Being All In Is The Only Way

When was the last time you were fullhearted in anything?

Halfheartedness seems to be the default mode for the modern American person. We have our laptop out while watching TV, our phones out while watching our kids games, music in while reading a book, and screens on while we eat. Do we ever just fully devote ourselves to a task or an event or a project?

The Christian life is not a life that can be done halfheartedly. Jesus’ command to take up a cross, no our cross, and follow him is not a call for halfheartedness. It is a call for fully devoted surrender and sacrifice that starts to require our entire self – from our thoughts, to our use of our body, to the choices that we make.

Yet, we try to get by with a halfhearted faith.

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Photo by Aloïs Moubax on Pexels.com

We let other people pray for us, we open God’s word just on occasion, we substitute blogs and podcasts for real Christian community, and we fill up our time with endless distractions that have zero eternal significance. Dallas Willard says, “When we are halfhearted in our faith, we are halfhearted in our thinking. And the halfheartedness defeats the whole project.”

Do we ever practice loving one another or being generous or sharing the impact God has made on our life? If you are like me, generosity and love and sacrifice doesn’t come easily and it won’t come at all if I remain halfhearted in my commitment to Christ. My life of following Christ requires all of me.

This world needs halfhearted followers of Christ like I need a hole in my head. You can be distracted while watching TV or brushing your teeth but when it is time to live this Christian life, commit your everything to it. This is why I write this blog, so that readers can Grow Up to a fullhearted faith and leave their halfhearted ways behind them.

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No Pain, No Gain?

When we were told that our youngest daughter would have birth defects, possibly severe ones, did I need that situation to develop a sense of ruthless trust in God?

Would I have ever made Jesus the Lord and center of my life if I didn’t have a breakdown full of darkness, depression, and frustration?

Did I need to be cut from my high school basketball team to know that God can still value me despite personal disappointment and failure?

Did I need to be a lonely college student to take advantage of long stretches at a lake setting with just me and God?

Did my Dad have to die and my friend drink himself to death for me to learn to love God even when I don’t agree with how he has allowed things to happen?

Is pain and struggle a prerequisite for growth?

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Job, in the Bible, needed one catastrophe after another in order to finally make this statement about God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s struggles awakened his spiritual senses to truly appreciate and savor God.

Paul begged for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” but God didn’t. Instead, God told him this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul would then come to this realization, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul needed hardship and difficulties and weakness for God to be his strongest. I don’t know if I can say that I delight in struggles and disappointment just yet but if that is what it takes for God to be the strongest in my life then I will sacrifice my comfort and ease along the way.

For I have seen too much growth, too much of God’s presence, too much of God’s provision, and too much of a change in myself to think otherwise.

Where What God Wants Done Is Done

God acts here among us. He moves, creates, shifts, directs, speaks, and transforms. He restores souls.

Do you believe this?

The place where God gets done what he wants done is called the Kingdom of God. Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God within himself at the beginning of his ministry and constantly taught his followers about the Kingdom of God.

He said the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here, accessible, inhabiting, and available. All he ask of us is for us to repent. Surely, this means repent in the revivalists sense but also in the basic sense of “rethinking.” We are to rethink the way we look at the world because in Jesus the Kingdom is at hand, right here.

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Brooklyn Museum

If I have committed myself to Jesus, I have become “one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” I have access to this ever present Kingdom and can commit myself to what God wants done and join forces with other believers who are indwelt by Christ to expand and strengthen the Kingdom. I Grow Up and the community Grows Up.

But if my view of the Kingdom is that it is for another time and some other place then I will never experience its potential, power, and progress. I will be stuck as an observer and not a participant.

 

Jesus Is Not In A Panic But We Often Are

I thought 2017 was a tough year for me and many of the people I work with but 2018 has already been marked by one report of bad news after another. I have that same sinking, weak, and impotent feeling I had last summer when my Dad died. My knees seem to constantly be in a state of weakness.

