Aliens in a Strange Land

In Galatians 1:3-4, Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself to rescue us from this present evil age.” It seems like every day we’re confronted in new and more blatant terms just how evil this present age is.  On the one hand, it can be heart-breaking to see a culture in constant decline and that reality should push us towards it with the desire to communicate hope in Christ.

On the other, it serves to remind us that disciples of Jesus are not of this world (1 Peter 2:11) and this place isn’t home.  The deteriorating condition of the world should push us closer to Jesus, longing for another land with a Father-King who rules with strength and grace, protecting His children and welcoming them into His presence, face-to-face.

…but does it?

Are you homesick?

I know too often I’m not.  That’s what is frightening.  It’s when I don’t long for home.  That’s when I know I’ve gotten too comfortable in a world I wasn’t ultimately designed for.  It’s when I have to pull back a bit and remember I’m not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  That comes through the Word–spending time absorbing the Truth, meditating on the reality of another Kingdom that I’ve been born into and fitted for, and praying for a fresh perspective on why I’m still here.  Only then will I be ready to engage the world in a way that brings glory to God and healing to the hurting.  Only then will I experience what it means to be rescued from this present evil age.

Some Quick Thoughts on Fear

Fear is one of the most crippling things in life. It causes us to fall back in the face of opposition or danger.  It prevents us from taking advantage of great opportunities that could alter our lives for the good.  It leads us to play it safe when anything worth having involves some level of risk.

Too much of life is dominated by fear.  Fear to move. Fear to try. Fear to love. Fear to hope. Fear to risk.  Sure there is room for a healthy dose of “fear” that, hopefully, causes us to pause and assess the risk-reward ratio before we do something completely foolish, but what I’m talking about is that level of fear that prevents us from even such an assessment.

2 Timothy 1:7 teaches that God hasn’t given a spirit of fear, but love, power and a sound mind.  Each of these things take something very important: boldness.  It takes great boldness to love, to exercise power and to think straight, putting behind us stifling thoughts and irrationality that prevents us from truly living; from fulfilling all that God has for us.  In this verse, Paul tells us that those things are provisions from God.  They are gifts given to us through the Holy Spirit of God to those who are His.

In whatever form fear may try to creep into your life, remember this verse of promise from God that has become very special to me as I engage in battle with my own fears:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will hold on to you with my righteous hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

If this is true and we determine to take God at His Word, how could fear ever have any power over God’s Children?  Today is the day to conquer fear in your own life, once and for all, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God who has already defeated it!

Shelved Blessings

bibles-on-shelf
How happy are you right now?  Seriously, are you over-the-moon kind of crazy-happy in your life?  Blessed?  Certainly, better than you deserve, but do you experience real blessing in your life such that you are overwhelmed at how good life is…how good God has been to you?

Sometimes, the blessings of life seem to hide when I spend most of my time focused on the troubles.  I get caught up in the busyness of life and the overly full calendar, the relational trials, the bills, and on it goes, so that it crowds out time to focus on the blessings in life and even robs me of the time I need to even pursue real, lasting happiness.

I was revisiting one of my favorites in Scripture this morning: Psalm 1.  Kind of smooshing the English Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard version (my two faves), it starts off saying, “How blessed (or happy) is the man who does not…[and here I paraphrase heavily]…listen to ungodly advice, hang out with people who chase after ungodliness, or take part in conversation with people who criticize and put people down…[ok, I’m done paraphrasing], but his delight is in the [Word of God…yeah, I know, I paraphrased again] and on His Law he meditates day and night…”

So, if you caught that, Psalm 1 is saying that happiness and blessing in life is a result of delighting in the Lord’s instruction “day and night”, which is just another way of saying constantly.  It’s about taking the Bible down off of the shelf and setting aside time in the morning to read it.  It’s about reflecting on what was read throughout the day, and quite often means memorizing at least some portion of it so that it’s fresh in your mind at all times.  This is the life of a disciple who wants happiness in life and if I’m not experiencing that; if my life is crowded out with all sorts of things that don’t end in happiness or blessing, then I have to start by evaluating my time in the Word.  Now, that said, Scripture isn’t talking about a “giddy” kind of happiness that is all circumstantial, but a joy and contentment, or the ability to delight in even the most mundane part of life, realizing the blessing in even being able to do it or participate in it.

