Christian Living

Clearing Out the Weeds and Vines

One of the most unhelpful ways to approach your life is by dividing it into two parts: your secular life and your sacred life. When we do this, we define our secular life with things like eating, drinking, watching sports, TV or movies, exercise, going to the park, etc.

Then, we define our sacred life with things like attending church, serving our family, reading our Bible, prayer, going on missions’ trips, etc.

Thus, everything in our life ends up in one of two categories. Instead of a unified life, we end up with a divided life. Our lives get compartmentalized, and we end up teaching ourselves there is a time to be serious about God and there are times to “take a break” from Him – almost like hypocrisy where we behave worldly at times and godly at others.

A.W Tozer, in his book The Pursuit of God, explains the needless dilemma of living with these two compartments, “Most Christians are caught in its trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two worlds. They try to walk the tightrope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them. I believe this state of affairs to be unwholly necessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament (The Pursuit of God, pg. 170).”

There is no scared and secular. It is all sacred, because even eating and drinking is an act of worship (I Corinthians 10:31). This doesn’t mean that everything you do has equal value. Eating a hot dog and proclaiming the Gospel does not carry the same spiritual value.

I can remember being asked as a teenager to come up with a list of priorities and then committing myself to them in order of importance. So, my list looked something like this

  1. God
  2. Church
  3. Family
  4. School
  5. Friendship

A priority list like this one is not helpful and can’t be reconciled with the concept of God being th object of worship in all things. When you have a priority list like this one with God at the top, you suggest to yourself that #2-#5 can be fulfilled without God’s guidance.

Instead of priority listing, why not a pie-chart where God is in the middle? It should be that God is 1st in my church and God is 1st in my family and God is 1st in my school and God is 1st in my friendships. That is I Corinthians 10:31. Paul is saying worshipping God should be in every activity in life.

The most “mundane” activities as we see them – eating and drinking – are redeemable activities for worship. A person is in a constant state of either honoring or dishonoring God. You cannot be living another way; your life either pleases Him or displeases Him (Colossians 3:17). How does one glorify God? Well, that question has 1,000 answers! We can glorify God by loving Him supremely above all others; we can glorify God by trusting Him when things are rosy or dark; we can glorify God by always expressing thanks to Him for the grace in our life; we can glorify God by obeying His Word with passion and pleasure.

John Hannah uses the illustration of a forest to answer this question. He says that when we are unsaved, our lives are like a forest with dense vegetation, vines and weeds. If you were to get a bird’s eye view of what you see, there would be no clearing or no end in sight. The vines and weeds represent the sin(s) that so easily entangle us. When Christ comes into our lives and gives us the ability to become holy, we are able to finally defeat sin. Holiness kills off sin. So now, if you got a bird’s eye view of our lives, you would see clearings.

You want to know how to bring God glory? Clear the weeds and vines out of the jungle.

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Genesis 39 and a Lesson About the Tongue

A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18).

In our Sunday night small group, we have been studying the Book of Genesis. Last night, we looked at Genesis 39, which is the narrative that records Joseph fleeing Potiphar’s wife after she repeatedly tried to seduce him. This is a common chapter to consider for equipping people for dealing with sexual temptation, and rightfully so. Joseph’s actions of fleeing Potiphar’s wife signify the appropriate action when sin is crouching at your door – get out as quick as you can! It is what David failed to do when he saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof (II Samuel 12).

Towards the end of our study, I asked the group to share lessons they have learned from the chapter that directly apply to their life.

One of our young moms had an insight about the passage that I had never noticed before in all the years of reading that chapter. In effect, she said it is a helpful lesson about the dangerous power of the tongue.

You see, Joseph’s integrity had been well-established before this incident with Potiphar’s wife. He was well-trusted. Potiphar had put him Joseph in charge of the entire estate, which shows the level of confidence Joseph had earned.

Image result for joseph potiphar's wifeFollowing Joseph’s fleeing of Potiphar’s wife’s seduction attempt, and out of frustration, she went to other men in the house and turned the whole scenario inside out. She claimed Joseph tried to seduce her and she was able to escape him. She lied. Instead of taking personal responsibility for her failed attempt at getting Joseph to join her in bed, she said Joseph was the seducer and she was the innocent.

