What God Starts, God Finishes

“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6

Does the Bible really say that? I was stunned sitting in that pew on a Sunday night… and deeply moved.

A few months earlier I had been sitting in my dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, when someone knocked on my door. David Procter, a staff member from Hyde Park Baptist Church, had dropped by to invite me to their college ministry. He later introduced me to a deacon, Alphonce Brown, who soon started picking me up for church on Sundays. As a year-old Christian, I had nothing to offer the church, but they invested time in me. Their love for Jesus was infectious… and their influence on me would last for decades.

So that’s how I came to be sitting in that pew on a Sunday night. That was the moment when I heard our pastor, Ralph Smith, mention a verse of scripture I had not heard before. I don’t recall anything else about the sermon, except I couldn’t wait to figure out where that verse was located in the Bible. After the service, I moved down to the front, surprised that no one else was lined up to speak to Dr. Smith (usually there was).

Pastor,” I asked, “you quoted a verse… something about God completing a work that He begins.” He smiled. I was one of those who regularly queried him after his sermons. With a notebook in hand, I wasn’t challenging anything he said, but I always had questions. He told me where to find Philippians 1:6 and then, as we briefly discussed what it means, a truth formed in my heart that has never left: what God starts, God finishes! I really needed to hear that.

As a young believer, all I could see were my ongoing struggles with sin and my failed attempts to live for Him. I wanted to get it right, but it seemed like I was always getting it wrong. I was focusing on what I wanted to do for God, instead of what God was already doing in me. I needed to understand that when I first trusted Jesus, God began a work in me that is unstoppable. What God starts, God finishes!

In me — just me — nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18). On my own, I will always stumble and fall.

Dr. Ralph Smith

Every failure reminds me that I cannot live without Him. Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Today, I am thankful that He never fails to finish what He starts, and that He long ago started to work in me. Steadily, unfailingly, and relentlessly…

He is finishing what He started.


“Things are not as bad as they seem, things could get worse, but they will get better.” ~ Ralph Smith (1931-2017)

Dr. Smith was the pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas for 36 years. Click here for a brief account of his life from the Austin-American Statesman newspaper.

Conquered

“… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The kingdom of God is not an amusement park seeking to distract me occasionally from the daily grind. His kingdom is not a self-improvement program, working to make me a superior person, and the world a better place.

No. It’s a kingdom arising from a battlefield.

In any KINGdom there can only be one King! Not two. To enter His kingdom means I have been defeated, captured, and owned. Won by love and grace, I have surrendered my little “kingdom” and laid down my arms, abandoning my role in the ancient, ongoing rebellion. Christ the Victor has taken my heart as His dwelling place.

Yes, He is “mine.” But, more significantly, it must be underscored that I AM HIS! Won as precious spoil in a bloody battle for souls.

Rest in Christ

The secret of resting in Christ — and experiencing the peace He wants to give me in every circumstance — lies in abandoning myself into His control and care.

I am not resting in Him if I am clinging to the illusion that I can manage my life, relegating Him to the role of a mere adviser. He is my loving and gracious Lord who intends to work actively in and through me.

He is not calling me to a life of self-sufficiency, but rather to a life of soul rest and simple obedience: a life of overflowing abundance received only when I surrender my meager alternative.

He does not sit on a distant throne waiting for my arrival in heaven. He lives in me at this very moment and is waiting for me to draw near, releasing my infantile grip on my needs for significance and survival, and falling helplessly into His infinite care and purposes for my life.

Jesus says…

Come to Me,
    all you who labor and are heavy laden,
    and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
    for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

The Inner Vision

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” ~ Hebrews 12:2-3

When your heart is dry, and life seems to hold little promise of joy, and your passion is burning low, what is happening and what can you do?

The causes of your spiritual and emotional malaise may be complex, but the effect is the same… your inner world becomes a mess. The entire vision of your soul is filled with the immediate demands of the latest wave of distress. You see no way forward. You can’t see beyond this moment. Darkness settles in.

Jesus faced the very worst circumstances and people. He was criticized and betrayed. He was attacked and falsely accused. He was insulted and threatened.

Yet, even in the moments before His death, He had a way of looking past the hurt and pain. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” He preoccupied Himself with the joy that lay just ahead… a joy so great that it flooded his present existence with meaning. He kept on. Not out of duty or discipline, but from a controlling vision of reality — the truth about His life and identity and His relationship to the Father — that became a vast reservoir of hope in His soul.

