On What is Best

old empty church pewsOne of the near universal traits of human nature is that we rarely want what is actually best for us.

We know we should eat more vegetables but they don’t taste as good as onion rings. We know, intellectually, that some fresh cut fruit and a bottle of water would be a good start to our day but instead we grab a Pop-Tart and some chocolate milk as we rush to our car. We know we should devote some time each day to exercise but we really enjoy our leisure time. We know we should balance our checkbook, clean our house and maintenance our vehicle but we just don’t. Furthermore, we know that most of our frustrations in life are the result of our negligence in those areas and yet we still don’t change. We want the comfort of a clean house and the convenience of a good running vehicle but not the effort and expense that is required to have those same things.

We trade what we really want for what we want right now.

We know what is best for us but we often settle for the tyranny of what is convenient, easy and acceptable. As author Jim Collins has aptly put it, “The enemy of great is good enough.” So we counsel ourselves into apathy with platitudes like, “Everyones house is dirty”, and “no one is in perfect shape”, and “I don’t have the time” when what we really mean is, “that would take more effort and discipline than I’m willing to exert”. 

We know more truth than we’re living. Unfortunately, this basic principle of human nature doesn’t stop at oil changes and ice cream but it affects our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We know we should we pray but instead we sleep in. We know we should read the Bible but we’ve got errands to run. I haven’t fasted in weeks, haven’t given in the offering and haven’t volunteered to serve but I’ve made time for the game, the meal out with friends and the new toys. I want a strong faith and a spiritually healthy family but I trade what I really want for what I want right now.

God is offering us everything we really want but we’re not taking Him up on His offer. We don’t seem to actually want what is best for us. We allow the hustle of life to rob us of the treasures available in Jesus and HIs kingdom.

John Piper says it well in his book, A Hunger for God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

It takes discipline, courage, and strength to seek what is best. So then, what is the cure?

The cure is to create disciplines and routines in your life that put you in places and around people that will support and encourage your pursuit of the things of God. Go to church, avoid environments and individuals that compromise your faith and disregard the truth of God’s Word. Set a day every week to fast and a time every day to pray and read your Bible. These habits and the people you surround yourself with will serve to encourage you to faithfully pursue the kingdom of God first and to trust His promise that “all these other things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

The great truth we often overlook is that Jesus doesn’t deny us the things of life that we want. In fact, He promises to give us those things! He simply reorganizes when and how they are acquired. They are moved from being the object of our pursuit, to the neglect of God, to becoming the result of our pursuit of the presence of God.

In Psalm 16:11 David declares that he has found “the path of his life”, “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”. Where? In the presence of the Lord.

Often the only thing that can pull us out of our apathy, and consequently birth an appetite for greatness in us, is a taste of what can be. Maybe this is why David challenged us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). He is what’s best for us and once you’ve tried what He has to offer you’ll settle for nothing less.

On Being A Child of God

teddy bears

I had been gone for a particularly long and exhausting day. When I walked in the door all four of my children and my wife were occupied.

My oldest child was reading a book. One of them was playing on an iPod and another with a toy while my wife was making dinner. All good things.

My youngest daughter, who is only 18 months old, was the only one who acknowledged that I had come in and she did so in a thrilling way.

She squealed. Then she dropped her toy and ran towards me. She wrapped her tiny arms around my legs and refused to let go.

I’ll be honest, I felt like a million bucks.

In that split second I heard in my head, “that is how Jesus wants you to see and enjoy Him.”

 

Jesus said, “…unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew‬ ‭18‬:‭3‬ MEV)

Teenagers and adult children often dislike the company of their parents and willfully avoid them. Little children are thrilled to see their parents.

“become like little children”

Teenagers and adult children will argue with their parents and challenge their beliefs and assertions. Little children believe everything their parents say.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children often want special events or occasions to spend time with their parents. Little children just want to be next to their parents all the time, or on their lap.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children tend to do their own thing, often without regard for their parents wishes. Little children will often do whatever they’re asked to do. All they want is to please their parents.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children want to do things on their own and try to figure out their way to accomplish goals and meet needs. Little children just grab their parents hand and hold on.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children worry and stress over needs, responsibilities and the future. Little children don’t worry about anything. They completely trust their parents to provide everything they need.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children only request reasonable things that wouldn’t seem an imposition of their parents. Little children believe their parents are able to make their wildest dreams come true. As a result, they ask for anything and everything, believing their parents will supply.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children develop personality traits that make it difficult to get along with family members and causes disagreements from time to time. Little children often love everybody and offer a smile to anyone who looks their way.

“become like little children.”

What would our world look like?

What would the church look like?

What would your family look like?

What would your heart look like?

What if we were to trust Him thoroughly, obey Him completely, worship Him singularly and love Him wholeheartedly.

