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?

The Equipping Work of God

Our folks at The Gathering have heard me say quite often, “What God calls you to, He equips you for.”  I thoroughly believe that.  Ephesians 2: 10 affirms that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, He’s definitely called us.  Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 that we would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon [us]…”.  Because that is followed by Jesus telling them that they would be His witnesses throughout the world, the power is what enables the witness.  The writer of Hebrews gives a benediction in Hebrews 13, where in verses 20-21, he speaks a blessing that his readers might be equipped to accomplish God’s will:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

It seems pretty clear, then, that God really will equip us for everything He calls us to. The question that remains is, “how?”

We have to say, first of all, that we may not be able to determine every way in which God may equip us.  Certainly, the act of the Holy Spirit abiding within the Believer means a supernatural and instantaneous equipping can happen at any moment He desires.  We know that in Luke 12, Jesus told his disciples that, “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Obviously, then, instant equipping can happen for specific tasks, but is that the primary method God uses?  Probably not.  I believe the way God’s equipping of His people happens most regularly and systematically is found in 2 Timothy 3.

In Paul’s instruction to his young son in the faith, he encourages him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  So, Paul affirms that the systematic learning of Scripture over time leads to godly wisdom.  Then, in verses 16-17, we get the famous affirmation of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture:

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

There it is!  How are we equipped? Through the Word of God. By regularly engaging with the Word, which is adequate for shaping us into what God wants us to be, we become equipped for every good work.  Whatever you are called to is wrapped up in that one little word, “every”. 

You want to be equipped for what God calls you to?  Do not forsake the Word.  Abide in it (John 15:5).  Read it every day, several times a day.  Memorize it. Meditate on it.  Pray it.  It is true: What God calls you to, He equips you for…and He does it primarily through His Word.
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Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship

Started reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer today.  I didn’t get through the introduction before I came across a great quote:

IMG_4309-1When the Bible speaks of following Jesus, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogmas, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience.  If they follow Jesus, men escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ.  But does this mean that we ignore the seriousness of his commands?  Far from it.  We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when his command, his call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety.  Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets his yoke rest upon him, find his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way.  The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it.  But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.”

Looking forward to the rest!

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