Is Loneliness a Sin?

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Is loneliness a sin?

I found myself asking that question in prayer recently.  In retrospect, it sounds a little bit silly, but at the time it didn’t. It was a raw, serious question.  As a single, middle-aged Christian, loneliness is not an unusual occurrence for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total loner. I have a lot of acquaintances. I have some friends. But I have few deep connections, particularly with people who love and live for the Lord. I’ve found at my age it’s just plain hard to make real, authentic connections.

And last week was just one of those weeks I felt it.  Surrounded by people everywhere, yet alone.  (Make that a few weeks ago. I had to let this marinate and decide if I really wanted to go public with this one.)

We know that all we need we find in our relationship with our loving Father, right? He is our sustainer, provider, confidante. He calls us “friend”.  So when I do get lonely, I have at times felt guilty, like I shouldn’t.  Well-meaning people will tell you to just pray and it will all be okay.  I’ve decided that most of those people go home to their families and haven’t got a clue.

But does God desire us to live lives in social isolation, as long as we’re seeking Him daily?

So let’s start with the basics. Like, right back to Genesis basics. God didn’t really think making us for a solo flight was the best idea. He cracked a rib right out of Adam so that he would have a helper and companion. God could not find a suitable helper in all other creation for Adam. I’m not even getting at the whole male/female thing here. Just the people/people thing. If God felt like Adam needed companionship aside from himself (and mind you, this was in the idyllic, pre-fall, walking with the Lord in the cool of the day phase), then I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think life is meant to be lived in (relative) isolation from other humans today, either.

What about Jesus commanding us to love others as ourselves? Do you think that has any application to seeking community? How can you actually love others as yourself if it’s just you and God in your prayer closet, shutting out the world? No, God designed us as relational creatures.

So if you still aren’t convinced and think no, Jesus really is all we need, then loneliness could be a sin. Failing to trust in God completely and all that, right? So what shall we say, then, about King David? He dealt with his fair share of loneliness. In Psalm 25:16 he says “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted,” (NIV).  What about Elijah hanging out in a cave, believing he was the only surviving prophet? I’d be willing to bet he felt some loneliness. I guess if you think having feelings of loneliness at all is a sin, then they were guilty of it, and the Bible proves it.

I say loneliness by itself is not sinful. (Or any emotion, for that matter.) It’s what we do in that emotional state that has the potential to become a problem. Even sinful. Loneliness, or any emotion, brings us the opportunity to draw nearer to God or take us farther from God. In all because of unchecked, unbalanced emotions.

In the frenzy of my unchecked, unbalanced emotions, do I try to deal with them in prayer like David did? Do I cry out to God and lay that messy and raw, but very real, bucket of feelings at the cross and bring Him into the middle of it? Or do I just go straight into enemy territory (really, it’s the territory the enemy is just waiting for me to venture into) and let the emotions take over completely, dictating my next thoughts and actions, watching them tumble like perfectly lined up dominoes?

How many times have I not even paused before I suddenly realize I’ve given in, yet again, to the lies of my emotional state? And when I do that, I often go one step further and use something other than God to fill the void. Now my loneliness has turned into sin.

God knows me. God knows my situation. Everything about it. He also knows that we have emotions. He wants us to come to Him with everything.  Everything. And that’s a learned behavior, but it can be learned.  Thank you, Jesus!

 

Psalm 25

Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.

The Sacrifice of Praise

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)


She stood there, her eyes transfixed on the flames that jumped into the air with no sign of relenting. Though they had long since delivered the death blow to the victim, they would not soon give up their prey.  The home she grew up in, the home her mother and family still lived in, was disappearing before her eyes.  Yet the tears she shed and cries of anguish she made could not and would not silence her praise. Through it all, she knew in the middle of pain and tragedy, God would not leave her side. She knew without doubt in the middle of heart-wrenching tragedy and loss, He was worthy of all her praise, no matter the outcome. Standing in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of her devastation, she lifted her hands and her voice and praised the One who is worthy of it all.  No matter what. And it was the most beautiful, inspiring thing to witness.

There are few things guaranteed in life.  We can do everything in our power to stay healthy, put money away in the bank, live our lives fully submitted to God’s will. And yet, there are still no guarantees that this life will be free of trials and hard times. In fact, Jesus told us we will have hard times. (John 16:33).  I think it’s pretty safe to say that every one of us will face a few things that shake us. The loss of a job, a catastrophic illness, the death of our parents, or a fire wiping out the family home. We will go through trials of varying degree, no doubt. But Jesus said as certain we can be of troubles in this world, we can be certain we have one who walks with us through them who has overcome sin and death–he has overcome the world!

