Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Content in troubled times

Many were saying that we lived in troubled times even before the pandemic. Now after two years of this we now realize that we haven’t even begun to see the limits of our troubles. So we are starting to long for the days before the pandemic, despite the fact we once called them troubled. With that being said, take a moment to reflect on this passage.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.-Philippians 4:10-19

We often see verse thirteen quoted by itself. Leading us to think he's talking about being a miracle worker. However, when we read this in context with the realization that this was written from prison, we can see that he is talking about something else. That the passage is about perseverance and being at inner peace despite his lack of physical prosperity. I bring this up because it seems rather apparent that many are not living up to Paul's example through our pandemic prison, among other things. Social media is flooded with dissatisfied people complaining about every little thing right now. Not that I am saying we shouldn't do what we can, but complaining doesn't count as getting involved. If it did, the Bible wouldn't condemn the practice. So how and why are so many believers justifying their sinful grumbling. It could be a sign that they are actually putting their hope in the physical world, and not in Christ. That they are following the sinful nature of the flesh, instead of the Holy Spirit. Relying on their own strength, not God's.

Complaining is much like a contagion itself. It spreads from person to person, giving the people who feel the same way permission to grumble themselves. Uniting people through toxic actions. Which in turn inspires the people who feel differently about it to complain about the complainers, compounding this vicious cycle. With suicides and overdoses on the rise, the last thing we need to be doing is stoking the fires of ill content and toxicity.

Consider this. Paul went on several mission trips, yet we only know a few sparse details about them. Yet, the epistles that he wrote from prison have touched the lives of millions over the course of centuries. God clearly knew where Paul's strengths were, so perhaps He allowed Paul to be imprisoned so he could focus on his writing. So a big part of Paul's purpose was fulfilled in less than comfortable circumstances. Yet if Paul gave into an ill-content spirit, and just complained about his less than ideal situation; it's doubtful that he would have been such a prominent figure in The New Testament.

So ask yourself, where is your heart in all this? Are you wanting to do what is right, or just be right? Do you want to serve the greater good or just your own comfort? Holiness is never really served through self-centered unrighteousness after all, no matter how well-meaning. So I ask you, are you putting all your hope into things returning to normal? As well as engaging in a toxic cycle of complaining as if that will help the situation. Or are you putting all your hope in Christ, and letting him lead you into a state of inner peace despite the situation? As well as the genuinely constructive things you could be doing with your time. Either way, I would challenge you to read all of Philippians chapter four, as well as James chapter one, so you can see an example of how a disciple should conduct themselves in troubled times.

And do not grumble, as some of them did —and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! -1st Corinthians 10:10-12

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. -2nd Thessalonians 1:4


a man standing tall as he guards his jar of clay from toxic people


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Community?

One constant I have seen in most churches in recent decades is an emphasis on small groups. With almost every push, there seems to be an attempt to rebrand as well. Despite what you call it, people see it for what it is, a Bible study. I seriously doubt that changes in name only really have much impact on attendance.

Granted, the church is meant to be a community of believers supporting one another; hence the emphasis Yet many are struggling to make it happen. Apparently, there is more to it than just throwing people together and expecting things to happen naturally. Yet, few are facing the obvious obstacles, and just keep doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results. So I think it's past time that we take a step back and consider the why. While I already did a post about group dynamic killers back in 2014. So let me offer the idea, that community has changed drastically since Biblical times. While people may be basically the same, our relationships with each other have not stayed the same. It shows in our damaged sense of community, and that damage trickles down to our spiritual well-being as individuals as well.

When The New Testament was written, it was still very much an agricultural society. As it had been for thousands of years and would remain so for over a thousand more. Back then a strong sense of community was necessary for survival. Then came the Industrial Revolution. While it brought more people together geographically as more moved into cities. However, the shift in culture and technology allowed people to be more self-sufficient, so the need for community was not as strong as it once was. As technology progressed into communications, face-to-face time decreased, and our community ties right along with it. While all these technologies may be convenient in bridging long distances, it also opens us up for widening emotional rifts between us. That is especially true with the recent technology of social media. In some ways, it helps us maintain connections, in others, it has divided us to an alarming degree. The disconnect we have over the internet makes people less inhibited with their tongues, so we have seen a significant decrease in our tact. (James 3:1-12) We will spend hours debating issues with someone a hundred miles away, but we may not even know the name of the people living across the street. As a college professor of mine once said, any form of communication that strips away nonverbal queues like body language, or inflection in voice is a perfect format for lying and deception. So it's no wonder social media has been deemed toxic in recent days. My point is, it's going to take more than putting people in the same room to create community. Relationships take time, there are no shortcuts around that. That is especially true for emotionally wounded people since they tend to be extra cautious about letting people close. While technology has made us more independent from a purely physical standpoint, that has not translated to the emotional and spiritual at all. So our resulting shortcomings in our communities have led to far more unmet spiritual and emotional needs.


