Over focused

I struggled on knowing what to write for this. Part of the problem is I have a bunch of different topics I want to tackle. I started by writing a post on pornography, but I realized that I wanted to hit something much bigger across the spectrum. I think some of these big sin issues need to be discussed, and people need help on knowing how to deal with them. However, there is a key aspect to our big sin addictions that need to be addressed. This encompasses anyone with any reoccurring sin they struggle with. It is the issue of over focusing on that sin.

This is not to say that these sins need to be ignored or not talked about. One of the saddest things in our world and specifically in the church today is that we do not discuss the awkward, but predominant issues like pornography. Silence on these issues are causing problems. The over focusing comes from the individual struggling with the sin.

Satan and his demons are crafty and skilled at deception. They know how to make us feel like we are on the right track while subtly leading us astray. Often times a Christians weakest point is when they are obsessively fighting off a specific sin. Why would this be? Why would fighting our sin be a ploy of the enemy? It can slightly be compared to this following analogy.

Let’s say I am training to be a basketball player. I practice constantly on my dribbling, defensive stance, my shooting, layups, etc. I pour all of my time and energy into basketball drills. Theoretically I should become a better basketball player right? Well I didn’t explain the details of my training. My practice in dribbling consists of me staring down at the floor the entire time. Now I practice this for our, but I am staring at the floor. My shooting and layup techniques are practiced completely wrong. I practice my defensive stance for hours, but it is done so poorly that anyone could get passed me.

Our obsessiveness over a sinful addiction can be the same way. I can pour all of my energy into fighting this sin, and learning “techniques”, but if I am doing the wrong thing it is actually going to hurt me in the long run. Let us take the example of pornography. I memorize some key verses to keep in mind when the urge to give into this sin occurs. I have an accountability group I can call when things are getting difficult. I keep my computer off when no one else is around. Have I really dealt with the sin?

I have dealt with the urges. I have stalled some of the consequences of my desires. I have not dealt with the root issue though. I have not dealt with what is going on in my heart. This is a problem, and is perhaps the main reason why people often relapse into their sin. We have strived to fight off the urges rather than dealing with the main issue.

How can we fix this problem? It starts by looking at the bigger picture. There is more going on in your spiritual walk than just that one specific sin. Christianity is a relationship with God in every aspect of our lives. Our focus then should be on honoring and glorifying him in all that we do. Satan can make us focus so much on fighting our sin that we can actually lose focus on God.

Think about it. Whenever the fight with sin is not going particularly well we feel too guilty to cultivate our relationship with God. Our devotionals start to become less frequent, and thus we lose the source of energy to resist temptation. It becomes a downward spiral. Even when we are “succeeding” in our fight with sin we remain so obsessed with it that we forget other aspects of our spiritual life that also require attention such as being a servant, sharing the gospel, ministering to our family, or even dealing with another sin that has become a habit in our life. Success in obsessively combating sin can often be the greatest window of opportunity for pride to settle into your life.

I propose a new tactic. Start drawing closer to God. Spend time with him even if you feel you do not deserve his time. Focus on glorifying him. A man with a sin rooted in his life is a man who has had a failure of focusing on Christ rather than a failure of focusing on defeating that sin. We cannot defeat our sin on our own. We can fight back the urges, but the real issue is a heart issue. Only God can deal with those. Soon we will discuss on some of these common sin issues, but today simply focus on Him.

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Will the real Messiah please stand up

Guess what, that politician is not going to bring guaranteed salvation and peace. That job you are trying to get is not going to solve all of your problems. That new item is only going to instill pleasure in you for a little while until you need to look for something new. That boyfriend/girlfriend is not going to make all your problems go away.

We look in so many of the wrong places to fix our problems. This post is largely stemmed from the current political arena, and seeing all the statements made by people about how everything in life would be better with Obama, Romney, or Ron Paul in office. These men become worshipped. They are lifted up as a messiah who can save our country from its destructive path.

I do this too though. It may not be with politicians, but I seek other items that I place as a messiah in my life. I use them as something to either shield me from what painful situation I am dealing with, or I believe it is something that can fix all my problems. Many of these things are not even inherently bad, but I look to them for comfort and salvation.

It bothers me when I see this in myself. It is a reminder that I do not put my full dependence on God like I need to. However, it is comforting for me when I realize what is happening. When I am aware of a problem then I can work on finding a solution.

