A Fragmented Christianity Makes The Christian Life Difficult To Live

Divergent Doctrines are Believed Based On One "Unifying" Source

Most, if not all Christian protestant-evangelical groups claim the Bible as their only standard of faith and practice. With one authoritative and final source of truth, certainly all Christians should be united in one faith, one baptism, and one Lord. How, then, can one explain the vast differences in doctrine, worship, practice, church ethos/culture, and ecclesial structure that is found in Christendom? For example, the Bible is said to be clear on such matters as baptism, salvation, church leadership structure, sin, spiritual gifts, last things (eschatology), Lord’s Supper, law and grace, the Trinity, and the gospel. Yet, denominations, groups, or individual churches themselves disagree about these matters, sometimes vehemently. 

Calvinists square off against Arminians, Charismatics against Baptists, Lutherans against Methodists, Non-denoms against everyone, and Anglicans against nobody. Each group asserts, at some level, their adherence to one source, the scriptures. 

This post is written not to promote the ideas of “agree to disagree” or to say “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in Jesus” or to say that the scriptures are not truth. My purpose is to challenge the notion that the scriptures are the only source of truth for the Christian and, more importantly, to illustrate that apart from Jesus who is Truth and the Church which is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15) there is great confusion, disagreement and ignorance. For most Christians, this division doesn’t matter. 

What makes all this confusion possible is the notion of “Sola Scriptura” (scripture only) which does not hold up under scrutiny. First, the Bible does not teach sola scriptura. Second, there was no such doctrine in the church for 1500 years until the Reformers invented it. Thirdly, due to the idea of sola scriptura, diverse and contradictory interpretations of scripture has spawned thousands of Christian groups each claiming to be based on the Bible.                                                                                        

Here are statements from very diverse groups defending their doctrines and practices based on their loyalty to scripture:  

Seventh-Day Adventists (Sabbath/Saturday worship, adhere to OT law, divergent eschatology; founded in 1863, Battle Creek, MI)

The Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. “We consider our movement to be the result of the Protestant conviction Sola Scriptura — the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians.” https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/god/holy-scriptures/

Calvary Chapel – (neocharismatic, “non-denominational, founded 1965, Costa Mesa, CA) 

We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired without error and the infallible rule of faith and practice. The Word of God is the foundation upon which the church operates and is the basis for which the church is governed. We believe that the Word of God supersedes any earthly law that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. http://calvarycca.org/statement-of-faith/

Presbyterian Church in America – (Reformed, Calvinist, semi-sacramental; founded 1973, Birmingham, AL)

The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. The Bible itself being the only infallible rule of faith and practice (though the Westminster Confession of Faith is adopted as its secondary standard). https://www.pcanet.org/

Conservative Baptists of America ( beliefs, practices vary church to church; founded 1943/1947)

We believe the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the divinely inspired, infallible Word of God, without error in the original manuscripts, and God’s complete, written revelation to humankind. The Bible is sufficient and trustworthy for life, faith, conduct, and practice, and is the supreme and final authority in all matters to which it speaks. We further believe there is but one true interpretation of Scripture, although there may be several applications. The true meaning lies in the text and is that which the divinely-guided author willed to convey. It is recoverable through careful application of a literal (grammatical, historical, contextual) method of interpretation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in the community of Christ. The Holy Spirit illumines the text, enabling the reader to embrace the significance of what God has communicated, and to see the glory of Christ in the Word of God. http://cbamerica.org/identity/what-we-believe/

Southern Baptist Convention  (beliefs, practices vary church to church, reject infant baptism, must immerse; non-sacramental, various eschatology’s; founded 1845, Augusta, GA)

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation. http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

 

United Methodist (Wesleyan, semi-sacramental and semi-liturgical, Arminian theology, practices vary church to church; organized 1968)

In early times and over many generations, the sixty-six books were thoughtfully used by faithful people. In the process their merits were weighed, and the community of believers finally gave them special authority. Tested by faith, proven by experience, these books have become sacred; they’ve become our rule for faith and practice. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-christian-roots-the-bible
 

Assembly of God USA (baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking with tongues; divine healing is integral part of the gospel; origin 1914, formal organization 1989)

The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct. https://ag.org/Beliefs/Statement-of-Fundamental-Truths#1

Church of Christ/American Restoration Movement (baptism necessary for salvation, non-liturgical, non-ecclesial, non-creedal; various practices church to church; beginning of 19th c.) 

Wikipedia writes this (which could be applied to most denominations or associations of churches): “Members of the Churches of Christ believe that Jesus founded only one church, that the current divisions among Christians do not express God’s will, and that the only basis for restoring Christian unity is the BibleChurches of Christ seek to practice the principle of the Bible being the only source to find doctrine (known elsewhere as sola scriptura). The Bible is generally regarded as inspired and inerrant. Churches of Christ generally see the Bible as historically accurate and literal, unless scriptural context obviously indicates otherwise. Regarding church practices, worship, and doctrine, there is great liberty from congregation to congregation in interpreting what is biblically permissible, as congregations are not controlled by a denominational hierarchy. Their approach to the Bible is driven by the “assumption that the Bible is sufficiently plain and simple to render its message obvious to any sincere believer”. Related to this is an assumption that the Bible provides an understandable “blueprint” or “constitution” for the church.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_of_Christ

Campus Crusade for Christ (representative of many “para-church,” evangelical organizations)

The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians. Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any interpretation is based upon the Bible alone, and that no such interpretation shall become an issue which hinders the ministry to which God has called us.

Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (conservative; 1847, Chicago) 

We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. — With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. https://www.lcms.org/about/beliefs/doctrine/brief-statement-of-lcms-doctrinal-position#holy-scriptures
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (moderate/liberal; From website: “This is Christ’s Church;” 1988)
Lutheran Christians say that the Scriptures are the “source and norm” of their teaching and practice. http://www.elca.org/Faith/ELCA-Teaching/Scripture-Creeds-Confessions
 
Anglican Church in North America (2009)
We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.  http://www.anglicanchurch.net/index.php/main/Theology/
 

Episcopal Church (From website: “The Episcopal Church is a spiritual home free of judgment and inclusive for all;” 1789 in USA) 

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 236). 
[Scripture] is our foundation, understood through tradition and reason, containing all things necessary for salvation. Our worship is filled with Scripture from beginning to end. https://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/bible
VineyardUSA (neocharismatic, emphasis on kingdom of God, worship, spiritual gifts; 1982) 
We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of Holy Scripture so that the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. We receive the sixtysix books of the Old and New Testaments as our final, absolute authority, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. https://vineyardusa.org/about/core-values-beliefs/
 
Oneness Pentecostals (nontrinitarian, baptism in Jesus’ name only, receipt of Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues; 1914) 
Oneness Pentecostalism subscribes to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. They view the Bible as the inspired Word of God, and as absolutely inerrant in its contents (though not necessarily in every translation). They specifically reject the conclusions of church councils such as the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed. They believe that mainstream Trinitarian Christians have been misled by long-held and unchallenged “traditions of men.” For a look at how their nontrinitarian doctrine is “proved” by scripture see:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/oneness-god-biblical-explanation-denis-mercier/ This is heresy. 
Mennonite Church USA (roots in 16th c. Radical Reformation, Meno Simons (1536), USA: 2002)  
We acknowledge the Scripture as the authoritative source and standard for preaching and teaching about faith and life, for distinguishing truth from error, for discerning between good and evil, and for guiding prayer and worship. Other claims on our understanding of Christian faith and life, such as tradition, culture, experience, reason, and political powers, need to be tested and corrected by the light of Holy Scripture. mennoniteusa.org/confession-of-faith/scripture/
 
