Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Take Time to Rest




We love to talk about how busy we are. 

In fact, for many Americans, being busy is how we convince ourselves that we have worth. It means that we are needed and that we are valuable.

Yet, not only does being busy add to our stress levels, busyness also robs us of the time we have to do things that we enjoy and that truly matter. We put off time with our families, volunteering, and celebrating because we have that deadline to make or that meeting to attend.

In God’s economy busyness is not worth all that much. 

God desires that His people take time to rest and to celebrate. 

One of the 10 terms of the covenant God made with Israel was the command to observe the Sabbath, to rest. 

When we intentionally take time to rest, even when work is piling up and things need to be done, we are admitting that God is the one control. He is the one that makes the world go around, not us. Sabbath rest is an act of faith in God.

Not only did God give Israel the Sabbath, but He also provided them with different times of celebrations throughout the year. Ceasing from work and taking time to celebrate, to be with friends and family as we thank God for what He has done, reorients our lives to God. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to us and calls us back to a life of faith.

Work is an essential part of life. Our work is how we join God in renewing and restoring His creation. It is important.

Without periods of rest and celebration we will lose sight of what our work is about and why we are doing it. Our rest reminds us that our work is important and provides us with motivation to keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Perception and Truth



In our search for truth it is important to recognize that most of our beliefs that we hold on to as truth are just our interpretation of the data that we have. 

I am not saying that truth doesn’t exist or that it is impossible to discover truth, but I am saying that truth isn’t as objective as we sometimes would like it to be. 

We realize that two people looking at the exact same data can come to two different conclusions. 

Some of that is based on first principles, for example, believing in God is going to shape our interpretation of the data about the origins of the universe.

Some of that is based on our experiences, for example, whether you have a positive or negative experience with church growing up is going to shape your opinion on the importance of being part of church family as you grow older.

This is what Erwin McManus wrote in his book Soul Cravings:

In other words, for something to make sense to us, it cannot remain outside of us. We do not simply study information and then come to a conclusion; we absorb it and come to a personal interpretation of what is real.

I was listening to a lecture in which the speaker referred to studies in neuroscience that describe the process from which the human brain gathers and holds information. He explained that when the human brain absorbs information, that information is one part data and six parts emotion. Now that’s a fascinating thought--that everything we remember is wrapped around everything we experience. When you reflect on this, it makes perfect sense. (Meaning; Entry #12: It’s All in How You Look At It)*

What Erwin talks about here explains why, for most people, their relationships with the fathers affect their view of God. 

It also accounts for people who leave Christianity after a personal tragedy in their lives. Their view of God and the Church affected by their experience.

In the United States there is a significant amount of people who are not buying the version of truth being offered from the corporate press and politicians.

Why are they skeptical?

They are skeptical because they believe they have been lied to, overlooked, and stabbed in the back by these people who now say, "Just trust us." 

When we remember that perception is reality for people, it should not surprise us that there people who do not hold to your version of what is real. Their experience is leading them to a different conclusion.

It really doesn't matter how many experts, studies, and facts we believe back up our point-of-view because another person will put all of that through their filter of experience and emotion. This is why facts are weak persuasion. 

All of us like to believe that we rational and that the beliefs that we hold we arrived at through following the facts. The reality is that the majority of the time we arrive at our beliefs for emotional reasons and we use facts to justify our positions afterwards. This is why these facts seem so obvious to us.

If we want to change someone's mind the best thing to do is not to throw a bunch of facts and figures at them, but to offer a listening ear and show that you understand what they are saying. Without listening and seeking to understand other people there will be an ever growing divide between people who hold different points-of-view.

* Soul Cravings is a book without page numbers. For reference I provided the title of the section and the entry number and title. I believe the McManus discussion on truth is worth the price of the book.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Perspective and Commitment



Our perspective on the world is limited. 

Even if we stayed plugged into the news we would still be limited to those stories they decided to run. 

As you can see, this is not an ignorance of choice or laziness, but of reality. The body in which we live is confined to one place in time, our minds can only absorb so much information, and what we do know is colored by other people’s perception.

This reality makes it impossible for us to fully understand what is happening in the world and the best way to precede. What seems like an insignificant act in the moment might effect our lives for years to come.

Take for example Joseph. We read about this man of faith in the Old Testament. 

 Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, but his bothers hated him. That hatred changed the direction of Joseph’s life. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, and years later Joseph is made a leader in Egypt.

