The Problem With Cultural Christianity

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Are you familiar with the term “cultural Christian”? Even if you aren’t, you are likely surrounded by them. A “cultural Christian” is a person who defines or identifies themselves as a Christian, but is not a ‘Biblical’ or practicing Christian. These are people who grew up in a society that largely identifies itself as Christian, or grew up in a family that identified itself as Christian, but they never actually embraced convictional or Biblical Christianity. And perhaps has never even taken the step of faith to profess Christ as their personal Savior. Is this starting to sound familiar?  If this hits close to home, I want you to hang with me. Just hear me out on this.

Adopting the identity of “Christian” because you were born into that society doesn’t truly make you a Christian. It makes you one who conforms to what’s around you without much thought. Just as if you had been born in Utah, there is a greater chance, practicing or not, that you would identify as a Mormon, or if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would identify as Muslim.

You can’t inherit your salvation. Even if your father was the best preacher in your town. Salvation isn’t just passed down.

And that’s the problem with the folks who identify themselves as Christians because they believe in God and, well, their family was Christian or in their mind, they’re just…Christian. They think they are, but…are they?

The thing is, it doesn’t work that way.  The first part of becoming a Christian is recognizing that we have to be, as Jesus explains to Nicodemus in John chapter 3, born again. Okay so what does that mean in real words I can relate to, you ask? It means we all are unrighteous , we follow our own desires and lusts, and we don’t seek after the ways of God.  (Romans 3:10-11).   We have to ‘die’ to the old self so we can put on the new self  (Ephesians 4:21-24). Dying to the old to be born into new life with Jesus is what it means to be born again. You’re starting again. And that’s the difference between cultural Christianity, just giving yourself the moniker of “Christian”, and Biblical Christianity–actually repenting (turning aside) from your old ways to follow Christ.

Some will say that all you have to do is say a prayer and you’re done.  I know there is a verse or two that says that, but we must remember that the whole will interpret the parts, and the whole in this case is always that Jesus preached (and the apostles confirmed) that a true repentance came with a true change. Not just a prayer and back to the same you that walked in the door. But, I did not get promoted to the Judgment seat, so you can take your chances if you wish.  I can pretty much promise you that if that route gets you a ticket to eternity with God, it short changes you on the abundant life Christ promises for you here. (John 10:10). And it also doesn’t set you up so well for that day when you will stand before God to give an account of what you’ve done with what you’ve been given. But that’s a different post for a different day.

See the problem with cultural Christianity is that the cultural Christian may not really be a Christian by Christ’s definition at all.  Wouldn’t that be tragic to figure that one out a trumpet blow too late?  So how do you transition from cultural to Biblical Christian?

Well here’s what it isn’t: it’s not about how often you go to church, how loud you sing, how many activities you join, how much money you give. All of those things are great. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s not about going through the motions of religion.

Here it is…ready?  Jesus wants your heart. He wants your mind. He wants your soul. He wants you to stop living with you as the king on the throne of your world so you can put him up there. He wants you to worship Him above everything and everyone else in your life. He wants you to take it seriously when he says to love others like you love yourself.  Don’t worry, that will be a whole post, too.  He wants you to open yourself up for what HE has for you, even if it’s a little scary and challenging. He wants you to follow his ways.

I know looking at that, it looks like you’re giving up every right to personal freedom.  Here’s the thing though, and you may not believe me quite yet, but check out what Paul tells the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatian 5:1 New International Version).  The old things, those things which separated us from God, prior to our gaining righteousness through Christ, made us slaves to sin. Paul is telling the Galatians (and you and I) that Christ purchased our freedom from that burden on the cross!!  See, what you might first see as giving up your freedom is really actually releasing you TO freedom! This is how things work with God.  He’s just cool and awesome like that!  Paul does go on to warn us that though we are given freedom, we have to be on our guard not to abuse this freedom or we will fall right back under that yoke of slavery to that sin. That’s a perfect example of why we don’t do this journey solo. We do it in a community of believers who lift each other up, admonish, teach, etc.

