An Invitation to Real Apostolic-Like Living

The Challenge of 1 Corinthians 4.9-16

From some corners of evangelical Christianity come the cries for apostolic ministry – ministries of authority, physical healing, signs, words of knowledge, prophesy, and the supernatural. The desire is for apostolic results. But, what about the apostolic-kind-of-life that goes with it? “It doesn’t matter. The supernatural is God’s work. It matters little how I live or who I am.” Paul would disagree.

Here’s Paul’s description of being an apostle. An apostle is…

  • last of all
  • sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world, angels and others
  • a fool for Christ’s sake
  • weak
  • held in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly dressed
  • beaten
  • homeless
  • involved in manual labor
  • reviled yet blesses
  • persecuted yet endures
  • slandered yet speaks well of the slanderers
  • the scum of the world
  • rejected like garbage

Contrast this with the modern-day “apostle,” many of whom are trying hard to be…

  • relevant
  • distinguished
  • privileged
  • popular
  • successful
  • influential
  • diplomatic
  • liked
  • recognized
  • powerful

You could easily dismiss Paul’s description as only applying to first century apostles. But Paul goes on to say, “I admonish you because you have countless guides who want to tell you how to live but not many fathers who are actual examples of how to live. That’s why I say, ‘live as I live; imitate me.’”

You and I are not apostles. But we are to become apostle-like Christians as Paul describes. This is part of the journey with Jesus Christ and his apostles. It’s a journey to nothingness. “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  (2 Corinthians 4.10)

Share your thoughts on this post below. And share this post with others. 

Dr. K

A Challenge for Church Leaders to Be As Devoted to Prayer As They Are to Scripture

An Invitation to Balanced Devotion

Are you balanced in your commitment to prayer and your commitment to scripture? There’s a very good possibility that you devote more of your time to relating with God through the Bible than to relating with God through prayer.

I read the sixth chapter of Acts a few days ago. Verse 4 jumped off the page: “But we  [apostles] will devote ourselves to the ministry of prayer and the ministry of the word” (ESV). The Greek reads, “but we to the prayer and to the service of the word will keep.” The apostles were making a statement of their commitment to keep “to the prayer” and “to the service of the word.” I know church leaders try to balance these two aspects of ministry. But, there is no question that prayer gets the short end of the stick.

For the sake of this post, I’m assuming most evangelicals interpret “word” as scripture, though that is probably not what the apostles meant. “The word” probably refers to the word of Christ (what he taught and lived) or the word of the apostles. “The prayer” could also be examined. But not in this post.

From my own experience of 26 years of pastoral ministry, of more than three decades of working with church leaders, and now of reading what church leaders put on Facebook and Twitter, I see them fully committed to scripture but only slightly consenting to prayer. This holds true for Christian college and seminary leadership, too.

Most evangelical doctrinal statements begin with a statement of adherence to scripture but prayer is nowhere to be found. Evangelical colleges and seminaries devote dozens of units of study to the Bible but little, if any, to prayer. Sunday worship is centered on the sermon, often a teaching from the Bible, but there is little time given to prayer. Pastors devote 20 – 25 hours a week preparing sermons but give little time to their soul’s communion with God in prayer. (I know! I’ve been there, done that!) So, where is the commitment to prayer?

I am empathetic to your plight. It’s like you’re trapped. You’ve been trained this way. It’s what you know. You don’t know how to act or think otherwise. You’ve been trained to elevate the Bible in everything. It’s impossible to uphold prayer in the same high regard let alone act on it.

My point is not to pit scripture against prayer. My point is to show that evangelical leaders are unbalanced in their devotion to these two “ministries.” They will fight to the end over the Bible, but shrug their shoulders if prayer is neglected. And that holds true for their own personal lives as well. How can an equal devotion to both prayer and the word of God be developed?

