Jesus Didn’t Die To Give You A Political Stance

I am fed up.

I don’t like to use this space for social and political commentary but recent events are crying for a different perspective, one that I thought I might be able to speak to.

It seems that there is a misconception in American Christianity that the only way to live out your faith is to be bold and fanatical regarding social or political  issues. Somehow the Christian duty of loving God, loving others, sharing the gospel, and making disciples has been replaced with making political statements, arguing, fanatical postering, and boycotts.

The implication in all of this is that to be a true Christian is to be bold and outspoken about cultural and political issues. Despite lines and lines of Biblical texts that discuss loving your enemies, care for the unfortunate, and going the extra mile, Evangelical Christians feel that the only model for a devout faith involves becoming overly confrontational and entrenched in Christian culture.

John 13:34-35 states,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorifyyour Father in heaven.”

Ephesians 5:8 explains, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light”

Our call as believers and followers of Jesus is to let his life work through our life so that the Kingdom of God (where what God wants done is done) is spread. We can only do this through the transformation of our life through Christ.

If you want to change culture, change your heart, not your political stance. The only hope for this world is Christ’s children living his life in their life.

Take a stand for righteousness and Christlikeness, consider the damage of your own sin in your community before attacking others (even heathens), and above all seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Do these things, and the cultural and political changes we all long for will become an increasing reality. God looks on the heart, scripture says, and that is where we make change happen.

This is why spiritual formation is so important to me and this is why it should be important to you. Our world needs changed hearts and Christians living Christ-like lives. Heart change is so much more important than political change.

Becoming A Student of Jesus

Considering the last post, I wanted to move forward in paths toward growth in Christlikeness. The first step is becoming a student of Jesus.

We are students of many things and many people but are we a student of Jesus? Do we read scripture and learn from Jesus how to live? Do we pray and ask for his direction in a certain situation?

The people close to Jesus and not so close to Jesus had many questions for him. They longed for him to teach them how to pray, how to forgive, how to think about the future, how to live a good life, and how to handle their money.

But we can also simply observe Jesus and how he responded to various situations. How he was more than willing to touch a leper and how he was so relaxed and had so much trust in his Father that he could sleep in the middle of a raging storm.

Call it weird, but here is what I do when I am more in tuned with Christ. Because the Bible tells us that Christ lives inside of us, I actually take that to heart and try to focus myself on Christ within me. Like right now, as I write this, I am trying to stay in tuned to what Christ wants said and not what will sound cool or get me a lot of praise. This refocus of my thoughts allows me to learn from Jesus, who is within me, how to respond to a given situation.

According to Matthew 7:24-27, the only way to survive the storms of life is to learn from Jesus and put his words into action. Jesus is the greatest teacher who ever lived. He is so much more, of course, but why learn how to live from a second rate source when you can learn from the son of God.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Next Action: Read from the Gospels daily – Notice how many people asked questions of Jesus to learn from him – What questions do you have for Jesus? – Listen for a response.

Why You Need A Vision And Not A Resolution

I remember my first New Year’s Resolution. I was in fourth grade and our teacher asked us to make a resolution. She said that if we kept to our resolution for two weeks it would become a habit. I committed to shoot baskets for fifteen minutes everyday. That year, I kept it up until the end of my basketball season and by the time I was in seventh grade, I was shooting baskets almost year around.

This experience showed me the power of one simple goal and how it can change your life. I responded to my teacher’s challenge because setting goals, sticking to commitments, and being schedule oriented fits my personality. I border a little on obsessive compulsive but many people are not this way. If you hate making lists and appreciate spontaneity and variety more than me how can you make the most of an honest desire to improve something in your life? You need a vision and not a goal.

Goals are specific and detailed, visions are broad and demonstrate a finished product. I can commit to pray for five minutes, five days a week but that in itself will not get me to my vision which is to become a more Christlike person. If I envision myself being more loving, willing to serve others, and experiencing deeper, richer moments with God than that vision starts to shape my entire day not just the five minutes I spend in prayer. If I am truly captured by my vision, than the day has endless possibilities for growth and dedication to God. I start to ask myself over and over, will this next choice I make get me closer to my vision of being more like Christ?

Have you let the yearly trend of setting resolutions influence you to take on an activity that in a few weeks will seem silly and lacking urgency? Then why not skip the resolutions and choose a vision instead? Imagine if God’s people chose the vision of becoming more like Christ in 2012? Wouldn’t the result be much more powerful than God’s people choosing some spiritual activity that only seems to be completed for the sake of completing it?

Join me in 2012 in becoming more like Christ. This will look different for each one of us but if our vision is captured by the possibility of the radical change that Christ can accomplish in our life, we will stop at nothing at making it a reality.

