What your life has in common with Mount Rushmore

My family and I just returned from a road trip out west. One of the stops we made was Mount Rushmore. There is nothing quite like seeing it in person to truly appreciate how small you are! As I was listening to the presentations I kept pondering what our walk with Christ has in common with this national treasure. Here are a few of those ideas.

The workers conformed the mountain to specific images.

Over a period of 14 years (1927-1941) Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers labored to carve the 60 foot images from the wall of granite.  They did so with precision, measuring Borglum’s model, multiplying it by 10, and reproducing the measurements on the side of the mountain. Only then could the sculpting begin. Next to the sculptor, the most important person on the mountain was the pointer – the individual responsible for placing the measurements on the wall of granite.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son  . . . (Romans 8:28)

God is in the process of sculpting each of us into the image of Jesus. Do we think like Jesus? Love like him? Act like him? Are others seeing Jesus in us? It is the Sculptor’s plan that they would. He is carving, conforming us to a specific image.

Ninety percent of the mountain was sculpted with dynamite.

When you see the precision of the work this statistic becomes all the more remarkable. Because the granite was so fine, it didn’t crumble like most rock. Therefore, the workers would drill small holes, insert specific charges of dynamite, light the fuse, and George Washington would appear! Well, it wasn’t quite that simple, but dynamite remained the most necessary element for carving.

There are things in my life that feel like a dynamite explosion. Perhaps your circumstances seem like that too. Those explosions seem so random, that I forget that God is divinely purposing them (Jer. 29:11, 13). He is intentional in the location of the charges, sloughing off the necessary sections of rock so that the image of Jesus may appear in my life. I really don’t think about the explosion of trials in my life from that perspective, but I should.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4).

The images are long-lasting.

The granite erosion rate is one inch every 10,000 years. Theoretically, Borglum reasoned, when the United States of America had ceased to exist, the granite images would still remain, pointing to the great leaders of our past.

For you and I, revealing the image of Christ has more eternal value than our plans for the weekend, an entire work career, 401K or retirement. Those things fade and pass away. Being conformed to the image of God surpasses all of these. Perhaps we are misguided in what we think is important. Paul said,

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).

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Why it can be easier to look to the past

When you woke up this morning you had a past. So did I.  For some, that past is filled with remarkable accomplishments; work well done and talents used wisely. For others, that past is filled with unbearable pain; the kind that would drive them to do any number of distracting or destructive activities to avoid remembering.

As different as these individuals are, both have a common denominator: they may think about their past too much.

The Scriptures offer another alternative with some very practical help to accomplish it. Paul wrote,

But one think I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13).

The Greek word translated “goal” is the word skopos. Our English word “scope” comes from this word. It means “a mark on which you fix your eye.” It can also mean to “take aim.” The Christian’s life is to be lived purposefully—aimed at a target. Because living the Christian life requires such focus, random living will cause us to take our eyes off the goal (Matt. 13:22). One of the ways we overcome our past is to give our undivided attention to living for Jesus today.

The “prize” is best understood as our Christlikeness.  Elsewhere Paul speaks of this process.

Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Co. 1:28).

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… (Rom. 8:29)

Paul’s “prize” was to be like Jesus. That’s the goal each of us should have as well.

Finally, Paul speaks of the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Perhaps Paul had in mind the time when God calls us home to heaven. Earlier in this letter he writes,

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).

Our future destination should help us maintain our focus on the prize. Yesterday I experienced this truth firsthand. We are vacationing this week in the Colorado Rockies with my wife’s family at Lost Valley Ranch.  A couple of hours before dinner I decided to ascend to the summit of Sheep’s Rock: one of the outcroppings of granite that surround the valley floor. The ranch rests at 7,500 feet above sea level, the summit of Sheep’s Rock is 8,800 feet: a 1,300 foot ascent. The trail is well-marked with the arrows in the picture. But as I neared the top, I was feeling the altitude or my age (not sure which one), and every time I would look for the trail marking the arrow would point up! Eventually, just looking at the arrow made me tired!  I found a greater sense of accomplishment by looking back down the trail at how far I’d come. But focusing on my past didn’t move me any closer to my goal of reaching the summit.

So it is with our Christian life. Battling our temptations is hard work. Living like Jesus in a world where living for self is the highest priority is not easy.