Here’s the challenge and invitation for you, church/Christian leader or not…

  • Begin sincerely asking God what the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Even if you consider yourself to have a dynamic prayer life, there is room for improvement.
  • When you know you’re acting in an unbalanced way, ask again.
  • Anytime you interact with scripture, ask again.
  • Whenever you read scripture, begin with prayer, something like “Lord Jesus Christ, enlighten my darkened heart.”
  • Place scripture reading and meditation in the context of prayer. Pray first then meditate.
  • Pray scripture.

Similar devotion to prayer and to scripture is the challenge. Examine yourself. In reality, are you committed equally to both?

Share your thoughts below.

Dr. K

One Essential Practice That Guarantees a Good Day Today and Everyday

Being Christian Means Being Thankful

Like you, I am learning how to be a Christian. One of the Christian virtues I am in constant need of reminder is to be thankful for all things. Being grateful is a struggle for me. I find myself complaining about so much especially when things are not going my way. I have a hard time being thankful when my expectations are not met. Yet, when I make a conscious effort to be thankful for everything I see and experience, it makes for a good life. There’s no question it makes me a better person. I’d like to believe it helps me be a real Christian.

As a gift from God, I awoke this morning thinking about thankfulness. Immediately, while still lying in bed, I began to thank God for various things – Rhonda, my children, God’s mercies, a good night’s rest, light, a comfortable bed, a new day, and more. Everything I saw and everything I thought about was something for which to be thankful.

Studies have shown that there are great physical, psychological, and relational benefits to gratitude. Here’s an article I’d encourage you to read. (Click on one of these words.)

Do It! 

Here’s an effective exercise that will help you develop a grateful heart. Every morning, as you awaken, think of five reasons to be thankful – five things, situations, and/or people. Do this everyday and you’ll transform your heart, your day, and your life.

I know some people who write down the things for which they are grateful. They fill notebooks listing things. Though I’ve never done this, it sounds like a very beneficial way of becoming aware and intentionally living out thankfulness.

Scriptural Encouragement

giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5.20)thankful-people1

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

So, don’t just think about being grateful, do it. You have more reasons to be thankful than you can presently imagine.

Share your experiences of thankfulness below. Share your struggles as well, if you’re comfortable doing so. 

Dr. K 

Time with God is Not a Time Issue

Issues That Cause Inconsistency in Meeting With God

“I don’t have time!” “I’m raising my children, being a good wife and church member, and volunteering at our kids’ school.” Or, “I work 50-60 hours a week, coach Adam’s Little League team, and do church work. When do I have time for solitude with God?” I have been working with people on their spiritual lives for many years. The most potent way to connect with God is in solitude. But, the most frequent excuse for not spending time with God in solitude is, “I don’t have time.”

Let’s do the math focusing on the essentials:

165 hrs./wk – 50 hrs/work – 10 hrs/sports and/or exercise – 10 hrs/church – 56 hrs/sleep – 10 hrs/eating – 10 hrs/family – 5 hrs/misc. – 3 hrs/house work = 11 hours discretionary time. If your work week is only 40 hours or you don’t do sports, you have even more time. Of course, it’s not as simple as doing the math. However, there really is time in your schedule to meet with God for even 1/2 hour a day = 3.5 hours/week.

You have been given 24 hours in a day. God must have thought that He’d given you enough time to accomplish what you’re supposed to. If not, He would have given you more. You have enough time.

It’s what you do with the time given you that matters.

If time is not the issue for meeting with God, why do you struggle to be consistent in your time with God? What issues cause the inconsistency?

Desire issue. What do you think God wants? He wants to meet with you. Jesus’ invitation to “Come to Me” (Mt. 11.28) demonstrates this. He even gives you the desire. The issue for you then becomes how you cooperate with Him to desire what He desires. You have the desire from God. So, the question becomes, “How do I cooperate with Him?”

Information issue. Perhaps a daily time of solitude with God is a new concept for you. You need instruction. This may be one reason you’re reading this blog. Or, you have too much information. You’re paralyzed by all the options available to you about meeting with God. Simple is best. Not enough information or too much information. Either way, you’re stuck.

