Your Children Are Here for Your Sanctification Not The Other Way Around

Learning to Be Like Jesus From Your Children

Rhonda and I got married in 1977 in Portsmouth, VA. I was just entering seminary so we weren’t too concerned about having children. In 1983, we accepted our first full-time pastoral position in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Enough cold nights and long winters might help us get our first little bundle of joy. But Rhonda’s battle with endometriosis kept conception at bay.

So, we had a late start to the the whole procreation thing. I told people that I kissed my wife good-night every night but nothing happened. Huh? Anyway, we were married 9 years before our “gift from God,” Nathanael, made his appearance. After almost 10 years without children, we had to make some major adjustments. Yet, we loved it. His blond hair and blue eyes (and latent musical talent) qualified him to be a member of the Beach Boys. So, when he was 18 months, we moved to Southern California.

Maybe it was the warmer weather or the new digs, but a year later our beautiful daughter Jenna blessed our family. She was a cute little spit fire ready to tackle whatever was in front of her (still true).

Our family was complete but we were far from finished.

I had the mistaken idea that one of the primary reasons Rhonda and I had children was to make good little Christians of them.

But, in reality, they were here to help us become Christians. 

Misplaced Expectations

Do you have children? Were they raised in your “Christian” home? You probably attended church together, made sure they went to Sunday School and AWANA then got involved in the youth ministry. You prayed before meals and perhaps had “family devotions.” Did you homeschool, public school, or Christian school? You probably prayed for them every day.

You may have read Dobson, Campbell, “Growing Kids God’s Way,” or other books by parenting “experts” and thought you knew what you were doing. Your children did not dance, listen to rock music, watch crap on TV, or go to R-rated movies. Good job!

How did all that work out for you…and them?

How they turned out isn’t the point of this post. How they have challenged you to be like Jesus – actually be Christian – is my point. Your children have been, and are even now, teaching you your shortcomings and your need to become like Jesus. You may have thought you were here for their spiritual good. Nope! They’re actually here for your spiritual good.

No child turns out like you expect or imagine. They challenge your preconceptions, your presumptions, and your expectations.  And, that’s all good for you. They challenge you to love in ways you didn’t think possible. They teach you patience, kindness, and how to speak the truth in love.

If you’ve missed their lessons and are pretty much the same person you were when they were born then something is wrong with you. You’re blind to your own faults. Your children are not, however.  They see you for what you really are…like it or not. Their evaluation of you may be more accurate than your understanding of your own self.

If you believe you are here to make your children walk the straight and narrow, be morally upstanding, and be all you want them to be, you’ve got much to learn (from them!).

Your role as a parent has probably been reduced to loving, supporting, praying, listening, and modeling. Real simple, right? Hardly! The simple things are the hardest.

If your children are not what you want them to be and they know your disappointment, then maybe you are not the person they need you to be. They are not the problem. You are.

Helps to Enhance Your Relationship

  1. Become more like Christ every day. Learn to love – sacrifice, give, empty yourself like Jesus did. He gave Himself for people who rejected him. He loved those who resisted Him. He showed mercy to those who did not deserve it. He humbled Himself for the sake of others. Get closer to Jesus and let Him rub off on you.
  2. Pray for your children without expectations and without trying to control outcomes.
  3. Ask for your children’s forgiveness. In humility, recall mishandled instances, bring them up with your children, and ask them to forgive you.
  4. Be attentive to your children. They are God’s messengers to help you know yourself and become more like Jesus.

If you have children, learning how to parent never ends. Because, learning how to be like Jesus never ends. The two go hand in hand. Your children are here to help you become more like Jesus. Love them for it.

Dr. K 

P.S. This is my first cross-over post from the Motley Christian website. Check it out and subscribe. Thanks! 

The Single Most Important Habit for Growing, Thoughtful Christians

Questioning is the Art of Learning

Recently we had a delightful young couple in our home for dinner. They told us the story of serving in a discipleship school in Italy. With high hopes they had raised support and moved to the school. Quickly, it became a difficult situation mainly because they asked questions which were not “allowed.” After two years of trying to make it work, they returned to the States wounded and broken by a Christian organization that didn’t know how to deal with genuine questions.

I have a friend who also asked too many questions of the leadership of a Christian nonprofit organization. Conflicts arose not because questions were asked but because certain people did not want to deal with the questions themselves. He is now working a “secular” job and loving it.

