Fear…and why it should scare you.

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Jesus tells us that the devil, comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Peter warns us that he prowls around like a lion, “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Yikes. Sounds like serious business. And it is! The devil, who has many names in the Scriptures to describe his various character traits and job duties, has one main purpose–to be your adversary. Let’s be clear–he’s got lots of tools in his arsenal and he knows just how to use them. He knows your weaknesses and how to exploit them. But let’s also be clear about something from the beginning, and I want you to get this deep, deep in your spirit. He cannot prevail against you. I don’t think you heard me. HE CANNOT PREVAIL AGAINST YOU.  I know you may feel like it sometimes (there we are with the feels…but they are not the standard of truth!!), but he never will against a child of God. In those times you need to make sure you are calling on the weapons in your arsenal. You know, the ones that are stored in heavenly places. You need to be prayed up and suited up with your armor from Ephesians 6.

Now, if I were your adversary and I was trying to render you ineffective in your calling and purpose, short of killing you, do you know what I’d do? I would leave you in fear. I would work on that fear angle so well that after awhile, I didn’t even have to stick around to do the work. I’d have you trained to do the work for me. It’s a beautiful plan. So good, that the devil does it all.the.time.  He has done this so well that we too often become conditioned to have fear be our go to reaction for anything and everything. God may be calling you to step out into something big or even something small, but we’re scared of failure. Before we even give it much more than a passing thought, we’ve dismissed it as too hard, too big, too much for little old us.

Fear can cripple you or it can just slowly stagnate you. Fear keeps you in that false sense of comfort. You know, that place where you want more but you feel stuck, things are not quite all that you dream of or aspire to, but they’ll do. Deep down you’re not all that happy with things as they are, but you’ll stay there because it’s easier to be uncomfortable than to be uncertain. Or worse, to try and fail.

I could be way off here, but in my experience the problem is that fear stems from the inability to control the outcome. And the anxiety and trepidation that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome is usually because the more I’m trying to control outcomes, the less I’m trusting God.

This is something that’s been part of the evolution of my prayer life in the last six months. I used to pray specifically for the outcome I wanted, and tack on “but Your will be done” at the end, genuinely hoping my requests aligned with His will. But having had to deal with more in-your-face scary things than I ever wanted to,  it’s transitioned, particularly when I’m praying in times of fear, to not just asking for the outcome I’m hoping for, but sincerely telling God how much I trust him and thanking him for his faithfulness NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. If that seems like a no brainer to some folks, good on you! It was not for me. I was too scared of the unwanted outcome to verbalize my trust to the God of the universe to carry me through the unwanted outcome. Possibly my trust wasn’t as strong as I thought. Smart one, that God.

Fear keeps you in the boat. Or in the job you hate. Or from starting that homeless ministry. Or the Bible study at work. Or signing up for the New Testament Greek class (just sayin’). Fear says just don’t try. Jesus says, “Come”, calls you out of the boat, and grabs your hand if you get overwhelmed and things get scary. (Matthew 14:28-31)

Fear tells you all the reasons why not. Jesus tells you nothing is impossible with God. (Mark 10:27)

And though the Bible says “fear not” some 365 times,  do you think God expects us to somehow eject that part of our humanity that makes us react to unnerving or dangerous situations with fear? Of course not. It’s not possible. Why then, the command not to fear? ‘Fear not, because I’m the Great I Am, and I’m going to let you go through this all by your puny little self. Sucka.’   No way!  God does not call us to do things, or let us go through trials, and just turn His back and hope we figure it out. “Fear not for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10). Be strong and courageous….because the LORD your God goes with you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)  “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’  He got up and said to the wind ‘Peace, be still.’ He said to his disciples ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'” (Mark 4;39-40 NIV)  Get the picture? He’s not really asking you to not ever be afraid again. He is asking you to trust him. There’s a big difference. If I trust in me, I have every reason to hold on to my fear. If I trust in God, I know he’s got my back.

Still don’t believe me?  Every situation that brings you fear, rather than let it immobilize you, analyze it to it’s worst possible conclusion. Every time I do that, it leads to Jesus walking me through it. Or death. And death leads to…yup. Jesus. Really, take the sting even out of death. Afraid you won’t get the job? Trust God to know what’s best. What if the business fails. Yup, it might. Trust God if it does for provision and direction.

Being so afraid to fail and never trying is crushing to your spirit.  And if you never even try to do what God is asking you to do, score one for the adversary! That’s what he wants.

It boils down to a choice. Trust God in everything, even the scary, uncertain stuff, or stay put and live in a small circle controlled by your fears.  You have the power to step out of the circle any time you chose.

What’s it gonna be?

That was then, and this is now.

photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)
photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)

 

Everybody has a past.  When we come to Christ, we come with our flaws, hurts and stains from the burden of sin we’ve carried. We may look at ourselves in comparison to another and think we’re pretty good, but make no mistake, the only comparison God looks at is how you and I measure up to His standard.  Not how I do compared to you, or you to me.  And by the holy standard, we all have some pretty messed up pasts!

But at the cross, God arranged for an exchange for those who would take him up on this free gift of his grace. We can exchange that past, which with absolute certainly will lead us to condemnation, for righteousness–Christ’s righteousness.  That is a pretty sweet deal.  (If you have not taken advantage of this deal yet, please click here.)

But that past. Maybe it was bad. Maybe it brought you shame. Maybe you did hard time for it.  Maybe you think it’s so bad that even though God forgave you, you can’t get past it. Whatever it is, the past doesn’t seem to be staying in your past.