What is your messiah right now? For some it may be a politician. Are you praying to God for the health of our country or are you praying to a politician for health for our country? Are you pointing people towards a politician that you believe will bring peace to the land, or are you pointing people to Christ who can bring peace to their hearts first? It baffles me how many Christians and even pastors hammer on people to vote for the “right” politician, but never point them to a God who can instill them with proper guidance in the first place. If 90% of your conversation topics, thoughts, tweets, or facebook posts are about a politician, then maybe you need to rethink through some things.

Maybe your messiah is a hobby. You might use this hobby to escape the stresses of life. It keeps you sane. Now this can be a healthy thing. We all need something to recharge ourselves and get our mind off of stress. However, sometimes we create a complete fantasy world in order to run from our issues rather than recharge before facing those issues again.

Perhaps your messiah is a relationship. Some people cannot be happy unless they are in a relationship. All of their problems seem so much bigger when they are alone. Relationships can be used to escape our problems. We use relationships to define our value and happiness. I have value so long as someone else sees value in me. It is unhealthy.

Obama, Romney, and Paul did not die on the cross for you. No matter what laws they put in place in our country they are still unable to change your heart. Your hobbies did not sacrifice themselves for you. They cannot compel you to love. They cannot carry your burdens. Your relationship cannot get you into heaven. None of these things are an adequate messiah substitute.

The real Messiah can change the nation by changing the heart of the individual. The real Messiah died on a cross for you to pay for your punishment. He can carry your burdens and help you face your problems. He is not an escape from the reality of this world, but he is the solution to it. Belief in Him will give you eternal life. It will bring you true satisfaction and joy. The real messiah gives you true value. A value that was priceless and shown through the payment of blood on a cross.

You can choose to keep your politician, hobby, and relationship messiahs. I will stick with the one that works.

Masquerade

When did Christianity become a mask we wear in life? Being a Christian for many is a costume they put on during certain days of the week. We live a life that is Christian approved when we are around parents, Christian friends, or church. Once we are away from that lifestyle though we take our mask off and indulge ourselves in other things.

Church can often become one giant masquerade. Some people have really elaborate masks with such tremendous detail that you cannot help, but be enamored by them. These are the people that speak deep words of wisdom on how to live for God. They seem to worship with passion and zeal. However, they get home and take their mask off showing that it was only a well delivered performance. I’m sick and tired of masquerades.

Christianity is not some spiffy new outfit you put on to cover the grime. It is not something that is placed as a simple outer shell to give the appearance of some clean and pure. Christianity is something the pierces into the core of your being. It removes before it applies.

Paul said in Ephesians that we need to take off the old self and put on the new. The old self is enslaved to sin and Satan. It indulges in the desires of the flesh. Its god is personal pleasure. It hungers for the things that never satisfy. It is a cancer to the human race. Paul says that we must remove that and replace it with the new self. We are a new creation in Christ.

Some of us would rather just put on the new self over the old self. We think we can just get by if we have the appearance of the new self. We lead ourselves to disaster in these situations. Christianity is not a new outfit to put on. It is not a mask that gives us the appearance of a stereotype. Christianity takes the core of who you are. It takes the person God created you to be, and then it completes it. It fills in the gap. It removes all the trash and poison that we fill that whole with and replaces it with the Holy Spirit.

The crazy thing is that we wear masks because we think that is what everyone else is doing. After all, even Christians still sin no matter how hard they try. We join in on the masquerade because we think that is what you are supposed to do. Satan has given a huge lie to the church. He has told the church that there is no room for transparency. It is shameful to be open about our failures. It is inappropriate to bring up the issue of pornography amongst men. It is intolerant to help people to get out of their sin. You should not meddle in someone else’s life, and you certainly should never let someone else meddle in yours.

These lies push us to come to church with our masks on. We wear the Christian outfit and still fill our gap with gossip, pornography, pride, sex, alcohol, financial success, fame, etc. Maybe it is time for the masks to come off. I think we would all be pleasantly surprised what we see.