He gives us this handy book full of teaching and wisdom and history. It’s how He talks to us and how we figure out what following him actually looks like. It’s called the Bible. It’s kind of awesome. I’ll talk about it next time.

For now, are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?

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An Open Letter To Desert Dwellers

Desert

An Open Letter to My Dear Friend T and Anyone Who Feels Stuck In The Desert:

First and foremost, you are not alone! I know what the enemy would have you believe, that you’re stuck out there by yourself, all on your own. That’s a lie.  The best way to weaken somebody’s resolve is to isolate them. Separate them from the pack.  Once you do that, it’s easier to get your victim to believe your lies. The first lie you have to refuse to listen to is that you are alone.  You have friends and family that care about you, and more importantly, you have Jesus Christ walking alongside you, each step of the way.  The comforter, the Holy Spirit, is there for you. You are etched into God’s hand and he is not letting go.

Feelings are feelings, but they are not always reliable. Remember when we studied Philippians and talked about Joy? Remember that happiness is based on a temporary situation, but for the Christian, true joy is based not on a feeling, but on the facts. The fact that we are assured salvation when we receive Christ as our Savior, that his death was payment for our sins once and for all. The fact that it isn’t based on our performance or ability.  That fact that even if we feel stranded in the desert and God is far away, he is not. The fact that over and over the Bible tells us He will not leave us, that if we seek him, he will not turn away. (Isaiah 42:16; Psalm 94:14). The fact that if we lean into him, he will lean into us. (James 4:8).  The fact that Jesus promises us rest in our weariness (Matthew 11:28).  That fact that even if we don’t feel anything, it’s all still true.

The truth hasn’t changed. All the things you believed before you entered this difficult season remain the truth. God doesn’t change. (Malachi 3:6). His word is still the same truth you have believed and held close to your heart.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). All the promises you held tight to and believed before, the promises you used to guide others through their own deserts, they are still there and are still true for you.

What put you in your desert could be any number of things. A financial crisis, a terrifying health scare, family problems that seem beyond repair, infertility issues, addictions, depression, and on and on.  While the root cause may be different, the highway to the desert is almost certainly the same. Somehow, you’ve let the voice speaking to you the loudest be the one telling you you’re alone, it’s hopeless, you have to handle this by yourself, and you should probably just give up.  That is a pack of lies straight from the devil himself. But because those messages keep getting more and more airtime in your mind, the voice of God starts fading away until you eventually stop hearing him altogether.  And that is exactly what your adversary was hoping for. He “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 English Standard Version).  (And sometimes the devouring doesn’t happen to those in the extreme desert seasons of their lives. Sometimes it happens to those who simply give in to accepting to chose to live a life in the “meh” zone, not really that happy or sad, nothing is really that terrible, but nothing is ever very good. He just devours any real positivity from your life.) Once he’s got your attention off God’s truths and promises and refocused onto his load of poop, he moves in for the steal, kill, and destroy phase. He’s going to steal your confidence in God, kill your joy, and destroy your hope. Welcome to the desert. 

So how do you get out of the desert?

