On an adventure to a dam just north of Khon Kaen, Sophie Mei (my 2 year old) and I walked up some stairs to the top of a little mountain that overlooked a lake. I was impressed at Sophie's endurance to climb the 150+ stairs and encouraged by her desire for adventure. Only the first few stairs could qualify as being equal in their make, the rest were far from uniform making it an eye-foot-body test all the way up. The adventure was not only in walking up the little mountain in the woods, it was also in completing each different step.
We made it to the top, laughed and smiled, looked out at the lake, prayed to the true and living God that made the mountain and the lake and for the thousands that make the same hike up in order to make merit in the temple on the top.
Then we made the trip down. Although they were the same steps we were coming at them from a different direction and experiencing gravity in a different way. I held Sophie's had a little tighter and could feel her momentum overtaking her at times, I would apply the "hand-brake" and she would slow down, smile, and continue on.
Upon reaching the bottom we found Sherry and her folks looking for a spider that Sherry had seen and wanted to take a picture. Sophie and I were both drenched and thirsty. It was fun, adventurous, and exciting, but it was tiring and depleting also. Sophie was tired but wanted to do it again. We walked up about 15 of them just to show the family how much fun stairs can be and get our picture taken. Sherry and the family thought it was nice and good and were even proud, but there was something missing for them that caused them to not be as excited about the journey to the top as we were, the experience itself.
I was reminded of this beautiful moment with my beautiful daughter as I meditated on this verse:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. Thessalonians 4:1
We are to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:12, Colossians 1:10) and we are to walk in a way that pleases him. We are to walk and please the Lord more and more. When it comes to our walking and pleasing God I am reminded of my ability to walk in the first place; he has set me free from the shackles of death so I can run the race marked out for me. He set me free by applying redemption to me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the conviction, power, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit along with the gift of faith. Knowing this reminds me of my previous inability to walk and please the Lord. This foundational truth is important and makes a big difference in how I will view the good works that God has called me along with sanctification.
Keith Frye encouraged his twitter folks recently with this:
"All sanctification is constantly returning to the truth of justification!"
I mention this quote from Keith because walking with the Lord is part of becoming more and more like Jesus and less and less like silly fool sinners, which is an aspect of sanctification. The heart of my sanctification is in the galactic truth of my justification. I was saved by grace and I will be changed by grace. I now have the ability to walk with God and strive for a life filled with good works knowing that my reliance on the truth of the Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit will please the Father. I find it humorous when we try to separate God's part and our part, as if my part is totally independent from him and actually contributes in such a way that I could truly boast and keep that crown for myself instead of laying it at the feet of Jesus one day. I desire to work as hard as I can to become more like Jesus. Even my hard work, toil, and struggling is rooted in him! "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." Colossians 1:29
There are many points of my adventure with Sophie at the dam that have been great teaching moments on sanctification for me as I reflect over our adventure and 1 Thessalonians 4:1. I will mention a few here. As with most illustrations, these have holes in them. Just go with me a little here.
Different steps up the mountain.
Areas of weakness and sin:
There are different areas of our lives that are not fully reflecting the glory of Jesus but require walking with him in surrender. Each area will not be dealt with in exactly the same way but will have similar foundational elements to eradicate the sin and unbelief. Sometimes we face many of these "steps" at one time, other times we don't even see them, where as when we are not moving or walking we tend to stay on the same step. "Spiritual complacency contradicts a believer's confession." (RSB note on 1 Thessalonians 4:1)
Areas of life circumstances:
The different steps also make me think of all the different times or seasons of our lives and how we need to constantly and faithfully walk with Jesus in all of them. Whether we are single, married, working, living in a foreign land, becoming a mom or dad, facing hardships, and even death itself, we must walk and please God more and more. Even as I write I am a Christian, a husband, a father, a son, a brother..etc...a missionary, a campus pastor, a youth pastor, a dreamer..etc. In each of these areas I have the opportunity to walk according to the Spirit in a manner worthy of the Lord or I can be focused on myself and be a selfish man. There are many more stages of life to come for me and my family. What will God have us do in Thailand? How long will we be here? How many more children will we have? Will I finish my masters? Steps...Steps...Steps. Steps not so much in moving up or forward in life, but steps as in areas of life to submit to God and become more like him, different opportunities to be changed into his likeness. Obviously many of these life circumstances we are called to live in all of our lives, so how are we best walking with him more and more in them.
Once again, most of these steps for Sophie and me, once we got past the first level of steps, began taking on the life and lay of the mountain causing us to have to recalculate each step. As I write this I am intrigued at how the brain can calculate so fast, a man operated robot would have even the best math wizard flustered. So as we think about each step being different we have to think about how we are going to step on it(or walk in it). We must know God's Word so that we can understand how to follow him in all the different areas of life. We must evaluate our lives constantly with the desire to please him. How can I best please God in this particular situation? Even coming down the mountain, Sophie Mei and I needed to take a different approach to the exact same steps. We had been there before, but not in the same way. Gravity was there going up the mountain slowing us down, and going down the mountain it was speeding us up. Sometimes we think we already know how to walk with God in a certain area of life and we coast, this can lead to disaster. In this world there will always be outside and inside influence telling us we have it under control. Be careful, submit to the Word and Spirit. Know the Spirit's leading and stopping, one of His roles is to be like a hand-brake for us.
We need to celebrate when we see God working in our lives. We celebrated when we reached the top of the mountain. We will celebrate the most when we see Jesus face to face, but he desires for us to celebrate now too. He is working in us! Worship him!
Sophie and I were wore out.
We must constantly be refreshed in his Word, by his Spirit and the body of Christ.
There are other lessons here too but I think that is good for now, at least for me.