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Christian Life, Faith, Parenting, Spiritual Growth

you’re not inadequate

September 19, 2016

 

 

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
– Colossians 2:8-10

 

 

This whole parenting thing has left Kelly and I both feeling thoroughly inadequate. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how much energy – emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual – it takes to care for a tiny human.

Maybe your thing isn’t parenting at the moment, but I know there are many of you reading that are coming into this new week feeling that kind of inadequacy. You had an exhausting weekend dealing with family stuff that you didn’t want to have to ever deal with. You’re waking up and heading to work with dread, unsure if you’ll make it through the next 8 hours. You feel trapped in a hole of depression and anxiety and feel utterly out of energy to fight.

Whatever it is that has you feeling small and unable to cope this morning, Colossians 2 has important truth for you. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae to remind them of the truth of the Gospel and to exhort them to not get caught up again in worldly thinking – i.e. the “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” mentioned in the verses above. His remedy to this worldly kind of thinking is a strange one. He declares, “in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Christ the fullness

“In Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. If you’re a Christian, you probably get this statement on some level. Or do you? Have you thought on the massiveness of what Paul is saying here? God – infinite, eternal, omnipotent – somehow got packed inside a body and became a man by the name of Jesus.

When you encounter Jesus you’re not encountering some small portion of God. No, in him the entirety of God resides without limits. That’s amazing. But it gets even more crazy.

Filled in Him

Paul could have stopped and built his argument against worldly thinking simply on the fact that God had become flesh in Christ, but he doesn’t. Instead he goes on and makes what is, in many ways, an even more audacious and wild statement when he writes, “and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Catch that? Paul just said that the same Jesus in whom the fullness of God has residence has filled you. You, my friend, have the fullness of God filling you. The one who has all rule and authority and power, the one of whom the angels and elders and all creation declare in Revelation 5, “ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing,” that one has taken up residence in you.

When that one, the almighty one, has filled you there’s no room for inadequacy. As Paul writes in the following verses to the Colossians, you were dead in your sin but God baptized you into Christ and you now have resurrection life at work in you. You’ve been filled in him in whom all the fullness of deity dwells bodily. The same one who parted the Red Sea for the Isrealites, made blind people see, fed 5000 with a kid’s happy meal, and resurrected himself from the dead is at work in you.

Don’t buy the lie that you’re inadequate and unable to take on what God’s placed in front of you. If you’re in Christ and Christ is in you you have more than enough to endure in joy. My prayer for you and for Kelly and myself today is that we would truly experience the reality that we have indeed “been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” and as we experience that demonstrate to the watching world the beautiful peace and power that is found only in Jesus.

May the Lord make it so, as it already is.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Culture, Faith

Defend Your God

August 15, 2016

 

 

 

Nothing gets people as riled up as religion and politics, or so the common sentiment goes. Conversations on either topic can spiral from polite to ferocious in a matter of moments as all involved work to hold their ground and prove their point. Bitter divisions can evolve from just a brief encounter.

I can’t help but wonder if such conflict is really God’s way for his people, particularly in the realm of religion. Are we called to be “defenders of the faith” who forcibly prove the truth of Christianity? Should we protest when the ten commandments are removed from courthouses? Organize rallies against professors who teach college students that God is a myth? The people of the world will fight tooth and nail for the honor of their idols of sexual freedom, personal pleasure, and relative truth. Should we Christians do the same for the one true God?

Religion and Rioting

There’s a scene in Acts 19 that may shed some light on these questions. Paul and a few of his fellow missionaries are in Ephesus, teaching those who have become believers how to walk in the ways of Christ when a silversmith named Demetrius, a man of some influence among the craftsmen in the city, makes this speech to his fellows;

You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

The craftsmen are outraged and “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar.” Things quickly get out of hand as a mob gathers, dragging some of Paul’s companions to a local gathering place, everyone shouting and yelling for nearly two hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” until one of the city officials convinces everyone to calm down and go their separate ways.

