Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Best Motivation

What motivates you to live a Christian life?

Is your motivation guilt? Guilt is that feeling we get when we have done something wrong. When left unchecked guilt convinces us that we are bad people. This belief tells us that we are not worthy of God's love and that we have to work to earn our forgiveness.

Thus, guilt motivates us to live a moral life, not necessarily a life of faith. Our goal is to clean up our lives on our own rather than trusting God to cleanse us.

Maybe your motivation is fear. You fear the consequences of sin which leads you to be constantly worried about your performance. You wonder: “Am I going to church enough?” or “Am I praying long enough?”  As you judge your performance you begin to see every negative thing that happens in your life as God punishing you. The unexpected bill, the car accident, the sickness, or the job loss all are interpreted as punishment for sin.

Thus, fear motivates us to be strict and disciplined, but we fear God more than we love Him.

What should our motivation be?
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.
God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. ~ 1 John 4:7-10; NLT

The greatest motivation we can have to live a Christian life is love.

Not our love for God, but God’s love for us.

The reason we should go to worship each week, the reason we should pray, the reason we should study the Bible, the reason we should extend a helping hand, and the reason we should give generously is out of response to God’s love.

No other motivation will be strong enough to sustain us through life.

How do we live a life in response to God's love?

First, we need to continually think about God's blessings. When we lose sight of God's blessings the reality that God loves us slowly fades from our minds.

Second, we daily pray and ask God to reveal His love to us. The more we pray the more we will be aware of the big and small ways God shows His love to us.

Third, we serve people. I believe that one of the reasons we fail to experience God's love is because we are inwardly focused. As we begin to help and serve those around us we begin to experience God at work.

The reality is that if we are to be motivated by God's love to live a life of faith, we need to be constantly be reminded of that love. This is why being part of a local church is essential.

There are numerous motivations for living the Christian life, but the only one that will sustain us through the long haul is God's love for us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stay Free

Liberty is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory, but is difficult to practice.

Many people will say they want liberty, but few will actually use their freedom.

Let's face it, in order to be good stewards of our God-given rights requires hard work. Connected to the idea of liberty is responsibility. In a truly free society you and I are responsible for our actions because we believe these choices will affect the direction of our lives.

This is why people tend to turn to law for guidance.

In Galatians 5:1 the apostle Paul wrote; “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (NLT)

In this passage Paul addressed the tendency of Christians to turn to the law for guidance in how they were to live. According to Christian theology one of the weaknesses of the law is that it cannot save people from sin. This is true because once a law is broken it cannot be unbroken.

While the law cannot save, it can provide guidance.

In fact, one of the benefits of the law is that it makes the world black and white. It shows people what to do and what to avoid. The law can even be expanded in the details to bring clarification on how to keep the law.

This is one of the issues Jesus had with the Jewish religious leaders in the first century. They had expanded on God’s law to explain things like what it meant to work on the Sabbath, what it meant to tithe, and even how to wash your hands.

For them, the law laid everything out, so all a person had to do was follow it.

I believe the same tendency exists for political freedom.

The founding generation laid the ground work for a country of limited government and personal liberty.

Yet, even from the very beginning, there were people advocating for the federal government to do something: to pass a law, to intervene in state activity, or to get involved in foreign affairs.

What this shows us is that it is hard work to maintain your personal liberty. The only way for that to happen is for you to truly desire to be free.

One of the issues that we face when it comes to our political freedom is that we often have little say in what happens.

Voting offers us minimal protection of our liberties. Too many people believe that voting provides the majority with a mandate, and therefore they can steer the country in the direction of their choosing .

The result is that the Constitution, which should provide  the parameters for what the Federal Government can and can’t do, is ignored in favor of the “will of the people.”

As Christians what are we to do?

I believe we can do three things:

  1. We can pray. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 the apostle Paul wrote; “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (NLT) Why are we to pray for those in authority? We pray for them so we are able to live peaceful and godly lives. More than asking God to make them do our agenda, I think we are to pray that they will have wisdom to do what is right and that they will leave us alone.
  2. We can use what liberty we can. Even though the United States has become a highly regulated and taxed society, there are still opportunities for us to take advantage of liberty. This is seen in entrepreneurs as they start new business and engage in free markets. This is seen in speaking and writing about liberty. This is seen in living out your faith and sharing Jesus with those around you.
  3. We can educate people about liberty. One of the main problems we face is the fact that most people are ignorant about what true freedom is. As long as they have the ability to choose their career, to buy the newest gadget, to travel, and to spend their time in leisure activities they are happy. The majority of people don’t understand the amount of regulation that exists that effects their lives everyday.

Stay free!

Those words apply to Christians as we seek to follow Jesus and be guided by the Spirit as well as Americans as we seek to live in liberty apart from the ever growing State. It is not easy to remain free, and in the case of our political freedom, it might prove to be an impossible task, but it is a task that we must engage in doing.

Don’t take the easy way of the law, but do the hard work of living in liberty and exercising your God-given rights. Be free!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Contrast to the Dark

Jesus taught his followers to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world".

How do we do that?

I think the mistake that we tend to make is to equate our influence in the world with standing up for the truth. When we do this, and I believe our current cultural and political climate reveals this reality, we adopt a more confrontational stance. It really becomes, "I am right and you are wrong".

Certainly, there is a time to declare truth and confront the lies of the world, but I believe the Bible reveals a much better approach. An approach that allows us to truly be the "light of the world".

This is the approach that the Church followed in the first three centuries and it allowed the early Church to turn the Roman Empire on its head (see Rodney Starks' book The Rise of Christianity).

The approach I am talking about is love. Love is what makes the Church different from the rest of the world. Love for each other. Love for our neighbors. Love for our enemies.

The world is a tough place and finding communities and families where we feel loved and accepted can be difficult. The Church is becomes a safe place because of the love we show to one another.

We discover this truth taught throughout the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount. The Apostle Peter also taught it.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it (1 Peter 3:8-9; NLT).

As we ponder what Peter wrote we discover that he was talking about living in a way that was different from the rest of the world. It is living in contrast to the darkness of the world that enables us to be lights.