So first let’s look at a where your past stands with God.  Paul tells the Corinthian church, and all of us,  that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  Our old selves, our past, is gone. BOOM. We’re new creations!  In Psalm 103 David tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us”. That’s far enough away that God stopped keeping score. Finally, Colossians 2:14 says our legal debt (sin) was cancelled. The book in the ledger that was used to keep account of our sin? It was torn out, stamped with cancelled (in Jesus’ blood) and nailed to the cross.  Getting the picture yet? God doesn’t see that sin in your account anymore.

So if God, has stopped holding it against you, why do you hold it against yourself? You are not who you were. Remember, you are a new creation. In Romans 12, Paul says we can avoid conforming to the world by transforming our minds. That means it’s possible to transform your mind by how you think about things, including yourself and who you are. Start seeing yourself as the child of God and co-heir with Christ that you are.  Stop buying into the lie of “I was always, so I always will be”.  You don’t have to live in that past, no matter who would have you believe that, including the devil.  That was then, and this is now.

Now, one caveat before we move on. Sometimes our actions hurt other people. If you have something that God is leading you to go to that person to seek forgiveness for, that’s another issue.  If you feel doing that may actually do more harm to the other person, please seek wise counsel from a pastor or elder.

So now that we agree that once our faith for salvation is firmly placed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that our account is clear, we can walk free of the guilt and condemnation of that past.  Romans 8 is a great read for the freeing up from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit.

And that righteousness of Christ that covers our past sins? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Why? Friends, have you ever felt burdened in your walk that you’re not doing enough,  not serving enough, not sanctified enough, not a lot of things enough? I know I have.  On more than one occasion I’ve lamented on how I’m just not “good enough” as a Christian.  Oh boy. I am not hanging out in this wire alone, either!

Somehow, the wires got crossed or there was a short circuit. We are more than down for trading our filthy rags for Christ’s righteousness when it comes to salvation and eternity, yet in this life, we revert back to thinking we’re on our own to work it out. Or was I the only one who fell for that?   That’s right, we have spent too much time and energy back in the power of “me”, haven’t we?  Have you tried to be “good enough” and just found you couldn’t do it?  This is exactly why! Because we slipped back into working our own way instead of letting it be the righteousness of Christ that defines our goodness and worthiness.  This really came to light for me when I saw a follow of Christ concerned that they weren’t going to be ready for Christ to return, and did they need to “do” more.  Actually, it woke me up like a bucket of ice over the head. Can you see if you break it down in those terms, though perhaps extreme, that “readiness” was became the responsibility of the redeemed, NOT the Redeemer? This is a works based salvation disguised as sanctification.

Our righteousness as believers is imputed from Christ. It is our only righteousness. If you’ve fallen into the trap of walking out your faith as a continued path towards righteousness, please realize you are walking outside of what Christ did for you on the cross. You’re adding to it. All we need is faith alone in, in Christ alone, “not as a result of works, that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2:9)

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough because of, well, you fill in the blank, stop that too. You’re also overlooking the present and continuing covering of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t think you’re as pious as Friend X? That’s fine. You have the righteousness of Christ. You just can’t seem to have the heart to serve others the way Friend Z does? That’s okay, you have the righteousness of Christ. You weren’t perfect? First, welcome to the club. Second, that’s alright. You have the righteousness of Christ. The devil may try to drag you down and make you think you should be more, or be like somebody else. Whatever. You have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever that past may have been, that was then. And this is now. Walk boldly!

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?

Happy New You!

Welcome, 2016!

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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!!

 

We Want More

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During worship recently, there was a refrain in the song that stood out to me: we want more, we want more, we want more. This is not an uncommon lyric in worship songs or even in many sermons. We do want more! I’m constantly praying that I want more, more, more of the LORD and all He has for me.

But that night, as I was singing, that still small voice starting talking to me in the middle of all that singing. He said, you know, you want more of Me, but what that really means is you have to give more of yourself.  I actually stopped singing and had to take that in for a second. What could that mean? I’m decreasing here, Jesus. You are increasing. I want more of YOU. I don’t understand.   He said “I already gave you everything. Have you given Me everything?”

Woah. Have I? Have you?

So we say we want more. But to do that, we have to give more. We have to give up our choice to box God in to a Sunday God and invite Him into every part of our lives. We can’t put on our Sunday show for the church crowd and wonder why on Monday everything is falling apart.

We have to give up our choice to keep Jesus at arm’s length concerning some parts of our lives and invite Him in to have His way in every part. Even the deep-rooted hurts we hold tight to, or the parts of our lives that may be comfortable but we know do not honor Him. That thing we keep doing and think we can handle on our own? We need to take that to Him.  That hurt we just can’t let go of from so many years ago? Give that over to Him, too.  That unhealthy way you see yourself or your abilities? Yup. His domain to work out in you, if you open it up to Him.

We say we want more of Him, but are we taking the time to get to know Him through His word? Do we talk to Him, really talk Him regularly? Or do we figure listening to somebody else talk about God for an hour (if we’re lucky) once a week is good enough?

We say we want more, but do we follow His example of serving those around us? Or do we make ourselves and our desires the rulers in our lives?

We say we want more of Him, but if we’re being honest, are we expecting to do nothing and have a great relationship with Christ and see huge changes in our lives?

I often think of Jacob. The schemer. Jacob, who wanted more of God so badly that he fought all night, hanging on and refusing to let go until more was exactly what he had—a completely changed destiny. How hard are you willing to hold on to God and fight? God is still in the destiny changing business, you know.

We say we want more of Him. But if you have already given your life to Christ, then getting more of Him probably means you will have to give HIM more of YOU.

We say we want more, but we have to give more. Are we willing to give this a chance and go all in with Jesus, living the life as His follower His way instead of a little bit His and mostly ours?

Are you willing to give Him more of you to get more of Him?