Self-defeated

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*Image from Generationchurch

There exists a conflict that runs the length of the Bible. I’m not talking about the wars to take back the promised land or even to defend it from the Assyrians or Babylonians. Neither am I referring to the struggles to throw off the oppressors in the book of Judges. Nor am I speaking about the war to end all wars in the book of Revelation.  I am talking about the one that began within the very first humans and continued in every human after. The conflict is with ourselves.

I will be right up in the front of the line with those arguing in support of spiritual warfare. It’s all over the pages of the Bible and all through the years of everyone’s story. However, where I tend to veer off is when I hear people passing along what I consider too much blame.  Let’s be clear, the devil doesn’t make us do anything. The buck stops with us. We make the choices that steer our lives, for good or for ill. We choose whether or not to sin. We choose to believe lies or seek the truth. We choose whether or not to get educated on why we believe the things we do. We choose to hate or to love. We choose to forgive or to hold on to offenses. We choose how to let the things that happen to us mold us. There are rare occasions where people can be possessed. Jesus set several people free from demons during His time among us. But that does not translate to the vast majority of our stories.

The good news is, all of us can have victory over ourselves. What I  mean by that is, our natures can change. How we view our existence can all be commonly viewed through the same lens. Our experiences do not dictate our place in this world nor our value. Our origins (being made in God’s image), our purpose (to be with and love God forever), and one extreme act of love (Jesus giving His life for us) can change everything for you and me.

When Jesus was addressing the churches in the book of Revelation he made a statement to each one about how to have victory. Not all of the churches were following Him as they should. Just like not all of us are following Him as we should. But He left that beacon of hope for every single one of us.

Jesus said, “To him who conquers…

  1. I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev 2:7 (ESV)
  2. will not be hurt by the second death. Rev 2:11 (ESV)
  3. I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Rev 2:17 (ESV)
  4. I will give authority over the nations. Rev 2:26 (ESV)
  5. will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Rev 3:5 (ESV)
  6. I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Rev 3:12 (ESV)
  7. I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Rev 3:21 (ESV)

What are we conquering exactly? We’re conquering the enemy (the satan) by not listening to his lies or modeling his character. We’re conquering life’s circumstances by not letting them dictate our own view of ourselves. We’re conquering the world by choosing a higher path and not conforming to the patterns of godlessness celebrated in the world. We’re conquering persecution and trials by enduring till the end. And we’re conquering sin by not choosing it and repenting in the times we fail. This sounds like a heavy load and tremendous responsibility. But it comes with an incredible series of promises to all those who give their lives over to Christ. The even greater news is, we’re not alone in this endeavor. As Paul tells us in Romans, our life circumstances cannot separate us from the Love of Christ. The times we fail to glorify Him don’t even separate us. When we choose Him, we are His. We can rejoice in that security and the strength that Christ gives us to be conquerors in His name.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   Romans 8:35-37 (ESV)

On our own, we will be self-defeated. But through Him, we are more than conquerors! rejoice, believer, and go and live in that freedom.

Christ-like, not us-like

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

It is, always has been, and always will be the purpose of God to mold His creation to be more like His Son.  In allowing God to do this for us we must die to ourselves. That’s a concept that is both strange and frightening at first. We must live this life from the perspective of who we are in Christ. We are either taking steps towards this or away from it. We know the general direction God wants us to go and He is forever doing His part by guiding us in that path. But it’s up to us to stay on that path. As Ephesians 4:15 says, we are growing in every way like Christ. That means we can’t have areas of our lives that we tell God that we don’t want Him to mess with. We have to refuse to hold back parts of our lives and must be committed to allowing God to have every aspect of our lives to transform us into the likeness of Jesus. Once we became believers the “self” died and Christ lived in us. This is Christ’s life, not ours and just as He died for us we too must sacrifice our selfishness out of love for Christ. We don’t do this as an obligation but as an opportunity to serve our Savior and show our love and affection for Him. The more we make life about Him and about others the more joy we experience in this life and the more our life begins to make sense on a cosmic level.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