Discipline issue. You struggle with follow-through. You have everything you need to be consistent except the discipline to do it. Perhaps you struggle with discipline issues in other areas of your life – eating, exercise, leisure, or finances – and carving out time for God is just another one.

Motivation issue. There are underlying reasons for lack of motivation. But those would all fade away if I gave you $500 a day to meet with God. Would that motivate you to meet with God everyday? So, the issue may be, do you think time with God is more valuable to you than $500?

Larnelle Harris sang, “I Miss My Time with You” (1988). That song helped motivate me many years ago to meet with Jesus. It may be the same for you. Please click here to hear the song.

Share below your struggles and/or successes in meeting with God.

Dr. K

 

 

Two Thoughts On Rituals That Enhance Your Relationship With God

I have had a change of heart. I thought I’d share with you my morning ritual of solitude and prayer. But, having written a draft, I’ve chosen not to post it right now. I think it might help you. However, it’s too early in my blogging journey to present this. I think I’ll always struggle with talking about things I hold as very sacred. This is one of those. Thank you for understanding.

Here are two thoughts “rippling” from the post on ritual:

  • Time – You have time to develop set patterns centered on your relationship with God. Those who are retired and those who set their own schedules have been given the gift of time. Use it wisely for the benefit of your relationship with God. You with children at home or a schedule you don’t fully control will probably have a shorter ritual due to demands of family or job. However, you have time, too.

I had a conversation this week with a busy, young family man (wife and three young children) who works for a non-profit organization. As we discussed his schedule, trying to discover time to do some meditation on scripture, he mentioned having time in the evening when he would usually watch TV. He decided to develop the habit of scripture meditation before going to bed. This is a priority for him. He is changing his schedule and developing a new ritual to enhance his relationship with God.

  • Journey – Developing ritual for you personally takes time. Good ritual is developed as you long for a deeper relationship with the Trinity and as you diligently seek ways to know God intimately. Start with what you know and grow from there. Be open to fresh ways of relating to God. You never know how God may direct you.

Thank you for your companionship on the journey. Every day I pray for “the readers of the blog” that God’s mercy will be experienced by each of you. Please pray for me.

Dr. K

Why Going Through the Motions is Good For You

Good Ritual Benefits Communion With God

You sit in church listening to another guilt-producing sermon about how you should have your own private “devotions.” You’ve tried this before and failed. Yet, no one has explained a good way to do it. So, you “wing it” day to day – read the Bible one day, pray another, include a devotional guide, find a better one, decide to read through the Bible, or try to snatch a few minutes for prayer during the day. Anything to rid yourself of the guilt. This was my way of doing things for years until I discovered the value of good ritual.

Not “ritualism”

Ritualism is an excessive devotion to ritual. Ritualism makes ritual an end in itself. It denotes practices that have lost their meaning to the practitioner. In contrast, good ritual involves practices that are life-giving and filled with meaning. I’m advocating ritual that effectively helps you commune with God.

The Value of Going Through the Motions

A few weeks ago, I met with a young man in his early 30’s who grew up in a solid Presbyterian home. Today, he struggles with establishing set methods of meeting with God because, as he put it, “I don’t want to just go through the motions.” He had adopted a belief that ritual is negative and spontaneity is good. So, meeting with God must include a freedom to do whatever feels right or “works” at the moment.

It’s interesting that people don’t believe this for many other aspects of life. Exercising, celebrating anniversaries or birthdays, driving a car, preparing for sleep, getting ready for work, putting your children to bed, taking out the trash, and even eating meals involve some kind of routine. This is certainly true for family traditions at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Good ritual can actually be life-giving and fulfilling.

