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Christian Life, Journal, Ministry Update

Kingdom, Finances, and Faith

February 14, 2018

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

  • Matthew 6:25-34

 

 

For the last couple years Kelly and I have done our best to intentionally walk in faith as a family. That’s meant Kelly stepping out of work in order to focus on raising Micah. It’s meant me working three 10-hours days to open up space for equipping ministry leaders. It’s meant Kelly dealing with long days home alone as I go from those 10 hour work days to coach and support leaders in St. Cloud, Grand Forks, Park Rapids, and elsewhere around the midwest. It’s meant watching our financial security slowly dissipate month by month.

With that loss of security Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 have become increasingly more important to us. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

Kingdom and Anxiety

Seeking the Kingdom of God is a simple thing, but doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s a reason why Jesus mentions anxiousness 6 time in these 9 verses. When we’re seeking the Kingdom of God above things of this world, we will encounter anxiety and worry about our worldly needs. Prioritizing the things of God requires a de-prioritization of the things of the world, which means things like financial security, have the latest fashions, eating the best (or best-for-you) food, take second string to the commands and call of Jesus.

If you’re never experience any twinge of worry about the implications of the choices you’re making for your earthly security, there’s a good chance that you’re not seeking God’s Kingdom above all else. Why else would Jesus be so careful to assure his followers over and over again in Matthew 6 that their heavenly Father cares for them and will provide for them?

Kingdom and Faith

Kelly and I were talking a couple nights ago and realized that neither of us, in our entire lives, have lived paycheck to paycheck. We’ve always had the comfort and security of more money in the bank than there was immediate need for. That’s not the case any more, and with that change comes the tendency for worry to rise up.

Into that worry Jesus speaks and says, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

I believe that what God is doing in this season is teaching us a new level of faith that would be impossible to discover otherwise. As we learn to literally depend on him for our day-to-day needs and to expect him to keep his promise of provision, we get to see the Father as the giver of every good gift rather than having God’s generosity filtered through the context of a paycheck that we worked to earn.

But what about sudden medical bills? “Do not be anxious about your life,” Jesus replies.
What if we run into car problems? “The Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
Shouldn’t we be wise and have a $1000 emergency fund? “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

There’s this tension in my heart here when I write what I just wrote. Doesn’t all the best Christian financial advice speak consistently about saving, having an emergency fund, and the like? Aren’t there dozens of Proverbs about using wealth wisely? What does this all mean when we’re following a man who never had equity or personal savings and lived day-to-day trusting that the Father would provide for his every need? In all honesty, I believe most “Christian” financial advice has very little Christ in it and is built more on fear than on faith. But that’s something for a separate post.

Regardless, Kelly and I want to be people who take Jesus at his word in a way that changes how we live. We want to seek the Father’s Kingdom first, trusting that He is good and will do as he’s promised and provide what we need, when we need it. That’s how faith grows.

 

 

Where are you putting God’s Word to the test and taking the opportunity to seek the Kingdom above everything else? How have you seen God provide? Share a story in the comments below!

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Quit Your Judging

January 31, 2018
Quit Judging blog header

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

  • 1 Corinthians 4:3-4

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

  • Phil 3:12-14

 

If you’re like most humans (or at least like me), odds are that you spend the better part of the day evaluating how well you’re doing at following, riding on a constant stream of judgments. You hit snooze one too many times and kick yourself for being lazy. As you get ready for the day you evaluate and judge your appearance, always finding it lacking. When you spill your coffee while heading out the door you inwardly call yourself an idiot for being in such a rush.

The ongoing procession of self-judgment doesn’t stop when you’re out in public. Feeling foolish for saying something awkward in conversation with a co-worker, beating yourself up for getting angry at your kids, shame when you do that thing you swore you’d never do again; the opportunities for self-judgment are endless in our failure-riddled lives.

But if you’re a follower of Jesus there’s a problem with allowing our minds to be constantly making judgment calls about ourselves. The Bible calls Satan the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). When we spend our time evaluating and passing judgments on ourselves we are partnering with Satan and cutting ourselves off from the joy of the Lord that is our strength.

