Posted in Christian Living

This House Divided

House divided

Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength.  –Max Lucado, from Come Thirsty

Everyone talks about worry being a waste of time, but my morning reading pointed out to me a much more compelling reason to avoid this wasteful habit.  Worry actually divides my mind, keeping me from putting everything I have into today.

When Christ spoke about a house divided, He meant a couple of different things.  One time, He uses this metaphor to argue against the accusation that He is from the devil since He could cast out demons.  Why would Satan, Jesus reasons, do something to hurt himself?  Another time, Christ uses this metaphor to explain why it is so important to put our whole selves into the pursuit of our love of God instead of being distracted by the things of this world that tarnish and will do us no good in heaven.

When worry takes my mind away from the things of today, it also takes me away from my closeness to Christ.  I want to be engulfed in that closeness, not separated from it, for as Paul explains:

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s words give us the steps for living what contemporary thinkers term “with mindfulness:”

  1. Pray about everything– I need to concentrate on what is happening to me and around me in every moment.  When we pray about something, we naturally focus our minds to what is most important.  By voicing what concerns us to God, we might even realize how ridiculous some of our concerns actually are.
  2. Be thankful– Gratitude makes us be more truthful with ourselves.  Often, my inner voice tells me things that are downright lies, but it can be hard to call myself on these unless I bring my mind to what is actually true.  When I take the time to name the many things I have to be thankful for, I inevitably unearth some of the lies I have been letting my worries tell me.
  3. Never stop– Paul says not to pray at certain times of the day or week, but about everything. It is possible to have hearts and minds that are in Christ as long as we actively engage our ability to foster our relationship with our Father.  We cannot be thankful and worry at the same time.  If we bring our concerns to God in prayer, we will find that what was a worry is overshadowed by the peace that is found in the presence of Christ.

How often because of worry have I raced through a day without giving full attention to really living it?  By being a house divided, I have lost many opportunities to fully participate in the gift of life God mercifully grants to each of us.

The next time I catch myself being engrossed more by my worry than by the beauty of the day, I think I will imagine the scene from II Kings, where Elisha and his servant face a horde of enemies, assured of victory because of the “invisible” army of fiery chariots prepared to defend them:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6: 15-17)

Just as God protected Elisha, we are assured that He also has our best interests at heart.  He will be there for us during good times and bad.  He did not design us to worry, but to follow the two commands that Jesus said summed up everything:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

If I am truly working to follow both these important instructions, what time do I have to worry?  Indeed, if I truly love God with everything I have and then extend that love to others, when will I ever have time to worry?

A mindful life is truly a house undivided, unified in its goal to love God, obey His commands, and be thankful.  May your prayers leave you with a mind unified in the love of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Get Off the Political Bandwagon

In God We Trust

In these past weeks of Supreme Court rulings and inexcusable church burnings, I have been disappointed but not astounded, disenchanted but not disenfranchised.  Like many, I have purposely refrained from a knee-jerk reaction and have instead taken these days to reflect and pray.

As one who longs to live a life worthy of the me Christ’s grace has already made possible, I am obligated to approach all the craziness of this world with two overriding principles:

  1. To make God the first and greatest priority in my life.  Everything else comes second.
  2. To love everyone else the way I too want to be loved.

If I make God the first priority in my life, that means I spend time in His Word, and that time means that I will be able to test what others say against what the Bible actually proclaims.  I will not agree with whatever the media says is OK or all my “friends” think is right without first testing the correctness of a stance against what God’s Word actually has to say about it.

In order to do that well, I have to be regularly and often in the Word.  I also have to understand that Word in its totality, not just pick and choose the verses that best serve my own interests.  For example, I need to understand that many of the verses that speak out against homosexuality also are against any form of sexual immorality.  That includes sex outside of marriage and people who are married to spouses who were not Biblically divorced.  In other words, the Bible is against a slew of activities no one has been too riled up about for far too long.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives a focus for what the Christian church should concentrate on not doing as well as doing:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 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! (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT)

Notice that, to God, any and all of this comprehensive list of “don’ts” are on equal footing.  We humans want to put sin on a sliding scale, but God does not.  In other words, if I really take Christ’s admonition to take care of the moat in my own eye before worrying about the speck in anybody else’s, I have much too much to worry about improving in my own behavior to get into the business of anybody else’s.