Defend Your God

What drove this riot in Ephesus? Demetrius summarizes it this way; “the great goddess Artemis will be discredited…will be robbed of her divine majesty” if Paul and the Gospel he preached kept spreading.

For the Ephesians, Artemis was their identity and their idol. The goddess gave their city prominence and power. If someone attacked the goddess or threatened her preeminence then the people needed to defend her, and thus a riot begins and hours of shouting ensue, all to make sure that Artemis’ divine majesty is clear.

Not that much different from what takes place today in the name of politics and religion. The question is, does a shouting crowd truly prove the majesty and honor of Artemis? Do sharp-witted debates about the truth of creationism or the historicity of scripture prove the glory and power of Jesus?

I don’t think they do. And Paul doesn’t seem to either.

Our God Defends

Paul and the Ephesian believers don’t stage a counter protests. They don’t take to the streets to yell “Greater is Jesus Christ!” Instead they ride the wave of the uproar and when it subsides Paul leaves town after encouraging the believers who would remain. There’s no organized resistance, only quiet confidence in God just like what the Apostles demonstrated earlier in Acts when they were brought before the Sanhedrin.

You see, here’s the thing that separates followers of Christ from the people of this world; we don’t have to defend our God. He is the one who defends himself. There’s never any fear that he will be discredited or robbed of his divine majesty. In fact, our God not only defends himself, he also defends his people. See Moses and the Isrealites at the Red Sea, where God commands them to simply stand still and watch him work for their salvation. In stark contrast to Artemis and the tens of thousands of other “gods’ in this world who need their followers to defend them, the Christian God keeps his own glory and honor, and protects his people as well.

In a world that goes wild at the merest mention of the true God and the Gospel of Christ, I’m convinced it’s not our job to defend the faith. It’s not our job to organize rallies and protests and social media movements to get Christianity a seat at the cultural table so our God can be legitimate again. He’s never been illegitimized. Jesus is so glorious that even should the entire world attempt to shove him aside and ignore him, he would lose nothing. He doesn’t need men to defend him.

Instead we ought to live the faith, always being ready to give an answer when we are asked about the hope that we have. Like the Apostle Paul our day-by-day life ought to be so potently Spirit-filled that we shift the very foundations of the cultures we are in as we proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. Our job is to proclaim Christ and make disciples. It’s up to God how that will impact the culture. In the long run that is what will make true change.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

How to receive God’s direction

August 12, 2016

 

 

 

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
– Psalm 143:8

 

 

Today you’re at a crossroads. You’ve got decisions (link to fear vs. faith decision blog post) to make that will shift the course of your future in significant ways. You want God’s direction but haven’t been seeing/hearing it clearly. Maybe you’re just in a difficult place, surrounded by opposition and struggling to just make it through another day, desperate to know what to do next in order to survive. Psalm 143:8 contains an important truth for you today.

We serve a God who values relationship over task completion and intimacy over productivity (link to Evil of Good work blog post). Want God’s direction? First you need to be present with him and learn to receive his love.

Receive the Love

In Psalm 143 David is in the midst of a desperate situation with people literally attempting to kill him. In the midst of that he cries out to God, seeking help and hope. The center of this Psalm, the record of that cry for help, is found in the phrase, “let the morning bring my word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.”

Here’s the thing, God wants us to trust in him and know his love before he gives the solution to your problem, lest we be tricked into thinking that it’s the solutions that are God’s love. Note that it is unfailing love that David is longing for an experience of. This love exists regardless of the circumstances you’re in the midst of. God’s love hadn’t been withdrawn from David, David simply had stopped hearing word of it.

Want to hear God’s direction for the next step in your life? First open your heart to receive his love.

Place Your Trust

Trust is the channel through which our experience of God’s love flows. David requests word of the Father’s unfailing love on the basis of the fact that “I have put my trust in you.”

My friends, if your trust or your security rests in something other than God you’re going to have a hard time experiencing his love, no matter how much you cry out for it. If you’ve been desperately seeking an encounter with God and can’t seem to reach it, examine your life to see where your trust is truly resting. Choose today to place your trust in the only worthy object. “The cross before me, the world behind me…no turning back.” Let that be your resolve.

