Saturday, March 12, 2011

Called According to His Purpose

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:28 has been my favorite verse for quite some time. In fact, probably since the time that it carried me through a season of heartache during which I clung to the idea that somehow, in some way, at some time, God would use the pain I was enduring to accomplish something "good". God showed me during this time that "good" did not mean it would be for my health, or my happiness, or my financial well-being. It meant to conform my heart to the image of Christ - something that requires setting aside a focus on self in favor of a focus on God's will.

Today, after about twenty years of loving, quoting, and memorizing this verse, God showed me something new in it. It's not just that God works things for my good, but also according to the purpose He has for my life.

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,"Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done,” God the Father had determined that this was the only way that Jesus' purpose could be accomplished. Had there been any other way, God would have granted this request. He would not allow His Son to suffer the abuse and torture that He suffered if there were any other way to meet the need. If there were some other means of salvation, God would know it. He would have chosen it.

Someone once commented that it was a shame Jesus' ministry was cut short - that if He could accomplish all that He did in just three short years, imagine what He might have achieved in a lifetime of ministry? But this misses the purpose of Jesus' ministry entirely. Jesus' did not come to heal people, to teach them to love one another, to bring respect and fair treatment to women, or to compel people to treat children kindly.

If that had been His purpose, He would not have suffered and died.

His purpose was to perform these miracles as a proof and demonstration that He was God Incarnate, and then to allow Himself to be crucified by sinful man as the final atoning sacrifice for sin. And then to be raised from the dead as a demonstration of His power and victory over death and sin.

Having accomplished that purpose, He returned to the Father.

I recall a few years ago the heartbreaking death of a student at our school. She battled cancer courageously for six years. Her faith was indescribable and the impact she had on those who knew her well, and even on those who knew her only a little, was powerful, tangible, and permanent. It was tempting to think that her life was cut short.

But that misses the point.

She accomplished more in her eighteen years than many achieve in eighty years! Her life was full because she served the purpose that God had given her. She demonstrated faith in God in the most terrible circumstances. She was a living lesson to all she met of finding joy in Christ, when you can find joy in nothing else.

Why would God allow this precious child to suffer so horribly? Only because He had looked at every angle and this was essential to her mission. Critical to her accomplishing her purpose. This was the only way.

Whatever we face today, no matter how bad it is, God has thought it through. He has looked at every possibility. He has examined all the options. And this is the only way for us to serve the purpose He has for our lives. After all, He called us according to His purpose.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Wax On, Wax Off"

My sons and I have recently resumed TaeKwonDo lessons after a long break. One of the themes that the instructors stress is practicing the moves in order to establish 'muscle memory'. For those of you who recall the original Karate Kid movie, this is what Mister Miyagi was doing when he told Daniel, "Wax on, wax off."

The idea is simple: You train your muscles to perform a specific movement through repetition. By the time Daniel had waxed five vintage automobiles, his hands just naturally moved in a circular pattern when he was attacked.

My Tabernacle study today was about Jesus' superiority as a high priest because He faced all temptation that is common to us all - yet overcame it. He opened the door of escape to us, so that we could also overcome any temptation. And He stands at that door, in fact, He says He IS the door, and beckons us to walk through it. This is not just a one-time escape from sin through salvation; it is a daily and moment-by-moment escape from whatever sin is tempting us right now.

So often we see others fall into sin and can easily pinpoint the exact moment where they took the wrong turn. We can see where the opportunities to go another path were and our hearts break that someone we love chose the wrong path. But this isn't Let's Make A Deal where you don't know what is behind Door #1. The Holy Spirit convicts us of truth. If we seek God, He will not direct us to the wrong door.

Unfortunately, too often we don't seek Him. Or we maintain veto power. We hear the Holy Spirit nudging us gently to the right door, but decide we might miss something if we take that door. The only thing we will miss are the consequences of sin - something we would gladly avoid if we understood them fully!

Each time we are tempted and we ignore or refuse the means of escape that God provides, we are building muscle memory. We are training our hearts in rebellion to God. The next time we're faced with temptation (only a moment later), it will take more resolve to make our escape. Over years, we develop a calloused heart that barely hears the whisper of the Spirit, "This is the way, walk in it." Yet, the way of escape remains.

No matter how many times we've chosen to ignore God's escape route, He continues to offer us one each and every time. "Today is the day of salvation" - not only of our souls for eternity, but of our lives from sin. Today is the day to open our eyes to the means of escape and to walk - or run - through that door.

Today is the day I will watch and pray that I don't fall into temptation. Today is the day I will start reversing the habit of falling and start developing a response of obedience.

It's amazing how some of the moves we learned a year or more ago are coming back to me. It's all about muscle memory. "Wax on, wax off."