American Baptist Churches (USA) (beliefs and practices vary from church to church, 1907, Washington DC)
Holy Scripture always has been for us the most authoritative guide to knowing and serving the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer). As the divinely-inspired word of God, the Bible for us reveals our faith and its mandated practice…we have tended to avoid embracing prepared creeds or other statements that might compromise our obligation to interpret Scripture as individuals within the community of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…Cherishing our own God-given gift of freedom has motivated us to support religious freedom for all to seek God’s will. Although this has allowed for distinctive opinions within our congregations both on aspects of our faith and their application within society, most of us would admit that dialog is a healthy means of spiritual growth. As it encourages its members to seek continually the mind of Christ in all matters, American Baptist Churches USA respects the variety of theological understandings that its members, and other Christians, have embraced.Believing in the priesthood of all believers, the ABCUSA avoids using creeds, affirming the freedom of individual Christians and local churches to interpret scripture as the Holy Spirit leads them. The ABCUSA affirms the ordination of women. http://www.abc-usa.org/what_we_believe/the-bible/

Messianic Congregations (observe and celebrate Jewish Holy Days, “Biblical Judaism”)

That the BIBLE, consisting of the Tenach (Holy Scriptures) and the later writings commonly known as the B’rit Hadasha (New Covenant), is the only infallible and authoritative word of God. We recognize its divine inspiration, and accept its teachings as our final authority in all matters of faith and practice. http://iamcs.org/about-us/belief
Conclusions: 
  1. Since individual Christians can interpret the Bible for themselves, they believe what they want as long as they can find some Bible verses to back it up. 
  2. Christian churches can believe very different doctrines but still claim be one church in the faith. 
  3. The Bible is not clear in what it teaches or people are terribly poor at interpreting it. 
  4. Many of these churches “maintain historical, Biblical orthodoxy and embrace the authority of Scripture” yet disagree with one another. How can this be actually true? The principle of noncontradiction – that truth cannot contradict truth – is not applied to doctrinal issues, apparently. 
  5. The Bible can be used to prove almost any doctrine, even a heretical one. 

This theological malaise makes it extremely difficult to challenge people to know God. Many don’t know what to believe or are confused as to who’s actually proclaiming the truth. Plus, it’s acceptable to “pick and choose” according to one’s individual understanding. When there are thousands of authorities, there are no authorities…except one’s own self. 

It’s beyond the scope of this post to offer any solutions. It’s enough to hope you will wrestle with the reality of a fragmented, dis-unified, and defective Western Christianity as if it matters…because it does. 

Dr. K 

15 Dangerous Teachings of Jesus You Better Ignore

If You Seriously Try To Practice Them They'll Mess Up Your Life

Leave it to Jesus to mess up your comfortable life. He’s only supposed to get you into paradise when you die. That’s all, folks! No to hell; yes to heaven. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and give you a home in heaven. Everything else he did or said, you can ignore, right? What He teaches doesn’t matter as long as you’re headed for the streets of gold and your (10,000 sq. ft.) mansion in the sky. 

So, just ignore what He said: 

1. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Matthew 19.15, Mark 10.15, Luke 18.17).

This is a regular theme of Jesus – it’s children who enter the kingdom. Unruly, curious, simple, and unlearned children are the example of those who enter the kingdom of heaven. Young children are the standard of faith by which adults receive the kingdom of heaven not the other way around.

2. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.35)and this bread, which I give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6.62).

Even some of Jesus’ disciples rejected him and this “hard saying” and “walked with him no more.” The same is happening today. Many try to rationally explain the nature of this mystery or explain it away. These disciples didn’t walk away from Jesus over a metaphor or symbol. Jesus meant literally what he said here (as always!). 

3. Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Mathew 5.39).

We often do not know what is good for us or harmful (evil). We think we know what’s harmful, label it as such, and resist it. But, God may have other reasons for us to experience this “evil” of which we are unaware, thus, making it “good.” Real evil is to be overcome with good (Romans 12.21). Learn to resist nothing since all things are for our good. 

4. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom God (Luke 6.20).

In Hebrew, the “poor” means both a) the materially poor and b) the faithful among God’s people. These folks are totally dependent on God for their existence and life. Total dependence on God is a foreign reality to most modern, Western Christians, you and me included. 

5. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5.9).

Don’t you become a child of God by faith alone? To be given the title “child of God” you must be a peacemaker, that is, you participate in God’s peace by grace through faith (but not faith alone). Participating in the peace of the Father, Jesus the Prince of Peace, and Holy Spirit (giver of peace), enables you to share God’s peace with others; become a peacemaker. 

6. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while there is still a beam in your eye? You hypocrite. first take the beam out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.1-5).

You won’t have time to remove the tiny fault in someone else when you really see the huge mess that you are. Truth is, you’ll never see clearly. So, give up trying to correct the faults of others and deal with your own crap. 

7. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6.33).

Do you see God, HIs kingdom and righteousness, as the most important reality in your life? A starving person craves food. A drowning person gasps for air. A true Christian is intense and unstoppable in his/her desire to know God. All else – food, clothing, shelter – find their rightful place only as one craves after God. 

8. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will wear (Matthew 6.34).

How much time, money, thought, and effort is put into providing for our physical needs? We can easily worry about these things indicating a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. Are you consumed by earthly things or God? 

9. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7.21-23)

Only the doers of the Father’s will enter the kingdom. Those who heal, give words of knowledge, prophesy, drive out demons, see visions, and “perform miracles” – even in Lord’s name! – better wise up. So should those who have learned to say the right words. Simply and consistently doing the will of the Father trumps all performances. Do you know the Father well enough that when He wills something you automatically do it?  

10. Be careful not to practice your charitable deeds in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6.1).

Giving of ourselves or our possessions is always good unless our motive is to look good to others. No one has pure motives. Have you ever congratulated yourself or looked for the “Thank you” from others for doing something charitable? This is a subtle attitude we need to struggle with because it affects our relationship with God. 

11. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6.6).

Prayer is primarily an intimate, communion with the Triune God. This kind of meeting with God is it’s own reward. Unfortunately, prayer has become a way to display one’s “piety” before others whether in a small group or a larger church meeting. Use of right-sounding words, voice inflection, and remembering the requests become priority. All that disappears when you’re in solitude, honest and open with God. He becomes your reward.  

12. You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.43-45).

Doesn’t the mercy of God irritate you at times? Why doesn’t He destroy the wicked? Instead, he treats then with the same grace he treats you and asks you to do the same. Love, pray for, act like God towards those who hurt and try to destroy me? It’s difficult enough to love those we love. This is really too much. Love and pray for everyone? Ugh! 

13. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48).

Perfection, God-likeness, is our destiny. It is also our journey. You are on earth, in Christ, to be perfect. Being of good character, spiritually-minded or mature, a good church member, and servant-leader are all good yet incomplete. St. Paul prayed for us to be filled with the fullness of God. St. Peter writes that we are partakers of the divine nature. What are you doing to journey in and towards God-likeness?  

14. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11.12).

According to St. John Chrysostom, the violent who take the kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faithfully living in Him. Is that how you approach the kingdom of God? 

15. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17.3).

Eternal life is not a “thing” given to one who believes. It is the life of God available to enter and live into in an ongoing, loving experience of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Eternal life is a participation in His divine life and in communion with the Trinity. Knowledge here is not merely an intellectual or confident assertion of faith. Since eternal life is the life of God, you must learn to live in it not just believe it.

There’s no getting around it. Jesus upsets your comfortable little Christian world if you take His words seriously and if they matter to you. Or, you can ignore them as most Christians do, and live as you please.  

But if they matter then the struggle to practice these weighty sayings becomes real in your daily living. In the struggle comes great joy and anguish. It’s supposed to be like that. 

Let’s join together in the struggle. It’ll be a beautiful mess. 

Dr. K 

**Some of the comments on Jesus’ teachings were informed by the study notes in the Orthodox Study Bible, 2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Exploring Conventional, Humdrum Christian Living & A Simple, UnCommon Cure

Confronting Mediocrity with Solitude

Why do so many Christians settle for a humdrum version of Christianity? Rinky-dink, below average, bland, garden-variety Christians are a dime-a-dozen. Your average Christians cares more about the condition of their favorite sports team, paycheck, home decor, or political cause than their own soul. Why is there so much effort made to maintain the status quo? Why does anyone settle for a run-of-the-mill Christian life? Sadly, it’s all they see modeled; it’s all they know. Millions of Christians act like conventional Christianity IS the Christian life. They could not be more wrong. 

One of the great frustrations of my life-long Christian ministry is seeing good Christians settle for mediocrity. They are not inspired to a passionate desire and lifestyle of seeking and loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. They settle for a run-of-the-mill, poor, and common Christian life. Ideas, conjecture, and feelings replace the real, actualized experience of knowing God. The average modern Christian settles for comforting, sentimental superficiality over genuine, soul-rendering, life-altering unity with God. 

Mediocre Christians? 

  • They make a sincere decision to trust Jesus as their Savior and now they know they’re going to heaven no matter what. 
  • They regularly go to church. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of church as long as there’s “good” music, preaching, programs, and room to develop relationships. All is good if the church meets their personal preferences, isn’t too demanding, makes them feel good, holds to what they believe, helps them raise their children, provides a place to be involved (If they want to), and starts and ends at a reasonable time.
  • They attend a few special events held at the church a few times a year. This could be a ladies bible study, men’s group, special celebrations, dinners, Easter or Christmas programs, concerts or lectures. Three or four a year should do it.
  • They don’t make any trouble. They listen well, act nice, say kind things to other people, smile at everyone, never complain, encourage others, and vote yes for everything the church leaders ask them to.
  • They get involved in areas where they can help and feel good about themselves. Whatever fits them well and is not too overwhelming, works.  
  • They occasionally read their Bible at home and pray when things get tough. This is done just enough to soothe their conscience and to see if God still answers prayer for them. 
  • They think about becoming a better Christian (not knowing quite what that means) but rarely do anything about it. 
  • They give (or not) to church depending on whether they’re in agreement with what’s happening in the church or where the church is heading. 
  • They try to live a good testimony in front of the lost in the world hoping that those blind people will notice their piety and want what they have. 
  • They honor God and country with the same fervor. Actually, they may get a little more riled up over political issues than spiritual ones. Above all, God bless America! 

If you believe right and live like this, you’ve got little to worry about according to some. Just keep at it until you die. Don’t waver or compromise, dumb down the gospel or quench the Spirit. Give God all the glory and live well. Cling to the cross and hold to the Word of God. Be the church and love people. Believe that God is good all the time. Let go; let God. Being a mediocre Christian isn’t so hard.

But, is that it? 

Break Free From The Status Quo

Why do some Christians seem so free in their relationship with God? How is it that there are Christians who actually exhibit a life in union with Jesus Christ as they persevere in suffering, humiliation, and struggle? How can a person live in such harmony with God that they actually and naturally do His will? These are difficult questions with only a couple good answers. 

There is, however, one simple, uncommon answer for humdrum Christianity. It is an activity which has been a part of being a Christian since there were such people. It is practiced by the godliest found in scripture. It is considered normal for all saints across the centuries. Yet it is probably the one activity most Christians dread or refuse to practice. 

The cure for a mediocre Christian life is to give God space to act in your life.

And the best, most challenging way to learn to create space is SOLITUDE.

Even non-Christians recognize the power of solitude. Susan Cain, in her best-selling book Quiet, highlights study after study demonstrating the power of solitude as the key to exceptional achievement. Psychologist Anders Ericsson compared three groups of expert violinists – “best violinists,” “good violinists,” and those training to be violin teachers rather than performers. They kept diaries of their time. Though the three groups spent the same amount of time in music-related activities, the two best groups spent most of their music-related time practicing in solitude. “Practice alone” was the highest rated activity by the best violinists. Ericsson found similar effects of solitude when they studied other kinds of expert performers – chess players, elite athletes, pianists. 

Cain writes: 

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has defined as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. 

She continues to unpack Deliberate Practice and I apply it to meeting with God in solitude. 

Deliberate Practice (vs. public or group practice) is best conducted alone for several reasons.

1. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting.

To learn to love God with your whole being, it is necessary to engage in deliberate, single-minded, whole-hearted focus on God. For example, when you’re with someone who is regularly distracted by their cell phone, the movements of other people, or a TV, you know you don’t have their full attention. Group worship, group Bible study, or listening to praise music have their place but are laden with distractions. Giving your attention to God alone in solitude allows intense concentration. 

2. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated.

Your will/spirit plays a huge role in being with God in solitude. You can decide to be with God in solitude and follow-up by showing up. That action alone contributes mightily to your inner transformation because you are shaping your will towards God. 

3. Most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally.

Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move.”

For the deliberate Christian, this means that solitude provides the space for God to lovingly work on you. Here, by God’s grace, you learn to love God, battle your passions, repent, worship, be still, experience God’s presence, and so much more. You learn patience, perseverance, humility, true joy and peace. You learn to commune with God. All the inner enterprise that challenges you, including deepening your relationship with God, can be “improved” in solitude.  

St. James says it well: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you (4.8). 

God speaks through the Psalmist David who personally knows the value of solitude: Be still and know that I am God (46.10). 

Jesus invites us to be with him alone: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11.28-30). 

Can becoming Christian be that simple? 

Becoming like Jesus Christ, even becoming a real Christian, requires a solitude that most Christians dread. And that could explain the millions of mediocre Christians walking this planet. 

In our evangelical zealousness to recognize Christianity as a group thing have we neglected the “one thing needed” – sitting in Jesus’ presence alone in solitude, like Mary? Or have we become “distracted” like Martha who was distracted and became a distraction? 

False Dichotomy

I recognize that the Christian life is not either solitude or service. It’s popular to think in terms of “active” or “passive” Christian living. What are you, a contemplative or an activist? The best answer is, “Yes!” When engaged properly in union with God, Christians live both. While in solitude we learn to serve and we can learn to be still while serving.

It is a false dichotomy to divide these activities. “Christian, break down that wall!”

Yet, the way to learn how to be both is to be active in solitude. Learning to actively work with God in solitude is a most challenging aspect of being a Christian, yet worth every minute. 

So, what about you? How are you giving God space to work in your life? For those who doubt God’s ability to work in their life to those who are totally convinced, the best way to experience Him is in solitude. 

