Spiritual Complacency Reversed

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A few years back I wrote what has become my most viewed blog post.  It is about spiritual complacency.  It pops up more often than others with the web searches people use.  This tells me that there are many who are concerned about their own spiritual complacency. And someone finally asked me, “How do we combat it?”

How do we move from spiritual complacency to a renewed spiritual fervency? Spiritual passion is more than emotion.  It is a fire that keeps drawing us back to the presence of God.  It’s the state of wanting to hear our Savior’s voice, not just so we can do something for him but because if we hear his voice he is near. Spiritual passion is like having a hunger and a sense of fulness all at once, but without that bloated feeling [smile]. But how do we get there from here?

It would be easy to say, we can’t.  We can conjure up feelings, but not true spiritual passion.  It can’t be manufactured, at least not in a way that will last.  It is a work of the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus.  So, what can we do when we find ourselves far from the oneness we were promised and hope for again? A most simple thought comes to my mind and has been haunting me the past month – “Make more of Jesus.”

Don’t make more of morality, make more of Jesus.  Any faith built on morality leads us to two ends.  One is shame.  When we fail, like Adam, we are tempted to run and hide from God. The second end comes when we begin to think we’re succeeding.  That end is self-righteousness.  Faith in Jesus isn’t based on a correct understanding of morals. It is based on a God who pours out his forgiveness freely on those who need it.  This forgiving Jesus is the one who came in person, to break into our own personal hells and invite us to new life in him.  Read John 8: and John . He is a generous forgiver.

Don’t make more of improving your life, make more of Jesus. Have you noticed that a lot of preaching today is filled with principles that we are challenged to live out under our own power to make us better Christians?  Jesus is not a principle. I don’t need more principles.  I need more of Jesus.  I find every effort at self-improvement is only covering over the old.  What I need is transformation.  Jesus is the transformer.  For sure, the words of Scripture can show me areas where God wants to work.  But that doesn’t change me. My growing love for Him and my growing understanding of His love for me does change me.

Don’t make more of heaven when you die, make more of Jesus now.  Faith secures our future, but it doesn’t diminish the present.  The present is so important that Jesus promised to be with us now!  His abundant life is now.  His eternal life is now.  We are forgiven.  We are reconciled.  We are made into a new creation – now!

Don’t make more of amassing Bible knowledge, make more of Jesus in the pages of Scripture.  The Bible’s big job is to point us to Jesus, who is God joining with His creation in the deepest and darkest places, death, and destroying the hold it has had on humanity since the beginning.  The word of God (Bible) points us to The Word (John 1:1), who then shows us in his life, death and resurrection, exactly who God is.

When I feel most at a distance from God, I find out that I have replaced Jesus as the center of my faith.  Complacency creeps in when I have stopped being amazed at him, or when I have forgotten that he is alive and present and active in my world. Make more of Jesus.  Stay with him and stare at him until you can say on your knees, with Thomas, “My Lord and My God.” Make more of Jesus by letting go of everything faith has become.
I’d love to hear your comments about whether this has spurred you Onward and Upward toward Jesus.

Come To The Table

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Yesterday we were encouraged to spend some time reflecting on this painting of the Trinity.   It is by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev and is dated to the 15th century.  It is based on the story of Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by 3 angelic strangers.  This was interpreted by Rublev to be a visitation of the Trinity.  It envisions the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one of peace, unity, mutual love and humility.  Yesterday, as we reflected on the nature of God’s relationship within the Trinity, we were nudged to remember that in Christ, we are invited into that relationship with God.

This is a little poem I wrote during that reflection. Think of it as God’s invitation to a life with Him around the table of relationship.

Beautiful, Good
Together as one
Joy, love, power
Dances between You

Considering, deciding
Your gaze outward
Creating, redeeming
Sacrifice without reserve

Calling, inviting
A familiar name whispered
Forgiven, loved
Welcomed to the Table

Broken, healed
Together as one
Joy, Love, Power
Dances between us.

I’m Tired… Tired of Christianity

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Like you, I read several online papers, I keep track of social media.  I even subscribe to 3 email alerts each day for news items with the words, “church,” “pastor,” and “faith.”  I understand the brokenness of the world.  And I understand the limitations of the church.  But it seems like something else has happened.  We have built a system of faith that is making me tired.

So, on this December 20th morning, at 4 a.m. I confess: I’m getting a little tired of the Christianity we have constructed.