When Joseph as a slave he was a handsome young man. He was trustworthy and the things he did were successful. These things caught the attention his master’s wife. She tried to convince him to sleep with her. This wasn’t a one time proposal, but a constant request. 

Joseph was alone in Egypt, no family, friends, or accountability partners. From his point-of-view what did he have to look forward to? Would he get married? Would he have a family? Would he ever move above being a slave?

It would have been easy for Joseph to rationalize the affair with Potiphar’s wife. There is no guarantee that he marry and this type of relationship was expected for slaves to engage in, it just needed to be kept secret. 
From a certain perspective it made all the sense in the world for Joseph to give into her request.

What stood in Joseph’s way was his commitment to God. 

Joseph was operating from a different perspective.

It might have been in Joseph the Slave’s best interest to sleep with the wife of Potiphar, but it was not in Joseph the Chosen One’s best interest. 

Side note: this is pure speculation, but I believe that if Joseph choose the path of having an affair he would have remained a slave. He may have remained a favorite slave, but he still would be a slave.

The immediate consequence of Joseph’s decision to reject the advances of Potiphar’s wife brought a new set of hardship: Joseph went from being the head slave in Potiphar’s house to prison. He went from having a great deal of freedom, to no freedom. 

Wouldn’t that be enough to make us question our decision?

Yet, this was the route God chose to prepare Joseph for his task. 

At the time Joseph had no idea of what God had in store for him. All Joseph had was his commitment to God. That commitment allowed Joseph to trust God, even when the circumstances of life did not make sense.

We will never discover what God wants us to do if we never commit ourselves to following God. 

Our vision is limited by time and space. We don’t know what will happen in the next hour, let alone what will happen a year from now. God knows what is going to happen, that means we need to trust Him and the guidance He gives to help navigate the ups and downs of life.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Keep My Eyes on Jesus




Hebrews 12:1-4 (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

Heavenly Father, thank You for all those men and women who have come before me. Their lives serve as a testimony to faithfulness: Your faithfulness to us and our ability to be faithful to You.

I need Your help to keep my eyes focused on Jesus. The responsibilities, frustrations, joys, and sorrows of life all threaten to take my attention off of him. I am like Peter walking on the water, tempted to concentrate on the wind and the waves rather than on Jesus. I want my eyes on Jesus.

Empower me with Your Spirit so I am able to be faithful in every situation, demonstrating Your character to the world around me. Let my life speak of Your goodness.

In Jesus' name, amen.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Move in the Direction of Who You want to Be


Change is constantly happening. 

That is why we can say the above quote shared by Dave Ramsey on Instagram is incorrect. Time, experience, and other forces of life are at work in and around us. No one stays the same.

Yet, these forces are often indifferent to who we would like to become. They are simply the result of life.

The point of the quote and what I think we should all consider, is that we are not going to become the person we want to be without intentional effort. If we just go along with the flow of life, we will experience change, we will be different, but we probably aren’t moving closer to the goals we have for our lives.

Two of the greatest influences we have in life that are able to determine that direction of our lives are what we learn (reading was the primary source of learning a generation ago, it is not longer the case) and the people we are around.

Reading books, listening to podcasts, watching lectures, and hearing sermons all have the power to direct our thoughts and to get us thinking in ways that we wouldn’t on our own. When we seek to go in a specific direction in our lives it pays to hear from people who have already gone done that path. To neglect the discipline of learning means we will miss out on reaching our full potential.

This is why the New Testament tells us direct our thoughts (Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8, Colossians 3:1-4, 1 Peter 1:13). To change our worldview and our behavior we first have to change our thoughts. 

We are going to be thinking, it is one of the things God designed our minds to do, and so we have a great responsibility to direct what we are thinking about. Don’t just passively allow the news, social media, and entertainment direct your thoughts. Instead, be intentional about what you put into your mind to think about so we can become more like the person you want to be.