a man feeling left out of a place he doesn't fit into


Another shift we have seen with this change is our obsession with privacy. Most of the laws made concerning privacy have come about in the last 50 years. While I'm not saying privacy is Inherently a bad thing. But, how are believers supposed to hold each other accountable without some transparency? I'm sure our attitudes towards privacy have only created an illusion that things are better than they are, while in reality people are living lives of quiet desperation. Causing us to assume that we are the only ones struggling. If we would just strip off the whitewash and the judgmental attitudes we might actually be able to help and support one another as we work out our salvation. Instead of forcing everyone to go it alone.

Excuse me for pulling a politician by defining a problem but offering no finite solution. But, I honestly don't know what the answer is. When it comes to that interpersonal branch of intelligence I'm definitely on the low side. So those more gifted with relational communication need to recognize that it does not come as naturally to everyone as it does them. Once they accept that, they may realize they do have something very valuable and needed to offer the socially awkward members of the church community. That they can help without just judging and criticizing them. Believe me when I say that the aloof have endured that their whole lives, and it only poisons them to the idea of community. Regardless, I'm sure there is no quick fix. This all happened gradually over centuries, so it won't be undone overnight.

With that being said, all the leaders of the church need to be asking the question of community-level healing and stop pretending that there is no problem. I can't be the only person who sees this nor should I be the only one praying about it. So I challenge you to pray and meditate on this idea. The future of the church depends on it.


a group reaching out to a broken person

The word "religion" comes from the two root words "re", meaning "again", and "ligios", meaning "connection."  "Religion" literally means to connect again what has been separated.


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Set Apart 2

As I said last time, many have told me "they don't know what their purpose is" or "they don't have any talent." While our society definitely has its issues with self-awareness and wholeness, I'm sure that many of these people have a better idea of their purpose than they let on. God's fingerprints are on our hearts after all, even if they are hidden behind scars. So let's have a closer look at some of these obstacles.

God leaving his heart shaped finger print in his creation

There has been this college ad running everywhere that says “the world in which we live equally distributes talent.” However, the parable of the talents tells us otherwise. (Matthew 25:14-30) Such falsehoods lead us to compare ourselves to the most talented people, which kills our faith in ourselves as God’s creation faster than anything. (2nd Corinthians 10:12-18) This has only escalated in the Information Age since we see all the top of the field thrust in the limelight. Often leading us to not bother, thinking we can’t compete with the best of the best. But since when is the kingdom of God a competition? However, the initial distribution of talent should be irrelevant, since regardless of what we start with, the parable also reveals that talent can be multiplied and improved. A person of lesser talent can easily outperform a more talented person if they simply put in more effort. As a local trade school used to advertise forty years ago. “It takes more than talent.” A truth the impatient don’t appreciate. So level of talent is not a valid excuse.

There is another truth that seems to escape many in and out of the church. That being, the world does not equally value talent. Not every skill will make you a celebrity or earn you a 100k salary. So basing our success on worldly virtues, or on envy factor isn’t necessarily going to lead us in the right direction since it’s more about self than holiness. God will unlikely bless that, so our efforts are bound to fail. Such failures often lead us to project the opposite extreme on the next generation. A work to exist only mantra. While it may have the appearance of being more responsible than living for self, we were still meant to live for so much more. People do not live on bread alone, and there is more to holiness than just righteousness. Until we realize this, worldly standards of both extremes will infiltrate our lives. Meaning we will shun the talents God has really given us simply because no part of the world around us values them the way we want. Despite that being set apart for purpose is a key part of holiness. Regardless of what scripture reveals about spiritual gifts, as well as the structure of the church. (Body of Christ) Even with scripture revealing all this, the church still often exalts some gifts above others as the world does, and often values practicality over faith. Like I said upfront, we often have a better idea of where our talents lie. We just can’t see the value in them since we are looking at them through the eyes of the world, not God’s kingdom.

. . .But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. -1st Corinthians 12:24a-25

So if you have ever used the excuse of "I don’t know what my purpose is" or "I don’t have any talent." I urge you to take a long hard look at yourself then humble yourself before God. He may not address the issue of purpose directly, but rather in the underlying issues further back in the cycle of holiness, like righteousness and wholeness. So as I said in a previous post, expect anything when you pray, not just an easy-to-swallow answer wrapped in a bow. A person who lacks wholeness or righteousness will naturally have a hard time accepting God's truth about what we are really set apart for if they don’t align with worldly notions about life. Ultimately the transformative cycle of holiness is there to prepare us for purpose, or build the foundation for our mission. A mission that leads others to the same wholeness that leads to your purpose. So I urge you yet again, don’t get ahead of yourselves. Focus on the damaged and incomplete parts of your heart, then the purpose you were set apart for will start to come into focus.

