Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mutually Opposed

It is not uncommon to find two opposing desires residing in our hearts.

One of the most common experience of this is the desire to live life on our terms and the desire to follow Jesus. It would be nice if the two were the same, but they are not. The one desire is about maintaining control in our lives while the other desire is about surrendering that control to God.

The fact that we carry around these opposing desires doesn’t mean that we want to live some evil lifestyle. It does mean that we don’t trust God to do what is best.

John Eldredge in Walking with God writes about these two desires:
“I want two things that are mutually opposed—I want to live a nice little life, and I want to play an important role in God’s kingdom. And it’s in those times that I am trying to live a nice little life that I make decisions and choices that cause me in small and subtle ways to live outside of Jesus. The Shepherd is headed one direction, and I am headed another. Not to some flagrant sin—that’s too easy to recognize. Instead, I’m simply wandering off looking for the pasture I deem best.” (pp. 89-90)

I don’t want to speak for you, but I know this summarizes my life.

On the one hand I want the life I want to live: a nice life that is safe and comfortable. On the other hand I want to be part of what God is doing in this world: a life of faith that takes me out of my comfort zone.

My flesh always pulls me towards the life I want, which I believe is the life of my dreams.

What is frustrating, and I would bet that you have been there too, is that the life of my dreams never really becomes a reality. It always seems to remain just out of reach. And if by chance we have a few moments when we think we have achieved it, it doesn’t seem to be everything that we had hoped it would be. It feels unsatisfying to us.

As long as we live here on earth we will be pulled in these two directions. We are either going to use our time and energy to create the life we think will make us happy, or we will sacrifice our desires to devote our lives to following Jesus and discovering the life he created for us.

I want you to think about what the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians:
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Colossians 1:9-10; NLT)
We need to God's will and to have spiritual wisdom if we are going to live a life that honors Jesus.

To receive this knowledge we need to pray. Notice that this is part of Paul's regular prayer for the Colossians. We al need to spend time in the Bible. The Bible is God's word to us: it contains the wisdom and truth that He wants us to know.

Remember, it isn’t enough just to know and understand God’s will.

The key is to be obedient to God’s will. The way God’s will makes a difference in our lives is when we adjust our lives to it.

If we aren’t willing to obey God, then knowing His will doesn’t make one bit of difference in our lives. This requires that we make a commitment to do God’s will, no matter what the cost will be or where His will takes us.

Our desires to have a nice little life and to live the life God created us to live are mutually opposed (though I should add that when the first is our goal we will never achieve it, but when the second is our goal we will have a life that is so much better than what we had dreamed), and if we are going to follow Jesus we will have to lay down our dreams and desires in order to pick up His desires for our lives.

The life we really want, true life, isn’t found in what we can create for ourselves. It is found in the life God created us to live.

Seek out God’s will for your life, and then live out His will. That is how we truly live life.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Mark of Maturity

Author Dallas Willard in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines wrote; “Here as always—whether in our natural life or in our spiritual life—the mark of disciplined persons is that they are able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.” (p. 151)

It is the disciplined person who is able to come through in the clutch and does not allow the pressure of the moment to rattle him/her from accomplishing what needs to be done.

It was the discipline of shooting thousands of baskets that enabled basketball legend Larry Bird to be such a great clutch performer. Without the hours of intense practice Bird would never have been able to hit as many last second shots as he did. It wasn’t about having good intentions, but it was about training his body to respond in a certain way, and that is what made it possible for him to be so great.

We understand the importance of discipline in the arenas of sports and music, but often we neglect it when it comes to living a life of faith. 

Somehow we have told ourselves that what matters are our good intentions, and if we are willing to follow Jesus then that is good enough. The problem is that when the chips are down and life is stacked against us we often fail. We can’t come through in the clutch because we have not trained our bodies to respond in the right way.

Let’s face it; many of us are undisciplined.