Martin Luther discovered this in his endless hours of confession as he attempted to root out and confess every sin he had committed in thought or deed. The stock of sins he could identify was endless, and it wasn’t until God revealed to him the truth of the Gospel that he found freedom and hope. The truth of the Gospel was this; God’s judgment about Christ can be his judgment about us. By faith we can become the righteousness of God in Christ, freed from condemnation from without and within.

Paul knew this freedom well, so well that he could say in his letter to the Corinthian church, “it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself…It is the Lord who judges me.”

What beautiful freedom there is in the statement “I do not even judge myself”! This whole self-judgment thing is incredibly tiring and time consuming. Let’s learn from the Apostle and deny ourselves the right to pass judgment on ourselves and instead leave it to the Lord, the Judge of all, to determine.

And determine he has. For those who are in Christ his judgment has already been determined. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, we are the righteousness of God in Christ because Christ has taken our sin on himself (2 Cor. 5:21).

We need to stop attempting to overwrite God’s judgment about us. “What God has put together, let no man separate.” If God has placed you together in the righteousness of his son Jesus and thereby made you righteous, stop claiming that you’re not. If he has created you and called you good, stop allowing yourself to think the opposite.

Instead, determine to have the same mindset that Paul writes of in Philippians 3. Commit to “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Forget your past. Forget what you did (or didn’t) do this morning or last night or last week. Quit your judging. Press forward towards the prize that God has called you to in Christ. Run to Jesus.

I believe it was John Piper who once made the statement, “faith turns a mirror into a window.” Let’s stop standing in front of mirrors evaluating and judging ourselves. Instead, let your faith transform that mirror into a window that gives you a view of the beauty of Jesus and stare at him instead. As you gaze on him, and with “unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, [you will be] transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor 3:18). It’s by looking to Jesus and delighting in Him that we are changed, not by self-analysis and condemnation. Quit your judging.

Christian Life, Faith, Parenting

How to cultivate joy

January 23, 2018

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God
– Philippians 4:4-7

 

The last 10 days at the Pontius household have been rough ones, with Kelly, Micah, and I all in various stages of being sick with running noses, throbbing headaches, and endless coughing. Being sick is tough enough when you only need to take care of yourself but, as any parent knows, having a sick kid doubles the challenge.

For the last several nights Micah’s been awake 4-5 times a night with a wracking cough. It’s painful to listen to. Even more painful is the fact that it means we’ve spent a significant amount of time rocking him back to sleep or in some cases, sitting awake with him for an hour or two until he realizes it’s 3 AM and he’s still tired.

“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters,” James says. The Apostle Paul echoes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Challenging words when living sick on 5 hours of sleep. And being sick and lacking sleep are, in the grand scheme of things, small troubles. What of when you lose a parent? When you’re diagnosed with a terminal cancer? When your internet is slow. Kidding on that last one, obviously. But seriously.

Regardless of the circumstance, Paul and James are relentless about joy. James is specific; count your trials as joy. Paul agrees, both in word and deed as he sits in a jail cell worshipping after being stripped and beaten in public in Acts 16. In the eyes of these apostles joy isn’t a soft and fuzzy thing. It’s a necessity for Kingdom living that is to be cultivated with almost fierce intentionality. The question, of course, is how? From these oft-quoted verses I see at least four answers to that question.

Set your mind on joy.

We are to calculate troubles and trials as something of joy. When we encounter a hardship and are determining which side of the emotional scale to place it on, we are to place it on the site of the positive.

This isn’t something that comes naturally. It takes an intentional set of the mind – a determined reckoning that says “I will count this trial as joy.” When it’s 2 AM and Micah wakes up coughing, requiring Kelly or I to drag ourselves out of bed to go soothe him back to sleep it will require a determination in our semi-conscious minds to agree with Heaven and say “this is joy.”

 

Look to the outcome, not the moment

James says that it’s because testing and trials results in endurance or steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete that we are to calculate trials as joy-bringers.

