I began a new mini-series that is covering the issues of walking by the flesh OR walking by the Spirit. This first sermon was called “Why you do what you do.”
You can find the sermon audio below as well as the presentation slides I used.
As I posted last week… the family and I made the 3 hour trek to Heavenfest this last weekend. We camped on site thanks to my friend Mark loaning me his pop-up camper (mine is still in the “restoration” phase due to lack of funds). We were in a virtual “tent city.” There were a lot of bands there that I knew, and many that I didn’t. I was especially thankful for the heart of the guys in “The Afters.” Their show was good and what they shared was even better… a clear message of God’s faithfulness through trial.
I was really looking forward to the evening… when Switchfoot was scheduled to play. They are one of my current and all-time favorite Christian bands. The kids said the show was great, but the LORD had other plans for me…
Something I ate Saturday morning didn’t set well with my stomach – and by mid-afternoon I was getting up close and personal with the numerous rows of porta-potties around the grounds at Heavenfest. I basically puked and…. uhh… sat – all day long on Saturday.
As of today I can say… I HATE porta-potties.
What’s the lesson? I don’t fully know. But I do know that some of the words spoken by Josh Havens (lead singer of the Afters) were fleshed out in my life that afternoon. Right in the midst of one of my worst “episodes,” looking at something I never want to see again, this thought came to my mind…
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
I didn’t generate that thought… the Spirit in me did. And I was super glad for it (and still am). It was a wonderful wake-up-call regarding the LORD’s faithfulness. Right there in the midst of my pain, misery and the worst possible conditions the LORD was FAITHFUL to me… His adopted son.
What is your misery? What is your pain? What is your current struggle in which you find it hard to be thankful?
The LORD is there… faithfully in you, ready to work through you.
What examples from your life can you share that demonstrate God’s faithfulness in trial?
I have to admit, to myself and to those who have to live with me… that I am often unloving. (gasp!) Any thinking person would have to admit the same is true in them, at least to some degree. As I’ve pondered this fact, I’ve come up with at least 5 reasons why it is the case for me…
#1 – I am afraid of people. - I don’t mean this as in “I’m afraid they will hurt me or treat me badly,” though I guess that could be the case for some. For me it’s more in this way: “I’m afraid to interact with people because I’m not sure I’ll be up to the task.” All people (including me) are broken and hurting, in need of love. I don’t always feel up to the challenge of giving it to them as I know I should. So ironically, the very fact that I’m not good at loving others often moves me to be even more unloving… by withdrawing from social contexts, avoiding certain people who I know are needy, or not taking initiative with others simply out of love and concern for them. It may also manifest itself in me not engaging with others because I’m afraid of what they might think of me, or conclude about me. All this shows me (again) that…
#2 – I am insecure. – This is really the bottom line of the previous point, but warrants a little more investigation. Though I’ve been around the block enough times to know that there truly are areas and things that I’m gifted by God to do, I still feel uneasy when it comes to dealing with people. I still feel this way even though I’ve seen the LORD use me in such relational contexts time and time again. Loving others simply doesn’t come very naturally to me, and I let my feeling of discomfort with it get the best of me. I know that some of this tension exists because of personality and gifting (which are what God has made them, and are therefore good), but the fact remains that I’m insecure. I can’t help but feel that there’s a place in this where I’m not trusting God as I should…
#3 – I care more about things than I do people. – There are certain things I really enjoy doing and being involved in… and other things that I don’t – at all. AS EXAMPLES:
- I like organizing stuff and planning out things.
- I like studying.
- I like preparing sermons.
- I like working on special projects.
- I like writing.
- I don’t like the messiness of relationships.
- I don’t like the difficulty involved in good communication.
- I don’t like feeling obligated toward others (though many times obligation is a good thing… as in “duty.”)
- I don’t like dealing with people’s emotions (or my own for that matter).
