Archives For God

The Problem with Truth

Steve —  4.10.2014 — 1 Comment

Perception – it’s everything. No really.

How we perceive the world around us is based on our beliefs and if you’ve read anything by Stephen Covey, you know that beliefs drive behavior that produce results that either reinforce or challenge beliefs.

Ponder that for a minute…

Go ahead…I’ll wait.

Truth is like data – meaningless without context. It just sits there – still true – but isolated, waiting for experience to validate.

The context of our lives (summation of our experiences) provides the vehicle of acceptance and internalization of truth. The good times and (especially) the valleys we go through give us something to test the truth – to see if it holds up under the weight of reality. If it does, then a new belief is formed and another dies.

Back to perception. If we hear a truth, even one that cognitively makes sense, and don’t have the contextual experience to validate it, we typically reject or at least table our opinion of it. Our perception is based on belief and belief on experience.

But what about Truth – God’s Truth?

I suggest the same logic holds. When we call Jesus’ name (as a response to Him calling ours) and are saved, that crisis of belief about ourselves and the world around us, cement basic Truth into new beliefs. And from that point forward, the world is trying to kill them.

And most often it works.

We are hounded by achievement-based worth and shaped by shame and condemnation. We strive to be accepted and question everything through stressed and anxiety-ridden days. Asking, “Am I worthy of love? Am I good enough? What if they really knew me – would they accept me?” – scary stuff.

Luckily, God has the vision capable of creating experiences that resurrect, bit by bit those initial Truths until one day, we wake up and feel free and accepted and humbled by His great gift of Grace. That the Creator of the universe loved and loves me – at my worst – and has accepted me just as I am.

No performance needed. No striving. No hamster wheel.

Just love. Period.

And everything seems new and different – like a veil has been lifted or you step out of the shadows and into the warm sun.

MercyMe has a song called, “Flawless” that sums all of this up in just 4 minutes. I hope you’ll ponder the Truths that saved you and step into the sun.

Two Truths

Steve —  5.20.2011 — Leave a comment

My friend Matt and I, from time to time, engage in friendly chatter regarding the core truths of the Christian faith. I love it because he is very grounded in his faith and seems to be able to filter out the noise pretty well. Also, he’s pretty much the only one who will actively comment on anything I say online, which wins him an extra cookie in my book.

The last go around was between two topics and it was a very short serve and volley:

Justification = just as if we never sinned & just as if we had always obeyed

Read it again because you might miss the profundity in the brevity. Now read it one more time. Isn’t that wonderful and so absolutely true!

Whenever I see the term “Justification,” I immediately hear the word “Sanctification” in my mind. It’s like when I hear the name “Marsha”, I hear, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha…” from the Brady Bunch. So, I replied with:

Sanctification = Proof positive that there’s always room for improvement

Now I sometimes say things to gauge the reaction of someone – especially in church circles these days, but this isn’t one of them. I truly believe that our justified lives are one big work in progress that has no ending point this side of heaven.

The point is that everyone around you is some sort of work in progress. And your Christian friends are being worked by the Creator of the Universe, who can be trusted to finish that work. May the Grace and Love of Jesus abound in how we engage those around us.

I desire a fundamental and wholesale change in approach to how we care for the needy. When we ask the question, “How are you caring for the needy?”, it is being interpreted by most people to be, “Give me your list of activities so I can determine whether or not you measure up.” It’s a loaded question because of how the church reacts when people don’t have an answer. So, I will make sure I can rattle off 3-5 ways that I’m caring for others just so I won’t be judged by the people I want to impress. Do you see the dysfunction in all of that?

That’s not love and that’s not what Scripture teaches us that Christ wants from us. Instead, let’s start digging into and teaching people about how to love God, which begins with a deep understanding of how God loves us and goes all the way back to Genesis 1 and the chasm that Jesus bridged to bring us back into a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

It’s harder and takes much longer, but the sustainability for real-world impact is far greater than maintaining a list of activities that can be recited at the drop of a hat.

Hear me on this – I absolutely believe that caring for our neighbor is the best and most effective form of expressing the love of Christ, but if we do it in order to check a box on some list rather than out of love, we have become noisy gongs and our efforts honor nobody. If we are going to hold people accountable to something, let it be love.

I was speaking with some friends last night and the subject of church came up and I had an opportunity to share about a paradigm shift I’ve made over the past few years that has revolutionized some real key aspects of being a Christian.

The first thing is that I believe God has given ME a ministry – to my wife, my kids, my neighborhood, my workplace, my church, etc. He desires me to live out my faith both with Him and the world around me daily – with passion, integrity and complete abandon.