A man trying to make an ill fitting purpose into his heart which points him away from Jesus



Thursday, January 6, 2022

Set Apart

I spent a better part of 2021 emphasizing the most neglected dimension of holiness. So I thought it would be good to follow up with at least a few posts about the second most disregarded dimension. Specifically where we have fallen short in the application of it. 

Back in 2002, Rick Warren stuck a cord with his book. The Purpose Driven Life. The concept definitely fits into the neglected third dimension of holiness. That we are set apart for a special role in the Body of Christ. This is not only vital to achieving the spiritual prosperity that is three-dimensional holiness. It goes a long way toward our ability and desire of maintaining righteousness for more than just a moment.

However, with that being said, it is still but a single leg in a tripod. It cannot stand alone. So it's no surprise that Warren's forty days of purpose left many people feeling lost. I have heard people say, I don't know what my purpose is, or I don't have any talent countless times. So let me remind you if you really don't know what you are set apart for, it's probably a righteousness problem. It's only by walking the path of righteousness do we start to become like God, and can get close enough to him to discover that level of revelation. Just as if we struggle with righteousness, it's probably a wholeness problem.

So many struggles we have in our walk as disciples and in holiness is that we plain get ahead of ourselves. Maybe the church itself is even perpetuating the problem by pushing people to do more than they are ready for since they are that desperate for volunteers and church growth. Not that I am saying you have to achieve a certain level of perfection to help. Just don't confuse good in general for the specific purpose you were set apart for. We all got to start somewhere. Jesus put his 12 disciples to work pretty quickly, and they were far from perfect. However, he was there to walk them through it. Are we doing the same in our church, or just telling them the final destination without showing them how to get there?

Consider this, King David wanted to build the first permanent temple. However, God told him no. There was nothing particularly wrong with King David’s desire to do so, it just wasn’t what he was set apart for. That was reserved for his son Solomon. So David had to respect that. Yet David had to take a step in that wrong direction to get a revelation about it. As I said already, there is a difference between good in general and the specific good you were designed for. (1st Chronicles 17)


Also the apostle Paul was specifically set apart to bring the gospel to the gentiles. (Galatians 1:15-16) Yet he didn't always stay on that specific track by preaching to Jews as well. Yet, the pattern we clearly see is that when he focused on gentiles, his efforts were blessed. When he strayed from that path, the results were often less than blessed. Again, there was nothing wrong with him having a heart for his fellow Jews. It's just not where his God-given talents lay, so it wasn't what he was set apart for. It's a common part of the learning process; we sometimes have to make the wrong choices to realize what the right ones are. As well as to realize what makes the right choices right for us, and the wrong choices wrong for us. Yet, we often make a bigger mistake by refusing to try without absolute assurance of success. Who knows what God will have to resort to, to work through you, if you're not actually doing anything?

Are you getting ahead of yourself in your search for a purpose? Or just the opposite, lagging behind because of inaction?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Wholeness: Make A Move

When I first started this series, I had maybe three or four posts in mind. Nearly one year and 50+ posts later here I am finally wrapping up; or am I? Every time I think I get close to the end, more ideas would suddenly be there. Whether this is the last official post or not, I'm sure the concept will come up again. It's just that important. But, somehow it seems right to wrap up just after Christmas since the Messiah is the gateway to new beginnings.

There has been a surprising amount of posts that deal with the why not just the how. Then again, the how is irrelevant if we refuse to move forward just because we can't see past our preconceived notions about the why. I honestly believe false assumptions of many varieties are a big obstacle to true discipleship and spiritual growth. Not to mention that how often involves facing things we just assume avoid when specifically addressing this subject. Wholeness can only happen as inner wounds are healed after all, and those inner wounds are indeed the primary obstacle to genuine righteousness. As Isaiah 61 reveals the Messiah came to proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners. I'm sure the language is as figurative as it is literal too, Jesus was always just as concerned with our spiritual well-being as our physical one. The poor in spirit are held captive by more than just physical chains after all. So Jesus didn't just come to "should" us to death with a systematic definition of righteousness without actually equipping us with the means to live up to that standard as the legalists do.

Jesus bandaging the chest of a brokenhearted man

I have also seen other teachers around me delving into some of the same outlying ideas as I have. What better confirmation that the spirit is moving, and seeking a remnant among the mediocre masses.

