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The Red Button or the Blue Button?

Proverbs 3:5–6 (NRSV) 

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.   

The Experiment.  

An experiment was done were rats where trained to press a blue button to obtain a piece of food. Their training was reinforced by the fact that when they pressed a nearby red button, they received an unpleasant shock. Once they learned what pressing each button meant (blue meant food and red shock), they settled into a routine . . . . But then the scientists switched the experiment so that sometimes they got a shock from the blue button and food from the red. On any given attempt, there was no way for the rats to know whether they would get food or a shock. These were the results: The rats suffered nervous breakdowns.”  

Have you ever felt that way? Like you had things figured out. You had a pretty solid system of how life works. The things you believe about God made sense. God could always be trusted, and He would never put you in a place where you feel like you don’t know which button to push.  

Life Often Feels Like You Are Pressing Buttons  

Like the mice, we could be afraid and anxious about pushing any buttons because of what might happen. The result is that we stop, count our losses, and then just live to survive but no longer thrive. When you are young, you press any button, you press freely without any fear. The young take risks and leap without looking. You love the thrill of the shock, and say “Shock me again,” but then life switches the buttons on you (the button that once give you food now gives you a shock).  

What the Shock Does to Us?  

It shakes our beliefs and the things that we were confident in. When we experience crisis, we tend to throw everything we once believed out the window. We become disillusioned for the first time. For the first time, we don’t feel like we are bulletproof, or that anything is absolutely sure in this life. It helps cure us from relying on our own insight and wisdom. The only way not to lean on our own understanding is to be in a place where we don’t understand.

How Should I Deal with The Buttons?    

Trust God, not the buttons. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” How do you know you trust someone? You put your heart into it, you surrender what you think you know. You give up the “Hollywood ending” of how things should be and just trust. It would help to understand that suffering does not simply come from choosing the wrong button. There are good people who have made the right choices (pushed buttons) and still experienced the shock of tragedy, and bad people who made all the wrong choices (wrong buttons), and seemed to live “perfect lives.”

We must learn the truth that both buttons carry good and bad. Paul “eyed” the “buttons” when he said, “for or a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Corinthians 16:9f (NRSV)

So, trust God, not the buttons. Surrender what you think you know. Look for God in the shock. Persevere and God will do the rest.

 

 

What are You doing with Your Mountains?

Recently I saw a TV ad that asked a simple but profound question, “What would we be like without our mountains?” The ad then goes on to connect people achieving great things with a particular beer.

Though the ad’s goal was simply to sell beer, the question itself is a profound one. What would we be like without our mountains? Without our battles, trials, betrayals, tragedies? Our instinctive reaction might be that our lives would be better without all the negative. But here is a picture of what life might look like without the struggle. We would be weak, soft, and unchallenged. We would never really grow into our full potential as human beings. We would always have to “win” in order to feel good about ourselves, and losing would be devastating. We would avoid anything that might cause us pain, risk, or loss. We would live only for survival, instead of thriving in our God-given purpose. In short, we would be like an insect who, because it was never allowed to break free of its cocoon, lives its brief life in a weakened and anemic state, in constant fear of losing its fragile existence.

But then comes the fun part, what does God think about this? One of my mentors had a saying about the trend of Scripture as it relates to people: “The Bible never makes it easy on the flesh.” There is something about this statement that rings true in the heart. From Genesis to Revelation, you never find God giving anyone an easy, low-risk assignment. The journey is always fraught with danger and the possibility thereof. In fact, I believe that a sign that you are on God’s path for your life is that you feel that you are in over your head. You feel at times that things are falling apart and that you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. C. S. Lewis spoke of such signs,

“Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence”? 

I am not at all suggesting that God causes tragedies so that he can bring good things out of them, but rather that tragedies occur because we live in a fallen world and because of this reality, God salvages valuable things from pain for those who trust in him. The echoing words of Jesus remind us that we should pray for mountains to be moved, but what happens when we do that and the mountain does not move? Sometimes there is a mountain hindering us and God does not always move it, no matter how much we pray. This idea is not foreign to the Scriptures. God did not remove all the inhabitants of the lands Israel was inheriting so that he can teach them how to fight.

1 Now these are the nations that the LORD left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan Judges 3:1 (NRSV)

God did not remove Goliath, but he taught David and Israel how to confront a bully (1 Sam 17:38-50).

God did not remove Judas from betraying Jesus, but rather gave Jesus the strength to endure his trials.

43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. Luke 22:43 (NRSV)

Once we answer the question of “What we would do without our mountains?”, then we have a clear idea of what to do with our mountains. If our mountains do not move, then we move in endurance and faith – believing God that he will get us around or over it. In the process of scaling that mountain, we mine timeless truths, grow immovable character and skills. Because of God, we live towards the day where mountains will have a totally different meaning. A meaning that says they that mountains were not created to serve as a symbol of our struggles, but as a sign of our rest.

Aligning Our Hearts for the New Year

The new year is a great time to begin new habits, new goals, and renewed hopes for the coming months.

To accomplish these things, it’s important to have some kind of “plumb line” that keeps our aim true.

Paul did this in his letter to the Colossians when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”  (Col. 2:2 NRSV).

In a sense, Paul was aligning his whole life by the passion to know nothing but Jesus and the crucified lifestyle. Everything in his life would turn on this reality.

Jesus spoke of things we can bring into alignment in our lives. These have been described by Dr. Frank Damazzio as “The Seven Firsts of Jesus”.  One way to see what is first in our lives is to ask a simple question: What is the first thing that pushes all nonessentials out of the way? This is important because if we don’t have first things first, then second and third things will replace first things in importance.

That said, here are seven things that (through God’s grace) we can align this coming year:

Our priorities.  

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you

(Matthew 6:33 NRSV)

We must align our priorities according to the new order, new way of thinking and living identified with the kingdom.

Our attitudes.  

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:4-5 NRSV).

Our harshness is always in proportion to blindness to our own faults. Looking in the mirror first is the best antidote for a critical spirit.

Our fruit bearing.  

You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean

(Matthew 23:26 NRSV)

It would be odd to serve guests bowls of soup, then in the same bowls only wipe the outside and proceed to serve dessert in them. Aligning our hearts in growth means to focus on the inside, not the outside.

Our worship.  

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matthew 28:1).

It’s one thing to say we “serve the Lord”, but quite another to “seek the Lord”. We can become defined by church attendance or acts of service, while our default instinct is to put ourselves first.

Our Relationships.

Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:24 NRSV).

Jesus here was pointing out that reconciliation always comes before worship. Holding on to offenses threatens our relationship to God; God only demonstrates His presence in an atmosphere of unity.

OurWarfare. (Our authority)  

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house (Matthew 12:29 NRSV).

We must first deal with the unseen spiritual elements that assail us before we deal with physical challenges. This begins with closing every door, window, and crevice to our hearts that might allow “the strongman” to come in. In doing so, we are addressing spiritual battles in a spiritual way.

Our Passion.   

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment(Matthew. 22:36-38) NRSV.  

Our passions are perhaps one of the greatest challenges in our relationship to Jesus. They are ever fickle, easily distracted, and run hot and cold. Putting our heart, soul, and mind into pursuing God brings our passions into alignment.

When we align these seven firsts Jesus spoke of, our lives will no doubt begin sensing that wholesome feeling not unlike the one you get when vertebrae in your back are put back in place, but on a greater spiritual dimension.

 

 

Five Myths About Suffering

 One of the most common questions of all time is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Why do the righteous suffer?   Another question that sits like a book-end on the opposite side is,  “Why do the unrighteous prosper?” (Psalm 73).

It is true that suffering can destroy you. It can overthrow your faith, especially during long seasons of delay, but suffering can also build you up in a way you would not have known otherwise. Our prisons are often of our own making because of how we see our pain.

Here are some misconceptions about suffering that plague many people:

All suffering is a result sin.

The disciples once asked Jesus, upon seeing a blind man, “Who sinned - this man or his parents?”. This was the natural assumption held during Jesus’ time. Yet Godly suffering can be a clear sign of divine favor.

