Saturday, October 31, 2020

What We Think About Most

 

On Thursday I wrote a post about being a persuader.

Last year I had a Barnes and Nobel gift card and one of the books I bought was Win Bigly by Scott Adams.

Win Bigly is a look at President Trump’s ability to persuade. Whether you like him or not (I personally do not support President Trump, but I am willing to admit he has done some good things).

After writing the post I Thursday I took Win Bigly off my shelf and flipped through it, looking at the  highlights I made. The above quote caught my eye.

In persuasion it is important to get people to think about things you have said. The more they think about what we say, the more it influences their thinking. 

This is why repetition is not a bad thing. When we repeat something there is a better chance of it getting lodge in the mind of someone. 

There is a secondary reason why I shared this quote with you. It reminds us that we need to be mindful of what we allow ourselves to think about.

Remember, the key to transforming our lives is changing the way we think:

Romans 12:2
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Changing our thinking is key to changing our behavior.

This is the reason that I am concerned about the person who shares only political posts on Facebook or the person who only talks about sports. This reveals that their thinking is dominated by “the behavior and customs of this world.”

One of the key disciplines that God’s people have practiced over the years is the discipline of meditation. In earlier times meditation was crucial because they did not have access to their own copy of Scripture. They had to rely on what was said during their times together, and then remember what was said.

In this way they were able to memorize God’s word and bury its wisdom in their hearts.

Because of our easy access to the Bible the practice of meditation has fallen by the wayside. We are content to get our daily Bible reading in so we can move on to the next thing on our agendas. In the process we are not really thinking about what we read and how it applies to our lives.

I have found it helpful to do a longer reading of Scripture (I have been reading the the New Testament in 90 days, which is about 3 chapters a day) and then a shorter reading, which is just a few verses. With the shorter passage I can take time to think about it, ask questions about it, and even pray it. That way it has a chance to become a part of  the way I think.

I challenge you these next few days to pay attention to what you are thinking about. 

Are your thoughts godly and loving? Are they based behaviors and customs of the world? How can you be more intentional in directing your thoughts to things that are good, noble, and pure (Philippians 4:8)?

Understanding persuasion can help us be better persuaders and it helps us to identify things that are working on us.

Be mindful of what you let persuade you.

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Spirit and God’s Image


The opening chapter of the Bible tells us a very important truth about humanity.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

To be created in God’s image means that we are designed to demonstrate His create in this world, to rule with His love, grace, and wisdom (here is the Bible Project video on the Image of God). 

How are we able to do that?

To correctly bear God’s image in this world requires that we are connected to Him. We need God’s wisdom, love, and grace coming into our lives so it can influence the choices we make and the things that we do. 

This is why God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That was essential for Adam and Eve to live out God’s image in their lives.

The problem is that sin severs that connection we have with God. 

Through our sin we declare that we have the ability to define what is good and bad, what is right and wrong, and in the process we turn our back on God.

This is why we need to be rescued.

God needs to pursue us and make a way for reconciliation, a way for our connection to Him to be restored. All the different covenants we read about in the Bible remind us that God is making it possible for us to be reconciled to Him.

Jesus opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God. Through him we are able to once again experience the life God created us to live.

John 15:5 (NLT)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus is not saying we can do nothing useful apart from him. We constantly see people who are not followers of Jesus do things that are useful, loving, and gracious. What Jesus is saying is that we can’t fulfill our work for the Kingdom apart from him. 

In order to bear God’s image we have to be connected to Him, like a branch is connected to the vine, so we can receive His life. 

What is the life that we need from God?

His Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Look at the description of the fruit the Spirit produces in our lives. To live guided by the Spirit means that we are empowered to bear God’s image in the world.

This is one of the main themes of Scripture, to restore humanity to this place. That can only happen by repenting of sin, trusting Jesus, and being guided by the Spirit.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Being a Persuader


Part of my job is to persuade people.