But to take your eyes off the prize is a sure and certain way to not reach your goal.

Why both offense and defense matter…

For several years now I have been memorizing the verses in the Bible with the lie/truth formula. I discover one of temptation’s lies: If it feels right it must be right, and I find the corrosponding biblical truth to memorize: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt thought deceitful desires, and …be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and …put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-23).

This has been effective in helping me gain short-term victory over my sins; because the Word of God (which is true) helps you see the deception in the temptation. Memorizing Scripture in this way is like playing good defense. It is essential, but only half of the game.

We must learn to say more than “no” to our temptations; we must learn to say “yes” to the love of God. While denying the sin that delights us temporarily, we must be growing in the love of God that delights us enduringly.  

Both the Old and New Testaments encourage us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6: 5; Mark 12:30). What if this was not only a command, but a strategy? What if the Holy Spirit had articulated a plan for overcoming sin, by increasing in one’s love for God? What if increasing in the love of God is how we overcome sin by playing offense?

There are two practical ways this could be done: (1) study the character of God, and (2) dwell upon the nature of the Gospel. Both cause us to increase in our love for God.

 Besides simply memorizing the Scripture in a lie/truth formula (good defense), perhaps we should also memorize it in a promise/passage formula (good offense).

Something like this:

The promise: God is good, loving and faithful.
The passage: For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

The promise: God loves me and acts on my behalf
The passage: The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).

The promise: God sacrificed his Son to show his love for me.
The passage:  …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:8,10).

As any athlete knows, playing defense and offense is important. Developing both, so that you become proficient on both sides of the court, is as well.

Walking in the Spirit – Step 4

Walking Truth 4: Be Encouraged: Developing daily habits infers progress (Eph. 2:10).

 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

The question, “Where will you go when you die?” has certainly caused many to think about their eternal destiny. Yet, if we only think about salvation as an eternal matter we will miss much of what God expects of us this side of heaven, and we will grow easily discouraged. Here is why. When you became a new creation in Christ your purpose for living changed. You may not have thought about it that way at the time, but it’s true. You may have simply seen yourself as a lost sinner in need of a Savior, but Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we were created in Christ Jesus for good works.” God didn’t save us to alter only our eternal destiny; he recreated us to bring him glory now.

Prior to salvation our singular purpose was our pleasure (Eph. 4:17-19). While those old desires are still hanging around, our new purpose is to accomplish the good works that God has prepared for us to do (2:10). We are his workmanship, not our own. We live for him, not ourselves. This is where the image of the crucifixion is helpful to encourage the believer’s new change of purpose. We tend to limit the crucifixion to what happened to Jesus at a point-of-time in history past, but Paul saw the crucifixion as what happened to him when Jesus was crucified. He encourages us to do the same.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Motivated by the love Jesus had for him, Paul lived out his life loving others. Just like Jesus gave himself for Paul, Paul desired to give himself for others – and in so doing, he brought glory to God. He no longer did works for himself, but for his Master (Gal. 1:10). This is why his works were good works (Eph. 2:10). By the grace of God, his purpose had changed.

Prior to the fall of man, God looked upon his creation and saw that it was simply good (Gen. 1: 10, 12, 21, 25), but on the sixth day of creation (after creating man) God saw that it was very good. Why the distinction? Because man alone was made in the image of God, hence man could bring God glory like nothing else in creation. When man fell he not only lost his relationship with God, he lost his divine purpose for living. When we become a new creation in Christ, we are enabled to fulfill that divine purpose again. Nothing in this life will bring encouragement like doing what you were created to do.

Walking, you may remember, is the New Testament metaphor for daily habits.  We are told that we are to “walk in good works.” Develop the daily habit of doing what you were called to do.

For years our family has spent a week of every summer with my wife’s family in the Colorado Rockies. Lost Valley Ranch is located in the Pike’s Peak National Forest. The floor of the valley is surrounded by towering, but climbable, mountains. So every summer I enjoy taking hikes in those mountains. Enjoy is a relative term. For someone who is used to breathing oxygen at sea level 51 weeks out of the year, it is hard work walking more than 100 paces when you’re 7,500 feet higher than New Jersey. What I really enjoy is looking back when I get to my destination.

