Liberal Christians Want You to Pray to Plants?

In Christian news lately, Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a seminary in New York, recently posted a picture of a group of people seated near plants. The caption that went along with the picture read:

Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?

Christian social media went nuts, with many people calling Union’s practice strange, odd, or even pagan. I also found the photo and the caption to be quite amusing, and my brain easily was coming up with quips that mocked the worship experience. With such a huge backlash from Christian social media, UTS put out a follow-up statement, a very lengthy defense of their practice. Without making jokes about the plant liturgy, allow me to take their defense bit by bit and address why I have a genuine problem with offering our grief, joy, hope, guilt, and sorrow in prayer “to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”

The defense from UTS is in red, my response is in black.

We’ve had many questions about yesterday’s chapel, conducted as part of @ccarvalhaes‘ class, “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response.” In worship, our community confessed the harm we’ve done to plants, speaking directly in repentance. This is a beautiful ritual.

At the outset, I have no issue with Union’s defense. Taking a look at the world around us, I see easily that humanity has done harm to the environment and ecosystem which God has tasked us to oversee. Bible-believing Christians must admit that creation is a gift from God, and God’s gift he declared good.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13)

When God makes humanity, he gives us a task:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth…. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:26, 29)

There you have it, our God-given appointment to care for the earth BUT ALSO to utilize the plants and fruit for our food. When we confess that we haven’t done a great job caring for God’s creation, though, our confession shouldn’t be to the food but to the ONE who created the earth and set us to task. Union has a point in the confession and repentance, but they fail in their understanding of to whom they repent and confess.

Their defense continues:

We are in the throes of a climate emergency, a crisis created by humanity’s arrogance, our disregard for Creation. Far too often, we see the natural world only as resources to be extracted for our use, not divinely created in their own right—worthy of honor, thanks and care.

Union is close, but they aren’t there. The climate emergency created by human disregard for creation is a serious issue, and I agree that Christians OUGHT to lead the charge in caring for the planet – it is our God-given role! I disagree, however, with the idea that plants are worthy of thanks. They are merely plants, and plants have no being or essence that makes them special. Yes, yes, I know this defies the teaching of Master Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi, who tell Luke that the Force flows through all things. From a Christian perspective, however, plants are designed by God as food. If anyone is worthy of thanks, thank the God who created the earth and gave us the food, but don’t thank the bushes!

But their defense goes on:

We need to unlearn habits of sin and death. And part of that work must be building new bridges to the natural world. And that means creating new spiritual and intellectual frameworks by which we understand and relate to the plants and animals with whom we share the planet. Churches have a huge role to play in this endeavor. Theologies that encourage humans to dominate and master the Earth have played a deplorable role in degrading God’s creation. We must birth new theology, new liturgy to heal and sow, replacing ones that reap and destroy. When Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke at Union last year, she concluded her lecture by tasking us—and all faith communities—to develop new liturgies by which to mourn, grieve, heal and change in response to our climate emergency. We couldn’t be prouder to participate in this work.

To these points, Union and I are in total agreement. Churches SHOULD play a huge role in taking care of the creation God left in our care, a role that means we strive to cease destroying species of animal and plant life, actively seeking to protect and nurture God’s creative activity.

Please go on, Union:

And here’s the thing: At first, this work will seem weird. It won’t feel normal. It won’t look like how we’re used to worship looking and sounding. And that’s exactly the point. We don’t just need new wine, we need new wineskins. But it’s also important to note that this isn’t, really, that radical a break from tradition. Many faiths and denoms have liturgy through which we express and atone for the harm we’ve caused. No one would have blinked if our chapel featured students apologizing to each other. What’s different (and the source of so much derision) is that we’re treating plants as fully created beings, divine Creation in its own right—not just something to be consumed. Because plants aren’t capable of verbal response, does that mean we shouldn’t engage with them?