  1. I’m tired of a Christianity that believes in the kingdoms of this world to solve the world’s issues.
  2. I’m tired of a Christianity that relegates Jesus to the corner of our existence, instead of being Lord of all.
  3. I’m tired of a Christianity that offers tricks, tips and strategies for improving our lot, rather than leading others to the Jesus who comes to bring life.
  4. I’m tired of a Christianity that snipes at itself instead of learning to submit to one another for the sake of reconciliation.
  5. I’m tired of a Christianity that allows anger to motivate a call to justice, instead of love.
  6. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not distinct from the world in its words and ways.
  7. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not engaged enough with the world and doesn’t hear its questions.
  8. I’m tired of a Christianity that explains away the hard things Jesus said, instead of wrestling with them with open hearts.
  9. I’m tired of a Christianity that doesn’t look for the miraculous, but trusts in the mechanical.
  10. I’m tired of a Christianity that Jesus isn’t invited into and depended upon to lead.

I confess, I’m a co-conspirator.  I’ve helped build this Christianity.  I’ve chased human dreams sanctified by holy words.  It makes me sad and tired.  We’ve traded away our birthright for a pot of stew.

I’m not tired of Jesus.  I don’t think we make a big enough deal over him.

I’m not tired of the community Jesus started, the church. I love her and have big hopes for her.

I’m not tired of serving. I want to serve those Jesus loves and died to give life to.

Maybe Christmas is a good time to admit we’re tired and from there we can seek a quiet, humble, and prayerful way back to His path.  I think there we will find rest.

What are you tired of?  Is there a way back?

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.  

3 Ways to Possess What Jesus Came to Bring

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He came to endure the cup of suffering, so to us it could be the cup of life.

This morning I awoke 2 hours before the alarm sounded.  I began thinking about Jesus and the season of advent.  I started paging through my Bible and found a couple of verses that made me appreciate Jesus even more.  And it made me meditate on whether I am enjoying all He has done.

Check these out:

Philippians 2:7 ‘[Jesus]…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

and

Galatians 4:5 “[God sent Jesus]… to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Note: Let me try to remove a stumbling block before I go forward.  “Adoption as sons” in that day meant that men and women were given the place and privilege of the son that would inherit all of Dad’s stuff.  So, instead of relegating women to an inferior status, the promise lifts all of us to equal footing in our relationship with Christ.

In reading these two verses together, we see the means and the meaning of Jesus’ coming.

THE SON BECAME A SERVANT, SO THE SERVANTS COULD BECOME SONS.

I love that line!  Sit on it for a bit.  What is the difference between a servant and a son (or child with full status)?  Servants are humiliated, their lives are sacrifices, their lot is suffering. Children belong, their hope is inheritance, and in the household they are free.

What a wonderful gift, that the Son of God would become the servant, so we could become real children in the household of God.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me wonder why I’m not aware of this gift more often?  How is it I feel more like a slave?  I feel like I don’t belong.  I often feel like I’m just trying to get it right so God will like me.  How do we move from the slave-life, to the life as His child?

  1. Don’t live at a distance from God.  Come to him.  Trust in what Christ did for me, for the world – everyday!  Turn, repent, confess, call, trust, pray, listen, follow.  In other words, reorient your thoughts and ways around Him.
  2. Be lifted by the hope he gives.  The kingdom is yours in Christ.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:5).  It IS! Not, it will be.  It belongs to you, if you belong to Christ.
  3. Don’t ensnare yourself again to the things that want to keep you enslaved.  Steer away, let go, run from the demands, and the expectations, and the empty promises of the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus came, humiliating himself.  He served our needs.  He opened the door.  He called us to follow.  Embrace Him and the life He gives.  The Son became a servant, so the servants (like you and me) can become sons.

As always, thanks for reading, liking, commenting and sharing!  And please take a moment and become a subscriber at the upper left.

5 Things That Make It Possible to Give Hard Thanks

DSC_0088Around the thanksgiving table, many people have the tradition of telling something we are thankful for.  It doesn’t take long to think of a few quick answers.  Family, the food on the table, sunshine, good health, are replies that usually show up around the table with a lot of frequency. But there are always things in our lives that we just don’t want to give thanks for.  These are the disrupters.  They are the things that have created chaos, questions, and discomfort.  This is the hard thanks to give, but give it, we can and should.

I received an email from a fellow follower of Jesus.  She had read my book, “Transformed Pain” and was struggling to accept how God was currently working in her life. As a young Mom, she is burdened with a severe, life-changing health condition.  She’s been praying and she hoped that God would have given her healing and this thing would be gone by now.  The doctors have given her little hope that this would happen.  She asked me what Scripture might help her find a renewed joy in the Lord.

My heart aches for her. I can’t imagine the pain of what she’s going through. After some reflection, this was my reply: “The Scriptural example that I thought of was God’s people Israel, in the wilderness.  And day after day, for 40 years, they gathered and ate manna.  It was a tasteless food.  Every meal was a reminder of what they had known (leeks and onions by the Nile).  I imagine, with every meal the idea of family dinners lost their attraction as their tastebuds were dying a slow death from lack of use.

They complained.  They longed.  They asked for relief.  They demanded relief. Except for one instance of judgment, God gave them no relief.  Until they reached their spiritual and physical destination.