As you entrust yourself to the Father you he will begin to show you the way you should go. Dependence precedes direction.

See the Way

Out of our relationship with God comes the direction of God. It is, “I entrust to you my life,” therefore, “Show me the way I should go”. What beautiful freedom there is in an entrusted life! The light of God’s word and the leading of His Spirit become the path upon which we step by step move forward in faith. We, like David, can trust that our God’s unfailing love will silence our enemies and support us through every trial. He will indeed teach us to do his will. Our part is simply to place our trust and receive his love. The rest will flow naturally from that.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith

Prove God

July 18, 2016

 

 

 

Confession. Yesterday Kelly and I skipped church and liked it. There are times where it’s better to step back from the normal routine and encounter God in a different context, so we stayed home and spent time together, journaled, prayed, worshiped, and watched this sermon from Graham Cooke. We both came away from the two hours or so we spent together in the Lord’s presence thoroughly refreshed, challenged, and inspired.

Graham’s sermon was on questions God asks of his people, and one that’s been echoing in my mind since we heard the message yesterday is, “When will you prove me?” When will I prove God in my experience? When will I truly entrust myself to my heavenly Father so that he can prove his love, goodness, and glory? So often we keep ourselves safe and secure in our familiar old ways of acting and thinking that we prevent ourselves from proving God in the ways we so desperately need.

Oh, we’ll sit and read our Bibles. We’ll spend time in prayer. We’ll go to church, small group, Bible study, and do service projects, but when it comes to the painful grit of our lives we pull back into our strongholds for safety rather than casting ourselves upon God and proving him. When a relationship gets rocky we cut it off, convinced that what we need is “healthy boundaries” rather than the hand of God. When work gets stressful we run to our favorite television show to escape rather than pressing into the difficulty and letting God prove himself in us. When fear of failure builds we jump ship and move to the next thing.

Where in your life is God asking you to prove him? Where is he asking you to step forward in frightening faith? For me this morning there are two major areas that he’s brought up consistently over the past couple months. One is financial provision as Kelly moves from full time work to being a full-time mom in just a couple weeks. The other is a recurring sin that’s plagued my life for years and that I give in to far too easy. God’s challenging me to “resist to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4) and prove Him to be able to strengthen me and satisfy me.

And what a joy it will be when God proves himself to us! To get to know – to experience – the power and glory of our Savior is a fuel that sustains the lagging soul.

Let’s not be people who are dominated and decide things according to fear, who spend our time trying to be safe. Instead let’s prove God – taking Him at His word and acting accordingly with the eager expectation and confidence that we do indeed serve a Lord who is more than able to do above and beyond all we can ask or think. May we, together, see the mighty hand of God move in our lives this week as we prove him time and again.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Growth

The Cost of Hiding Talents

July 14, 2016

 

 

 

The Apostle James wrote, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) That, I believe, is one of the main points of the Parable of the Talents that Jesus tells to his disciples as he explains what things will be like “at the end of the age.” It’s a message that we desperately need to take to heart.

Hiding Talents

One of the greatest issues for Christians in the western world is that we know a thousand right things to do and struggle to accomplish even one of them. Our knowing has far exceeded our obeying. As Carey Nieuwhof quipped, “the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.” (read his full post here).

Jesus makes the expectations of God clear in the parable of the talents. Matthew records its strange conclusion this way:

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
– Matthew 25:24-30

What was the issue with the third servant? Is the master a greedy man who just wants more money? No. The problem is, “You knew that I reap where I have not sown”. Because the servant knew his master’s character, the master expected the servant to act accordingly. He never commanded the servants to make more money for him, so I believe we can infer that the issue here is not the money. The master cares that his servants live up to what they know.

My friends, are we living according to what we know of our heavenly Father’s character? Do our actions and thoughts towards others align with the love that the Father has demonstrated in Christ? Are our financial, time, and relational priorities synced with his? He has given us talents – he has given us his Holy Spirit – and he expects to return and find that we have invested them as we have.