I would guarantee that if we examined the lives of people who are considered to have a mature faith one thing they all would have in common is discipline. Granted they may not call it discipline, but they would have certain activities that they were devoted to doing which expressed their commitment to Christ Jesus.

A verse that has come to mean a lot to me the past few years is Acts 2:42. In this verse Luke shares with us four activities that the earlier church devoted themselves to doing.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)
As the Church exploded on to the scene the Apostles made sure that the new Believers were involved in activities that would encourage these new disciples and would help them mature in their faith.

Being disciplined is essential if we are going to be mature disciples of Christ.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote about who he lived his life:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; ESV)

Paul compared his walk with Christ to an athlete preparing to compete in the games. The athlete is disciplined in his/her practice so they are able to perform to the best of their ability and when the prize.

According to Paul, the athlete is an illustration for how we are to live our lives: we are to discipline our bodies and learn to control them.

Maturing in faith isn’t just a matter of knowing more or having the proper intentions. Rather, it is about training our bodies to respond to the good desires of our new hearts. We are to discipline our bodies so we can respond in love when others respond in hate, so we can respond with joy for another person’s success rather than being jealous, or so we can give generously rather than greedily horde what we have.

If we are going to live like Jesus, then we need to discipline our bodies to respond to the new heart He has given us.

Erwin McManus in his little book Stand Against the Wind wrote:
There is a process in our becoming all that God created us to be. This is the human side of divine change. Transformation is both the miracle of God and the stewardship of man. Godliness is a result of both divine activity and human action. God promises to do what we cannot do for ourselves, and He commands us to do that which He will not do for us. There is both miracle and responsibility. God entrusts us with His resources, and then He holds us accountable for what we do with them.” (p. 46)
Foundational to what I am saying is that our transformation and salvation are miracles of God. 

We cannot achieve true transformation, a total change of heart, without the initiative and action of God. That is where it all starts, and so I am not advocating some form of humanism here, but rather I want to point out that we have a responsibility to nurture and grow this wonderful gift that God has given to us.

To be disciplined means to be good stewards of the miracle of salvation God has done for us.

What disciplines do we need in our lives in order to be good stewards of the new life we have in Christ Jesus?

I think a good place to start, because it comes right out of the Bible, are the four activities of Acts 2:42.

 I want to point out that the third activity, the breaking of bread, means the Lord’s Supper. This is a debatable issue, but in my study I have come to believe that is what it the phrase means in this context. One of the reasons I want to emphasis this is because it is important for us to have a way to re-commit our lives to God’s Kingdom after we have stumbled and sinned.

If we are going to mature as disciples of Christ Jesus then it is essential that we have in our lives certain disciplines that help teach our bodies to live by faith.

This is why one of the marks of mature Christians is their commitment to certain activities that help them stay connected to Christ. If we are to follow their example then we need to have similar activities as a part of our lives.

Isn’t it about time that we live a disciplined life?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Violence is not the Answer


I originally wrote this three years ago. Given what is happening in some of the major cities here in the United States, I think it bears reposting.

Ever since the tragedy of Charlottesville there has been something that has bothered me.

My great concern is not the presence of Neo-Nazis, but the acceptance of aggressive violence as the means to silence other people.

Most of you know that I am a libertarian. Contrary to what most people believe, libertarians are not “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”. As far as my personal preferences go I am fiscally conservative and socially conservative, because I believe that is the best way to live.

Libertarianism isn’t about finding a middle ground between Democrats and Republicans, but about the proper use of violence. As the great libertarian thinker Walter Block states:
"Libertarianism is solely a political philosophy. It asks one and only one question: Under what conditions is the use of violence justified? And it gives one and only one answer: Violence can be used only in response, or in reaction to, a prior violation of private property rights." 
In other words violence can only be justifiably used in self-defense. This ethic applies to both the State and individuals.

