Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How "Instant" Has Ruined Self-Control

Good things come to those who wait...or so the saying goes.  I wonder if the person who invented that phrase could have foreseen the age of the internet and smart phones.

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@FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The idea of waiting for anything in our culture has become anathema.  So much so that we have road rage incidents when we are caught in traffic.  We get impatient at the grocery store when we choose the wrong line and have to stay 5 minutes longer because of our misstep.  We are always in a hurry and when we fall behind, we have no grace for those who have cost us those precious moments that we will never get back.  (Just ask my kids as they have been the target of my wrath for the 2 minutes that I think I'm behind...only to still arrive on time.)

This hurried culture has made us a less patient people, and as a result, less self controlled.

This lack of self control manifests itself as a reactionary people whose peace is only found in the feeling of the moment.  If the experiences we have in life make us feel good, then, we surmise, it must be good, because we lack the self control to pause and ask the question:  Does God think this is good?

However, to invoke God is to actually know what He has revealed about Himself through His Word.  To do that requires the self control to actually read and understand the God whom we serve and that takes time...time we don't think we have (though we had time to binge watch an entire season of whatever on Netflix last week).

Don't they have an app for that to make it easier for me to get into the Word?  Or how about a movie?  Or just something more entertaining than that boring Word of God...no offense God.

The funny thing is that we have all of those things.  The entire Gospel of Matthew, John and Acts in the form of a movie.  A number of great Bible apps that will even read the Bible to you, if you want, so you don't even have to get bored looking at the script on your smartphone.  More podcasts, more books (even on audio...and dramatized) by more great Biblical teachers than ever before.  Sermons, illustrations and teachings are all available for free on YouTube.

And even with all of this...we have the most Biblically illiterate generation growing up in the church in America today.

Peter tells believers to...  make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fail.  2 Peter 1:5-10

This lack of self control is the cause of the lack of steadfastness (to the faith), godliness, brotherly affection (love for the members of the body of Christ) and love we are seeing within the church.  All of these are the casualties of the loss of self control.  Peter tells us that they build upon one another and should be found in every believers' life to be effective for the work that God has called us to.

Because of their lack of self control, Paul advised couples to get married instead of burning with passion for one another (1 Cor. 7:8-9).  However, today many in the church simply settle for the living together mentality rather than the self control to abstain from sexual relations or the commitment to marry.  Living together is quick.  It is easy and can make us feel just as good as any marriage...so God must be okay with it, right?

It is interesting to note that the lack of recognition of God is the reason why God gave people over to their passions listed in Romans 1:18-32.  Each and every one of those sins that came in increasing measure can be accounted for by one factor...a lack of self control.  Many of those passions listed are sexual in nature.  Is it any wonder that we are having a hard time in our churches when sexual sin runs rampant in our culture and has bled through the four walls of the church?

Josh McDowell has recently stated that he believes that the biggest threat to Christianity is pornography that is so easily accessible through the internet and smartphones.  Kids and adults becoming addicted to the images and the feelings produced by the sexual content that is only a click or touch away.

This addiction has led to very unbiblical views of sex and marriage being promoted within many churches.  It seems to echo the conclusion Paul made at the end of Romans 1:  Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Our culture has taken off the restraints and gloried in it, taking many professing believers with them.  Our only hope for healing and health within our Christian community comes with the rediscovery of the lost discipline of self control.  The Bible calls it "dying to self".  It means that we actually want God more than even the things that we desire that wish to drag us away from the God who loves us and gave His Son for us that we may follow Him (not profess to know Him and never do what He says).  Until that happens, we will continue to spiral down the path of self destruction...never recognizing that we had the power to prevent it, if we only used the self control over our desires that God empowered us with through the sacrifice of His Son.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Juggling a Relationship with Christ

If I were to ask you how you were doing in your relationship with Christ...how would you answer?

If you are like a lot of people, immediately your mind runs to two areas of spiritual devotion:  prayer and getting into the Word.  From these two areas, we often assess our relationship with God.  Usually when looking at these areas, the common response I hear is that prayer is alright and Bible reading is non-existent or could do a lot better.