If you are looking for a good book to read here are some recommendations:
  1. Reading the Bible: When it comes to reading the Bible, here are two books I have found helpful: Scripture and the Authority of God by N. T. Wright and The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. They are similar books in that they challenge us to examine the ways in which we read and interpret Scripture. N.T. Wright wants us to see Scripture as the way God works in and through us. Scot McKnight seeks to have us read through the lens of the Bible being God’s story.
  2. Productivity: Here are two books about productivity/getting the most out of your time. Deep Work by Cal Newport and the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. Deep Work (which is in my top 10 books people should read) focuses on the importance of regularly working distraction free, because distractions prevent us from truly getting the most out of our mental energy. The Slight Edge has a lot of content that is transferable to task of discipleship. The key is to develop little disciplines that help you accomplish your goals.
  3. Church ministry: Wondering how the church can enter into a new time of ministry after Covid? Two books I have found helpful are Recalibrate Your Church by Dr. Troy Jones and Analog Church by Jay Kim. Recalibrate Your Church looks at the necessity of creating a church culture that is willing to evaluate and change the ministry of the church to impact the community. Analog Church, which is in the top 5 books I have read this year, looks at the importance community and relationships in following Jesus.
  4. Leadership: Leadership is a tricky thing and we constantly need teaching and encouragement on how to do it. Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is a good book for pastors, because it reminds us that our leadership requires a connection with God. John Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You is a classic book that focuses on the practical things we should pay attention to in our leadership.
  5. Following Jesus: Here are three short books that provide a greater insight into what it means to follow Jesus. Imminent Domain by Ben Witherington looks at God’s Kingdom and our place in it. Life in Christ by John Stott explores how we are connected to Jesus. Following Jesus by N. T. Wright explains what it means to follow Jesus.
  6. Prayer: How about prayer? Here are three I have benefited from reading: With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (one of my favorite authors), Moving Mountains by John Eldredge, and Seeing is Believing by Greg Boyd. With Christ in the School of Prayer is divided up into 31 lessons (a month long) that conclude with a sample prayer. Moving Mountains provides an encouragement to pray as well as some ideas of how to pray (Daily prayer, praying Scripture, Warfare Prayer). Seeing is Believing focuses on using our imagination in prayer, especially as we seek healing and restoration.
Start being intentional about the person you are becoming. Read a book, listen to a lecture, and hang out with the right people. These are intentional actions that will point us in the direction we need to go.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Be Humble and Pursue Truth


This tweet has been with me all the way through this year. Those closest to me know that Tom Woods has been a big influence in my life for the last decade (I discovered him sometime during Ron Paul’s 2008 Presidential run), mainly through his daily podcast.

As a person who strives to be a life-long learner, what Tom encourages people to do has been a goal of mine. I realize that the knowledge that I have is only a tiny drop compared to the vast amount of information that is in the world. It would be arrogant of me to approach life with the assumption that all my beliefs are correct. 

Over the years as I have read books and listened to lectures, sermons, and podcasts my beliefs have shifted and changed. Sometimes the change has been drastic such as going from conservative Republican to a Ron Paul Republican to a libertarian and finally to a anarcho-capitalist/Christian anarchist. Some changes have been more subtle like moving form a staunch young earth creationist view to being open to other possibilities. 

The apostle Paul in Romans wrote: “ 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.” (Romans 12:2, NLT)

God transforms us through the renewal and change of our thinking (see also Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:1-4). The thoughts and beliefs that are rolling around in our heads and hearts effect everything else about us. They form the structure of our worldview and they guide our actions and emotions. This is why God needs to change our thinking before transformation occurs in our lives.

Followers of Jesus also need to be confident that all truth is God’s truth. This means we want to be on the side of truth, whatever that looks like, because we know all truth comes from God. This gives us the freedom to admit that we might be wrong about things and to re-examine what we believe.

I will offer one bit of advice here: In our pursuit of truth we need a bedrock truth that is able anchor us in faith. Otherwise we are in danger of believing whatever sounds good to us.

For me, and I think for any follower of Jesus, that bedrock belief needs to be the resurrection of Jesus. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 wrote (1 Corinthians 15:14, NLT), “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.”

Because I think there is credible evidence to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, I secure my hope there, and let that be the foundation of my worldview.

As we enter the last month and half of 2020 may we set our faith in Jesus and allow God to guide our thinking, so our lives can be transformed.

Monday, November 16, 2020

In Spite of Our Sins and Flaws

 


I have given these two tweets quite a bit of thought the last few days. When I see things like this it causes me to stop and think, because I figure if one person is expressing the thought then other people are thinking it.

Each tweet has a thought that needs to be addressed.

First, Mayfield equates the expression of unworthiness with self-hatred. Now, there are times when I have heard worship leaders and pastors lay it on a little thick when it comes to reminding people about not living up to God's glory. Even when we take into consideration the over the top emphasis of our unworthiness, I don't think that equates with self-hatred.

You don't have to hate yourself in order to understand that the love another person has for you is totally undeserved. In many ways, that is the basis of true love. There is nothing you have done to earn the love of the other person.