Let me leave you with this. Back in the 19th Century emerged "The Holiness movement" an ideal that centered around entire sanctification, and perfection. Yet, here in the 21st century, this notion of perfection is often viewed as impossible, even in the denominations that sprang from this movement. If we acknowledge only one dimension of holiness, it is quite impossible. It's like raising the walls on a house before pouring a concrete foundation. The house is inevitably going to be weak, and prone to damage and rot. This seems to fit the state of the church universal right now I'm sad to say.

Maybe it's time to call for a new holiness movement. One that embraces all three dimensions of holiness, and doesn't try to skip over the transformation process it takes to become genuinely righteous. Or just tries to apply a merely cosmetic surface faith. True full spectrum holiness is what we truly need for a genuine revival that will delight and inspire the lost again. This is clearly what this broken world so desperately needs right now. I suggest you start with yourself and face the brokenness in your heart that makes you captive to the ways of darkness. So you can find true wholeness in a way that makes people take notice and say to themselves “I want what they have.”

Someone noticing something radiant about one of the three people in front of him.



Friday, December 24, 2021

Wholeness: Abide

As I begin to wrap up this series, let me make one thing perfectly clear, if I haven’t quite done that already. It is very easy to get the goal of holiness mixed up with the means and exercises it takes to become holy. Consider these words of Jesus and what they reveal about the result versus the means.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prune so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.-John 15:1-10


We do not mature as disciples by forcing growth. Instead, the fruitful Christian life is the natural result of focusing on Jesus in a sincere way, and being mindful of his inevitable "pruning" in our lives. (James 1:2-12) Just as we cannot force trees to produce fruit overnight, we cannot coerce holiness by enforcing a definition by the strength of the flesh. (1st Corinthians 3:6-7) Our main goal in discipleship is to abide in Christ or dwell with Jesus to use simpler terms. By actively seeking Christ, we find the path to wholeness. By enduring the path to wholeness, we eventually arrive at the path to righteousness. As we walk the path of Righteousness, the path of purpose in God's kingdom which we are set apart is revealed. Thus, the cycle of three-dimensional holiness is engaged. Are you truly walking with Jesus, or just observing from afar?


A man walking with Jesus by the sea



But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. -Matthew 6:33

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” -Matthew 19:25-26


I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-14 (written from prison FYI)

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Wholeness: Cyclical

The other day I was reminded of why I am putting so much effort into this series when I saw an Instagram post that said something like “Christianity isn’t about joy, prosperity, or fulfillment, but holiness.” If this person truly understood the full scope and cyclical nature of holiness he would realize that holiness is spiritual prosperity, and that leads to joy and fulfillment as we find our place in God’s kingdom. Such a bleak perception of the gospel. A perception rooted more in human understanding and pride than righteousness. Which only delights and inspires those who want to claim religious superiority over others, not help the lost as we were set apart for.

It also took me back to a previous series Complexity where I address the atheist claim that religion is inadequate to answer life’s complex questions. If we oversimplify holiness and only address it as a standard of righteousness, we need only define and enforce the standard. Which is indeed inadequate to truly counter mankind’s fallen nature at its root. This is also how things like love, forgiveness, and grace get neglected. Leaving the gospel incomplete and too simple to address life’s difficulties. Without grace and what goes with it, Christianity really is no different than any other simplistic pagan belief. The question is, why are so many trying to make Christianity more like the other beliefs of the world?

So let me lay out the cycle of holiness for you so you know what I mean by spiritual prosperity. We need to first find wholeness to live the righteous life since it’s our brokenness, that derails our ability to live the way of righteousness. As we walk the path of righteousness, our purpose for which we are set apart comes into greater focus as the spirit guides us. (Psychologists have found that those who seek a meaningful life are much happier than those who seek happiness for happiness' sake do. Not all psychologists appreciate these findings, especially those following the unproven theories of Abraham Maslow. Yet the evidence doesn’t lie, living out your philanthropic purpose does indeed lead to more fulfillment than self-centeredness does.) As this cycle is engaged we are in a better position to maintain our wholeness. Maintaining our wholeness means we are in a good position to maintain our righteousness. If we continue to maintain our righteousness, we can put more energy into what we were set apart for, and actually expand God’s kingdom as a result.

It takes three elements to produce this cycle. Try to leave anything out, you will stagnate. Or worse yet find yourself in a self-destructive cycle, causing you to believe that there is no room for, joy, prosperity, or fulfillment in your one-dimensional overly simplistic faith. Which has only driven people away from the church in droves. You often hear people say we need to break self-destructive cycles. But perhaps what we really need to do is replace it with a holy one.

Jesus calling a scared man from a chaotic cycle to  a holy one.



The Visual PARABLEist  

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. -Psalm 19:8

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.-Psalm 41:1

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” - Acts 5:32

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. -John 16:13