Losing talents

If we are the servant hiding or hoarding the talents we’ve been given, this parable gives us cause to tremble. Apparently the kingdom of heaven works in such a way that those who don’t use what they’ve been given have it taken away from them and given to someone who already has a lot. “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. “

I won’t take time here to delve into these couple verses that seem almost vicious on the surface. Suffice it to say that the intention of the punishment of this wayward servant in the parable isn’t to make us cower in fear. It’s there to motivate and inspire us to invest our talents – to be the one who has wisely worked what they’ve been given and can come before the Master and receive his commendation.

Investing Talents

The beautiful truth is that, for those of us who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is the engine and the fuel for that investment. He is the one who leads and guides and reveals, gently insisting that we bear fruit as we abide.

If you have little, start investing. As with the woman and her copper coin that received Jesus’ praise, those of us with seemingly minuscule talents can uncover great glory through faith. For both the servant with ten and the servant with five talents, their investment was doubled. Had the servant with one talent invested as well I believe his talent would have doubled again. And again. And again.

Let’s live up to what we know of God’s character. I don’t want to be the servant who comes before his master with apologies and excuses. Instead I want to be able to come and say, “see what I have done with what you’ve given me!” What beautiful glory and honor there is in living in the power of Christ for the glory of God.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Culture

Church Discrimination

July 11, 2016

 

 

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
– James 2:1-4

Martin Luther King Jr stated, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

For the last five years I’ve attended Salem Evangelical Free church, an amazing community of Jesus-followers here in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Before that I attended a similar church in the Brainerd area, and throughout the years I’ve been able to visit hundreds of churches as I’ve traveled and explored. I’ve noticed that, by and large, the evangelical church is a place for middle-class white families. It’s implicit in the architecture, language, staffing, and programs of most churches. It is, intentionally or otherwise, often as MLK Jr. said.

Oh, we’d never do what James is confronting the church about in the second chapter of his letter and make someone sit on the floor or stand in the corner because they’re different. At least, not verbally. But we do it incredibly well without using words. Our posture, our disapproving glances, our easy avoidance of conversation all work to exclude and declare that we do indeed play favorites and, as usual, it’s the middle class white folks who are favored.

The Problem of Privilege

If the racial tension and conflict that has erupted in the past few years around the United States has made anything clear, it’s that there is such a thing as ingrained, subtle “favoritism” (i.e. racism) in our country. It’s subtle enough that it’s found it’s way into the culture of many of our churches, setting up certain unspoken expectations that say loudly, “you don’t fit in here.”

The twenty four year old man who grew up in church, attended youth group, and is familiar with the cultural ins and outs of Christianity won’t feel uncomfortable if they enter a church and walk to their seat without being welcomed. But for the person not raised in church, for the person of another race, and for the person who doesn’t fit the expected “look” of a church person, being ignored is a declaration that they aren’t welcome.

In the above verses the apostle James makes it clear, “believers in our Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism,” and yet our churches are often structured to do exactly that. The culture we’ve created often communicates who we favor and who we don’t. Sermons that spend extensive time discussing “the greek” implicitly exclude the less educated. Immaculate, clean cut decor communicates that you need to have it together to fit in. Worship bands that play comfortable Chris Tomlin songs with no expression of emotion hint that those from more exuberant, outwardly expressive cultures should tone it down or find somewhere else to attend.

I could go on, but you get the point.

If we believe James’ words are the heart of Christ, then we must ask ourselves what we need to do to bend back against the default favoritism that’s shown to the middle class white families that fill our church and instead create a place that is equally welcoming to those of other races, lifestyles, socio-economic classes, and fashion preferences.

I want to offer four practical things that we as individuals and churches as organizations can do.

How To Not Show Favoritism

  • Determine to not define others by their appearance.

In his book Blink, Malcom Gladwell discusses the incredible power of the human ability to make assumptions based on our first-glance impression. We are literally wired to make snap judgments based on stereotypes.