Secondly, He’s given me a proper perspective on the role of my local church in that ministry. In the past, I felt like I was part of the ministry of my church – one small part of a much larger effort. This meant that I felt obligated to make sure I was operating within organizational parameters. From the curriculum I was taking my small group through, to the volunteer role I was playing on Sunday morning, to the various service activities I put my hand to – all of it was the ministry of the church and I was there to help fulfill it as I could.

That’s not how things are today. Remember, God has given me a ministry and is holding me responsible for it. It is personalized to me and takes into account who I am: my strengths, weaknesses, personality, experiences and the specific skills and talents He chose to endow me with. As such, the local church has become a resource to my ministry. Let me say that again – the local church is a resource to MY ministry; not the other way around.

This has produced a confidence of responsibility that frees me up to listen to the Author of my faith and the Designer of my ministry and move according to His plan. All of a sudden you have a new grid to filter opportunities through and it puts the power and accountability squarely on your shoulders, which can be a bit daunting if you think you are doing this on your own strength. That’s another post altogether though.

The local church’s proper role is to equip and unleash God’s people to pursue Him and His purposes in their lives. Sometimes this is easier for them to say than do, but I think we can help if we will adjust our thinking just a smidge to take responsibility for what God has given us and make that our focus.

As with other paradigm shifts I’ve talked about, there needs to be a cautionary note to prevent misinterpretation. I’m not saying that we should ignore and abstain from getting involved with what the local church is doing. Often, these events are great ways to grow relationships, meet new people and be a blessing to the world around us. The shift is in motivation. No longer do you have to do these things as an obligation to the church, but rather as a strategic choice in serving your God – and there could be no more lovely fragrance to Him than a right heart that’s passionate to serve Him and be a part of His plan for His people.

So, the question comes down to motivation. Are you abdicating the responsibility for your faith to the church or are you taking personal responsibility for your ministry and seeking His guidance about what’s next? You don’t need permission from anyone to do what God is calling you to – you only need faith expressed in courageous obedience.

Glass Half Full

Steve —  5.24.2010 — Leave a comment

I tend to look at things with more positivity than not – I’ve always been that way. For some reason, I generally believe things will (eventually) work out. But I know that I am not in the mainstream when it comes to this attitude.

Culturally, Americans focus on the negative and the proof is all over the place from report cards (what do you focus on?) to performance evaluations (where do you need most improvement?) to self-esteem (what areas of me need some work).

We are so obsessed with deficiency that we fail to understand what produces success. Take the examples above:

  • What areas of a report card are best? Let’s explore why and do more of that – perhaps even apply some of that knowledge to the other areas.
  • In what areas are we finding energy at work? Let’s get involved in more of that and see our job satisfactions go up.
  • What part of me do I love? Keeping a list of those qualities about myself that are awesome handy when those old tapes play.

Knowing how to shift our thinking to focus on the positives and strengths around and in us takes some serious work up front, but the payoff is phenomenal. Take another example: spirituality.

Christians often want to focus on how depraved (opposite from God) we are and it comes out in the way we talk about ourselves. We call ourselves sinners and unworthy and undeserving when the facts of Scripture, when understood fully, paint a much different picture.

Sinner vs. Saint: In most of the apostle Paul’s opening remarks to the Church in his letters, he refers to the Christians there as “saints” – not saved sinners. Do you see the difference? It might appear subtle at first, but it isn’t – it is very profound!

Let me explain. When Christ enters our life and saves us from an eternal separation from our Heavenly Father, He must to do something with what separated us to begin with – our sin.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. ~ Psalm 103:11-12

The idea is that although we deserve to be judged and sentenced to eternal separation from God, He moved toward us and forgave that transgression and placed them as far away from us as the east is from the west (infinity). The picture the Psamlist wants us to put in our mind is one of a new identity – one of sainthood. We are no longer identified by our sin because it has been removed from us.

But what sin – just that which has been up to the point of salvation? Surely not – that wouldn’t be a long-term relationship since we seem to do something stupid that can be considered sin every day. Read Romans 8:37:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A basic tenant of the Christian faith is that God forgave all of our sins – past, present and future – through the blood of Christ and there is nothing that can come between us and our Father ever again, which includes us. So, if God doesn’t count our sins against us, why are so hell-bent on identifying with them?

There are a ton of real unhealthy answers and most have to do with our inability to accept anything good about ourselves and this comes from our culture, our parents, our teachers, and even our church. This has to stop!