What if we all were to “become like little children” and look at God as the good Father that He is.

A Good Reason To Humble Yourself

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (‭James‬ ‭4‬:‭10‬ ESV)

Being humble is much like being smart. If you have to tell people you are, you probably aren’t. It’s a quality much more often, and more easily, claimed than actually possessed.

The only one who could have sought glory or honor that would have been rightfully deserved came in humility. Jesus was God, manifest in the flesh, yet He came as a baby, born to young, poor parents, in a rural village, using a manger for a cradle.

Phillipians 2:5-11 says we should have the same mind as Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation and, humbled Himself to die on the cross. But because He humbled Himself, “God exalted Him”.

So often, in trying to lift our status or reputation in the eyes of others, we end up trapped by the sin of pride, which only serves to lower our reputation because of arrogance. Let God exalt you.

The Bible says God “resists the proud” but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). I’m confident I don’t want God resisting me. I want His grace. Therefore, knowing that God responds to humility, it is entirely necessary that I humble myself to receive His grace.

Into The Light

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But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (‭1 John‬ ‭1‬:‭7‬ KJV)

When my daughter was younger she often wanted to play hide and go seek. The only problem was, she played it backwards. She would put a blanket over her head and declare, “you can’t see me!”

She assumed that because she couldn’t see us we couldn’t see her.

I fear that sometimes we play hide and seek with God. We ignore His voice, disregard His laws, hide from His face, put a blanket over our heads and convince ourselves that because we can’t see Him means He can’t see us. But He can.

Hebrews 4:13 (MEV) tells us that “There is no creature that is not revealed in His sight, for all things are bare and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

No one and no thing is hidden from God. No matter how long you refuse to look at Him He is still able to see you.

We often hide from God because we either don’t want to submit to His Word or, like Adam and Eve did, because we’re ashamed of our sin. Adam and Eve created aprons of leaves to cover themselves but it was insufficient in God’s eyes. There’s nothing we can do to right ourselves in God’s eyes. The only way is to answer God’s call to step into the light and be honest before Him.

The promise of 1John 1:7 is that if we walk in the light, in honesty, confession, and integrity, we’ll not only enjoy fellowship with other believers but the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse us from all sin.

Neglecting The Familar

emptychair I won. I’ve finally won something on e-bay!

I won a cd for $1.49.

The cd was released in 1991. It was around the time that cd players became more affordable and more artists released their music on cd’s. I was 10 and remember getting our first CD player. It was the size of a small coffee table but it was magic.

Digital audio was still a relatively new technology and so production companies often printed instructions for how to care for the cd on the cd case insert.

I was amazed at the instructions that were given.

Always hold the cd by the edges.

When not in the cd payer always return the cd to its case.

If a fingerprint should get on the underside of the disc only wipe it off with a soft, dust/lint free cloth and always wipe in a straight line away from the center of the disc.

The instructions for care were followed by the promise, “If you care for your compact disc in this manner it should provide you with a lifetime of listening pleasure.”

As I read those instructions I mentally balanced them with the way an average person actually handles a cd.

I’ve got about three just laying loose in the floor of my minivan at this moment!

When we are not using them as a coaster for our drink we throw them around, pile them on top of each other (not in their cases), and wipe the pizza sauce off the underside with the back of our shirt (well, at least I do).

As our familiarity grows our care lessens.

This seems to be true of most things.

Consider the first year of marriage versus the 10th. If she gets a cold in the 1st year you’re rushing to the emergency room. If she gets a cold in the 10th year you’re buying a box of Kleenex so she doesn’t get anything in the casserole.

When I bought my first new car I babied it. No fast food. Wipe your feet. Routine maintenance, wash and wax. No driving fast or hitting bumps. Park at the back of the parking lot so some junker won’t scratch the paint.

After about 3 months that all starts to fade.

Before 1 year is up there’s fries under the floormats, pop stains in the cup holder and cd’s lodged in the seats.

When I first got my laptop I kept a lint free cloth between the keyboard and screen whenever I closed it. I always set it on a laptop fan base to keep the internal hardware cool and prevent damage.

Not anymore.

As our familiarity grows our care and attention lessens.

We become so familiar with things that we cease to genuinely care for them and appreciate their value. We take them for granted and neglect the care they properly deserve.

I sure hope this hasn’t also become true of my walk with God.

We must pray that, as we learn more about Him and walk daily with Him, that we don’t begin to neglect the simple disciplines that led us to Him in the beginning. Prayer, fasting, the reading of Scripture, corporate worship and giving. Simple disciplines that not only create but maintain an appropriate reverence and appreciation for who He is and all He is worthy to receive of us.

What an ironic tragedy it would be for God to be so near to us for so long that He would become familiar and we neglect His presence.