Not only am I a libertarian, but more importantly, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that his followers are to love and pray for their enemies. He forgave those who crucified him. He overcomes, not through violence, but through self-sacrifice. This is the example I am called to model. To follow Jesus means I can’t respond with violence to people I disagree with, even when what they are advocating will harm society in the long run.

For me the idea of non-aggression is not some nice idea, but fundamental to who I am. It is a key part to both my political philosophy and my religious belief. God's kingdom is not enlarged nor is liberty expanded through violent aggression.

Know this: if you advocate punching Nazis or Communists or White Supremacists simply because of their beliefs you are living in opposition to the way of Jesus and you are an enemy to liberty. Violence is not the answer and that is why I am equally opposed to Neo-Nazis and Antifa, who both advocate its use to promote their political philosophy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

After Thoughts Ep. 2: A Clearer Picture of Jesus

Who is Jesus?

One of the challenges for Christians is to have an accurate picture of Jesus. We tend to create Jesus in our own image, rather than allowing Jesus to mold us into his image.

In this episode I expand on my sermon, A Clearer Picture, as he looks a three portraits of Jesus found in Revelation.

Music is Eyes of Time by Danosongs


 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A Clearer Picture

Here is the sermon I preached on June 28,2020 at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN. 

I looked at three "portraits" of Jesus found in Revelation so we can have a clearer and a more complete picture of who Jesus truly is.


 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

After Thoughts: What is Truth?

I started a podcast for Bethlehem Church this week.

The podcast is called After Thoughts because it goes beyond what I am able to share in the sermon each week.

This week I am talking about what it is important to anchor our lives on the reality that Jesus is the truth.

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Patience is Required

It is hard to be patient.

Our culture has trained us to be impatient. You and I expect to have things now.

Remember when the internet first started to become a thing?

There was the process of connecting through the phone line. Then websites and content took their sweet time to load. Streaming videos would not have been possible since the constant stopping and buffering would have been unbearable.

Now, we expect our internet experience to be instantaneous and smooth.

Our expectations have changed to the point that if images and videos don't load lighting quick we are moving on to something else.

Impatience isn't isolated to our online experience. It colors everything that we do.

It is one of the reasons why consumer debt is unbelievably high in the United States. We want what we want right now. We don't want to wait and save for it. With easy credit all we have to care about is, "What is the monthly payment?"

While impatience affects our lives in many different ways, one of the most impactful ways is in the area of discipleship.

"Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence  for mature Christian discipleship is slim...There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.16

We can be manipulated into have some sort of "religious experience" that makes us feel good. This is why feelings and emotional experiences are a poor foundation to build faith on. Once the feeling leaves and the experience fads into the past, it is easy to doubt God and wonder if any of it was really real in the first place.

True discipleship is a slow process.

It requires patience and a commitment to endure the ups and downs life throws our way.

The goal of discipleship is not an experience, feeling, or even acquiring all the right knowledge.

The goal is becoming holy.

I know holiness sounds rather dull and boring. Our pictures of holiness have to do with a life of strict discipline and quiet solitary life.

Let's face it. Satan has done a great job of turning what should be our greatest desire into something that we want to avoid.

I want to encourage you to think about holiness in this way: holiness is to live the life of Jesus.

Imagine living life with the compassion, mercy, wisdom, confidence, strength, and love of Jesus. 

Through discipleship we seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That takes time as we learn to be guided by the Spirit rather than the flesh and how to love God and people the way they need to be loved.

Discipleship doesn't happen over night and it takes faith, commitment, and work, but it does lead to a life of no regrets.

A life worth living is found on the road of discipleship.

Be patient and stay committed and you will discover the life God created you to live.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Be Humble and Respectful

People are different.

I know that isn't breaking news, but it is worth remembering. You and I are different in dozens, if not hundreds of ways. That is a good thing

The world would be a boring place if everyone believed and acted the same way.

The world advances when people of different backgrounds and skills work together. Everything from making a ham sandwich to creating a pencil to assembling a car requires a division of labor that benefits the world.

