I have certainly been considering it carefully in the last few days and even in preparation for this blog entry I had a whole lot to write about the matter. Things like a proposal that the enemy of self-control is self-indulgence. Things like how self-control isn’t about willpower or doing anything myself, but actually being Spirit-led to keep the self in check. Things like how self-control might be viewed as a negative thing when strung along with words like ‘moderation’, ‘temperance’, ‘self-restraint’ and ‘self-denial’ – but that’s probably saying more about the condition of our heart than it is about the nature of those terms.
Lots more that I could write about self-control. Maybe one day I will share some of those things, but it was great to come across a video by a preacher called Josh Harris who put together a wonderful scenario connecting the issue of self-control and what can get in the way of it.
I hope you’ll enjoy it and come from it challenged and reinvigorated to see self-control for what it is – the means by which we really can make the most of the time we have to enjoy true eternal riches applied in every day life and not slip into desperate spiritual poverty.
This way, we won’t be ineffective and unproductive in knowing Jesus – who to know is life eternal.
Ahhhhhhh knowledge. Good things said about it. Bad things said about it. It’s worth knowing what kind of knowledge Peter is talking about here. Thankfully, Peter starts and finishes this letter with exactly the kind of knowledge he’s talking about.
I loved the accumulation of information back in the day. In fact to be fair, I still enjoy it. You gain a lot of information about something and it’s not unreasonable to think you the something. Life has taught me in the context of critical relationships, that the accumulation of information about someone isn’t really going to do much to improve that relationship. It’s not the accumulation of information, it’s the wise use of all you have to invest in the relationship that makes a difference. Intimacy is found in that desire and pursuit of wanting to love Him for who He reveals Himself to be. That is not a mental pursuit alone. It’s not just about the emotions and feelings. This is a whole-being completely captivated with the desire to truly know the other.
Peter’s invitation at the beginning and ending of the letter is that we grow in knowing Him. So it makes sense in the light of the foundation of faith and the pursuit of moral excellence that this is sourced in a desire to know Him. We connect by faith, we reflect in His virtue and then we pursue Him through knowledge. That kind of knowledge that is about the desire to truly relate to this beautiful Saviour full of grace for us to grow in.
I have come across either in reading or in conversation the issue of virtues and vices. I hear it mentioned casually that everyone needs to have their vice. Their little bit of naughtiness as a release. Their own little foible or flaw that they indulge in. They know they shouldn’t, but it’s so irresistible and ironically it feels so good.
Where does that come from? I suspect it might be sourced in our declaration of independence from God in the act of disobedience that lead to the human condition that is fundamentally flawed. There is certainly a knowledge of the good. There is definitely an acknowledgement of the preference for the good. There is clearly an understanding of a sense of upset when wrong takes place. For all that, however, in establishing the good, there is also a concession that we don’t pursue it, we cannot live up to it and perhaps a resignation to just do the best we can muddling from virtue to vice. It’s as if having the knowledge of good and evil has only oriented our hearts away from the pursuit of the good.
Peter’s encouragement in his letter is to add to our faith goodness. The connection we have to God in Christ by faith should allow us to be in pursuit of goodness, of virtue or moral excellence. That still sounds radical and it is. Not just to accept our tendency to sin and indulge in that which is patently not good, but actually make it our point of duty to express the good in every aspect of our lives. It’s more than just being honest, it’s about actively pursuing what is right, true, good, pure and the best in every given situation.
Writing that out sounds exhausting. It sounds like we’re not allowed to make mistakes and have slip-ups. It will sound like that if we’re viewing it that way. Yet even that illuminates something about our natural inclinations without Christ. If we’re asking the question about where the line is of what’s allowed and what’s not, that rarely suggests that we are concerned about crossing, it does suggest that we have a tendency of veering close to the line. The pursuit of moral excellence is not even focused on the line because it’s face is not towards the dark, it’s towards the source of all that is good. If we are faced in that direction, our question is never what we can get away with, our desire is what will be pleasing and delightful in the sight of God.
When our hearts are inclined to Christ, we will have the desire to see Him living a life of moral excellence in every sphere – to friends and foe alike. We will want to see that and follow in His path. We follow Him in the Spirit, we won’t succumb to the work of the flesh that often leads us to accept moral mediocrity and then to depravity.