If you’re struggling with joy it’s probably a problem of perspective. Odds are that you’re more focused on your current pain, tiredness, frustration, disappointment, etc than you are on where God’s taking you in the future. Faith isn’t stuck in the present; it has vision that sees the future as beautiful. Just like Jesus “who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), we are to look beyond the moment and by faith behold the glory of the outcome.

 

Look at Jesus, not the problem

Paul’s words in Philippians are similar to James. He says that when we’re lacking joy it’s a problem of perspective. Where are we to find our joy? “Rejoice in the Lord,” not in circumstances. Only when we learn settle our emotions in the immortal, unchangeable Father can we enter into the joy that Paul learned to practice. We do this settling doing what, to again quote from Hebrews 12, is like “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. By intentionally redirecting our minds away from the immediate problem and setting it instead on who Jesus is and what he has done.

 

Then do it again. And again. And again.

“Again I will say, rejoice.” There’s a reason that Paul repeats himself here. This looking to Jesus isn’t a one-time decision that will forever loft us into heavenly floatings of joy. No, it is a repeated practice. A continual resetting of our mental bent until the supernatural activity of counting trials as joy and rejoicing always is as ingrained in us as breathing.

As we become those people we will discover a peace and happiness in all circumstances that frees us from so many of the trappings that we think we need. Anxiety will fade away and be replaced by hopeful expectancy. Shame will lose it’s power over us and we will be loosed to proclaim the goodness of our Savior anew.

 

Tonight may be a trial. Micah may wake up a dozen times, or may not sleep a wink. You may be in the midst of the most painful season you’ve yet to encounter in life. The next week may look like an impossibility. Take a deep breath. Determine it in your spirit that by the Spirit you will count it all joy. That you will take your eyes of yourself and your circumstances and rejoice in the Lord.

My guess is that we’ll get to the end of this and be amazed at how good God was in the midst of it.

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Bible reading won’t build your faith

March 10, 2017

 

 

 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James 2:14-17

 

Growing up in the evangelical culture there was a constant emphasis on Bible reading, memorization, and study. I’m grateful for the countless hours that I was taught to learn from God’s word, delving into the nuances of sentences and stepping back to see the grandeur of the over-arching storyline. I did (do!) annual Bible read-throughs, 90-day Bible read-throughs (that was intense), and hundreds of studies through various books of scripture.

Evangelicalism has done an excellent job training its adherents that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. According to a recent poll 95% of evangelicals affirm that truth. When I ask young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches what they can do to grow spiritually the answer is invariably some variation of “Read the Bible more.” For many within evangelicalism Bible reading is the path to holiness and increased faith. But there’s a problem with that. Reading the Bible doesn’t build your faith, just like stacking wood doesn’t start a fire. In fact, just reading the Bible (or hearing God’s word in any form) is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand. Jesus himself says so.

How Faith Grows

Jesus says that anyone who hears his words and does them builds their house on a solid foundation. It’s not the hearing that saves – it’s the obeying and acting according to what you’ve heard that is faith. The Apostle James is even more explicit in his Epistle, saying that without action faith is dead (James 2:17).

We need to move away from the idea that reading the Bible more is the primary means of spiritual growth. If it was wouldn’t we have significantly more examples in Jesus’ ministry of him and his disciples reading and discussing the Torah together? Certainly he and the Apostles after him taught people from the scriptures deeply, but I would argue that it was through obedience to the Word that growth came.

Peter walked on the water not because he heard Jesus’ command to “Come,” but because he stepped out of the boat. To reference James again,

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
– James 2:21-25

In each case the individual heard God’s word and obeyed. They acted, and it was in the action that their faith was established.

Gather Fuel

What Bible reading and prayer do is give us the fuel for putting faith into action. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But, as we’ve already noted, that faith doesn’t become a reality if it isn’t acted out. The Gospel of God starts a fire in our soul and the Word is fuel that stokes that fire, but to gather wood and never place it in the fire is pointless.

There are too many long-time believers sitting in spiritual houses stacked to the roof with well organized, neatly split firewood and a barely flickering flame. Faith looks like taking some of that firewood and throwing it in the fire.