Aaaand they are off the rails again. Treating plants as fully created beings? No. Nope. No way. They’re plants. Out of all of God’s creative work, only humanity bears the divine image.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

While plants are a part of God’s created order, plants do NOT bear the Imago Dei (Image of God). Humanity stands alone in this regard. We apologize when we sin against other humans because we’re apologizing to beings that are also divine image bearers. I consider myself a dog lover. I have been my entire life. As much joy as pups bring me, they are still not on the same level as other humans. Respect the creation, sure, but recognize that the Creator has made plants and animals different than the Creator made people. Scripture says that humanity is created to have dominion over every animal and to have the plants for food. They are not equal beings.

Union finishes up:

So, if you’re poking fun, we’d ask only that you also spend a couple moments asking: Do I treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? What harm do I cause without thinking? How can I enter into new relationship with the natural world? Change isn’t easy: It’s no simple business to break free from comfortable habits and thoughts. But if we do not change, we will perish. And so will plants and animals God created and called “good.” We must lean into this discomfort; God waits for us there.

On a final note, I do believe that Union’s questions are worth asking. Do we treat plants and animals as divinely created beings? No, nor should we. They were created for humanity, not as equal to humanity. It IS valid to ask how we cause harm to the created order, how our carelessness can consumerism actually works to destroy what God placed under our care. Because all of creation IS good, and because God specifically tasked us with overseeing his creation, we have a responsibility to treat well the earth and everything upon it.

And lastly, if you like to talk to tomatoes…

have I got a show for you.

A Famous Christian Loses Faith

Demolition-HouseIf you don’t follow Christian authors and news, perhaps you’re not familiar with the name Joshua Harris. In 1997, he wrote a book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” In it he instructed young Christians in how he thought they ought to live a life of holiness. It was all the rage in Evangelical churches back then.

Fast forward a couple decades and things have really changed. Just recently, Harris announced that his 21-year long marriage is ending and that he is no longer part of the Christian faith (he was a pastor).

It’s easy to sit back and judge from the outside. There’s something natural in our flesh (human-ness) that revels in seeing exalted people fall. If you’re not familiar with my favorite word ever, look up schadenfreude. So I’m trying hard not to find pleasure in the downfall of someone with whom I really disagreed in theology and praxis. And, while it’s easy to think of jokes about Harris and easy comparisons to kissing and Judas, at my core I think I’m more saddened by the whole situation.

It’s tragic any time a Christian falls away from the faith. The fact is that none of us know a person’s heart or way of thinking. The Bible makes it clear that there will be “Christians” who leave. John warned the Church about this almost 2,000 years ago:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19).

Jesus’s famous “parable of the sower” in Mark 4 goes like this:

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Ultimately it comes down to this: it’s not our place to “save people.” God alone works on the hearts of humanity. Not everyone who claims to be part of the faith is going to make it to the end. That is tragic. Jesus’s words seek to comfort us when we see people respond poorly to the gospel (or not respond at all). Since we do not know how every story will end up, we can take a breath and relax – we don’t have to work on people’s hearts. All we have to do is be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Yes, this includes sharing with people the hope that we have in God and what our faith means to us (that dreaded word EVANGELISM), but we don’t have to take it personally when people reject the gospel.

All we’re called to do is follow God as best we can and trust Him to do the rest.

I don’t know how Joshua Harris’s story will end. He might reconcile with his wife and return to Jesus. He might never reconcile but still return to Jesus. He might stay apostate the rest of his days. Only God knows, so I’ll try to tamp down the judgment and simply pray for him and his family.

May God’s grace and mercy cover us all and keep us close to him.


What do you think? What’s your gut reaction when famous Christians “fall away” from faith? Have you ever experienced a “deconstruction of faith?” Do you wonder why I use so many quotation marks??? Share your story in the comments and share the article on social media. 🙂

The Good Undocumented Immigrant

laborersA white Christian man was driving down from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and his car had some massive mechanical failure and died on the side of the road. He was in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal in the heat of the day. If he didn’t get help, and soon, he would be in serious risk for heat stroke or death.