  1. Ask God to meet you there, right in your desert, and help you. If you have already put your faith in Christ as your savior, God will meet you there. He is not going to abandon you. He is waiting for you to ask him to be with you in this thing that you’re facing. Let him in. You have to do your best not to hold back any of it, but that may take some time. Just keep at it. If you have not put your faith in Christ, please hop over here real quick, then come back.
  2. Choose your lenses and how you use them.  You have in your possession two figurative lenses, one convex and one concave. One makes items appear smaller when you look at them through it (concave), the other lens (convex) makes objects appear larger. STOP USING THE CONVEX LENS TO VIEW YOUR PROBLEMS! Just throw that one away. You don’t even need to use the concave lens too look at God. He IS bigger than any problem you face.  No trick lenses needed. Grab a piece of paper and write your problem(s) in the center of it. Now in big giant letters, write GOD over the top of that problem. Put that paper up as a visual reminder where you can see it. Friends, you absolutely must change your perspective. We’re talking about the plague sending, Red Sea parting, manna from Heaven providing God. And that’s just Exodus. Will God instantly remove every problem? No. He might, but he might not. Probably, he won’t. But that’s for him to decide. He will give you the grace you need to get through this rough patch. (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace is sufficient for everything. More than sufficient. It is all you need. 
  3. Stop believing there is no hope and start believing you are an overcomer. This goes back a little to looking at our issues with the lens that makes them look bigger. And we all do that, we tend to let things loom large over us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (And if you know who that is, God bless you doubly for being old like me!) In my last post we read about Paul encouraging the new believers by telling them trials and tribulations are how they enter the kingdom of God. Folks, we are refined in the fire. But just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, we have somebody standing with us, even when the heat gets turned up. (Daniel 3:16-28).   In all things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through Christ. 1 John 5:5 says we that believe Jesus is the son of God will overcome the world.  But we are not conquerors or overcomers as believers by our own power. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, English Standard Version). The same Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us! Tap into the power of the Holy Spirt, y’all!  You are not a victim. You are not an addict. You are not a diagnosis. You are a child of the Most High God and that makes you an overcomer! CLAIM THAT or you might as well pitch your tent in the desert.
  4. Lean into Me and I will Lean into you. I already shared that from James 4:8.  When you’re in the desert feeling alone, and all you’re hearing is the voice of the enemy, I’m guessing little by little your time with God has slipped off into nothing much, if at all. Or perhaps it didn’t exist with any consistency in the first place (no judgment here). Now is the time, friend, to lean in. Grab the hem of Jesus’ cloak and don’t let go. Grab that Bible and get in it. Look up verses that may speak to your specific situation, but if you’re alone in the desert, get yourself into the Psalms.  Almost half the psalms are called psalms of lament. These are cries of despair to the Lord. Folks, you are not the first to walk this path. Read how even King David cried out to God when nothing seemed to be going his way. But always, in the end, he know God was for him.  Get yourself in the word. This is God’s primary way of speaking to us. Make daily Bible reading a habit. Make daily prayer a habit. (These two things are quite helpful for avoiding deserts in the future, by the way.) Tell him everything. He already knows, but he wants you to share it with him. Feel like he’s left you? Tell him. Feeling lost and need help? Ask him. Not sure about anything or what to do? Lay it before him.  Getting out of the desert is going to be pretty tough if you do it by yourself.  Get God in this with you.  Rest in him.
  5. Don’t be an island. God made us for community. There are people that care about you. Be discerning, of course, but don’t be afraid to ask for support. Talk to your pastor. Don’t have one, you say?  Sweet child, please go find a community of fellow believers. Once again, the enemy will try to silence you, telling you there is too much shame in admitting you have this issue going on. Just another lie.  Use discernment for sure, when you chose which friends to share with. But you are not alone.

I have lived through long desert journeys and short trips. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re on your own, nobody cares, and you found the end of the rope. I’ve been there. But God.  God will show you there is hope, and not just life, but abundant life. He will show you that not only are you not alone, He has always been with you and never left your side. He will bring great, loving people into your life if you open yourself up to it. And he’ll take that rope and show you not only is there a whole lot more you didn’t see, but it’s long enough for you to use it to lead others out of their desert, too.

Father God, tonight I do pray for the hurting, those that feel hopeless, those that feel their burdens are so heavy they cannot take another breath. You are our loving Father, you redeemed us not so we could live under the oppression of the things of this world, the fear of the future, the uncertainties of life. You promised us not just life, but a life more abundant. I pray for each person reading this that you would touch them right now, where they are, to not just meet their needs, but exceed them in the way only you can. Father, let each one see your hand stretched out to them and stir their hearts to grab on and never let go.  In Jesus Name.

