Saying “Yes” to the Good Stuff

What is the impression ‘Christianity‘ has in your mind?

For many, it’s about ‘Saying ‘No’ to things…lots of things’.

From the outside, it may appear that the Christian faith means ‘Not having any fun’, or ‘Always being serious’.

I can understand that impression–after all, many of us who claim to be Christians do seem to have a sour disposition quite a bit of the time. There are those in the faith who do seem to equate Christianity with Crabbiness.

But the truth is, being a follower of Jesus Christ is much, much more than ‘what we can’t do’. In fact, it is about being free–free to follow the plan and the will of the One who created us, knows us, and loves us! It is about saying ‘Yes’ to Him! It’s about True Freedom! freedom-1

The truth is that there are both ‘Yes’s’ and ‘No’s’ involved.

For example, Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

We first say ‘Yes’ to the gracious gift of God–forgiveness and Eternal Life through Jesus, and then (as a result), we say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldliness. We say ‘yes’ to living in a self-controlled, upright way. Why do we do this? Because we’re living with an eternal perspective now. We’re looking forward to the return of our Savior!

We say ‘Yes’ to God, and He teaches us to say ‘No’ to our self-centered, here-and-now lifestyle. He works within us to conform our character to His. It is a wonderful, blessed and life-long adventure of growth!

It is, in fact, FREEDOM to live the way we were designed to live!

As Paul wrote to the Romans, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

In view of God’s love and mercy, we offer ourselves to Him–willingly and enthusiastically! He continues to teach us to rise above the superficial thinking of this world, and…in the process…we are able to experience His will for us. His will is good, pleasing and perfect!

Of Course we would say ‘Yes’ to that!

What are You saying ‘Yes’ to?

I am FREE!

Learning to Blush Again

Have you ever known someone who blushes easily?

Maybe they don’t like to be the center of attention, or they get embarrassed when given a compliment.

In many ways, this can seem ‘sweet’ and is charming.

Some people blush when something private is brought up in public, or when lines of decency are crossed. These people blush because there’s ‘a standard’ that should not be compromised, and they don’t handle it well when those standards are broken down.

I believe that we, as a culture, have forgotten how to blush.

We have become so ‘calloused’ to things that are indecent and sinful (from the perspective of God’s Word), that we don’t even bat an eye at the mention of things that, just a few years ago, would have been thought to be way outside the norm.

I was reading today from the Prophet Jeremiah, and here’s what he was moved by the Spirit of the Lord to say:
“They cling to deceit, they refuse to return. I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. No one repents of his wickedness, saying “what have I done?” Each pursues his own course, like a horse charging into battle…

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace”, they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” (Jeremiah 8:5-6, 11-12)

God was especially frustrated and angry with the people in that day who claimed to know Him and worship Him–those who clung to the Law and the Temple as proof of their ‘preferential position’ in God’s eyes, while, at the same time, becoming more and more comfortable with sin.

If you are a Believer in Jesus Christ, I think the message is for you (and I) also. We need to repent of our own worldliness, our own ‘comfort’ with the sins of our world…and of our own sin! We need to ask God, again, to work in our hearts so that we see things His way!

We need to repent of our desire to ‘fit in’ with this self-centered, deceived culture and instead declare that our allegiance, our standards, are the Lord’s alone!

We need to confess our own sin, and worship Him more fully. We need to ask Him to work within us–the Body of Christ–before we throw stones at a world that is, admittedly, “under the spell of the evil one” (1 John 5:19)

May God make us more sensitive to His standards again. May He teach us to be led by the Holy Spirit as we live in this world. May He make us ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 7) again. May His standards be the ones we adopt, protect, and speak up for.

May He teach us to blush again.

Have YOU Ever Been ‘Trey’d’?

Trey Flowers, the defensive end for the Detroit Lions, was called last night for 2 identical penalties that he’s never been called for before.

Never been called, because he doesn’t do that. He uses a legal technique, and always has. (For the record, last night he didn’t do anything illegal, either…calls were egregious errors.) These 2 calls effectively ended up costing the Lions the game–a big swing of fortune.

For most of us, that was a frustrating end to a hard-fought game…and that’s it. We will vent on Twitter or Facebook, then go on.