If we are going to live differently from the world we need to:

  1. Be of one mind. It is next to impossible to have a group of people totally agree on things.  Each person brings with them their own unique perspective which is influenced by various people and experiences. I think what Bruce Oberst wrote in his commentary on 1 Peter is helpful; “Few of us always agree on how to carry out the thousand details of everyday life. But we should strive to have the same basic goals, purposes and motives, that provide the very foundations of Christianity” (Letters from Peter; p. 81). To be of one mind is about having an agreement on purpose and goals. For instance, the purpose of the church I pastor is to be a Christian community that glorifies God. Our discussions center around how to make that happen.
  2. Show sympathy to one another. Each person has their own set of struggles and pain. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, the greatest pain in the world is the pain that we experience at that moment. I think this same concept can be applied to our struggles. This is why we need to have sympathy for one another. We may not think the struggle or pain is significant, but for the other person it threatens their faith. Rather than passing judgement, we should encourage one another along.
  3. Love one another. To love is to treat each other like family. We are to be kind and care for one another, just like what we would expect to happen in a good family. That means we bear each other's burdens, we put up with things that annoy us, and we sacrifice in order to help one another. If a Christian can depend on no one else, he or she should always be able to depend on other Christians. In a selfish world the sacrificial love of Christians should provide people with hope that is built on the love of God.
  4. Do not retaliate against those who have wronged us. To repay a wrong with a wrong is the way of the world. If we seek revenge then the Church no different than the world. Remember Jesus specifically taught that we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-48). When we love people, regardless of what they have done or said to us, we show the world that there is a better way to live. We also provide evidence that the way of God is different than the way of the world. If we retaliate we darken the light of love and compassion that should characterize the Church. We can only be lights if we are different from everyone else.

Peter echoed the teachings of Jesus and Paul by teaching that one of the primary ways the Church is different from the world is how we treat one another. It is crucial that there is a clear difference between how Christians live and the way the world lives.

It is this contrast that allows us to be lights in a dark world.

Jesus called his followers to be the "lights of the world". We become light when we show the world that loving people is the best way to live.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Story of the Unchanged Clothes

In a different time and place lived a young man whose life was quite different from ours.

He lived just outside the city walls of the spectacular Capital City. The young man spent his day rummaging through the huge city dump in search of food and clothing.

There were other people who lived in the dump, mostly children who had been abandoned by their parents. The young man didn’t socialize with them. He spent his time alone hoarding whatever bit of treasure he found in the trash.

One day the young man was at the edge of the dump when he heard the blare of trumpets. He ran up the hill towards the road to see what was causing the commotion.

There on the road was a magnificent golden coach pulled by four beautiful white horses. Traveling with the coach was a long procession of horses, wagons, and people. The long caravan was headed into the city.

When the golden coach passed the young man he heard a loud and commanding voice yell, “Stop!”

Instantly the coach stopped and the possession came to a stand still.

The door to the coach opened and out stepped a tall man dressed in royal fashion. The man had a great white beard and piercing blue eyes. On his snow covered heard sat a golden crown covered with jewels.

The man was the King of the country.

The King approached the young man. Kneeling slightly so he could look the young man in the eye, the King asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes sir, I haven’t had anything to eat today.”

“Good,” the King said patting the young man on the shoulder, “I have a feast prepared for me at the castle, come and join us!”

“Oh, thank you sir,” the young man said. “Is there anything that I have to do?”

“Just accept the invitation my son, come and enjoy the feast.”

There for all the people to see, the King and young man from the dump got into the golden coach and journeyed into the city.

At the castle the King personally showed the young man his room. On the bed in the room was a set of sparkling white clothes and in the center of the room was a huge tub of hot water.

The King turned to the young man, “Before you can come to the feast you must wash and change your clothes. I will not have anyone smelling of the dump in the Great Hall. Once you have washed and changed you can join us.”

The King then left the young man to attend to his other guests.

The young man went over to the big tub of water. He looked into the tub.

“I have never seen water this clean in my life. It would be a shame to make it all dirty. I think I will just take this rag and wash around my face and hands.”

The young turned to the clothes after he had washed, or rather smeared, the dirt on his face and hands, “Before today I never knew anything could be so white. They will make me look wonderful.”

The young man began to unbutton his shirt. As he undid the buttons he began to think about how long he had worn that shirt. He had found it in the dump over three years ago, it had kept him warm, and it was comfortable.

“I can’t give up this shirt,” he thought. “It is a part of me. I will just slip this white shirt over the top.”

The young man picked up the shirt and pulled it over the top of his old, dirty, and smelly shirt. It was time for the pants. Again the young man thought about his pants and how long he had worn them.

“I just can’t give these pants up, they are so comfortable, and I will just pull these white pants over the top.”

The white pants went over the top of the grimy, mud-caked pants of the young man.

When the young man entered the Great Hall, the crowd gathered gave out a collective gasp. There he stood with uncombed hair, a dirt streaked face, and wearing a dingy gray suit of clothes.

The King stood up and said, “Why didn’t you wash?”

“I did wash my hands and face.”

“Why didn’t you take a bath?”

“The water was too clean; I didn’t want to dirty it.”

“The water was for washing, it wasn’t supposed to stay clean. Why didn’t you change your clothes?”

“I am wearing the clothes you gave me.”

“Why didn’t you take off you old clothes?”

“They were much too comfortable for me to remove. I just couldn’t part with them.”

“My son, I want you to join the feast, but you have to obey my instructions. Go, take a bath, and throw away your old clothes. Dress in the clothes I give you, and then come and eat.”

The young man left the Great Hall, but instead of returning to the room he left the castle.

The young man continued to walk until he was back at the dump. “After all,” the young man thought, “here I can be comfortable and I don’t have to change a thing.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Experiencing God

Our relationship with God, as with any relationship, is grown through our experience with Him. 

That raises the question: How do I experience God in my life?

I believe that we experience God through obedience. As we obey God we experience His presence and witness Him at work.

The reason many people are frustrated in their relationship with God has little to do with their passion, their love, or their worship. It has everything to do with their obedience.