DID YOU NOTICE… most of my “likes” have to do with things… most of my “dislikes” have to do with people? Personal preferences may be signs of where I’m more gifted, which is good to know. But when I allow my preferences to dictate where I spend my time, I’m moving toward the realization that…
#4 – I’m selfish. – No justifications. No arguments. Just an admission that it’s true. I want what I want. I want to do what I want to do. Way too much of the time I consider what I want before I consider what another may need. For some reason I’ve become very good at making the needed self-sacrifices when it comes to my family. But when it comes to those who are not as close to me I have a much harder time. Is the fact that I love my family more than the generic “other person” the reason that I’m able to sacrifice unselfishly for them? Probably. So how am I to understand that? I’ll probably always (and probably always should) love my family in greater ways than I do others. How am I to love those others, who are not my family, in just as effective terms, even though the same kind or depth of love is not at the root of my actions?
# 5 – I am not very compassionate. – I am able to sympathize with those who are suffering or in need, honestly, I am. I can put myself in their shoes most of the time, and feel at least some of what they feel. But even though that’s true, I often think the plight of others’ pain does not touch me as deeply as it ought. Maybe I don’t know enough of the facts of their situation. Maybe I don’t put myself into their shoes enough. Maybe I just don’t step away from my “to do” list long enough to let myself truly be moved with compassion. I need to be more compassionate. I need to care more about people.
Where to from here?
Sometimes this fact of my unloving-ness immobilizes me. I feel stuck, unable to change it, and hopeless that there’s really anything that I can do to change it. I don’t like feeling that way. In fact, I hate it.
So where to? What CAN I do?
Biblically, I only see one thing… to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:18). I must learn to step obediently into every work God has appointed for me to do (Ephesians 2:10) – whether I feel like it or not, whether I feel up to it or not, whether I believe it to be one of my strong suits or not. As I do, He will produce His fruit in me and through me… the first of which is love (Galatians 5:22).
In the end, it’s not up to me to produce the fruit of love… it’s up to me to submit to the Spirit’s lead, which allows HIM to produce the fruit of love in me.
One of my favorite bands – Switchfoot – has a great song entitled “Amateur Lovers.” It’s about the universal human need for love, and that no matter how hard we try to get it or give it – we still come up short. The chorus says it this way…
We don’t know what we’re doing
We do it again
We’re just amateur lovers
With amateur friends
I believe we need love because God is love (1 John 4:8), and we need God. The problem with how we go about the whole “love” thing is that we try to milk love out of people, when God is the only adequate source of love for the human heart.
Giving love to others…
When it comes to giving love to others, that’s when I discover that I’m an amateur lover… a wanna-be. I want to be a “professional” lover, one who knows how to love and does love everyone, but I fall short over and over.
To make it even more convicting: as Christians, love is to be the hallmark of our lives, the identifying characteristic that proves we are indeed followers of our Lord Jesus.
Specifically, we are to love EACH OTHER (translation: other Christians) in a way that shows our unity in Christ. Look how John says it…
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. – 1 John 3:14
If love is so important, such an identifying mark, how do we improve, grow, and even excel in becoming great lovers of people, especially those who share our common faith in Christ?
It’s simple, but not easy. ”The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22)
What that says to me is that I must learn how to walk in the Spirit of God if I’m going to have any hope of truly loving other people. (Galatians 5:16)
Walking by the Spirit… sounds like a good topic for another blog post…
What have you found helpful in becoming more and more dependent on the Spirit of God to motivate and activate your love for others?
Books from the PF Journal..
My lopsided upbringing
The religious tradition I grew up in was a contradiction at best.
On one side of the pendulum, sermons were typically all about the grace of God that saves sinners. It’s glorious news, to be sure – and for my church it seemed like the only news. ”Soul winning” was huge… and everyone was, ummm, “expected” to be a soul-winner. I attended the same church for my first 18 years, and don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the importance of prayer, how to biblically deal with conflict, how to live in a healthy Christian marriage, or the reality of “Christ in me.” It was all the grace of God, that saves sinners through faith. Wonderful – for as far as it went.