Even in my best moments, I don't deserve the love my wife and children have for me. Too often I am selfish, moody, and inconsiderate of who they are and what they want. I am not hating myself to admit this reality, but rather grateful for the love they show me, in spite of my flaws.

To acknowledge that God loves us, even when we have rebelled against His will and have failed to bear His image in this world, is not a form of self-hatred. It can be an expression of gratitude for what God has done for us and the blessing He has given. It is an acknowledgement that in spite of our flaws God continues to loves us.

This then transitions into the second tweet. Murray makes the claim that self-hatred is at the heart of the evangelical gospel. Now, I realize that he is trying to say something about the gospel as American evangelicals typically teach it, but he also added "no matter how woke or kind the iteration is,"so I think it is fair evaluate this sentiment based on how I teach the Gospel.

Remember the Gospel is the proclamation of God's Kingdom coming into this world through the person of Jesus Christ. Watch the Bible Project video on Gospel.

To understand the Gospel we have to understand that God created human beings in His image. In other words, we are to be God's representatives in this world. We are to look after God's good creation using His wisdom, love, grace, and all the rest. The only way we can do that is to be connected to God so that His life is flowing through us. 

Sin severs the connection we have with God and instead of living with His wisdom and love, we live according to what we think is best. At the heart of the Gospel is God's love for humans and His plan for us to once again rule with Him in his Kingdom. Through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that connection is restored, allowing us to demonstrate God's character in this world.

Now, if you believe the Gospel is about a God who created people to try to live up to a ridiculously high standard and then condemn and punish them for not doing so,  I can understand why you think the heart of the Gospel is self-hatred. You will feel like Anakin Skywalker in The Attack of the Clones after he slaughtered the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, "I'm a Jedi, I know I'm better than this." 

To feel like you need to be "better than this" and yet feel powerless to become better will lead you on the path towards self-hatred. Here is an overlooked truth, we can't be better than this. A life lived based on our definitions of good and bad, right and wrong will lead to a world filled with war, abuse, addiction, violence, and oppression. We don't have want it takes to become better.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it is a declaration that God loves us and seeks to renew and restore the connection He has with us. It tells us that we can't be perfect and that we can't bear God's image apart from Him.

The Gospel helps us to understand how unworthy we are of God's love and declares that in spite of our sin and flaws God desires to be in relationship with us. God has not given up on us. Instead, He is working to restore His image in us so we can live out our calling to demonstrate His character in this world.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sunday Prayer: Connect Me to You

 


Dear Jesus, I love you. I worship you. I trust you.

I want to bear the image of God in this world and I come to you, Jesus, so my connection with you can be restored. The only way I can demonstrate God's character is to have your life flowing through me. I need your love, your grace, and your wisdom in me so I can live a life that is worthy of you.

Jesus, you are the vine and I am the branch. You are the source of my life and I need to be grafted onto you. I want to be filled with your life, love, and wisdom. Fill me with you, Jesus, so I can overflow with your love and bring glory and praise to God.

Jesus, connect me to you, for apart from you I can do nothing.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Understanding the Trump Moment

 President Trump represents an interesting moment in American history. Because we are living through it I think we should take some time to understand what is going on.



The “Donald Trump Moment” has little to do with Donald Trump and his presidency. It has everything to do an ever growing divide that is happening in the United States. A failure to understand this only ensures that this divide grows faster and faster.

When it comes to Donald Trump himself many Christians on the right and the left get him wrong.

On the left, people act like Donald Trump is uniquely evil. They love to tell us that Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist, and a divider. Yet, when you look at what he has done, you realize the President Trump is basically an 80s Democrat (he was a Democrat in the 80s - this reminds us that a conservative is just a progressive driving the speed limit). Remember, Donald Trump was a supporter of same sex marriage way before it was cool. The real objection that people have about President Trump is they don’t like his rhetoric. They prefer their presidents to act “presidential” when they bomb other countries. Seeing President Trump as evil keeps them from giving credit to him for the good things he has done.

On the right, Christians act like Donald Trump is God’s chosen instrument to save the United States. They will tell us that President Trump is a modern day King Cyrus. Relying on Isaiah 45 they paint a picture of how Donald Trump fits the model of a nonbeliever who is appointed by God to benefit faithful people. In a sense they see attacks on President Trump as spiritual opposition. Seeing Donald Trump as chosen by God prevents them from seeing the bad things he has done.

