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?

TGC Article: 8 Lies Christians Believe About Success

Man, this is such a great article on the lies Christians believe about being successful in life.  If you are serious about being a faithful disciple of Jesus, I would highly recommend you read and re-read this from The Gospel Coalition blog.  Here is an excerpt of a few of the lies we easily fall for:

lightstock_12509_small_seth_magnuson__350_233_903. God helps those who help themselves.

When God tells us to become like a child, he doesn’t mean “become like a child emotionally but make sure you have life insurance and pension and a stocked pantry.” No, he means seek first the kingdom of heaven and all of these things—the food, the clothing, the future—will be added unto you. He wants to take care of us while we devote ourselves to him. And it will probably mean appearing foolish to the rest of the world.

4. You are what you make of yourself.

There’s a lot of pressure to speak up, to be assertive, and to make your name known lest you get lost in a sea of pixels. But Jesus says the last shall be first. Despite being God, he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to death—even a cursed death on a cross (Phil. 2:5–11). He trusted God to glorify him, even as he emptied himself of glory. We’re called to do the same.

5. Suffering is a sign of failure.

When did North American culture become adverse to pain? If we begin to feel uncomfortable, we pop a pill. If we struggle with depression or discouragement, or if we encounter a terrible diagnosis, we rush to therapy or the doctor instead of first going to the Father and asking him what he wants us to learn through this suffering. God uses suffering for our good, even if it should end in death. We carry around within us the death of Christ, and we will never know the power of Christ’s resurrection if we don’t enter first into suffering.

You can read the full article here.

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!

Mission…Impossible?

How often do we limit ourselves based on what think we can and cannot do?  “I can’t” is the rally cry of the weak.  Yet, Scripture says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13, emphasis added) and that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.” (Romans 8:37).  So, then, why can’t we?  What is it that we are being prevented from doing out of fear, which is not of God (2 Timothy 1:7), or doubt, which is a lack of faith in God?

Oswald Chambers, in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, said:

We must never measure our spiritual capacity on the basis of our eduction or our intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured on the basis of the promises of God….When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say, ‘I can’t.’ Never allow the limitation of your own natural ability to enter into the matter.  If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in us.”

Is there something in us that cries out, “I can’t!”?  If so, it is one of two things:  Either I am not submitting to the lordship of Christ in my life, or I am not a child of God at all.  Either one can be devastating.

The Death of Sin

I read this morning about killing sin.  Killing. Sin.  Hm. Seems only fair since sin is in the business of killing us.  Promising the world and delivering the grave.

I had to question whether or not that is really possible. As a pastor and follower of Christ, I know that He has overcome sin, but does God expect that I should really kill (mortify) all sin in my life?  After all, I’m only human!

The more I thought about that, the more I realized that, yes, I’m only human, but is that the problem?  Is it that I’m only human or that I’m not human enough?  Let me unpack that just a little bit:

In Genesis 1 and 2, God created all that is, including man and woman.  In that creation, there was no sin at all.  In essence, there was an ideal Man.  That is, humanity the way God designed it was without sin.  THAT is what it is to be “human.”  Complete and without sin.  OK, so then Genesis 3 hits and all chaos breaks loose.  Sin enters the world and Man falls…becoming, essentially, less than human.  From that point on, then, it was not that we sin because we were “only” human, but that we weren’t human enough.

When Christ came, He lived a perfect life, not because He was God, but because through perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2), He was a perfect HUMAN.  He was what we were designed to be, and because of His work on the cross, made it possible that we no longer needed to be overwhelmed by sin again.

Look at this:

“…our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  Romans 6:6

Done away with.  That’s pretty strong.  Sounds pretty definite.  Not managed or minimized…done away with.  Does that mean I no longer have to sin?  Well, sounds like it.  I think as I meditate on this, it means that as improbable as it is that I will no longer sin at all (because I still have the residual sin nature that was left in me because of Genesis 3), I cannot say that it is impossible.  Scripture seems pretty clear that Jesus has made it so.