The first step towards not showing favoritism within our faith communities is to intentionally postpone your internal judgment about others until you’ve conversed with them, heard some their story, and known them as a person. Don’t let yourself assume that the guy covered in tattoos is a rough person. Don’t assume that the homeless-looking man is a lazy drunk, or that the young asian man is an international student. Determine not to define others by their appearance and you’ll make significant progress against prejudice.

  • Declare that they are welcome.

The real work of combating favoritism in our churches comes on the ground level of relationships, but requires corporate involvement as well. Pastors, worship leaders, and the announcement guy/girl should go out of their way to declare from the stage that the church is excited to have a wide variety of people present. They should affirm the fact that we have a God who delights in different cultures and the vast uniqueness of his human creations. Bonus points if you have people from other cultures and social classes in the role of pastor, worship leader, announcer, etc.

  • Operate with outsiders in mind.

On a corporate level it’s also crucial to operate with the outsiders in mind. Those who have the stage should speak with an awareness that there are people who are different than them present. Define things clearly. If there are non-native english speakers present use less plain English. If there are people with no church background there, give them tips as to what’s coming next. Help them navigate the waters of Christian culture so that they feel valued.

  • Befriend them.

Finally and most importantly, those of us who are a part of Christ’s church must go out of our way to befriend those who are different than us. Pause the conversation with your friends after church and engage in real dialogue with the person who looks different from the rest of the group. Get to know the homosexual couple and invite them out for lunch. Discover the stories of the students from Bangladesh. Skip the sermon to chat with the homeless couple that wanders in just for the coffee.

 

Jesus refused to show favoritism. Instead of doing the expected and spending his time with the other teachers of the law and Pharisees since he was a teacher and a rabbi, he intentionally inserted himself into the company of those different from him. Even his incarnation is, in itself, a rejection of favoritism and a radical affirmation of crossing cultural barriers. Jesus went out of his way to welcome us into his Father’s household, going so far as to adopt us as brothers and sisters in his family. Because of what Christ has done we too are called to go out of our way to ensure that we are not the “judges with evil thoughts” who discriminate amongst the people present.

Let us, the followers of Jesus, be the ones who shower abroad the favor that has been poured upon us. As we do so may our churches become places that demonstrate the supernatural unifying power of the God of Peace who brings together men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation. What a beautiful declaration that will be to a country and a world so obsessed with race and division. As Jesus said, it is by our love for one another that they will know we are his disciples, and where love is there is little room for favoritism.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

He will surely do it

June 23, 2016

 

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What beautiful words in the chaos of a world that is anything but sure! My friends, let us ground ourselves in this truth today; our God is faithful, and what he has said he will do he will surely do. When tomorrow is uncertain, when waking up and entering the day is simply a burden, comfort your spirit with the truth that “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

What He Will Do

The Scriptures abound with declarations about what God has promised to do. From eternal salvation to indescribable joy, He who has called you has given his word, and faith calls you to take him at that word. I want to briefly touch on a few key things from this passage in 1 Thessalonians that we can build our lives upon today. What exactly is it that the faithful one has said He will do?

He will give you peace.

He’s the God of Peace, so he gives peace. Your anxiety and worry evaporate when you come near Him. Sin is the seed that grows anxiety, fear, worry, and ultimately death (James 1:15). When sin enters into our lives it separates us from the God of Peace, growing walls that trap us in the darkness of our own minds, which inevitably leads to the downward spiral of depression, fear, anxiety, and the like.

This God, however, has uprooted sin and nullified its power by the blood of Christ. He has shed abroad the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus. Look to him, and you will find peace as he frees you from sin.

He will sanctify you completely.

This progressive freedom from sin is known as sanctification. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification this way:

  • 1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use
  • 2 : to free from sin
  • 3a : to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to

The work of Christ has set you free. The work of Christ has set you apart completely. You’re in a whole new category. You’re no longer defined by your sin; you’re now defined by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Note the surety of this sanctification. He who has called you will do it. It’s not a weight on your shoulders. What joy and freedom is found in knowing and experiencing this!