Seeing Donald Trump as evil or God’s chosen one keeps many people from seeing the truth about President Trump: he is a typical modern day president. He overreaches with executive power, believing he is the legislator-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief. The greatest thing that sets President Trump off from every other president is his use of Twitter. Should we expect anything less from a celebrity turned president in the age of social media?

What is the “Donald Trump” moment really about?

When it comes to watching Shark Tank, Mark Cuban is the one I always pay attention to because I felt like he had a better understanding of things. But with this tweet Mark Cuban reveals he doesn’t get what is going on.



To simply explain away Donald Trump’s supporters by saying they are misled means you haven’t truly thought about what is happening. This moment really isn’t even about Donald Trump, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Replacing Donald Trump with Joe Biden is not going to make things go back to “normal.” 

Why are things not returning to “normal”?

People weren’t misled by Donald Trump. What happened is that people heard what he had to say, and they projected on to him the type of leader they wanted to have.

There is a good portion of people in the United States who are tired of being told that they are racist, that the institutions they cherish are outdated and evil, that if they hold certain conservative views they are on the outside of polite society. They are fed up with being lied to by establishment people like Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George Bush. These people would say one thing and do another, never standing up for the people who voted for them. 

The people who are tired and fed up with the establishment are the same people who formed the Tea Party movement, which then morphed into Trump Supporters. 

These people are not going away.

One thing we learned from the election is that these people are growing. Donald Trump was supposed to be swept away. This seemed plausible because any sitting president with that much going against him: mainstream media (including much of Fox News), Hollywood, Cornavirus, a slumping economy, and the Deep State (which manufactured charges about Russian Collusion) wouldn’t have stood a chance. Even in the face of this adversity Donald Trump still out performed his 2016 showing.

I know many people who voted for Donald Trump and they all knew that he was a flawed person and president, but for them he represented a way to fight back against the establishment that opposes them and the things they love.

I understand where this group is coming from, because I had my own moment in 2008 with Ron Paul. When I was going through my disillusionment with Republicans and the political establishment Ron Paul was the one who said things that resonated with me.

If current trends with the election continue with the way they are heading and we have a President Joe Biden in 2021, things are not going to return to “normal.” The Trump supporters are going to morph into something new as they seek to fight back against the establishment. An establishment, that in so many different ways, seems to be against them at every turn. 

This is what you need to understand if you are going to truly evaluate the Trump presidency.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Growing Compassion

 


One of the marks of Christian maturity is an increased capacity for compassion.  The longer we follow Jesus, the more compassion we have for people. This compassion even extends to people who are in bad circumstances caused by their own choices.

When I was younger it was easy for me to judge people who were enduring bad circumstances in their lives. 

“After all,” I reasoned; “if they would make better choices they wouldn’t find themselves in that circumstance.” 

Compassion was absent from my heart. 

Over the last several years God has transformed my heart. Rather than blaming people for their difficult circumstances my heart breaks for them. I realize most of the time they are in those circumstances, not because they want a difficult life, but because they don’t know there is a better way to live.

As Matthew put it: they are “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

I don’t want to diminish the responsibility each of us has for the choices that we make. I do want to point out that the choices we make are hardly ever black and white. Most of the time our choices are the result of a complex mixture of experiences, emotions, and environment. 

The reality is that all of us make decisions based on the information that we have.
1 Peter 1:18 (NLT)
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 
This has been a key verse in understanding the choices people make and one of the reasons I have more compassion for them.

People live the way they were taught to live. The choices that they make sense to them in the light of what they know.

 Imagine how your life would be different if you were raised differently. Things that seem to be “common sense” may not even be known to you. 

Peter tells us that much of the world, instead of inheriting a life of faith in Jesus, they inherited a life given to them by their ancestors, a life that is empty. It is not their fault, it is simply the hand that they were dealt.

On top of inheriting an empty way of life, many people struggle with habits and addictions that are difficult to break free from. Again, it isn’t necessarily their fault. They may want to get out, but they are trapped in a prison of their own creation.

In a real sense people are victims of outside forces. 

When we read the gospels it appears that when Jesus looked at a crowd of people he didn’t see dirty rotten sinners; instead he saw people who were being victimized. Rather than condemning them for their choices and sins, Jesus showed them compassion and understanding. That is not to say that Jesus accepted their sin or acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but it does show that Jesus, the one person who could sit in judgment, chose to extend help to them.

There is a shift in our thinking that we need to make.

With the Bible in our hands it is tempting judge people with God’s truth, rather than to help them out of love. 

