Category: How We Grow

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.

Senator Blumenthal and Me

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

Watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, I disagreed with what some of the Senators said, but one Senator in particular took me beyond disagreement into angry resentment : Senator Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal said that if Kavanaugh told even one lie about his personal history, then he should be totally disqualified for consideration for the Supreme Court.  But there was a huge problem : this Senator was known for misleading  statements about his own personal history.

Since many of the other Senators had their own annoying traits,  I wondered why it was only Blumenthal who got me so riled up ?

Well, after watching the hearing, I went to a physical therapy session for my tender left shoulder.  I heard a fellow patient ranting bitterly  against Blumenthal, but I kept quiet. Later, though, I considered the  gap between  my polite outer exterior and my own secret agreement with that gentleman’s angry rant! Yes,  I like to project a certain  image…an even-keeled man who doesn’t express nasty, ranting  thoughts. But wait a minute —isn’t that a gap between how I present myself and what I am really like …. just like Blumenthal ?!

The Lord used my reactions to Blumenthal to switch me to dealing with my own deceit instead of ranting at his !

I am glad we have a Lord who is so patient with our inconsistencies! And he loves us so much that he engineers circumstances to expose them, so they can be corrected.

I can’t yet say I am just like Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel in whom there is no deceit. But by God’s grace I can say I’m willing to admit it when I’m being deceitful. Then I can pray for help in putting off two-faced deceit and putting on single-minded transparency and honesty.

I could never live up to that!

bingo 3

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

As Christians we’re called to do good, loving deeds.

I often hear of people who are constantly doing tons of loving things for Jesus. Then, an accusing voice tells me, “You could be visiting more sick people than you do…. And how can you even call yourself a Christian if you are not involved in a prison ministry?” It’s easy to start feeling insecure.

Where does that insecurity come from ?

Here’s the problem : If  my focus is on comparing myself to others I will always either  feel bad because I come up short compared to them or feel superior because  I think I am doing better than they are. If my measure basically revolves around me, I am trapped…….I need a remedy !

Thankfully, Paul points the way towards a solution :

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

I think Paul’s advice helps us both to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and also not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought.  For at the heart of this verse is getting rid of  comparing ourselves to others.

So, in faith, our small group looked for ways to serve in our town. A couple of activities we tried weren’t quite a right fit. But some people in our group had gone each  Christmas to sing carols and give out cookies at a local adult residential care home. So we began to wonder — how could we reach out to the residents during the rest of the year?

We started a monthly Bingo Night for them.  Now, for years, they always look forward to our visits and enjoy the games and prizes. And I love joining them, not grudgingly or under compulsion, but  propelled by faith and love.