They felt like the manna was killing them.  It wasn’t.  It was the thing God gave them to keep them alive.  It was sustaining them through the roughest journey anyone could have.  Manna wasn’t a curse, it was a blessing.  It just wasn’t the blessing they wanted.  The manna was a reminder that this wasn’t the promised land.  Our pain reminds us that this is a time of redemption, not a time of restoration.  Restoration is to come.  But until then, God is working His plan of redemption through us – even through our suffering.”

We all have things God has brought into our lives that we would rather not have. Instead of giving thanks, we would rather just ignore it, put up with it, or even fight against it. How can we experience gratitude for the hard things?  Here are a few things that might help us give hard thanks.

  1. Keep the big story in mind.  Like everyday fits into a season of the year, your life fits into the movements of history. We should expect hot days in summer and cold days in winter. We should also expect hard times in this part of God’s story. This is a wilderness world. We are traveling toward a promised land. In the wilderness, we learn, struggle, hope, and follow. We find joy in the God who is leading us toward His future.
  2. Embrace Christ as the Author of your story. Every good story has twists, turns, tensions, movement and meaning. The wilderness was filled with this and it’s a great story for the annuls of history. This is what Jesus, as the author and finisher of your faith, is writing in you.  Yours is a story that people will read for eternity.  It won’t be boring because of what God has done in and through you.
  3. See grace everywhere. Think of grace and gift as synonyms. I hate taking pills, I take 9 per day.  I hate kale, I eat it with my breakfast each morning. With my health challenges, these things are my manna. They are gifts of God’s grace. Even our challenges are gifts of God’s grace because they are the avenues by which we experience God and his transforming love.
  4. Long for Presence over circumstance. We were created to live in the presence of God.  Christ makes it possible. In the wilderness God came in a cloud and pillar of fire.  It was his presence with the people. If the choice is manna and God’s presence, or culinary delicacies and distance from God, choose manna! Prefer God’s presence over easier times.
  5. Say it aloud. Tell God, tell others your thanks.  It is true that our hearts shape our actions. But it is also true that our actions shape and reinforce our beliefs and thoughts. Think of a hard thing in your life. Reflect and recount how you’ve seen God working in that. How has it taught you about life, forgiveness, redemption, endurance, faith, people, yourself, God’s ways? Say “thank you.” Use the comment section of this blog!

In no way do I minimize the pain of hard times. But without thanksgiving, we can easily slide into resentment, bitterness and anger. We drift from the One who is with us. We let go of the One who loves us in the wilderness. There is nothing wrong with giving God easy thanks. But let’s not neglect the hard thanks.

In the comments, I’d be encouraged to read your “hard thanks.”

As always, thank you for being a reader of my Onward and Upward blog.  Feel free to comment, share and subscribe by email above.

It Might Be Time to Stop Learning Lessons

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Have you ever experienced some difficulty in your life and one of your first thoughts is, there must be a lesson I’m supposed to learn?  Often we think that God brings calamity, or allows it – depending on your theology – for the purpose of teaching us something.  The hope is that once we learn it, everything will find resolution.  The problem will be conquered and we will walk away as better people for it.  Once this all happens, we will celebrate and say, “Thank you God, for bringing something good out of all this hard stuff.”  If all goes well, we will have a story to tell others, we may write blogs, or even craft books about the lesson we learned and how it changed our life.

But what if there is no resolution? What if the pain is persistent? We are left alone questioning the justice and mercy of God, or at the least questioning our connection to Him.  There must be something wrong with God, or us. Either the lesson can’t be learned, or I am just not getting it.

Look at this passage a bit with me.  This is one of my favorite passages to hate.  Hate may be too strong a word…  let’s read.  “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, ESV)

Paul seems to be talking about some physical burden he endured.  It played a significant role in his life.  It kept him humbled before God.  We see that he asked God three times to remove it.  Then Jesus spoke those famous words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  This sounds like a lesson Paul needed to learn.  It sounds like a lesson we all need to learn.  At least that’s how I’ve preached it before.

And he learned it.  All was well, we assume.  But wait.  All was not well.  There is no relief!  There is no indication in this passage, or any other that God removed this from him.  God doesn’t say, “Now that you’ve learned your lesson, I’ll make you whole again.”  The thorn, pain, limitation didn’t go away.  God didn’t give healing.  What did happen is that Paul stopped asking.  And it seems the hardships kept coming. He lists them: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities.  Why?  Because Christ wasn’t inviting Paul to learn a lesson!  He invited Paul to a life!