It is said that “Job was a perfect and upright man” (Job 2:3).

Suffering means that life is bad.  To some, suffering means there is something wrong with me, or I am doing something wrong. Where these possibilities can exist, we often overlook our culture’s response to suffering. We got our culture from the Greeks. The Greeks saw beauty and perfection as going together. If something was perfect, it had to be beautiful and if something was beautiful, it had to be perfect. This however does not work on a “street level”. If a person believes this, it must follow that when they are in an ugly situation, life is no longer perfect or beautiful. Paul counters this philosophy when he says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors”.

 That the only thing to do with suffering is avoid it at all cost.

Running from pain is a natural reflex response. Running from our mountains and valleys however can keep us from overcoming them. We become escape artists at avoiding pain, filling our lives with things that make us feel good and alive. There is however a powerful element in facing them in all of their ugliness and holding on to God no matter what.

That suffering means God is displeased with me or doesn’t love me.  

Note that in Isaiah 53 10, it says “It pleased God to bruise His son”. This tells us that there is a lot more to suffering than whether or not we please God. We often believe that God views us the way people view us - driven by emotion, moods, and external judgments. After God pronounced that He was well pleased with Jesus, “He (God) drove Him” (Jesus) into the desert to be tested of satan.  Suffering can be a mark that God is pleased with you and wants to take you further in your walk.

 That we must understand why suffering occurs.

The question isn’t “Why is there suffering”?  Suffering is inevitable, but “What does God do with it”?

C.S. Lewis said that “Suffering is a necessary part in the creation of a stable world”.  In great times of suffering however, it is a mistake to try to put a reason to what you’re going through, especially when it is out of your control. In fact, God never explains suffering; He recycles it. He did not give Job a treatise on why he went through his ordeal, but rather He recycled Job’s pain and gave him twice what he had previously lost. One thing we can know about suffering is that in God’s hands, it has redemptive purposes. The promise to The Suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53 was that, “And He (Jesus) shall see His seed and rejoice”.

In the end, Job’s three options when he faced with his great trial was, 1. Become bitter, 2. complain (which is the one many of us fall into) 3. Submit himself to God (believing that He would take care of it). In the end, the third option is the better road.

 

 

I Want What Is Real, Not A Cheap Copy

After grieving the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis once said as he looked at her pictures,

"A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle." 

What the writer meant was that what he really longed for was the real thing, not a copy of something. There is no life, no seminal moment in a copy, only a facsimile of what was. Yet many spend their lives trying to recapture what was once real to them . . . that old “campy” house we could never return to . . . that one flawless vacation we could never recapture . . the love that stole our hearts. That perfect moment where we felt most alive. We try to capture, recreate, and even sometimes settle for cheap substitutes of the real.

It is interesting how even modern technology strives for a virtual world that simulates real life. The latest Play-station and Xbox games tout the “realism” of battle scenes, and “life-like” graphics that make you feel like you are really there. Is it possible that all of these pursuits speak of an ache in all of us for the “real”?

The culture around us tries to give us the real, in a stamped-out, mass-produced fashion that attempts to copy moments. They advertise things like, “If you buy this product, it will change your life”, “Watch this movie - it will blow you away”, “Drive this car and attract beautiful people”. But these are as far from being real as possible. They are poor copies that in the end leave us empty and longing. If we are ever to attain the authentic, we must be willing to let go of the copy.

God is the “copy smasher”

God helps us recover the authentic. He himself smashes our stuff - our ideas and assumptions about Himself . . . Our endless pursuit of glittering, empty things. When we try to pin God down with cheap cultural knock offs that have His label on it, He moves to smash that idea. When we pursue copies of “real” things, God in His love demolishes them. Anything we cling to that is unreal God leaves in ruins until all that is left is the real. It is safe to say that when God shows up, things get smashed.

"Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?"        Lewis, C. S

You mean what I understand

Some time ago, I called a close friend just to say hello. My call was not returned, so I called again and left a message. Again, my call was not returned. I then emailed a friendly, “Just checking up on you, buddy”, but got no response. My first reaction was “What did I do wrong? He must be mad at me for something I said or did? Or maybe it’s something I didn’t do”? You know how our minds can keep going on in this vein! One day, I found myself annoyed and was almost ready to pass judgment, “Well I can’t believe this guy! Who does he think he is?”. But I stopped myself (counter intuitively) before the words came out of my mouth refusing to go “there”.

This reminded me of a term used by negotiators called “self-selection”. It’s when the person hearing an idea or proposal walks away from the negotiating table with a preconceived opinion of what was said, not necessarily what was actually said. In other words, that person’s understanding becomes the basis of reality, not what actually happened. This kind of mindset has led to derailed business transactions, divorces, general misunderstandings between people, and wars.

One of the hardest things for us to do is to listen, or (in my case) wait patiently without superimposing our own understanding of what is happening, or what things should be. We all have an idea of how things work, but each person’s concept can be as unique as a snowflake. This is why two people going into a marriage have their own exclusive ideas of how things are done. The danger lies in making our own understanding of “how things are done” the absolute reality.

When this happens, we end up making snap judgments and hasty appraisals, forcing people into our perceived understanding of things.

God’s Word calls this “judging” and says poignantly that the same measuring stick we use on other people will be used on us.

It later turned out that my friend had been going through some trials and was in a season where he needed to focus on getting things back to normal. I am overjoyed beyond words that I resisted making any judgments about my friend. That would have greatly changed the content of today’s blog.

Consumer Christianity Part 3 - Part 3 Becoming An Authentic Worshipper:

John 4:20,23-24 
20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

These words were spoken by Jesus to the "woman at the well" whose idea of worship was that of being confined to a place or a method. She believed presumtuously that Jesus held to the current trend that all worship of God can only happen in Jerusalem. Jesus however revealed to her that there would come a time when buildings and organization would no longer suffice. In other words, people would no longer have to go to a physical place to find God, but they would be able to find Him wherever they were, and “whenever”. Outward observances and rituals would no longer be the benchmark for true worship, but authentic adoration would come straight from the heart. This is not suggesting that we banish church attendance, as the Bible is clear about "not  forsaking the assembling of ourselves”.  It means that physical forms of worship, and physical places of worship, are not the centerpiece of authentic worship.

When the word “spirit” is used, this implies that worshipping God is no longer confined to a place or a time or whatever logistical boxes we put God in.

What makes it worship is that you do it in the spirit. The place is from the depths of your being.

To worship God in truth means from a sincere heart. The Psalmist attests to this fact.

Psalm 51:6 (ESV) 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Worshipping in truth involves an inward change that affects our outward reality.

In this three-part series, we first asked the question, are you a worshipper or a connoisseur? We read from Judges 17 about a man named Micah who created his own private spirituality by making an idol and hiring a priest. A modern way in which this happens is called consumerism, which is defined as living to consume as opposed to consuming to live.  Another way to put it is in the words of Richard A. Kauffman who said,

“Those of us who have many possessions or few can all be possessed by what we have—or don't have.”

Then we talked about why Christian Consumerism doesn’t work. Consumerism doesn’t work because it turns everything into a commodity (a thing that can be bought and sold).

When we commodify things (turn something or someone into a product that can be bought and sold), we call the shots. We can manipulate and control them because we bought them.

But the danger is that whatever you commodify can no longer have influence over you.  When we mix religion with consumerism, things like worship and discipleship become electives we can take or leave at our leisure.

Assumptions Of An Authentic Worshipper.

You might read this and identify with consumerism in your own life. Or maybe you are stricken with the question, "How do I shift” from being driven by things to being consumed with Jesus? How do I stop being a consumer when it comes to God and how do I become a true worshipper? Here are some things that might help us rediscover real worship.

Authentic worshippers have a different focus.

In the “spirit and truth” Scripture, we notice that the Main Focus Is On The Spiritual Not Material.

It is also obvious in this Scripture that God is NOT "one Spirit among many". He is not confined to one location, He is “Spirit” - everywhere.  Time and place have no meaning. Waiting to get to church to worship is not what worship is about; God wants us to worship Him anywhere and everywhere and in every circumstance - BECAUSE HE IS SPIRIT.