On Motives

wheat skyHere’s what David says in Psalm 24:1-5, ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Clean hands AND a pure heart.

I don’t intend for this to sound judgmental but it might. To put it simply, I’m concerned that many Christians are operating under the assumption that what you do is more important than why you do it. That giving, prayer, fasting, sexual purity, and faithfulness in church attendance are all ends in themselves. They are not. They are things that should be present in the life of every believer but not as the ends themselves but rather as evidence of genuine heart change.

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t lower the bar when He came teaching in The Sermon on The Mount. He raised it.

You could keep your hands clean of your brother’s blood but if you have a heart full of hate Jesus declared you guilty (Matthew 5:21-26). You could keep your hands off the girl next door your entire life but if you fixate on her in your heart Jesus said you’re guilty (Matthew 5:27-30). If you love the people who love you and if you hate the people who hate you also He said you’re no different than unbelievers (Matthew 5:43-48), even they can do that.

No, Jesus didn’t lower the bar. He raised it. He raised it so high that no one could ever reach it without Him. And He established in Matthew 5 that He is equally as concerned with the condition of your heart as He is your hands.

As far as God is concerned, why you do something is equally as important as how you do it. It’s not enough to have clean hands, He wants your heart to be as pure as your actions.

If you give, but give grudgingly and suspiciously, you need to get your heart right. If you pray but it’s only to cross it off your to do list of righteous deeds then you need to be reintroduced to prayer as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you serve the church but do so out of rigor and obligation and not out of joy and seeing it as worship then you need to let your heart be renewed again.

Good deeds done from selfish motives become selfish deeds because they’re not done in pursuit of Christlikeness or a genuine love for others but out of a desire to gain for oneself. Our motives need to be pure too. Jesus doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does. And they need to be sourced, not out of a selfish pursuit of accolades or a righteous reputation but rather, out of a genuine heart of love.

Blessing and righteousness are found in, not just clean hands, but a pure heart as well.

I Am Not A Christian

yellow churchI’m not a Christian. Not in any meaningful sense of the word.

Sure, I believe in Jesus Christ. I attend a church service or two every week and occasionally read my Bible, but I’m still not a Christian.

Sitting on a pew does not make me a Christian any more than standing in a bank makes me wealthy. My relative location to Christian things and spaces does not transfer to me Christ like character. I may go to church, but I am not a Christian.

I pray when I need something and worship only when it’s convenient. I give, yet often grudgingly and sparingly. I forgive, but only when it might benefit me. I serve, but only when called upon to do so and offered acknowledgement and reward. I love, but only when love is offered in return. I bless, but only those who have blessed me. I care, but often only for those who I feel are deserving of care. I sacrifice, but only after I have been shamed, rewarded, or pressured to do so.

The more I read the BIble, and then examine my life in light of how Christ lived, the more I am convinced, I am not a Christian.

He ate with sinners and politicians without one reservation as to how the company he kept would effect His reputation. He touched people He should have never even talked to. He healed people that His culture didn’t even demand He recognize as persons. He went out of His way, and often, to minister a small thing to one individual in a meaningful way. He showed kindness and grace to everyone, except for those who felt they deserved it. It was with the religious that Jesus argued, the hypocrites he rebuked, and it was the self-righteous which He humbled. The people I’m most comfortable with, church people, were the ones Jesus felt most at odds with. The people He invested in were those with failures and sin, the same people I avoid.

He sacrificed all and asked nothing in return. He was a man of “sorrows and acquainted with grief” knowing that millions throughout history would reject His love. He was giving, loving, gracious, virtuous, kind, merciful, long-suffering, faithful and true. I find in myself that I am selfish, ungrateful, hard hearted, impatient, demanding, dishonest, intemperate, corrupt, deceptive and unfaithful. I am not a Christian.

It was John Piper who, when asked what if anything might cause him to disbelieve in God, said,

“If anything might cause me to disbelieve in God it would be how painfully slow and inefficient the sanctification process has been in me.”

I take comfort in the fact that Paul wrestled with the same assessment of himself. He called himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and confessed that he felt as though he had not yet attained Christ-likeness, but he was still trying (Phil. 3). He wrestled with his nature and called himself carnal and sinful (Rom. 7:14-25) acknowledging that “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”.

If being a Christian is defined in generic terms as anything associated with the teachings of Jesus Christ then I suppose I could call myself a Christian. However, if being a Christian means possessing the character and virtue of Christ, then I am not a Christian.

What I am is a believer, a follower of Christ, who all too often falls short of being like my Lord. However, I am still a disciple of His. I am redeemed, justified and still trying. I believe if I remain subject to the Holy Spirit Christ will continue to be formed in me and someday I will be like Him for I will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). The truth, right now, is that I am not a Christian.

Not yet.