This concept doesn’t mean I consider any behavior by someone else OK.  From a truly Christian perspective, there is no “live and let live.”  If I am not acting in alignment with the Word of God, I want my fellow Christians to gently point this out to me.  I want them to go so far as to shut me out of the community for a time if that is necessary in order to potentially bring me back into alignment with God’s Word.  I want them to pray for me unceasingly.

For those who do not walk with Christ, I can disagree without condemning.  I can hold to the Truth without leaving a feeling of hatred in the hearer.  But I can only do these things if I am actively seeking to see the non-believers around me through the eyes of my loving God.  Just as Jesus held those around Him to God’s truth through compassion and a firmness for that truth, I too can seek to do the same.

 

If Christ is our Savior, then we strive to be loving, patient, joyful, kind, good, faithful.  We also strive to stay away from the behaviors that displease God, from lying and being jealous to hating and being sexually immoral.  These times we live in are challenging, which means that now, more than ever, we Christians must live our faith.  And if we are really doing that, we will be much too busy to get caught up in the political machinations of this world that detract us from what is truly important–the potential relationship with the Savior of the world each one of us has the right to claim.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Enough Foolishness Already

Heart picmonkey

(I hope you enjoy this “reading” of the first half of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verses quoted are from the New Living Translation.)

If the only record of our culture for the future to see were limited to what they show on television, what kind of people would we appear to be?  Almost every show has “lowered the morality bar.”  Sex is casual.  Language is vulgar. Reality TV makes us all appear to be gossips who don’t mind talking behind other people’s backs, but also embrace a “live and let live” philosophy that is diametrically opposed to a life that leans on God.  As my grandparents would have said, “It’s all just a bunch of foolishness.”

Paul wrote about the same kind of foolishness in his letter to the church in Rome:

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. . . . They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too (Romans 1:28, 32).

Just because we exist in a culture that wants to say everything is OK because that culture doesn’t have any solid base on which to stand does not mean that we as Christians should back down from the truths of living a life in the Spirit. Paul makes it clear that we are meant to follow the law of God’s Spirit, especially because we have that Spirit to guide us as part of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for us:

“For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight” (Romans 2:13).  “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20). “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith” (Romans 3:27).  “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law” (Romans 3:31). “Now [that you have accepted Christ as your Savior] you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (Romans 6:22b). “Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit” (Romans 7:6b).

As sinners, if we received from God what we actually deserve for our behavior, we would have no hope.  Instead, as Paul writes, “Can’t you see that His kindness [in giving us the opportunity to accept the grace of Christ] is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4b)  The discipline to choose the Spirit over the flesh every day of our lives is tantamount to a life, not of foolishness, but of faith:

“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?” (Romans 6:16a) “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit” (Romans 8: 5). “And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:29b).

What kind of world would it be if we Christians determined to really live the law of the Spirit and not just read about it? Would we have such a high divorce rate? Would we have so many single parents or abandoned children? Would our headlines be filled with information people could really use, or with political agendas that try to convince us that what is true is actually contrary to what is found in the word of God?

Maybe the world isn’t any better or worse than it has ever been. Maybe in a world where we exist in information overload, we just know too much about everything, including what was once kept secret–except no life is secret from the eyes of an omnipresent God:

And this is the message I proclaim–that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life” (Romans 2:16).

We can live a life that needs no secrets if we will only embrace the promise of our living God.  My goal is to live the Word and not just read it. And to stop my foolishness!

 

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

THIS Is Your Purpose

th

My Ryrie NASB study Bible has this note for the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Here begins the ethical section of the letter.  Paul’s appeal is simple: Become in experience what you already are by God’s grace. The Christian is risen with Christ; let him exhibit that new life. [emphasis added]

Whenever you are in your darkest hours, or even just the shadowy ones, I think it a great comfort to remember this truth, that we are here because God wants us to become through our experience what He freely gave us with His death on the cross.

Throughout Colossians 3, Paul lists qualities to have and not to have if you are truly going to become through experience what you already are as a Christian.

On the do NOT list: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies, bigotry. On the DO list: compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thankfulness, wisdom, praise.