To help illustrate this, just notice the difference in the Greek words Bios and Zoe. Both speak of two different kinds of life.

BIOS is the physical life you see in all creation. from microscopic life to the most enormous creatures in the seas. Bios life eventually decays, breaks down and dies.

ZOE is Spiritual Life - The eternal life that God breathes into all who are saved. It is the infinite life that "beats within our breast”. Zoe life is unending as opposed to Bios life that ages and perishes.

To worship in the spirit is to worship in “Zoe” life, not biological life.

John 6:63   "It is the Spirit who gives life"; the flesh profits nothing;

Chasing after material things, acquiring things and finding identity in things are all empty of Zoe life because they all have an expiration date.

Authentic Worshippers Worship God Based On The Truth They Know – Jesus.

We worship God not only in SPIRIT but in “TRUTH”:

Truth here is ALĒTHEIA , and according to some theologians, “the reality lying at the basis of something. The essence of a matter”.

True worshippers are those who realize that Jesus is the Truth of God and live Jesus’ words in John 14:6:

John 14:6 (ESV)  6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Salvation is not a means to avoid hell, or a prayer, or words we recite; salvation is a person - JESUS.

Authentic Worshippers Won't Compromise The Truth For Anything.

True worshippers cannot be silent when the truth must be spoken. When I say “can’t be silent” I do not mean “telling it like it is” in a way that is personally offensive. The truth is offensive enough to the flesh. We do not need to help it along by presenting it in an unkind way.

Paul was challenged once by people who were criticizing and lying about him.  Illuminated by the "truth behind things", He saw through the smoke of intimidation and responded accordingly.

2 Corinthians 11:10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

Real truth cannot be denied or compromised in the heart of the true worshipper.

The truth also motivated Paul to persevere through opposition on behalf of the church of Galatia.

Galatians 2:5 To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Whatever is true of Jesus is always true forever. Culture can’t change it, Supreme Court rulings can’t change it, circumstances or emotions can’t change it, because it is the alētheia reality lying behind all things.

Authentic Worshippers Will Never Turn God into a “Thing”.

They will never commodify God into something that can be processed, manipulated, or bent to their purposes.

Romans 1 speaks of those who substitute God’s truth for the inauthentic.

 Romans 1:25  Exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,  

True worshippers will never commodify God because they have surrendered the illusion of control to God. Rooted in their consciousness is the reality that “God is in control, not me”.

Salvation and the Lordship of Jesus as supremely in charge go together. They can never be separated or compartmentalized, leaving us in the driver’s seat.

Of Jesus,  C. S. Lewis said,

I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it”

Authentic Worshippers Are Known For Simplicity.

Consumers are over-loaded with the distractions that come from the pursuit of possessions and all the complications that accompany it. In consumerism, we are given many choices. We are not required to stay faithful to one thing. The Word of God fades into the din as just another sales pitch vying for attention in our already overloaded lives.

Those who worship God in spirit and truth understand that true happiness comes from contentment, not from having “more”.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 (ESV)  10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income;.

Authentic Worshippers know the secret of surrendering all.

God’s invitation to the overburdened is very clear in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28-30  28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Of note is what comes before Jesus’ invitation to rest - a secret hidden from even the wisest.

Matthew 11:25-27  25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  27All things have been handed over to me by my Father,

By laying everything you have at Jesus’ feet, the consumer mindset, the pointless chasing after things, the desire for status by what you own, and putting God in a box of convenience, you are losing everything as long as you see it from a worldly point of view.

God’s view however is that when you have Jesus at the center of your life, now you have “all things”. You will never lack for anything you truly need. This is the true wealth and "life abundant" Jesus died for.

Consumer Christianity Part 2

 

Part 2: Why Christian consumerism does not work

I recently met a twenty-something at an outlet store who was showing me some stylish shirts. The polite conversation turned to the obsession people have with brand names on their clothes. I explained to her that I was a minister and noticed that consumerism has even come into the church. To my shock, she said “It almost sounds like those two don’t go together”. Is it possible that someone who doesn’t know Jesus can see truths that some Christians might have become oblivious to?

Consumerism, though much more prevalent and refined today, can be found in Jesus’ time:

Matthew 11:16-19

 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance’;

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

This skeptical, hard-to-please mindset during Jesus’ time is not unlike today’s consumerism that is easily bored, never satisfied, and entertainment-driven.

In movie entertainment, there is always this push to do things on an increasingly grander scale to satisfy consumer demand for “more”. Sequels are often spun out with the idea of bigger, better, and more dangerous stunts to placate an audience who knows all of last year’s tricks.

In Part One of Consumer Christianity, we read from Judges 17 about a man named Micah who created his own private spirituality by making an idol and hiring a priest.

A modern way in which this happens is called consumerism.

CONSUMERISM is defined as living to consume as opposed to consuming to live. When someone consumes, they acquire things (and often more than they need). It is when who you are is based on what you buy.      

What drives consumerism is the thrill of the chase and the desire for status (keeping up with the Joneses).

On a church level, Christian Consumerism is driven by entertainment and marketing to whatever people want. In the same way that Micah designed his own personal God and priest, designer spirituality is part of the mindset of the Christian consumer.

Some may feel that because they are just surviving and “making ends meet”, consumerism doesn’t apply to them. It is however a statistical fact that some of the people who struggle the most with consumerism are the poorest.       

Consumerism is part of the world system of values and, for better or worse, is deeply-rooted in almost everything we buy and sell. But to put the word Christian and consumer in the same sentence should be theologically impossible because they are as contrary to each other as good is to evil. Here are some reasons why trying to combine both can never work. 

Consumerism Turns Everything Into A Commodity. 

A commodity has been defined as, a valuable thing or product that you can buy or sell.  The verb for commodity is to “commodify”. Everything, no matter how common or sacred, has been “commodified” in our culture. Things like pet rocks, statues of Jesus, and tragically even human beings have been turned into trinkets that can be bought and be traded. It is believed that everything has a price tag. Youth can be bought and sold in creams, facelifts, tummy tucks, and pills. Sex has become commodified through pornography where men and women are turned into objects.

The danger in trying to turn our faith into a commodity is that just like thoughtful consumers, we see ourselves as patrons hiring a service, giving a thumbs up or down to our worship experience or whatever services are offered. In our worship, we become the evaluator, instead of the one being evaluated by God.  The tables are turned as we become the center of gravity instead of God.

Some Christians have even commodified their giving. Since they see themselves as power brokers paying for a service, if something happens that they don’t like in church, they stop giving.

Jeffrey McDonald has well said,

 “Faith has become a consumer commodity in America. People shop for congregations that make them feel comfortable rather than spiritually challenged. They steer clear of formal commitments to Christian communities. They flee when they are not quickly gratified or when they encounter interpersonal problems. Changing churches has become as routine as changing jobs. As a result, churches are no longer able to help people develop solid moral characters.” Jeffrey Macdonald, Thieves In The Temple  

Here lies the danger of commodifying God.

Whatever You Commodify Can No Longer Have Influence Over You. 

You own it, you have the power to keep it throw it away or change it. This is not unlike someone wears a cross around their neck just for good luck - just something that is available when they need it.

Just look at the “how to” section in any Christian bookstore. “How to” sections can be a great blessing and are not wrong within themselves, however it is possible to turn off portions of truth we don’t care for and turn on portions we do. This can lead to a morality without Jesus, or what has been called by many “moralism”. Just give me the 5 ways I can be a better husband, wife, mom, dad, etc.

 

 

George Barna stated,

“Most churchgoers have not adopted a biblical worldview, they have simply added a Jesus fish on the bumper of their unregenerate consumer identities.”

Micah in Judges 17 tried to add religion to his uncommitted life.

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”   (Micah was in control here).

When we try to commodify God, Church becomes therapy instead of transformation.  It becomes all about good feelings rather than life change.

Vincent Jude Miller called Consumer Christianity The new “spirituality” from which people choose the characteristics that will enforce their current lifestyle”.