We will always be frustrated in our relationship with God when we approach Him on our terms rather than humbly submitting to Him.

The New Testament contains a story which illustrates this very principle.

Matthew 19:16-30 tells the story of the rich young man and how he missed having a relationship with God through Jesus.

The young man came to Jesus with a question; “What must I do to have eternal life?” The young man knew there was something missing in his life. He had wealth and at least had a desire to live a moral life, but that wasn’t enough. The young man came to Jesus for the answer, but the answer is not what the young man wanted to hear. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” Jesus tells the young man what he is to do, but the young man wouldn’t do it. “But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions.” (NLT)

The young man wanted eternal life on his terms.

Yes, he realized something was missing from his life, but he also had his limits to what he was willing to do. Since he was not willing to do what Jesus asked he went away sad.

I have a feeling that if Jesus had asked the young man to fast for 40 days he would have done it. If Jesus had asked the young man to spend time in study I think the young man would have made his best effort. The young man had a desire for eternal life and a desire to know God better and deeper.

The problem is that desire alone is not enough.

We have a desire to know God better and deeper. We desire eternal life. We desire to have an eternal relationship with God. We can even list off the things we have done in order to have this relationship, but we still find something is missing. All our quiet times and prayers have not brought us closer to knowing God.

The reason we have missed God is because we have failed to do what He has asked. We are sad in our relationship with God because we are not willing to come to Him on His terms.

Jesus asks us to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk away frustrated because that is a “work” and we are confident that a relationship with God is built on “faith”.

Jesus asks us to invest time in the elderly couple next door. We cry out to God for His presence, but we are not willing to go next door to experience it.

What is Jesus asking you to do?

The reason men like Abraham, Moses, and David had amazing relationships with God was not because of their quiet times and fasting. Those relationships developed because their faith led to action, and through that action to an experience of God.
“Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions” (James 2:21-22; NLT).
Abraham was willing to follow God even if it meant giving up his son Isaac. Are you willing to part with the most precious thing in your life to be with God?

A relationship with God is not just found in the study of His Word and in prayer.

A relationship with God is developed through our obedience, as we step out in faith and experience God at work in our lives.

We need to stop coming to God on our terms and begin to surrender ourselves to His will.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Faith Without Doubting

{James 1:5-8; ESV} 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

What does it mean to have faith without doubting?

It can be explained like this.

There were two men who married their high school sweetheart. The first man had a wandering eye, and when trouble began to come in his marriage he was able to spot a better situation. It wasn’t long before the second marriage was just like the first, and once again the man left to find something better. He went from relationship to relationship without finding what he was looking for, and when it came time for him to face death he faced it terrified and alone.

The second man made an oath to himself and to God that he would love his wife no matter what happened. When trials and troubles came the man talked with his wife and worked things out. Time passed and their love grew. Soon their house was filled with children. The man made another vow to himself and to God that he would always love his children. When trouble and trials arose he talked with his children and taught them right from wrong. When it came time for the man to face death he faced it surrounded by people who loved him. He died happy and loved.

The first man never made a commitment to his high school sweetheart, and so when trouble began to surface in the relationship it was very easy for him to doubt. He doubted his love for her, her love for him, her faithfulness, her goodness, and their future. Doubts arose because he was not committed to the relationship.

The second man was able to enjoy a life long love affair with his high school sweetheart because he had committed his life and heart to her. When trouble arose he was confident about his love for her, her love for him, her goodness, and her faithfulness. His confidence was the product of his commitment.

Doubting, in context to our relationship with God, isn’t about feelings of uncertainty, but it is a lack of commitment to God.

Remember we are limited in our understanding of who God is and what He is doing.

This reality leads us to have questions about God's presence and His purpose for our lives. When we are committed to God this questions will not become the focal point because we have learned to trust God.

The person who is not committed to God will allow uncertainty to carry him away. This means he will find other avenues to explain life for him.

We can see this in the person who constantly jumps from one interest to another. He has dabbled in Christianity, checked out Mormonism, flirted with New Age teachings, and tested the waters of atheism. His lack of commitment keeps pushing him from one philosophy to another, and the result is that he can never get a handle on what he truly believes.

What is important  for our relationship with is not that we remove all our questions and uncertainties, but that we commit to God no matter what happens. That type of commitment inspires confidence because it allows us to experience God at work, not only in our lives, but also in the world around us.

Our study of Scripture along with personal experience shows us that God can be trusted, which, in turn, strengthens our confidence.

Don’t worry about the questions you may have when it comes to God, and don’t think you will be able to remove all uncertainty about how God is working in the world.

Questions and uncertainty will always be part of our lives.

The only way we can overcome these things is by commitment. When we are committed to God then we will stick with Him no matter what happens. Rather than being blown around by the winds of this world, we can remained anchored to the Rock.

 Questions to Consider: 

  • Does it help you to think about doubt in terms of commitment rather than certainty? 
  • What is something we can do to help us maintain a strong commitment to God? 
  • How would you describe your commitment to God right now?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Not Voting is a Legitimate Option

In the United States voting is viewed as a patriotic duty and a sacred right. We are taught about the importance of voting starting in elementary school. The lesson we are to learn is that voting is the way have a voice in government.

Therefore it is not surprising that many of us have equated voting with freedom. 

"A free people are able to able to elect their leaders," we believe.

With this being a fundamental belief, for someone to even suggest that is is okay not to vote is viewed as heresy. 

The counter arguments are: "Don't you know people died to give you the right to vote!?" and "There is so much at stake in this election. You have to vote!"

With that being said, let me offer a dissenting view. It is okay not to vote. 

Our God -given rights are not protected through the process of voting.

In fact, I would argue that voting has been the process that has enabled our rights to be taken away. 

As Ron Paul wrote in his book Liberty Defined: "American political culture unfortunately, has come to worship at the altar of democratic majoritariansim." (p. 67)

What happens is that whatever party wins the majority, they believe they have a mandate from the American people to run the country. Rather than protecting the individual rights of citizens and upholding the Constitution, they embark on a mission to do what is "best for the nation." 

Usually this leads to unintended consequences (foreign policy blowback and crushing debt) and a larger and more intrusive government.