If you’re lacking fuel, spend time in the word and prayer. Make this a daily, frequent practice. Abide in the word and let it abide in you. But you must not stop there. Cords of firewood do no good to anyone in this frigid world of sin and brokenness if they are never lit. Let’s start putting fuel on the flame by obeying Jesus’ commands and following the Spirit’s lead.

Stoke the Fire

Two practical ways you can do this:

  1. Whenever you read a section of scripture, finish by asking God “What do you want me to do in response to this?” Write down what the Spirit prompts you to do and do it.
  2. Don’t move on from a section of Scripture until it’s become a part of your life and you can truly say it’s become a part of how you live, not just another thing you know.

We all want heart change – we want our passions and lives to align with what our Lord calls us to have. Reading words from the page of a book, even if it is inspired by God, is not the way for that to happen. Faith won’t grow simply by reading a book. Additional knowledge can’t create definitive change in the human heart. The only way that happens is if our faith is put into action. Let’s put God’s word to the test. Let’s be people who believe him and act accordingly. As we do so the flame of our faith will grow in ways that those around us won’t be able to ignore.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Fighting Cravings

December 23, 2016

 

 

 

For most long-time followers of Christ many of the sins we end up in aren’t the result of conscious, pre-meditated disobedience. More often than not it’s a split-second decision to go along with a seemingly out-of-nowhere craving. The Apostle James describes it in his epistle, writing, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14)

We are lured and enticed by the cravings that come flowing from within our flesh, choosing in those moments to go with the flow into sin when we could instead, by the Spirit, “stand firm” (Eph. 6) and resist temptation. According to a recent webinar with the VitalSmarts, several studies have shown that most cravings last around three minutes, so if we can resist and refocus ourselves for three minutes we’ll see a drastic shift away from giving into those craving-driven sin. The question is, what do we do during those painful three minutes?

Proverbs 21 has some wise insight for us here:

“A slacker’s craving will kill him
Because his hands refuse to work.
He is filled with craving all day long,
But the righteous give and don’t hold back.”
– Proverbs 21:25-26

Cravings will kill

Both James and the writer of Proverbs agree – when we give into temptation and cravings it ends in death. A slacker’s cravings, in this case for food, ultimately kill him because he’s too lazy to get up and do the work to earn money to feed himself. Similarly, in a spiritual sense it’s often our laziness that gives our cravings and temptations power to draw us into the deadly grip of sin. We refuse to do the work that would carry us away from temptation because it’s more difficult.

It’s combat, and it’s what we were given the power to do when we were born again and received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at two practical ways to combat temptation and cravings outlined in the Proverb above.

Combat the cravings

1. Put your hands to work

God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), but it often looks like hard work, so we often choose to float along into death because it seems easier in the moment. But that’s not what we were created for. We were created with purpose for good works (Eph. 2). The slacker’s cravings kill him because his hands refuse to work, so combat your cravings by putting yourself to work.

Do you find yourself craving over-indulging on food Friday nights? Get up from the couch and do some small house work for 10 minutes. Tempted towards pornography? Put your body to work by exercising for 15 minutes. More often than not the craving will be gone by the time you’re done.

2. Give generously

The writer of this proverb contrasts the man who is “filled with craving all day long” with the righteous person who gives generously and doesn’t hold anything back. Generosity is one of the most potent defenses against temptation. Are you fighting a deep-set craving today? Get up, find another human, and bless them somehow. Bless them generously, whether that be financially or with words of encouragement or helping them with a task. As you turn your focus off your cravings and onto the needs of another human being your craving will dissipate like fog beneath the summer sun.

Practice, Practice

Pushing through moments of temptation and craving isn’t an easy thing. Just like any skill it takes practice, and the longer you’ve been giving into the craving the more practice it will take you to divert that temptation into something good and glorious. I wrote this blog post as much for myself as for anyone else who might read it – there are plenty of cravings that I too easily give into, and I intend to take these two practices from Proverbs and put them into action as we move towards a new year. Will you join me?