Diversity is one of God’s great blessings to the world.

Even though we acknowledge the blessing of diversity, the number 1 reason we judge other people is because they are different from us.

They do things different than we would do them, they believe different ideas than what we believe, they value different things than what we value, or they have a different set of morals than what we have.

These differences lead us to call other people weird, stupid, ignorant, immoral, and evil.

Our prideful side whispers in our hearts that our way is the right way and if that person doesn’t do it our way they are wrong. This reality (even though we wouldn’t actually admit to it) causes us to be very harsh with one another.

We see it in our discussion of politics, in our conversations about religion and theology, in our relationships at work, and our interactions with our neighbors.

Be careful about the way you view other people.

If you label people as weird, ignorant, or wrong simply because they do things differently than you do, you doing what Jesus asked you not to do.

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
In order to live the way of Jesus we need to be humble and patient.
The apostle Paul wrote; “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT)
Without humility we will cast judgement on others and treat them harshly. A lack of humility will prevent us from embracing the diversity God designed within the world.

This is especially crucial to do with people who are ideologically opposed to us. It is too easy to disregard what they have to say and to treat them as second class citizens. Yet, as followers of Jesus we are called love our neighbors and our enemies. To do that we have to treat them with respect.

Be humble and be respectful of the diversity that is all and us.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Evaluation

This is the third sermon I preached in a series called Listen to Jesus.

God created us to bear His image in this world. We don't naturally bear His image, we have to be taught how. Jesus came to teach us how to demonstrate God's character in this world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Design Patterns


One of the great gifts that God has given to His people is the Bible.

The Bible helps us understand who God is and what He desires for His creation. This means it is important for Christians to read, meditate, and live out Scripture.

One of the difficulties that we have when in it comes to reading the Bible is to see it as a unified Book. With all the different stories and types of literature we can be tempted to view the Bible as a hodge podge collection of writings that don't have a lot to do with each other.

God inspired the authors of the Bible to create a unified Story by using certain words, images, and themes that help link the various parts of the Bible together.



The design patterns of Scripture are something we can overlook when we are only reading short passages at a time.

To catch these patterns we have to read long sections at a time and then keep in mind things that seem to keep popping up. This skill takes work, and it helps to have some sort of teacher who is able to start pointing them out.

This is certainly a skill that the more you using, better you become at spotting the patterns.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What are Rights?


Rights are a popular topic. It seems like everyone justifies what they want to do by calling it a right.

The major issue in this discussion about rights is that few of us have a good understanding of what a right truly is. We want to claim certain behaviors as rights, but few people could give a working definition for rights.

Think about it.

If someone asked you the question, What is a right?, how would you respond?

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson named life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as God-given and unalienable (which means they are not transferable to another or not capable of being taken away or denied) rights.

What makes those three ideas rights?

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They were written to protect the rights of citizens that the Founding Generation feared the new general government might violate.

What makes the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and all the rest rights?

Are rights anything that would make life easier? Are they anything that supports the life we want to live?

I believe it is crucial for us to spend time thinking about what makes something a right and what disqualifies something as being one.

 In this article, Rights and Non-Rights: A Simple Way to Distinguish the Two, Lawerence Reed provides a brief summary for identifying rights.

Ultimately a right requires nothing from anyone else, except that you are left alone.

We have the right to our lives. That means no one can take our life away from us. It means I have the right to defend myself against people who want to do me harm. Because everyone has the right to life it means the only justification for killing is in defense of life. Abortion is wrong because it takes the life of another human being.

We have the right to liberty. This means we are able to choose the course of our lives. It is a violation of our rights to have another person force us to do things we do not want to do. This is what makes slavery evil. Slavery robs people of their liberty.

Admittedly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conversation about rights.

My hope is that this will provide you with a starting point when it comes to thinking through whether something is truly a right or not.

Mutually Opposed

It is not uncommon to find two opposing desires residing in our hearts. One of the most common experience of this is the desire to live ...