"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Entertaining Choices

It is very easy for us to devote our lives, an hour or two at a time, to being entertained.  Movies, games, sports, television programs, hobbies, eating out, vacations--none of these things are necessarily wrong in moderation. But when we let being entertained become the focus and the goal of our lives, we neglect our mission: to make and mature Disciples of Christ to the glory of God.

When our lives become all about entertainment, we forget our goal, our destination. A wealth of entertainment options can be used as a friendly attack by Satan. We are not openly persecuted much in the United States, but we are seduced into forgetting the great commission of Christ: to go out and make true disciples.

In Deuteronomy, God (through Moses) warned the children of Israel that their coming prosperity might be spiritually dangerous:

6:10-12) When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large flourishing cities you did not build, 11) houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12) be careful that you do not forget the LORD,  who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

In the United States, we enjoy a lot of prosperity as a nation. We need to heed the same warning. As our wants and desires are satisfied, we need to be careful not to forget the LORD, who brought us believers out of spiritual slavery. I’ve heard it said that if you look at your calendar and checkbook, you will see what matters most to you. Jesus taught that we should think twice about where we store our treasure:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19-21

Jesus reminds us that this life is brief and inevitably crumbles, but eternal rewards last forever. I sometimes imagine that I am throwing my heart ahead of me, into heaven where Jesus is.

 Colossians 3 repeatedly encourages us to set our minds on eternal things, saying:

 “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2) Set you mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

That’s a great one to memorize or to write on a sticky note. There are so many shiny things competing for our attention, and so many voices trying to drown out the voice of our Shepherd, we need to be intentional about keeping our focus.

Hebrews 12:1-2 exhorts us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, where it says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”

The writer reminds us that Jesus lived against the tide, even dying a criminal’s death, for the sake of the eternal joy the Father set before him. He had to have his eyes on eternity (and not this world’s value system) to do that.

These Scriptures all point to an eternal perspective, and that’s what I am trying to emphasize in the book, “Milestones: On the Road Home.” We have a short time here on earth to invest in eternity. So I encourage asking ourselves questions as we map out our days: What will I contribute to the eternal Kingdom of Christ today? Will these activities build anybody up? Will I invite anyone into relationship (or closer relationship) with Jesus? Will my activities today please and glorify God?

To offer a very practical idea, I use and recommend sticky notes where people will be reminded every day (on the mirror, by the coffee maker, on a computer screen, or on the next page of the calendar) with a question like: How will I serve today?

There is a time for rest and refreshment, of course, and that is fine and even biblical (Luke 5:16 often; Luke 6:31 rest). But the thrust of our lives is to offer our very lives to God:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breaking Through

When you feel the nudge of God to do a thing, to use your gifts to build others up and to glorify God, and you hesitate to do it because you fear failing, getting hurt, being judged or being misunderstood, those are examples of fear getting in the way of living fully for the King. Some people are very aware of their fears, others may tend to get irritable or angry or depressed, but underneath is fear. So it can sometimes be tricky to identify. Asking yourself, for example, “What am I feeling besides anger?” can help you identify the more vulnerable emotion behind it the anger. It will usually be hurt or fear, and even when it is hurt, there is usually fear that the hurt will happen again.

 As a counselor and as someone who has dealt with a lot of fear, I have come to the conclusion that one step is accepting fear as a God given emotion. Without it, we would walk into traffic or into the jaws of hungry animals. A rush of adrenaline gives athletes, performers, firefighters, policemen, soldiers and everyday citizens an edge to do their best. Successful people have learned to channel the fight or flight response into a healthy sense of fight, not flight. “I can do this, God is right here!” Our praise team has often discussed that we do better when we have some butterflies going in. So by welcoming it, we short circuit that potential “fear of fear” that feeds panic and anxiety attacks. Courage is not  the absence of fear, but the decision that something else matters more than fear.

More significantly, the reason we face our fears, as God’s children, is to do his will. In stepping out on faith, we do our best and let the Holy Spirit do his work in us and others. Focus turns from our own fears to the will of God and the needs of others. People need our gifts. Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 speak to the interdependence of God’s church:

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul has just encouraged them to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, conforming no longer to the pattern of this world. He goes on to say:

“4) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, 5) so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

Ephesians 4:11-12) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12)to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.