Engaging in good ritual sets you free to:

  • Think deeply about what you are doing. You don’t have to “re-invent the wheel.” It’s already in place. You then get to execute the ritual with meaning and thoughtfulness.
  • Fulfill your purpose. When the ritual is good, it will serve to carry out your desires. It will support your purpose until it is accomplished.
  • Do what’s good when you don’t feel like it. You are able to manage your feelings instead of your feelings managing you. Ritual places the good in control.
  • Alleviate the anxiety of making decisions. The detailed decisions are already made. What you get to do is join in or participate in the good pattern already established. No more fumbling around trying to figure out what to do.
  • Bring healing to your soul and body. Your fractured being needs a way to find wholeness. Physical action filled with profound meaning brings order to your inner life and to your relationships.

Now, connect this to your times of meeting with God. Established set patterns free you to connect with God more deeply.

I recommend establishing a “sacred space” for solitude in your home with a chair, table, picture of Jesus, and candle. You who have been reading my posts have an idea of my “morning ritual.” But, I will share that with you in my next post. It has taken me many years to establish an effective and meaningful morning pattern of meeting with God. I can save you years of frustration and failure.

Below, share your struggles of developing an effective ritual of meeting with God. (Success stories can come later.) 

Dr. K

The Spirit of The Pharisee is Alive and Well

Please Forgive My Hypocrisy

Jesus described scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. They looked good and clean on the outside but were dirty and dead on the inside. I’m writing to confess that I’m more like a Pharisee than I’d like to admit. The truth is, the Pharisaical spirit is alive and well in me.

For decades, I’ve tried to convince myself and others that I’m not a Pharisee. But, I can’t play that game anymore. Here’s why.

  • I judge people. When people do not measure up to my standards I treat them as “less than.” I say or think contemptible things about them. Yet, I talk like I have a great love for all people.
  • I settle. God asks for whole-heartedness and sacrificial devotion. I act half-heartedly and devote myself to comfort and what makes me feel good. Yet, I think I’m fully devoted to God and his will for me.
  • I disobey God. There are few commands that I obey and few invitations that I accept. I act independently of God most of the day. Yet, I try to fool others into believing that I have great faith and depend on God constantly.
  • I care too much about what others think of me. In conversations I try to come off as pious, wise, caring, and humble when in reality, I’m not. I try to impress people too much.
  • I am preoccupied with my own “stuff.” I plan and manipulate my life according to my own thoughts and desires. I live as if God is far away and removed from my day-to-day experiences. Yet, I act like I know God intimately.
  • I have too high an opinion of myself. I think that due to my heritage, education, experience, and training I am able to defeat sin, love God, and teach others. I think I’m capable of being a super-Christian who rescues the lost from destruction. Yet, I’m really not what I think I am and, in my pride, fail to admit it.
  • I think my problems are outside myself. Culture, society, media, religion, God, and politicians are the real problem. As long as I can point my finger at others, I look good. I’m not that great a problem anyway…compared to you.
  • I know I’m right. I’ve devoted my life to study, obtained degrees, nurtured a good heart, read lots of books, been taught by the best, and mastered the Bible. What I’ve concluded should not be challenged. I know what I believe and others are…uhh…wrong.

Can you relate to any of these? Perhaps we can form a Christian Pharisee Society. There we can cry together in our brewskis and support one another as we hope in God.

I would be in complete despair if not for the life, love, and light of the Triune God flowing in me. This flow of God’s life has nothing to do with me. I am not special. In my Pharisee life, only His mercy and grace keep me alive. Of myself, I am a rascally hypocrite in desperate need of participating in God. Apart from God, I have no hope. In God, I have all I need.

Please, pray for me!

Dr. K

One Simple & Beautiful Way to Meet With Jesus

Answering Jesus' Invitation to Find Rest

After writing Jesus’ invitation to “come to Me” earlier this week, a reader asked, “Can you share how to do this?” This reader wants to take the idea of meeting with Jesus and make it a reality. When Jesus says “Come to Me…take My yoke…learn from Me” its natural to ask how. Just thinking about or imagining meeting with Jesus is not really meeting with Him. You can actually experience it by involving your body and heart.

For years, I’ve been meeting with Jesus in the following way. It is a simple and effective way to answer Jesus’ invitation.