This changes the way we look at our crazy schedule, our less-than-satisfactory job, and our relational struggles so that we become grateful for opportunities, for steady work and people in our lives to interact with.  It changes our perspective!water

So, how much happiness and blessing do you want in your life?  No, really, how much do you want, because if the amount of time we spend in God’s Word is a “pound-for-pound” comparison to the amount of joy, contentment, blessing and happiness we experience, I wonder if we want all of these things as much as we say we do.  Saying we want blessing in life without going to the source of blessing for our lives is like saying we are thirsty but not realizing there’s a sink in the kitchen.  Sadly, in my own life, I often walk through the kitchen, notice the sink, but decide I’m too busy to put the glass under the faucet and turn the knob.  That’s short-sightedness and results in shelved blessings!

Then I walk out of the room, look around at my parched life and think, “Man, I wish I had something to drink.” crackedearth

Owned

This is a passage that, if you consider it honestly and seriously, will rock your world and radically change your priorities:

Luke 12:31-34 

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  HCSB

I’m praying for the courage to take the hard look necessary to be a faithful disciple and change where change is required. 

Perspective on Possessions

From, For the Love of God, by D. A. Carson:

image“You’ve seen the bumper sticker: “The person with the most toys wins.” Wins what? The person with the most toys takes out of this life exactly what everyone else does. A billion years or so into eternity, how many toys we accumulated during our seventy years in this life will not seem too terribly important”

Check out, “Watching Our Words” by Jacob C. Price

jacobblogMy son, Jacob, has written a new blog post entitled, “Watching Our Words,” where he explores the affect of words on our relationships and, as a part of a larger series he’s working on, “Becoming a Young Gentleman in the 21st Century”.

I had the privilege of being interviewed by him for this segment (his first interview), so I hope you will take a few minutes and listen to that at the bottom of his post.

I appreciate you supporting him in this as he hones both his writing and his life skills.  Let us know if you have any feedback or encouragement along the way.

Bothered by Frustration

Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated with people?  Let me re-phrase because the question is ridiculous.  I know you do get frustrated from time-to-time.  The question is how often and why? I’ve certainly been there (way too many times)!  In some ways, I can be extremely patient–but then in other ways, well…

I realized a couple of weeks ago that my frustration level has been a little bit on the rise.  It bothered me that I was getting bothered so much by how much people were bothering me.  So, I’ve been thinking about it, trying to put my finger on the real issue.

I wonder if the heart of the problem is as basic as forgetting that people we grow impatient or frustrated with are sinners?  Do we forget they are naturally imperfect?  Of course, on the other hand, much of the reason we get frustrated with others is that we forget we are imperfect!  I get angry because someone is not taking care of my needs as I feel they should.  They are wasting my valuable time.  Yeah, pride definitely plays a big role and, yes, pride is sin.

This train of thought was triggered as I was reading through a great little book by Eugene Peterson called, The Contemplative Pastor.

In it, Peterson reminds us that, “the word sinner is a theological designation…not a moralistic judgment.” So, we’re not declaring someone a horrible person when we refer to them as a sinner (they might be very nice), but that they have the same internal problem we all have: we are imperfect before a holy God and need grace through Christ to save us.

Even though Peterson is writing to pastors, the principle he is talking about is relevant to everyone.  See if this resonates:

If a pastor finds himself resenting his people, getting petulant and haranguing them, that is a sign that he or she has quit thinking of them as sinners who bring “nothing in themselves of worth” and has secretly invested them with divine attributes of love, strength, compassion, and joy. They, of course, do not have these attributes in any mature measure and so will disappoint point him or her every time. On the other hand, if the pastor rigorously defines people as fellow sinners, he or she will be prepared to share grief, shortcomings, pain, failure, and have plenty of time left over to watch for the signs of God’s grace operating in this wilderness, and then fill the air with praises for what he discovers.