How far are you willing to go?

pastor-saeed-abedini

   Pastor Saeed Abedini, released January 16, 2016. Praise the Lord!

This morning, as the technician was at my house installing my new beefed up home security system, I started sobbing and couldn’t hide it. When he asked what was wrong, I said “Nothing! Saeed is free!” And Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment provided an opportunity once again to bring God great glory!  What a day to rejoice!

If you aren’t aware, Pastor Saeed Abedini is an Iranian born, now American citizen, former Muslim now preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife Naghmeh were responsible for starting over 100 house churches in Iran, however he was arrested for this and changed his efforts to starting an orphanage in Iran. On his last trip he was arrested for no apparent crime and spent the next three-plus years in Iranian prison, subject to abuse, lack of necessary medical care (stemming from the abuse), solitary confinement, and more that I’m sure we will find out in the coming days. Say what you will about Iran and this mish-mash of a deal that’s been agreed to, broken, more negotiations, etc. But today, I praise God because Saeed and three others are free.

So let me ask you, how far are you willing to go for the gospel?  Do you think Pastor Saeed was operating on the fringe and should have known something like that would likely happen and therefore avoided it?  Let’s be honest here, what he did was risky.  But he was dangerous for the cause of Christ, and Christ calls us to be risky.  When was the last time you were even BOLD for Christ?  Not everybody is called to travel to distant lands to be a missionary. Not everybody is called to be a street preacher. Not everybody is called to be a pastor or church planter. But everybody, every last one of us who made a real confession of faith in Christ as our savior and Lord is called to live for him. To die to self and live for HIM and HIS cause. Not to sit meekly in the shadows and hope nobody notices where we go on Sundays.

There are some who would have you believe that being a Christian is all about getting your physical needs met (health, monetary gain) and place far less emphasis on your spiritual needs. Way too many who would have you believe that’s what God wants for you.  Now, no, God is not desiring that we all walk around in sackcloth and ashes living miserable existences. But never once is there are promise that by giving your life to Christ and follow him will you get all your little heart desires. And don’t try and argue Psalm 37 as proof of that or we can meet under the bleachers for a hermeneutical smack down. ūüôā No, what we are told repeatedly is to expect trials and tribulations.  When Paul and Barnabas were traveling around doing the equivalent of church planting, after having met when plenty of pushback themselves for preaching the gospel, we learn in Acts 14:22 the two men spoke to the new converts  and “strengthened the souls of the disciples  and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” Now THAT’S a pep talk!!!  I dare say you aren’t going to hear that on TBN anytime soon. But Paul and Barnabas were not saying anything that Jesus hadn’t already said. He told us if the world hates us it’s because it first hated him, and we are not greater than our master. So if the world persecuted him, it will persecute us, too. (John 15:18-20).

So let’s revisit Pastor Saeed for a minute and talk about being bold for the faith. He’s already in prison for his faith, subject to beatings and poor treatment all the way around. By the way, if you weren’t aware, as a Muslim if you renounce your faith you are subject to being put to death. Saeed was threatened with that at one point. So did he keep his mouth shut? Nope.  When an opportunity arose, he shared the love of Christ with those around him.  According to his wife Naghmeh, his heart was so sold out to Christ, it was more a compulsion to share that saving grace with people in dark places. And he was surrounded by lots of people in a very dark place.  One can’t help think of Paul, writing from jail to his beloved church family in Philippi, when he said “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul knew, as I am convinced that the Abedini’s know, that God doesn’t let a opportunity slide by wasted. The take away from Paul’s words and Saeed’s example, is no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, no matter if you planned it all out or it’s a giant life-altering change in course, comfortable and easy or the bleakest, darkest of circumstances-if you are willing to be used for the cause of the kingdom of Christ, you will be used. But not if we cower back in the shadows, wringing our hands and questioning why God is doing this TO you.

But here’s the next part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Think about this when you see stories of those people who are being martyred and jailed and brutally treated for their faith. And I’m not talking about wedding cakes.  Paul’s next line: Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  I pray that when you hear of these things it gives you courage to go speak the word of God fearlessly.