So, then, what’s the take away?  I stop giving myself a pass.  I stop using the excuse that, because I’m only human, I’m going to sin.  Instead, I need to decide that sin WILL NOT reign in me.  I will no longer allow myself excuses as to why I still fall to the same old vices.  I have to “consider myself dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) which means that it is no longer an option for me.  As Oswald Chambers said, “You cannot [do this] until you have radically dealt with the issue of your will before God.”  That’s really it: Is it going to be my will or God’s will?  Who is the sovereign in my life?  If I’m honest, I have to say that it depends on when you ask me and what the subject is.  Sometimes, it’s God (at least in the easy parts of my life), but sometimes, when I’m dealing with my favorite flavor of evil, it’s me.

The only thing left for me to do is to realize the truth in the power of Christ in me to “consider myself dead to sin,” to be in constant prayer for that power to be manifest in me, and to be vigilant to daily make the mortification of sin in my life my aim.

“Lord, identify me with your death until I know that sin is dead in me.”

That’s a tough one to pray.

Knowing Evil

Reading the chapters for the One-Year Challenge, I got to thinking about the dilemma that faced the real first family with that fruit.  What is it that really caused them to give in?  Why couldn’t they simply resist and realize that taking that first bite would be absolutely devastating?  I think it’s because they weren’t equipped to resist based on discernment.

Think about it this way: Because Adam and Eve had not yet eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, they had no discernment or basis for knowing that the serpent was lying (i.e. was being evil). They were, in the best sense of the word, naive; they were pure. They didn’t really need discernment.  So, how could they possibly have known that they were being deceived? They should have been given a pass, right? Wrong. They didn’t HAVE to know the difference between good and evil; they didn’t need to be able to have that kind of discernment IF THEY HAD SIMPLY BEEN OBEDIENT.

There are many times that I am deceived into evil. There are times when I cannot tell the difference in the subtleties between good and bad. Does that give me a pass? No. In the same way Adam and Eve should have simply been obedient, if I am in tune with what God says and am obedient to it, I don’t have to rely on my own, flawed ability to discern.

Obedience protects me from myself as well as the evil that lurks in the shadows that tries to get me to fall. I think that’s why in the Great Commission, Jesus tells His disciples to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded.” It is a command of protection as well as faithfulness. In an already fallen world, godly discernment is imperative, but above all else, I must simply learn to obey.

The Circle of Love – 1 John 5:1-5

If you can get past John’s mental gymnastics, you’ll find a pretty simple concept in 1 John 5:1-5:  The love of God and the love of others is so entwined that you cannot have one without the other.  To get a little more complex in my explanation (as does John to a further degree), as the Believers, we love God.  If we love God, we must keep His commandments.  His commandment is to love Him and love others.  To love others is necessarily to demonstrate love for God, which necessarily demonstrates we’re Believers.  See the circle?  I think God intended for that kind of circular reasoning so that we could not let ourselves out through a loophole (no pun intended) of loving others.

He tells us that this is not a burdensome task for those who are His because, through faith, He does the loving through us.  In spite of the fact that this is still difficult, at times, to love those who are tougher to love, we can be over-comers because He has overcome.

Even this morning, I have been dwelling (more than necessary) on an individual who is challenging to me.  I get annoyed rather quickly and find the word “obnoxious” pop to mind when I think about them.  What do I do with that?  I suppose there are many ways of handling it, some better than others, but for me I have to consciously put that aside.  I have to remember how obnoxious I can be, how imperfect I am, and try to have the same grace I want to be shown by others who may have similar feelings towards me. How do you handle similar situations?  What is the way that brings the most honor to Christ?

On another quick note, John makes an important doctrinal statement in verse 1 that we don’t need to miss:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

Look at how he phrases that: Everyone who believes (present tense)…has been born (past tense).  We sometimes think that our believing brings on the regeneration of our spirit.  What John says here is that our believing is evidence of our having been regenerated, which demonstrates how salvation is a work of God alone doing in us (who are dead in our trespasses) what we cannot do ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 15:16, John 6:60-66, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 19).  This is great news since He took the initiative to rescue us from our path of destruction (having been born in sin) and made us new, giving us the ability (faith, again see Eph 2:8-9) to trust Him, and the obedience to place that faith in Him (what we refer to as asking Him to be Lord of our lives) and live according to the commandment He has given us.

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