Tell me about the goodness of God, His blessings, His promises, and hold the rest.

It might make us feel better for the moment, but it doesn’t really fix the root of the problem.

Spiritual infantilization.

When we try to blend consumerism with Christianity, we keep ourselves in an infantile state.

INFANTILIZATION: The act of prolonging an infantile state in a person by treating them as an infant. It is when a 35-year-old person is treated as if they are fourteen.

Infants are easily infuriated when things don’t happen exactly the way they want them to. Self– control isn’t expected because such words cannot be understood beyond the immediate needs of the self–absorbed infant. Spiritual infants are no different.

No Real Discipleship.

 A disciple is a follower of Jesus and of His teaching, discipline, and Kingdom.  

Discipleship implies obedience, discipline, and, correction, words that you will never hear in marketing ads appealing to consumers.

Discipleship most assuredly implies that “the customer is always wrong”. But it’s hard to be a disciple of Jesus when a person views Him no differently than they see a service offered from AT&T or Verizon.  It is consumerism when we shop for churches only as places that fit our needs, not necessarily places where we can be rooted and challenged.  

Instead of me the worshiper being shaped by encounter with God, I the consumer shape the God that I desire. But the God that I fashion to my liking never satisfies.

Isaiah 42:17  “They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, ‘You are our gods’.

A consumer approach to Christianity can never satisfy. It is like the mule who always chases the “carrot and stick”. With every effort, the carrot moves just out of reach.

Jesus’ Reaction to Consumerism.   (Hint – He brought a whip)

When Jesus saw that they had commodified the Temple, He made a whip and drove them out saying “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves”.

He also said things like “You can’t serve God and Mammon” (money or things).

No one is ready to become a true worshiper or disciple until they are awakened to the reality that we cannot be good Christians and religions consumers at the same time.  Christianity and Consumerism are what a snake is to a mongoose.

Rodney Clapp said,

The Christian disciplines like patience and self-control are the very opposite of acquiring things and instant gratification.” (Rodney Clapp, “The Theology of Consumption & the Consumption of Theology).

It’s impossible to be a consumer without eventually being “consumed” yourself. Jesus’ words are a testimony that a person’s soul can never become commodified.

Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Consumer Christianity Part 1

ARE YOU A WORSHIPER OR A CONNOISSEUR?

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape instructs his protégé Wormwood on how to cure a man from “Churchgoing”.  He says,

“If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. “  Lewis, C. S.

This is really no different that modern day consumerism which has been defined as, “Living to consume as opposed to consuming to live” - to acquire things and usually more than we need. Consumerism is when who you are is based on what you buy. Consumerism overwhelms us with an endless array of choices and is fueled by two things,  the thrill of the chase and the desire for status.  Vincent Miller says,  “It’s not really about the attachment of things but about the joy of endlessly seeking and pursuing things even though those things disappoint in the end.”    Vincent Miller – Consuming Religion.

In consumerism, possessions exist for status and not necessarily the practical function they serve. Having a brand name logo is more important because of the statement it makes than whether or not it’s really practical. But if you don’t think consumerism existed in Bible times, think again.

The book of Judges speaks of a man named Micah who created his own brand of consumer religion . Micah saw the God of the universe no differently than a commodity that can be bought and sold. He created an idol and hired a priest to fashion his own custom-made religion (Judges 17:1 – 13).

What makes Micah’s story so significant is that according to many theologians, the last part of Judges (Chapter 17-21) is really the prequel to the book of Judges. It’s how idolatry crept in after Joshua died. In Chapter 18, verse 30, the Levite who was hired as a priest by Micah was a grandson of Moses. This was before the time of the Judges and just after Joshua who had succeeded Moses.

What stands out as the tragic moral of Micah’s story is that the idolatry that ravaged the whole land of Israel STARTED AT HOME, Micah’s home.

Not unlike Micah’s consumer approach to God, consumer Christianity in America can be seen by the way we have refashioned the gospel into clever marketing campaigns designed to promise a cost-free, low-risk entertainment-packed experience.

Consumerism in Church Is Known by a few things like:   

Aggressive Marketing tactics and entertainment to draw new people.

Advertisement is not wrong in itself as long as it’s not the driving force behind things. But how quickly we can turn our religion into a commodity by confusing the means with the end.

A close pastor friend saw this sign down the street from his church:  “Texas Hold ‘Em Night” -  Thursdays  - $10 to join the game.

A Church in Lansing, Michigan has services by giving out free beer and popcorn at an upstairs bar with promises to buy the first drink. Some churches have taken down their crosses for fear of offending prospective consumers. Others even play some top pop hits during their worship service in hopes that they will draw more people. 

It is a fact that whatever brings people to church must also keep them coming to church. Many followed Jesus as long as He gave them bread, but after the bread was gone, so were the people. Many today want entertainment in their religion but not encounter that would require something of them.

Everything revolves around what people want.

Someone put it this way,

“Every TV commercial, every store, every credit card company, every bank, every TV show or movie, every piece of clothing, car or product, every website, every restaurant . . . Everything is tailored to fit your desires, needs or personal preference”. 

When we live by our preferences, what happens if we don’t get what we want?  If we are consumer minded in our Christianity, we sneer and look elsewhere. This keeps us from ever being rooted, discipled, and accountable to a body of believers.

Designer spirituality.   

Micah custom-made his own spirituality with an idol, a priestly vest called an ephod and a priest for hire.

Researcher George Barna has well said, 

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to fit our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion”.    

Christian consumerism says if I don’t get the God I want, I will shop for one convinced that there is most certainly a place they can find one.

The Danger of Becoming a Christian Consumer.   

There are fatal downsides in attempting to turn God into a commodity that we can own and manipulate at will.

We buy into the illusion of “Risk-free No Obligation” Christianity.   

Have you ever noticed TV ads – “Risk-free, no obligation or your money back”, “Buy one, get one free”, “Order in the next 15 minutes and you’ll get”, 2 for 1 deal?

This isn’t far from trying to blend Christ with consumerism. We become like connoisseurs who pick and choose the hors d’oeuvres we most want. Forgiveness, Blessings, Abundance, Health, Success, Career, Protection are preferred to Correction, Discipline, Surrender, Holiness, Purity, and Self-denial. And the dreaded word DISCIPLESHIP is viewed as a four letter word.

Even the world doesn’t believe in this idea. Just ask any Olympic athlete if there was a price they had to pay in order to contend in the race they are in!

We ask the wrong questions and suffer from the wrong answers.

We ask things like, “What do I want out of God, Church, the Bible, Christianity, fellowship”?  These questions seem good until something stops working for us.

The right questions should go something like this:  What does God want of me? What place of worship does God want me to plant myself and my family in? What relationships does God want me to be in covenant with? If God doesn’t give me what I want, how should I respond?

So ask yourself this question again - Am I a Worshiper or a Connoisseur? 

We love to tell a Story

“What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”  ― Rabih Alameddine,

Two stories - One reality.

Have you ever seen two people experience the exact same thing and come away with totally different perspectives of what happened?  Just look at the winning team of the Super Bowl in contrast to the losing team. To one team, it’s the greatest day of their life; to the other team, it is the worst day of their life.

Like in The Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Depending on how people saw the events of that period in their lives, their story was either good or bad.

There is what happened, and THEN what we tell ourselves happened.

Whenever we experience something, we process that experience by putting it into a story that we later tell ourselves. We are all storytellers. This is how we were created. We think in stories, and that’s why when people ask us “What is your story?”, we already have a re-edited version based on our present experiences and journey.

These stories we construct fill in the blanks of our uncertainty, our fears, and our doubts about what happened and put things into some kind of manageable narrative.

Why stories are important.

“What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”  ― Rabih Alameddine,

What’s wrong with stories?  

Absolutely nothing as long as you are telling yourself the right stories and not idealistic fantasies.  Our ability to imagine is a God-given gift, but even the most beautiful of endowments can become twisted into misshapen delusions.  

Scott Gornto has confirmed this by saying that many of our anxieties and problems in relationships all stem from a single place: “The stories we tell ourselves”.