Responses like that make me sad for two reasons.  First, as Christians, we have identified only two disciplines and called it our relationship with God.  And secondly, we aren't very good at even those two disciplines.

Listen to the following verses from Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (NASB)

According to this passage, we are supposed to be living sacrifices, set apart from the world (this is what holy means).  This is our spiritual act of worship and it encompasses so much more than just prayer and Bible reading.  It is every moment of every day living on mission for Christ.

Now to be sure, none of us will ever perfectly live out the life Christ has called us to.  However, I believe that the definition that we have adopted as our relationship with Christ has hurt us as a Christian community.  It relegates our relationship to Christ to a tidy 15 to 30 minutes we did or didn't set aside for Christ, rather than realizing that Christ is supposed to rule every waking minute of our days.

As I look through the Scriptures, I see 6 areas where God consistently calls us to be on mission for Christ, each and every day:

Prayer
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The Bible
Fellowship
Outreach/Service
Discipleship
Giving

Prayer is the outlet of our communication with God.  We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "pray continually".  We should be talking to God and, more importantly, listening to God, all the time.  Prayer is all at the same time the easiest discipline and the hardest.  It is the easiest because us presenting our requests or even just talking to God can be done so effortlessly...even without much thought.  It becomes hardest when we are actually trying to listen to His voice, allowing Him to speak to us and guide us and remind us of who He is and who we are in relation to that truth.

The Bible is God's communication about Himself to the world.  Through the Word we become familiar with the God we serve.  The lack of this knowledge produces a faith that is founded upon our feelings and confusion over whether the leadings that we have are truly from God, our own feelings or even the enemies temptings.  This is what Paul meant when he said, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Knowledge of the Word gives a believer great confidence that we can know the will of God in a great many areas because He has already spoken. 

Fellowship isn't just church going.  It is found with the gathering of believers for encouragement to walk with Christ.  It is relational at its very core.  It is living life together as we learn to forgive one another, love one another, serve one another, teach one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, laugh and mourn together...until we all reach maturity and unity in the faith (see Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor 12, Romans 12).  All the one another passages are about the mingling of believers and cannot be fulfilled outside of it.  We should be looking for it at church, at work, at school and in our families...everyday.

Outreach/Service isn't just doing good things for others.  It is an intentional effort to share with those we are serving about the Christ who compels us to love our neighbor, care for the sick or imprisoned, feed the poor, clothe and shelter the homeless, etc...  Jesus told us that even evil people do good things (Luke 11:11-13).  But to do this service in the name of Christ is to invite the one looking at our actions to the One who motivates us to do so.  It can be done just by giving a glass of water in His name or baking cookies for your neighbors with a tag attached that Jesus loves them.  It is everyday acts of kindness that dares to name the One who makes the action worthwhile.

Discipleship is the discipline of going deeper with Christ than just Bible reading and prayer.  It is the deliberate action of being mentored and finding those to mentor within the body of Christ.  It is growing in our understanding of who God is through conversation, study and accountability. So few Christians read any books about their faith that our capability for sharing the Gospel, deepening another's faith or defending our own faith remains at an elementary level (see Heb. 5:11-6:3).  And yet, it is the very commission that Christ has given us all (see Mat. 28:18-20).  So all of us should find a mentor and be a mentor because it is usually as we are leading others that our faith flourishes the most.

Giving is not just making sure that we tithe.  Rather it is a gut check for each of us on how invested we are in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus Himself said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, were moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Mat. 6:19-21  You see, if we are not truly committed to our church, to our outreach, to our discipleship, to our fellowship, to our life of prayer, it manifests itself in a life that is unwilling to invest in the things of God.  However, the opposite is true too.  The more that we invest with our treasure, time and talent the things that are important to God, the easier it becomes to do so down the line...and the more the things of God actually mean to us.

No one does this juggling act perfectly.  But each of these disciplines intersect one another in such a way that doing them builds up the others.  Outreach and Giving often drives us to Prayer. Discipleship draws us to the Word.  Fellowship builds relationships that brings us to all of these areas.  It helps us avoid the jaundice account that our relationship with God is relegated to prayer and Bible reading only.  My prayer is that this holistic view of our relationship with Christ will help each of us stay on mission for Christ each and every day.

Lord bless you all. 


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