Switchfoot has a song called “Beautiful letdown”. The idea is the singer explaining the surprise and beauty when he discovers what the church is made up of. It is made up of former murderers, idolaters, addicts, failures, and anything else that you would not expect in church. I love that song because it reminds me where we come from as a church, and the beauty that can be found in that. We were once sinners, but we have now been redeemed by Christ. True faith in Christ is more than just a mask. It penetrates your soul. It allows you to be transparent about your life because even though you may have a nasty past, even though you may still struggle with sin, you have been bought with the blood of Christ. I’m done with the masquerades.

Musings from childhood: Star Wars and finishing well

I’m a Star Wars fan. I always have been, and I always will be. I grew up loving the original films. Naturally when the news arrive that the prequel trilogy was being made I was ecstatic. I would pour myself over any information that was available for The Phantom Menace. The anticipation was exhilarating. After what seemed like ages of waiting the time had finally arrive to see this film that in my mind was set up to be everything I had ever dreamed. It would blow me away just as much as the other films had. This was an anticipation expected from fans everywhere. Theaters around the world were filled with fan with high hopes. They were also emptied by fans who were thoroughly disappointed.

The film was a disaster compared to George’s previous success. Everyone seemed to wonder what happened. The next film was even worse than the last one. The third only barely brought itself up back to an acceptable range. Why was this amazing director doing so poorly?

Some people believed his previous success was a random fluke. He only got lucky with his first films. Others thought he went senile. Others believe that battle of nostalgia amongst fans did not stand a chance with these new films. I do not think it was any of these. I believe what really happened is something that happens to people in their Spiritual walk far too often.

George Lucas lost sight of his vision. He had moments where you saw it. I believe as a director who was a true visionary. He told a tail of epic proportions. Somewhere down the line he just started to care about the wrong things. He used to care about the fans, but now openly insults them in interviews. He used to care about the story, but now is more obsessed with merchandising and special effects. This man was not the same one who set out on his own journey years ago.

We lose sight far of where we are going. A Christian often starts out very strong in their faith. They have a passion for God’s word. They want to be a zealous servant for Him. This passion dwindles though. Other things in life start to take up time and focus. We turn our attention towards other things. We end up finishing this journey halfheartedly. We do not finish well.

Lucas had a point in his career where he would go down as one of the greatest directors and storytellers out there. Now he is going down as a man who seemed to give up in the end. Someone who spit on the masterpiece he created. Is that what I want people to say about me with my life? Do I want to be known as a guy who had a ton of potential, but never pursued it? Do I want to be the guy who started off with an amazing spirit and passion for God, but then dwindled and fell off the path?

I want to be known as someone who ended well. Sure I had some bumpy parts in my journey. Things were not always perfect. I still want to be known as someone who ended his life with more passion for God than when he started. I want to be someone who impassions others even after he has left this earth. I want my life to be an example for others. I want to have done so much for God that my legacy for Him will only scratch the surface while I am living on this earth. I want to end well so that others can start well. I want to end well so others can see how it can be done. I want to end well because I want my life to consist of something that truly matters. I don’t want to be a one trick pony.

How do I do this? I must always keep my eyes fixed on Christ. I cannot let other distractions in this world keep me from remaining dedicated to him. I need to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to remain so focused on Him and accomplishing what He wants me to that when I leave this world it is because I have run out of things that He has for me to do. I just want to finish well.

Love the sinner, but hate the sin

Christianity can be full of one liners that lack explanation. Some of these statements are pretty accurate, but do not provide much benefit without clarification. One of these statements is one that seems completely contradictory. “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” We may look at that and think it appears profound, but would seem to fall apart when given a closer look. We base a statement like this off of our own feelings and opinions, but rarely do we look and see what Scripture has to say.

The idea for this view is found in Jude 1:22-23, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Out of these verses we get the idea of loving a sinner and hating the sin. What exactly is Jude saying here? First is to point out that Jude is commanding us to have extreme compassion on those who have strayed from God, or even rebelled from Him completely. Compassion is a necessity in the Christian life as opposed to an option. We must care for those who are sinning. They need to know that we are reaching out to them out of a heart of love rather than condemnation.

Jude goes on to say that we should hate sin. We should even hate the garment stained by the flesh. We are told to hate sin. We should hate the affect that sin has on people. We should hate the damage that sin has on the lives of others. We are told to hate everything about sin. Some will look at this passage and say, “Maybe that is what Jude is saying for the context of his original readers, but that may not hold the same value for us today.” This is part of Scripture. All Scripture is profitable for us even today. There is no other way for us to view this Scripture for ourselves other than how it was intended for its original readers. There was no qualifier in this passage. This is across the board. I have never found a proper scholar who has given any other viable application for these verses.