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing this very thing. They focused on people’s sin and did nothing to help them overcome it. 

This is a danger we need to avoid.

To have a knowledge of God’s will can lead us to believe that taking a stand for God’s truth is the same as doing God’s work. 

In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus told the church in Ephesus that they were in danger of being shut out of the Kingdom because of their lack of love. The Ephesians were known for standing up for the truth, but somewhere along the line they had lost their love.

We have to be on our guard so that doesn’t happen to us. Truth shouldn’t overshadow our love.

Compassion, which is a form of love, needs to be mixed with truth. It is the mixture of  truth and love which gives us the ability to influence the people in our lives. Our care and compassion opens up people’s hearts to receive the the truth. 

 The example of Jesus is that he led with compassion. Jesus loved people through healing and helping them. Not only did he demonstrate compassion, he always told them the truth. 

Truth is a lot easier to take when you know it comes from a person who cares for you.

Jesus looked at the crowds of people and He saw people who were lost and with no way to find their way home. What these people needed was a person to show them the right direction, not lecture on how terrible it is to be lost.

As we look around us we realize that the number of people who need help are more than we can help by ourselves. What can we do? 

If we are going to show compassion to the world we have to pray. Prayer gives us a  proper perspective on life and the world around us. It also helps us to align our hearts with God’s heart. 

In our prayers we need make a request: workers for the harvest. There is a shortage of leaders who are able to show the lost the way home.

Compassion is not just reserved for our prayer life. Compassion needs to be a key characteristic of our lives. Jesus lived in such a way to show the people around him that he knew the Way they were to travel. 

As Jesus’ followers we have that same responsibility of living our lives in such a way that it demonstrates a better way to live.

To live like Jesus means we need a change of perspective. Instead of seeing the people as dirty rotten sinners we need to see them as lost travelers trying desperately to get home.

Or better yet, a field ready to be harvested and brought home.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Protect Your Heart

 


Even in best of times it is possible to loose heart. 

Grief, tragedy, and hardships come into our lives and rob us of joy, peace, and hope. Things that make life worth living.

Stress, inconveniences, and busyness, like a drippy faucet, have a similar effect. Our lives don’t have to be crumbling down for us to lose heart.

In these days of uncertainty all of us are at risk of losing heart and living, to some degree, in despair. How can we prevent this from taking place?

Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. We need to monitor our thinking: Philippians 4:8 (NLT) “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” What we think about has a huge impact on our feelings about life. What determines our thoughts are the things we put into our minds. Our TV watching, internet surfing, and social media lurking all influence what we think about and how we think about them. Limits on time and type of media are crucial for a proper thinking. This is also why Scripture meditation is important. By meditating on the Bible we are putting into our hearts and minds true, noble, and good things.
  2. We need to act on what we know: Philippians 4:9 (NLT) “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” It is one thing to know that right thing to do, but it is another thing to do it. A word of caution here. We have to be intentional and realistic in what we do. Too often we try to compensate for our past failures and inaction by doing all these wonderful things, which adds to our load of stress, and when we fail to live up to expectations, our load of guilt. Small changes, when put together over time, have a big impact. So where do you start? Usually there are one or two things you know that you should be doing. That is where we start. Do the next right thing.
  3. We need to confess our needs to God: 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Giving God the things that are on our hearts is a way of letting them go. We need to be able to let them go so they don’t dominate our thoughts and emotions. It is important to remember that this takes time. Yes, it would be nice if all we had to do was to give our worries and cares to God once and that be the end of it. Often, because these thoughts and cares are imbedded in our hearts, it takes multiple times to truly handing them over to God for them to leave our hearts.
  4. We need to worship: 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT) “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Worship is the best way to orient our lives back towards God. Remember, we are created in God’s image and for us to live that image out in our lives, our focus must be on Him. Whether it is through singing songs, journalling our gratitude, or praying from our hearts, worship shifts our perspective from ourselves to God. That shifts allows us to live with hope.
In this world, with all of its hardships and tragedies, we need to protect our hearts. We by living with hope, and hope comes from the intentional action of following Jesus.

Don’t lose heart and don’t despair. Turn your heart and mind towards God and let Him fill you with hope.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sunday Prayer: Proclamation of Freedom



Many of us take our words for granted and we don't think that what we say has very much authority. Simply reflecting on the reality of how the words of other people have wounded us or have blessed us shows us that what say has power attached to it. 

