Try Growing Up

Instead of chasing every new teaching, try a little scripture reading.

Instead of seething with anger, try forgiveness.

Instead of cunning and scheming, try speaking the truth in love.

Instead of finding ways to divide, try finding unity in the faith.

Instead of seeking only individual health, try seeking the health of the group or community.

Instead of making yourself head over your spiritual life, try letting Jesus be CEO.

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Instead of just working on one aspect of life with God, the same one you have focused on for years, try letting Jesus transform all of you.

Instead of embracing futile thinking, try renewing your mind by discovering first the Kingdom of God.

Instead of hardening your heart, try humbling your sensitivities for the sake of Christ.

Instead of money, sex, and power, try fasting, simplicity, and silence.

Instead of considering the validity of every falsehood, try embracing the truth with equal intention.

Instead of complaining, try service for God.

Instead of tearing something down, try finding a need and fix it.

Instead of finding what is in it for you, try finding the benefit for others.

Instead of giving the devil a foothold, try repenting of your former way of doing things and accept your new life in Christ.

Note: inspired by Ephesians 4.

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The One Thing The American Church Must Not Be Fueled By

Twelve years ago, I quit one of the great joys of my life. I had enough. I was disgusted and embarrassed and I felt hoodwinked, used, and deceived. So I quit.

Baseball, this great game that had captured my imagination and heart since I was in junior high, had become bloated, monstrous, and impure. Steroids had turned the game into a chemistry experiment and the players barely resembled their true selves. Worst of all, every sense of pure fascination and enjoyment I experienced as a fan became a fool’s errand because surely none of these players had achieved transcendence and great heights without taking a short cut, without cheating themselves and the game. So, I was done.

In the last few years, I have started to feel the same way about the American church. It seems to be taking short cuts and injecting itself with a substance that makes it swell and produce unusual results. This substance is fueling the church and has increased its power and significance. But this substance is anything but Godly, only serves to achieve results while corrupting the body with a toxin that looks just like the rest of the world and dismisses the purity of the Christ that it proclaims.

This artificial and harmful substance is anger. Somehow, anger has become accepted as a means for the church and its members to handle life in the 21st century. And it keeps holding on to it because it keeps getting results even though it reveals a heart that is corrupted, unchanged by Christ, and linked to false power, deceit, hate, lying, greed, and oppression. I don’t want any part of this acceptance and complicity with anger.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus was so against the use of anger that he described three different levels of punishment due the angry person. He says they are worthy of judgement, arrest, and even hell, simply on the basis of their anger. A wise man once said, “Anything that could be done with anger can be done better without it.” We may think that anger is the only way to get results and that we have to join the ways of the world to be significant in the world but all anger is doing to the church is poisoning any real value it might have; any real word it might bring that is loving, hopeful, merciful, faithful, gentle, kind, and peaceful.

Jesus continues his emphasis against anger in the passage referenced above by saying that our worship will lose its meaning and purity if we still harbor anger. He knew how anger corrupts and he makes quite an effort to get his followers to eradicate anger from their lips and from their lives.

I don’t want to quit the church or my affiliations to it but I will not participate in a steroid version that barely resembles Christ’s intent for it or turns it into a bloated, ugly, malformed entity. May we all assess our methods of fueling the body of Christ, the church, and end our love affair with anger. Christ will have nothing to do with it and we shouldn’t either.

Surrender: The Great Forgotten Word

My tolerance for other’s tomfoolery, for disobedience, for not taking things seriously is not very high.

My friends like to remind me of the time in High School when we were organizing our first Fantasy Baseball Draft and I grew impatient with their lack of adherence to the rules and structure of the proceedings. I stormed off and sulked in another room. There was a old baseball bat in the room that I grabbed and started messing with. I just needed something to do with my hands in my frustration and irritation. I still had the bat in my hand when I went back into the “draft” room. I was not intending to use the bat for harm, I just was carrying it to carry it. My friends, though, thought in my anger, I was ready to use the bat to go after them or destroy some unsuspecting furniture. Their misunderstanding made me even more mad.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

This story illustrates the problem I have with surrendering myself to God. You see, I desire to have every situation work out the way I envisioned or to have a positive outcome, or to make sense. If I get a sense of things getting out of hand or something creeping to a less than desirable result, I start to loose impatience and begin to worry and fret over meeting my expectations. I am often unable to surrender myself and situations to God’s provision and will.

In my humanity, I somehow think I have control over how my life will turn out and even have control over how other lives will turn out. One of the best signs of us Growing Up is our surrender of control over the outcomes of our lives to God. Then, we can move to surrendering the outcomes of other people’s lives to God as well. We need to work towards the ability to say, “Lord, you can have anything, ” “Lord, not my will but your will be done;” “Do with me what you will.”

Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

As a follower of Christ, I am called to a complete surrender of my life to God. This sounds daunting, and if we are planning on doing it in our own power, it is. But we can start by saying and praying these simple words:

“Lord, I want what you want. This is all that I want.”

What Marriage Has Taught Me About Growing Up

This week we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I am very thankful for my beautiful and loving wife, Leah. We have been married for 19 years. Marriage is a great testing ground for our growth in Christlikeness. Here are a few things I have learned about Growing Up through the experience of marriage:

Anger needs to be dealt with

Many times, when I have had fights with my wife and we have left to different parts of the house in our anger, I have asked God to show me what to do. To direct my next steps. Almost every time, I have been directed to find her, reach out to her, and apologize. I have never been directed to sit there and stew on my anger. That would just make things worse.

Dallas Willlard says, “Anything that can be done with anger, can be done better without it.” So, it is best for me to swallow my pride and deal with my anger as soon as possible. We may be hurt but it would be best if we dealt with the anger so we can deal with the hurt.