It begins by spending time with Him in solitude.

Solitude: Occupy a quiet, isolated place away from other human beings where you can be with Jesus

Action Steps: 

  1. Create a “sacred” place/space to become quiet with Jesus. In an isolated space, place a chair, table, candle and image of Jesus (picture, icon, painting).
  2. Light the candle (this helps you establish routine, focus, and beauty).
  3. Sit with Jesus in quietness and stillness.

Time Commitment: at least 5-10 minutes every day

Objective: to experience Jesus as a human being and quietly enjoy his presence.  

The secret to learning to be with Jesus…(you’re going to love this; only a PhD could come up with this stuff!) is to be with Jesus! A quiet environment enables the development of a quiet heart where Jesus meets with you.

Time is Rewarding

5-10 minutes? Piece of cake!!? Not so fast. This could prove to be difficult for you. Perhaps you spend little time in solitude or quiet. You have gotten used to the “companionship” of radio, TV, CDs, computer, conversation, your own thoughts, music, or talk. Being quiet with someone can be intimidating. It may be uncomfortable at first.

But the rewards of being alone with Jesus are life-changing. As you begin to experience Christ’s love, joy, kindness, acceptance, grace, light, and life, you become more like him. You also learn to become gentle and humble as you commune with him and with the Father and Spirit with whom he communes. 

Be Aware of Potential Struggles

This sounds easy. Yet, the greatest struggle you will face in this time of solitude with Jesus is the rampant, unbridled thoughts that want to take over. They will try to control your heart. Don’t allow them. When thoughts invade, repeat the ancient prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” As you do, you will find your heart returning to communion with Jesus. This prayer will help keep your mind on Jesus and will keep your thoughts in check. 

You may be tempted to use devotional books or other writings (even the Bible) during this time. Resist. Imagine having a dinner engagement with someone special. But, in the middle of your time together they pull out a book and start reading it. You can read at another time. This time is for Jesus and you. Together. Nothing in between.

You may also be tempted to talk to Jesus. As good as this is, now is not a time to talk. This is a time to listen. However, its a different kind of listening. You’re not listening for words. You’re listening for silence. It’s in the silence that you learn to hear Jesus’ heart. His language is silence. You’ve already heard His invitation. Now, come to Him in solitude, be quiet, learn from Him, and find rest.

After meeting with Jesus for a few days, share your experience. Is it a struggle? Is it easy? Is it too new to say? 

Dr. K 

12 Words That Can Change Your Life

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, A Sinner

Tammy sat in front of the desk in her pastor’s office with hot tears coursing down her face. The frustration of the past 10 years gushed out. “I do everything I know to do! I come to church. I read my Bible and pray almost every day. I teach Sunday School and attend our small group. I give and sometimes sacrifice for others. I do mission trips, children’s programs, nursery work, church work days, and even bring my best dishes for church dinners. I’m living a moral life. I try to do what’s asked of me.” She paused and took a deep breath as the tears continued to flow. “Then, why do I feel so empty? What’s wrong with me? Is this all there is? Did Jesus save me so he could have one more worker? Pastor, I need some answers and I need them now!” Trembling, she put her head between her hands and wept tears of agonizing frustration.

I sat on the other side of the desk dumbfounded and speechless, not so much at her desperate honesty but at her unanswerable questions. Why do I feel so empty? Is this all there is? Questions I had secretly asked myself but, of course, did not dare disclose to others. It’s job altering when pastors start down that path and I didn’t want to risk it. Yet, I couldn’t deny Tammy’s frustration and feelings of futility. I could give her no real answers and ended up praying with her. Yet, even those words felt empty and meaningless.

Even with all her activity, Tammy was disconnected from God. There was little communion; little ongoing connection with God.

An Ancient Practice for Modern Times

Over the past 10 years, I’ve engaged a couple simple actions that could have tremendously helped Tammy. I read about them first in some books on Christian spirituality. Then I heard about some holy men who engage these practices. Then I began to experience them over the next 8 years. I’m still learning and experiencing the benefits of their wisdom.