Now by chance an off-duty police officer was going down that road but, after he saw the distressed man, he passed right on by. He had some important personal issues to attend to. So likewise a Republican congressman, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by without slowing down – he had to get to a town hall meeting.

But an undocumented immigrant, as he journeyed, came to where the stranded man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and gave him food and drink. Then he made room in his own vehicle and brought him to a auto repair shop and took care of him. He took out $140 and gave it to the mechanic, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back through.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who was stranded and in distress?

You go, and do likewise.

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Maintaining Hope

This is number two in our “Bouncing Back” series, where we’re dealing with being spiritually anchored so that we can weather any storm. Last time we talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. Today we’re talking about maintaining hope.

Hope is a funny thing. We’re willing to pay good money for hope. We probably don’t think of it like that, but we do. That’s the power behind the infomercial. These infomercials blast us day in and day out (and in the wee hours of the morning when there’s no regular programming on t.v.). These “as seen on tv” products are trying to sell hope – hope that buying a particular product will be the miracle to cure whatever troubles us. Like the Snuggie.

C’mon, people!

It’s. A. Backwards. Robe.

But it calls out to us and gives us hope that life would be better if we just had…. This is the power of the infomercial – it plays off of hope. My wife and I used to be in the habit of having cable news playing in the background during the day. I realized that we needed to stop when my then-5 year old got to me after work one day and said, “Daddy, we need to get a sunsetter!”

No, baby girl, we don’t NEED one. Not at all.

But humanity believes that these little doses of hope will make life better. But the emotion of hope is something that comes and goes. These temporary things cannot be enough to sustain long-term hope. Lasting hope has to be rooted in something much deeper. Lasting hope must be rooted in something bigger than ourselves or the stuff we fill our lives with.

Lasting hope is spiritually anchored.

The Bible talks a lot about hope, and the people who need it.

For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:24-25)

You see, when we talk about bouncing back from life’s troubles, it is hope that gives us the bounce! And while we sometimes think that troubles kill hope, hope and affliction can co-exist.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)

The Apostle tells us to rejoice in hope WHILE TELLING US TO BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION! They’re happening simultaneously. In a nutshell, then, hope is about holding on to that better tomorrow in spite of the difficulties of today. But how do we develop hope?

  • Build a future focus.

We get so caught up in today’s troubles we lose sight of tomorrow. But we know that everything in this life is temporary. Life itself is temporary! We’re all headed towards that same destination – the grave. But the Christian has hope beyond the grave, for we know the day is coming when we stand in the presence and perfection of God. This hope has sustained Christians through the worst time and persecutions imaginable.

Don’t be so caught in the “here & now” that you lose hold of the “there & then.”

  • Work on a path to tomorrow.

We know that life will get tough. Obstacles are going to hit. Instead of letting them stop us, we need to plan our path towards tomorrow. Asses your life like it’s a number line.

numberline_0-30

If the obstacle has your life stuck at 5, don’t try to jump to 30. Ask what it’s going to take to get to 6. Then, when you find your life is at 6, ask what you can do to move up to a 7. The point is you keep at it little by little.

I have a friend who was convinced that God had a certain destination for his life. The problem was that obstacle after obstacle kept being thrown at him. It was discouraging. A mutual mentor of ours told him, “If you believe this is where God wants you to be, you CANNOT stop trying. Do EVERYTHING to keep moving in that direction.” It took years but it finally happened!

  • Finally, recognize God’s plan in your life regardless of personal circumstances.

Sorrow doesn’t have to diminish hope. God can work through your suffering. God and work in spite of your suffering. Hope remains, because it’s grounded in God’s activity, not our changing circumstances. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who prayed earnestly that God would remove a personal obstacle, his “thorn in his flesh.”

Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Your obstacle may never be resolved the way you want it. It doesn’t stop God’s grace from being present in your life. Hope stays, no matter what happens today.

Let’s hold on to a better tomorrow.