What you “see” in your heart controls your inner thoughts and emotions. When the “eyes” of your heart are distracted from Jesus, you will “grow weary or fainthearted” within your soul (Heb. 12:3). That’s why the writer calls us to look to Jesus… to “consider Him.” The options are clear: look at everything but Jesus, and grow weary in soul, or look to Him only and gain a new vision.

He wants you to stop and turn to Him with your weary and overloaded  life. He invites you to come now… with your very real and imperfect self (Matthew 11:28-29; Psalm 27:8). He is not a set of religious beliefs and practices; He is a Person. And knowing Him personally is the only way that any life gets real and dense with meaning (John 17:3).

Where can you see Him? Pick up a New Testament and read the historical accounts of those who walked with Him (found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Rediscover the language of His heart by reading His Words. Watch how He moved among people then… He has not changed. Hear His words and place yourself into the stories. Lose yourself at His feet. Allow Him to invade every moment of this day. Discover the reality of His presence with you and in you. Abandon yourself to His authority and mission. Yield to the gentle pressure of His Spirit. Then you’ll see.

Seeing Him changes everything.

“Pray like this…”

2016-06-13 21.28.56 - CopyMy Father
Unseen, but always seeing me

Your name… let it be deeply revered by all

Your kingdom… let it come, Your ruling Presence

Your will… let it be fully expressed
on earth in my circumstances
as it is in heaven where Your will is unopposed

Today

Here are my needs, I leave them all with You
the One who cares for me

Oh…
cancel the mountain of wrongs inflicted by me
and with fear and trembling
I ask You to pour out Your mercy shown to me…
Your grace freely flowing through me…
drenching every person who owes me

As You walk before me into every moment, I am at rest in You
leaning in and listening
as You shelter me in Your shadow
during the enemy’s vicious attempts to destroy me

You are the glorious King… and I am so privileged
to be Your child!

Amen.

(one expression of His outline for prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 ~ DP)

The Coasting Christian

Drifting-boat“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” ~ Hebrews 2:1

You and I need to beware of “coasting” as a Christian… like a ship without an anchor, a Christian can “drift away” from a life lived by faith. Why?

  1. Coasting is effortless. Coasting happens to you (“drift” = passive voice) – not because of anything you have done, but because of your inactivity.
  2. Coasting is inevitable. The inactivity that makes coasting effortless also makes it inevitable. It will happen if you consistently do nothing to exercise faith and engage Jesus in your daily life and decisions. Secular and irreligious forces in the world are constantly demanding your attention and response. If you are not yielding to the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to do life according to the popular consensus and worldview of your culture.
  3. Coasting is a threat to every believer. The author includes himself in the warning “lest WE drift away.” No one is immune to coasting.
  4. Coasting is rarely done alone. The writer addresses the recipients collectively (2PPL), suggesting they were prone to coasting as a group. Not only will a casual Christian negatively influence other Christians, other casual Christians will also negatively influence him. Together, they will lull themselves into thinking all is well in their relationship with God.
  5. Coasting is always away from Jesus. We don’t “drift” into greater intimacy and obedience with God – we drift away from Him.

What can we do to combat this natural tendency? Growing as a mature follower of Jesus requires intentionality: a continuous steering and a conscious submission of the heart towards the indwelling Master! Will you pause and turn to Him right now and do that? At age 22, Robert Robinson was battling coasting in his own life when he penned these words in 1757…

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
~ Robert Robinson (1735 – 1790)

Relationships Matter

audience-828584_960_720A pastor challenged me recently on whether it was true that new churches tended to engage more unchurched people than did older, established churches. In a study published two months ago, in fact, nearly half of the people attending new churches were non-attenders in the past.

What was the most common pathway into the church? Relationships.

Of course if the gospel and the transformation He brings are not central to what is happening, then nothing else the church does matters. But if the church forgets why they exist, the gospel rarely gets shared. In new churches and Bible study groups, most of the members understand that reaching out and welcoming new people is part of their “job description.”

Research is no substitute for the truth of God’s Word, but it is important for church leaders to discern their circumstances (Prov. 25:2). Here’s the most recent research that supports the value of starting new groups and churches (or helping established churches rethink why they exist)…

New Churches Draw Those Who Previously Didn’t Attend