After I left my friend that night, I asked myself if my faith was that strong? Sure, I know God is with me in all things. Sure, I know God works out all things for my good. But in the middle of the raw emotion when tragedy first strikes, will my first reaction actually be to praise Him? Or will I have to wait to make sure God came through on the promise first?

Praise is easy when things are, well, easy. We have no problem (at least I hope!) giving God glory and praise when things are going great! Or how about when you’ve come out on the other side of a trial. We can praise God then because He got us through. But how many of us truly stop to give God heartfelt praise and adoration the minute the trial starts? I’m going to be honest with you, it takes me a minute to get there.  But how could things change for me, for us, if we trained ourselves to have that as our reflex reaction? Our natural reaction is fear. What if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us to reprogram that?

I spend a great deal of time in the Psalms during my devotional time. The psalter contains hymns written by the various authors that hit pretty much every human emotion. Joy, dread, fear, anguish, anger. It’s all in there.  But of the 150 psalms, about 2/3rds of them are what’s called psalms of lament. In other words, songs  written to God when the writer was having a pretty tough time.  Many of David’s psalms are his words crying out to God, asking ‘where are You in all of this?’ That’s right. David, the king. David, that man after God’s own heart.

Our friend David wasn’t just handed the keys to the castle. (If you haven’t spent much time reading the richness of the Old Testament, I high encourage it! You can read all about David starting in 1 Samuel 16.) David spent a lot of time on the run, fearing for his life before he got to be king.  After he became king, he had another batch of challenges. David had real reasons to be crying out to God.

The psalms of lament generally follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern we can all learn from to help cultivate our prayer life in difficult times. Of course, the pattern from psalm to psalm may be in different order, or the order may jump back and forth a bit, but the elements are generally consistent.

Let’s look at Psalm 22 in the New International Version as an example.

First, the writer cries out to God in his distress. There is no pretense, no trying to clean up before going to God. Just messy, raw emotion.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest. (verses 1-2)

 

Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death. (verses 12-15)

Second, the writer entreats God for help.  Come, LORD, to the middle of this mess and get me out of it! (Sometimes the request is imprecatory, where the writer asks for God to bring retribution to his enemies.)

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (verses 19-21)

 

Lastly, the writer includes thanksgiving and praise to God.

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or scorned. (verses 22-24)

 

These psalms, especially those of David, are like a sneak peak into his journal.  If you look through these psalms of lament you will see real people struggle with real feelings, sometimes asking God “where are you?”  Does that surprise you? Don’t ever feel like you can’t take your raw emotions straight to the throne room of God in prayer. He can handle it. What kind of genuine relationship would you have with your best friend if you couldn’t really be honest with your feelings, always saying what you thought was the ‘right’ thing? That would get old pretty fast. God knows your struggles. He is okay when we say “where are you?!” But even in our doubt and despair, we can always, always rest on God’s promises when it doesn’t feel like He’s there. Because of His promises,  in our struggles and doubts, we can praise Him because of the truth that cannot change. The God that does not change. And that God, our God, is worthy of that praise!

David knew that. Even when his enemies were on his tail and closing in, he knew that. So in the same breath, he could ask where God was and still give him praise.

My friend Maria knows that. It’s why she can stand in front of a surreal scene of fire trucks, news crews and the charred remnants of the home her family has known for close to 50 years and still lift her hands to praise God for His goodness. Even when the good seems hard to see.

I pray we all have a faith so deep that, should the kind of world-shaking trial come, and it will, that in our anguish we instinctively offer God our praise. For He is worthy!

If you feel so led, a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for Maria’s family.

 

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?

Good teacher, what must I do?

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In Matthew 19, we hear the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life.  It’s an interesting an exchange, and one which we still see replayed over and over today.  First, we want to know what we can do to earn it. (Teacher, what good thing shall I do?)  In this world of ‘every kid gets a trophy’, there is no good that’s good enough.  After Jesus points this out, he tells our rich ruler friend to keep the commandments. How does he respond? “Which ones” (verse 18). The negotiation phase. This is a telltale sign. The writing is on the wall. If you want to go buy a new camel, test out your negotiation skills. If you’re asking the Messiah how to gain eternal life, perhaps just take what he says and go with it!  But not our friend here. He wants a list of dos and don’ts. (Sound familiar, anybody?) Jesus goes down the list, and our friend seems to be ticking off every one.  He might just have it made! Jesus has got one more thing for our friend, though. For all of us. He’s going to perform a heart check now. He tells our fine friend, the one with all the worldly wealth, to walk away from all that, to lay it down and give it away.  Well, now hold on there Jesus! You’re going just a tad too far there, don’t you think?  The rich young ruler did. He was willing to trade away eternity and a life with Jesus for worldly wealth. For stuff.  Stuff that isn’t going to last beyond this life and sure isn’t capable and of taking him on to the next one.