Obviously, for the players, it’s a much bigger deal. Their jobs depend on an ‘even’ playing field. Their opportunities to compete are limited–only 16 games in the regular season.

These calls contributed to the Lions going from 1st place to 4th place in their division…a tough hole to dig out of!

After the game, Flowers remained composed, and did not ‘go off’ at all. He showed class and composure as he was asked about it. Professional, to be sure.

However, it does point out something very real we all go through.

Virtually every one of us has faced a situation where someone ‘over us’ in authority mis-applies that authority, treats us unfairly, or penalizes us without cause…either inadvertently, or maliciously.

How do we respond when that happens?

In all seriousness, this was a penalty in a game. Ultimately, it has no power to really change the lives of the vast majority of us.

…but there are other times that we do face unfairness, injustice, and a misuse of power and authority.

What do we do then?

Psalm 37: 1-9:

Don’t worry about the wicked
    or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
    Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
    Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
    and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
    and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
    or fret about their wicked schemes.

Stop being angry!
    Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
    it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
    but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not calling the Refs ‘evil’, I’m simply using this example in the game to deal with what is real in life.

There are people who are evil, unfair, and who misuse their power over us. In those times, it is important that we can ‘trust in the Lord’, that we “commit everything you do to the Lord”, who will come to our aid and help us!

He will make ‘the justice of our cause’ to shine!

True, we can’t do anything about the #NFL Refs, and we can’t change bad calls in that game, but we can, individually, rise above the unfairness and injustice we face–through faith in God!

Trusting that the Lord will work, even in unfair situations, is a key to rising above it. It changes our perspective, and enables us to remain faithful and strong, in the midst of serious emotional and relational challenges.

Don’t give in! Don’t lower yourself to respond ‘in-kind’. Instead, trust Him…He will do His work!

Becoming Stronger Than Others’ Opinions

One thing we hear a lot about these days–with justification–is bullying. Especially as school starts up again, I’m sure we’ll see this in the news and on social media.

Certainly, bullying and harassing others is wrong, and should be strongly condemned. This behavior is never acceptable, and must not be minimized. As adults, we need to be unequivocal about this.

I know that we always tried to teach our kids to think about ‘the other person’ and how our comments can either build them up, or tear them down. Our hope, especially as followers of Jesus, is to love people. That cannot happen if I’m bullying or verbally abusing others.

Yet, simply making it our goal to ‘stop bullying’ is only part of the solution.

Another part of the solution is learning to take the opinions of others–positive and negative–less seriously.

I know that, when I went into Junior High at a new school, I was determined to do everything necessary to become ‘popular’. I wasn’t built to win approval through sports, and I didn’t have the drive to win approval through academics. I just knew though, that I could become popular. Popularity became an ‘idol’ for me, and I sought it at all costs.

Surprisingly, it worked! I did gain a degree of popularity in Jr. High, then High School. I had achieved my goal!

Yet, I also knew that others’ opinions of me could change, and if their opinions were ‘everything’ to me, then I was ‘skating on thin ice’, at best. There were ‘cracks’ in my foundation.

When other peoples’ opinions–positive or negative–are given the power to make us feel ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about ourselves, we’ve placed our hope on shaky ground.

The writer of Proverbs wrote, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25).

THAT is where our opinions of ourselves should come from–God, our Creator. HE is the One who’s opinions matters, for real. He created us, He designed us, He knows what is best for us, and He loves us!

In fact, He loved us so much that He pursues a relationship with us, through Jesus.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, could be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

God, our Father, wants a relationship with us. It is through that relationship that we can experience Life…to the Full (John 10:10)–life the way He designed it to be!

His opinion of us matters, for real…and it is good.

When we learn to build our ‘self-image’ on God’s thoughts about us, then–and only then–will our ‘foundation’ be strong.

Rise Above!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or an NFL Football Coach–nod to Matt Patricia of the #DetroitLions) to see that there is a LOT of negativity, drama, and genuine conflict in our culture right now.

Unfortunately, this had led to even more mud-slinging, name-calling, and impugning the character of those we disagree with.