Thus, she slandered Joseph.

The result? Joseph was thrown into prison for actions he never committed. The very opposite of what he was accused for was what really happened.

The tongue is a dangerous tool. James said we can speak life or destruction with it (James 2). It takes steadfast patience to build a reputation, but it can be wiped away in an instant by an evil tongue seeking to harm or maim.

Perhaps this is why James says to be slow to speak (James 1:19). Measure your words before you speak them; they could mean someone’s hurt. Replace hurtful words for edifying words. Edifying words are words that give grace to those who hear.

How have you been using your tongue lately? To destroy or build up?

The Danger of Spiritual Privilege

When do you think you are most likely to fall into temptation as a Christian? Is it when walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Is it when things are darkest, when you are surrounded by your enemies that you are most vulnerable to falling into sin?

May I suggest the Bible tells us that when we are most susceptible to sin is not when things are going bad, but when things are going good? It is when we are living peacefully on the mountaintop that the Evil One lurks and often will tempt us to forget all about God.

Example #1 – David. He is known for many great things, but there is a series of sinful choices and decisions that led to a very spiritually dark time in his life. When he went out onto the roof of his palace, and before he saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, his nation was at war. The people of Israel were fighting the Ammonites and having great military success, but David was not with them (II Samuel 11:1).

In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for the king to lead his army to battle. So, not only was David not where he was supposed to be, but he was back at his palace in safety.

Was he afraid to go off to war? Certainly not! This was a man who fought and defeated the most intimidating and ferocious of Israel’s enemies, Goliath. So why was David at his palace while his men were off fighting? He had grown too comfortable. He was in love with the peace and safety he was experiencing. And thus, the privilege of safety became a temptation to adultery for David.

Example #2 – Elijah. In another very dramatic story, Elijah was God’s representative in an epic showdown with 450 Baal prophets. After a long display of freakish wailing, and calling upon Baal, cutting each other with knives, and songs to false Gods by these false prophets, Elijah took the opportunity to show the great power of God. He built another altar exactly like the prophets of Baal built, drenched it with water, and then asked God to show Himself. And God did so in a mighty way (I Kings 18:38-40).

Image result for elijah mt carmelNow, following this event, Ahab, the evil, and wimpy, king over Israel, went to inform his wife, Queen Jezebel, of the slaughter of their false prophets. Jezebel then sent word to Elijah that he would be killed. And Elijah grew so afraid that he ran to Beersheba (I Kings 19:3)! That was about 100 miles south of where Elijah was at Mt. Carmel.

What happened with Elijah? He had tasted spiritual victory. He had exercised great faith. But in that moment, he was vulnerable. The spiritual privilege of Elijah brought fear of man, not fear of God.

Forgetting God invites all kinds of others sins. David forgot God and committed adultery; Elijah forgot God and feared for his life from one woman after killing 450 false prophets.

So yes, there is danger with spiritual privilege. Spiritual privileges are blessings, but if we aren’t careful, we can become too comfortable and apathetic. When that happens, sin is ready to feast.

Attacking Apathy

Merriam-Webster defines “apathy” as “a lack of feeling or emotion” or “a lack of interest or concern.” An apathetic individual is one who has grown complacent. The apathetic is identified as “lukewarm” in the letter to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. The apathetic is “not on fire for Jesus” or “turned off by Him” that He never talks about Him – he is somewhere in the middle caring not, thinking not and doing not. The apathetic knows just enough about the existence of God and His Word that he could be mistaken as Christian due to His outward religious behavior, but the complacent heart is hidden from most.

In J.P. Moreland’s book Love Your God With All Your Mind, this description of the complacent is given: “The couch potato is the role model for the empty self, and without question, modern Americans are becoming increasingly passive in their approach to life. We let other people do our living and thinking for us: the pastor studies the Bible for us, the news media does our political thinking for us, and we let our favorite sports team exercise, struggle, and win for us. From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained. Holidays have become vacations. Historically, a “holiday” was a “holy day,” an intrinsically valuable, special, active change of pace in which, through proactive play and recreation, you refresh your soul. A “vacation” is a “vacating” – even the language is passive – in order to let someone else amuse you. The passive individual is a self in search of pleasure and consumer goods provided by others. Such an individual increasingly becomes a shriveled self with less and less ability to take control of life.”