Because friends, particularly my American friends, we sit in a such a comfortable world of easy Christianity. We go to church where, sadly, for the vast majority of us, we are mere consumers. We put on our Christianity on Sunday morning, go in for a good sermon and a some fellowship (maybe), go home and probably take our Christianity off before we pull in the driveway.  This is not denying yourself and picking up your cross to follow Christ.  This is “having it your way”. We are going to give an account one day, you and I, of what we did with what He gave us.

I challenge you, no matter where you are in your walk with Christ, to think about how far you are willing to go. Pray to God and ask him to show you where he would have you go next. Deny yourself this week in order to follow Christ. How, you say? Here’s an easy one: sleep a little less, pray and study the Bible a little more.

Father God, we thank you today Lord for the deliverance of Pastor Saeed from the physical chains that have held him, and pray continually for your healing work in his body and mind as the chains that may still hold him there will fall at your hand. Lord we pray for your mighty hand in the reuniting and restoration of his family, that your healing work and abundant peace be ever-present through this transition.  Father, I pray that we all seek you and ask that we open our hearts before you and ask you to search them and show us those places we hold back from living 100% sold out for you. You are a good, good Father!  In Jesus great and glorious name!

To keep and bear arms….or not.

Bullets

Two caveats…

First, this post is a little bit outside the norm. This one is my personal muddling through an issue I never thought I’d be muddling through.

Second, in no way whatsoever am I attempting to tell or suggest what YOU should do in this particular matter. There is no black or white here.¬† It’s certainly caused some lively debate lately, and I have no problem with sharing of opinions in the comments. I encourage that! Please just be courteous and remember. your opinion is your truth, and another is their truth. Be respectful.

It’s no secret the media wants to play up the “fear” angle of almost everything they can, and the Syrian Refugee crisis has seemingly played into their hand. This has brought up a lot of gun talk in the scope (no pun intended!) of defending yourself and your family, due to the possibility of terrorists sneaking in with refugees (and terrorism in general).

But none of that made me think for even a moment about the need to defend myself or get a weapon.¬† Prior to last month, the only time I ever considered it (for about ten minutes) was when I moved from California to Texas, because everybody in Texas has a gun. (That’s not really true, but almost!)

But just about 5 weeks ago, my comfortable, safe, routine world was shattered.¬† I’ll try not to take too much time on this, but I have to give God all the glory He deserves here.¬† I live alone, with two cats who think they’re humans. I was sound asleep when I was awakened by a loud noise that I couldn’t describe. Then nothing. This woke me from a dead sleep, so I was a little dazed.¬† Within maybe 20 seconds my cats (who were on my bed with me) FREAKED OUT so I grabbed my phone and dialed 911 and within 5 seconds there was a man with a flashlight standing in the doorway of¬†my bedroom saying something to me which, to this day I cannot remember, except it ended with “b*tch”.¬† And I pray regularly that God continues to block that from my mind. But just at the moment the 911 operator picked up and I screamed into the phone. He left. As it turns out, the police told me, there were two people, based on two distinct footprints on my front door. That was the noise, the door being kicked in.¬†¬† I have NO DOUBT that God protected me. I have dealt with some crazy anxiety since then, but God has been SO FAITHFUL I can’t even tell you without taking an hour. He has brought people to minister to me,¬† my church family has been amazing, and He keeps speaking peace into me in a time when my head wants to believe anything BUT peace.¬† So that sets the stage.

You can imagine after that how many times people told me I needed to get a gun. (Did I mention I live in Texas?!) I couldn’t get away from it.¬† I would spend a lot of time thinking about it, researching them,¬†playing out scenarios in my mind. I¬†went to a gun range to shoot (I’ve done it before, I’m not anti-gun), but all of that just wrapped me up in knots. As time went on, those you’d think they’d get looser, but no, they just tightened up every time the gun topic came up.