ALL unto Jesus

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Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

Often times I have to examine my life to see if I am really doing everything to the best of my ability. That is about more than just my effort, it’s also about my attitude. This includes work, ministries, marriage, family, and friends, and most importantly: our relationship with Jesus. I think it’s important to remember that all good and pure things we do, we need to do with all our hearts as though we are doing it unto the Lord. It’s far easier to devote our time at church, our time in worship, and our time serving others to the glory of God, but how about the routine things of life? How about our jobs, or hobbies, and even the things we do want to do? Those things can equally be a form of worship if they are done in a way that brings attention to the person and character of Jesus. If we devote all areas of our life to God then imagine how much of a blessing we’ll be to others. If we can approach the tasks of life with a high level of gratitude and humility I think we’ll be amazed at just how much we can do all things unto the Lord.

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” John 6:27 (NKJV)

God bless loved ones!

We are but stewards, not lords

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Back when my wife and I hadn’t been together for very long we stopped at a Mcdonald’s to grab a bite to eat. We both got different things as usual. My wife decided she would like a bite of my quarter pounder so she asked politely, which I proceeded to reject her request. She thought I was joking at first until I looked at her with a very serious expression. Well, my wife has never let me live down this humorous, yet good example of selfishness. By the way, I share all of my food with her now when she asks.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  Luke 6:30-31 ESV

One of the character traits my wife and I work on a lot with our children is the desire to share what we have with others. It’s obvious to any parents that we are not engrained with this attribute from birth. Many never learn it in a lifetime. It is one of the most difficult traits to instill in someone because it fights against every bit of our fallen nature. From the moment we’re born until we breathe our last, the struggle is real when it comes to emptying ourselves of selfishness and pride. We walk around with a scarcity mindset like there just isn’t enough in this world to go around I have to get mine or else I’ll be left out. We’ve all been guilty of it. Granted, some are more predisposed than others to generosity but no one is predisposed to selflessness. Even the kindest and most generous people battle with this.

A phrase that I often use with my children, and try to live by myself, is that if we aren’t willing to share something we have then we don’t deserve to have it in the first place. Every time they hold back their toys I gently remind them of this. We are stewards of our possessions, not owners. One of my favorite movie serious is the Lord of the Rings. In the final installment, the wizard Gandalf rides to the great city of Ministereth. This city had been without a king for many years and was controlled by the Steward of Gondor.  Gandalf and the Steward have several choice words because Lord Denethor (the Steward) is a power-hungry snob who has lost sight of his purpose. As the vocal match draws to an end Gandalf looks him straight in the eye and says, “Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, Steward!”

Far too often we approach our possession in the same manner as Lord Denethor. God has placed us as stewards over this world and over the people and things in our lives. We don’t own our spouse, or our children, or our things. What we have is meant to be cared for not controlled. We can’t walk through this life with white knuckles, grasping so tightly onto things. In First Corinthians chapter four, Paul reminds us that we have nothing that was not first given to us. That logic can be applied to every single thing we have. Even if we purchased something, it was done with money that was given to us through the job, gift, or inheritance that was given to us. Nothing is ours simply by our own will and effort. There is grace in all we have. And that grace should not be trampled under feet by selfishness.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single thing I own that I would not share with another. Some things would be more difficult to share than others. Also, I am not saying I would share everything with everyone. I obviously wouldn’t let some sketchy dude borrow one of my guns or sleep in my house. We have to use wisdom. However, we are called to share with even the bad people in life.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42 ESV