Love and support of a committed person brings with it strength and courage to face major problems

I remember when my wife and I found out that our baby might have severe deformities. We were in shock and bewildered. But I also remember the quiet assurance that we seemed to give each other. Her support and encouragement blended with my support and encouragement to strengthen us for the uncertain months ahead. We were fearful and overwhelmed but knowing that we were there for each other and going through this together, eased our anxiety and gave us courage. I can’t overestimate the power of honest and true love and support. It can absolutely make the impossible seem possible.

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You can’t think about yourself for very long and if you do, be ready for problems

There is no such thing as “It’s all about me” time in a marriage. There may need to be time for space or time for personal recreation or entertainment but to shut off all burdens of commitment and time to your spouse so that you can do your own thing is not part of the contract your signed when you got married.

Commitment to commitment means something and our own wants should never outweigh our commitment to our spouse or to God. I have to consistently check myself and my motivations. Is my heart burning with selfishness and self-absorption? If so, I need to get back in the spiritual laboratory and let God take back control. For my benefit and fulfillment and hopefully for the benefit and fulfillment of my wife.

Two Mistakes We Make In Growing Up

Jesus, in the Greatest Sermon Ever Given, talked about these things:

Anger

Lust

Lying

Revenge

Pride

Greed

Worry

Judging

Falseness

Our great defense mechanism as humans is to recognize these traits in other people but not in ourselves.

If we start reading Matthew 5-7 and get to teachings on pride or lust or anger we let other people’s face cross our mind’s eye instead of our own. We think that because I have heard this passage before or have heard a few sermons where Greed is discussed, I have already figured these things out. Someone else must have a problem with these things and not me. What a mistake this thinking is and what a tool of Satan to have us dismiss these crucial teachings as not pertaining to me.

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Just this past week I have struggled with Worry about many things. I have lusted. I have delighted in someone who I am not fond of getting some comeuppance. I have judged constantly. I have stretched the truth. I have let Pride dictate some of my actions. I have grown Angry and lashed out at people around me. I have wanted something to happen strictly for financial purposes only.

I am in need of a daily heart transformation that only Christ can bring and discusses in the Sermon on the Mount and so are you. Forget the obligation of obedience, imagine what your life could be if you made progress in just one of the areas above?

If our first mistake in transformation is not seeing the need for it, then our second mistake is thinking that change will only come from our will power and determination. This will only take you so far. Many people are finding this truth out as their New Year’s Resolutions are losing steam.

No, the only determination you need is to make progress and to daily let Christ work in your life. To be open to Christ’s work and whatever form that takes. To take him in and let him be the Lord of your life. Change will come, transformation will come.

I have told you that I have a long way to go but I am better than I was 10 years ago. But self-improvement is not the goal. Being a light to the World and fulfilling God’s plan on earth is why I need to reflect the nature of Jesus in all that I do or become.

 

Committing Murder In Your Heart

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that

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Anger Controlls Him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus is addressing the heart of an individual. The heart is the extreme focus of Jesus. He spends the better part of the Sermon on the Mount addressing this. Jesus knew that avoiding murder is largely a physical issue but avoiding anger is a spiritual one.

Jesus always emphasizes the spiritual over the physical. I may never reach a point of wanting to murder someone but that doesn’t mean that anger doesn’t have a hold on me. That doesn’t mean that the contempt I have for another person isn’t tearing myself and that person apart. Dallas Willard says, “Anything that can be done with anger can be done better without it.”

There are some Christians that think that it is their Christian duty to be angry people against those that are hostile towards them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Encountering those who are against us in a loving and respectful way instead of a belligerent and rageful way is to follow the example of Jesus. To do otherwise is to follow the ways of the world and to work against Jesus’ teaching on the destructiveness of anger.

 

 

How Christ Made Me A Better Person Pt. 2

Here are three more examples in my own life of personal changes coming as a result of the work of Christ in my life. Let me note that Christ taught me these things through his Word, through prayer and meditation on scripture, and through great teaching from the likes of Dallas Willard, James Bryan Smith, Brennan Manning, and Henri Nouwen, just to name a few.

See anger for what it is and what it is not – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spends six verses driving home the point against anger and its partner in crime, contempt. I have learned that anything that can be done with anger can be done much better without it. This has helped me in disciplining my kids and points of contention with my wife. Sure I get angry and sometimes respond to things poorly but more and more I am able to remove anger from these situations so that I can try to help the situation instead of making it worse.

To avoid second looks– Lust has got to be the biggest problem that men face and I am as guilty as any man but Christ has taught me that the real problem is not with the first look but the second, third, and fourth looks. That is when simple awareness of attractiveness turns into lust and objectification of an individual. I work on a college campus where there are young attractive females but I have learned that there is nothing good that can come if I continue glancing their way. And best of all, Christ has taught me to value more those that aren’t on the surface attractive and beautiful.

Accept who I am – One statement that has probably meant more to me than any single teaching from one of my heroes, Dallas Willard, is this, “Discipleship is becoming the person Christ would be if he were I .” In other words, I am not called to be Christ because he has already been on this earth, I am not called to be my pastor, or Mother Theresa, or whoever else we consider to be a spiritual hero. I am called to be me, who has been transformed by the work of Christ.

In the past, I have felt that there is something wrong with me because I don’t have the enthusiastic outgoing personality you often see in churches. But Christ is not calling me to be someone I am not, he is calling me to be me but with a heart change. So that means that my personality, my gifts, my background, my context are perfectly acceptable to God and not just acceptable but needed in the work that God is doing on Earth. I was made the way I am because God needed me to accomplish a specific thing and that thing could not be accomplished if I had a different personality or different characteristics.