Now, again let me say, this is MY conclusion for ME. Not you. This is based on MY time with the LORD. Not what I think scripture says is black and white.¬†¬†It’s what, in my quiet time with God, I believe we have decided is right for me.

I’m not going to get a gun.

Here’s my main reason.¬† I don’t know if I can take a life.¬† Even if I’m being threatened.¬† I know there are some who will think that’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard.¬† But I don’t know that I can take a life under any circumstances. We, all of us, are His image bearers. Even those jerks who broke down my door. Even the people who sit on death row. Even the tiny humans some consider an inconvenient pregnancy to just deal with. Every life is valuable to God. I just don’t know that I can take one.

I still have some PTSD-like symptoms I deal with and when some intrusive thoughts come on, one of the things I sometimes remind myself of is what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”¬† That’s comforting to me, even when I think about my life being taken in a violent way. (Hey, Paul wasn’t looking at riding off into the sunset to die at the old folks home of old age, either.) I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about (but more than I used to, to be perfectly honest)¬† confronting death at the hands of another.¬† (Welcome to my new world!) As with all of the anxiety based responses my brain is throwing at me these days, I have two choices. One is to give in immediately to what the flesh wants to do and think, and the other is to run to Jesus and hold on. We can talk about anxiety another time, but I choose Jesus, even when that means I’m running to him while the anxiety is tearing through my brain. So if I’m choosing Jesus, I choose to rest on his promises. And he promises that all of this world¬†is going to pass away. My house, my safety¬†zone, all the things that make me feel safe and secure.¬†And it’s nothing, NOTHING compared to what’s to come. Including this life I have now.¬† So if I say this too nonchalantly, it’s just my trust in that promise when I say, I’ll take my chances and leave the rest to God.

I also know that every life, no matter how corrupt it looks, is not beyond the redeeming power of the shed blood of Christ. What if I took that chance away from somebody? What if I could be planting a seed?

Do you know the story of the missionary Jim Elliot and the¬†Huaoroni tribe of Ecuador? Jim and team of missionaries were determined to bring the gospel to this unreached tribe deep in the jungle. They had met with the tribe peacefully, but on one meeting, for reasons unknown, something went wrong. Now the missionaries were armed with guns, but when confronted with the angry tribesman, they chose not to use the guns in self-defense. All five were killed. Why, do you suppose, they chose not to defend themselves when their very lives were clearly on the line? I have a pretty good guess. These gentleman had gone in laying the groundwork and sharing the gospel of the love of Christ. Had they shot their attackers. there would have been little chance the gospel would be preached any further to that tribe.¬† (As an aside, two of¬†the missionaries’ wives, Elliot’s and another, eventually made peaceful contact with the tribe, lived among them for a couple of years and converted many to Christianity. God has a plan for everything, boys and girls. Everything.)

One final thought, and then I have church bulletins to fold. In the aftermath of my incident, I just wanted to feel secure and comfortable in my space again. I thought a gun would do that. Along with increased security and several other things. And one day the LORD reminded me that HE is the only absolute safety and security we have, and anything else I do, while good and helpful, is not the ultimate security, HE is, and I need to put my trust in Him. The same for my comfort.

I have purposely left out scriptures to back up my decision because I’m not trying to win arguments or plead a case here. Again, this is not about that. You do what YOU feel you need to do. Just please do it responsibly! But I will leave you with this:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.               (Psalm 73:26, 28)

 

David Bowie Died Today…

Black & white image of a wooden cross against a cloudy sky - low angle view

My Facebook feed is filled with post after post from friends lamenting the loss and wishing he rest in peace, just as happens any time a celebrity passes.

I have nothing against celebrities and wish peace for those they left behind, and truly hope they are resting in peace. But I always wonder, when I see these posts, did they know Jesus?¬† Do these people posting “RIP” think about that? Not just in passing or hearing about him in Sunday School, only to follow¬†their own ways the rest of their lives, but did they really know Him?¬† Did they put their faith in Him as their only hope for salvation?¬† That’s what I think about.