Faith in Christ is not a list of lessons to learn.  Faith in Christ is an invitation to life with Him.  Paul, in his weakness wasn’t being taught about the power of Christ in weakness.  He was being encouraged to live in the power of Christ in His weakness.  When we understand this is the invitation we are given, the permanence of our weakness becomes irrelevant.  Real resolution is found when we live the life Christ provides to us through His presence, grace and strength.  Faith is not a problem-solution formula that allows us to live our best life now.  Faith is a response to an invitation by the God of Creation, the Savior of the World, the Lord of God’s Kingdom; to truly live with Him and in Him.

Next time you are tempted to try and figure out the lesson God wants you to learn, instead ask Him to give you a clearer understanding of the life He’s inviting you to live with Him.  When we do that, our pains and difficulties stop feeling like punishments and they instead become invitations to know what life with Christ means.

As always, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!

NOTE:  And don’t forget to subscribe!  I’ve begun working on a new book about the journey with Christ through hard times and how that forms us.  I want to involve all those who subscribe to my blog through email.  So, don’t be left out!  Subscribe and let’s do this together! – Blessings, Jim

 

You are God’s Beautiful Boys and Girls

beautiful-boy-film-chalamet-carell.pngLast Saturday, my son and I went to see the movie “Beautiful Boy.”  I wasn’t sure what I would experience, though I was pretty sure it was going to be a heavy movie.  It was.  When the movie ended, the place was silent except for a few sniffles here and there.  It is a story of addiction.  And it doesn’t end in a fake, movie-like, happily every after way.  It is based on a true story, written by David Sheff.  It shows the pain and process of loving a kid with addictions.  As I sat there, I found myself feeling pain for those I know who have had children and siblings struggling with the horrors of addiction.

There was one line that stuck out to me.  It was said during a scene at an Narcotics Anonymous (NA) group session.  When the kid said his addiction was a disease, he was corrected by the group as they recited together something like, “Addiction isn’t the disease, but my way of treating the disease.”  In essence they were saying that the path to addiction begins because there is something else wrong on the inside.  This is profound.  As long as we treat the symptom without dealing with the issue, we will miss the cure.

This week I was visiting with a parent who said his 16 year old announced to him that she thinks she is transexual. Like most of us parents would be, he was floored.  His little girl, who he thought he knew was having doubts about the very essence of her identity.  And he didn’t know how to respond, or what to do next.  Is this another case where culture has pointed our kids to a solution that misses the problem altogether?  Is it another way of treating what is the real issue and do we run the danger of missing the cure?

These issues aren’t just for the young.  I’ve spoken to adults that have jumped from one spouse to another, to another.  They repeat the pattern all the while trying to treat their unhappiness, their frustrations, their anger. And they end up taking their unchanged self into the next relationship hoping this time they’ve found the answer.  But again, they’ve been misdiagnosed and the real cure eludes them.

Some of us do this with pills.  Some of us do this with career moves.  Some of us do it with porn.  Some of us do it with sexuality. Some of us do this with out-of-contol emotions.  Some of us do this with a new commitment to a new morality.  This is so engrained in us that pastors can even do this with ministry. It is the common human approach to finding the cure to our ache, our loneliness, our identity questions, our search for belonging and meaning.  We keep buying into the misdiagnosis and the next fake cure.

What is our disease?  Our disease is that we have left the only One (or keep leaving the One) who knows us to our core and loves us.  Our disease is that we keep trying to fabricate lives with things that can’t bear the weight of eternity.  Our disease is a pride that says, “We’ve got this.” when our lives tell a different story.  Our disease is living in independence from the One who made us with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.

If this is our disease, what is our cure?  Hear and embrace this…

  1. We are created in the image of God.  This doesn’t mean that everything in our life, personality, or desires are given or approved by God.  But it means that our existence has an eternal intention to it.  We are no accident.  And we are created with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.
  2. God invites us back to him.  God, like the Dad we all long for, looks past our crap and failed attempts a self-cure to wait for us with eagerness to embrace us and heal us.
  3. His Son, Jesus is the way to healing. He came to carry our pain and show us life.  He restores our call, our purpose, our hope of being changed and having the life we were made for.
  4. Once we’ve recognized our disease, separation from our God; and the cure, God’s rescuing love; we are freed to discover the joy of living in His presence and being changed by His love.

This sounds simple, but it is life-altering.  If accepted, it reshapes everything within us.  It reorients the core of our being around the Being of the seen and unseen universe.

The questions, the pain, the process may remain for a while, or a lifetime, but we find that God walks in the way with us.  Life is still a place a learning.  It’s a path of growth.  It’s not easy.  But Christ’s presence keeps us rooted, sure, secure and hopeful in the middle of it all. And he has provided others who are walking the journey, so we need not do it alone.

I have found that God and His Son, Jesus believe we are beautiful boys and girls.  Accepting that, in the middle of mixed emotions, is the beginning of the cure.  The rest of the cure is to let Him restore us to the lives He made us for.

Comments, Hopes, Needs, Questions??  Thanks for your time in reading, commenting and sharing.