Thankfully, God provides messages and resources in my weakness. For my time with God, I like to read the meditations put together by Jan Johnson in her book, Meeting God in Scripture. In part five of the book, the theme is “Facing fears, frustrations, and discouragement.” The first passage that she walks the reader through is Mark 4:35-41, the time when Jesus is taking a nap on a boat while a huge storm erupts and has the Disciples fighting for their lives. Johnson pointed the reader to a Rembrandt painting of this scene.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

I found it so interesting to observe the disciples and all of their different responses (including the one heaving off the side of the boat) and then to ask myself which disciple most resembles the reaction that I would have.

At first glance, I identified with the lone disciple at the back of the boat straining at the rudder, trying to keep the boat on a steady path. He is all strain and little progress. Rembrandt seems to really like the dark and so it is hard to see that there is one disciple who is kneeling before Jesus, perhaps begging for him to do something, or crying out for mercy. Some scholars think this is Rembrandt himself, placing himself in the painting. Where are you in the painting and this scene?

Take a few moments and read the passage and then observe the painting. Which disciple are you in your current situation? What response do you wish you had in light of how the scene plays out? Will you ever be able to just calmly sit next to Jesus during your stormy seasons? How will faith help remove the fear in your life?

The Uniqueness of the Ordinary

No one in our culture likes the ordinary. Nothing ordinary goes viral or gets likes or gets copied. The ordinary is often shunned as if it is wrong or terribly mistaken.

The church in American has picked up the aversion to the ordinary. No church highlights their willingness to meet the ordinary people, provide tools for ordinary situations, or celebrates the purity of the ordinary.

But the ordinary is the most important aspect of our days. How we manage the ordinary is how we manage life. Who we are in the ordinary situations is who we are. If we don’t stress the ordinary in our days then we are ignoring 95% of our existence.

This is where Growing Up comes in. Becoming a mature follower of Christ means that every moment, every situation, and every encounter is an opportunity to live my life in the way that Christ would if he were I. My mornings are not just the preparation for the day but an opportunity to commit that day over to God. Driving is not just a point A to point B thing but a mobile prayer closet. Dinners are not just communal necessities but a chance for thankfulness and unity among loved ones. My work is not just routine but my God given tasks that require my God given abilities.

The ordinary is everything. Christ was ordinary yet he changed the world and offers us an ordinarily extraordinary life.

Embrace the ordinary.

Will There Be Christian Robots?

We are handing more and more of our human duties over to machines.

My phone is basically writing my texts for me because it is learning my patterns of communication and use of words. Human chess players are already competing in tournaments, not against machines, but with the machines in what is known as freestyle or advanced chess. Does anyone know anything anymore or do we just know to see if Google knows?

This isn’t just the stuff of movies but a reality to what will be present in 20 years. We are starting to get to the point where we will have to think about where the human ends and the machine begins. The next step will be a human-machine mashup that is something all together different.

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If we haven’t already, we are going to have to start thinking about what is a human and how should it live in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and transhuman technologies. There are already Transhuman theologies popping up. What will be the Church’s answer to this?

Maybe my machine hasn’t fed me the right articles, but I have seen very little written or talked about that tries to provide a Christian response to this rise of the machine. But I have read Kevin Kelley’s The Inevitable and I have listened to this podcast and read this article from secular minds trying to come to grips with this near future. Christians seem to be behind the curve on this.

Too many Christians want to have bullet proof beliefs to take into debates with Atheists or Buddhists or Muslims, but what we really need to be focused on is demonstrating how Christianity is the best way for humans to live.  To present a Jesus Way of being human that has traits, characteristics, and values that humans would be foolish to lose in the age of machines.

It sounds absurd, but there will be serious discussions and thought being paid to what makes a human and how that is different, and should be different, from artificial intelligence. What a great time for Christians to exemplify that the best choice for human existence is a life taught, inspired, transformed, and developed through Jesus Christ. Our goal shouldn’t be to win some debate but to demonstrate that Christ’s way is the future of our existence.

Why I Am Not A Dad Blogger

I am a parent but I hardly write about parenting. I am a husband but I hardly write about marriage. I hold a managerial job but I haven’t mentioned leadership on this blog. I am a member of a church but I barely mention church. I am a citizen of a democracy but I avoid political discussions and social commentary.

What is my problem? Am I avoiding these things?