That is what I seek to do when I preach or when I teach (yes, there is a difference, but that is for another post). I want to convince people that there is a change the need to make in their lives.

This is not an easy task. 

If I had to base it on percentages, I would guess more often than not I fail to persuade people the way that I should. Yes, they may leave agreeing with what I said, but they won’t be led to make in changes in their lives.

At the end of August Michael Malice tweeted this:



I have pondered this thought off and on since then.

Here are a few of the thoughts I have had about persuasion.

First, persuasion happens when a person is ready to make a change. That is what happened to me when I shifted away from a standard Rush Limbaugh conservative Republican worldview to a libertarian/Christian anarchist worldview. It was 2008 and I noticed more and more inconsistencies with what the Republicans were doing and the limited government beliefs I was told Republicans had. I remember a phone conversation I had with my brother when I told him about my frustration and he said, “Check out this guy named Ron Paul.” I did and the rest is history.

That change happened because I was ready to make a change.

Second, persuasion is easier when there is a trusted relationship. All my brother had to say was, “Check out Ron Paul,” and because of our relationship I did it. This means a good relationship is an important part of being able to persuade another person. When you trust the other person you are more likely to listen to what they have to say.

Persuaders need to do what they can to build relationships with people.

Third, there needs to be a level of expertise involved. It is hard to persuade people when a quick Google search reveals the holes in an argument. Two people who have influenced me intellectually have been Tom Woods and N. T. Wright. Part of the reason is I accepted their arguments is because of a level expertise they bring to their work. That helps me trust what they have to say

Persuaders need to demonstrate that they have a good understanding of the subject they are talking about.

Fourth, persuasion is a journey. More than likely, the beliefs you hold didn’t magically develop overnight. Rather, the came into place over a period of time as different influences shaped those beliefs. We can’t expect people to take they same journey that we took in the course of a single conversation or a 30 minute sermon. We need to be willing to take people along one step at a time. In my early days of being a libertarian I was quite obnoxious, everything seemed so clear to me, and I thought if I could just be loud enough people would see it too. Big mistake.

Persuasion takes time as we walk people through the process of changing their mind.

Fifth, persuasion takes integrity. When we see that the person lives what they believe, it helps us to listen to them. In college, my Christian Ethics professor’s wife had Alzheimer’s Disease. He brought her to class  each day. The way he treated her made an impression on the group of friends I was a part of and we all talked about having that level of love for our wives someday. He influenced us because he lived the Christian life that he taught.

Persuaders need to have integrity. Nothing causes a person to loose influence faster than discovering that he/she doesn’t live what they teach.

If you want to persuade people to make a change in their lives, take some time to think about that process. Persuading is not as easy as it sounds, but it is worth the effort to figure out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sermon: The Battle Begins

 This is the sermon I preached on October 24, 2020 at Bethlehem Church. It is sermon 8 as we go through The Story.

Be the Evidence




Questions are an important part of having a conversation.

They help us find out more about the other person and they provide us with information that we didn’t have before.

If I am going to have a conversation about God, then certain questions are going to come up. 

Truth be told, while I am a pastor, I am not a “Bible Answer Man.” There are many things about Christianity, the Bible, and God I have questions about.

The process of answering questions helps us think through what we believe and provides us the opportunity to look at the world from a new perspective.

This particular question is a common one. It would be reasonable to assume that if God wanted everyone to know Him that He would make it easy for people to find Him. 

I think at the heart of this question is this statement: "God if You would just reveal Yourself to me then I would believe in You." They justify their lack of faith because God, if He even exists, hasn’t made it obvious to them.  

I can understand why this is a difficulty to believing in God. There are times in my life that I wished God would just prove His existence. Yet, I suspect that wouldn't impact my long term faith very much.