Fame doesn’t get you anywhere with God. Not money, not awards, not talent.¬† Not even being a good person. There is no “good enough” here. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus.¬†¬†We can’t do anything other than put our faith in Jesus who was given to us by God as a gift. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

David Bowie had cancer. He knew his time was short-his life had a deadline that was coming up. But the truth is, none of us have a single¬†day promised.¬† Tomorrow could be it for you or me. Jesus could come back next week. ¬†It’s up to God.¬† Some of us, like David Bowie, have some kind of notice, but most don’t.¬† And if we sit scared of telling those around us, those we love the most, because they might think we’re weird or it might offend them, and their number is called, then what?¬†It’s too late, that’s what.

This is why the gospel and it’s power to save is so imperative to get out to everybody.¬† I have such a burden for that. I look¬†at pictures of David Bowie¬†and I think, is He with Jesus? Did anybody ever tell him how to get there?

Friends, the people surrounding you, famous or not, are dying to hear about Christ. They may not even know it. But how can they believe in something they’ve never heard? If you are a follower of Christ and that doesn’t burden you a little bit, I’m not even sure what to say. Other than go read up on those words in red letters in the first four books of the New Testament.

Who will tell them?

Father God, I pray peace for all the families dealing with the loss of loved ones, that they may know the peace that surpasses understanding that comes to those who walk with you. I pray for all that call on you as Savior and Lord would feel an overwhelming desire to share your saving love with those around them. I pray, Lord, that you give them boldness to declare your Name wherever they go.

 

Happy New You!

Welcome, 2016!

resolutions

The coming of a new year often brings a time of contemplation…did we accomplish all that we’d hoped during the last year? And what are we resolved to accomplish the next year?¬† Studies reveal about half of all Americans usually make new years resolutions.¬† But of ALL the people who make resolutions, only 8% actually achieve their goals.¬† Those are pretty terrible odds for our success!

But you know there is one rock solid opportunity for change with a 100% success rate.¬† All over the Bible we are told of how we are transformed. I love what Ezekiel tells the Israelites in Ezekiel 36.¬† He tells them that their sins against God have been purified and The LORD will give them a new heart and a new spirit. God says he will remove their hearts of stone¬†and replace it with¬†a heart of flesh!¬†¬† In Psalm 51, beloved King David, who has just been confronted with his sins, is now pleading with God to forgive his sins, cleanse him, and create a clean heart.¬†¬† And Jesus’ shed blood not only restores us to right standing with God, but we become new creatures thanks to the Holy Spirit with whom we were sealed when we were born again. There’s the biggest change.¬† Paul says it best: Therefore,¬†if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So what makes the difference between the 92% failure rate of succeeding at those resolutions, designed to make you better, and the 100% success rate, of complete life transformation in Christ?¬† Well, the resolutions we make we do based on our desire, on our schedule and on OUR POWER to accomplish them.¬† When we become a new creation in Christ, we just need to simply believe that we need a savior and Jesus was it. BOOM. Now God is doing the work. He has sealed you with his Spirit. His power, the same power that raised Christ from the grave, now resides in you.¬†¬† Now there is an option¬†to choose¬†the hard way and despite having those things, not allow them to work in you and for you. It’s quite a popular choice, sadly.¬† And okay, I might have fibbed a tiny bit in saying you have no work to do. You do need to work at yielding your ways to His ways.¬† That’s what dying to self means. We give up the control and self-centered living¬†to live for Christ. And it’s a choice with have to make every day.

So, am I telling you not to make resolutions?¬†No. If that’s what works for you (though statistically, they probably don’t for the long haul), go for it.¬† But instead of making resolutions, how about we make an intentional choice to ask God to help us deepen our relationship with him, starting right now. ¬†And if you also make non-faith oriented resolutions,¬†remember, those things which we try to do solely on our own power are statistically shown to have a dismal success rate. So ask God to be in it with you. That makes him happy when his kids ask for him to join in!