There is sharing…and then there is sharing. We can let people borrow stuff we aren’t using or give away things that we no longer want. And those things are good. Great even. I think God is pleased with all sharing. But there is a type of sharing that is divine in nature. A type of sharing that costs us something. This is the supreme form of sharing that we should all aspire to. It’s choosing to give others preference. It’s allowing others to use, or even have, things that you still want. It is nothing less than an expression of love. And some take it to the extreme by choosing to lay down their own lives for others. According to God, this is the greatest expression of love. An expression that He Himself showed on the cross of Calvary. As we evaluate our lives from time to time, we need to remember that we are but stewards and not lords.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 ESV

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

 

Molding Miracles

It is an incredible thing to witness a life-transformed. To walk with someone so long that you see them become essentially a different person. It’s also amazing to be the one who’s life is redeemed. In general, it’s an absolute miracle that any of us bring God glory with our lives. Especially given the nature of the human heart.

I used to have a real problem when people would tell me that people are bad by nature. It seemed unfair. Aren’t people just corrupted by their surroundings? When it came down to it, I just didn’t like being told that I had a sin problem that needed to be fixed. I doubt anyone likes being told they are broken in any way. The truth hurts. It’s one reason some people took up issue with Jesus. He confronted people directly with their sin problem.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  Matthew 15:19 NIV

If our hearts are so full of horrible things, how do we have any hope whatsoever? How could a heart like this ever love God or bring Him glory? That’s the point of redemption…of the new creation…of Jesus. Humanity corrupted itself and day after day we add to the problem. We have no one else to blame but ourselves and none of us can ever hope to fix ourselves. The overabundance of self-help books (Christian and secular alike) out there would try to convince you otherwise. The only hope we have is surrendering ourselves to a force that can sometimes be difficult to grasp.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Psalm 37:3-6 NIV

Truth is, our desires are all out of wack. Besides those to love and protect and take care of those close to us. But even that can become unhealthy to the point where we value them above God. For the most part, we are the center of our desires. We want health over holiness, comfort over conviction, wealth over wisdom, and prosperity over progress. The things of God are a long shot from our deepest desires. Psalm 37 says the only way to change that is to make the Lord our delight. Not our safety and well-being. Not our career goals. Not retirement or a certain standard of living. Not recognition or personal goals. Nothing and no one can take the place of our greatest delight.

Here’s a convicting question that I heard someone ask a long time ago: would you be willing to give your life if the entire world could be saved? If the answer is anything other than yes, then God is not our greatest delight. The fact is, Jesus demonstrated God’s heart by doing that very thing. He surrendered His life, knowingly and willingly. For Jesus, the endgame is the redemption of a fallen world. For His followers, it should be no different.

My heart will never change until I make Him my number one desire. When that happens, the wickedness stated in Matthew 15 is replaced with a clean, wholesome, loving heart that wants to know God and make Him known more than anything. I’m not there yet, but in the famous words of the apostle Paul, I press forward. How about you?

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Don’t be a rotten fig tree

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.” Mark‬ ‭11:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This has been one of the oddest stories in the New Testament, for me, for so long. It just seemed out of place. But knowing that God has a unique design for everything that’s in the Bible I still knew that there was a deeper meaning that I was missing. When it finally dawned on me I became extremely convicted. That seems to happen a lot when reading the Bible.

Jesus used the symbolism of the withered fig tree to teach His disciples that the nation of Israel had become as spiritually fruitless as the tree Jesus cursed. The same lesson is important for today’s followers of Jesus to understand as well. A person can look spiritually healthy on the outside just as the fig tree looked good for bearing fruit. But the best indicators of spiritual health are a person’s faith in God and love for others (see vv. 22-25). We can certainly look the part and not be the part. More than anything Jesus renounced and rebuked hypocrisy in people who claimed allegiance to God.

“As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” Mark‬ ‭11:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

For all the people walking into churches and going to Bible studies yet aren’t producing faith and love and change in their lives are but a tree withering at the roots. We have to guard against complacency and apathy. We have to let Jesus keep our hearts soft and tender and open to others. We have to continue to grow in love and goodness. Let’s move forward loved ones. Let’s produce the faith and joy and wonder that this world longs to see.

“”You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