I am well aware that it’s not easy or always possible to live a sin-free life, to always be focused on Christ and be in pursuit of moral excellence. I am ever aware of my failings and flaws before God and before people. The love of Christ, however, never allows me to wallow in what I did. The point of grace has always been about seeing His goodness lift me to know He is able to keep me falling and keep on the path in pursuit of moral excellence.
The failing doesn’t define us. The focus should. The focus that says God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. In Christ we are connected to the one who has excelled in the good in the most authentic expression of humanity ever. He gives us the confidence and hope with each new day’s mercies that we can live in moral excellence.
It is all the more needed when we hear, see and experience the effects of fallen humanity in so many areas of our lives. Institutions hiding ugliness that is practiced as the norm. Relationships covering infidelities and disrespect. Us in our own lives struggling with those desires to yield to those vices that don’t serve us or our loved ones, but we find irresistible. The darkness is not the answer when we have those urges. Walking in the light is.
There’s a distinct invitation in following Jesus to see what life is like in the light on the individual and relational basis. That walk is one done in pursuit of moral excellence.
When we add that pursuit to our faith, we help in the process of being productive and effective in our relationship with Jesus.
There is no guarantee that people will ever hear from you again. You can send some messages out to the believers to encourage them. What would you say?
One of the things that continues to impress me about the second letter of Peter is the heart of a man who wants people to remember how valuable this great salvation is. There’s a part in the opening of this letter that I continue to find invigorating and encouraging.
What qualities is he referring to? What do we need to be doing on a consistent basis to be effective and productive in knowing Jesus? The first quality is the fundamental connection we have to God – faith. Not only is there no pleasing God without faith, truly believing Him is the only way to get on with realising who He made us to be.
A lot has been written and said about faith. As with a lot of issues to do with knowing God and enjoying life, it is open to different interpretations and emphasis. Some of them have gone to extremes, whereas some barely scratch the surface of what it is to place trust, confidence and wholehearted commitment to God.
It is worth noting carefully that the qualities that will allow us to be truly productive in living the life God designs for us is all based on the foundation of faith. Not trust in ourselves, not confidence in resources and abilities, not the investment and commitment of all we are and have to causes and characters however noble still failing to be as awesome of God. Faith sees these truly put in God revealed in the Son and celebrates the greatness of His mercy extended to us to allow us to be His children enjoying His eternal kingdom.
Reflecting on faith also brings to mind what Peter’s good friend John had to say on the matter.
It is well to know that the platform of our fruitfulness in knowing Jesus is based on the foundation of faith – the faith that overcomes the world.
Someone sings a song on television and it gets praise. Someone scores a goal and it gets praise. Someone draws a picture and it gets praise. Someone makes a meal and it gets praise. You name it and it gets praise for it. A lot of media and popular culture is based on the praise someone or something gains, however short-lived that praise is.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that praise is more than deserved.
Yet contemplating on the concept of something being praiseworthy can nudge me to something more. Something praiseworthy is something that lifts me and also something that lifts my awareness of something of higher value.
Of the many things that are indeed praiseworthy, there is nothing that causes me to soar and climb higher than beholding the amazing love that created all things. Seeing that love displayed in pursuit of a creature that rejected and rebelled against its Creator. Seeing that love rescue people from oppressive slavery and express relentless faithful love despite time and again getting faithless adultery in response. Seeing that love come in human form and show what humanity was really about. Seeing that love heal, restore, teach and build those who were once rebels now becoming sons. Seeing that love on a cross to score the greatest victory in all creation. Seeing that love rise triumphantly conquering death and sin and inviting others to follow in the way of love – true godly love – that sets people free to serve each other as the ruler of this love is established on earth as it always has been in heaven.
That – and that alone above all things is worthy of everlasting praise.
My guy Stevie Wonder wrote a song about his daughter. He put into song the delight he took in this newborn baby and her growing impact on his life.
I enjoyed the song anyway, but when my firstborn made her appearance on the planet, the song took on a whole new level of resonance. It’s a good thing too, because for a while I thought the term ‘lovely’ was a girlie thing. (I’ll just stay right here as you throw your bricks in my direction.) Yeah, I didn’t think ‘lovely’ was something for men.