Every time we start a change in habits, the success rises with our planning. Set alarms. Maybe find a friend for accountability. Find what works for you.

Here are some ideas for new ‘faith habits’:

–Read the Bible daily.¬† You can try a 365 day reading plan, but if you find this pace has you just reading and not mediating over what you’re reading, then switch to something else like a two-year plan, or a 365 day New Testament plan. If you’re just reading and not getting much out of it, you’re not getting the most of your time and efforts.

–Make regular prayer time daily. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long session. You will figure out your rhythm. Some people will tell you that you MUST do it first thing in the morning.¬† Hogwash. Personally I can’t form a complete sentence the first hour. I don’t even start talking to God until I’m in the car on the way to work.¬† And the Bible says to pray without ceasing. Not to pray in the morning first thing without ceasing. There are several ways to work out a prayer routine. Journals, notebooks, prayer walks. Whatever you need to do to get yourself into the habit of consistent prayer is what you need to do. Pray not just for your needs and desires, but pray consistently for others. Pray for your pastor(s) and their families regularly. I consider that one huge. The enemy targets our leaders so we need to be covering them with prayer. Pray for your school, workplace, city. Pray for your government on all level. In all things, pray His will be done.

–Be consistent with church attendance. It’s vital to our growth. Lots of people say church isn’t for them and they’ll do it alone.¬† I think everything after the book of John fell out of their Bibles. That is not what God wants for his church. We were not meant to go it alone. We are designed for fellowship. Discipleship is vital. Fellowship by yourself can’t happen, and discipling doesn’t really work out that well when we are accountable only to ourselves. We need others to do this¬†walk with us! If you are someone in that position, let’s chat about it.

Serve in your church.¬† Regardless of how big or how small your church is, church was never designed for your pastor (and his family) to do everything.¬† There’s a sad non-scientific statistic about serving that says 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people. What that means, simply, is your church needs YOU.¬† If there’s a specific area you’d like to serve, ask how to get involved. If you’re open to anything (as we all should be), just ask where they need you.¬† Somebody needs to clean the church. Somebody needs to teach the children. Somebody needs to greet people as they come in. And so much more. Our churches really do need all of us to serve somewhere.

–Serve your community.¬† There’s a mission field that starts right where the parking lot of the church ends. Consider finding a program in your community were you can give of your time regularly and bring the love of Christ to those you serve

BE BOLD! What have you had placed on your heart by God to do but just haven’t taken the plunge?¬† DO IT!!¬† If you believe God has called you to this, and it lines up with the word of God, then go for it! God doesn’t give confirmation by putting a burning bush in your backyard and asking you to take your shoes off and have a chat. God gives you a desire that doesn’t go away, and he will give you some things that seem to show you you’re on the right track, but he’s not usually going to hand you a business plan.¬† He wants you to trust him and take that step of faith. So go for it!

–Live in constant Gratitude. I cannot stress this one enough. There will be a post coming shortly on this. But make a point to live intentionally in a state of constant gratitude for all He has done. Look around you. There is evidence everywhere of big and small things.¬† I try to live in this state, but hey, we all slip.¬† But about 12 days ago, I was sound asleep when I woke up to the sound of what turned out to be a home invasion. I live alone. This is why have not met my target of blogging every week–my brain is mush.)¬† Now I am beyond grateful for the immediate protection, but every day, though my anxiety and fear are a constant (but waning) presence in my life, I praise Him and tell Him how grateful I am not just for what he did then, but for everything. For the beautiful day. For the people I got to see that day. For the smile from a normally grumpy co-worker. Because He has blessed me. Because He is.¬† Being grateful, even in the bad times (hate your job? Praise him and thank him that you have one) will change your whole attitude.

That’s just a few ideas.¬† Resolve this year to get closer to the One who matters the most. The One, the only One, who can truly change you and the quality of your life.

Blessings to you and yours for 2016!!