Think about two Biblical examples of people who experienced God in a miraculous way: 
  • The nation of Israel in Exodus. These people had experience slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. They witnessed God deliver them from slavery through the use of ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the miraculous provision of guidance and food through the wilderness. They saw how God revealed Himself to the entire nation at Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain, and when he doesn't return (forty days and forty nights) the people got antsy. They gather some gold together and made a golden calf to worship. In their worship they proclaimed this is the god who led them out of Egypt (Exodus 19 -32).
  • Jesus' disciples. These men heard Jesus teach, witnessed his miracles, and saw him over a 40 day stretch after his resurrection. As Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven he took these followers to a mountain in Galilee. Matthew 28:17 saws; "When they saw him, they worshiped him--but some of them still doubted!" (NLT)  

It is amazing that Israel doubted God and disciples doubted Jesus after all they experienced. We tend to think if we were in their place and were able to witness miracles and see the risen Lord face to face that we would not doubt. I am not certain that would be the case.

These examples show us that a faith built on the evidence miracles is not a sustainable faith. Time has a way of eroding our experiences. Given enough time even the most awesome miracles would loose their impressiveness.

Aside from what theologians call general revelation (the evidence of God discovered in nature), God doesn't make Himself known to everyone. It might be impressive for God to reveal Himself in all His Holy splendor, but how long would that make an impression on people? At the very least it would be something He had to do every generation.

There is nothing God can do, except what He will do when Jesus returns, that will convince everyone that He is real.

That doesn't mean God keeps Himself hidden from people.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27; NLT)

God created human beings in His image. To be created in God's image means that we are designed to be His representatives in this world, to demonstrate His character. In other words we are to be walking, talking, and breathing revelations of God. The world should know God because of His people.

This is why Jesus told his disciples: 

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35; NLT)

The world will know that God exists through the lives of His people. May we be the evidence people need.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Presidents and the Constitution


We are a week away from determining the president of the United States.

While there is always a big push to get people out and vote, there seems to be more of an urgency every 4 years when it comes time to elect a new president. 

This is sad. Not because I think more people should be voting, but because of the great emphasis put on this one position. 

The founding generation feared a powerful executive and tried to make it so one person did not have so much influence.

That reality has eroded over time.  

Now the president has so much power that every presidential election becomes about determining which direction the country will move.

Gone are the days when we should really be asking one question when it comes to electing a president: "What is he/she constitutionally allowed to do?"

Historian and author, Brion McClanahan puts it this way in 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America:
 

Is "constitutionally permitted to do" even a category we think about when it comes to evaluating presidents and electing new ones? Was that challenge even offered during the debates? 

The more power we allow presidents to have the more we move away from the constitutional republic created by the founders and closer we become to being a dictatorship. 

This is why it is crucial for us to know that Constitution of the United States, so we are able to point out when it is not being followed. Apart from that, it doesn't matter who becomes president, we will just mover further down the road to tyranny. 

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Keep Making Progress

 


This year has been, at least emotionally, the most difficult year of my life.

It started last November with a difficult situation within our church community that caused me to doubt my leadership abilities.

Then we moved into winter, that dark time of year that causes depression in many people, myself included. My heart, mind, and soul were heavy.

We all know what happened as winter began to turn into spring - pandemic and lockdowns. I was faced with trying to pivot and provide online worship and resources for people, while not being able to meet face to face to figure things out.

In May my right leg began to hurt. I lived with the pain for a week, trying to convince myself that it wasn't what I knew it was - a blood clot. This was my second clot and I knew that I would now be on blood thinners the rest of my life.

During this time came BLM and protests, and the added pressure of trying to figure out the right things to say about an important moment in America. One of the difficulties of being a pastor is the expectation to have a position or at least a thought about everything that happens.

As things began to open up we had the great mask debate and the discussion of whether our not churches should follow the lockdown orders. After all, I was told, President Trump declared churches as essential, so we should be meeting in person.

This was followed by several families informing me they were leaving. Which again had me doubting my ability to do this job as pastor.

Even during the summer, when I am usually depression free, I found myself sinking deeper into depression.