As we do so may God bless us with his grace to take advantage of the escape from every temptation that he provides so we can find ourselves living in the beautiful, free life that is found in Christ rather than in the dark, crushing captivity of giving into the flesh and its cravings.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Don’t buy from the fear mongers

December 12, 2016

 

 

Monger: : broker, dealer —usually used in combination
2 : a person who attempts to stir up or spread something that is usually petty or discreditable —usually used in combination

 

When Kelly and I became parents it was incredibly to me how many people seemed intent on selling us on being afraid of anything and everything that could happen to our son Micah. I expected it from advertisements, but the most strident fear-mongering came solid, faithful Christians. The offers to buy into fear were myriad; you should keep the baby’s room warm so they don’t freeze. You should keep the baby’s room cool or else they’ll die of SIDS. You need to talk to your baby constantly or else they’ll never learn to speak. Along with constant offers of immediate worries, most of them involving Micah’s immanent death, there were plenty of people offering long term worries about how our freedom was over, how we wouldn’t get any sleep, how we needed to set aside all sorts of money to pay for our kid’s needs and the like.

Fear mongering seems to be a sport for many people, sadly including Christians. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, there will inevitably be people trying to sell their fears to you. Whether it’s college students bemoaning the terribleness of finals, co-workers selling fear about the lack of competency of their manager, or advertisers selling fear about your health and good looks, the pressure to purchase fear is immense.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t buy it. Fear is a garment that doesn’t fit the Jesus in you.

Not a spirit of Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7

If you’re a follower of Jesus you have the Holy Spirit living in you – the Spirit of Christ – and, as Paul writes to Timothy in the verse above, that Spirit is one that fear doesn’t fit on. Fear and it’s accompanying anxiety and worry may have fit the old you in your childish days before Jesus, but since you’ve been born again and grown in Christ fear is several sizes too small. Buying it from someone else would be a silly choice, regardless of how convincing the salesperson is. If you do buy that fear and squirm your way into it it will squeeze the life out of you and drag your days out in long discomfort.

My friends, the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed to the kind of worry, fear, and anxiety that the people around you are trying to sell. The Spirit that God has given us replaces that fear with power, love, and soundness of mind.

A spirit of power

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

  • Joshua 1:9

Almost all of our fear, anxiety, and worry flows from attempting to be in control and failing. We worry about our kids because we can’t control them or their environment. We worry about our future because we can’t make it go the way we planned. We fear taking risks because we can’t control the outcomes.

For the Christian that fear and worry has been replaced with a Spirit of power. The follower of Jesus has a real, fear-destroying power. It’s not the controlling power that the world and our flesh wants to make us feel secure – it’s the power to entrust ourselves completely to an all-powerful King. It’s the power of faith – the power that enabled Joshua to conquer Jericho, Jesus to face the cross, Paul to speak confidently before Roman rulers, and for thousands of Christians to face martyrdom with smiles of joy.

When you know that the one who is infinitely powerful and can reshape reality at his whim is for you, buying what the fear-mongers are selling seems downright foolish.

A spirit of love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
– 1 John 4:18

Along with power, the Holy Spirit is also a Spirit of love. Some of the most appealing fears that are offered to us by the world regard those who we love. We’re sold fear for our aging parents, for our adventurous children, for our spouses. They may die. They may get hurt, physically or emotionally or otherwise.

John writes in his epistle that true love casts out fear. That means that if we truly love someone fear won’t be what shapes our relationship. Love isn’t an excuse for fear. When God places in you his Spirit of love you outgrow the fears for those you care for because you discover that He – the good and powerful God – loves them even more than you do and He’s not out to punish them.

A sound mind

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

  • John 14:27

Fear causes us to think irrationally and make foolish decisions. When we buy into the fear that those around us offer we’ll inevitably do dumb things. We’ll lay awake late into the night worrying about tomorrow, we’ll be harsh towards people we care about, we’ll use anger as a weapon to defend ourselves from what we’re afraid of, and dozens of other things that we wouldn’t do if we had a sound mind.