I believe that it is through the protection of personal liberty, following constitutions (state constitutions and the federal constitution), and adherence to free markets that create the best society this world can offer. In fact, there is a connection between freedom and prosperity .

By saying it is okay not to vote, I am not advocating laziness or disengagement from the political process, rather, I am saying "don't compromise your beliefs." 

Voting will not protect freedom and a vote for the "lesser of two evils" is still a vote for evil.

Here are some reasons that justify not voting:

  1. I don’t want to endorse the actions of another person. One of  my fundamental beliefs is that everything is spiritual. When I vote for some one I am giving that person authority, both politically and spiritually, to act on my behalf. When the candidate I voted for supports an illegal war then I am supporting that illegal war. When the President I helped get into office uses drones that kill innocent people, even accidentally, that blood is on my hands. Too often, I see people justify the unconstitutional and immoral actions of their elected officials rather than condemn them. There are also the unintended consequences of government action that lead to real life tragedy. This is seen in economy policy, for example how the housing policy promoted by the government was responsible for the housing crash of 2008. Too often politicians, and thus government, act as if they have the answers to all the world’s problems, and those actions lead to more hurt and suffering.
  2. All governments are under the corrupting influence of Satan. As Americans it is easy to think that God has uniquely blessed our country and that our system of government is insulated from corruption. To think this way is to be deceived. C. S. Lewis in his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast has the older devil, Screwtape, addressing the newest graduating class of devils, and this is what he told them about using the word democracy; “You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate” (The World’s Last Night and Other Essays; p. 60). As a nation we do venerate the word democracy. Since we find our form of government superior we don’t  even consider that the very process of our political system could be under the influence of Satan. This isn’t about electing the right candidates, rather it is about a worldly and corrupt system. Electing the right people to office won’t change that reality. In Revelation 20:2-3 we discover that Satan is the deceiver of nations. Is it not possible to think that he has deceived us a nation? In John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11 Jesus identified Satan as the ruler of this world. Isn’t it possible that Satan uses our politics and our government to prevent us from doing what God has really called us to do? Maybe we should rephrase what Jesus told the man who wanted go home and bury his father before following him: “Let the dead govern the dead.” We don’t need politics to bring God’s Kingdom into this world.
  3. Jesus consistently rejected the way of politics. In Luke 4:5-7 we read that Satan tempted Jesus; Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me” (NLT). Satan declared that the kingdoms and the nations of the world are his and he uses them any way he wants to use them. Jesus did not challenge his declaration, rather Jesus rejected the way of earthly kingdoms, the way of politics, as the way to usher in God’s Kingdom. Again in John 6:15 Jesus slipped away from the crowds when they came to make him king. Later on in the chapter Jesus told the crowd that only in him would they find satisfaction. The satisfaction they longed for, the satisfaction that we long for, cannot be found through a form of government or the policies of government. Instead of the path of political power Jesus chose the path marked out for him by his Father. That path was the path of sacrificial love. It is seen in the lion who became a lamb and who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6). I would suggest that the way of the Kingdom is ultimately found when we reject political power as the way to change the world.
  4. Politics are of this world. Politics rely on two things: propaganda and force. We know that politicians and governments never tell us the whole truth. They always put their own spin on reality. Spin and propaganda are meant to deceive people so we will continue to support what politicians do through the government. Force is felt through the consequences of not obeying what the government says is right or wrong. Yes, God has allowed the government to carry the sword, but often government goes to extremes. Because the government carries the sword it can force you to do anything it wants. The apostle Paul taught that we should take a different approach; We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; NLT). What are those mighty weapons? They are things like unconditional love and uncompromised truth. In short it is following the way of Jesus and it is the way the early Church brought change to the world. For a detailed account of this you can look at Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. The way of Jesus certainly changes the world.
  5. Politics distract us from our true calling. Paul told Timothy; Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them (2 Timothy 2:4; NLT). The task I have been called to do is to make disciples and I cannot do that effectively if I am concerned about the politics of the nation. One reason is because my attention and time is divided between following Jesus and promoting a political cause. A second reason, and one that I know all too well, is that politics divide. One of the goals of the Kingdom of God is to bring people together, and time and time again we see that politics causes division. I don’t want anyone to remain outside of the Kingdom because of a political stand I took. I like what Alexander Campbell wrote; “To compel men destitute of faith to observe any Christian institution…is commanding duty to be performed without faith in God and therefore ‘anti-evangelical’ or contrary to the Gospel” (The Political Ethics of Alexander Campbell; p. 46). If we are to please our commanding officer and be true to the Gospel, then our main responsibility is not getting the government to support a certain standard of morality, but to invite people into God’s Kingdom. As people mature in faith and learn how to be led by the Spirit, they are led to do the right thing, regardless of what the laws of the land might be (Galatians 5:22-23).

I am not saying voting is evil, nor am I asking you not to vote.

What I am saying is that there is no reason for a Christian to support a party or a candidate that doesn't adequately represent them.

It is also important to note that an informed non-vote is still a vote. When I don't vote I am saying, "You don't deserve to represent me."

If you feel that you should vote, go ahead and vote, but don't belittle those who have made the choice not to vote. After all, that is their vote.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Responsibility of Making the Right Choice

One of the most powerful tools we have in spiritual formation is choosing. We are a product of our choices.

Our choices are powerful because they are the way we respond to the world and the circumstances of our lives. We don't have control over the things that happen in the world, but we do have control over how we respond. These are the choices that form our character.

This is the reason why I believe it is essential for us who are parents and church leaders to have high expectations for the younger generation. Right now they are making choices that are going to determine the direction of their lives.

We can’t expect young people to spend their lives watching Netflix, playing video games, interacting with social media, and going into debt with credit cards to one day, in their mid-twenties, to become mature responsible adults. 

When we allow our children to make the easy choice, to constantly choose what is fun, and to avoid doing hard things, then they will become people who are selfish, petty, shallow, and irresponsible. That type of life will not prepare them for the real demands of life.