Begin Today

  1. Meet with God for 10-15 minutes to start and let your meeting with Him grow over time. 
  2. Be quiet. Silence your thoughts by focusing on a picture of Jesus or by repeating a short prayer like “Lord, have mercy” or simply say “Lord…Jesus…Christ” slowly and earnestly.
  3. Meditate on a short passage of scripture for a few minutes.
  4. Commune with the Father, Son, and Spirit in stillness. Open your heart to their loving grace in you. 
  5. End with a brief prayer concerning your day and the people in your life. 

Then, share below how it goes for you. 

In solitude, God has space to transformationally work in you. Don’t be a mediocre, humdrum Christian. Take up the challenge of solitude. 

Dr. K 

How to Have a Full-filling 2018

The Secret is Letting Go

The good life does not mean getting more but means letting go. True spirituality has more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. This is the teaching of Jesus, His Apostles and Church, and all saints throughout the ages. It’s only in modern Christianity that prosperity, gain, and success have been made part of the gospel. It’s the poor that are blessed while it’s almost impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom. How has the Christian life and its teachings gotten so messed up? 

Here is a powerful truth that can change your life…

All great spirituality is about letting go. Instead we have made it be about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding. Spirituality has become a show we perform for ourselves, which God does not need. True spirituality mirrors the paradox of life itself. It trains us in both detachment and attachment, detachment from the passing so we can attach to the substantial. But if you do not acquire good training in detachment, you may attach to all the wrong things, especially your own self-image and its desire for security. Self-interest becomes very well disguised, often passing for religion. Richard Rohr in Adam’s Return, p. 5

God let go. He let go of His heavenly position, took on flesh, coming to earth to live and die and live again. St. Paul writes about His self-emptying in Philippians 2 – “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing [a prize] to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus Christ did not hold tight to all the glories of heaven but released them emptying himself to take on the nature of a human being.

You and I are to have this same mindset – letting go of everything deemed significant, becoming nothing, so we might become truly human in Christ. 

Bible Examples of Detachment 

Every godly Bible character and every saint has lived a life of detachment. They willingly gave up family, lands, possessions, wealth, ideas about God, friends, country, and even physical life to gain what God willed for them. 

  • Moses let go of an excuse – “I cannot speak” – to do God’s bidding. 
  • Abraham let go of his native land to go to a country he did not know but God did. 
  • Ruth let go of her Moabite culture and followed Naomi to new life in Bethlehem, marriage to Boaz, and motherhood to the grandfather of King David. 
  • Mary willingly became the fleshly home of God, devoting every fiber of her being to the Son of God. 
  • All the Apostles let go of their vocations and families to follow Jesus. 
  • Peter let go of his understanding of Christ’s crucifixion and of a Jews-only gospel. 

The examples are endless. The core activity in our relationship with God is letting go. 

God or Me?

Does God detach stuff from you or do you do it? Like all of the Christian life, it is a synergistic, cooperative effort between God and you. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing especially when it comes to ridding yourself of your attachments. 

In our church youth group in the late 60’s, with all the sincerity a 13-year-old could muster, I’d sing these words…

Treasures

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

Author: Martha Snell Nicholson

 

It is true that fingers clenched around our obsessions, addictions, and attachments prevent God from filling us with His treasures. However, we must open our hands. He does not force those attachments from us without our cooperation. We’re in this emptying process together. That’s what makes detachment even possible. He invites and enables us to empty our hands before He invites us to lift them to Him. 

New Year’s Resolutions in the Light – Detachment

Why not apply these ideas to your New Year’s resolutions as you approach 2018? What attachment might God be asking you to detach from this year?

Here are some areas to consider…

  • Certain theological ideas
  • Divisive political views 
  • Crusty Attitudes
  • Unrealistic dreams for yourself or someone you love
  • Unwarranted opinions about people and ideas
  • Harmful behaviors and habits
  • Subtle love of money or wealth
  • Need for recognition 
  • Demand to control and/or to manipulate people or events
  • Toxic emotions like anger, anxiety or fear 

A unique detachment takes the form of forgiveness. Forgiveness means letting go of the desire for payback, justice, revenge, or punishment. According to Dr. R.T. Kendall, author and pastor, a key component of forgiveness is releasing the bitterness in your heart concerning what a person has done to you (Total Forgiveness, p. 8). Forgiveness is about letting go. 

It is heartbreaking when a Christian stubbornly holds on to beliefs, habits, opinions, wealth or possessions, and feelings unwilling even to consider the harmful spiritual effects these attachments have on their own life and their relationship with God.

Though not a one of us is exempt from attachments, we fear letting them go. 

The challenge is to take time now to evaluate and begin cutting yourself free of harmful attachments. 

2018 Detach – Attach: A Personal Challenge

For me, it’s sugar. I’m addicted to sugar. I have a visceral attachment to sugar that makes candy, sugared cereal, sodas, and cookies almost irresistible. This is not primarily a health issue but a spiritual one. I want to see if I can experience God’s grace and power in the midst of my addiction to sugar so that the result is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. Detach from sugar; attach to self-control. Seems small and simple, huh?!?  I don’t think so. 

Due to writing this post, I’ve already started detaching from sugar. Good grief! As I walk through the grocery store, every sugary item shouts at me: “Buy me!” “Eat me!” “I’m so delicious!”  Leave it to me to start doing this right at Christmas time. Sometimes I wonder if I’m insane. 

“Let sugar go by the grace of God” is my 2018 “mantra.”  Please pray for me as I go through withdrawal. 

What will you “let go” in 2018?

If you are concerned about your relationship with God this coming year, there will be something He’ll invite you to release. Cooperate with Him. Face your fear of letting go. Find His grace sufficient. Experience a result that makes you more like Jesus. 

Share below what you’ll detach from this coming year. If you do, I commit to pray for you and your struggle to detach. 

Dr. K 

The Way We Think About Christmas Is Messed Up

Celebrate the Incarnation and Find a Proper Place for the Birth Event

This is not a post yelling at people for taking Christ out of Christmas. Nor am I going to take a poke at the commercialization of Christmas though it is out of control. As good and fun as it is to give gifts, attend parties, sing about Santa Claus, dress in red, and celebrate Christ’s birth, it’s more profound to recognize that Christmas is about God becoming human. In other words, Christmas is more about the incarnation of Jesus than about the birth of Jesus.

We’re just messed up when it comes to understanding Christmas. For example:

We think Mary was just an empty vessel God used to bring Jesus into the world. Nothing more. Her total devotion to God in the Temple is forgotten. Her purity is dismissed. That she is to be called “blessed” by every generation is rejected. The fact that God took human flesh from Mary to become a human being is new information to most Christians.

We also think it’s critical that we get all the details of that first Christmas night exactly right. People argue over the exact birth place of Jesus – manger, cave, home, barn, etc. What was Joseph’s role? Since no exact time of year is given in scripture, people quibble over an exact date – spring, winter, summer or fall? December or January? Pagan holiday? December 25? There’s debate over the timing of the Magi’s visit. Yet, no Christmas details are given in Mark. Add that early Christian writers were more interested in Jesus’ death and resurrection than in his birth and you’ve got quite a debate on your hands. If only Matthew and Luke could have been more specific about all these “necessary” details.