We love to tell ourselves stories because fiction is a lot easier to live with than facts. Perhaps this is how legends are born, by simple facts that through many years and countless revisions from faulty memories become iconic tales.

We become the story we tell ourselves.

The story we tell ourselves about our life experiences can become as powerful as reality even to the point where they influence our identity.

In the story we write, we may cast ourselves as a hero who constantly tries to conquer life challenges, a victim at the mercy of life, a hopeless orphan who fears rejection, a princess waiting to be rescued, or an outraged citizen who wants justice. Our story can be one of fear, anger, confusion, etc.

“We filter the future and edit the past to fit our preferred narrative.” Scott. H. Young

The point is this: God has given us the ability to write a story we later tell ourselves, but what we end up writing is often unreliable and idealistic, something that eventually seeks to bend our life to fit an unrealistic script.

Know Who Is Telling The Story.

It is comforting to know that there is a story much greater than my own. There is my story, and there is God’s story. My story began the day I was born, God’s story began when the universe was created. My story changes with the wind, God’s story never changes.

Becoming the story God tells.

Embracing God’s story is more than dismantling mental strongholds and vain imaginations the Bible speaks of - It is embracing God’s overarching story. God’s story in a nutshell is this:  He created us to walk with Him, we fell as a race and were separated from Him, Jesus came to reunite us with Him forever. In between the two “Edens” lives the life and death struggle to get there. God doesn’t promise a painless journey, but He does promise to those who trust Him that He will work out “all things for good”. When we understand this larger story, it helps give context to all the smaller stories that happen to us because we are able to see God’s redemptive hand in the process. God’s bigger story helps us to see that pain is not pointless when placed in His hands.

When you try to make sense of things in your own mind, you create a speculative untruth that brings you into fear and bondage. The word of God (Where His story is told) helps us to separate fact from fiction bringing our story into alignment with God’s. This means not “leaning on your own understanding”, but God’s.

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BEGIN TELLING YOURSELF GOD’S STORY?

You exchange wounds for scars. 

Pain is not some random pointless tragedy that happens upon us. And even if the pain has no explanation, because of the overall story of God, we know that He brings good out of suffering. He recycles our pain into something with which we can help others who are broken.

You find comfort in knowing how the story ends. (Spoiler alert – redemption wins)

“The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God” Revelation 11:15

There is a real future beyond the daily fictional story we are tempted to believe. The beauty of God story is that you cannot rewrite it. From Genesis to Revelation, the beginning and the ending have already been written.

It is a fact that our inner voice will never stop manufacturing stories. It is an inherent part of our creation, but by God’s grace, we can choose to embrace His story for us.

A Wasted Heart

You might’ve heard the recent tragic story of a teenager who was given a new heart only to lose his life following a high-speed police chase.

When 17-year-old Anthony Stokes was first diagnosed,  he was initially given less than a year to live without a transplant. His doctors had advised against the procedure because they felt he would not follow through with the post-op regimen.

After public pressure, the hospital caved and put Stokes on the short list for heart recipients. Unfortunately the doctors were proven right when, two years later, Anthony Stokes carjacked an elderly woman’s vehicle, led the police in a high-speed chase, and crashed his vehicle into a pole, ending his life.

The sad part about this story is that Anthony Stokes vowed that he would change his ways if given a new heart. He only had his new heart for two years when he died.

Having a new heart cannot fix our spiritual heart.

It is our nature to make vows we cannot keep, especially when under pressure. Call it survival, or the pragmatic convenience of the moment, either way we all make promises we don’t have the power to keep.

You cannot help but wonder how many heart transplant candidates felt outraged at such a waste of a precious gift they could’ve had? It is obvious that Anthony Stokes did not understand the gift that had been given to him.

This sad story also tells us that receiving a new chance is not enough to transform us. Only a new spiritual heart can truly change our ways.

Jesus wept at the loss of opportunity when many around Him displayed such cold indifference to the “new heart” he offered them. “You did not recognize the time of your visitation”. Even though they had welcomed Him with a parade of palm branches laid at his feet, He knew that the heart of man is driven by sentimentality as tenuous as a leaf in the wind.  In just a short time they would be shrieking for his blood.

The Greater Tragedy.

In case any of us are tempted to judge Anthony Stokes, let’s look in the mirror first and be reminded of how powerful a force sin is, especially for someone without God.   We “believers” can often choose to remain in death in the face of new life being offered to us by Christ. We too can waste the transformational heart being presented to us in favor of doing life as we see fit despite the fatal consequences. We like Anthony can make vows of conversion to God in the face of fear only to forget them when we feel safe and smug.

Without a new heart, we will inevitably fall back into that default mode that leads to a fatal collision between our choices and their imbedded penalties. This is unavoidable and impossible to fix in our own strength. Only God can follow through with such a promise.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”.  Ezekiel 26:36

No oath or pledge proceeding from our lips will ever succeed in changing our nature unless they issue from a new heart. And a new heart can only come from the One who created us.

 

 

The One Thing you must never lose

When Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton attempted his famous quest to the Antarctic in 1914, he and his team never dreamed the expedition would turn into an almost three-year struggle for survival. Their ship, appropriately called “The Endurance” became trapped in the frozen waters where it crumbled slowly and agonizingly under the force of ever-shifting ice. The crew escaped with only the bare necessities and survived by living on large tenuous packs of ice that began melting with time. Eventually, lifeboats had to be launched in search of “Elephant Island”, an inhospitable place where most of them would await rescue. Shackleton left more than half his men on “Elephant Island” as he and a small team navigated 720 nautical miles in the most dangerous waters on the planet to the inhabited island of St. Georgia where they eventually found rescue.

In the darkest days of their struggle, Shackleton wrote in his journal that his greatest fear was not to die of the cold, from some animal attack, or an unforeseen disaster, but rather his greatest fear was for them to become demoralized. They could stand to lose almost anything except the loss of five simple words, “We are going to make it”.

Demoralization happens when we become disheartened and lose hope. We can encounter almost anything, put up with almost anything, endure almost anything as long as we have hope. Demoralization can exhibit itself in three different ways.

Resignation:

Resignation is simply when we quit inside our hearts and stop caring about what’s important. This may not be readily discernible on the outside, but can be identified by a subtle loosening in areas where we once held a strict code.

The high levels in our standards and disciplines we once held ourselves to now become slack when we give up. There is also a general dullness that occurs. Any vibrant activity that once put a spring in our step is now muted by the loss of hope. Gloomy routines replace once passionate life goals. And like a hobbit, happy in his reclusive hole, we become vexed by anyone around us who has high motivation and passion.

Escape:

Running away from ourselves is another way of showing that we’ve become demoralized. We seek out any avenue that takes us mentally, emotionally or spiritually anywhere else but “here”. We will do almost anything that distracts us from looking in the mirror. We become Escape Artists who avoid responsibility and intimacy. We can escape into a bottle, a drug, a toxic relationship, or some illicit forms of diversion. Even though escaping is ultimately self-defeating, we still tend to do it.

 Reclining:

By “Reclining”, I mean that we get comfortable where we are, oblivious to how close we are to inner death.

It had been over two years since Shackleton launched his ship, “The Endurance”, on the famous voyage. Shackleton and his team had finally landed on St. Georgia Island but still had to cross some treacherous mountain terrain on foot as they pressed their way to a well-known shipyard. Shackleton decided that he and two others would set out from where their boat had docked, leaving the rest of their team to make camp and await rescue. The impassable terrain left the three men so drained that they had to stop and rest. They plunked down wearily on the frozen tundra and almost immediately two of them were fast asleep. As Shackleton began dozing off, a dreadful feeling came over him - the feeling you get when something is terribly wrong and you can’t put your finger on it. He began to feel warm and cozy (a sure sign of hypothermia) and realized that they were freezing to death. Shackleton shook himself awake and saw that he had only been sleeping five minutes. He woke the others telling them that they had slept half an hour, and that they need to get moving. The men did not realize at that moment that Shackleton saved their lives by not letting them die in the warm but deadly bosom of comfort.