Luckily for us, when Christ made His sacrifice, He also promised us a Helper to be sent so that we are not on this journey of experience alone. With a quick search on the web, I found this site about the Holy Spirit in the Bible: http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/ntintro/spirit7.htm. The page is titled “The Holy Spirit in Pauline Theology.” Here is a succinct excerpt:

The Holy Spirit is central to Paul’s theology. Expressing himself in various ways, he asserts that the promise of the giving of the Spirit has been fulfilled. Different from the prophecy in the Hebrew prophets, however, he holds that the promise is fulfilled for the church, the new community of God, consisting of Jews and gentiles, and not for the nation of Israel. In Paul’s view, to be a Christian is not simply to accept certain propositions as true, such as Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, but rather to be indwellt by the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s words make the most eloquent case for approaching life in its challenges and wonder as the experience of becoming what we already are:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

The action of becoming is complicated, messy, bitter, joyous, happy tears overflowing. God’s time is not the same way we think about time, but His is the timepiece that rules the rhythms of our experiences, of these lives to which we have died and risen again in Christ.

The next time you are feeling existential, dig your hands into the fertile dirt of God’s word and remember that your purpose in this life is to become the kind of person Christ’s sacrifice already made you in the eyes of God–a loving, patient, gentle, kind, growing child of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Random Acts of the Spirit

candle prayer

There are three random things that stick in my mind from the preceding week.  I’ve decided to call them “random acts of the Spirit.”  In no particular order, here they are:

 

1.  God is patient.  In my Ryrie Study Bible NASB, there is a table that outlines some of the major events in the life of the great missionary, Paul.  Do you realize that from the time he was converted on the road to Damascus in 33 A.D. to his first missionary journey in 47-48 A.D., some 15 years had passed?  We know from his own writings that Paul spent at least three years in study after Damascus before he felt ready to approach the movement in Jerusalem.  Before that, Paul was already a great scholar in the Jewish tradition.  In other words, Paul certainly had the background to feel that he would be ready to preach Christ’s word right away once he was converted, but instead it took him more than a decade of study, prayer and fellowship to be ready to take the Word to places no one had ever dreamed of.  The key to Paul’s success has to be his hope in Christ.  Because he never gave up hope that God would use Paul in the way and in the time that God saw fit, Paul accomplished so much for the glory of Christ, a system of belief that guides the church to this day.  God works on a timetable that is completely different from the hustle and bustle push of this modern world.

2. Seeing the passion for God in others is inspiring. When you step out in faith daily, as Christians try to do, you can find yourself discussing God in all kinds of places, even as you are getting your hair styled!  My wonderful stylist is a young woman with a real passion for God.  As we were discussing how life was going this week, we dipped into a discussion of some of the things we have been learning in our own separate studies, including the subtle ways that Satan works to push us aside from God’s purpose for our lives.  As my hair stylist put it, “I literally have to stop my thoughts sometimes and tell the devil, no.  I have the creator of the Universe in me, and you have no place here.

What a wonderful way to look at the awesome gift that is the grace of God in us!  When we truly have the Holy Spirit in us, we have an obligation to uphold that presence.  I have been using the idea of the Creator of the Universe for the rest of this week.  Needless to say, I was inspired.

3. When we have God in us, it is enough.  I watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time since my childhood this week.  I had forgotten that the main focus of the movie is that all the characters need to realize that the one thing they long for most is the thing they already actually have.  The Scarecrow is the one to have the problem-solving ideas.  The Tin Man sheds the most tears.  The Lion stands up to the bad guys.  Dorothy realizes, “There is no place like home.”

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we also accept the peace that is no place like home.  For those who rely on material things to feel better, the idea that faith in the unseen being all you need may seem impractical or impossible, but this peace is what helps those people you see stay steady in the roughest of waters.

Claiming God and living God should be one and the same.  And when you look for random acts of the Spirit in the week ahead, you’ll find that you will be more likely to shine His light and chase away the shadows.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

The Hero, Re-defined

Jesus is my superhero

Believe it or not, I’m walking on air.  I never thought I could feel so free.  Flying away on a wing and a prayer.  Who could it be?  Believe it or not, it’s just me.  The Greatest American Hero  theme song

If you are old enough, you remember the short-lived series starring William Katt and Connie Selleca from the early 80s, about a kind-hearted high school teacher who reluctantly becomes a super hero who gets sucked into helping out the government catch bad guys.  “Ralph” is a sweet guy who discovers an alien suit that gives him super powers he can barely understand.  When he is matched up with special agent Maxwell, played by Robert Culp, Ralph faces a series of bad guys.