We wonder why the Gospel writers provide scant information about the birth itself. Matthew records that Mary “brought forth a Son” and Luke writes, “she brought forth her first-born Son…” That’s it. There are only two short phrases in the Gospels about Jesus’ birth. We’d like to know how long Mary was in labor or Jesus’ height and weight. Was it an easy delivery? Who assisted? Any complications? What time? How well are mommy and baby doing? Sorry. He is born. Enough said.

We’re just messed up when it comes to the Christmas story and Christmas itself. Could it be that the birth of Jesus is not the real story? Could the significance of Jesus’ birth lie elsewhere, not in the details? I think so.

Simply put, the real story of Christmas is that God becomes flesh and blood. He is Emmanuel – God with us in the form of a human baby.

Examples in Scripture

Gabriel explains to highly-favored Mary that she will give birth to a son who is named Jesus. He will be called the Son of the Most High and be given his father David’s throne, rule the house of Jacob, and have an everlasting kingdom. He is the Son of God though born of a human being.

Elizabeth calls Jesus before His birth, “my Lord.”

Matthew comments that Jesus fulfills Isiah’s prophecy that “the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is interpreted [literally] ‘with us, God.’”

The shepherds are told that Jesus is a Savior, the Anointed One, and Lord. The details given to the shepherds are a “sign” to the truth the angels declare.

In other words, there’s more said about who Jesus is than his actual birth. That needs to be our focus as well.

The Significance of the Incarnation 

I fear that with the focus on Jesus’ birth, the understanding of Jesus’ incarnation is lost. Modern Christian culture and her people have become so narrowly enamored with the “birth-of-Jesus event “ that His being and purpose have grown fuzzy on the periphery.

Early Christian writers, unfettered by modern ideas or concerns, knew what God coming in the flesh meant. A good example of this is found in the writings of St. Athanasius (296-373) in his work entitled On the Incarnation. He states that due to the corruption of the human race with resulting death, Jesus Christ took on flesh so humans could be made incorruptible through life in Christ.

Pitying our race, moved with compassion for our own limitations, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father – a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.

The significance of Christ’s first coming lies in the fact that He takes on flesh rather than the fact that he is born. Obviously, His birth and physical development are not insignificant. God didn’t just appear as a mature young man. Yet, His simple birth, amazing life, and confounding death only make sense in light of the incarnation.

I can’t help myself. Here are a couple more beautiful and significant excerpts from St. Athanasius on God becoming flesh, the incarnation:

The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father.

At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it.

Glorious incarnation indeed! It must not be ignored.

Irenaeus of Lyons, born in 130 AD in Asia Minor and dying as a martyr in the third century, fought against Gnosticism recorded in Against the Heresies. He taught that the flesh and blood which the Gnostics despised, was assumed by God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Irenaeus provides multiple reasons for the incarnation, one of which is:

It was for this reason that the Word of God, though perfect, became a child in solidarity with mankind. He did not do this for His own sake but because of the state of childhood in which man then existed. He wanted to be received in a way that suited man’s capacity to receive.

He most famously wrote: “In His immeasurable love, He became what we are in order to make us what He is.” God became like a human so a human can become like God. The implications of the incarnation challenge your very being. This reality gets lost if your focus is only on Christ’s birth.

Again, in the writings of these early Christian theologians and in the ongoing unified witness of the Church, Christ’s coming to earth was a celebration of His incarnation not His birth. Be cautious to not let Luke 2 overwhelm Philippians 2.

This Christmas, I hope we all live more fully into the reality of Christ’s incarnation. He became what we are in order to make us what He is. Thanks be to God. 

Dr. K 

Prayer 101: The Essential Prayer to Essential Prayer

Jesus Knows Best

I could hear the frustration in her voice. Listening to a call-in podcast, I heard Lisa talk about her failings with prayer. She wanted to pray, but didn’t really know how to make it a better experience. “I know I should pray. So I do it. But, it’s so hard. I must be doing something wrong. I have to make myself pray. I feel guilty when I’m not consistent and when I struggle. What would you say to someone like me?” she asked the host of the talk show. 

The pastor-host proceeded to give her excellent advise. Prepare a space for prayer. Include natural light and/or candle light or light from an oil lamp. Involve the body by standing, kneeling or crossing yourself. Include a cross, icon, or picture of Jesus. Use a prayer book that includes some psalms. Repeat the Jesus Prayer throughout the day. Establish a prayer rule for morning and evening prayer times. Pray at meals and with others at home and church.

Since he focused on the practical (vs. theological) aspects of prayer, because that was what Lisa was asking about, I thought his response was spot on. I’ve often written about all these elements of an effective prayer life. It was all good. 

It was all a bit overwhelming as well. 

As the pastor-host suggested one good prayer practice after another, I got the feeling that he might be piling on too much information. Sadly, that’s exactly what I would have done in that situation. It takes one to know one. I wondered if Lisa got lost in all the suggestions. What do I do first? What’s most important? Do I have to do it all to be successful? 

So, it got me thinking. What is one simple, doable, practical means to begin establishing a solid prayer life? Is there one essential to prayer that if overlooked makes something of prayer that’s out of character? 

I think this is exactly what a disciple asked Jesus when he said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 

No doubt, the disciples of Jesus were already praying. They often entered the Temple at certain times during the day to pray. They observed Jesus praying and perhaps tried to imitate him. Their observance of the Sabbath would have included prayers. The question asked of Jesus was not because the disciples were at ground zero. 

But, there was something not quite right. They were not used to nor were they familiar with the prayer life Jesus modeled before them. Though He never critiqued how they prayed, they intuitively knew something was amiss. They needed help.

Who better to help them know prayer than the one who actually knows prayer. (That’s a good lesson for us, too!) 

What’s amazing to the spontaneous, “led by the Spirit,” say-what’s-on-your-heart Christian, is that when asked, Jesus gave His followers words to say and a way to say them (in forgiveness, with persistence, while fasting, in humble devotion). He gave them a prayer book not a prayer lecture; words to say not words to study.  

“Out of my experience and understanding of what it is to commune with the Father,” Jesus says, “say these words and you will learn how to pray. When you pray, say…

Our Father, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread and

forgive us our debts as we forgive everyone indebted to us. 

And lead us not into temptation, 

But deliver us from the evil one. 

This prayer from the lips, heart, and experience of Jesus is the one essential to your prayer life. To neglect this prayer is to neglect prayer. It is prayer. It is how you learn to pray. Say what you may, it must be essential to how you pray. 

Those who would push back on this due to their bias against set prayers, liturgical prayers, or written prayers are pushing back against Jesus himself. This is what Jesus prescribed. How do you argue against Him? 

This prayer is not primarily given to analyze, sermonize, or exegete. It is given to pray. Just pray it! 

The way to pray is to pray this way. 

How can you do this? 

  1. Memorize the words by praying them over and over. 
  2. Pray these words during the day. Early church fathers taught to say these words morning, noon, and night. For us that might be when we awake, at noon, and before we go to bed. This might correspond to your meal times so that you pray these words in giving thanks before each meal. 
  3. Pray this prayer when awake during the night. These words can replace anxious and niggling thoughts making sleep possible again. 

It’s that simple. Say the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day. Can you do that? Of course! 

The challenge is to remember to do this. Here are some practical suggestions: 

  • Pray this prayer before you eat. Rarely do you skip meals. If you eat three meals a day, it’s a natural. 
  • Set an alarm on your phone or watch to go off morning, noon, and night. 
  • Connect it to an activity like driving to work or home after work. Pray these words before you pull out of the driveway in the morning and when you pull into it in the evening. Pray it when you boot up the computer and when you shut it down. 
  • Pray it anytime but especially when doing physical labor. 