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

hope-hero

Bouncing Back From Unbeatable Obstacles

Sometimes life throws some horrible stuff our way and we face all sorts of obstacles. Too often those obstacles, those life crises, have a way of driving us to our breaking point. When we break we reach a point where ending our lives seems like most viable option. As of a couple years ago, the suicide rate in America is about 13 per 100,000. So how do we avoid getting to the point where we break? Since we can’t avoid crises for an entire lifetime, the issue is not about getting away from obstacles but rather learning how to bounce rather than break.

glassThink about a glass that’s slammed on the floor. It’s going to shatter. But replace the glass with a super-ball, one of those rubber balls that kids love to play with (no matter how many times you say, “DON’T BOUNCE THAT IN THE HOUSE!). No matter how hard you slam that ball down, it won’t break.

It simply bounces.

This is the perspective we need to get to when we think about the crises and difficulties in our lives. And the first step in becoming people who bounce instead of break is this:

Stop seeing obstacles as unbeatable problems.

Little EngineThink about The Little Engine That Could. This poor little engine was tasked with trying to get all the toys to the remote town. His only problem was that there was a great big mountain standing in the way. But he doesn’t let the obstacle sit in his mind as an unbeatable problem. Instead, he begins attacking the mountain and tells himself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually he does!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. That’s a kid’s story! Fair enough. How about an adult example from the Bible? I’m talking about the 12 Spies of Israel? As God was bringing the Israelite nation out of slavery and to the land of promise, Moses sent scouts ahead to check out the land and look for potential pitfalls. While the land was perfect for the people and produced excellent crops, the scouts encountered a crisis.

They reported to Moses: “We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit. However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” 

So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.” (Numbers 13)

Only 2 of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, thought it could be done. Everyone else thought the obstacle was unbeatable – and that was with the promise of God on their side! Because of their lack of faith and trust, only Caleb and Joshua ended up getting into the promised land. The rest never made it out of the wilderness. While we’re not dealing with God’s promised land, there’s a principle that rings true about the crises that we face:

Believing something to be unbeatable defeats you before you even get started.

Can you imagine a boxer who gets into the ring thinking, “There’s no way I can beat this guy.” He won’t. Likewise, when we face crises we must start with an understanding that nothing is insurmountable.

Just because an obstacle is in your way doesn’t mean you stop moving! – when there’s a mountain in your way you figure out a way past it. You go around it. You climb over it. You dig under it. If you have to, build a fricking airplane. My point is that you have to exhaust EVERY avenue – every option – to overcoming the problem. You never.stop.moving!

The Bible talks a whole bunch about overcoming trials and/or troubles. Just a couple, for example:

  • Jeremiah 1:19 ~ They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

  • John 16:32-33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 I recognize that we don’t get to claim someone else’s promise for ourselves. I’m not an ancient Israelite worried about invading armies, so God’s promise to deliver from people fighting against is not aimed at me. There is a general principle in the Bible, though, that affirms that God IS present with the faithful and will aid in helping us persevere and overcome difficulties and trials in life.

Heck, Jesus PROMISES that we’ll have troubles in life. Anyone who tells you life will be a piece of cake is either lying to you or trying to sell you something. But in spite of the troubles, we have the promise of a present God to be with us.

So in a nutshell, how do we work on getting over the insurmountable?

  • Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope is what allows us to bounce instead of break. Rather than fixating on the problem of today, maintain a future-oriented outlook. You are a person who has value and worth – this world is impacted JUST because of your presence in it. So anticipate a better tomorrow.
  • Memorialize your problems and your victories. When God was leading Israel under Joshua, they came to the Jordan river and didn’t have a great outlook for crossing. But God stopped the waters so the people could cross. Afterward, they decided to memorialize God’s work:

So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, “Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4)

Remembering what God did in the past helps us as we go through crises today. We know that God HAS acted and we have reasonable hope that He WILL act again!