That is why we need to be very careful about making false promises and statements. What we say is one way we bring things into reality. 

A prayer like this, a proclamation of the reality that we want to live, has the potential to be powerful. There is nothing magically about these words, but the words carry power when we say them with the intention of living a life of faith. 

This proclamation of freedom is adapted from an exercise Pastor Greg Boyd did at Woodland Hills Church on September 4, 2011.  I hope that you find blessing and freedom through it.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

~ Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Through the authority of Jesus Christ, who died for sin, I declare that I am free. He has rescued me from the kingdom of darkness and He has brought me into His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Light.

On the authority of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, I declare that I am no longer a slave, that all chains are broken, the power of sin has been defeated, and the bondage to Satan has ended.

By the authority of Jesus Christ, who now stands at the right hand of God, I declare that I will stand fast in freedom, that I will be a good steward of the life given to me, that I will hold on to the inheritance promised to me, and that I will not return to the slavery of sin.

On the authority of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, I renounce all bondage to fear, to insecurities, to greed, to despair, and to depression. We renounce all sexual addictions, all drug addictions, and all people pleasing addictions. And I renounce all bondage to self-centeredness, to the cultural idols, and anything else that has the power to enslave me. For who the Son has set free is free indeed!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Sermon: A Few Good Men and Women

This is sermon 9 in The Story series that I am preaching at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN. 

 As God's people we are to be separate from the world. 

What can we learn from Israel's example in the book of Judges to help us be set apart from the world?

 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

We Can’t Go Back

 On Monday evening I posted a screen shot of a tweet from comedian and libertarian Dave Smith to Facebook.



I think we need to ponder this reality.

No matter how much we want to go back to “normal” we can’t, things have changed.

Now it is true that things are always changing, but usually they are gradual and you don’t notice the change taking place. In this way you  are slowly conditioned to accept the change. 

Because of social media, reporting around President Trump, and especially the pandemic, the pace of change has accelerated, which has caused us to take notice of it. 

Rather than having these things happen slowly over time, they hit us right in the face.

A good example of this is Sunday worship attendance. Attendance has been trending down for years as congregations grow older and younger people stopped coming. Because of lockdowns, masks, and other restrictions, many churches have experienced a sharp decline in attendance from where they were just last year. 

These people were leaving anyway, the pandemic just made it happen faster.

Since we know we can’t go back, all we can do is to plan to go forward. As we plan to go forward we have to realize that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future.

Here are some of my thoughts about moving forward:
  1. We need to think smaller rather than bigger. This is true for the church, where we need to concentrate on smaller gatherings. Smaller gathering are not only helpful in discipleship, but they are also helpful when limitations are put on gatherings. When things are smaller our plans are not as easily disrupted. I also think going smaller is the key to moving forward politically. One of the overlooked checks to the federal government’s power, and I believe the most important check, are the states. Washington’s power is rendered useless when the states decide not to comply with the Feds wishes. We see this as individual states legalized marijuana. The federal government doesn’t have the resources to enforce its laws across the individual states. Washington depends on the states to enforce its laws. As one of my favorite podcasters, Brion McCallahan, says, “Think locally, act locally.”
  2. We need to diversify our thinking. Too many people think in binary terms. Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, racist and inclusive, etc. As someone who tends to live outside the binary bubble, I can tell you things are not that simple. When it comes to following Jesus we need to move past the tendency to judge a person’s faith and commitment to Scripture based on a few pet doctrines like the age of the earth or a premillennial interpretation of the end time. We need these different perspectives to gain a greater understanding of the Bible and following Jesus (now, this doesn’t mean everything is open to interpretation, but it does mean that when there are different perspectives we should be able to listen to them). When it comes to politics we need to break away from the strangle hold of a two party system. Having only two major parties lead to corruption as people hungry for power manipulate the system. Also, there are thousands, if not millions of people who do not line up with either a Republican or Democrat view of the world. I am one of them, and consistently we go unrepresented. Let’s bring more voices to the table and spread the responsibilities of governing to many different parties, rather than just two.
  3. We need come to an understanding of the role social media plays in our lives. This is a new technology, and we don’t understand all the different ways it is effecting us. It is certainly shaping our opinions of things and making it seem like there is a greater divide between people than really exists. That is one of the reasons for the hostility that we are seeing. Social media is being used to divide us and cause us to see the other side as evil. The responsible use of social media is key to moving forward.
No matter how this election turns out, we need to understand that we aren’t going back to the way “things used to be”. 