The important thing is to pray these words from your heart in communion with the Holy Trinity. You don’t even need to know their full meaning. The prayer will become meaningful as you pray it. 

Praying the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day is an essential and simple way to learn to pray. It’s not complicated or intimidating, difficult or exhausting. It is beautiful and satisfying. 

You can succeed in prayer by following Jesus’ instruction, fittingly, three times a day. Why not begin right now. 

How are you struggling with prayer? How can this simple prayer reminder help your prayer life? Share below. 

Dr. K 

How Salvation Becomes Muddled & Mysterious The More I Read The Bible

I’m betting you don’t know as much about “salvation” as you think you do. Salvation is broader, richer, deeper, and greater than what you imagine. Because you’ve experienced some of what it is, you may think you’ve experienced all of it. For some Christians, salvation is so common that they don’t pause and give it thought. Today, I’d like to challenge you to think about salvation according to some Bible passages that mess with a common understanding of salvation.

Personal “Salvation” Journey 

As a teenager, I became enamored with “salvation.” Perhaps due to being a third generation Christian, growing up in a Christian home, or experiencing God’s unique tug on my heart, what it means to be a Christian bewitched me. Almost 50 years later, I’m still enchanted by the nature of a person’s relationship with God.

For most of my life I thought of salvation as being rescued from sin and hell, while being given a home in heaven. At mid-life, the relational aspect of salvation became prominent. Eventually, I came to realize salvation as a reality to be entered into in Jesus Christ in which I participate more and more fully as union with the Trinity is experienced. Salvation is Jesus Christ and a human being’s union with the the Holy Trinity through Him.

Yet for many years, I thought I had salvation clearly figured out – election, calling, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, propitiation, glorification – all in a nice, neat, tidy theological system. I even wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. Yet, my intellectual assertions and my visceral heart were often at odds. I would tie myself in knots reasoning one thing while experiencing another. This was extremely unsettling. My “secure foundations” started crumbling, clearing away my defective ideas. I began discovering a deeper, richer bedrock, theologically and fundamentally solid.

Of all things, the scriptures played a major role in the “idea” of salvation morphing into a fuller reality. The more I read scripture the more I couldn’t hold to my “certainty.” That sounds like a bad thing. It was not.

Along the way, I realized that I had forced onto scripture my own tightly-wound perspective of salvation. But, when I began reading scripture at “face value,” free from theological bias, I began discovering how fragmented my thinking really was. 

Scriptures 

These are some of the scriptures that began dismantling and simultaneously rebuilding my understanding of salvation: 

Matthew 19.16-26/Luke 18.18-30

“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”…If you would enter life, keep the commandments….If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me…Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven….Who then can be saved?…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Luke 18.29-30: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.“)

Matthew 19.14 

Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 10.25 

What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself….Do this and you shall live.

Matthew 25.31-46 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

 Matthew 5.20 
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Matthew 12.37

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

John 5.28-29 

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

John 6.53-58

Truly, truly I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

John 7.37-38 

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Romans 2.5-10

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

2 Corinthians 5.10 

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Philippians 2.12-13

…as you have always obeyed, so now…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

2 Thessalonians 1.5-8

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering…when the Lord Jesus is revealed…inflicting vengeance of those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 5.9 

And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…

James 2.20-24

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness — and he was called a friend of God.” You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

1 Peter 4.17 

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

To Each His Own? 

These passages can be spun in certain theological directions. Calvinists will interpret them one way, Arminians another. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, Baptists, Charismatics, Adventists, Methodists, Anglicans, non-denominationalists can give their distinct and sundry explanations. Ask 100 Christians what these verses mean and you’ll receive 100 different answers. It’s almost impossible to take these words at face value since theological loyalties run deep.

Yet these verses present a direct and authoritative challenge to whatever your theological leanings. If you believe the scriptures are the final word on matters of salvation, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and the gospel, you must wrestle with the implications of such statements of truth. 

Conclusions:

I’m not trying to “prove” anything here. I’m simply seeking to broaden your understanding of salvation. I want to challenge you to explore salvation more deeply not confuse you and create doubt. 

  • Salvation is freely given. Yet, you must accept and live salvation (“put on”) to experience its fullness.
  • Salvation is more than a transaction – you believe, God forgives, you’re declared righteous. It is a call to LIFE in union with Jesus Christ as these verses often explain.
  • Salvation is a mystery. There is more here than you’ll ever know in this life. New discoveries of what it is to “be saved” need to be happening daily.

Will you take up the challenge to explore what it means to be saved? Meditate on these passages. Follow the evidence. Let the Triune God guide you into the glorious mystery of salvation. 

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K

10 UnCommon Things For Which I’m Thankful

Don't Miss #10

Thankfulness is a powerful force in our spiritual lives. It can transform every relationship and hardship. Today we celebrate gratefulness. I hope you do that well. 

Here are 10 Uncommon things for which I’m grateful: 

  1. Classical music – the beauty of blending instruments, of moving melody lines, of the variety of musical expressions, of the lives of the composers, and of the feeding of the soul makes this music worth listening to. 
  2. Struggles – from the small irritations of my wife (you who know her may find that hard to believe) to regular, daily stuff that gets under my skin, these experiences challenge me to change. This includes the stuff I bring upon myself. I usually don’t like these struggles but I’m thankful for them anyway (well, after I process them a bit). 
  3. Amazon – the convenience of doing research online and ordering with a click of the mouse sure beats the time it takes to visit many stores to find that one item. I know I’m supporting big corporation America and ignoring the little local guy. But I try to balance it all out. (Please don’t judge me :-)) 
  4. Jesus Christ – revealed in His Church, creation, scriptures, and people continues to surprise me, inspire me, and humble me. 
  5. Church family – my little church of 35-40 people, all seeking God out of their motley lives, is part of the Church of 300 million. Thanks be to God! 
  6. Birds – my admiration of this group of endothermic vertebrates continues to rise. Their simple lives – God provides, they participate, their beauty, and their enviable high metabolic rate impress me. God’s creation is glorious. 
  7. Gentle breezes – the wind harmonizing in the trees reminds me of the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t see the wind but you can see the results of it. I love it blowing on my face. I love hearing the rustling of the leaves. 
  8. Water – is cleansing, refreshing, essential, and beautiful in its place. It can be destructive. However, without it we would not be able to live. It is another simple thing that makes life happen. 
  9. Airbnb – this company is helping us enlarge our hospitality ministry. We make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people every year as we show the love of Jesus to every “stranger” who enters our home. It’s a great honor to serve others as did Abraham and Sarah, Jesus himself, and hundreds of saints throughout history. 
  10. YOU – as a reader of the UnCommon Journey and part of this little community, you are special to me. I pray for you daily and thank God for you. I know I write about some topics that you like and others that you don’t. You may agree or disagree or wrestle with what’s written. But, you hang in there with me. I am thankful for you. 

May you have a special Thanksgiving Day. 

Dr. K 

Exploring Sex, Seniors, and Spirituality

Growing Old Has Spiritual Advantages

Jack may be retired, but he isn’t dead. Watching his ever-beautiful wife’s shadowy figure behind the shower curtain heightens the still-employed passion within. He thoughtfully relives memorable nights when it was “all systems go.” Automatically, his ero-system starts to hum. The mingling of hunger and hope feeds the genitive engine while her soft touch energizes it. This is, until “what’s under the hood” breaks down with the finish line far away. 