The story of our rich young ruler friend is a good overview of how many of us approach a relationship with God. First, like our friend the young ruler, we think if we are “good enough” by our own standards, we should have access to God. Then we want to just show up and be given a list of rules to follow. Just go through some motions.  Here again it’s clear–our good works and checking off lists whole going through the motions don’t cut it. That’s not what Jesus wants from you and me.

We are still trying to bargain with Jesus. Not just the financial end of things, either. And not always those things that might be first and foremost on your throne. Sometimes they are even more subtle things. Often they are things that seem perhaps not that big a deal on the surface (for example, dressing provocatively) but the underlying issue isn’t if God still loves you if you’re showing a lot of cleavage (He does). The issue is when we start locking heads with Jesus over control, pushing the limits of how our choice of dressing honors or dishonors God, pushing for what we want under the banner of “there aren’t any rules!” See, for the most part, when Jesus established the New Covenant, most of the rules of the old covenant were set aside. So we get into this little game with ourselves called “Do I have to“.  We’ve all played it at some point.

Do I have to:

tithe/give money to the church;

go to a church every Sunday;

stop cursing;

stop dressing a certain way (or start dressing a certain way);

stop going to clubs;

stop having sex if I’m not married;

stop watching R rated movies;

read my Bible every single day;

pray every morning;

serve others; 
I could go on and on and on.  The thing is, if we are looking at things from the perspective of, “do I have to”, there’s already a problem.  Remember that heart check Jesus had for our rich friend? Well, the “do I have to” is usually a good indicator it’s time for us to go to Jesus for a heart check.

Let’s just look at the money issue as our example off that list. It’s a good one for a lot of reasons.  Money is stability to us, isn’t it? So we naturally want to hold on to it. Our first reaction isn’t to give it away. Neither was it the reaction for our friend the rich young ruler. Our reaction is we earned it, we need it, and if we give it away, what happens if we get in a pinch? There are so many good nuggets in there. First and foremost, is trust. Trust God with His money. But I want to get back to the heart check. When we are setting up our relationship with Jesus as a list of what we have to do, we actually just killed the relationship and turned it back into religion.  Jesus wants your heart. I think I’ve said that in almost every post. He didn’t come to redeem us, giving his life in the process, so we could just check off the boxes of what we should do to get that golden ticket to heaven.  Giving of your money is not supposed to be a duty in the new covenant. It’s an act of worship.  It’s a way to honor God.  Just with everything else we try to filter through the “do I have to”, if we have truly met with the unrestrained grace of God, our reaction should be “it is my honor to…”.

If your heart still filters through a sense of obligation, I urge you to seek for God in this.  Ask the Spirit to show you your motivations and re-frame them if they need to be!

Our Great God! How could we respond to all that you have done for us but to give you all of ourselves? How could we not come before you with our hearts open, giving you freely of all that we have? We know that all we have to give you that is not already yours, is our hearts. I lay my heart before you, Jesus.

 

Follow Me

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Last week we looked at the difference between cultural Christianity and actually being a follower of Jesus.  So for the next few posts let’s look at a few key points in a little more detail.  Today I want to talk about what Jesus meant when he said “Follow Me”.

On several occasions throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Jesus’ words to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19 when he found them fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We all remember that line.  But do you recall what Simon and Andrew did? The Bible says “Immediately the left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20, English Standard Version).  And how about Matthew, who Jesus found at his tax collector’s booth. He simply says “Follow me.”  Matthew’s response? He got up and followed Jesus. No hesitation.  (Matthew 9:9). Another disciple asked if he could go bury his deceased parent, but Jesus told him too let the (spiritually) dead deal with burying the dead, and follow him right then.

But what about us? Do we drop everything and follow Jesus?  Certainly some people do. But I think for the vast majority, when we repent and receive the gift of salvation and ask Christ to be our Savior, we ride a spiritual high for a bit. We enter a honeymoon phase. It may last very short time or a little bit longer. But what happens when that wears off and you’re back to feeling the normal grind of the daily routine. You don’t feel super spiritual. You may not feel much of anything at all. (Feelings are all well and good, by the way, but the basis of your faith should not be on your feelings. Ever. The basis of your faith should be on the indisputable truths of our unchanging God. Feelings are fleeting and sometimes misleading. The heart can be wicked and deceitful, after all.) So now what?  Now is when we get serious about following Jesus. Without hesitation.