Walking in good works is a lot like hiking in the mountains. It’s hard work, but just like God empowers my physical body to walk at high altitudes, he empowers my spirit to do works for him that I never dreamed possible. And when I stop and look back, I can’t believe how far God has brought me.

We find encouragement for the daily task, because we are doing what we were recreated to do all along. Walk in good works and be encouraged.

Walking in the Spirit – Step 3

Walking Truth 3: Be Focused. Developing daily habits requires changing habitual thought patterns (Eph. 2:2-3; 4:18).

 . . . You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . (Eph. 2:2-3 NASV).

We often think of habits as the things that we do. Yet, few things become habits so quickly as the thoughts that we think. You probably do a number of “mindless” tasks to prepare to go to work or school in the morning. Yet, are they really “mindless?” Or are they mental habits? Things like: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, pouring the cereal, and making the coffee. Our hurried culture even captures this truth. We say: “I never gave it a second thought.” Are we not inferring that we gave it a first thought?

This truth brings both good news and bad. The good news is that our thoughts are only habits, not involuntary actions. So, by the power of the Spirit, we can choose what we think about. There is hope for the destruction of old thought patterns and the development of new ones. The bad news is that because these thoughts come so quickly and frequently they are challenging to break.

The passage in Ephesians is an excellent reminder of the location of our battlefield. When we formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh we were indulging our desires and our minds. Walking in the Spirit means we develop a new set of thought patterns that help us control those sinful desires.  There are different Greek words that the translators of Scripture captured with the word “mind.” The one used here (Eph. 2:3) could also be translated as “understanding or imagination.”

What are you imagining right now? What are you thinking? Are your imaginative fantasies developed from the “course of this world” or from the “mind of your Master?”Are you bending your mind around a sexual fantasy? Are you dreaming about how you might spend a million dollars? Are you imagining the pleasure of the upcoming weekend or retirement? Such imaginations are thinking like the world. They are making your thoughts all about you. There is nothing of the sweet service of Jesus in them (Mark 10:44-45). This is why Paul challenged us to control our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8). He also gave this strict warning “. . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing my grandfather say grace at the table. I confess it wasn’t my favorite memory at the time, because his prayers were long, and grandma’s cooking was good! But you always knew when Grandpa’s prayer was coming to an end, because he would say, “Lord, forgive us where we have sinned against you in word, deed, or thought.” In his simple way he grasped the importance of your thinking if you were to be victorious over sin.

My Grandpa understood that if you were headed into battle you better know the location of the battlefield.

How to to walk in the Spirit – Step 2

Here’s the second principle for walking in the spirit: Be Patient. Developing daily habits requires small steps. (Gal. 6:8-9).

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9).

Within 8 verses of God’s reminder to walk in the Spirit (5:25), we find another metaphor: sowing and reaping. This metaphor has a note of encouragement attached. Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (6:9).

The word picture of “sowing and reaping” reminds us that patience is a requirement where daily habits are being developed. The new habits may spring up over night, but they won’t bear fruit overnight.

It is Chuck Swindoll who is credited with the following: success = short-term goals + high accountability. If you desire to grow to be like Christ it won’t happen overnight. It takes time for new habits to bear fruit. The high accountability serves as an encouragement for you to do the task daily.  

Do the task daily, and it will become a habit. Do the habit daily, and it will bear fruit.

My dad was a farmer. While he went to college to become a school teacher, farming never really left his blood. He loved to see things grow. One of my earliest recollections with my dad was us kneeling down in the soil of our Indiana farm with our faces close to the ground. There we could see the corn just popping through the surface. I never once remember my dad bragging about how he made the corn grow. He saw himself responsible for the sowing, weeding, feeding, protecting, and harvesting the crop.

Here’s the lesson every farmer knows: you do the sowing, God does the growing.

The same is true of one’s growth in Christ. One of the reasons we grow discouraged with slow growth is because we believe in some way we are responsible for the growth. Hold that thought and remember; you do the sowing, God does the growing.

Do the daily task, let it become a daily habit, and watch as the daily habit bears fruit.

Be patient. Developing daily habits requires small steps. Rejoice in the growth you do see, and pray to the Lord of the harvest that more growth may appear.