By the end of August, I realized I needed to make a change. Not only was I depressed, but my health was being affected. I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life, I was not sleeping well, and the simplest activities were exhausting me.

The change started with my wife Jenny telling me about an app from Ransomed Heart that was created in connection with John Eldredge's book Get Your Life Back (which I haven't read) called One Minute Pause. I started doing the app every day, usually more than once a day. It helped me to reorient my life back to God.

Doing The Pause app reminded me that through the Wild at Heart website John Eldredge has a resource of prayers. I began daily praying the Daily Prayer for the Head of Households. This practice helped me to start reading the Bible daily again.

After about a month of putting prayer and Bible reading back into my daily rhythm of life, I was ready to start focusing on my physical health. There were a couple of false starts as I tried to figure out the best way to implement what I knew I was supposed to do. Even though I knew the right things to do I was having trouble doing them.

That is when I found out about another app called Noom. This app/program is designed to help you make a lifestyle change so that you can live a sustainable healthy life. Last week one of the readings that Noom had me read dealt with understanding that there would be setbacks and struggles through this process. To combat that reality I was asked to write an "Oh well" statement that I could use when I stumbled. Mine is, "Oh well, I am still making progress." 

The next day I saw this Dave Ramsey tweet:




It is a wonderful thing that we can decide to make changes in our lives. We can make today the day that change begins. It is crucial to remember this.

I also think it is crucial to remember that change is hard. It doesn't happen over night and it doesn't happen just because you know the right thing to do.

Things like overcoming depression, losing weight, getting out of debt, or decluttering your house takes time. If we expect this change to go smoothly, for our habits to shift right this moment, and for our life to be perfect tomorrow we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Making these positive changes in our lives requires time and effort, and more than likely we are going to have a moment or two when we binge on Moose Tracks Ice Cream or put a shopping spree on the credit card, or do something else dumb that we have trained ourselves to do.

That is why we have grace. 

God is not expecting us to be perfect. After all He made allowance for repentance and confession. What God is after is our continued progress towards being like Jesus.

I believe in our quest to make changes in our lives the best thing we can do is to give ourselves grace and to remember that we will stumble along the way. Understanding this helps us to own up to our failure and move on by saying, "Oh well, I am still making progress."


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sermon: Wanderings

 This is the sermon I gave at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN on October 18, 2020.

 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Following Jesus and Politics


Politics is very seductive. It promises the ability to direct the course of a nation. 

It is this feature that causes many people To get worked up around election time. The belief  we have is that if the right people are elected, then the United States will head in the right direction. 

As a result, followers of Jesus can get distracted by politics. 

Since we are passionate about seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, we can tell ourselves that it is essential for our country to be influenced by God’s laws and will.

We see this on both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives will emphasis the need to have a country whose laws are based on Biblical truths. Progressives will emphasize the need to have a government that works to bring justice into the world. 

In both cases these Christians claim that their politics and the way they vote demonstrates their faithfulness to Jesus.


Our faith is not defined by our politics.

Remember, politics is about trying to rally support for certain candidates, policies, and causes. What inevitably happens is that half truths and distortions are used to convince us to support them. The politics of this world depends on propaganda for the support of people.

In contrast, the way of Jesus is about truth. Followers of Jesus seek to speak truth into this world. This means we can’t just use the same talking points the politicians and their supporters use. We have to seek and speak the truth, even when it goes against people and policies that we may support.

Politics requires the use of force. The primary way the world seeks to gain compliance among people is through force. Every governmental policy and law is enforced through the threat of force. We can see this in the multi-tiered law enforcement agencies that exists: local, state, and federal. Without this extensive police force, the will of politicians could not be accomplished.

In contrast, the way of Jesus is the way of compassion and love. According to Jesus, we are able to be righteous people when we love God and when we love our neighbors. Our job is to teach people to do the right thing, not by threatening them, but explaining the wonderful love of God and serving them in their needs.