Isn’t this a contradiction though? How can we hate all that sin is, but love the sinner? This is a common question. It is sad that we are rarely given an answer. I believe this idea is not a contradiction. I believe these two polar ideas can come together in a harmonious and life impacting way. I hate sin. I hate the sin in my life. I hate the sin in the lives of others. The question we need to ask is why? Why are we meant to hate sin? The Sunday School answer is because we disobey God. That is part of the answer, but we need to delve deeper than that.

I hate sin because it is destructive. It ruins people’s lives. When I sin I harm those around me. I damage relationships with people. It is a poison that leads to death and destruction. I hate sin. I cannot stand it. Some say that is all fine and good, but I have no right to hate someone else’s sin. The only sin I should hate is mine. Anything less would keep me from loving that person. Really? What if I told you my hatred of someone’s sin helps me to love them even more?

The key to loving a sinner fully is to fully understand why we should hate their sin. I hate my own sin because it is destructive in my life. It keeps me from living the best life I could live. It keeps me from truly being satisfied. It keeps me from experiencing a vibrant and earth shattering relationship with God. My enslavement to sin kept me from having a relationship with God at all. It destined me for death and separation from God. That is why I hate my sin.

What if I applied that hatred of sin to someone else’s life? My same reasons of hatred for sin in someone else’s life would compel me to have compassion on them. My hatred of their sin would give me a desire to reach out to them and help them to see there is more to life than what they have. My reasons for hating sin would help me to see that they are in need of a rescuer because my hatred of sin helps me understand just how powerful sin can be.

We hate sin because we do not want to be corrupted by it. We show compassion and care to others, but we do it with some tact. I wrote a few weeks ago about how we should not be sinaphobes, but we always need to realize our limit. Sin is corrupt. We need to keep it at an arm’s length in our lives. We strive to meet a balance where we have this attitude towards sin, but embrace and care for the sinner. My hatred of sin and need to be cautious around it helps me to love the sinner. Will the balance be difficult? Absolutely. Is that balance needed? It most certainly is.

God hates sin, but he loves the sinner enough to die in his place. God hates sin. There is no mistake to that. God cannot stand sin. He cannot be around sin. He pours out His wrath on sin. He loved the sinner though. He understood what sin was doing in the life of the sinner. That is why He made a way for the sinner to be free of the sin that He hates so much.

Love the sinner, but hate the sin.

Let love be.

Humans have been known to warp and distort things that are good. We take the sweetness and enjoyment of food and turn it into an obsession of gluttony. We take the magic and beauty of sex in marriage and trample over it in our culture and outside the marriage. We have even warped our very selves. We were made and claimed by God that we were a good creation. We messed that one up pretty bad though. We are masters at manipulating and twisting things that were originally pure and good.

Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be genuine.” This is perhaps one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. This verse says so much about us and our interaction with love. This one sentence tells us all about our expectations of love. It tells us all about our failures with love. This one verse is loaded with truth. It is a verse that pierces our hearts in ways we never realized we needed.

Let love be. Those three words alone echo into the very core of my being. These words tell me everything I have done wrong with love up to the point of first reading them. Love is not something you force. It is not something you mold to fit your personal accommodations. Love is not something you fix. It is not something you do anything with. Love is meant to be freeing rather than shackled to fit our own purposes. Love is meant to be what love is. Love has its own terms. Love already has purpose. Love already knows what it is doing.

Love is something that must be genuine. Love is meant to be sincere and pure. Love cannot do what it is meant to do if it is corrupt. Love cannot be love if it is forced to be. Love is something that is meant to be natural as breathing. Love must be everything love is or it does not exist at all.

We twist love. We use love to meet our own needs and pleasures. It is used by the boyfriend to get sex or by the man or woman who desires something form their spouse. “If you really loved me. You would do this.” Love is something we assume can die out when its emotional highs fade. It is used as an excuse to break oaths made before God, family and friends. “I just don’t love you anymore.” Love is something we believe can fail when it is convenient for us to let it fail. We will love those who are easy to love. We will love those who love us.