The expedition, now more famous for their perseverance than for their failed voyage, survived because they refused to become demoralized during their long ordeal.

The “take away” here is simple: Lose anything and everything, but never lose your hope.

 

What Force Dominates You in this World?

 Augustine once wrote of a disturbing dream he had in his young days when he was obsessed with Cicero and the art of rhetoric and debate. In the dream, he thought that he had died and was at the gates of heaven. The keeper of the gate asked him, “Who are you”? Augustine answered, “I am Augustine of Milan”. “What are you?”, continued the keeper. “A Christian” responded Augustine. “You are not a Christian,” said the keeper flatly, “You are a Ciceronian” (meaning a disciple of Cicero Rome’s greatest orator).

The keeper explained that people in this world are estimated not by what they call themselves, but by what dominated their life in the last world.

“YOU CANNOT ENTER HERE” answered the keeper, and Augustine was shocked awake.

We don’t need to have an alarming dream to ask this crucial question. What is the force that drives my life? Is a pursuing success, riches, or material possessions? Is it seeking significance, fame, justice, or philanthropy? In America, the word “Christian” has come to mean many things other than being a follower of Christ. It has become the symbol of political conservatives and anyone who espouses views juxtaposed to liberal values. In some places, you are either a Christian or a Catholic, a Christian or a Muslim, and your passport is stamped accordingly. But what is stamped on one’s documents is a poor test to see if it is the dominating force of their life. For those who work for God, this applies most. God, who was once our passion, can become our “JOB”, and what we once did for the cause of Christ can now be no more than rigid professionalism.

Jesus stated that it’s more important that God knows you then that you claim to know God.

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me,
you workers of lawlessness’.
Matthew 7:21 –23

After the unsettling dream, Augustine resolved that for the rest of his life, the dominating force that drove him would be Christ. We cannot separate the supreme force that drives us from the destiny that becomes us. So what is the force that dominates your life?

Four signs you need to go to the "Other side"

 

One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake."
Luke 18:22

In my last blog, I said that “THERE” is the place where God wants you to be. When I say “THERE”,  I mean the place where your next season lie - where your next level of growth, breakthrough, and success is. We often stand on this side of a mountain looking over the gorge to where we need to be (on The Other Side) and ask the question, “What is keeping me from going over  THERE?”.  The ugly reality is that there are hindrances in our lives that can keep us from traversing the distance to the other side - Things like habits, character flaws, attitudes, unhealthy patterns, and even great skills that might have worked in the past but will no longer work in the present or future.

Here are four dead giveaways that you need to go to the other side.

You’ve hit a ceiling.

Like the four characters in the story “Who Moved My Cheese”, Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw  have run out of cheese and can go no further. In human experience, you hit an invisible ceiling. All forward movement has stopped. Growing, stretching, and reaching for new goals has settled into commonplace. Your gifts and talents are no longer adequate for where you must go.

The ceiling sounds something like this: Is this all there is? Is this is as good as it gets?,Is this as far as I can go? All I will ever be?

These kinds of questions betray the fact that we have reached the end of a cliff and notice for the first time the giant gap of where we are and where we need to be.

What worked then doesn’t seem to work now. 

You’ve honed your skills, mastered your craft, and seen success, but now something is different. No matter what you try, you are not breaking through.

The strongman Samson relied on his past success of “shaking himself off” from the feminine wiles he was prone to and as the Bible puts it “go out as he had gone before” - Relying on his past success however led Samson to lose his superhuman strength and even his eyes.

It is said that when World War II started, America joined the war but did not do as well as what was first imagined. They had the 17th largest army in the world then. In many cases, the soldiers were using the same weapons and tactics from the last world war - WW1.    

You might’ve heard of Ellis Coleman The Flying Squirrel.  On several occasions, Coleman executed a takedown by jumping over his opponent and grabbing him as he flew over his back. Coleman became a sensation with this innovative move and became a champion on a high school level. However Coleman lost in the first round of Olympic competition to Ivo Angelov of Bulgaria by a 3–1 score.  Ellis’s Flying Squirrel move worked on a high school level winning him the district title, but did not work on an Olympic level.

The David and Goliath story is no different. The arrows and spear were good against wolves and lions, but they would not work with the hulking Goliath because what got David to that point in his journey would not take him further.   

You do things out of compliance but not out of commitment. 

Do you have the same passion today that you did 10 years ago - whether it is for God or life or for what you do? When we are just complying, there is a staleness to life.- predictability and boredom. Compliance cannot take you to the next season – only commitment can.  Compliance is a skill issue – Commitment is a heart issue.

With compliance, passion becomes replaced by mechanical numbness, but there is a haunting voice inside us that says we were meant for much more.

You have grown in your gifts and talents but not in character.   

Success can become a problem especially if we grew in skills but not in heart.

Some of the most talented people have destructive character flaws. Starting a race and looking like a superstar while you run is one thing. It’s entirely another thing to finish the race well.

Just before Israel took The Promised Land, God commands them to take the lea:. “Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today” (Deuteronomy 9:1).

Then, in Chapter 10:12 -22, God charges them to circumcise their hearts (before they cross the Jordan). In the end, people will remember more how you acted than what you accomplished. After all, what good is it going over to the other side if you don’t have the character to live there?

 

Growing to where you want to Go

 

Sometimes our honed skills can be our greatest limitation.

I heard Steven Spielberg once say in response to an interviewer’s question, “Why did it take you so long to make the movie ‘Schindler’s list’?”. Spielberg’s answer was, “I wasn’t mature enough to make the movie”.  In a way, he was saying that he needed to grow to where he wanted to go.

Imagine you have climbed a mountain. Upon reaching the top, you see a foreboding gorge in front of you separating you from the next higher mountain you want to reach. You realize that perhaps the skills, talents and abilities that got you this far may not get you to that mountain – That something fundamental has to improve or change in the way you climb mountains if you want to go any further. In fact, the tools, gifts, talents, and abilities we used to scale the last mountain can actually prevent us from conquering the next mountain we face. Our past methods can become immortalized and inoculate us against the need to adapt to future challenges. 

 “THERE” is the place where God wants you to be – Where you need to be – Where your next level of growth, breakthrough, and success is. There are also hindrances in our lives that can keep us from traversing the distance to the other side. What keeps us from going THERE are habits, character flaws, attitudes, and even great skills that might have worked in the past but will no longer work in the present or future.

For instance, being a good violin player is not going to get you over the canyon and to the other Mountain. Nor is being a good swimmer, or champion skateboarder. Even being a good mountain climber may not get you over there, because what is required now is to be a great mountain climber. And a great mountain climber with heart. This is where character comes in.

Have you ever known people whose talent got them very far, but their character flaws prevented them from going “there”?  A person can have an incredible gift to organize, but a temper that keeps sabotaging their relationships. Someone can have a golden voice, but a life-controlling problem that continues to disable their personal momentum. Or a great leader who can’t seem to control their sexual appetite.

"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7

It is said that Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.  He was also immoral, irresponsible, and extremely vain.  He wanted to be hailed not just as a great architect, and not even as the greatest architect then living, but as the greatest architect who had ever lived.  Could it be that PRIDE kept Wright from being truly great? From negotiating the chasm to where character exceeds skill? And yet that is exactly what happens when our abilities outpace our integrity and we see these talents as the pinnacle of who we are. That pinnacle takes us to the edge of a crevasse separating where we are from where we need to be. We know something is missing, and that it has to be more than skill that gets us to the other side. We must grow to where we want to go.

The rich young ruler in the Bible is a perfect example of this. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to be a disciple”? Jesus answered, “Have you done A, B, and C?”. He answered, “I’ve done all these things from my youth”. Jesus’ response to him dealt with character. “You lack one thing, go sell everything you have and give to the poor and then you will have riches in the kingdom”. But as the story went, the Bible says that he went away sad because he had many possessions. It is obvious that the rich young ruler had acquired great skills not only in producing wealth, but also in exercising religion. But those skills would not get him to the other side. What was required of him was something more elemental, something more personal – The surrender of his heart. He had to be willing to grow to where he wanted to go.