As always, negative emotions and conflict spread like wildfire. It is much easier to spread negative headlines, stories and issues then it is to spread something positive.

Here’s the problem: For Christians, we are called to live differently! We do not want to get ‘sucked in to the vortex’ of the negativity–becoming part of the problem. This does not glorify God in any way–personally or publically.

Instead we are called to live differently…

Ephesians 5:1-16:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord…

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Believe me, I KNOW…it’s easy to get sucked in. When racism, hatred, violence and greed show themselves, we want to weigh in. These are, after all, important topics and issues to discuss.

However, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a higher calling–higher than your political affiliation, higher even then your duty as an American. You have a calling by God to represent Him, to point people to Him, and to impact this world for Him–for ETERNITY!

We need to live with that in mind!

That does not mean that we can’t have an opinion, or that we can’t discuss these things. It does, however, mean that we need to do so with Spirit-led self-control, with love, and with grace!

So…next time you want to ‘weigh in’ or opine on the culture, first stop! Pray and ask the Lord to help you do so in a way which shows your eternal priorities, and your loving, Christ-like mindset.

You and I–as Believers–must impact our world. We have to be involved…but we dare not do so ‘in the flesh’, but rather, ‘in the Spirit’.

Then…and only then…will we be able to “Make the most of every opportunity” and make the impact that the Lord wants His children to.

 

You DO Have What It Takes…If…

Most of us know that our world is a mess.

Politics…violence…poverty…disease…racism…

There are no shortage of ‘issues’ to weigh us down and overwhelm us.

It can leave us thinking that there’s nothing we can do, individually.

On the one hand, that’s correct. After all, one single person choosing to live differently is a ‘drop in the ocean’.

However, if we band together…if a group of us choose to live differently…

How do we do it?

If you’re a Christian then you DO have what it takes to live Biblically–to live on His agenda.

(NOTE: I don’t just mean ‘If you go to a Christian church’, or ‘If you believe in Jesus on some level’…I mean, ‘If you are a born-again Christian–one who’s seen his own sin, repented of it, and placed all your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and acknowledge Him continually as your Lord’)

However, if you are a Christian, you also know that it can be difficult.

It is far too easy to get ‘sucked in’ to the junk of this world. If we’re not careful and focused, we can become part of the problem, instead of pointing to Jesus as ‘The Solution’.

How do we do it? Is it really possible?

Look at what Peter says:

2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Peter says that God himself–by His power–has given us “everything we need” for a godly (loving, sacrificial, peace-seeking, generous…) life! It is HIS power working within us–and that power is limitless!

What is the key to accessing that power?

Our relationship with Him!

“…through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 

Our relationship with Him is The Key to a transformed life–one that is consistently God-honoring and dedicated to ‘loving God and loving others’.

So, why do we see so many Christians who don’t live that way consistently?

Because we (Christians) are not prioritizing our relationship with Him!

Here at Kalamazoo Community Church, we talk a lot about “relentlessly pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with God”. It not just for KCC people, of course…that should be the priority and focus of EVERY follower of Jesus Christ, in part because that is KEY to accessing the “divine power” to live this out!

Peter goes on to say, (v. 4) “Through these (that is, His glory and goodness) he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

YOU (and I) may participate in the divine nature!

That’s why there’s such a difference between one who ‘goes to church’ and one who is a born-again Christian. The born again believer is given spiritual life by a work of God–by His grace, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. That is where the power comes from–the Holy Spirit lives within us–and He enables us to “participate in the divine nature”, rather than being ‘corrupted by evil worldly desires’. 

Does anyone (myself included) live it perfectly? No!

However…Christian…YOU can live differently! YOU can actually make a difference–through your relationship with God, through which you experience His power. YOU can point people to Him–so that they can experience the New Life, through Jesus!

Therefore, it is crucial that you are growing–always–in your relationship with Him!

Make an honest self-evaluation: are you experiencing His power within to live differently? Are you participating in His divine nature? If not, it may be because you’re prioritizing this world–and the junk within–over your relationship with Him!

This world desperately needs Christians who live our faith out, loving God and loving others, pointing to Jesus-not only through our words, but also our actions.

The great news? You don’t have to do it in your own power! In fact, you can’t!