I want you to think about something Greg Boyd wrote:
“Moral culpability is not just about people acting certain ways when they could have and should have acted differently.  It’s more about people becoming certain kinds of people when they could have and should have become different kinds of people” (Satan and the Problem of Evil; p. 122).
This is why it is important to remember that spiritual formation is always happening. Time, circumstances, and choices all play a part in forming the person we are. Christian spiritual formation is the intentional effort in making the process about becoming more like Jesus.

As a pastor I am concerned about how the church assists in this process of becoming more like Jesus.

How do we help people become more like Jesus?

I think it begins by telling people that to be more like Jesus requires being different.

We live differently because we are people who have our minds set on heavenly things rather than earthly things (Colossians 3:1-4), because we are people who walk by the Spirit rather than by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26), and because we are people live humbly putting others ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11).

To do each one of these things we first need to make a choice to do it. Without that intentional act we will not be different.

How do we encourage the people we influence to make the choice to be different?

The first step we should take is to emphasize the fact that God, because of His great love for us, opened up way of redemption for us (Romans 5:6-11). This should be the foundation for our decision making. In other words, our choices become our response to God's love.

The second step we should take is to pray for our children, students, and friends.  This is the example that the apostle Paul gave in Colossians 1:9-12.  The reason Paul prayed for the Colossians was to empower them to be the type of people who honor Jesus.  We need to pray for people to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will and with spiritual wisdom and knowledge so they can become people who honor Jesus with their lives.

The third step we should take is to give people tools, methods, and disciplines to help them train in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). If we are honest we would admit that our process of discipleship isn’t working.  Our church families are not filled with people becoming more and more like Jesus. In fact, I would wager many of us have given up on the belief that true transformation will take place. Sadly, we are content with a little behavior modification here and there.  We need to help people understand that they are responsible for their spiritual growth and that spiritual disciplines such as meditation, prayer, worship, service, fasting, solitude, and celebration are ways in which we can train our bodies to ignore the pull of the flesh and to follow the Spirit.

Each one of us is in the process of becoming.  We are either becoming more human and thus fit for God’s Kingdom or we are becoming less human and thus fit for the kingdom of darkness.

Our choices play an essential part in our Christian spiritual formation.

Not only are are called to pay attention to the choices that we make, but we are to help those around us to make good choices. This is why Christian community is a vital part of Christian spiritual formation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Be Disturbed

We live in a world full of good. It has exceptional beauty, delicious food, amazing fun, and wonderful relationships.

In spite of the good we experience in the world, we know it is not entirely good. Our experience of life tells us that the world is a combination of good and evil.

According to the Bible, the world was created good by God, but has been corrupted by the sin of angels and humans. We live in a fallen world.

One of the ways we see this corruption at work is the selfishness that exists in people. The worst selfishness that we are exposed to is the selfishness that exists in our own hearts.

Many of the problems that we face throughout life, both big and small, can be traced back to selfishness.

This reality is understandable when we remember that we spend our entire lives with ourselves. Our entire perspective on life centers around our experience of the world. It is logical to expect that our comfort, cares, and desires would be at the forefront of what we are most concerned about.

Christian spiritual formation is important because it calls us to lay aside our cares and concerns and adopt the cause of Jesus. For this to happen we have to intentionally lay aside our rights and desires. It is through those process we are able to understand the injustices and indignities inflicted and the rest of humanity.

Dallas Willard wrote:
“Apprentices of Jesus will be deeply disturbed about many things, but they will be largely indifferent to the fulfillment of their own desires as such. Merely getting their own way has no significance for them, does not disturb them.” 
Renovation of the Heart, p. 72
Pause for a moment and ponder: What disturbs you?

When I think about what disturbs me on a regular basis I am saddened. I am saddened because I get the most disturbed by the inconveniences and interruptions to my agenda.

God has shown me this reality through my children. I dearly love my three kids, but they have the ability of frustrating me like no one else does. Why is that?

I get frustrated, I get disturbed, because they have minds of their own and they don't always do what I ask them to do. They disrupt my plan and that bothers me.

What is the cure for that? The cure is to become like Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote:
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:3-5; NLT)
Here we discover the goal of Christian spiritual formation: to develop the attitude of Jesus.

Key to this attitude is humility. It is having that ability to look past our own agenda and see the needs of other people. We are to take an interest in the lives of those around us.

One of my favorite passages for the Gospels is Matthew 9:36:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (NLT)
Jesus was disturbed by the needs of the people around him. He didn't blame them for their condition or lecture them about the inconvenience they were causing him, but he had compassion on them. They needed help and he took time to help them.

One of the prayers we need to pray in our pursuit of Christian formation is to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. We need to see the things that disturb Jesus so we can learn what should be disturbing us as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Start the Process

Life is much easier when we go with the flow. The reason it is easier is because it requires little effort since we are moved along by the currents of the culture around us. 

Yet, this is also the reason it is a problem. When we simply go along with the flow we allow our lives to be at the mercy of the culture. We go where the culture takes us. 

I believe this is one of the key reasons why American Christians lack spiritual maturity. We haven't put intentional effort into following Jesus. Rather, we simply went with the flow of our culture.

Thankfully, God in His mercy, has still brought healing to our hearts and transformation to our lives. It is not like we haven't experienced any transformation, but the growth we have experienced has been stunted.

The fact that we have experienced spiritual formation should cause us to pause and thank God for the work He has done in our lives. At the same time it should move us to confess that we have not lived up to our side of the transformation.

It is crucial for us to understand that there is a part that we play in Christian spiritual formation. All through the New Testament we find expectations for the way we are to live. There are lists of things we need to stop doing and lists for things we need to start doing. Faith requires action and obedience is an act of faith.

With that in mind think about what Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart:

"Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process.  Although God can triumph in disorder, that is not his choice.  And instead of focusing upon what God can do, we must humble ourselves to accept the ways he has chosen to work with us.  These are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words of and person of Jesus."  p. 10

Since Christian spiritual formation is an orderly process, then it is a process that we must choose to begin. I already wrote about The First Step of Christian spiritual formation.

How do we take that first step? What does it meant to surrender to Jesus?

I think we find the answer in Matthew 4:17;  From then on Jesus began to preach, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (NLT)

Repentance is the intentional action we take to surrender to Jesus.