See the source imageIn 2018, attack the apathetic tendencies in your heart. Pray that God would stir you each day to live for Him and advance in the battle to become holy. And tackle your apathetic affections by reading books that will provoke you to live in a more righteous way.

One such book I read at the end of last year that I would recommend for such an endeavor is Brett McCracken’s Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community.

And memorize the following verse to recite when the temptation to apathy is present – “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

Ken Sande, On the By-product of Trusting God

See the source image“Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts or fear. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult circumstances.” (Ken Sande, The Peacemaker)

Will You Leave Your Christian Liberties for Others?

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (I Corinthians 8:13)

If Paul were addressing the modern church, he might say…

  • “If you have friends that are abstinent, don’t drink around them.”
  • Or “if you have friends that think gambling is wrong, don’t invite them over for poker or to go to Las Vegas with you.”
  • Or “If you have friends that believe the KJV is the only translation, use it when they are present.”
  • Or “If you have friends who think bringing up Santa Claus at Christmas is wrong, don’t send them a Christmas card of your kids on Santa’s lap.”
  • Or “If you have friends who choose a different form of school than you would for your own children, don’t treat those families or children as inferior to your own.”
  • Or “If you have friends that believe Sundays should be restful, don’t invite them to an all-day outing.”

Here, as Paul was addressing an issue of kinds of food to eat, he said, “I will become a vegetarian at the table of those who can’t eat meat.”

Relationships are more important than food. Paul was willing to put aside his Christian liberties.

Are you eager to limit your Christian liberty? (Philippians 2:3-4) Humility is putting your liberty aside and considering the conscience and understanding of your brother. Do you assert your rights over others?

Living this way requires that you know where the weaknesses are of the people around you. You cannot know to put away your meat or your cigars or your movies if you don’t know who you are with, what they are like, where they are in their walk with the Lord, etc. It reminds us how important it is to be engaged with people as deep as time allows.

And if we don’t know if they would be offended by something, assume they will! Abstain from whatever! Go ahead and give up all you can until you know them more.

See the source image

Help! I Get Distracted!

Imagine the following scenario.

It is Sunday morning and you are in the worship service. The music team begins leading the congregation in John’s Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace.” You are immediately moved by the depth of God’s gracious provision(s) for you. As you continue singing the word “amazing”, you express gratefulness in your heart towards God for His care for you. You are so thankful for God’s salvation of you.

You feel led to look up as if you are looking to God in heaven.

But not too often after you look up, instead of seeing God, you see a light bulb that has burned out and needs to be replaced. It becomes a distraction.

As you process what you have seen, you recall that light bulb was out a few weeks ago. You think, “I wonder who is going to change that light bulb. Don’t people around here know that light bulb is burned out or am I the only one who sees it?”

As you look and think about this light bulb that needs to be replaced, you remember there are light bulbs in your own home that are out. And come to think of it, they have been out for a few weeks now.

As you think about this predicament, you quickly acknowledge that changing light bulbs in your house is not really “your job.” Usually your spouse or teenager does that. But no one has clearly changed your own burned out light bulbs yet, and that gets your frustrated.

Your frustration leads to disappointment and you think, “You know – that’s not the only thing that bothers me about my family. Here is a whole other list of things undone or undealt with in their life.”

And that leads you to think, “If I keep overlooking this stuff and pretending it never happens, they will never learn. I am going to stop being so forgiving and start nagging them about it.”

See where we have gone in just a matter of a few minutes!

We have gone from singing “Amazing Grace” to now having a mindset that does not reflect that grace to others in our own home by being resentful and unforgiving.

Distraction is a power weapon of the Evil One. He loves for us to move from worship to anything else.

This time of year is a season of distractions. There are so many competitors for our time and mind. When you get wrongly distracted by something, it can often reveal to you what is REALLY important to you. In the above-mentioned scenario, fault-finding becomes dominate over worship because fault-finding is the person’s REAL heart issue.

What can we do about distractions?

We can guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), because the mouth will speak from it (Matthew 12:34). We can also ask the Lord to be Mary when we are tempted to be Martha and help deliver us from distractions like these (Luke 10:39-42). We can also memorize and mediate on Ephesians 5:16.

Image result for distractions