On the other side of the pendulum, things weren’t so wonderful, because there wasn’t much talk about grace once you moved beyond the topic of salvation. Then it became the infamous lists – women can’t wear pants, nobody should attend movies, alcohol is evil and should never be touched, and smoking will not only give you cancer but could also cause God to hold you at arm’s length. Even as a kid something about that attitude smelled… I mean, beyond the nicotine smell on the music minister’s fingers and breath.
In short, though my church majored on grace for salvation, it was not one that most people would say was characterized by grace regarding the Christian life.
An extreme reaction
From what I’ve observed since then, I wasn’t the only one who was raised in that kind of religious culture. Many people saw the error of such “legalism” and began looking for something more, something different, something a little less… well… legal. As a result, the overall Christian culture reacted quite strongly to those imbalances. Instead of making everything into a list of do’s and don’t's, Christian leaders began talking almost exclusively about “being under grace” and not “under law.” Biblical terms, to be sure – and powerful concepts when understood and applied rightly. But the meaning poured into those phrases over time became as imbalanced and dangerous as the mindset it was trying to correct.
When lovingly confronted about potentially unwise or ungodly choices in movies, or music, or speech, or (fill in the blank), Christians could routinely be heard to say, ”Oh, but I’m under grace!” Or another common one, “I am free in Christ.”
TRANSLATION: “My actions don’t really matter, because I’m forgiven by God’s grace.”
or with a little more tongue in cheek:
“I’m free of any obligation toward obedience, because God’s given me a ‘get out of sin free’ card.
What’s wrong with this picture
To be clear:
- Yes, we are forgiven (past, present, & future) by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
- Yes, it’s a wonderful thing, and we should wallow in it like a pig in a mud-bath, until grace soaks into the pores of our souls.
- But it doesn’t mean that we are to think, act, speak, or do anything we want, and think that it’s O.K.
Sin still matters.
Obedience still matters.
The holiness of God, expressed through the imputed righteousness and indwelling Spirit of Christ still matters.
The reason we are still alive
God saves us, entirely by His grace. We do nothing to deserve it, and nothing to keep it. That’s all Him.
But that wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus is not impotent. It has an effect (outcome), because it affects our inner being. When Jesus saves us by His grace, we are made into something we weren’t before – saints. We are literally, not figuratively, temples for the divine Person of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
He lives in us. He desires to live through us. Ponder that colossal truth for a while… and your mind will go “tilt!”
You – Mr. or Miss “saved-by-grace-Christian,” are still on the planet to be a testimony, a proof, a witness to the saving grace of God. You are here to give Him glory by your new life that He has given to you. To use a modern phrase from the online world, your changed life is God’s “social proof.” As others see Him making changes in you, from your attitudes to your actions, they begin to believe that there just might be something to this “Christian” thing.
You are not very effective “social proof” for God when you live by an “I’m free to do what I want” attitude – because your life says that God is impotent, and Jesus came into your life to no avail.
Here’s a challenge for you, and for me: Daily strive to submit your entire mind, will, and emotion (your soul), to Jesus’ use and leadership.
- That means sin does matter… because it is a contradiction to who Jesus has created us to be (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- That means that obedience does matter… because Spirit-empowered obedience demonstrates that God’s grace to us was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10)
QUESTION: How have YOU seen the word “grace” misused or misapplied? What difference do you see that making?
Books from the PF Journal..
I’m always stunned by the historical figures who turn out to have been deeply faithful people to Christ… here’s another – Michelangelo!
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou are the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show us to Thine own true way
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead!
I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting),
so this is a pre-scheduled post for your encouragement, education and enjoyment!
I’ve been doing some thinking about the role the Word of God plays in our relationship with Him… and I’ve found some very important parallels with the normal relationships we have with other people.
We get to know another individual, primarily through words. People have to express how they feel, what they think, the convictions they hold, the things they hate. We don’t pick these up intuitively. We can get “ideas” about people through what they do… but how often have you been wrong about an “idea” you had about someone? Me too…
Words are perhaps THE foundational element upon which relationship is built. Whether in spoken form (conversation) or written form (like love letters), we learn to know a person… REALLY KNOW THEM… through what they communicate to us verbally. It’s really the only way.
