Category: How We Grow

Can I make Jesus Lord ?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

What happens when someone tells us “You need to make Jesus Lord” ?

First, we feel guilty because we know how far we fall short of obeying Jesus in all things. But then the preacher tries to get us all pumped up with the feeling that yes, we can do it if we decide to surrender to Jesus. We might even be invited to come forward while “I Surrender All” plays. We feel euphoria coming over us and get on a spiritual high, feeling that, this time, we can do it.

I remember one service where, before internet porn, the pastor put a dumpster up front, told the men to go out to  their vehicles, bring in their dirty magazines and throw them in the dumpster.

But I’m afraid that attempt, even if done with good intentions, didn’t really get to the heart of why the guys had the magazines in the first place. So after the spiritual high wore off the guys would buy replacement magazines and then feel more guilty than ever. This gloomy pattern of failure occurs because it all basically revolves around what we think we have the power to achieve.  Thinking we can, on our own, make Jesus Lord of any area of our life is trying to do the impossible.

Is there any way out of this mess ? Yes there is ! Here’s the secret : Jesus already is Lord. He’s a member of  the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father has appointed him Lord !

When I bow my knee, I don’t make him Lord, I simply acknowledge that he is Lord.

I don’t need to worry and  obsess about my own efforts falling short anymore. Instead I can do what Paul commands when he says to

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12b-13)

Since the Lord God is already working in me,  I simply want to line up with what he is doing.

So the answer to whether I can make Jesus Lord is “NO.”

But can I have ever-increasing fruitfulness because he IS alive and IS working in me and IS my Lord? The answer is “YES!”

Not Worth Praying About ?

whirlpool

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

My prayer life was geared to saving up praying for the Big Stuff. Like, it would be silly to pray for a parking spot. But this past winter the Spirit started to prompt me to  pray for small things.

Let me give you two examples that kicked this off.

First was a computer fix, my wife’s laptop looked like it was dead in the water. Instead of taking it right to the repair shop, I felt led to pray for  an easy solution…so I Googled and found out  that sticking a paper clip into  a little hole on the back of her computer might work…then…answered small prayer… the computer came back to life !

Second was buying the right Christmas tree. I was pretty sure the little trees at our nearby Acme  would be all sold out, so I was already asking my wife  “Where will we look next?” But then came a leading to pray for a tree anyway…….and lo and behold there just happened to be one left….

Praying for the computer and the tree was fine but these little prayers pointed to something more important as they showed that I needed to pray about something else that I thought was little.  I am talking about a bad attitude.

My worst attitude is when my thoughts get filled with vague grumbling,  murmuring, or complaining. Before, I had not viewed that kind of low-key whining as even worth praying about, since at first glance it seems like no big deal. But God takes grumbling seriously, and complaining leads to falling into a vortex of negative thoughts— thoughts that revolve around me and what I deserve and how I should be treated….then I become like the little critter being sucked into the whirlpool in the picture.

But praying for the Lord to change my whining thoughts reverses the whirlpool…I head up and away from it being all about me and increasingly towards — loving God and people !

What do you think is not important enough to pray about ?

Me, A Righteous Man ? Are You Kidding ?

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.(Hebrews 11:7)

A number of years ago our church leadership said I was godly enough to be put on the list of those who were allowed to serve communion.  I was puzzled by it. Why did they think I was godly ? I was so aware of my many  shortcomings …. and figured that being godly was to be on a spiritual plane higher than I was on.

Well, over the following  years I have gotten a better idea about what it really means to be godly. Ironically, to understand what it means to be godly I needed a better understanding of what it means to be an idiot.

To explain how I can be both an idiot and godly, let me throw a Latin term at you : Simul justus et peccator. This means simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

Noah was called an heir of righteousness — even though he got drunk as a skunk.
And David was called a man after God’s own heart —- despite committing murder.

In today’s scripture verse, notice how Noah had faith first, and then righteousness was added. We go nuts if we try to do it backwards, and try to be righteous  without first moving in faith. No wonder I struggled to see myself as godly as long as I was thinking it depended on my own futile efforts !

Now let’s look at a command from Paul :
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians  4:1)

Paul welcomes us to one of those wonderful Christian impossibilities :
On my own, no way I  can obey the command to live worthily. But propelled  by faith, I can now  begin to live worthy of Christ. And then  it’s not that I am Mr. Righteousness, but rather it is the righteousness of Jesus living in me !

Do you realize you need to live by faith instead of  your own efforts ? Then — by the power of Jesus working in you — you are worthy of being called godly.

Revenge or Grace ?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
 Jesus wept.
 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”( John 11:33-36)

Lazarus was dead.

Mary was weeping because Jesus did not heal Lazarus in time to  prevent his death. When Jesus saw Mary’s  weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled. And the Bible’s shortest verse follows : Jesus wept.

I’ve known that Jesus experiences our weeping and sadness at what goes wrong in this fallen world.  But in this post, I wonder : Does he feel all of our emotions along with us ? Here’s what I mean: Say someone wrongs me and I am filled with rage, bitterness, and a desire for revenge. Now, Jesus does care very much about how I react, but I  don’t think he feels it with me when my emotions lead me to feeling that someone needs to have their face punched in !

I reflected on how Jesus reacted  to Judas. Surely Jesus mourned at what Judas did but here’s a temptation he probably had but did not give in to —- he did  not get all miffed  and say, “How dare Judas do this to me…after all,  I am the son of God.—I’ll fix him !”

This insight into Jesus’ compassion has helped me  with  my disappointment at a recent miserable ministry mess. Some individuals behaved in a very divisive manner. While knowing I should be forgiving , I felt  resentment, bitterness, and anger.