“What matters, what Heaven desires and Hell fears, is precisely that further step, out of our depth, out of our own control.” — from “A Slip of the Tongue” (The Weight of Glory) Lewis, C. S. (2009-03-17

In my next blog, I will share telling signs that you need to go “There”.

Mistaking Shadow for Substance

You might have read the Aesop’s fable about a donkey and his owner who were walking down the road.  They passed a traveler who stopped them and asked if the donkey was for hire.  The owner said, “Yes” and he agreed to have the donkey carry the man to the next village. The traveler climbed up on the donkey and they set off.  The day was hot and about half way, they decided to stop and rest.  The only shade they could find was under the donkey. Both men tried to fit under the donkey but there was not enough room.  “I should be the one to sit under the donkey,” the traveler said.  “I paid for a ride on the donkey.” “No,” said the owner.  “You paid to ride on the donkey, not to sit under the donkey.  The donkey’s shadow belongs to me.”

On and on they argued.  The donkey got tired of listening to their quarrel and wandered off.  When the men finally stopped arguing, they found that the donkey and his shadow were both gone.  Adapted by Jean Warren from an Aesop Fable

The moral of the story is this: We often lose the substance while we fight over shadows. In other words, we fight about unimportant things while important things are lost.

The Substantial versus The Insubstantial

A question we should ask ourselves is, “What am I fighting for”? and “Is what I am fighting for something real or is it a spectral silhouette like the donkey’s shadow?”

We can often fight for rights while ignoring responsibility, exercise doctrinal purity while neglecting the poor, protest violently while ignoring The Golden Rule. We can articulate our case like Cicero before the Republic and miss the “heart of the matter”.

And as Christians, we can bend converts to our doctrinal penchants while not making real disciples who follow Jesus, but instead creating something entirely different (Matthew 23:15).

We can even fancy ourselves “Defenders of the Faith” like The Knights Templars in their striking white mantles contrasted with a red cross, who in their day were among the most skilled fighters in the Crusades.  Some modern-day defenders of the faith can turn a phrase and wield Greek and Hebrew like a Jedi, but the question remains: What are we fighting for? Leonard Sweet said:

 “Christians seem to be more interested in developing a better argument to defend God than in living lives that are more devoted to God. Statements of faith get more attention than consistent lives of faith. Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost, and His solution to the problem of sin was to sacrifice himself. God didn’t send us a symposium; God sent God’s Son”.

 When we lose sight of what the real fight is, we make war on shadows while the real problem walks away and the world witnesses a fractured Church.

Am I fighting for something that does not need defending?

We take seriously this injunction for doctrinal purity given in Jude when he said unequivocally to Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”   (Jude 3).

 But with it, we suggest this element as described by something Charles Spurgeon said:

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” (Charles Spurgeon).

The Bible does not need defending any more than the laws of physics need one more ounce of proof to affirm their validity.

Setting the Lion loose.

I love studying the Bible - the context of a passage, its history, demographics, and its original language. But is it possible to love propositions more than the Word? To love the thrill of putting the eternal truth into a beaker for analysis? There has to be more than this. The more is found in encountering the loving and living God.

I once heard the story from my mentor who passed away a long time ago. A close friend was being trained on how to identify counterfeit currency. They spent many days analyzing every nuance concerning paper money - the quality of paper and printing, every angle-shade effect and sharpness - Although this person never once saw a counterfeit dollar, their focus was on the real thing.

In an article called “How to Know Your Money”,  the United States Secret Service gives pointers as to how to detect counterfeit money. Among the description, one statement stands out: “The counterfeit portrait is usually lifeless and flat.”

I believe that if we lift up what is real and substantial, the illusion will be exposed as lifeless and flat. Instead of giving such a high platform to the insubstantial, we magnify the substantial – JESUS.

Although I believe it’s important to point out some of the glaring aberrations in wrong theology in our day, to make that the business is to focus on shadows and not substance.

“Is not My word like a fire in like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29)

 

 

Discovering the Moment

We Live In Moments.

Poet Cesare Pavese once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

Look at the past year of your life and you’ll see two or three “moments” that you will never forget - Experiences whether good or bad that will forever etch themselves into the patchwork quilt of your life.  
This is why there is something about new beginnings that we love so much. It’s a time where we can move beyond the foibles and unpleasantness of the past, have a fresh start and do things better than before - A new season to reconsider old choices and habits, possibly replacing them with new ways of doing things. Maybe your conscience is flogging with things you did or said, or how much time you wasted last year trying to run away from your life. Perhaps you went through a season where everything rushed past you like a bullet train and you are struggling to make sense of what just happened?

We are never more lucid, never more alert to the moment, than at the beginning of something new or at the threat of losing something old. This is why we enter new seasons with a new energy, focus, and promises to do better. We recognize the season as a moment heavily-weighted with possibility.

Notice The Moment.

Albert Einstein offered a practical reason for the existence of time: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.”

Time is a gift given to us so that we can experience the full breadth of life in all of its shapes and forms. What happens when you open all of your senses to what is around you - Not only your five senses but your spiritual sense – that faculty that goes beyond where science can take you.  You begin to discover that these moments are more than a ruthless clicking metronome marking time and tempo while you slavishly struggle to keep rhythm. When you stop and consider what is around you, you realize that nothing is really commonplace, mundane or unworthy of your consideration. Every moment contains the kernel of the real and alive. Every moment is a gift in which we can notice or ignore, receive and take, steward or squander.

Why do we seem to notice moments after they have passed? Those we’ve had the experiences with are now resigned to our fond memories? It seems that the closer we get to losing those experiences, the closer we come to treasuring the moment.

When I have traveled abroad, for some reason that is the time where I most appreciate the moments I spend with my wife - The way she walks into a room, the things she laughs at that I will never understand, the stray curl that lays over her temple. Why do I have to be thousands of miles away from her to notice these things? Because it is in our nature to tick off the seconds and minutes and hours of time while unaware of the splendor that is in the moment.

Embrace The Moment.

Some see time as an enemy - as something they have to outrun, outwit, or cleverly manage in order to survive. But just as the Greek Orthodox worshiper sees encountering the Holy Trinity as joining a dance, so embracing the moment is like coming into step with life - Knowing that God orders our steps at every moment if we are willing to engage him in it.

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;”
Psalm 37:23

It is important that we do something with our moments and never be guilty with doing Nothing. Life is not about being enslaved to the relentless march of time, but about giving yourself to the moment.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,”
Colossians 3:23

Time’s enemy – Indifference.

The greatest challenge against us is not how little time we have but how little care we have for the time given to us.  We become bored, not because life is boring, but because we have become blind to the wonder around us - the beauty that calls to us, the simplicity that beckons us away from our complexity.

Isn’t this what living is? Not just toiling from sunrise to sunset, but noticing the sunrise, and the sunset. Not just marking days, months, and years, but stepping into the series of moments with your heart - and capturing these moments, not by recording them with our devices, but by being there with our full being.

 

The Devil is not in the details

 

What a way to live!

Most of us have heard the saying, “The devil is in the details”. No one really knows exactly where the maxim originated, but what’s more important is what it implies.        In essence it means that small things unnoticed within our plans and schemes can cause life-changing problems. Where this can be true from a practical point of view, it should never become a tainted lens through which we view life. 

This simple proverb has sadly become the motto for the way many people navigate life -  Living as if they have to outrun or outmaneuver this cunning adversary because of some miscalculation. We live fearing as if we have missed something, as if somehow we have been outfoxed by an undiscernible foe - and if we miss the smallest element in our battle of wits, things unravel. Even religious people can experience this - It’s called legalism. If I miss one iota, one “jot or tittle”, I’m in for it. If I didn’t pray “just right”, say the words just right, do my duty perfectly, I’ve missed it.

Whatever your tradition is, this kind of thinking puts an unnatural burden on a person’s heart and psyche. There are certain things that we were never meant to carry - weights that we were never designed to support.  

From a Christian point of view, this popular saying has no grounds for a couple of reasons:
If the devil were in the details, then it would mean that he possesses the same attributes God does. He would be omniscient and, like God, know everything.