These passages show it is God’s will that we use our gifts to build one another up. I need your gifts and you need mine. So, God is eager to answer our prayers to empower us to do his will. That is more important than our fears.

Courage is feeling fear and doing the right thing anyway. If we are full of confidence in self, where is there room for God to work? Thank God that you need him, and that he gives you challenges that require you to count on his strength and not your own! That’s the adventure of following Jesus!

Breaking through:  Often involves taking small faithful steps in the general direction of our goal. So for example if your goal is public speaking, you might read a scripture or lead a small class or discussion on a special occasion. Leaning hard into God, listening for his applause, being gracious with yourself as you make progress, meditating on his promises, remembering that others need your gifts and message,  all these things come together over time to cast out unhealthy fear.

Some helpful promises to claim:

Psalm 56:3

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

In God I trust; I will not be afraid.

What can mortal man do to me?”

This Scripture includes 2 steps: 1) acknowledging the fear, and 2) choosing to trust God and his Word.

Isaiah 41:10

“So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

This verse reminds us of God’s presence (I am with you), of his relationship with us (I am your God), of his willingness and ability to strengthen us to do his will (I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand).

Philippians 4:13

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

I think it’s important on this one to acknowledge that the context of this verse, (what Paul was talking about when he wrote it) was being content in every situation (whether living in plenty or in want). He was testifying that he could be content, no matter what, because God strengthened him.  That is the interpretation of the verse. In application, I believe it means that we can do anything God wants us to do. It is not saying that God will strengthen you to do selfish things you have dreamed up for your own profit or glory, rather that he will empower you to do his will. So going back to identifying fears that are blocking God’s will for your life, if you become convinced God has something for you to do for his kingdom, he is ready, willing and able to empower you.

A note about easing into things: Sometimes, in his timing, God throws us into the deep end (rather than easing us into things) giving us a large audience right out of the gate. When he does this, he knows best and he meets us there. His grace is always sufficient for us on the day and hour we need it, to empower us to do whatever he asks of us.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Look Up Radio Interview, June 2013

Here is today's radio interview including themes from "Milestones: On the Road Home." It was hosted by Cheryl Ott and broadcast via internet on Look Up Radio.


I found myself saying some things that surprised even me, so I guess it was a good interview. I pray God carries his message to hearts he has prepared. Amen!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Two Paths

I remember when we first moved to Dallas from Topeka. I was driving a little rental truck with our few pieces of furniture, clothing and books. In our efforts to find the seminary neighborhood, I went a little too far and, landed in what is affectionately called "the spaghetti bowl" for its tangled loops of asphalt. As a result, I got off on the wrong exit. I found myself in a sketchy neighborhood.

In the theology and philosophy of many these days, there is no wrong road, there are no wrong turns. As in my initial Dallas adventure, the Apostle Paul insisted, one is either on the right road or the wrong road:

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, which transforms our lowly bodies, so that they will be like his glorious body." Philippians 3:17-21

Paul first refers to "the pattern we gave you." This is both in teaching and the way Paul lived his life. His ultimate priority, his only goal, was to glorify Christ and to bring the good news of grace and truth to as many people as possible. Christ was glorified, not only in the teaching and writings of Paul but, also in the selfless way he lived his life. He willingly left behind position, power, prestige and privilege in order to become all Jesus wanted him to be. Here, he encourages his readers to follow the same pattern.

This pattern is in stark contrast to another path that some take: to live as enemies of the cross. Paul speaks of the destination of these people with clarity and with tears. Like God, Paul does not want to see people walk headlong into destruction. The mindset of these people is "on earthly things" (see Colossians 3), their god is their stomach (hedonism), and their glory (earthly fame) is their shame.

In contrast to this path to destruction, Paul comes back to the path of his redemption: a citizenship in heaven, eagerly awaiting a Savior (the Lord Jesus). Christ has the power to bring everything under his control (to ultimately redeem everything) and, even to transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorified body.

This letter is written to believers who are in need of some joy. Joy is theirs to have and enjoy, but, losing their focus for a while, they have let their minds and hearts slip into the pattern of this world, to dwell on earthly things. These things may bring bursts of happiness, but biblical joy is found in knowing our destination. That destination comes quicker than we think, and it lasts forever. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He alone holds your destiny, hope, and joy.