Repentance isn't just feeling sorry for and confessing our sins. Those are important elements of repentance, but I think repentance means much more.

Real repentance is about changing our loyalties.  

Remember, sin is rebellion against God and His Kingdom. That means, through sin, we have pledged our allegiance to Satan and his kingdom.  Repentance is the undoing of that reality. By repenting we declare our loyalties are changed and now we loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

This intentional change of loyalty is absolutely crucial to spiritual formation.

There are other steps that we must do through this process. We have to do things like pray, study, give, be baptized, forgive, and serve. For these acts to truly have a transformational affect on our lives, we must first repent. 

Repentance, at is core, is an act of faith. It is an act of faith because through repentance we declare our belief, trust, and commitment to God. This is what it looks like to surrender to Jesus.

Christian spiritual formation is an intentional process. It is a process that begins with our choice to repent. Make that choice.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Choose The Right Way

Freedom is a beautiful thing.

We love being able to make the choices that determine the course of our lives. We don't want other people making those decisions for us.

As wonderful as freedom is, it also is a very dangerous thing. It is dangerous because our freedom can lead to our enslavement.

There are certain choices that we can make that will either help us live a life of freedom, or will take freedom from us.

Here is an extreme example. If you decide to murder someone, that decision will rob you of freedom. Even if you were never caught and didn't spend a day in jail, the guilt of the deed and the constant fear of being caught would hamper your ability to enjoy life.

Here is a more common example.  Your choice to use credit to furnish a lifestyle way above your income will mean that you are enslaved to creditors. They are entitled to the money you already spent. That means part of the time you are working, you are working to pay them. Not only that, because credit comes with the attachment of interest, you will be paying back more than what you borrowed in the first place, giving you less money to use for necessary things. Often this leads to using a credit card and going deeper in debt.

Your freedom is affected by the choices you make.

The choices we make will either bring us greater levels of freedom or restrict the freedom we already enjoy.

There are many choices that we freely make that end up taking away our freedom. Our freedom and our choices are eternally connected.

Erwin McManus wrote:
“Not all free acts lead to freedom. The choices you freely make may cost you a life of genuine freedom. This is why the Bible talks about the human experience in terms of being slaves to sin. Sin creates the illusion of freedom; it fools us into seeking freedom from God rather than finding freedom in God. 
“Whatever else Jesus came to do, one thing is clear—He came to set you free. God is not a warden; He is a deliverer. And so earnest is He about your freedom that He was willing to be taken captive and crucified on your behalf just so you can run free.” (Stand Against the Wind; p. 14)

If we are going to be free we have to make choices that enhance our freedom.

For us to make those choices requires that we look towards the future and not just live in the moment. We need to remember that our choices often have lasting consequences far past the time that we made them. A small choice that you made in the heat of the moment can alter the entire course of your life.

This is why we need a guide. When we choose to follow Jesus we will discover freedom. 

This is what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 
 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.. (Romans 6:15-20; NLT)
The follower of Jesus is free because he has given himself over to the true way to live life.

Think about this analogy.

A person who is righteous is like a jazz improviser. She has learned the chords and studied the music to the extent that she understands where the music is going. When she goes off on her own she stays true to the music. The jazz improviser has freedom to improvise because she has been a slave to the music.

The person who is a slave of righteousness is able to live with freedom because he has come to understand what life is truly about and where life is ultimately heading. With those things in mind a great many options in life opens up for him. But, those things are only possible because first he choose to do what was right.

Use your freedom to choose to do what is right.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Work of Prayer

I am in the process of doing an in-depth look at the book of Colossians. For the past week I have read
through the entire book each day.

There are a number of passages that have stood out to me as I have done this, but there is one in particular that keeps grabbing my attention.

It is one of those passages that is easy to miss because it is at the end of the book in the section of greetings that we tend to just skim rather than read.

The passage I am refering to is Colossians 4:12-13. This is what Paul wrote:
 "Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis" (NLT).
Here is the question that I have pondered because of this passage: How hard do I pray for people?

I can pray desperately for myself and the circumstances that I am facing. I can pray for my family and the circumstances of their lives. Yet, when it comes to other people, I fear I am rather indifferent to the needs of their lives.

As I think about discipleship and spiritual formation, I have to wonder if one of the obstacles that I face (and I have to believe others face as well) is a lack of praying hard. Is it possible that our church families are not maturing and are not growing because we have not committed to praying for growth?  Perhaps the reason the people in our lives struggle with broken hearts, depression, and addictions is because we are not praying for them?

Now, I don't want to make it sound that all we have to do pray and then magically everything will be better. Through the Bible God calls us to get off the couch and love our neighbors.Yet, the effort has to be grounded in prayer.

I confess that the reason this passage has been running through my mind is because God is calling me to do this work of prayer. It is something I keep putting off because I have other things to do: sermons to write, a church family to lead, and children to raise. Yet, aren't these the very reasons I should be spending more time in the work of prayer?

One of the realities about prayer is that it sounds very easy to do, but it is extremely difficult. Satan and his demonic horde will do everything in their power to keep us from praying effectively. No wonder Paul wrote that Epaphras prayed hard for the Colossians. It wasn't easy! It may not have been easy, but Epraphras committed himself to pray for the people of his hometown church.

I urge you to commit yourself to being a person of prayer. We all have people in our lives who desperately need our prayers, and if we don't pray for them who will? 

Join me in making a commitment that when a person pops into our minds, that we will stop what you are doing and pray for them. By doing this we are not not only inviting God to be part of the situation, but we are also doing our Christian duty of loving one another.

I think that we need recapture the idea of the work of prayer. Through prayer we can work for the Kingdom of God in this world. It won't be the easiest thing we have ever done, but it has the potential of being one of the best.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Two Ways to Live

Have you ever had a truth penetrate your mind that was so simple that you wondered why it took you so long to figure out?

I have.

One of the reasons for this reality is because the Holy Spirit holds back a teaching for the moment it will make the biggest impact in our lives. It has less to do with our IQ and more to do with timing.