It is twisted by making it me centered. Love is all about me. I need to feel and be loved. I must experience love from others. I will withhold love form someone when they anger me or do not give me what I desire. I will withhold love as punishment to let another know I am upset. We take a love that is meant to be pure and defile it. We cheapen love to get what we want whether it is sex, approval, status, affection, respect, or attention. We force love to fit a role it is not meant to fill. We make love more complicated than it was ever meant to be.

Let us go back to the simplicity of love. Let us let love be what love is. Let us go back to something that is simple, sincere, and pure. True love allows no deception, disguises, or masks. True love must be left genuine. It is time for us to let love be.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corin. 13:13)

Unity with the Simons and Levis in life

A few years ago I had kidney stones. I went to the ER to get things dealt with after dealing with severe pain. It was pretty much a nightmare. After a very long wait I finally was able to see a doctor who gave me some drugs to help with the pain. Powerful pain drugs are a funny thing. They can make you much more apt to speak to strangers. Pretty soon I found myself making friends with anyone who went past my room.

Soon a man who worked at the hospital came to take me to another room for some tests. His name was Lamar. He was a very kind man who had a way with people. He was open to conversation, and was clearly a warm and friendly person. I asked him various questions about his job. I asked if he enjoyed working there. He happily expressed his affirmation to that question. I asked if he enjoyed working with the other people in the hospital. I will never forget his response. “I get along very well with my coworkers here. We need to get along.” I asked him why that was. Lamar replied, “You never know when you are working on a patient whose life may be at stake. The last thing you want in that situation is bad feelings towards the person across from the patient you are working with.” Lamar explained that in order to save lives he needed to have unity with his coworkers.

Boy do I wish we grasped this lesson better. I myself struggle with this far too often. We are so good at developing pointless debates with one another in the church whether they are theological, over building agendas, or some program. We get worked up against each other and shatter our unity. Satan loves for divisiveness to take place. He loves it when people cannot follow a leader. He loves it when two Christians have opposing views and refuse to play nice because of it. He loves it when we hold bitterness and resentment towards each other. Satan loves unresolved conflict.

We are meant to make a difference in this world. We are meant to show this world that there is hope. How can we do that if we cannot get along with one another? I get angry when Christians get petty with one another. It angers me when we need to waste our energies on pointless and unbiblical arguments when we could instead be working together for God.

I’ve had to learn this over the years. Sometimes there are people in the body of Christ that can just be difficult to work with. We are a family full of various personalities, and personalities can clash pretty hard. How do we keep from clashing? How can we focus on encouraging our leaders in their weakness rather than tearing them down? How can we build our brother or sister up even when we are on opposing sides of an issue? How can we set aside our petty disagreements? We need to remember who the head of the body is.

Look at Jesus twelve disciples. Those personalities should have been destined for an explosive event. You have Levi who will do anything for a few bucks including working for Rome as a tax collector. You then have Simon who is a zealot. A fanatic who is part of a political party bent on being free of Rome. These two men should not have gotten along. You have John who is a pretty young guy. You also have Peter who has a habit of needing to put his foot in his mouth. These were twelve men who were all very different. Some had to follow the lead of others even when those leaders made mistakes. Some had to set aside their petty disagreements. Above all else they had to encourage and lift one another up in their failures. They did all of this because Christ was the key to all of those relationships.

I can be really petty sometimes. I can get aggravated when another believer makes a mistake that feels inconvenient to me. We maul each other in our failures to often. We stifle the energetic and creative. A man who is a servant or is creative is not stifled from his failures; he is stifled from the failure of others to lift him up afterwards.

I fear the average Christian struggles with knowing how to work with others in the body of Christ. We have lost some of the natural beauty to the church because of this. A Christian should be able to travel anywhere around the world and find fellow believers to minister to others with. Our petty differences keep us from doing that though.

There is a difficulty to all of this. You have a choice while reading this post just like I have a choice upon writing it. I could have either written this post out of a heart of what I think everyone else around me needs to do, or I could have written this post with the idea of what I need to be doing to make unity happen with others in my life. Your choice is simple. You can read this and think, “I hope so and so reads this and learns from it”, or you can read this and pray to God to reveal to you how you can work side by side with the Simons and Levis in your life. The choice is yours.

A believer who fails to keep unity is a believer who has removed Christ from the center of Christian fellowship.