Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Productivity Catechism (by Tim Challies)

An understanding of productivity needs to begin with an understanding of the reason you exist. Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose.

I am going to lead you through a brief Productivity Catechism, a series of questions and answers. Only when you understand these foundational matters about your God-given purpose and mission will you be ready to get to work. Here is the first question:

Q1. Ultimately, why did God create you? A. God created me to bring glory to him.

This is the question every human being wonders at one time or another, isn’t it? Why am I here? Why am I here instead of not here? Why did God create me? The Bible has an answer: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). All things exist to bring glory to God, and that includes each one of us. That includes you.

God created you so he could receive glory from you and receive glory through you. That is an astonishing truth to consider and a deeply humbling one. When you grasp it and apply it, it transforms everything about your life. The simple fact is, you are not the point of your life. You are not the star of your show. If you live for yourself, your own comfort, your own glory, your own fame, you will miss out on your very purpose. God created you to bring glory to him.

Q2. How can you glorify God in your day-to-day life? A. I can glorify God in my day-to-day life by doing good works.

You may be comfortable with this idea that God created you to bring glory to him, but the question remains: what does it actually mean to do that? If you want to glorify God, do you need to quit your job and become a pastor? If you want to glorify God, do you need to pack up everything you own, move across the world, and serve as a missionary in the farthest and most dangerous regions? Do you only truly glorify God on Sundays when you stand in church and sing the great songs of the Christian faith? Is God only honored through you when you read your Bible and pray? Or is there a way that you can glorify God all day and every day even in a very ordinary life?

Jesus answered this question when he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Your good works are like a light, and when that light shines, it illuminates God. When people see that light, they aren’t meant to look at you and say, “He’s incredible” or “She’s amazing.” They are meant to look at God and say, “He is awesome.”

You do not glorify God only when you talk about him, or share his gospel with other people, or stand with hands raised in public worship. Those are all good actions, but they are not the only means through which you can bring glory to God. Far from it. You glorify God when you do good works. The apostle Peter wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Your good works make God look great before a watching world.

Q3. What are good works? A. Good works are deeds done for the glory of God and the benefit of other people.

You know now that good works are important and that they bring glory to God. But what are these good works? Are they feeding the poor and adopting orphans? Are they giving money to the church, volunteering at the food bank, or visiting the elderly in their nursing homes? What are the good works you are called to do? The Bible assures you that good works are any deeds that are done for the benefit of other people and the glory of God.

You are already very good at doing things that benefit you. We all are. From your infancy you have become adept at expending effort toward your own comfort and survival. But when God saved you, he gave you a heart that longs to do good for others. Suddenly you long to do good to other people, even at great cost to yourself. After all, that is exactly what Christ did on the cross. It is what Christ did, and he calls on you to imitate him.

Good works, then, are any and all of those deeds you do for the benefit of others. If you are a mother and you simply cuddle and comfort your crying child, you are doing a good work that glorifies God, because you do it for the benefit of your child. If you are a student and apply yourself to your studies, you are doing a good work that brings glory to God, because what you learn can and will be used someday to benefit other people. If you work in an office environment and do your job with consideration to your clients and coworkers, you are doing good works that bring glory to God, because you are living outside yourself, doing what benefits the people in your life.

There is no task in life that cannot be done for God’s glory. Again, this is what Jesus calls for in these simple words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Q4. But you are a sinful person. Can you actually do good works? A. Yes. Christians are able to do good works because of the finished work of Christ.

As a Christian you are aware of your sin. You know that your motives are never perfectly pure, that your desires are never perfectly selfless, that your actions are never perfectly just. Sometimes you do not even know your motives, and sometimes you do not even want to know them. If all of that is true, can you still do deeds that are good?

Yes, you can do good works. In fact, this is the very reason God saved you: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). It is simple: God saved you so that you could do good works and in that way bring glory to him. Paul amplifies it even more in his letter to Titus: “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Christ gave up his life for you so that you could have a genuine zeal to do good works. Paul calls upon Christians to be good works zealots or good works extremists—to be absolutely committed in every way to doing good for others.

Take heart! You can actually do works that delight God. God is genuinely pleased when you do these works, even when you don’t do them as perfectly or as selflessly as you might wish, or even when you are uncertain about your motives. Though even your best deeds are far from perfect, God is pleased with them and accepts them with joy.

Q5. In what areas of life should you emphasize good works? A. I ought to emphasize good works at all times and in all areas of life.