One of the times I have experienced this happened several years ago while I read James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).
James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

  1. We can bless God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument of worship to God and an instrument of encouragement to those around us.
  2. We can curse God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument to misuse the holy of God and an instrument to abuse those around us.

Think about how you use your tongue. Are people blessed by what you say or are they hurt by the words that come out of your mouth?

As I pondered this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me that the application encompasses more than our tongues.

Ultimately, what James taught in this passage applies to the way we live.

We can use our bodies to either sin and rebel against God, or we can use them to obey and worship God.

It is true that our actions fall on a spectrum between those two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to the idea of “building for the kingdom.”
“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).
This leads us to ask the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

In light of the passage from James, I would argue that we build for the kingdom when we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

I believe that sin is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world.

Remember, this world was created good, and it has been corrupted through Satan, sin, and death.

For us to build for God’s kingdom requires us to leave sin behind through repentance, and join our lives to Jesus.

It is not enough just to leave a life of sin, but we also need to pursue what is right.

God called us to a life of obedience and good works. This is the practical side of how we join Him in His effort to redeem all of creation.

It is crucial to remember that our good works are not what makes us right with God, that only happens through faith in Jesus. Rather, our good works are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

The implication of this thought is that the more we devote our lives to God’s kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. In other words, the best way to live out our repentance is to spend our lives doing good.

When we devote our lives to doing good, we are no longer participating in what brings corruption and injustice into God’s good creation.  Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:
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. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).
Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit.

The best way I know to be led by the Spirit is to be students of Scripture, to be involved in a church family, and to be devoted to prayer. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make these things a priority in our lives.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can lives our lives in rebellion against God, or we can live our lives building for His kingdom.

Make the right choice.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What We Think We Know

“We make assumptions about the world around us based on sometimes incomplete or false information...We make decisions based on what we think we know.” ~ Simon Sinek, Start with Why, p. 11

One of the phenomena that we have seen with the rise of internet based media (from blogs to social media to YouTube to Podcasts) is that anyone with an internet connection is able to voice their opinion.

Since the United States protects the freedom of speech, Americans have adopted the idea of giving everyone a voice as a primary value. One way we see this value in our culture is through the declaration that "voting as a sacred duty." Voting, people say, is an opportunity to "let your voice be heard."

The major problem of giving everyone a voice is that opinions are not equally valid.

We hold a variety of opinions, but often those opinions are formed with either insufficient or faulty data. Very few of our dearly held opinions and beliefs are adopted through extensive research. Rather, we simply believed what a trusted source told us.

This reality should make us humble and guide the way we share our opinions.

We should be humble when it comes to our beliefs, but that is not how things works in the real world.

Our experience with social media shows us that humility is often absent in the sharing of ideas, beliefs, and opinions.

It is difficult for us to accept the possibility that we may be wrong about an issue.

The reason we hold the opinions and beliefs that we do is because we believe those beliefs are true. These are the ideas that form our world view.

It is no wonder why many of us take a stance of certainty rather than humility. We are worried that if we are wrong on this one point, we may be wrong about our entire belief system.

A problem that is attached to a stance of certainty is that we are unable to listen to what others say. Instead of hearing what others say, we will call anyone who disagrees with us "ignorant" or "foolish."

In other words, we do not extend to others the respect of being heard. This is a respect they are due because they are people created in the image of God.

Not listening to another person is improper conduct for a follower of Jesus.

Proverbs 11:2 reads; “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (NLT)

Do you want to be wise?

The price tag for wisdom is humility.

You have to understand, regardless of your education level or how much you have read, that there are huge gaps in your understanding.

The reality is that ALL of us are ignorant about most everything in the world.

Be willing to admit that you could be wrong about what you believe.

In the book of James, the brother of Jesus wrote:
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” 
James 1:19-21 (NLT)
James identified the essential action for gaining knowledge and growing in wisdom: “be quick to listen.”

We love to offer our opinion.

We don’t enjoy remaining silent long enough to hear the thoughts of another person.

It is true that we may pretend to be polite by being quiet, but the reality is our mind is at work creating our next argument. Too often we do this based on an assumption of what is being said, rather than what the other person is actually saying.

This type of behavior is toxic for a civil society. We are able to see the consequences of this behavior all around us. I believe it is one of the reasons why the United States feels deeply divided. We lack the humility to examine what other people have to offer.

Without humility we will not give other people a fair hearing, and  we will continue to move forward based on our assumptions rather than discovering what is actually true.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Expected to be Holy

{Ephesians 4:20-24; ESV}

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

When it comes to following Jesus we need to remember two important truths.
  1. We are unable to live faithfully by our own efforts. Salvation begins and ends with God. He is the one who took the initiative to save us for Satan, sin, and death. Therefore we can be confident that He will finish what He started. The primary way transformation occurs in our lives is through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides our lives towards a deeper faith and a greater maturity. The Holy Spirit also brings healing to the wounds located in our hearts. Through the work of the Spirit, God does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.
  2. God expects His people to be holy. What does holiness look like? Holiness looks like Jesus. To be holy requires us to live the way Jesus lived. We are only able to do that as we surrender to the guidance of the Spirit. We cannot become holy on our own, we need to God’s help, but we have to surrender our lives to Him.
Andrew Murray wrote; “Holiness is not something we do or attain: it is the communication of the Divine life, the inbreathing of the Divine nature, the power of the Divine Presence resting on us.” (Holy in Christ)

While God expects His covenant people to be holy, He doesn’t leave us to achieve holiness on our own. God bestows holiness on us through the saving work of Jesus and by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

These two realities don't get us off the hook for the choices that we make. They do remind us that we cannot faithfully follow Jesus simply by our own strength. The work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit declare that God wants us to be holy! Since God wants us to be holy, He is going to do everything within His power to make us holy. That is very good news!