  • Take it in bite-sized chunks. It’s like that age-old joke: How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME! Lame joke, I know, but you get the idea. Overcoming your crises may not be an instant thing. It could take time. Some days you’ll feel like you have the strength and speed of a gazelle. Other days it will be all you can do to take baby steps. Just.Keep.Moving.
  • Finally, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up. Motivate yourself. When I face difficult things I actually talk out loud (when no one else is around!). I say things like: I got this! I can do this! This, too, shall pass!

There are numerous examples of people who faced difficulties before finally overcoming and succeeding.

  • Thomas Edison was told as a kid, “You’re too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers for his first book because they thought it was no good.
  • The story goes that Elvis was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to driving a truck.

No obstacle is worth breaking over. We don’t have to break.

Live your life by the mantra:

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

Be someone who can bounce.

Boiling Water

When People Become Animals

Man, it is SO easy to get offended these days. In fact, it seems we LOOK for ways to be offended by the people we know we disagree with. Case in point – the internet has lost its ever-lovin’ mind over President Trump’s comments about gang members not being people but being animals.

angrydogOnce again, people drew the line based largely on party affiliations. Trump supporters said, “Of COURSE those horrible, vicious, brutal gang members are animals!” Trump opponents made it out as though Mr. Trump labeled ALL illegal immigrant as animals.

In reality, Mr. Trump did NOT make blanket statements about immigrants. And, as a decent human being (at least I like to THINK I am), the decency-loving person within me says, “Yes! Vicious and brutal murderers ARE animals! This is probably a very common reaction from law-abiding citizens of the world. Decent people don’t behave this way. There are certain things one can do to forfeit his place within humanity.

But then the Bible quietly comes alongside us and says, “That’s not the right way to think.”

In fact, time and again the Bible tells us that ALL people are made in God’s image. The Latin phrase in theological circles is the Imago Dei (Image of God). And it has its foundation in Genesis 1:27 ~

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.

Humanity bears the image of God. It doesn’t say that certain people bear God’s image and others are just outta luck. It doesn’t say that people forfeit God’s image based on bad behavior. We ALL carry God’s image. WE don’t get to take that away from someone merely because we find their behavior atrocious.

And because all humanity bears the image of God, and because we are all people, we all have the possibility of redemption. To take away someone’s personhood is to say they are beyond God’s grace and redemption But the Bible doesn’t stop there. What if the gang members NEVER come to Jesus? What if they are ALWAYS an enemy? Jesus talks about that, too.

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…. ~ Matthew 5:43-44

Really, Jesus?!?

Why you gotta get all up in our bizness? The Apostle Paul keeps the theme going!

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. ~ Romans 12:19-21

I’m not so naive as to think Jesus and Paul are regulating our politics. I’m not saying there’s a 1-to-1 correlation whereby Scripture DIRECTLY seeks to influence policy. I AM saying that Christians are held to a HIGHER standard when it comes to how we think of people – even those people who would do physical harm to us.

I understand the “They’re animals!” mentality. But we must set aside our own feelings and take up the biblical point of view in how we see and treat others – and that includes gang members.

Blame Your Brain – The Reason You Do Stupid Things

Writer William Arther Ward once wrote: “Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking.” In other words, what we think and the way we think will shape our worlds.

I read about a research study by a Dr. J. Haskins, who spent 12 years researching the effects of media on how people think. One study group listened to programs with negative news 5 minutes a day. The other group listened to more uplifting and positive news.

  1. The negative group was more depressed than before
  2. They believed the world was a negative place
  3. They were less likely to help others
  4. They began to believe that negative things would soon happen to them

Their concept of reality was shaped by their thoughts.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not talking about some Neo-level world manipulation like in The Matrix.

 

But the things we focus on, dwell on, meditate on, will shape our realities and our course in life. Just ask any ad exec. Once they can get you hooked in your mind, the decision to buy it will quickly follow. What you put into your head become your reality.

 

Pastor Chip Ingram uses this to talk about our paths toward good or bad consequences.

stinkin thinkin

He says, “If you want life to dramatically change—to get out of a rut of destructive emotions or bad habits—it all begins with what goes into your mind.” Thus the Apostle Paul writes:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

So what are you dwelling on? When you’re on a long drive, when you’re relaxing at home, when you’re channel surfing…what are you putting into your mind?