“Damn it!,” Jack screams at himself, irritated by his “incompetence.” “What is my problem? I’ve got to do something about this. No way am I going to live for the rest of my life unable to perform. I’m a man, not a wimp!”

Are you less human if you are not sexually active, unable to engage in sexual relationships, or choose not to? Some anthropologists think so. Since we are sexual beings, they reason, we must engage in sexual activity or we are not truly human. This is what can happen when God and His ways are missing from the discussion. Secularism struggles mightily to know the true nature of humans and sexuality. 

3 Reasons Sexual Activity is Not Essential To Being Human (Christian perspective): 

  1. The Church Fathers are nearly unanimous in understanding that in paradise, before the fall, sexual intercourse was unknown. It is first mentioned after the fall. 
  2. In eternity, when we will be more human than ever, sexual activity is not necessary. We will experience a union with God, our spouses, and others that will transcend anything we could imagine on earth. There will be no marriage or physical union, yet real oneness will be experienced. 
  3. Jesus, John the Forerunner, Paul, Mary (according to Church tradition), many Bible characters and saints never engaged in sexual intercourse. Jesus was a perfect human being. A few others have come close. Most were celibate. 

This sounds totally foreign to us who live in a sex-dominated culture. We are inundated with messages that sexual activity is normal. It’s OK to engage in sex as early as you can and as long as you can. To limit its practice is to be narrow-minded, odd, and, worst of all, “goody-goody.” 

The multimillion dollar male enhancement industry is a global phenomenon made possible by internet e-commerce. Worldwide market data for the industry is unavailable, but 2008 sales were estimated in excess of $100 million U.S. (Male Enhancement Blog) 

Most moderns see less sexual activity and/or sexual desire as a problem. The solutions? See your doctor. Try this lubricant or pill. Set up an appointment with a therapist. You must stay sexually active as long as you’re alive.

Even as I wrote this post, I realized I’ve been deeply influenced by these messages and away from a Christian perspective. I keep using the term “sexual intercourse” when the term I need to be using is “marital intercourse.” According to God, the Church, and the Bible writers, proper sexual activity is always marital intercourse. 
 
3 Fundamental (& Traditional) Purposes of Marital Intercourse 
  1. Tame the passions – In 1 Cor. 7 Paul teaches us to escape lustful temptation through conjugal union in marriage. Since the man usually has the “hotter flame,” the wife is the one who cools him in the intimacy of marital intercourse. This is God’s design.   
  2. Create life – Procreation is passing on the image of God to another human being and is not just physical. Married couples can birth eternal human beings. To “be fruitful and increase” (Gen. 1.28; though there is debate as to the exact meaning), is foundational for most married couples.  
  3. Promote marital unity – Marital intercourse demonstrates and solidifies a strengthening bond of sacred companionship and friendship to enable humans to make it through this life  Described in Proverbs 5.15-23, beautiful intercourse nourishes a spirit of friendship and harmony in marriage. 

How do these fundamental purposes apply in various stages of life? 

  • In young couples (20-40), #1 is often the dominate purpose followed closely by #2,  then #3.
  • In middle-aged couples (40-60) – #1 and #3 may be the purposes that dominate.
  • In older couples (60+) – #3 purpose will dominate with #1 always in the picture.    

Christian Marriage

Marriage is a Christian reality not secular. In Ephesians 5.22-33, marriage is described as “a great ‘mystery.’” Mystery is the same word as “sacrament” leading the traditional church to understand marriage as a sacrament infused by and infusing God’s grace. This is no trivial matter. In the marital relationship, God is pictured and seen in his sacrificial love for humanity through Jesus Christ. Only the crucifixion provides a more powerful picture. 

Dr. Josiah Trenham, pastor, scholar, and author of Marriage and Virginity according to St. John Chrysostom, says that a “husband and wife living together [is] the 

tangible expression of the gospel. The husband represents the self-denying love of Christ pouring himself out for the salvation of his bride, the Church, his wife, and the woman functions as the humble church. This is the most profound tangible expression of the gospel. People should be able to look at Christian couples and say, ‘Wow! There is a God who loves humanity; and a humanity/church that loves God.'”

Ancient writers, old age, and sexuality 

Please indulge me. Let me pass on to you a “revelation” about these matters that was introduced to me a few years ago and continues to play out in my life.

The purpose in getting older is to help you live more deeply in union with Christ and to prepare you for eternity where you’ll live together with God forever.

Aging, even with all its challenges and “malfunctions,” is to be celebrated as a struggle to become like Christ. 

This reality emerges from a patristic understanding of the resurrected state and thus the nature of the body in the afterlife. A Patristic worldview on the nature of the resurrected state and transformation of the human body has practical implications for all Christians. Here I quote Dr. Trenham: 

Here [on earth, currently] many are seeking a “Viagra condition,” and doing all they can do, at great expense, to avoid the effects of the aging process…I have counseled an ailing and aging parishioner who is poignantly frustrated at the growing number of impediments he faces as he nears death. When I suggested to him that perhaps these very bodily impediments were actually gracious blessings bestowed by God to enable him to calm his bodily passions, detach himself from the world, and ready himself for a successful transition from this life to the next (and therefore should be embraced and plumbed wholeheartedly for all the grace inherent in them), his countenance was transformed and his whole perspective on what was happening to his body changed.

The Christian perspective on aging is reflected beautifully in Kontakion 9 of the Akathist Hymn for the Repose of the Departed

Bless swiftly passing time; every hour, every moment bringeth eternity nearer to us. A new sorrow; a new gray hair are heralds of the world to come, they are witnesses of earthly corruption, they proclaim that all passeth away, that the eternal Kingdom draweth nigh, where there are neither tears nor sighing but the joyful song: Alleluia! 

Preparation for the next life includes a lessening of the sexual passions and physical “performance.” This reality can be grudgingly tolerated, passively accepted, or positively embraced. What begins as a thoughtful choice becomes a transformational heart and mind attitude that morphs and develops over time. This is all preparatory for the next life where there is no marital intercourse even though we will experience a “oneness” only tantalizingly known in earthly marriage.

You can embrace getting older or keep worshiping youth. But, it’s wiser and healthier to understand that your physical limits are happening because God desires you to become less attached to the things of the earth and to make the transition to the next life. Your physical limitations are actually freeing you to become a fuller human being already experiencing the Kingdom of God. 

Dr. Trenham reminds us:

This is the natural process of infertility. So get ready. Dispossess yourself, set your life in order. Spend your last years really seeking the Lord. Positively give up the earthly pleasures of sexual union knowing that a greater pleasure of eternal union with our spouse and with Christ in heaven is coming.

 

Preparation Through Moderation and Regulation.

Moderation: Just as it is necessary to be moderate with food consumption, so with sexual activity. Enjoy your sexual meal times yet include sexual fasting days as well. Follow a personal rule of “no sex” days. Use these days to focus on prayer and communion with God. St. Paul encourages this in 1 Corinthians 7.5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 

Regulation: Regulate your sexual activities. Monitor how your body is functioning and allow it to guide you. You need to be in control of your “urges” not the other way around. Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) writes about regulating human activities which is applied to marriage by Dr. Trenham: 

Christian marriage is to be characterized by a sexuality both reasonable and disciplined. One need not separate those whom God has joined together in order for self-discipline to exist. Marriage is “disciplined pleasure,” and as such is harmless. Chastity, which ought to exist in marriage, is the body’s holy robe. Clement’s pedagogical goal was not to eradicate the things which came naturally to men, but to regulate them for holiness. (Marriage and Virginity, p. 47)

I hope you’ll gain a fresh perspective on aging as a Christian from this post. Now you have a few more reasons to celebrate getting older (besides “Senior discounts”). 