Ralph wasn’t born to beating bad guys.  In fact, he is known to even apologize for having to knock a few of them out!  He cares about his students, struggles to juggle his new duties with the time he needs to do his day job and maintain his relationship with his lovely girlfriend, played by the beautiful Connie Selleca, and gets into philosophical arguments with his foil, Maxwell.

We Americans tend to like more forceful heroes.  We want the Marvel Avengers, flawed characters who nonetheless wind up beating all the bad guys, even if they get a little banged up in the process.  We like our heroes to be the strong, silent type, like the archetypal image of John Wayne as he stands outside the house framed within the doorway, alone, at the end of The Searchers.

I was reading the book of Acts this week, and I was struck by a particular incident with Paul where he seemed to me to be more like our American version of the tough, ultimately triumphant hero who “takes out” his enemies before they know what has hit them.  Paul is in Jerusalem, and the crowd he gathers gets stirred up, especially when he says that he has been called to witness to Gentiles.

The crowd becomes so stirred up, that the Roman contingent actually takes Paul into custody, assuming that he is beginning a riot:

As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (Acts 22:23-25)

Immediately, the centurion pulls back and calls his commander, who is horrified to discover he has come so close to punishing a Roman citizen without first giving him the proper hearing according to Roman law.  As I read this passage, I was struck by the kind of “cool customer” Paul was.  He didn’t start yelling about his citizenship as soon as the soldiers laid hands on him.  Instead, he waited until he was fully stretched out, and then he calmly asks them about flogging a Roman citizen!

Of course, why am I surprised that Paul would act this way?  He was, after all, a man with enough courage to admit his mistakes in persecuting the Way in the first place, with the courage to go to Peter and ask for permission to preach the Word, a man who began each visit to a new city by preaching in the synagogue, the one place he would least likely be accepted.

In these respects, Paul is the kind of hero any American audience can sink its teeth into.  But in so many other ways, he exhibits the kind of attributes that Christ wants from all of us, and that we don’t often see in our heroes of the big screen:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22-25)

The same Paul who holds his Roman citizenship close to the vest, only using it when necessary, is the same Paul who thanks God for his afflictions because they bring him closer to the Almighty, the same Paul who uses the years he spends waiting for a proper trial in jail continuing to write letters to the churches he has begun on his mission trips, the same letters we use today in our churches to help us better understand the narrow way that is the walk with Christ.

Christ Himself was not the kind of hero we like to see in the movies, even when He walked the earth.  Even John the Baptist, who heralded His coming, wondered why Christ, the Messiah, did not come wielding a great sword and freeing the Jews from the oppression of their Roman overlords:

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?'” (Luke 7:20)

In His answer, Jesus offers an insight into the kind of hero He was always meant to be:

So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.(Luke 7:22)

Love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, these are the qualities that Christ showed us and that Paul encourages us to cling to if we are to truly live by the Spirit through our belief in Christ.

Our heroes are mostly tough guys and gals who use their muscles and weapons and brains to make villains pay for their bad deeds.  But God uses heroes whose weakness shows His strength.  Those who wake every day submitting to His will are the meek who shall inherit the earth–the greatest heroes of all.

Boom 8x10

 

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

Perfection Versus Good Enough

This week, I am particularly working on picking my battles when it comes to my overwhelming compulsion to be a perfectionist. First of all, perfectionism doesn’t exist. All I can do, in the end, is my best. In addition, my best is further actually qualified by the parameters of the current task, the deadline I face, my current state of health, etc. Finally, I often work too hard at being better in areas that are good enough, thereby leaving areas in my life that could actually use more effort dangling in the wind.
The most important point about perfectionism, however, is that no matter how good I am at anything, I don’t have to be in order to achieve the most important thing of all–the mercy of God. God gives me salvation through the grace of my faith in Jesus, whether I am perfect at the latest thing I am working on or not.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not completely off the hook. Because of my acceptance of God’s love, I have become, as Paul tells us, “a new creation.” I want to do what is good and right and loving, extending the grace that has been offered me to others as well.
So, if I am going to worry about perfection in anything, it should be in my walk outside the life of sin. Being dead to sin, I should wake up each day trying to be perfect in Christ, forgiving and loving others and myself when I stumble, being open in my communication with God, from whom there is no secrets, so that I might be forgiven my mistakes and start the next day anew, His mercies surrounding me to help me do better this next day I have been given.
And I don’t exceed in anything that is truly important to God if I get caught up in the day-to-day spiral of trying to bring to perfection that which only requires good enough, especially when love should truly be the greatest goal of all.