You may have your own stories about asking questions when that sort of activity was not welcome. It seems to be prevalent in Christian organizations and churches. Growing up in a fundamental Baptist atmosphere, I was not encouraged to ask questions except the kind that would advance an agenda like, “What do Baptist’s believe?” If it ever turned into something like, “Why do they believe that?” “Where did that idea come from?” or “What is the real meaning or consequence of that idea?” then the discussion turned into a debate about who’s interpretation of the Bible was right. It was better not to ask.

So, most of my Christian friends never ask tough questions of their church, denomination, leaders, or even the Bible. They just go along with the prevailing teaching of the moment. As a result, they get stuck, stagnant in their Christian walk.

However, good questions need to be asked. Good questions are a mark of an eager learner. When we stop being a learner we stop being a Christian. Good questions make us good Christians. Like children, it’s the simplest and most effective way of learning. Yet, it is frequently forgotten as one gets older. Maybe this was an aspect of faith Jesus was addressing when He challenged His followers to have a “childlike faith.”

What is a Question?

  • a sentence, phrase, or word that asks for information or is used to test someone’s knowledge
  • a matter or problem that is being discussed
  • a subject or topic
  • doubt or uncertainty about something

This is one of the challenges of raising the issue of asking questions. The listener may not know what kind of question is being asked. They may see the question as a threat when it may simple be introducing a matter for discussion. The question may be due to doubt or not. The question may be for clarification not to be confused with a personal attack.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever – Chinese proverb

WHY is good?

Simon Sinek has made a career of helping people ask “Why.” He writes:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money – that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is the purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? and WHY should anyone care? (Start With Why, 2009, p.39) 

WHY do I exist as a human being? WHY am I a Christian? WHY does the Church exist? WHY do I interpret the Bible the way I do? WHY do I sin? WHY do I believe? Don’t settle for pat answers. Keep asking WHY.

Yet, this is only the beginning.

Good questions lead the learner on a journey in which there is a balance between content (who, what, when) and process (how, why).

What is good Questioning?

Nicola Watts, freelance strategy and research consultant, highlights how to master the art and science of asking effective questions. We can learn from her — 

1. Create an environment where curiosity is welcomed and rewarded.

2. Become a keen observer of everything you see, hear, and experience.

3. Look at the world with fresh eyes, question the familiar, assume nothing is obvious.

4. Understand the power of different types of questions – how they should be used and when.

5. Keep asking why until you can go no further.

I’ll add #6: Truly listen to the answer to your question. Do you really understand the answer? Does the answer create more questions? Ask those as well. Keep asking. Keep learning.

Christian organizations and churches would do well to heed #1. Individual Christians need to apply #2-5, especially #3: “assume nothing is obvious.”

Why don’t we ask questions? 

What makes this difficult for churches and church leaders is that they may assume too much when a question is asked. They think a question is asked because a person is being disloyal, rebellious, or obstinate. They may fear the person is doubting God or their “right” understanding of God.

A big problem for the person with questions is that they don’t know what questions to ask or how to ask them. But usually, they don’t ask for fear of being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

Paul Sloane, innovative thinking expert, asks the question: Why don’t we ask questions? Here are his answers:

  • Laziness – people assume they know all the main things they need to know. Why bother to ask more? They cling to beliefs and remain certain of their assumptions. Dr. K: Is this not THE main reason most Christians do not ask questions? They already know what they believe. Don’t confuse them with the facts!?!
  • Perception – people don’t want to appear weak, ignorant, or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. In fact, asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence. Dr. K: Been here; done that! This is really a pride thing.
  • Busyness – people don’t slow down to ask, research, or study. They rush headlong because life is short and things need fixing. Dr. K: We’ve got to do ministry. People need Jesus. That’s all that matters. Questions distract us from our real mission of winning the world to Jesus.

And, I’ll add:

  • Fear – for two reasons: 
  1. People are afraid of the answers. They might find out they are wrong or have been misguided. That means they would have to change. They don’t want to change. 
  2. People fear being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

What are good Questions?

  • Open vs closed – they inspire discussion and reflection  – How can kindness be expressed in everyday life? vs. Do you express kindness everyday?
  • Essential vs superficial – they seek to elicit deeper issues – Why do you think you react to disagreement like that? vs. What disagreements do you have with him?
  • Genuine vs accusatory – Almost any question can be accusatory. It’s the tone of the questioner more than the question itself. These questions could be asked either way: Why do you believe that? Are you sure? What is the problem?

It’s unfortunate that asking too many questions can get you into trouble especially with Christians. Yet, ask you must. When good questions, even those outside the box, come to you search out answers. You’ll grow as a Christian that way. Don’t settle for the status quo and the pat answer. Keep asking why. 

 Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. — Paul Sloane

Be a catalyst for change, for yourself and/or for your community or family, by asking good, effective questions.

Dr. K

Exploring the Magnificent, Yet Often Misunderstood, Mercy of God

Mercy = Lovingkindness, Steadfast Love, Goodness, Loyalty

It is very clear in scripture and in life, that God is merciful. Over half the Psalms proclaim God’s mercy. God’s mercy is seen from Old Testament stories to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Your life and mine are filled with evidence of God’s mercy. That you are alive: seeing, breathing, reading, thinking, and being show God’s mercy in action. 

The Lord loves mercy and justice; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord…Behold the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, that He may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our helper and defender. Our heart shall rejoice in Him, and we have hoped in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have set our hope on You.

(Psalm 33.5, 18-22)

O God, You have rejected and destroyed us; You have been angry; yet You showed us mercy!

(Psalm 60.1) 

No matter what God does (even the occasional angry act), He always does it in mercy. Whatever your life situation, God will strengthen you in it or guide you through it by His mercy. 

How God Characterizes Himself

God describes Himself as one who “shows mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20.6). In another conversation with Moses, He says of Himself: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… (Exodus 34.6-7).

How do you perceive God? 

Many Christians believe God sees Himself as: The Lord, the Lord God, angry and impatient, eager to punish, and abounding in wrath and displeasure, keeping fury for thousands, outraged by iniquity and transgression and sin. 

If that describes your perception of God, then you don’t believe God Himself.

Does God ever describe Himself as wrathful? The closest I’ve found is Psalm 95.11, “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest'” referring to His dealings with disobedient Israel who refused to trust God in conquering Canaan. Moses uses the word “anger” (Numbers 32.6-15) to describe God’s dealings with Israel at this time. However, in an earlier conversation with God (Numbers 14.13-19), Moses says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [mercy].” It seems that God’s wrath is not so much an emotion God “feels” but an action of judgment or justice towards those who disobey in unbelief. 

God’s mercy is all over this particular event and certainly is seen in His dealings with Israel in the wilderness. 

Does God judge sin? Of course; yet in a manner permeated by lovingkindness. Though hard for us to understand, He has the ability to be merciful as He deals justly with those who disobey and reject Him

There is a place for God’s wrath in His dealing with humanity. Yet, again, it is wrath permeated by mercy. It may not make sense to us humans. But that’s one of many ways God is beyond our understanding. 

My point is that He never characterizes Himself as angry, outraged, eager to punish, or wrathful; only as merciful, gracious, long-suffering, good, truthful, and forgiving. His words, not mine. 

For more on God’s mercy along with some modern-day examples, click here.

A Gospel of Mercy 

A misunderstanding of God’s mercy creates a misunderstanding of the gospel. Modern Calvinists and many others who see God primary as an arbitrator and punisher of sin, belittle God’s mercy and settle for a truncated, crude gospel. It looks like this: God protects us from Himself and His wrath by punishing His Son, pouring down His wrath on Him for sins He did not commit, so that we are spared from His punishment ourselves. What a God! And then we wonder why we struggle to accept God’s love for us.  

The contrast of these two approaches to the gospel are clearly and uniquely presented by my friend Brad Jersak here. He delivers the “Gospel in Chairs” to highlight the truth that God has always dealt with humanity in mercy.

It’s only a merciful God who rescues us from ourselves and a corrupt world that we might enjoy communion with Him. 

Please give the time to look at this video. It could change your life…just like God’s mercy does. 

But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Psalm 13.5).

Dr. K 

When We Struggle Well, We Give God Room To Work

Announcing A New Website To Help All of Us Messed-Up Christians

For his whole life, Brad has struggled with two subtle yet pervasive issues – anxiety and anger. Both quietly lie just below the surface and quickly flare up when given the right opportunity. Yesterday, his wife Jackie pushed all the trigger buttons. First, she called him at work going on about how they needed to have a talk when he got home. He could hardly focus on his work worrying about what might happen when he walked in the door. Then, some dipwad decided it would be best if everyone took the scenic route home by ramming into the back of an 18-wheeler on Rt. 28 bottling up traffic for hours. Jackie refused to answer her cell when he called to explain the situation. By the time he got home, he was a wreck, too. But that didn’t stop his lovely bride from laying into him about a suspicious email she’d discovered on their home computer. Any kind of logical explanation made him look defensive and made her even madder. Accusing, yelling, cussing, berating until…kablooey! Blood pressure sky-rocketed. Doors slammed. He never wanted to speak to her again. She never wanted to see him again. 