To choose the way of politics as our primary focus is to say that we don’t trust God’s way of bringing transformation into this world. It demonstrates that we are more comfortable with using the tools of propaganda and force to direct people’s lives than we are trusting God’s Spirit to bring transformation.

This is not to say that it is wrong to be involved in politics or to ignore voting. 

William Wilberforce is a great example of using the wheels of politics to bring about a much needed change in society by ending the slave trade in the British Empire. Politics, when used with wisdom and love, is certainly one of the tools available to Christians to make a difference in this world.

My concern as a pastor and disciple of Jesus are Christians whose entire Facebook page is filled with nothing but political posts, who condemn the other side as evil, and who proclaim that the only way to save the United States is to vote for the candidates of their party. This is dangerous for a Christian’s personal discipleship and it hinders the outreach of the Church.

Be mindful of who you vote for and what issues you champion, but don’t equate that with your faithfulness to Jesus. God has His own agenda and that is what we should commit our lives to supporting.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Marriage and Discipleship

 Recently I was scrolling through Twitter and saw that one of the people I follow retweeted the following:

Is this good advice for single people?

I don't think so:



Marriage is wonderful. 

I can't imagine my life without my wife and children. They are a wonderful addition to my life.

The reality is that I have lived the majority of my life not married. For most of my adult life I was a single pastor who sought to follow Jesus. 

One of my regrets is that I wasted much of my time of singleness, because I continually believed that marriage and family was the missing part of my life. Rather than seeking God and His Kingdom, I sought after marriage. 

My discipleship was stunted as a result.

Consider what Jesus said about marriage:
Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” 
“Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:10-12; NLT)

 This does not sound like Jesus endorsed the advice to "get married soon" and "find a career." Rather, it seems like Jesus wants us to evaluate our lives and commit to a path that allows us to follow him. 

The path of singleness is a good but difficult life. Being single frees us from responsibilities that keep us from focusing solely on God's Kingdom and growing in holiness. It also creates the difficulty of being single in a world where couples and romance are celebrated and idolized. 

Being single is not easy, but it opens up the possibility of following Jesus at a deeper level than being married offers.

It is crucial that we do not offer up marriage as the perfect ideal for following Jesus. When we do we are in danger of turning marriage into an idol and making those who are single into second class citizens. 

Our marital status is not an indication of our discipleship. 

Our discipleship depends on our faithfulness to Jesus. May we continue to encourage one another, married and single, to remain faithful to him.


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.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Don't Surrender to Fear

The tasks God calls us to do are often scary and overwhelming.

One reason for feeling this way is because we know that if completing the tasks depended solely upon us then they will remain unfinished. We are well aware of our weaknesses and the ways we have fallen short in the past.

A second reason for feeling this way is because of the unknown. We don’t know what the obstacles will be, but we know that there will be obstacles. Anytime we are moving with God we can expect opposition.

I imagine that Joshua felt this same way when he was called to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NLT)

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Moses had been the leader of Israel for 40 years and he understood the difficulties that were involved with the task leadership. Like a wise leader he took the opportunity to encourage Joshua to be strong and courageous. Moses reminded Joshua that he could be confident in the task because God would go with him.

Deuteronomy 31:23 (NLT)

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun with these words: “Be strong and courageous, for you must bring the people of Israel into the land I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

For a second time Joshua is encouraged to be “strong and courageous.” This time the encouragement didn’t come from Moses, but from God. Joshua wasn't appointed to be leader by Moses, but by God. God told Joshua that he can boldly lead the people into the Promised Land because God will go with him.


What a great promise to have as you begin to live out your calling.

Joshua 1:6-9 (NLT)

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

On the eve of venturing into the Promised Land God came to Joshua and affirmed the promise that he had been given. Joshua could be strong and courageous because God went with him.

In this passage we also discover God’s instruction to Joshua on how to be strong and courageous: to know and obey the law.