One noteworthy practice that stands out above the rest is a simple prayer, parts of which have been around since the time of Jesus. Its use developed during the sixth century and following. It is still used today by Christians all over the world.

The simple prayer is this:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

By way of introduction

  • This is a prayer to Jesus Christ who alone is the way, truth, and life.
  • This prayer is an invocation of the name of Jesus, always a good thing!
  • This prayer is theologically sound – almost every word has a theological truth at its core.
  • This prayer balances worship in acknowledging the Son with a petition for mercy.
  • This prayer encourages repentance and humility by focusing on Jesus Christ, by recognizing your need for mercy, and by admitting your sinfulness.
  • This prayer finds its roots in the Gospel story of the blind man of Jericho shouting out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Lk 18.38; Mk 10:48).

So, how could this help you (and Tammy)? If this prayer becomes a steadying force in your life by repeating it constantly, you eventually begin living your Christian life centered on knowing Jesus Christ and living in constant communion with him. All your doing, service, and moral living become re-oriented in light of a deepening and loving communion with Jesus Christ.

Begin saying the Jesus Prayer as consistently and often as you can. Start today. Let your heart be filled with Christ’s presence as you say these simple words. They can change your life!

Share your experiences of using the Jesus Prayer below. 

Dr. K

(The story above is based on a true story shared by a podcaster yet experienced by many Christians.)

17 Proven Ways to “Seek First The Kingdom of God”

Living God's Rule In Your Life

At age 16, my heart was drawn into Matthew 6.25-33. It’s haunted me ever since. Not that I live it well. Yet, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousenss” has been the journey I’ve been on for almost 45 years. Over the years I’ve learned real ways to do this. I’m still learning and have much yet to learn.

The Kingdom of God is God’s rule of your life. It’s not so much about God telling you things. It’s about who’s in control. It’s about the daily quest to rely upon God’s holy will in everyday life. It’s about pursuing first and foremost God’s rule in you. That God is sovereign means little unless you live its reality. The only way to live its reality, according to Jesus, is to prioritize the seeking of it.

Simply put, it boils down to decisions you make about who controls your heart and mind. You will create ways to let Jesus Christ be King of your heart and mind. Or you will be king yourself or let others control, or rule over, you.

These are ways I’ve learned to “seek first the Kingdom of God” in everyday life.

  1. Awake each day saying The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
  2. Awake each day thinking of five things for which to be thankful,
  3. Go into solitude for at least 10 minutes in the morning. Pray. Meditate on Scripture. Let go of anxieties and agendas of the day.
  4. Pray for your family members with no predetermined outcomes; pray “Lord, have mercy on  ____________ .”
  5. Submit your heart and mind to God early in the day before you submit yourself to any kind of media including the newspaper.
  6. Pray the Lord’s Prayer at every meal.
  7. Set a timer to sound on your phone or watch for 9:00AM, Noon, 3PM, 6PM, and 9PM and silently pray the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer when it sounds.
  8. When driving, keep the radio off and reflect on creation or meditate on God.
  9. Become attentive to the sounds of birds.
  10. Become attentive to the beauty around you.
  11. Give away/let go of something everyday – money to a poor person, your place in line, your control of someone, your expectations, your time to a worthy cause, or a valued possession.
  12. Do a little something early in the day that you don’t want to do – exercise, drink less coffee, pray, read your Bible.
  13. Don’t turn on the TV, radio, or computer before you go to work. Allow God to control your thoughts in the morning not the network gurus.
  14. Fast from meat once a week for a day or for one meal every week.
  15. When anxious thoughts hit you, release them to the Triune God by saying the Jesus Prayer.
  16. Express kindness for someone in a real but simple way today.
  17. Battle your judgmental thoughts and words with God’s grace and everything you have.

Do some of these to get you started. Seeking the kingdom is worth every effort.

Share your thoughts and experiences below.

Dr. K