Brad fidgeted at his workbench in the garage dazed at what just happened. Unanswerable questions and thoughts pin-balled in his head. Why does this happen all the time? Why am I always the bad guy? What am I supposed to do now? She pushes the hot buttons. I explode. I don’t want to get angry but I do. 10 years of this crap! Nothing ever seems to change. I hate my marriage. I hate Jackie. I hate myself. And, I hate God for letting this all happen to me. 

Our modern brand of Christianity doesn’t quite know what to do with struggles. Our advise to Brad would be to seek counseling to fix his marriage. Or, he should go to counseling to deal with his anxiety and anger issues. Jackie, too, needs counseling to solve her issues. Applied to any relationship, struggle is an indication that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. 

Is it possible that God might have something completely different for them other than seeing everything fixed? Could the struggle be for their good? Could a painful marriage involving broken people be a place where God shows Himself in mercy and goodness? Is that even possible? 

Christianity? 

A psychologized Christianity says that all difficulty must be eliminated. Every problem settled. Every obstacle cleared away. Every pain medicated. 

A theologized Christianity says that all questions must be answered. Every dilemma figured out. Every mystery solved. Every issue explained. 

A genuine Christianity says that God dwells in the dusk as well as the dawn. As the “Divine suffering” (1 Pt. 3.20), God knows the value of struggle. As a “man of sorrows,” He knows our afflictions and meets us in them. Our Shepherd often leads us through the “valley of the shadow of death” that we might experience Him more fully (Psalm 23).   

The Good Struggle… 

  • Strengthens our resolve. How else do we learn perseverance (a fruit of the Spirit) unless we struggle? When in a battle we can quit, learn to negotiate, or fight on. 
  • Gives room for God to create, shape, and form us. So many spiritual realities and valuable character issues are developed as we struggle with God in our messed up life. As with weightlifting, our spiritual muscles grow stronger as they meet resistance and are challenged to endure.  
  • Gets at our pride. Hardship humbles us. There’s nothing more humbling than grasping the reality that we can’t handle something (think prodigal son) resulting in a cry for help.  
  • Forces us to consider others differently. Struggle, when understood properly, strikes at our judgmentalism and criticism of others. We see others as broken people on a journey. We’re more sympathetic and patient with them.  
  • Challenges our self-image. If we’re self-assured, struggles show our weaknesses. If we’re timid, struggles teach us courage. Struggles highlight the worst or best in us. They cause us to examine ourselves. 

How Does God Act In Our Struggles? 

Here are a few (from hundreds) of examples: 

God looks for his children after they fail/fall in the garden. “God, far from arms folded and brow furrowed in disgust, went looking for his children after their rebellion.” Yet, they were hiding (thought from Fr. John Oliver). Could we say God most pursues us when we’re in trouble, even trouble of our own making? There is no need to hide from Him when we are messed up. That’s when we need Him the most and when we find Him most accessible, actually. 

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23.4-5). God is right there in the darkness, evil and battle with strength, courage, comfort, nourishment, and blessing. The Shepherd does not rid our lives of death, evil or enemies. He meets us in them, showing us His mercy, love, and goodness if we have the eyes to see. 

The Shepherd lovingly searches for the lost lamb leaving his flock of ninety-nine. When He finds it He does not punish it or express anger. He tenderly places it on his shoulder and carries it home (Matthew 18.12-14; Luke 15.3-7). God meets us in our lostness, fear, and hunger. 

See 1 Peter 2.21-25  where St. Peter describes Christ’s suffering as an example to us of how to deal with it. 

Big Announcement!

The knowledge of God’s presence and mercy in the midst of our lousy, messed-up Christian lives needs to be experienced and proclaimed. That’s why I’m launching a new website called the Motley Christian at https://motleychristian.com/.

Whereas The UnCommon Journey is a blog site, the Motley Christian is a website filled with hope and witty reminders that God is in our mess. 

His mercies are new every morning even when you wake up “out of sorts” with a hangover or are still angry with your spouse from the argument yesterday.

Truth is, we’re all lousy Christians. God meets us in our crap or He’ll never be with us at all. 

Click on this link and take a good look at the Motley Christian. Subscribe to the gnarliest blog on the web. Become a member of the Motley Christian web community. 

Discover God in the muck called “my Christian life.” 

Dr. K 

P.S. Click HERE for a look at the Motley Christian website

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