God established a covenant with Israel, and as Israel's leader Joshua was charged with teaching Israel how to obey the terms of that covenant. It was essential that Joshua knew, obeyed, and ultimately modeled covenant faithfulness to the nation.

As Joshua knew, lived, and taught the terms of the covenant to Israel, he would become more and more confident of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

2 Timothy 1:6-8 (NLT)

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 
So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.
Timothy had a task to complete. It was based on the talents and spiritual gifts that God had given him.

Even though Timothy was called by God and had the necessary skills to complete the task, there was a part of Timothy that was holding him back. If he was to accomplish his God-given mission he would face persecution and opposition. Paul reminded Timothy that God's Spirit gave him the courage and boldness he needed to accomplish what God had called him to do.

Followers of Jesus we are not to surrender to our fears. We are to go forth in courage and do what we have been called to do: to make disciples.

Yes, we will face opposition.

That reality shouldn’t hold us back. We move forward, confident that as we demonstrate our faithfulness we will experience God’s faithfulness.

We can go confidently into the world because we know that God goes with us. He has empowered us, through His Spirit, to be the strong and courageous people He called us to be.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Continue to Struggle

We were never promised an easy life.

Even though we know this is true, we always feel like life is unfair when hardships, trials, and difficulties show up in our lives. 

We expect life to go easily, and when it doesn’t it shakes us to the core.

I believe that Christians, though we wouldn’t admit it, secretly believe following Jesus should make life easier. After all, we reason, we are doing God’s will and that means He should help us in our work. This unspoken belief is why it is easy for people to walk away from Jesus when things get difficult.

Let me throw this thought out at you: Does opposition make things easier or more difficult?

The Bible tells us that there is an enemy, Satan, who is opposed to God and His will. It is logical to conclude that following Jesus would make things more difficult. Satan is not going to sit idly by as we pursue the will of God. He is going to fight us every step of the way. 
The presence of an enemy, the reality of evil, and the corruption caused by sin means we can expect difficult times in our lives.

This implies even when we are doing God’s will things will not always go smoothly for us. The mere fact that we are doing God’s will means we can expect opposition. 

When hardships and trials come our way the best thing we can do is to struggle forward. As James pointed out in James 1:2-4, God uses these situations to mature our faith. In the face of opposition, of hardships, and of trials it is vital that we hold on to God’s promise. 

Hope is essential to enduring the struggles of life.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11; NLT)

Jesus told this group of Christians not to give up in the face of persecution. “Hang in there,” He says, “this persecution won’t last forever.”

Our struggle may not be persecution, but it is still a form of opposition from the enemy. In the middle of hardships we are often tempted to give up and do something else. We need hope to stay the course, and this is why Jesus reminds us of the great promise he has for us: a crown of life. 

Don’t give up, the reward is more than worth the pain!

How do we hang on and trust in Jesus when life becomes a struggle?
  1. Ask yourself the question: Is my struggle tied to right and faithful living? We need to be honest, sometimes life is a struggle because we have made bad choices. If that is the case, then we need to change the way we live. While God won’t take away the consequences of bad choices, He will empower us to get through them. On the other hand, if our hardships come from doing God’s will, then we need to remain faithful. If our desire is to honor God, encourage people, help others, and mature in our faith then we can expect to be opposed by Satan. We overcome Satan by being faithful to Jesus.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Each one of us carries around in minds what it life should look like and the wild success we will experience in ministry. These expectations can motivate us, but they can also be a huge stumbling block when life turns out to be different. That is why it is essential for us to be flexible, to lay down our agendas, and seek God’s guidance. Keep your focus on the hope of Jesus’s promise and not on your expectations.
  3. Surround yourself with friends. If we believe that we are alone in our struggle it is very easy to give up. It is much easier to endure when we are with friends. My first hiking trip to Colorado I went myself and I didn’t complete one hike. The reason was because I was alone and I got discouraged by the difficulties of the trials. When I have gone with friends I have been able to complete the trials, even when I felt like turning around, because we were on the trial together. The same is true in life and ministry.
Life is tough. 