Amazingly, that little shift in our thinking can change our entire demeanor.  If I can stop looking at you as someone who has it all together all the time, but understand that you are frail and imperfect, as I am, I will be prepared to give you a lot more grace than I otherwise would.  Margin for both of us would leave room for God to work in the midst of our frailty.  When I give you space to be imperfect, I experience a reduction of frustration, anger and stress along with an increase in peace, joy and rest.  Sounds like a great trade-off to me.

That said, there is a potential danger I see: Taken too far, we end up giving everyone a pass on responsibility.  Peterson wouldn’t be advocating allowing people to shuck their responsibility or perform at a point lower than their potential.  It does mean that we must encourage each other towards growth and pursuing excellence in their life just as I desire excellence in my own, though imperfectly.

So, next time you feel yourself growing frustrated towards someone, stop! Take a deep breath and remember that they, like you, are becoming.  They are on a journey towards being the person God has designed them to be and it’s a tough road to travel, and if they’re not, your patient love towards them might help them find their way.  Instead of demanding perfection (and feeding your own pride!), humbly determine to be used by God as an agent of grace.

What do you think?  Is this the main reasons you deal with frustrations or are there better explanations?  This topic can definitely be taken deeper into some real practical ways we can process frustrations, but what are your thoughts?  Do you have tips or suggestions for how you have successfully dealt with frustrations and anger?  Are there ways in which you need help working through it?  I’d love to hear about it.

 

Demonic Distraction

I’m not likely to elicit the services of a prostitute. I’m not likely to get a bottle of scotch and polish it off in a sitting. I’m not likely to hunt down someone I dislike and take them out with one, ridiculously accurate shot between the eyes. There are probably a thousand different things I can list here that I probably won’t do (though, because of my sin nature, I can never say I’m incapable. There’s nothing a sinful heart is incapable of). However, there are simply things that don’t tempt me very much; tactics the soldiers of darkness would be foolish to engage me in.

What I’m coming to realize more and more, though, is that there are some things that I seem to be predisposed towards. Things that always seem to cause me a great fight and, sometimes, I just can’t seem to hold up. Of course, some of these are shrouded in clouds of deception; covert attacks in which I am outflanked and hit without even so much as knowing I’ve been outwitted, outlasted or outplayed.

“Squirrel!”

Take my most susceptible area of weakness: distraction. I have rarely been able to detect this one, mainly because there’s nothing particularly “evil” about the things I’ve been doing. It’s not like I’ve jumped online to check out the latest porn features or spent time chatting with “lovely Korean girls who are waiting for your call”. In fact, many of the things that have been used against me are quite inoccuous. We’re talking watching a funny video that someone posted on Facebook or “cute kittens at play (after all, I’ve been told that laughing at cats falling off of slippery cars and jumping into screen doors is therapeutic) and not realize that I mindlessly just let the next 5 or 10 funny videos that follow autoplay. Maybe I do a “quick search” for something I’ve been wanting to check out only to get lost for the next half hour in the endless tree of links that are related. Simple stuff. Innocent stuff.

Not So Innocent

It’s crazy how easy it is for the “innocent” or morally neutral to cause me to sin. Now, I know that to call it sin might be debatable by some, but it’s certainly not for me. Here’s why. If there is anything that has kept me from making the things of God primary in my life, I am guilty of idolatry. After all, idolatry is, most simply, anything that takes the rightful place of God. When I let anything detract my affections away from the primacy of Christ, idolatry has been birthed and will not stop until it is full-grown and has become a major sin in my life.

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing interests, spending time on Facebook or anything else that can be either good or bad, but I know me. I tend to get sucked in and all of the time I’ve been given to pursue that which I SAY is of primary importance in my life is now gone because of all the little things that have robbed me of the opportunity I had. Man, I’m telling you, if I was out to get you to take your eyes off of Jesus, I wouldn’t need to make you bad so long as I could make you distracted; if I could make you too busy or preoccupied with the mundane.

Taking Back the Land

Military history all the way back to biblical days has shown us that, even after terrible defeats, if an army can manage to rally and take back even a little previously-lost territory, it can lead to greater confidence to take it all back and win the war. That’s what I have determined to do, even though it’s surprisingly difficult!