Marriage Conferences Are About Christlikeness

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Many people fail to realize that how you live your life as a Christian is important to God. Sure, they understand what a Christian looks like from a cultural stand point but what about what a Christian looks like interpersonally and intrapersonally. As someone who is concerned about other Christians becoming Christlike, I have grown frustrated with the idea that many Christian have about discipleship and becoming Christlike – that it is optional.

Marriage is an area of life where being Christlike is not optional; it is essential. My wife and I attended a marriage conference this past weekend and the speakers put more emphasis on strengthening your relationship with God than they did strengthening your relationship with your spouse. Also, they spoke about irritability, the thought life, honesty, forgiveness, and loving difficult people. No one at the conference thought these aspects were just side items to their life or nice add-ons to their faith. No, we all recognized how important it is for our marriages to be Christlike and possess a heart transformed by Christ.

If our hearts don’t change to reflect more of Christ than our marriages will suffer. In the same way, if our hearts do not reflect more of Christ than our entire life will suffer. Our job will be a struggle, our relationships will never grow into something meaningful and rewarding, and we will never find effective ways to share God with others. Perhaps marriage is the perfect springboard for helping us recognize how much we need Christ in our lives and we need him to transform us into the new creations we are called to be.

Why Christian Spiritual Growth Matters.

Sometimes I wonder if what I am doing on this blog and in classes I teach on discipleship is mistaken. I ask myself if I am being too focused on self and am encouraging people to abandon global pursuits for personal pursuits that potentially have little meaning. Is my emphasis on personal spiritual growth just a Christian version of the self-help obsession that has overtaken our country? But yesterday I realized something when reading some of Eugene Peterson’s book Traveling Light.

Peterson was trying to point out that the gospel, or good news, that Paul talked about in Galatians has both a global meaning and a personal meaning. In other words, when it is all said and done, we still must deal with ourselves. All of our friends and family may come to know Christ, and great political peace arrive around the world, and poverty come to an end in the third world, yet we are still left with ourselves and the status of our own heart.

David may have experienced great success as a King and military leader but he still had to deal with the condition of his heart and his tendency for distraction and lust. Moses was absolutely no good for his people if he did not have a deep connection with God.  Peter was ready to fight off Jesus’ accusers with a sword but when it really got serious he was done in by a little girl (John 18: 16-17). If we ignore the personal side of our faith then we have to ignore the majority of the New Testament. Jesus goes to great lengths in the Sermon on the Mount to paint a picture of what a disciple of his looks like. I can’t ignore this fact because it doesn’t fit the bill for an action oriented, go-go-go, Evangelical culture.

So, I am encouraged that trying to become more like Christ is an essential part of my faith and that trying to help others into Christlikeness is worth every bit of time and energy that God has given me. Have you neglected your spiritual growth for other faith pursuits? Have you downgraded pursuing Christlikeness because it seems too self-focused? Work through these issues by asking God to show you an effective balance between growth and going and between action and contemplation. Lets find this balance together “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).”

3 Myths of Spiritual Growth

Have you made a New Year’s Resolution?

According to George Barna, only 19% of Americans are definitely planning on making resolutions  in 2011 despite the fact that 61% have made resolutions sometime in the past. Barna’s report also states that 49% of those who have made resolutions in the past have seen no lasting change.

One of my goals in publishing this blog is to help ordinary Christians, like myself, make progress in their Christian living. When I look at some of the numbers from Barna’s study I realize that the way that we go about making changes in our life is all wrong. Here are three myths regarding change that apply to the spiritual life and other areas as well.

1. All it takes is more will-power. Go try to live out 1 Corinthians 13 today on will-power alone. See how long that lasts. You can’t white knuckle your way to patience and kindness and overcoming envy.  You can provide ways that God can transform your heart so that these virtues become a reality. Change in our pursuit of Christlikeness is an inside out process.

2. I have to do it alone. One of the most dangerous mentalities of American Christianity is its unwieldy emphasis on the individual. Everything from our “quiet time” to personal witnessing to Bible reading has to be done on an “on your own” basis. Yet, the most effective method of change that we have seen in the last 100 years, Alcoholics Annonymous, succeeds because of the emphasis on a support group, accountability, and mutual encouragement. Why can’t we apply this to our spiritual life?

3.  It is only up to God to change me. Paul, no doubt, had many rich encounters with God in his life but only one Damascus Road moment. His “thorn in his flesh”, whatever that may have been, was not immediately removed by God. We cannot sit around waiting for God to zap us into change. God most certainly could create instant change but he usually chooses not to. Jesus says that “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5) but as Dallas Willard points out “it is also true that if we do nothing it will be without him.” Real change is a partnership with God in which we have a role to play to help in the process. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in such as scripture memorization, worship, silence, fasting, etc.

So go ahead and make a New Year’s Resolution but if you want to see it make an impact in your life you better be aware of the myths above.