If you can bring glory to God in all areas, you should bring glory to God in all areas. There is no area of your life where you have no ability to do good to others and where you have no ability to bring glory to God. Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). To Titus he said, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8). To Timothy he wrote specifically of women and said, “Women should adorn themselves…with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), and to the church at Galatia he explained, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Peter even tells you that God has supernaturally gifted you so that you can do even more good to others.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

The Bible is clear: At every time and in every context you are able to do good to others, and so you should do good to others.

Q6. What is productivity? A. Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.

Now we come to it: what is productivity? Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. Productivity calls you to direct your whole life at this great goal of bringing glory to God by doing good for others. This call involves using your gifts, the spiritual gifts you were given when the Lord saved you; it involves deploying your talents, those areas of natural strength; it involves managing your time, those 24 hours God gives you each day; it involves making use of your energy, the strength or vitality that ebbs and flows through the day and the week; and it even involves your enthusiasm, the passion and interest you can bring to those works you love to do. God calls you to take all of that and to apply it carefully, faithfully, and consistently to the great goal of doing good to others.

Your Purpose

I trust this maxim establishes your purpose: to glorify God by doing good to others. There is no better plan and no higher ideal. So, ultimately, here is what productivity is all about and, therefore, what this course is all about: doing good to others.

Are you a stay-at-home mom? This is the measure of your productivity. Are you a CEO with a corner office? This is the measure of your productivity, too. Are you a teacher, a toolmaker, a doctor, a driver? The same is true of you. Even while we are talking about tools, software, and systems, you need to remember this high and noble purpose behind it all: bringing glory to God by doing good to others.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Hope of the Resurrection

"For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost." (1 Corinthians 15:16–18)

Sometimes we hear that people in the ancient world were more superstitious than people of today. Thus, it is maintained that for these unsophisticated people, the idea of someone rising from the dead was not strange. Actually, though, people did not rise from the grave any more frequently in the ancient world than they do today (<chuckle>). The idea of resurrection is no more “strange” to us than it was to them.

There were people in Corinth who doubted the reality of the Resurrection. This doubt had infected the church there, and so Paul addresses the problem in 1 Corinthians 15. In the course of his arguments he touches on something relevant to our consideration of suffering.

In verse 16, Paul states that if it is true that nobody ever rises from the dead, then it inevitably follows that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead either. Then he draws consequences from such a belief. First, in verse 17 he points out that if Christ was not raised from the dead, then the whole Christian faith is in vain. It is futile and pointless. It is pitiful insanity.

Beyond this, Paul points out that if Christ has not been raised, then there has been no forgiveness of sins. Christ’s resurrection was God’s public declaration that the problem of sin had been vanquished. So, if there is no Resurrection, then there is no forgiveness of sins. Finally, in verse 18 Paul points out that if Christ has not been raised, and if there is no forgiveness of sins, then our friends and relatives who died in faith are all lost. We will never see them again. They have vanished either into non-existence or hell.

Paul uses these negative conclusions to point us to the positive affirmations of the faith: Christ has been raised; therefore, our sins are forgiven, and we and our loved ones who died in faith will be raised from the dead also. This comfort is given to us in the face of suffering and death. Take a few moments to reflect on Paul’s arguments, and make this comfort your own.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trusting God for Eternal Life

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1–2).

When we talk with people who are suffering from deadly injuries or illnesses and who may very well die, we are tempted to offer false hope. We are tempted to say something like, “Don’t worry. You’re sure to get better.” Similarly, if someone is dying, we are tempted to withhold that information from them.

Any such response is false hope. Jesus shows us true hope in these verses. It is helpful to remember the context in which He spoke these words. He had just told the disciples that He was about to die (John 13:33) and that He was going to be leaving them. It was in the face of death that He reassured them concerning life after death. Jesus not only tells us that there is a good and happy life for believers after death, but He also tells us that part of His purpose in departing from this world was so that He might prepare a place for us. Our comfort in the face of dying is not only that we are going into a better life but also that Jesus Himself is there waiting for us.

“If it were not so, I would have told you.” Jesus adds these words to assure us that His promise is true. If there were any threat to our future happiness in heaven, He would have told us. In the original Greek this is a very strong statement. The Greek original clearly expresses a condition contrary to fact, and for that reason we translate it in the English subjunctive mood: “If it were,” not “If it is.”

There is no doubt about it. “If it were not so” means that there is not the slightest possibility that the promise is untrue. By using this strong statement, Jesus assures us that in the face of death we can have hope—if not hope for recovery, then hope for something even better.

Have you thought very much about the fact that beyond this life is a better one with Jesus in heaven? Sometimes we as Christians get so concerned with the affairs of this world, important as they are, that we forget about the world to come. Take some time today to think about the life to come, and restore your perspective on the hope that Jesus offers in these verses.

Bible Teaching: 1 Peter 3:18-22