Things have changed, and rather than complaining about that reality, we need to find a way forward.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Vital Importance


I have been trying to write this pondering for many days now, but it just hasn’t come. 

So to move on from it, let me bullet point my thoughts on this quote:
  • Many Christians see the main benefit of salvation and following Jesus as “going to heaven” when they die. This causes them to miss out on the difference Jesus makes for our lives today.
  • When we believe that faith is mainly about believing the right things and that believing these things is the key to salvation, then we have little to no motivation to change the way we live. Instead we become concerned about having the right doctrines and less concerned about living the right way.
  • It is crucial for us to understand what God is up. God doesn’t need to save us so we can spend eternity with Him. Remember God created a good universe. He created human beings in His image so we can rule this world along side of Him, displaying His goodness and demonstrating His character along the way.
  • Jesus is the perfect sacrifice because He alone was able to display God’s goodness in the way He lived. For us to live out our design, for us to be true to the image of God, we need to be conformed to the life of Jesus.
  • To be conformed to the life and teachings of Jesus takes intentional effort and time. This is the role the spiritual disciplines play in our lives. The disciplines are like the drills during basketball practice or the scales that are rehearsed during piano practice. The drills are not the game and the scales are not the performance, but they help the player and the musician be better prepared for the game and the concert.
  • It is vitally important that we take following Jesus seriously and don’t just sit around waiting to go to heaven. God created us for so much more. In fact, we prepare for eternity with God by conforming to the life of Jesus now.
Just some quick thoughts on this passage.

Hopefully they were helpful to you. If not, you got a peek at how my mind works.



Monday, November 2, 2020

Voting Advice

 

One of the great questions that I have wrestled with in my adult life is the relationship Christians are to have with politics. I think politics hold a danger for followers of Jesus that isn’t widely talked about or even acknowledged. It is just assumed, at least in the United States, that Christians should be politically active and vote.

To merely suggest that there might be a different way to look at things invites comebacks such as, “Elections have consequences.” 

That is true, but that doesn’t answer the question about the proper role politics is to play in the lives of Christians. 

Remember, what we think most about naturally becomes the most important thing to use. Thinking too much about politics and allowing it to become the most important thing about life (which it has, because we live in a culture where every things is political) is just one of the real dangers Christians face when getting involved in politics.

When thinking through these questions I find it useful to go back and discover what earlier questions thought and taught. Recently I came across the above advice from John Wesley and thought it was worth considering.

What can we apply to our lives from this advice from John Wesley?

First, our vote must be a principled vote and not given because of what a candidate has promised. Government in the United States is based on constitutions. There are the individual state constitutions and there is the federal constitution. Rather than voting for the person who promises to do the most stuff (which I would consider voting for a reward), we should cast our vote for the person who promises to remain true to the Constitution.

Second, we judge a person's worthiness for political office by two factors. The first factor is whether or not they follow the constitutions that are the restraints placed on the government. Romans 13:1 says, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God." I believe that in a Constitutional Republic, the governing authorities are the constitutions. That is why a person's worthiness to represent you should be based on their willingness to uphold and defend the constitution. The second factor is their integrity. A person's character is an important factor to consider when determining whether or not they should represent you.

Third, it is crucial to remember that everyone is created in the image of God and therefore deserves our respect. You may not agree with the other side, but that does not give you the right to talk evil about them. In the long run, it is far more influential to provide a reasonable defense for your ideas then it is to declare the other side's candidate as evil.

Fourth (which I think is the most crucial piece of advice on the list), guard your heart. There is a danger that is lurking in politics for us who follow Jesus. We have to be very intentional to not dehumanize people or see people who disagree with us as the enemy. This happens all the time on Facebook, people who follow Jesus, yet when it comes to politics, they call people who disagree with them politically idiots, mentally ill, and even demonic. This is wrong. Christians need to do what we can to avoid falling into the trap of making enemies out of our political opponents. Not only does it damage our ability to demonstrate God’s character in this world, it also opens our hearts and minds to the corrupting influence of Satan.

Politics, like all things of this world, needs to be approached carefully. Followers of Jesus need to remember that there is a danger in putting an emphasis on voting and politics, because when they are mishandled they end up warring against our soul. This is why it is important for each of us to think through the role politics has in our lives.

John Wesley provided good insight for how we should vote, may we have the ears to hear what he has to say.


Take Time to Rest

We love to talk about how busy we are.  In fact, for many Americans, being busy is how we convince ourselves that we have worth. It means th...