But then I started  to understand  how Jesus was looking at my situation. Yes, he shared my sadness and sorrow at the disunity in our group. But  he  did not share my  spiteful feelings and  he asked me to turn from my sinful resentment.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb 4:16)

So I know that as I struggle with harsh feelings, I am able to approach Jesus in the midst of it to receive grace instead of seeking revenge.

And what a wonderful overflow comes when this happens : I now have a surplus of the Lord’s grace to pass on to you !

Heart or Brain ?

Heart or Brain Cut

Today’s blog post was inspired after a recent vibrant and lively meeting of  our men’s small group. We talk about serious truths of the Lord — but we also joke and tease each other as love grows amongst us as brothers .

Heart or brain ?  Love or truth ? Which one  drives you ?

Here’s how I  lean : I appreciate how much the gospel contains good ideas and concepts and doctrine. It’s truth. But I face a danger : even though truth is the most important part of what the gospel is,  it’s easy for me to slide into making  truth expand into  being all that the gospel is. Then, the gospel is reduced to being only a list of propositions to believe  or a set of rules governing  behavior. That’s rather cold, isn’t it ?

Other folks lean the opposite way. They are awed by and overwhelmed by God’s love, and filled with enormous compassion. They say, “The only law is the law of love.” But then they can slide into making love all that the gospel is. When this happens, just about any action is OK if it “feels like” love.

So, how can we join heart and mind, truth and love, together properly ? I think Isaiah gives us an idea.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

In this passage Isaiah volunteers after seeing a vision of God and his holiness. I don’t think you would ask Isaiah whether he was  driven by his head or his heart. No, his experience of God had both ; it was a call on Isaiah’s total being.

Isaiah received coal  on his  lips to symbolize his purification from sin ; and for us Jesus’ death on the cross purifies us. Due to this cleansing, we are able to push forward on Jesus’ mission :  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians  4:13).

See how Jesus blends truth and love together ? We humans like to organize everything in life into little compartments —including the Lord himself ! But our God is not compartmentalized. We can’t split out either love or truth from the grand totality of who God is.  Our powerful encounter with the Lord Jesus drives us to serve him fully with heart and brain !

Can Christians Cure Cussing ?

Let me begin today’s post with  a clarification. There’s a modern trend that says that Christians should be free to cuss in order to be  “authentic.” I am not advocating that trend in this blog post.

But I do want to warn against putting too high a priority on having clean language, because over-emphasizing language implies that  being a Christian means we need  to “clean up our act.”   When that happens, we force ourselves not to cuss. We keep our cusswords bottled up and we stifle any vulgarities from coming out of our mouth.

But the problem with stifling ourselves is that it prevents us from dealing with the underlying heart attitudes of envy, anger, etc. which often do spew forth in cussing.

Matthew 15:10-20 talks about the interplay between our outer stuff and what is in our hearts. Here, the Pharisees were ticked off at Jesus because he criticized their emphasis on conforming to outer rules of behavior.  Specifically, they asked why Jesus did not follow their handwashing rituals.

Jesus replied by saying that the heart is more important.

“ But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

I think Jesus’ words suggest that when we try to throttle cursing by our own willpower, we are putting on a nice outer appearance while avoiding dealing with the evil stuff which lurks beneath.

Take a guy I’ll call Seething Sam, who has quite an anger issue. Usually he has enough will power to bottle up his anger but eventually  he spews enraged expletives when he does not get his own way.  But what if, instead of trying to put a lid on things, Sam repents of being an angry man?

If he repents, Sam can stop suppressing his evil thoughts and start to see how Christ’s way can  renew his mind and begin to replace his evil thoughts.  He begins to understand how the spiritual gift of self-control works. Instead of Sam struggling to put a stopper in his bottle, Jesus, by grace,  replaces the vicious and murderous  thoughts he is bottling up with  the freedom to love, edify, encourage, be patient, etc.

As that kind of gradual grace-fueled  biblical change proceeds, Sam’s volcanic eruptions of vulgarities  become less and less frequent.

In my church we have a group of men in a Christian community  called Battleground who are very helpful in achieving change.  How so ? The group is not interested in  portraying a nice Christian image where our bad stuff is all bottled up or secret. Instead, we are seeing that curing cussing (or any area of our Christian life that needs repair) is like dealing with a weed. Do we only cut off the leaves on a weed or do we choose to pull it out by the roots ?

Good news : When we repent and want more than the mere appearance of righteousness, the Lord graciously transitions us from mere outer change  to deep-rooted, spirit-filled heart change.

Sheep Without a Shepherd

shep 3

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

When I, then an agnostic, heard the good news and believed the gospel, it was a life-changing event. Indeed, God instantly took away a kind of alienated rage that I often felt. But the Lord had much, much more work to do in me yet.

I had plenty to learn about what it meant to follow my shepherd and to hear his voice. And some of this learning took a long time. As just one example, it took eight years to be cured of my smoking addiction. And my training is still going on today.  Why do I still need that ? Because even after all these years part of me is still addicted to wanting  my own way.

Here’s how the Apostle  Paul presents the sequence of first believing the gospel and then  making every effort to live it out:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.  (1 Thessalonians 2: 8b,11-12)

Today we often think of the Christian life in overly individualistic terms. Once we’ve believed and come to faith, we try to  live a private Christian life. But Paul challenges this solitary mindset, with a compelling comparison of how being Christians  is like being part of a family.

Two thousand years after Paul,  we are asked to live Christian life in community, sharing our lives as well.  What does this kind of community look like for 21st century people ? How can a more experienced  believer share life in Christ with new believers , encouraging them and comforting them ?

It’s through this family sort of community, called koinonia in the Bible,  that we  progressively  grow out of being harassed and helpless. I think we’ll be growing together in seeing  in how to live this out.

It’s my prayer that koinonia grows in all our churches.