But you can do it, through HIS power!

“Do Something!”

This weekend was a tragic one in the US.

Two mass shootings–in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, have left 29 killed, scores injured, and all of us traumatized on some level.

During a speech in Dayton yesterday by a local politician, she was shouted down by people in the crowd chanting “DO Something”!

It was a very understandable sentiment.

In cases like this, we want–obviously–for someone, somewhere to ‘Make It Stop’!

This is a multi-faceted problem, and no ‘one solution’ is going to change it.

In these cases, there are always calls for gun control legislation, or the outright banning of guns altogether (at least, ‘assault weapons’). Again, this is understandable…and, in my opinion, reasonable. I, personally, agree that there should be regulations on who can get a gun. Background checks should be more coordinated, and I believe ‘red flag laws’ should be passed. However, in a surprising number of these incidents, the shooter obtained their weapons legally, after submitting to background checks. They’d never had ‘major run-ins’ with the law…so something else is wrong.

Some blame politicians…they don’t have the will to stand up to powerful interest groups, or they don’t do enough to ‘bring us together’. In these cases this week, President Trump is being blamed, for being ‘divisive’ and creating an ‘atmosphere of hatred’. Surely, we do need politicians and leaders–in particular, our President, to inspire us to unity. However, it does need to be considered: Do those who blame our current President for these acts also blame President Obama for the (approximately) 20 mass shootings that happened when he was in office? Probably not…and they shouldn’t! Politicians can certainly influence us, as can actors, sports personalities, musicians and anyone else’s opinions we care about (even Pastors!). Yes, we could use more of these people to inspire us to unity, love and sacrifice.

But would that stop these people who are bent on inflicting hate and violence? Probably not. In fact, for most of them, they seem to be fighting an internal battle.

Some blame Mental Health care…and some blame the medications that have been prescribed as part of the Mental Health care!

Honestly, this is a truly vexing problem…and each and every one of these issues already listed deserve some of the ‘blame’ and responsibility.

However, it must be said…the mere availability of a ‘means’ does not predict the ‘ends‘. In other words, an inanimate object–a gun–cannot do anything, by itself. Clearly, something within these people is ‘broken’ and in need of repair…and laws, politicians, and musicians can’t change that.

Tom Brokaw tweeted today: “Ok America-what are we going to do? It’s about more than guns. It’s about poisonous hate in social media; about hate in the political arena, about ‘gotcha’ in mass media. The center has been replaced by hate. So, now what?”

President Trump said last night, “Hate has no place in our country.”

I would love to say ‘I agree’, but clearly that is not the case! Hate has been welcomed in and celebrated–by people on both sides of this issue, and many others!

So…into this discussion, I’d like to add my own contribution:

Evil.

Yup, old-fashioned evil…politically incorrect evil…it is real, it is active, and it is very much involved.

Evil shows itself in the little things–like hateful speech and angry Facebook postings–and it shows in the big things–like hatred, prejudice, violence and murder.

Evil has been around since the dawn of time, and it continues today. In fact, in many ways, it’s gotten worse–because our culture has stopped calling things ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Those phrases, we are told, are old-fashioned and archaic.

However, the Scriptures speak to evil within the hearts of all of us…and no law, no politician, and not one Facebook post will change that!

Each one of us has the potential for evil feelings, motives, and actions…and that, ultimately, is where any hope for change lies.

To a culture that has turned its back on God, on the wisdom of the Scriptures, and on the love of Jesus Christ, I would simply add this:

“All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, could be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

Ultimately, I am firmly convinced that the ‘change’ we’re seeking happens on an individual, heart level. It happens as we repent of and confess our own sin and sinfulness, and turn to Him in faith, letting Him begin the process of changing us each, from within.

It then continues into the daily cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s work within, yielding ourselves to His influence and ‘relentlessly pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with God’.

Galatians 5 describes this process: (Galatians 5:16-23)

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions…

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

I absolutely agree that we should discuss multi-faceted approaches to stopping this kind of violent hatred…but hatred comes from evil in the heart, first and foremost…and we simply can’t hope for any real change if we don’t deal with that first.

We simply must repent, and turn back to God!