Our responsibility for holiness falls within two areas:
  1. We must put off the old. Our old way of living was nothing less than rebellion against God and His Kingdom. That is why it is important for us to declare that we are no longer part of the rebellion that started with Satan and continues to this day. I would encourage you, while you are praying, to declare that you are done with sin. Do this out loud and be specific. Name those sins that defined your old self and make it known that they are no longer a part of who you are because of what Jesus has done. We also need to take steps to remove sin from our lives, and the first step is renouncing our sins. While this action is often overlooked I think it is basic to discovering real freedom from sin.
  2. We must put on the new. The Gospel declares that when we are in Christ we are “new creations.” That is the reality of our lives, but we must believe it and live it. This begins with asking God to fill us with spiritual wisdom and understanding. We need the eyes of our hearts open so we can understand what it looks like for us to live like Jesus. Embracing the new and living like Jesus enables us to meet God’s expectation of holiness for our lives.
You and I can be holy because God makes us holy. It is up to us to live out that reality in our lives.

Questions to Consider:
  • How important is the pursuit of holiness in your life?
  • What practical steps could you take this week in your pursuit of holiness?
  • Does it provide a sense of relief to know that God makes us holy?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Way of Personal Fulfillment

One of my core beliefs is that there are universal desires that reside in the hearts of all people. These desires may manifest themselves differently in our lives, but they are still the same desires.

One of these universal desires is the desire for intimacy. Each one of us crave to have friendships and other relationships where we feel accepted and valued by other people. This desire is core to who we are as humans. It is the reason God declared loneliness to be not good (Genesis 2:18).

Another desire that is common for people is the desire to have purpose. For most people throughout history this desire revealed itself in the desire to live. When every day is a struggle between life and death, there isn’t a lot of soul searching around the idea of the meaning of life. When life isn’t about daily survival we are afforded the opportunity to ponder about life and wonder if our lives have any greater purpose than mere existence. This desire morphs from the desire to live to the desire to make a difference in the world.

People want their lives to matter and to have a sense of personal fulfillment. No one wants their life to be a waste.

I believe people are doing one of two things: They are either on the pursuit to find personal fulfillment or they are looking for a way to numb the belief that their life doesn’t matter.

Spiritual formation in Christ is crucial because it is the only way to truly experience the personal fulfillment of purpose and meaning that our hearts crave.

“Jesus does not deny us personal fulfillment, but shows us the only true way to it. In him we ‘find our life.’ He would keep us from selling our birthright as creatures in God’s image - a birthright of genuine goodness, sufficiency, and power for which we are fitted by nature - for a mere bowl of soup (Genesis 25:30-31). Perhaps a little illicit sex, money, reputation, power, self-righteousness, and so forth - ‘the pleasures of sin for a season’ - or for the promise or possibility of such.” 
(Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 68)

The way of Jesus is the only true path for personal fulfillment, because only Jesus can lead us to live the life God created us to live. Only Jesus can infuse our daily activities, as mundane and ordinary as they appear to be, with Kingdom importance.

When our lives are marked with love, peace, joy, gentleness, and the like (Galatians 5:22-23) we are able to experience fulfillment no matter what task or activity is before us.

The way of true personal fulfillment, to live the life we were created to live, is the path blazed by Jesus.  We need to follow Jesus to experience true life!

Following Jesus is more than just believing in him and adopting a few moral principles. It  is actually  adopting the way Jesus lived his life. It requires doing those things which empowered Jesus to love, forgive, and to serve.

What activities empowered Jesus to live life? Jesus spent time studying Scripture, fasting, serving, and praying. Spiritual disciplines helped Jesus live life. We need to follow his example.

Following Jesus doesn’t keep us from personal fulfillment, rather it is the only way to truly experience it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The First Step

Every journey requires a first step.

It doesn’t matter if the journey is an actual physical journey, like traveling from New York City to Los Angeles, or a metaphorical journey, like transitioning from being a salesperson to being an engineer, there is always the first action that sets things in motion.

Without a first step you will never be able to complete the journey.

The girl who wants to play the violin needs to set aside time in her life when she drops everything else in order to practice the violin. Only by taking that first step to practice the violin will she be able to master the instrument enough to perform before an audience.

The student who wants an A on his research paper needs to put time into reading and taking notes on the subjects he is going to write about. Only by taking that first step of taking his research seriously is he able to lay a foundation that is able to yield him an A.

The boy who wants to play basketball needs to put in time to shoot baskets, do dribbling drills, and run lines in order to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the game. Only by dedicating time to learning the basics can he hope to play well in the game.

There is a foundational act the precedes growth and mastery of a subject.

This reality also applies to our Christian spiritual formation.

Dallas Willard wrote:
“Those who are not genuinely convinced that the only bargain in life is surrendering ourselves to Jesus and his cause, abandoning all that we love to him, cannot learn the other lessons Jesus has to teach us. They cannot proceed to any thing like total spiritual transformation. Not that he will not let us, but that we simply cannot succeed. If I tell you that you cannot drive an automobile unless you can see, I am not saying I will not let you, but that you cannot succeed even if I do.” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 66)

Our intentional spiritual formation in Jesus has a clear starting point, and that is our choice to surrender to him.

It is important to understand that surrendering to Jesus is more than declaring that we believe he is God’s Son who rose from the dead.

To surrender to Jesus requires us to lay aside what we believe life is all about, our habits, our beliefs, our politics, and follow him. We follow him, even if he leads us into  hardship and death.

If we don’t surrender our lives to Jesus, it is impossible for us to experience true spiritual formation. Spiritual formation in Christ requires that we trust him more than we trust ourselves.

Jesus told the apostles:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” 
Matthew 16:24-25 (NLT)

The only way to experience the eternal life that is the result of spiritual formation is to surrender to Jesus, and that requires us to follow the way of the cross.

If we are still preoccupied with trying to create the life of our dreams, we will not follow Jesus wherever he leads. Instead, we will question him and hestitate to obey, only following when it makes sense to us to follow.

This is why Jesus’ demand for surrendering is necessary, because without it we will not follow him.

When we surrender to Jesus we are declaring that we believe Jesus will give us life, even in those moments when our obedience seems to take us in the opposite direction of life. The trust that is developed from our choice to surrender is crucial to our spiritual formation in Christ.

On the journey to become the person God created you to be, don’t neglect the first step.

The Spiritually Mature Life: Having the Fruit

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I started a new sermon series at Bethlehem Church called A Spiritually Mature Life. This sermon series is focused ...