head Coaching position at a school in central California. I had reached my goal.

This made sense to me. If you are willing to work hard enough, eventually you succeed. Why would it be any different in my walk with Christ? Why then, did it seem that no matter how hard I tried, I just continued to fail? Maybe some of you are in that place right now. It is frustrating and demoralizing. You might even be thinking of giving the whole thing up. How many times have I heard people say, "This just isn't working for me?"

If that is you, I have some good news for you. Don't give up, there is a solution and it is not to try harder. In fact, it is just the opposite. You see, we need to understand that we have a power shortage. The truth of the matter is that we don't have the power in and of ourselves to be more Christ like. First of all, Jesus never told us to try to be more like Him. In fact, He said "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."(Matt 11:28-30 NIV) Now I guarantee you that no coach that I ever had, said that to me, nor did I ever say that to any of my players. Instead it would be, "C'mon, suck it up and work harder!"

But in the Christian life, that just won't work. That which works in the realm of the flesh and the world, does not work in our spiritual lives. Why not? Because as Jesus said in John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Paul says in Rom 7:18 "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." For us to become more like Christ is a completely spiritual work. It cannot be done in the flesh no matter how hard we try, so we need to find a different "power source" than ourselves. That power source is God Himself, working through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Let me share some words from the book of Phillipians, which I think will help you to understand this mystery. Paul says in Phil 1:6 "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Ok, look at the verse and answer these questions.
  1. Who began the work, was it you?
  2. Who will carry on the work, is it you?
  3. When will the work be completed? Is that any time in the near future, at least that we know of?
Do you get Paul's point here? God was doing a spiritual work in the lives of these believers, just as He is in your life if you are a believer. He is going to continue that work until we pass away or He returns. Later in the chapter Paul tells us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. 

He goes on to say in Chapter Two, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Notice the term is work out, not work at. He does not mean that we do the work because in the very next verse he says, "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."(Phil 2:13 NIV) The word used for works here is energeoon in Greek. It comes from the root word energeo, which is where we get our word energize from. God, the Holy Spirit is our energy source. He provides all the power we ever need to live the life worthy of our calling. What we must do is tap into that energy source by just spending time with God in worship, prayer and study of His word. God is so good that He even provides us the energeo to do that! 

Now I don't mean this in some mystical sense. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third Person of the triune God. But the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, providing us the power to live a Christ like life. (Ro 8:9-11)

We do have one part to play in this. We must be willing to surrender ourselves to the working of the Spirit in our lives. We must allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit and then let Him do the work. When Paul was discussing his inability to do that which was good, he concluded this way, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 NIV) What a wonderful Savior we have, who not only saves us and calls us to a holy life, but then furnishes the power to live it. Praise His mighty name!
Game Plan:
  1. Begin a reading plan in the book of Acts. See how many times you can find examples of the Holy Spirit empowering the believers.
  2. Ask the Lord to empower you through His Holy Spirit each morning for one week and see what the Lord does.
  3. Thank Him for your salvation and power in your life.
May God bless you as you allow Him to strengthen and empower you to fulfill His calling in your life,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me!

If you would ask any of my former players to give you examples of my coaching philosophy, I am sure they would mention this phrase. I used it every day, probably more than once a day. Maybe, they heard it so much, they got sick of hearing it, but I'll guarantee you one thing, they remembered it. It actually would get to a point each season, where I wouldn't have to say it anymore, because the players would repeat the saying before it even got out of my mouth. Let me illustrate. If we had run a play several times and a certain player continued to miss his assignment, I might say (very gently and kindly, of course), "Son, do you have any idea of what you are supposed to do on this play?" The reply might go something like this. "Yes coach, I am supposed to… I know, I know, show you, don't tell you, right?" "You've got it, son!"

I think that most of us would agree that actions speak louder than words, wouldn't we? How often have the actions of a person, betrayed what they have said? Sometimes this plays out in a simple thing, like promising a friend to help them with a chore and then not showing up to do it. Have you ever done that? (Rhetorical question, you don't have to answer). This may not seem like a very important issue but what does it say about our character? It can be very easy to develop a habit of promising and never delivering.

The reason that I emphasized this to my players so much was because I believed it was such an important part of character development. Anybody can tell you what they will do, but it really means nothing unless they actually do it. The criminal justice system is filled with people who have said that they will not commit another crime and will seek help, but never do. My classes are filled with students who guarantee me that they will do everything they should and will pass the class, but are non-suit the next day. I can't tell you how many parent conferences I have been to and heard a parent say, "I will make sure my student is in class every day from now on," but within a week, they are truant again. It seems that there is an epidemic of integrity deficit when it comes to following through on commitment.

So often, when I am counseling with people, the reason a relationship is strained or broken, is because one or both people have not put actions to their words. For example, a person who tells their spouse that they love them, but then refuses to get help for their alcohol addiction. A parent, who assures their child how much they care about them, yet is always too busy to be involved in their life. How about a pastor, who preaches the gospel, but gets caught living a secret life of sexual sin? Let me ask you, do their words have any value or meaning? The old saying that actions speak louder than words is very true, don't you think?

Did you know that the Bible actually has a lot to say on this subject? Let's start with a parable from Jesus. "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' "'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went."Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. (Matt 21:28-31 NIV) Do you agree with their answer? Of course! You see, it wasn't what was said by the second son that got the job done, it was the actions of the first son.

Jesus was using this parable to rebuke the leaders of Israel, who talked a good game about loving God and being righteous, but would not repent of their sin. He also would rebuke them for putting burdens upon people which they could not carry and then not lift one finger to help them! All talk, no action. In fact Jesus exhorted us to not make boastful pledges to do things, but just let your 'yes be yes' and your 'no be no' (Mt 5:37). James reiterated this in Jas 5:12. We need to take this to heart.

The Bible makes it clear that we will be known by our fruit (works led by the Holy Spirit), not our words. You can read Mt 7:16-20 and be sure of that. James pulls no punches about this topic. James 1:22-24 "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man, who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

The Apostle John is adamant that your actions much match your words when you speak of your relationship with Christ. Look at these verses:

1 John 1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

1 John 2:4-6 The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in Him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.

1 John 3:6-7 No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous.

1 John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

I could go on and on with scriptures, but you get the picture. What we do speaks louder than what we say. Now, I am not telling you that we should never say to a loved one, "I love you." We need to do that. But we need to back it up with action. I also do not want you to be discouraged because you have not always done what you have said you would do. We have all fallen short in that area. Let's not live in guilt but remember that John also said that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin. What I do hope, though, is that we would recognize the importance of our actions and strive in our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to let them speak for themselves.

GAME PLAN: Ask the Lord to show you in prayer, where you might have fallen short in letting your actions match what you say. Ask forgiveness for this. Receive God's forgiveness and pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to help you in this area. Look for opportunities to serve the Lord and do it without telling anyone what you are going to do. Just do it! (Apologies to Nike, but they were not the first one to use this phrase)

God bless you as you follow Christ,