There’s another example of going all-in to follow the calling of the Lord. And this guy meant business. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 we learn about the prophet Elijah who is seeking out Elisha in order to anoint him to eventually take his place as the go-to prophet.  Elisha is in the field, plowing with his team of oxen when Elijah throws his cloak on him. Elisha knew that was the sign of something big.  He killed the oxen and burned the plows. He just removed anything to go back to. He was jumping full on into his calling and removed the safety net of a back up plan.

Does this mean Jesus wants us to sell everything we own so we can follow him? Well, unless you’re planning to go on a long-term overseas mission, probably not a wise idea.  But what he does want is for you to kill the oxen and burn the plows of your past and jump into your future in him. Don’t leave anything to go back to that will keep you from living in the fullness he has for you.  I get it, that’s not always easy. You may have to leave behind friends who influence in bad ways. These kinds of things are not cookie cutter, so it’s for you and the Lord to work out in prayer. I also highly recommend a mentor and/or a pastor or elder you can talk to for guidance. But know that God doesn’t ask us to give things up just to be a jerk. That’s not who he is. Personally, I had to walk away from the only friends I had that weren’t 2000 miles away. I was scared to death to have no friends. But God looks for obedience, and he rewards that with giving us better things in exchange for what we gave up. I know that was true for me.

In Matthew 10:38 (ESV), Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So what He is saying here is not that you are not supposed to love your mother and father, etc. He’s saying be careful not to love them MORE than you love him. And that goes for spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, children, money, cars, fame…you name it. He wants your WHOLE HEART.  The greatest commandment starts with loving God above all things.  He continues to say “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mathew 10:39). Does that have you scratching your head?  No worries.  It’s simply this: when we hang on with a white knuckle grip to our old self, wanting do everything like we always have, and basically retaining the lordship over our own lives, we haven’t gained anything. And he says we aren’t worthy of Him. (Now, I’m not going to suggest you need to have a lot of expertise in Biblical interpretation, or do hermeneutical hopscotch to figure that one out. And I’ll let you decide how you wish to interpret that. But in my limited training in hermeneutics, it means “we aren’t worthy”.) But, when we let go and surrender ourselves completely and let Jesus be Lord, following His ways, we may have lost our old life for his sake, but hallelujah, we will find a brand new one in him. And it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

This surrendering, by the way, is a daily thing. Sometimes more than that. It’s an intentional handing over the control and saying “not my way, but Yours”.  On paper that might sound easy, but the flesh we still carry around makes it a challenge. Get in your car in rush hour. Or the slowest checkout line at the grocery store when you’re in a hurry. Or on a three hour flight with the person behind you kicking your seatback every two minutes. Jesus’ way says patience and grace. Your flesh says something entirely different. Luckily, we are given the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) to help combat the flesh. But it’s not an automatic response at first. We have to develop these good habits of yielding to the Spirit and not the flesh. Just like building a muscle by working it out.

We also have the great gift of the power to transform to be more and more like Christ through the renewing of our minds. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to behave like the rest of the world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Part of following Christ means we strive to become more and more like him.  So how, exactly, can we renew our minds?  READ THE BIBLE!!
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17, New Living Translation).

Following Jesus means things are going to change. You’re going to change. And that’s a good thing. We all came to Jesus because we needed a Savior. If we were completely fine on our own, then there would be no reason to change.  But we come to him broken, or with a yearning in our soul for something we’ve tried to fill with any number of things the world promised us would satisfy that desire, but never did. If we agree that we all ended up at the cross because we need Jesus, then can we agree there is no shame in admitting that it’s time to stop trying to live this life by our own rules and plans?  What have you got to lose by jumping in the deep end of the pool and going all in, and completely selling out for Jesus?

Sweet, sweet Jesus! I am eternally grateful to have heard your voice, the voice of my shepherd, calling me to follow you. I am grateful that as a shepherd gently tends to his flock, so you tend to each sheep in your flock. You guide with a sure, steady hand. You keep your flock safely in your arms. You are Lord of all of my life. Remind me, nudge me when I start to take over. Thank you, above all, for your steadfast love. I pray all who call you Savior will also call you Lord.  

 

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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?

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. 🙂 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)

 

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!!