How have you struggled with the aging process? How do the realities I highlight give you a different perspective? Please, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K  

Why Christian Introverts Ought to be Honored Not Denounced

12 Benefits of Being a Christian Introvert

Is how we function as Christians determined by our personality? Perhaps. Adam McHugh, pastor and author of Introverts in the Church, observes: “The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness and extroversion. The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’ld like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’” The purpose of this post is to let all introverts, Christians in particular, know that God is pleased with you. Introversion needs to be celebrated. 

Extrovert Evangelicalism

Though studies by psychologists and sociologists cite findings that introverts comprise 30 – 50% of the general population, the evangelical church is definitely biased towards the extrovert. The larger culture of extroversion, especially in America, has infiltrated the church. Charismatic, articulate, innovative, energetic, and expressive Christians and leaders are lauded as the best examples of being a Christian. A good Christian is an extrovert Christian. 

I have been made to feel “less-than” because I’m an introvert. I’m supposed to be someone else. In the pastorate, this was a tough assignment. I often felt like a square peg in a round hole. I played the extrovert part well. But as far as my personality went, I was living a double life. I know there are thousands of introverted Christians who feel the same way. Thriving in an extroverted evangelicalism is difficult. 

Pastor Eugene Peterson observes, “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.” Extroverts reign. 

McHugh sees an even more troublesome issue.

Many evangelical [mega]churches, in their hope to create comfortable environments for seekers, have stripped their sanctuaries and worship services of any sense of mystery and the sacred. Their fast moving, high production events may entertain us and their avid employment of modern technology may dazzle us, but many times, they cannot help us hear the still, small voice of God. (Introverts in the Church, p 27)  

No church is exempt. There’s a little Baptist church on the country road we drive everyday. Currently its sign reads: “The Gospel begins with GO.” The thought is, “To accept Jesus Christ means lots of activity.” It’s a misleading message in light of Jesus’ gospel message to “come.” 

Evangelicalism has always had this problem. You’re expected to enthusiastically express your devotion to Jesus by your emotions, passionate singing, confident sharing, public demonstrations of worship with beaming faces, tears, or bodily movement and vocal expressions. “Really good” services are fast moving, dazzling, innovative, stimulating, and emotionally moving. At the center of most mega-churches and large Christian organizations is a larger-than-life, Charismatic person famous for something he or she does well.

Extroverts thrive in these settings. Introverts tolerate them or work hard to be accepted in them usually suffering silently. Often, they are made to feel less Christian because they are not as emotional or expressive. 

Introvert Christianity

There seem to be many introverts whose lives are recorded in scripture – Moses the stutterer, David the shepherd and king, Timothy the timid, virgin Mary the ponderer, Zacheus the shy, Mary the silent at Jesus’ feet, or even most of the apostles. 

Church history is filled with thousands of men and women, contemplative and solitary, who are held in high esteem for their piety and impact on society. They are usually the de facto and often the official leaders of the church due to their holiness, humility, and experiential knowledge of God. They are often courageous and happy martyrs. They sometimes fight heretics tooth and nail. Theirs is a robust faith forged in solitary struggle and tenacious humility.  

Introvert Stereotypes

An introvert is often equated with someone who does not like people. In reality, they simply relate to people differently than an extrovert. They are capable of deep friendships and genuine love for others. They may not be the life of the party yet they enjoy quality conversations with a few people. Introversion should not be equated with anti-social behavior.

Introversion is often seen as a weakness, flaw, or problem to be solved like alcoholism. Join this program, attend this seminar, read this book and you’ll get better. Introversion is not a disease that needs a cure. It is a personality trait that needs to be celebrated. 

Nor is introversion the same as shyness. According to introvert expert Susan Cain, shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

This is a key reality. The introvert’s stimulus quota is met quite easily. They don’t need high amounts of enthusiasm, emotion, provocation, or inspiration to keep them going. They are usually self motivated or influenced by genuine offers of support. 

Lastly, introversion is not inherently narcissistic. The idea that introverts are essentially selfish and absorbed with themselves is false. Some may demonstrate an unhealthy degree of self-preoccupation without God in the picture. However, a healthy introversion always has an outward component to it. 

Amy Simpson’s description is fitting:

Introverts aren’t out of touch with the world around them; they’re so in touch, they can take only so much of it. Their brains are more active, so external stimuli can quickly overwhelm them. When this happens, they have to recharge on their own. They don’t need to be energized; they need space and quiet so they can draw on their internal energy. (click here for full article) 

 What Does An Introvert Look Like? 

Cain writes,

“Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame….may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. (Quiet, p. 11)

McHugh denotes three major characteristics of introverts (Introverts in the Church, pp 35-43)

  • Energized by solitude – recharged from the inside out
  • Processes internally – integrate information and think silently
  • Preference for depth over breadth – in relationships, interests, self-discovery, 

I believe introversion in a Christian needs to be celebrated. An introvert has great potential for a deep and rich understanding and life-long experience of God. 

12 (Ideal) Spiritual Benefits of Being an Introvert 

  1. You joyously crave quiet solitude with the Holy Trinity like Mary at Jesus’ feet. 
  2. You care deeply about loving God with your whole heart, soul, and body and make intense effort to learn how. 
  3. You genuinely love and care for people out of a sincere heart no matter what is personally gained. 
  4. You listen well because the other person is more important than you. 
  5. You tend towards meekness since you do not like being the center of attention or talking about yourself constantly.  
  6. You are naturally attentive to what is around you; a sensitivity to others.  
  7. You passionately desire internal transformation since you know that all you do comes from the heart. 
  8. You honestly recognize your own faults and frailties stemming from regular and honest heart and mind examination. 
  9. You pray in solitude knowing that communion with God is the path to deepening union with Him. 
  10. You are “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1.19) seeking to understand before being understood. 
  11. You lead from the inside out with inner authenticity since who you are determines what you do. 
  12. You are a deep well of thoughtfulness and goodness having given so much of your life to the quiet pursuit of knowing God and His wisdom. 

Why might a Christian introvert live life more internally? Perhaps it’s because they intuitively know that they are never alone. The reality of the Holy Trinity dwelling within their heart and everywhere present transforms solitude into a simple, life-giving interaction. From that quiet participation in the life of the Trinity comes the substantial capability to sensibly participate in all of life. 

The final scene of Season one of the Detectorists, a British sitcom, shows the two main characters, Lance and Andy, at a small hole dug by Lance in the middle of a large field. His detector had spotted an object that turned out to be an old pull-ring. Disgusted by their bad luck again(!), they decide to head for the pub. The camera, however, continues underground showing the long-sought-after treasury of old jewelry, gold coins, and valuable artifacts left by King Sexred of the East Saxons; the very treasure they’ve been fervently hunting for years. If only they’d continued to dig deeper and not settled for a pitiful pull-ring.

A Christian introvert does not settle for superficial distractions. He or she persistently digs deeper. There is great reward in doing so. 

Are you an introvert? In light of this post, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K