This blog is about the maturity, wisdom, character development, and renovation of the heart that comes from the transforming power of Christ. My whole point of writing this blog is so that other people can find ways and methods and inspiration to be the Jesus they would be if Jesus were they.

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If individuals reading this can find growth in love, in compassion, in service, in sacrifice, in perseverance, and humility then their marriages will be improved and their parenting will be less selfish and their work will be more excellent and their participation in church will be more intentional.

I could make every post on this blog a listicle on how to have a great marriage but the heart of the matter wouldn’t change. I need the transforming power of Christ in my life in order to be the person, in all of its states and phases, that blesses others and makes a real difference.

I have a lot of work to do and so do you but the surest way to reach stronger, healthier, and blessed aspects of our lives is to follow Jesus, do what Jesus does, and be like Jesus is.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29

So You Want To Be A Superstar

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to do something great. I wanted to be known for my accomplishments, to be sought after for my significance, to be well known, even famous.

There is no denying the pride, greed, envy, and jealousy that is inherent in such ambitious thoughts. And I am guilty of all of these. But lately, I have tried to come to terms with this particular character trait of mine. I have worked to determine if God has placed some of this desire in me for a purpose or if this is just a thorn in my side that I will struggle with for a lifetime.

Before I begin to rationalize a dangerous character flaw, it might be good if I studied the life of Jesus and looked to see what he had to say about ambition, quest for greatness, and significance. I came across a story where two of his disciples, along with their mother, ask Jesus for special places of power when his kingdom is fully realized.

Jesus first ask if these disciples are willing to follow Jesus into hardship and difficulty?Then he tells them that in order to be great you must be a servant. You must not seek to be served but to serve. He even mentions himself, and his mission on Earth to serve.

I don’t know what you think about when you read this story but what hit me is that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be great as long as I am working to be great within the Kingdom of God and not the world. Also, am I willing to follow Jesus into suffering if that is required? Finally, am I willing to be a servant?

For the two disciples, James and John, that Jesus spoke to in the story, each one received significance and are considered great in the history of Christianity. But their greatness came about through their focus on Christ, through their suffering, and their quest to serve. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about them.

As for me, part of my quest for significance is partly a quest for a calling from God. But once I find that calling, and I think I might have, I better be willing to suffer and to serve others or my efforts are little more than selfish fulfillment seeking.

 

Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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photo by: Ricardo Romano

I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people, no matter what we try to tell ourselves.

When Jesus comes along and says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, we have to take notice, right? Because in our our way of doing life there is no comparison to the reality of the things above. Our truth will barely reach higher than the rims of our glasses. Our life will likely hurt those around us at some point and at best provide only glimpses of joy and peace.

We need Jesus’ way of life, his truth, and his life sustaining us.

In my 30 years of being a follower of Christ, I have learned to count on Jesus answering prayers. I have learned to count on his teachings being the wisest and most beneficial words in human history. I have learned to count on love never failing. I have learned to count on Christ moving in profound but mysterious ways. This is my reality with Christ.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Not Just A Slogan, Part 1: What Is Christ-Centered?

I went with my daughter to visit two colleges this weekend. It was interesting to hear the words, ideas, and terms that these individual cultures presented. The sloganeering that happens in places like a college campus works well on brochures and billboards but do these people even know what they are really saying and do those that are listening even understand what these terms mean?

Where I work, the term Christ-centered gets thrown around a lot. It is a great sentiment but what does it really mean? I went to scripture and found some insight on what Christ-centered truly means.

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“having the same love, being one in spirit, and in mind”

Christ centered institutions have a unique unity. How does this occur? First, individual Christians begin to Grow Up and be changed and begin to resemble more of Christ. This means we possess more of the mind of Christ and heart of Christ. So, if I possess more of Christ and you possess more of Christ then the more we mature the more we are reaching a common plane of mind, heart, and spirit because Christ is working in both of us.

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Avoid selfish ambition

“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others”

Christ centered people and institutions will be marked by a measure of humility. I was talking with a prominent coach on our campus, and he talked about the biggest surprise he has had with building character among his players is their increase in humility. This growth hasn’t made them soft, instead it has increased the unity and bond as a team because they are valuing others above themselves.

Read part 2 on Wednesday.