The fact that life is tough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong trail. Remember, we can expect opposition to find us as we follow Jesus. That means the struggles of life can be an indication that we are doing what God wants us to do. 

Rather than being on the wrong path, we are being opposed by the enemy. Regardless of the circumstances of life we need to stay faithful. It is only by remaining faithful that we can experience the life God created us to live.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Deep Clean

As I a pastor I am currently preaching a sermon series entitled "Listen to Jesus" that looks at 6 teachings of Jesus that provide an understanding of how we can bear God's image in this world.

This is the second sermon in the series that focuses on our part in cleaning our hearts.

Friday, May 15, 2020

God Cares For You

Worries are a part of life.

Some have worries about health problems and medical tests.

Others have worries about relationship issues.

Still others have worries about money and bills.

Worries are universal, a common experience of life.

The apostle Peter wrote; So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (1 Peter 5:6-7; NLT).

God cares about us!

The implication of this great truth is that all of our worries and cares matter to Him. He cares about those silly fears we have about talking in front of a group of people, being in the dark, or the sound of thunderstorms.

The big worries also matter to God.

He cares about the fact that we worry about the salvation of our friends and family, that we are unable to find work, or that our parents' are sick. Everything that causes us to worry or that we care about, God also cares about.

How do we know that?

Peter wrote that God “cares about what happens to you.”

The evidence of God's love for us is seen in the blessings He generously gives. This is why it is important to take a few minutes on a regular basis to write a list of God’s blessing.

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus is more evidence that God cares for us. He is the one who took the initiative to save us when He had every right to allow us experience the pain of our rejection of Him.

The knowledge of God's love for us should motivate us to pray. The knowledge that God cares about the smallest detail of our lives helps us not to hesitate to pray about the circumstances of our lives, the wounds of our hearts, and the problems of our loved ones.

We have to be aware that with our limited perspective on life will lead us to question what God does and how He answers prayer. Even when we don't understand, I am certain as we reflect on our lives we will be able to see God's handiwork.   I am even more confident that when all is said and done we will realize that God led us by the best path for us.

I think this passage provides us with a great picture of God. We matter to God, and He cares about what happens in our lives. May this truth motivate us to continually come to God in prayer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Setting

An expectation God has for His people is that we will be holy as He is holy. To help us in this task God has given us the Bible. 

The Bible is a wonderful library of books that cover many different events and themes, which are woven together to tell one story. This one story leads to Jesus.

Even though the Bible is a wonderful gift that helps us understand Jesus and guides us on how to live, it can be hard to understand. We need to be taught how to read the Bible.

One of the basic things we need to understand about the Bible is that it is written in a variety of literary styles. The most common of these styles is historical narrative. Understanding narrative means we have to follow the plot, know the characters, and discover the setting. Knowing the setting of the narrative provides essential clues to understanding the point of the story.

 

When we take the settings of the narratives into account it helps us to build links to others stories. As we link different stories together we are able to see the unity of Scripture. For example, garden narratives should get us to recall chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis and get us to start drawing similarities and differences between what that story and what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Another key component of settings is time. The number seven is important because it going to remind people about Sabbath and resting.

Like any good story, it is important that we pay attention to the setting as we read through the narratives in the Bible. The biblical authors provide details about the setting to give us clues to the larger story that is going on.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Citizens of God's Kingdom

{Ephesians 2:19-22; NLT} 
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. 

 
There are two kingdoms. 

There is the kingdom of this world and there is the kingdom of God. 

 The reality of life, apart from Jesus, is that we are excluded from God’s kingdom. This means we are strangers and foreigners in the very kingdom that God created us to call home. 

Things can be different! 

Our citizenship can be changed!

