Be Diligent

“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these things,
be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
(2 Peter 3:14)

I guess I’m one of those guys who has to learn something the hard way.  And then, once I’ve learned it, I’ll forget and have to learn it again.

Last year around this time I was writing about the joys of running, how disciplining the body and the soul go hand in hand, and of the many blessings that come from both.

Then winter in NW Iowa set it.

To call my running from December through April sporadic would suggest that there was a modicum of effort made on my part, and that would be an overstatement.  40 miles over 4 months.  It’s embarrassing to even write it out.

Oh, I had plenty of excuses – the cold, the snow, the busy-ness – you name it.  But in the end, an excuse is just that, and it doesn’t make things any better.  Someone once said, “If you really want to do it, you do it. There are no excuses.”  So there.

Should I also confess that as the discipline of running slipped, so did all other disciplines?

Oh, I’ve maintained my scripture reading plan.  I’ve been reading books left and right.  I’ve been praying, preaching, visiting, and ministering with and for others.  But it’s been a while since I’ve made the time to meditate on God’s Word, preach to myself, and allow my Spirit to be ministered to.  I’ve been doing all of this out of my own strength, and I have proven that I am not strong enough.

Like a runner who’s lost conditioning and let the muscles atrophy, my heart has become sluggish, the flame of passion for Christ is only smoldering rather than burning bright, the fruit of the Gospel is being choked out by the desires and the cares of this world.

Then I read this morning the passage above: “Be Diligent!”  Diligence is something that is great if you are already doing it, but seemingly impossible if you don’t.  Like being organized.  “Be diligent,” Peter writes, “to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

Now, I could write several pages about the things I/we ought to do to exercise this due diligence in the Christian life, and that would be appropriate.  Things like prayer, worship, meditation and memorization of God’s Word, avoiding gossip and other negative influences, holding fast to those things that are commendable and uplifting… all of these are worthwhile and essential in the kind of diligence that Peter is calling for.

I could also write about the motivation that Peter gives for this diligence; the fact that Jesus is returning like “a thief in the night” and we want to be found ready and waiting when he comes.  There were those in Peter’s day, and they’re still around today, who deny Christ’s eminent return, and therefore have fallen away from the commandments of Christ, thinking that His delay will ensure their safety.  Peter writes that this mentality will lead to their destruction, and that we should “take care that [we] are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose [our] own stability, but [are to] grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Those would be fine points of discussion, but when you are heading out on the road to diligence and discipline, the best place to start is at the very beginning.  If I were to throw on the tasks of discipline all at once, it would be overwhelming, and would lead to frustration, despair, and resignation.  If I were to focus solely on the motivation, the warning of Christ’s return, one might be driven and consumed with fear – and Yoda taught us all that “fear is the path to the darkside.”

The foundation of our diligence, however, is not in the motivation, nor is it in the act of discipline.  The foundation of our diligence, our zeal before the Lord, is in His gracious gift.  Peter writes earlier in the letter,

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

It is only because His divine power has given us life, given us godliness, given us the knowledge of Him, given us His secure promises, that we could ever hope to partake in His holiness in peace (the essence of divine nature), escaping from sinful desires.  Our diligence doesn’t come from some self-driven zeal for the Lord, but comes from trusting in His grace, relying on His Holy Spirit, holding fast to His Word, counting on His promises.

Be diligent in righteousness.  Do the things you know you need to do as you eagerly await His appearing so that you may grow in grace and knowledge.  But let God’s grace and goodness in Christ be the foundation of your diligence.

To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.

SDG

Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
(Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

I’ve started running again.  After a brief hiatus (weather, schedule, laziness – whatever), I’ve gone back to the streets for my early morning run.  I’ve forgotten how much I love that time.

Sure, I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it is.  It’s early.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  Still, there is something beautiful about the morning run.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook.  Sometimes you can get so preoccupied with watching your steps, figuring the pace per mile, avoiding skunks, calculating how much time you’ve got before you have to turn around and get back home to get the kids going for school – you can sometimes forget to even look up.

This morning I looked up, and what a blessing.  I came to the top of the hill, to a clearing of trees, and there, sitting on the horizon of the lightening sky was the moon, golden and full.  If my arm were just a little longer, I swear I could have reached out and touched it.  Was I watching it, or was it watching me, as I ran my course this morning, I couldn’t tell.  Then, in the light of the moon, five deer ran in front of me, gracefully clearing the snow drifts and tall grass as they made their way to the frozen creek.

Something like that doesn’t happen on every run, but I can tuck that picture away for quite a while.  All I had to do was drag these sorry old bones out of bed, hit the trail, and look up.

I think this is why the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  We can get so caught up in all the “busyness” of the Christian life, i.e. small groups, reading programs, mission trips, worship services, Bible studies, all of which are good and valuable practices, but sometimes we can miss the forest for all the trees.

As we read through the Bible, we can get so preoccupied with just getting the reading done that we fail to actually hear what the word says.  We plan and prepare for the program, find the right verses to support the lesson, and pretty soon the Bible becomes nothing more than a book of fragmented quotations to help defend a position.  We come to the Holy Days in the life of the Church (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter), and adding church into the “holiday” just seems like one more thing we have to do.  The church gets so busy doing, serving, caring; we forget the main purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel, to call the world before the cross and the empty tomb.

Hear the word again: “fix your eyes on Jesus.”  Fix your eyes on Him, regardless of where you might be.  Are you preparing a Sunday school lesson or sermon?  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  How does that passage you are reading today show you your need for a Savior, point you to Christ, establish your hopes in Him?  Are you swamped by the busyness of work, family, and everything else you’ve got to do – you feel like you are sinking and cannot swim?  Fix your eyes on Him, cry out to Him, and He will save!  Are you overwhelmed by the weight of the world, wondering how we came to such a time and place as this – where if someone pulled the right string the whole thing would simply fall apart?  Fix your eyes on Him.  Jesus has overcome the world!  The grave could not hold Him, the kingdoms of this world rise and fall for His glory, and one day all things will be placed under His sovereign reign.

Calvin had an adaptation of the Sursum Corda, the prayer that is offered before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Not wanting the congregation to be preoccupied with the elements of bread and wine, as though they had been transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, Calvin urged believers to look up, where Christ is now interceding for us before the throne of God, and where the true communion of Christ exists.  He writes:

With this in mind, let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption. Let us not be bemused by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with the eye, and touch with the hand, in order to seek him there, as if he were enclosed in the bread or wine. Our souls will only then be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance, when they are thus raised above all earthly things, and carried as high as heaven, to enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. Let us therefore be content to have the bread and the wine as signs and evidences, spiritually seeking the reality where the word of God promises that we shall find it.

Today, whatever you are doing, look up.  Find yourself at the foot of the cross, the cross that was meant for you, the cross that symbolizes your sin, your guilt, your offence before God.  Look up to the cross and find that it has been carried for you, it has been occupied for you, it has been emptied for you.  Don’t get so caught up in everything else that you miss this one thing.  Christ has died for your sins, and was raised for your justification.

Look up!  There is more to see than just the trees.  Look up!  There is glory all around you.  Look up!  Fix your eyes on Christ.  Look up!

SDG