He will keep you blameless

Being in the process of sanctification doesn’t mean that you never sin. We have a sin nature until the day when Jesus comes again. However, according to these verses (and plenty of others) God keeps us blameless. Can you grasp that? You’re blameless! In Romans 8 Paul states it another way, declaring that there isn’t any condemnation that can stick to those who are in Jesus.

When someone tries to blame you for something or condemn you for a past deed, it can’t stick to you. You’re blameless. When your mind fills with accusations of your incompetence and failure and lack of worth, toss those lies aside. The God who is faithful has called you and promised to keep you blameless. He will surely do it.

He will come again

This life is a struggle. Our broken world isn’t any easy place to live. The good news is that the struggle doesn’t last forever. This groaning creation will soon be re-created in glory, because Jesus is coming again and will restore all things. The day of the coming of the Lord will be both beautiful and terrible, and though it may seem slow in coming it will surely come.

He will love you

He will give you peace. He has sanctified you. He will keep you blameless. You don’t do this kind of stuff for someone you don’t love. Jesus came and purchased our peace, sanctification, and blamelessness because he loves us. From the delight in his Spirit the Father and the Son acted according to love and purchased for us salvation.

Unlike the loves of this world, this one isn’t going away. It’s here till the end. It’s not the love of the boyfriend who is there to get what he wants from you and then ditch. It’s not the love of the girl looking for comfort and validation. No. This is the settled, immortal love of the creator of all the earth.

He is faithful. He’s given his word and He will surely do it. Rest in that. Learn to let peace be your path this week!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Culture

The Year of Opinion

June 20, 2016

 

 

 

Hello 2016. You and your people are strange beasts, so driven by emotion and caught up in the tumble-cycle of instant feedback and unlimited validation. Everyone here seems to think that whoever has the strongest emotional reaction must be the most right. Whoever hollers loudest has the most power. Whoever is the most provocative and/or different should get the largest audience and probably be president. Or something like that. It’s the year of opinion. Hop on the nearest social media platform, website, blog, or news station and let’s go for a ride.

It might benefit you and I to take a step back. Or, better yet, a few thousand year’s worth of steps back. Back to when the book of Proverbs was written and someone with the hand of God behind their writing declared the proverb,

The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.

Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.
– Proverbs 12:15, 16

Let’s step back for a moment, 2016, and think about this for a second.

The Fool

“The way of fools seems right to them…Fools show their annoyance at once.”

Self-diagnosis time. Here’s a few of the symptoms of foolishness. You decide whether you’re infected or not:

  • The fool feels the urge to jump into every conversation, particularly when the subject at hand is something they disagrees with. Their opinion must be heard.
  • The fool is easily annoyed and offended because their identity is in his opinions. If you disagree with them they’re going to have a hard time being your friend.
  • The fool acts on the emotion and whim of the moment, ignoring possible consequences and just doing what their heart tells them.

If I’m honest it feels like most of us in 2016 land in the fool category of this proverb. We’ve bought into the utterly modern idea that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that because it’s their opinion it must be right for them. That expressing our emotions is legitimate because anything else would just be inauthentic and, here in 2016, inauthenticity is the worst of sins.

The Wise

“The wise listen to advice…the prudent overlook an insult.”

Second round of self-diagnosis. It’s not enough to know the negative side. We need to see what healthy looks like. In direct contrast to the symptoms that the fool displays, the wise person exhibits characteristics like these:

  • The wise person listens and considers, even values, the opinions of others.
  • The wise person overlooks insults and assumes the best about the other person, regardless of what they’ve done in the past.
  • The wise person acts according to the truth, not emotion.

No one wants to be the fool, yet the world around us is structured for the cultivation of people who operate exactly like the fool describe here in Proverbs 12. The question is, how do we move out of the fool category and into the life of wisdom?