 Not only can we become citizens of God’s kingdom, but we can even be adopted into God’s family! 

Before, while we were in our sin, we were outsiders, we didn’t belong to God’s Kingdom, but now we do. We were citizens of the world, and foreigners in the Kingdom of God, but now our citizenship has changed. 

The world is no longer our home, we are pilgrims in this land, because our citizenship is now in Heaven.

 I want to point out two implications that come with being citizens of God’s Ki ngdom. 

  1. We are not alone. I am not the only citizen of the Kingdom, and though it might feel like I am all alone at times, that is just a feeling and not reality. In this Kingdom reside all the faithful who lived under the Old Covenant as well as all of the faithful who follow Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews writes of a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). It encourages me to think about all the people who have lived faithful lives, because it reminds me that I am not the only one to experience the struggles of faith. 
  2. There is a standard for living. God expects His people to live in a certain way. One of the expectations God has for His people is that we will be servants. We need to help those people who are in need and in the process bring God’s love and hope into their lives. A second expectation is that we live moral lives. The moral standard that we live by needs to be better than the standard the rest of the world by. People need to recognize that there is a difference in the way we live and the they live. 

What a word of hope we find in this passage. 

We are part of God’s Kingdom! Being citizens of God’s kingdom is going provide us with some challenges. It will be a challenge simply because our purpose of life has changed. The fact that we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His household needs to shape the way we live.

Why? 

It needs to shape our lives because we no longer live for ourselves. Now we are representatives, ambassadors, of God’s Kingdom, and is essential that we to play the part.

Questions to consider: 
  • What was your life like before Jesus? 
  • Do you gain any hope from knowing you are part of God’s kingdom? 
  • How can you be a good representative of God’s kingdom?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Face Reality

I am an introvert. That is one of the reasons why I spend so much time pondering.  

All my pondering often leads to introspection. I am constantly evaluating my life.

One of my goals is to live as consistently as possible. I am always examining my thoughts and my actions to see if they line up with what I claim to believe. 

This is both good and bad. 

On the one hand, it helps me to live with integrity, which is a key part of following Jesus. 

On the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on me, because I can see all the areas where I fall short of my ideals.

When it comes to following Jesus it is good to spend time evaluating the condition of our hearts and the way we live. 

The apostle Paul wrote:
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (Romans 12:3; NLT)
Paul taught that we need to have the proper understanding of who we are. 

This requires that we take time to honestly evaluate ourselves. The warning Paul gave is that we don't think of ourselves better than we are. We shouldn't put a positive spin on things, rather we accept our strengths and victories as we admit to our weakness and failures. 

For a healthy life we need to do both. We need value the positive things and confess the negative things.

Too often people fail to examine their lives and ask the tough questions. They try to keep the status quo and not rock the boat, and the result is that they remain stunted in their maturity. Some of our most profound times of growth occur when we take stock of our lives and begin the hard work of making the appropriate changes.

What is true on a personal level is also true on a group level. 

Churches stagnate and die because the members don't want to take time and to face reality. The crisis the Church in the United States is facing right now is, in part, due to the reality that we have wanted to keep the status quo rather than seeking ways to connect with people living in a post-Christian internet age.

This failure to honestly examine things is also true in the nation as a whole. We can talk about a health care crisis or a financial crisis, but we never ask the tough questions that need to be asked that help us understand the root of these crises. We don't want to know what truly caused the problem, we just want the government to make it go away.

My point in all of this is to remind us that as long as we are dealing with superficial issues we will continue to miss the core problem. Whether it is in our personal lives, in our churches, or in our nation, we need to look beyond the superficial and examine what really matters. 

While this is harder to do in the short term it will pay huge benefits in the long run. Effective solutions are those that actually deal with root problem.  By not addressing the real issue, we are just wasting time doing things that ultimately will not matter. 

We need to face reality if we hope to become the people, the church, or the country God created us to be.

What We Think About Most

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