According to almost every theological school, this simply is not true. It would also mean that the devil controlled the future (fate) the way God does, making him omnipotent or all-powerful.

Even a simple reading of Scripture shows that good and evil ARE NOT a duality the way you see in Star Wars, with each having equal power, each vying for supremacy with one side winning some of the time, and the other side winning at other times. With God, we have the beginning and the end of the story.

God is in the details

As vastly infinite and all-powerful as God is, to our wonder He is still interested in the smallest particulars of our lives. Matthew 10 says it well,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Matthew 10: 29–31

It is a powerful thing to know that the smallest parts of your life are not trivial to God. No detail, regardless of how mundane, painful or shameful, escapes God’s attention. He sees us through each one, lifts us up through them, and most of all, loves us through them. After all, how can someone know us with such impossible scrutiny and not love us? You may be reflecting on some of those details right now and wondering, “How could God really love me because of A, B, C?” Remember the Star Wars example? Just because good and evil are not on the same footing does not mean that evil is not at work seeking to taint even God’s plans.

Do you see it?

The question isn’t “Is God in the details?” - The question is are we willing to see it? Do we only notice evil in its smallest forms and nuances clinging to every part of our life like dust on a coal miner, or do we see a great big God in the least of things, or as the Psalmist declared, “My times are in your hands”? God is in the details.

There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not to recognize Him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly….”

Buechner, Frederick. Listening to Your Life:

7 Attitudes that Hinder from being Thankful

Have you ever wondered where thankfulness comes from? Does it come from having things like health, a spouse, a family, or a great career? Does it come from owning a big home or a  fast car? Most would agree that if thankfulness came from these things, then un-thankfulness would also come from not having these things. A materialistic culture might make such assumptions, but the meaning goes deeper than the matter that passes through our hands.

I am convinced that both thankfulness and un-thankfulness are ways of thinking. Both are a choice of how we see God and the world.  Both can be fostered or inhibited.

Here are 7 attitudes that can hinder us from being thankful:

1. Being possessed by our possessions – Greed  

The “stuff” God allows through our hands is the test of whether or not that “stuff” will have us, or whether we can just have “stuff”. The constant drive for more in a materialistic culture will keep us in a constant unthankful state because we never attain what we think will make us happy. Jesus warned against being defined by “stuff”:

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

2. Fixating on the past.   

Some are stuck in a cycle of time. They cannot be happy today because of happened yesterday. Psychologists call this "rumination. It’s when cows chew on their cud, chomping over and over without swallowing. Psychologists say that    

when people ruminate, “they repeat negative thoughts over and over, dwelling on something either in the past or the present” (Psychology Today).

Un-thankfulness says, “Look at all the bad things that have happened to me all these years”, but thankfulness says, “It’s been rough but look at what God has done through it”. Paul, not fixating on his prison cell, said:   “I know that this shall work to my salvation”.  

3. Playing the comparison game.

We compare our looks, our bodies, our incomes, our families, our spouses, our homes, and our careers with others. We see a “perfectly” built person on TV and instantly (to our dismay) match ourselves up.

The quickest way to have a bad day is to compare yourself to others. It is the quickest way to feel depressed, inadequate or a failure. Comparing ourselves only embraces a spectral fantasy. In fact, we cannot imagine a hero without varnishing over their flaws and imperfections. Thankfulness however embraces our reality as is with gratefulness and says along with the Psalmist,

I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14

4. Dwelling on the negative.   

It has been said:

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”  (Peace Pilgrim quotes).

When has focusing on the negative ever helped you in any way? Dwelling on the negative drains every part of you, but thankfulness creates spiritual vitality and lifts you up in every way. God gives us life-giving things to dwell on in these words:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Philippians 4:8

5. Looking only at what you don't have.     

We tend to measure our lives by lack - what we don’t have - Lack of having the perfect job, people’s praise, lack of the things we want, or relationships. We believe that if we don’t have these things, we don’t really have anything. We equate blessing with the amount of "things" we have so that when we lose X, we lose everything. This is why Hebrews tells us:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5   

6. Believing things that are not true.   

“What did he/she mean by that”?. “Did you see how he looked at me”? “The doctor is going to give me the worst case scenario”! “How can God love me if I went through that that situation?”. These outlooks underline the fact that there is what really happened, and then there is the story we tell ourselves.

Did you know that there is a connection between un-thankfulness and believing untruths?  Romans connects these words:

"Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened”
Romans 1:21,26-27

When we are unthankful, it opens the door to thankless theories in our head. But true thankfulness always points you back to God and like the Psalmist insists:

“I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living”. 
Psalm 27:13

7. The Anxieties of Life   

When something intense happens – When someone says something hurtful - An interaction at work- Bad news or tragedy - These have the effect of dropping red dye in a glass of water. Everything becomes clouded.  The Word calls this “the cares of this world that choke out the Word”. Any confident thinking or attitudes become strangled out of you. But Paul gives us hope in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Philippians 4:6  

It has been observed that every letter Paul wrote except for Galatians , 1st Timothy and Titus contained thanksgiving in some way. No other writer opens with thanksgiving the way Paul did. So could it be that it wasn’t the miracles Paul did, the sufferings of being nearly stoned to death more than once, shipwrecked, or beatings that made Paul great. It was Paul’s mindset of gratitude in any circumstance.

 

Shadows and Substance

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4  

 

Filling in the blanks.

My first introduction to fear as a boy was when I mistook a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door for a hooded villain. It seemed that every time I ducked under the blanket awaiting my doom and stole a furtive peek, the villain grew in size. Unbeknownst to me at that age was the mind’s ability to exaggerate fear. Our minds have an incredible penchant for filling in the blanks created by our obscured sight. Our imaginations can draw fatal conclusions from shadow-skewed scenes giving the insubstantial more credence than it deserves. These shadows stalk us in our daily journey as we navigate relationships, experience tragic events, face work-place issues,  juggle change and loss, and on the list goes.  These experiences can cast threatening silhouettes that temp our minds to complete the vague picture in a pessimistic light. We blow up out-of-context words a coworker said at the factory.  We suffer 1,000 death scenarios of what we will do after a life-debilitating illness or divorce.  Or maybe we run ahead of a doctor’s call for tests with wild fantasies of what it could mean.

These profound mental and emotional reactions often occur because what we saw became exaggerated by shadows.  Shadows cast our perceptions in a cold and menacing light. They give illusory power to mundane things, tricking our minds time and time again.

 

Are we afraid of a cause or an effect?

In “the valley of the shadow of death”, shadows represent the darkest, scariest places we encounter - Spiritual places where you can’t see your hand in front of your face - Tangible darkness that you can feel. Shadows obscure sight, exaggerate the threat, and create unwarranted anxiety.  Shadows make substantial that which was never meant to have substance.  Because of shadows, what began as a seed-thought sprouted into a monstrous apparition.  But how much of our fears are unfounded because we have been reacting to an effect (shadow) instead of a substantial cause?  Remember the story of David and Goliath? David’s people Israel were unnerved by the giant who was described as 9½ foot tall fully armored foe. A detailed description is given in I Samuel 17. After processing the threat, Israel’s mind did the rest, resulting in panic and cowardice. I call this “The Goliath Syndrome”. The effect he had on everyone surpassed the cause. This is proven when David - a teenager - killed him with a small stone, breaking the enchantment. The effect is only greater than its cause because our minds make is so.

The Shadow Chaser

One of the most comforting phrases in Psalm 23 is about what the shepherd does in the valley of the shadow of death for those who trust Him. This is the comfort they receive:  “For you are with me”.  Only light can dispel the shadows.  Through the Shepherd’s presence, we see shadows for what they really are.  The Wizard of Oz's curtain is drawn back and we realize how hollow the threat was. We see the legend our minds created and are left with the real picture. But even though the true picture may seem bleak, it’s always better to have light and reality than shadow and myth. God is the shadow chaser. He pulls back the gloom and lets in the light, chasing away the things we thought had substance. The beauty of this scene is that when we discern the reality for what it truly is, we discover along with David , “for You are with me”.