It’s really not complicated. 1 Corinthians 1:24 declares that Christ is the wisdom of God to us. Want to be wise? Get Jesus. When you receive him you receive his Spirit, which is the Spirit of all wisdom. If you know Jesus you’re no longer the fool (even if you occasionally act like it); you’re now full of wisdom and prudence.

The Christ-Follower

Let’s be who we are. If you know Jesus you know that he’s the one with the ways of righteousness, and that more often than not the ways that you plan out miss the mark. You’re more than ready to listen to advice from others, because you recognize that you still have more to learn.
Our identity is in Jesus, not our opinions. We can readily stand, smile, laugh, and overlook an ocean of insults. If our master could bear the insult and mockery of roman soldiers and the pain of the cross, how much more can we who have his Spirit bear verbal jibes?

Brothers and sisters, it’s not our rightness or our vehement declaration of our opinions that leads others to Jesus. It’s in our humility, forbearance, and love that we demonstrate the kindness of God that leads people towards repentance. The wise listen to advice, don’t feel the need to proclaim their opinions, and overlook insults easily. Let’s be those people.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Life, Spiritual Growth

Fear vs. Faith: A framework for decision making

June 13, 2016

 

 

 

 

Life is basically just one long series of decisions. For those who are followers of Christ we long deeply for those decisions to be ones that glorify our creator and Savior. Some decisions are clearly right and wrong, and we navigate those with general ease. Or at the very least know how we should navigate them. The tension comes when we encounter decisions where God’s word doesn’t give direct instruction and where we may not be feeling a specific lead from the Holy Spirit.

I want to offer a simple, effective framework for navigating that kind of decision in your life. First the basis for this framework, then the framework itself.

Fear or Faith

In the 14th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul makes a massive statement; “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23b) If this statement is to be taken at face value – which I believe it is, judging by the scripture-wide emphasis on faith as the thing which pleases God most – then that means that every act we do that isn’t prompted by faith is, in some way, a sin.

The opposite of faith is fear. Fear is self-focused, faith is God-focused. Fear is about security and control, faith is about trust and obedience. Fear is timid, faith is bold. Faith takes God at His word, fear looks at the circumstances and gathers doubt.

I want you to choose to live in faith rather than fear. When you come to a difficult decision and are unsure what to do, ask yourself this question: “Which of these options is choosing faith?” Choose that one, no matter what. We don’t want to be people who take the path of least resistance. We want to be the people who walk the path that carries us increasingly closer to Christ.

Live in Faith

The funny thing is, the same outward action that comes from faith in one person could be coming from fear in another. To help better grasp how this works out, let’s look at a couple examples and contrast how choosing in faith vs. choosing in fear plays out.

  • It’s Friday. A few co-workers are going to the bar after work and they invite you along. You choose to go.
    • Faith: You chose to go despite the fact that you don’t feel comfortable in bars because you believe that God wants you to love and minister to your coworkers, and you want to get to know them better.
    • Fear: You chose to go because you didn’t want to be seen as an outsider or a goodie two-shoes.
  • You’re frustrated with your significant other because of something they keep doing even though you’ve mentioned that it bothers you several times already. You decide to keep quiet about it.
    • Faith: You chose to be quiet and trust that they care for you and probably aren’t doing it intentionally, so you’ll trust the Spirit to remind them this time.
    • Fear: You chose to be quiet because you didn’t want to start an argument or appear to be nagging or have them be frustrated with you.
  • A person who drains you called this morning and left a message, asking you to call them back. You put it off for a few hours, then call them back.
    • Faith: You chose to call them back because you trust that God will give you the emotional energy to deal with whatever the situation is.
    • Fear: You called them back because you were worried about what they’d think of you if you didn’t, and because you’d feel like you weren’t being Christian enough.

There are a thousand more examples that could be laid out before us. But you don’t need them, because you have the Holy Spirit in you. When you ask which option in the decision you’re making is choosing faith, he’ll let you know. Step into it. We make decision after decision every day, and each one is an opportunity to step further into faith in God or backwards into fear. Let’s make faith our daily choice, no matter what the cost. It will be well worth it in the end.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.