Instead of wild-mindedness that flows from fear, the Spirit of Jesus gives us peace that overrides any worry. A peace enables us to walk with a sound mind, making decisions with the clarity of faith. We don’t do worry, because it just doesn’t fit us anymore. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Today you’ll encounter dozens of people who try to sell you on being afraid. Don’t buy anything from the fear mongers. When you feel worry, anxiety, and fear rising up, pause and ask the Holy Spirit what he has for you. What is his power for you? What is the love he has given you? How does the sound, peaceable mind that is yours in the Spirit asses the situation? Buy what He’s selling. I promise that it will fit you beautifully.

 

 

Christian Life, Culture, Evangelism

Jesus and Comfortable Distance

November 28, 2016

 

 

Several years ago I had a somewhat heated discussion with some staff members at a church about whether or not it was reasonable to ask the congregation to take a somewhat significant step of faith in the realm of finances. I pointed to Jesus’ command to not worry about money or clothing but to instead seek the kingdom of God, and the general response was along the lines of “that’s a nice sentiment, but you’re still young and you don’t have kids or anything yet, so you don’t understand that you can’t ask that much from people.”

I left that conversation pretty frustrated and disillusioned. It felt like the church leadership was culling what, to me, seemed a clear and challenging statement from Jesus, making it into something safe and comfortable for the middle class crowd that showed up each week. Doesn’t Jesus’ command override what we feel we can or can’t do based on our life situation? Is our security and comfortability Jesus’ priority, or is he pushing us toward something else?

I’m older now (at least by a little bit), and I have a kid. My wife and I live in a nice three bedroom house that we’re able to afford only because of our landlord’s generosity. Over the last couple months we’ve had multiple conversations about the incredible pressure there is to conform to the comfortable – to co-opt following Christ and make it a means of making us feel good.

It does make us feel good to go to church, to sing worship songs, and to know that we’re going to heaven and our sins have been forgiven. It’s comfortable to go each Sunday and know what to expect, to smile and greet the people you see each week, and to sit in “your spot” in the sanctuary. Because we, pastors and church leaders included, so love comfort that we structure our churches and our lives (often unconsciously) to keep anything that might threaten us at a comfortable distance.

The problem is that when you come to Jesus – the real Jesus – he refuses to leave you any room for comfortable distance from the difficulties of the world.

Jesus’ Uncomfortable Closeness

Jesus went out of his way to get close to people and situations that would make almost anyone uncomfortable. We see him converse with a demonized, severely mentally ill man and bring healing up close rather than praying from a distance (Mark 5:1-17). He touches a man with a debilitating, highly contagious disease (Luke 17:11-19). He converses in public with a religious and political outsider (John 4). His whole life was a stepping in closer than comfort would allow for the sake of comforting those who were afflicted. He spends time with drunkards, the homeless, prostitutes, and all the people that make our conservative, middle-class sensibilities shudder and scrabble for “wise” reasons to keep our distance.

It wouldn’t be wise to give to the person begging for money at the intersection because he might spend it on alcohol, despite the fact that Jesus said “give to the one who asks from you” (Matt 5:42) with no qualifications. The church shouldn’t have to deal with people who are mentally ill or disruptive to the service, despite the fact that Jesus seems to welcome such disruptions and bring restoration to those who are broken. We shouldn’t have to give too much of our time or money or possessions because it wouldn’t be wise to not have boundaries, despite the fact that our lives are supposed to be living sacrifices.

My friends, Jesus is the epitome of wisdom, and his wisdom looks a lot like uncomfortable closeness – stepping into difficult situations in the power of God and bringing change. He most certainly did not stay at a distance.

Our Call for Closeness

Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” If we are truly going to follow Jesus we need to get out of our safe spaces and go even into uncomfortable situations. Would you go with Jesus into a village where there was an ebola outbreak? Into the home of a prostitute? To sit with the man who is twitching on the street corner? I certainly hope so.

If you have the Holy Spirit, when you go into those places today you go with Jesus. Christ followers ought to be the first ones to go to the people and places that the world (the religious world especially) avoids. Any form of Christianity that makes us feel good and righteous apart from serving and loving those who make us uncomfortable is false religion. As James wrote in his Epistle, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Jesus exemplified it. He stepped out of the security, peace, and comfort of his position in heaven to come into this earth and get close with troubled humanity. the Father’s call for us is to go to those same people.