It’s also the only way we build TRUST between individuals. Through communication we come to know a person’s heart, their motives, and see them expressed in life, which builds trust.
But all of this assumes a certain KIND of communication is happening. It’s got to be genuine, truthful communication. And that’s where communication on a human level often begins to break down… healthy communication will not happen if there is…
- An absence of words (people are not talking to each other at all)
- Deceitful or misleading words (someone is not telling the truth – which is a perversion of true communication)
- Misinterpretation or misunderstanding of what has been said
The point is that words alone are not the “be all, end all” of relationships. Words are necessary, but words must also be true and clearly understood.
Let’s make the switch to relationship with God…
God’s words (as recorded in scripture) are the ONLY way we can really know what He is like. It’s in scripture that He reveals Himself to us (isn’t that an amazingly gracious thing of Him to do?) Of course, Romans 1:18-20 tells us that there are certain things about God we can surmise from creation itself… but what we glean there is a far cry from truly, really knowing Him. In order for us to know God, to have relationship with Him, He must reveal Himself to us… just like in a human relationship. He has done that in the scriptures. In the scriptures we find Him to be truthful, in-the-know about everything, full of grace and mercy, and overflowing with love. We find Him to be brimming over with justice and purity, no wrong motives and no missed information. In short, we find that He is trustworthy.
Where there appears to be contradiction, inconsistency, or confusion regarding what He says to us in His word – we tend toward accusing Him, saying that He’s done something wrong or made promises that are not being fulfilled. But go back to the bullet points above… 1) Is the problem that He has not spoken to us? NO – God speaks to us, and has spoken in the scriptures and in His Son Jesus. 2) Is the problem that what He is telling us is deceitful or misleading? NO – He is absolutely true and upright in all His ways, including what He says. 3) Is the problem that what He is saying is being misinterpreted or misunderstood – BINGO – that has to be the problem.
Often, like a 6-year old child who does not grasp what their parent has said, we misunderstand what God has said. There is no mistake or deception in what He has spoken, there is a lack of comprehension, or ability to comprehend, on our part. We should expect that we spiritual babes would mistakenly or not at all understand many things that our infinite God says to us. Yet, as we grow by His grace, He enables us to grasp His word more and more.
1) We should not be viewing our “time in the word” as a duty, but as a beautiful opportunity to spend time with the most glorious one in the universe. We get to find out more about Him, to know Him better – and to know what He desires to do in and through our lives.
2) We should not look for other “words from God” outside the scriptures. Yes, the Spirit of God can lead, guide, and direct us internally – but NEVER apart from or different than what is revealed in the Word of God. All such leadings should be confirmed by seeking their truth in scripture.
This one touched me especially powerfully today – so I had to share it. Read it slowly with a heart of humility…
O God of the highest heaven,
Occupy the throne of my heart,
take full possession and reign supreme,
lay low every rebel lust,
let no vile passion resist thy holy war;
manifest thy mighty power, and make me thine for ever.
Thou art worthy to be praised with my every breath,
loved with my every faculty of soul,
served with my every act of life.
Thou hast loved me, espoused me, received me,
purchased, washed, favoured, clothed,
adorned me, when I was worthless, vile, soiled, polluted.
I was dead in iniquities,
having no eyes to see thee,
no ears to hear thee,
no taste to relish thy joys,
no intelligence to know thee;
But thy Spirit has quickened me,
has brought me into a new world as a new creature,
has given me spiritual perception,
has opened to me thy Word as light, guide, solace, joy.
Thy presence is to me a treasure of unending peace;
No provocation can part me from thy sympathy,
for thou hast drawn me with cords of love,
and dost forgive me daily, hourly.
O help me then to walk worthy of thy love,
of my hopes, and my vocation.
Keep me, for I cannot keep myself;
Protect me that no evil befall me;
Let me lay aside every sin admired of many;
Help me to walk by thy side, lean on thy arm,
hold converse with thee,
That henceforth I may be salt of the earth and a blessing to all.