When God looks at a Christian, He sees His Son – not sin. He sees His adopted child, not an enemy. He sees an eternal relationship, not a fling. And that is called Grace – the umerited favor of a Holy God applied to a wretch headed to Hell made possible through the willing sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

Here’s the point. If you believe in Christ and have accepted His death as payment for your sin, you are a saint; an heir to the Kingdom of God; eternally destined to be with Him who saved you. Your sinner status has been revoked…FOREVER!

Do we still sin – sure we do, but that has more to do with us than Him. Hear me carefully – our unwillingness to admit our mistakes openly and honestly and quickly is what taints our relationship with God – not the mistakes themselves. The power of those mistakes has been removed, but we hide from God when we screw up – we cover our nakedness and live ashamed. WE DO THAT!

We have been made great – not because of who we are, but because of He who lives in us. The first 18 verses of Romans 6 add the boundary needed to keep this new mindset in check:

Romans 6
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

You see, just because there is no power in our sin, we need to continue to take sin seriously because those mistakes keep us from experiencing God fully and we miss the blessing He wants us to experience (“members as instruments of righteousness to God – v. 13.”)

So, the next time you want to dwell on your depravity, do so as a way to remember how great the gift of Grace is, not how horrible and undeserving you are to be called saint. You are now a noble in God’s Kingdom – act like it!

Light Your World

Steve —  5.20.2010 — Leave a comment

I love the use of light as an analogy – I mean LOVE it! As a physicist, light is one of the most fascinating elements of our world. But never fear, I’ll keep it light (pun intended)…this time.

I was in Russia for six weeks and we took a trip to the Black Sea one weekend. As night fell, I could see a huge light scanning the water back and forth. As I went to investigate, the search light became bigger and bigger – it must have been ten feet in diameter when I finally saw it up close. The purpose of that light was to search the open water for smugglers from Turkey trying to enter the country under the cover of night and I would say it was effective at lighting up the night for several miles.

The third and final installment of the banner series: Love Much, Live Well and Light Your World – moves us into the realm of influencing those around us. Like I said, I love the use of light in this last piece for two main reasons:

  1. Light overcomes darkness. In all cases (even black holes are defined by the light being captured around them), when light is shone into a dark area, that area is lit up. You never see the darkness able to prevail in that engagement.
  2. Light behaves as both a wave and a particle. Hang with me for a second. As a wave, light can travel vast distances and not be affected by gravity and other external forces. As a particle, light influences and impacts the physical world in real and tangible ways. The coolest thing is that light is neither a wave nor a particle – IT’S BOTH…AT THE SAME TIME. This means it has vast reach and real impact.

So when we talk about lighting our world, what we’re basically saying is that we (you and I) are to be sources of light shining into the dark world. Some questions immediately come to mind:

  • How bright is my light (effectiveness)? If you’ve ever lost power at night and your flashlight needed new batteries, you quickly realize just how ineffective a dim light can be when you need to find your way. I think a Christian’s effectiveness in being a light to this world is how connected you are to the Father. To put it simply, moving toward God means a brighter light and moving away from Him produces dimmer and dimmer light.
  • Where do I shine (intentionality)? Ever needed a buddy to hold a light when you’re working on your car or the kitchen sink? He can never shine the light exactly where you need it because he can’t see what you see. I think at times, Christians point their lights in the wrong direction and waste the lumen lighting up dead ends. Just like a third hand would ensure you get the light in exactly the right spot, I think God desires to use us in the same way. He knows where light is needed and desires to shine us right where light is needed most.
  • To what end? Lighting your world can take a variety of expressions. It could be seeing a need and responding out of love. It could be telling a friend about your faith and life eternal. It could be having hard conversations with your kids about morality. It really is about responding to the world around you based on loving much and living well.

One final point about light – multiple light sources produce a brighter overall illumination. Back in the day, as more and more candles were grouped together, their combined light was more effective in overcoming a greater amount of darkness – thus the term “candlepower” came to be. This speaks directly to making sure we are moving together, in one accord with purpose.

Putting it all together:

  • Be sure you are moving toward God so your light is a bright as possible
  • Ask Him and courageously move where and do what He instructs
  • Seek out and embrace community so we may increase our candlepower

PARADIGM CHECK: If you find yourself frustrated about the lack of response you are getting from efforts to influence those around you, examine how much you are loving and how well you are living. If you focus on step three and neglect steps 1 & 2, you may be shining your light into empty corners.

We’ve come full circle and as I consider the progression of Love Much, Live Well and Light Your World, it doesn’t seem like a linear progression any longer, but a circular one. Each step reinforces and deepens the next, but it all starts with love – may we never start anywhere else and may we never stop doing all three more and more.