I don’t want to get 10 years into leading a ministry and be making excuses for why we’re not doing what Jesus said to do. I don’t want the American dream to have more say in my life than the Kingdom-of-God dream that my Lord offers. Let’s take conscious steps out of our comfort zones and into faith, befriending, loving, and serving those who the rest of the world rejects. In Jesus there’s no room for comfortable distance – only the dreadful, beautiful power of grace and love to break down any and all barriers for the sake of saving those who are wounded and wandering. Amen?

 

 

 

Christian Life, Relationships, young adults

Three Keys to Kingdom Community

November 14, 2016

 

 

It’s slightly mind-boggling to think that the Christian God, trinitarian, three-in-one, has been in eternal community. A couple weekends ago at Verge’s Midwest Leader Advance our focus was on developing kingdom community, the foundation of which is the God who created humanity in his image – crafted to function in connection with others of our kind.

As he nears his crucifixion Jesus shares much of significance with his twelve closest disciples in John 14-18, and there are some incredible, counter intuitive insights into what makes (or breaks) Kingdom community. During the first session of Leader Advance we spent some time in John 17:20-26 uncovering three of these keys. If you weren’t at Leader Advance hopefully this recap is helpful to you.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Kingdom Community Requires Receiving

“ I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity”

The foundation of everything in the Kingdom of God is the humility to receive the gift that the Father has given in Christ. Here in this prayer shortly before his murder, Jesus declares that “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” The glory that Jesus gives from his Father is the means of one-ness for those who follow him, but it requires that we be able to receive. We can’t have community if we insist on staying self-sufficient. It is the realization that we are deeply in need of our good God’s gifts that opens the doorway to deep relationships.

This principle plays out on a human level as well. Heaven’s kind of relationships cannot happen unless all who are a part of the community are willing to receive from all others. There’s no room for one-way streets. The richest community member must acknowledge that they have things to learn and receive from the poorest; the most mature believer that they can be taught by the newest.

Kingdom Community Requires Glory-Giving

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

Our God’s glory is incredibly counter intuitive. As He showed through the cross, it is in pouring out and giving of himself that God’s glory is most brilliant. His sacrificial love for the sake of others reveals the essence of his beauty, so much so that Jesus is able to say here that he has given his followers the same glory that the Father had given him.

Stop and think about that for a moment. How much of His glory did the Father give to the Son? All of it. Scripture makes clear that Jesus was God; that his glory was God’s glory. Here he is saying that he’s giving that same glory to his followers. In Jesus God gives his brilliance to his followers, “that they may be one.”

The biblical terms for glory, doksa and kabo both point to glory as the intrinsic worth or essence of a being. The Apostle Paul expands this term to apply to created beings as well as God himself in 1 Corinthians 15, saying,

“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” (v.40-41)

My friends, you have a kind of glory that’s been placed in you by God. It’s not enough for us to simply receive the glory that is given to us. As Jesus demonstrates, the glory of God is revealed in the giving. If we are to have Kingdom community we must become proficient at giving of the glory that we have been given. We must give of ourselves by sharing our stories in all their gritty detail, sharing our lives in the truest forms of discipleship, and sharing our authority and responsibility.

Kingdom Community Requires Knowing and Naming

“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

According to Jesus when we know the name of the Father we are filled with the love that the Father has for the Son. Biblically, names have significant meaning and reveal much about the character of the one who is named. To know the name of someone is to know who they truly are – their character and identity.

The first question we must ask ourselves is, are we listening to Jesus as he continues to make known the Father to us? Are we hearing what he is speaking, or have we blocked ourselves off and begun to ignore the things about the Father that we find inconvenient, difficult, or uncomfortable? To the extent that we stop listening to Jesus making known the Father to us, we will be unable to receive or give the love that Jesus has for us.

The second question is, are we knowing and naming those who are in community with us? Do we know their stories and how God has created them? Are we naming them for who God is calling them to be, or simply content with how things are? The purpose of Jesus’ “making known” the Father’s name is “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” The knowing is meant to lead to a change in the knower’s life. If our communities are growing in knowledge about each other and God but not changing their lives, something is missing.