I’ve only been off of social media for 24 hours and I feel like an addict going through withdrawals. I was so accustomed to mindlessly picking up the iPhone during moments of down-time and seeing what everyone was posting, that I find myself wanting to re-download the apps. I’m starting to realize just how frequently I was checking those stupid things. Why? I allowed myself to be fooled into thinking it was no harm, but little by little, the joy of the Lord in my life was fading because I wasn’t pursuing it. How could I? Every spare minute was spent trying to see what everyone else BUT God was saying.

So, I will work through the withdrawals, endure the cold sweats and refocus my time and attention on the most important things in my life. I will retake the land and determine that I will no longer allow demonic distractions to rule my life. I will practice the skill of self-examination and submit my free time to the freedom I have in Christ to grow into the design God has for me.

Maybe God isn’t calling you to give up social media, even for a season, but are there “demonic distractions” in your life that are secretly keeping you from living up to your potential? Is there something or even someone in your life that has quietly and slowly led you into idolatry? Time is fleeting, the moments are passing…grab them! Take control of your time and submit it under the control of the Holy Spirit. Do it now while you still have TIME.

Peace.

The Truth of the Moment: Recovering from a Spiritual Slump

If you’ve ever been in a play or any kind of production where you were required to recite memorized lines, you know the most terrifying thing to happen is to forget your lines. You freeze, palms begin to sweat, you get the deer-in-headlights look, heat begins to overwhelm your body, causing instantaneous beads of sweat to appear on your forehead.  It’s absolutely mortifying…so I’m told.

IMG_0785.JPGWith much of my youth and young adulthood occupied by acting in some form or another, both at Mississippi College and during my early seminary years with The Company, I have had my share of mental lapses.  Truly, there are few experiences to compare.  Correct me if you are the exception, but anyone who has done any kind of public speaking or acting can relate an experience such as I’ve described.  So, what do you do?

One of the most important lessons I was taught by my college theatre professor was that when you are in a scene and you forget your lines, momentarily stop. Now, take a breath and in your mind, gently pick up your focus and put it back in the middle of the scene. Where are you in the play?  What was just said?  Many times, this practice helps quickly trigger what you are supposed to say next.  Even if it doesn’t though, living in the scene where you are and as the character you are, can lead to a proper response that will allow your fellow actor(s) to help get the scene back on track.  This is called living in the “truth of the moment.”

Technically, in Method Acting, the truth of the moment essentially involves an actor, living authentically in the role he is playing (i.e. “becoming” the character by relating similar real experiences to the those of the character and then responding honestly according to those identifications).  Often, lines are forgotten because the actor is too caught up in the process of simply reciting memorized lines rather than living authentically in the moment.  Living in the truth of the moment is being honest and authentic in the scene you are playing so that, even if your lines are momentarily lost, gently putting your attention back in place, remembering who you are in the production, and reacting honestly in the scene can get you going again.  Quite often, the audience never even suspects it.

I have found myself in similar situations as a disciple of Jesus.  I may be trucking along fine, living out my role authentically and honestly, faithfully reading the Word and praying, when all of a sudden (so it seems), I hit a slump.  I forget who I am in the scene God has cast me in, I lose focus and begin to drift away from honestly and consistently abiding in Him (John 15).  I am in danger of completely wrecking the scene, distancing myself from the things of God and negatively affecting my testimony.  What do we do in those situations?  How do we recover without being bogged down in distraction, frustration and despair?

Live in the truth of the moment.

During these times of confusion, in the midst of all the noise and the myriad of lesser things vying for my affection, telling me who I am supposed to be, it is important that I stop, gently lift my spiritual focus and put it back where it needs to be.  If I’m lost in what God is telling me, unable to hear through the clutter, then what was the last thing I heard Him say?  I go back in my spiritual journal (read more about that practice here), and see what God had been dealing with me about.  I have to determine what the last thing was that I read in His Word that impacted me and start there.  I need to re-examine who He has made me to be in Christ?  Living in the truth of the moment assures me that I am remaining authentic, even though I am distracted, and allows me to keep moving forward!
What are some of the struggles you experience in learning to follow Christ?  What are some ways that help you stay focused on continued growth as a disciple?
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