Thankfully appreciating the blessing of having a child and then subsequently having others have made me appreciate just how appropriate the term ‘lovely’ can be for men. In fact, when I relax a bit and enjoy the word lovely, I get into the vibe of actually being able to see it’s the sort of things in life that makes me grin, or beam and say somewhere whether out loud or in my mind, ‘I love that’.
I love the miracle of birth and the wonder of children – that’s lovely.
I love that taste of a good can or bottle of ginger beer consumed fairly swiftly – that’s lovely
I love that laughter you hear among friends when they recall something truly hilarious – that’s lovely
I love the calm of the early morning to just engage and embrace that stillness in that time of the day – that’s lovely
I love that thing of reading an article and thinking how great it was to read it, like it was a genuine honour to have those words affect my thinking and behaving – that’s lovely.
To think about what’s lovely in life is an invitation to put a big ol’ grin on your heart. It’s one thing to have it on your face, but it’s even better when it reflects what’s going on inside.
Imagine that you and I are seated in the front room. We’re in those couches are armchairs designed to help you relax. Whatever refreshments we want are on the coffee table in the middle of the room, but we can just sit back and feel comfortable whilst some steady and smooth music plays in the background.
There’s no hassle and no rush, we can just enjoy each other’s company. So you ask me what in life do I find admirable. I smirk. You know you asked the right question as you see the smirk broaden into the familiar grin for which one or two people have found as much a part of me as my name. I love the question and you see the love across my face as my eyes close and I drink in the question to breathe out this answer.
I admire: Consistency and longevity. My parents have been married for over 40 years, which is a considerable feat when you consider the age my Dad got married. They have been by each other’s side supporting each other and loving each other in all circumstances. Their love for each other has poured itself into the lives of their onlooking children who have benefited from the relentless consistency and faithfulness our parents showed to each other and to us. I admire that consistency and longevity.
I admire: Passionate people passionately pursuing their passions whenever and wherever they can. This life can be stifling if it’s left to a mundane routine of living to get enough money to get enough mod-cons to just shuffle from one meaningless leisure activity to another. That’s why I love those people who have a passion for something and pursue it with all their heart. My friend loves his poetry, loves his battle rap, loves his creative communication and whenever the time affords him he is immersed in those passions and I find it so admirable. If you’re going to live you might as well live with passion worth pursuing. The kind of thing is hugely indicative of the kind of approach I look to take when it comes to Kingdom matters – so it’s a blessing to see examples of that in action.
I admire: The love of my wife. It never ceases to amaze me how she has just remained devoted to the marriage and to the reality of God granting the union and able to sustain it. We haven’t reached 20 years together yet, let alone the 40+ that my parents have hit, but her loyalty, her faithfulness, her devotion, her commitment, her investment, her encouragement, her faith, her resourcefulness, her prayers, her integrity, her strength of character, her vulnerability, her honesty, her beauty – I observe all of that and to think that she still actively chooses to invest those in the direction of the most precious union humans face this side of eternity in me is … well it’s admirable. I applaud her to her face and I love to applaud her behind her back like on blog entries and stuff.
I admire: Great music, good football, delicious food, intriguing reading material and gripping storytelling. All of these are the fruits of significant investment in creative outlets and I love to admire those kind of things. I appreciate more and more that these products are not always guaranteed and there is a plethora of average to garbage material that I could wade through and endure. Yet it’s worthwhile when I come a creative piece of work that hits that sweet spot.
I admire: People taking a stand for justice and righteousness. Not following the trends of the day or looking to be popular to gain attention – they just see the example of Jesus and see the need to be peacemakers which often requires taking a stand. The bravery and courage it calls for as well as a selflessness to see Kingdom values as being of far greater worth than any earthly desires – witnessing this in ways that won’t grab people’s attention but is no less significant in the larger scheme of things is humbling.
That’s what I would open up with to consider the things that are admirable and worth thinking on. That would be my offering in our comfortable front room encounter.
What do you find admirable? (And don’t stop me from letting you grab another cup of that beverage you love while you share.)