To have community we must know each other deeply and call (or name) each other to be who we truly are in Christ.

Three keys to kingdom community; receiving glory, giving glory, and knowing and naming. Each of these things are have been done by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit since eternity past. Now, through Christ, we are invited into the dance and can participate in the kind of community that God created humanity for. May we do so, and in doing so bring light to this lonely world.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

In Trouble? Ask for a Command

November 1, 2016

 

 

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

“Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

  • Matthew 14

 

When you’re in a hard place, what do you pray? When you’re struggling with all your might to make progress but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, where is your focus? Is your focus on getting out of the situation, getting to your goal and being done with it? If so you may be missing an amazing encounter with God that you won’t be able to have anywhere else.

Plenty has been written and preached about the story of Peter walking on water. It’s a story that resonates with us because we so greatly long to experience Jesus in ways that shape our life forever. But there’s one point I don’t think I’ve heard drawn from this story before, and I believe it is a significant one. To state it succinctly, when you want to experience more of God ask for a command and then obey.

Let’s set the scene. The disciples are on the lake struggling to make forward progress. They see a ghost on the water. A ghost that has Jesus’ voice and tells them to not be afraid. Peter, being the smart guy he is, wants proof that it’s Jesus. He wants an experience that will prove to him that Jesus is with them. Peter could have asked for anything. He could have asked for Jesus to come closer and get in the boat with them or to be taken out of the struggle and transported to the other side of the lake (which does happen in another similar story), or maybe to have Jesus miraculously produce them a midnight snack. Instead of any of those things he says to Jesus, “command me to come to you on the water.” Peter asks Jesus to command him to do something.

When was the last time you asked God to give you a command when you were in a difficult place and wanted to know he was near? Heck, when was the last time you asked God to command you anything? There are already plenty of commands and we have no need of additional ones, thank you.

We seem to have this idea that the way God proves his nearness is by removing us from struggle and making things easier, but if Peter’s experience here is any guide that very well may not be the case.

Jesus willingly responds to Peter’s request, saying simply, “Come!” and Peter obeys. He gets his proof. He stands on top of a lake and steps forward. He walks in Jesus’ footsteps and lives a miracle for a few moments. Then he sinks. But is that a bad thing? In that moment of sinking is when Jesus comes closest, grabbing his disciple and pulling him out of the water where he’d stepped at his master’s command.

Friends, if you want to encounter God in a fresh way do what Peter did; ask for a command. When you receive it take a risk and step out in obedience. Like Peter you’ll get to experience the awe and wonder of what our God does when we follow him in faith. The best part is that you can’t fail! If you step out, stumble, and fall Jesus will be there to grab you before you hit the ground.

Next time you’re in a place of difficulty or struggling to make forward progress, don’t pray for God to take you out of the situation. Instead ask him to tell you what to do in the situation. Obey. Odds are that when you do you’ll be walking closer to Jesus than you would in another other situation.

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare

Embrace Greater Things

October 28, 2016

 

 

Would it ever enter your mind that you could come to the end of your life, look back, and say truthfully that you have done greater works in your life than Jesus did in his? Apparently it should.

This morning I was reading John 14-17 in preparation for a session that I’m leading at Verge Ministry’s Leader Advance that starts tonight and this statement by Jesus jumped out at me in a fresh way;

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (14:12)

Apparently Jesus wants us to live with the belief that our lives would be full of works even greater than his. That’s a pretty huge challenge to a body of believers the majority of whom’s greatest works are being nice people and going to church a couple times a week.

In my experience we have an incredible propensity to tame down and over-qualify Jesus’ words when he says things like this. Let’s resist that temptation. Let’s press into the difficulty of statements like “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do,” and, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do”. Let’s earnestly desire and labor to experience the reality of those promises rather than bending them to fit our current experience.

I for one want to come to the end of my life and have Jesus say, “See! I told you you would.” That, my friends, would be amazing, and if our God has anything to say about it every Christ-follower’s life is meant to be exactly amazing.