There’s an old expression that says: GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. If you fill your mind with garbage that’s what your life will be filled with. If you follow the Bible’s guidance, filling your mind and life with God-thoughts will produce good fruit.

So here are 4 quick tips to start filling yourself with good thoughts and to eliminate your stinkin’ thinkin’!

 

  1. Memorize/meditate on Scripture
  2. Use drive time to listen to something meaningful or to ponder deep truths
  3. Experience great art (visual, music, literature, etc.)
  4. Take walks to examine/appreciate God through nature

What about you? What are some ways you fill your mind with God-thoughts and eliminate negative thoughts? You can change your outcome and behavior by changing your brain!

Pizza Tastes Better Than Self-Control

Self-control is one of the primary characteristics of the Christian life. The Apostle Paul talks about it as an element of the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

While a lot of people think that each of these elements are individual fruit, they are all part of the SAME fruit! A fruit tree only produces one kind of fruit. The Christian tree produces ONE fruit and it’s made up of these things. That means you can’t say you’ve got some fruit and not others. If you do well with love, joy, and peace but fail at self-control, your fruit ain’t ripe!

pizza manBut self-control is one aspect of our character development that we let fall to the wayside. In my words, it’s because pizza tastes better than self-control. In generic terms, our individual indulgences are more important to us than exercising discipline. The Bible compares self-control to a city’s walls:

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25)

In the ancient world, the walls would prevent the enemy from coming and conquering the city. A break in the wall could mean devastation for the city. Similarly, when our self-control is not in place, we are wide open to attack from any indulgence or desire. Maybe food isn’t your weakness. Maybe it’s alcohol. Or your sexuality. Or your anger. Pick something – because I have confidence that most of humanity wrestles with self-control issues in SOME area of life.

But you can tackle your issues. John Maxwell talks about some ways to kick-start your journey towards self control.

  1. Start small: You don’t wake up one morning and go run a marathon. You train for it. Likewise, it’s okay to have small, measurable goals to begin your self-control journey.
  2. Be consistent: It’s amazing how small consistencies can produce big results. This month (February) I started a nationwide running challenge to run over 100 miles in the month. A group of us are doing it together. Running 100 miles on a Saturday isn’t very feasible for most of us. But running/walking 3.58 miles a day will get you to 100.24 miles in the month.

You CAN do it. Don’t be discouraged because of past failures. Get back on track. Hit the gym. Put the food down. Cut back on those indulgences. Discover joy in moderation.

Let your fruit ripen into something delicious.

 


How about you? What is it that causes your self-control to fly out the window?

More Stuff Will Make Me Happy…Right?

Do you want to be happy? I do. In fact, most people I know desire to be happy. But so many of us aren’t. Usually our happiness is linked to one of two things: 1) our possessions and 2) our position/circumstances in life.

Free-StuffWhen it comes to our possessions, the idea is that stuff will make us happy. If I could only have that new iPhone. If I could only acquire that special __________ – you get the idea. The problem with linking our happiness to stuff is that they’re ALWAYS making new stuff! What good is getting a new phone when they’ll make a new one next year? Pursuing the latest stuff is only a temporary fix. But stuff will always leave us sad. The new thing breaks or becomes outdated.

But the character of the believer is supposed to be opposite of this. Jesus himself said:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)

The idea of guarding against stuff even made into the 10 Commandments when God told Israel not to covet anything that belonged to their neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God is telling us that having new and nice things is wrong. But we get into trouble when stuff and the pursuit of it possesses our hearts. Filling our lives with stuff leads to only temporary happiness and is never permanent.

When it comes to our position in life, we often think that we can only be content of we just had a better job or more social standing or ___________________ (again, fill in the blank). But our life’s circumstances don’t have to determine our contentedness. In a very difficult passage to wrestle with, the Apostle Paul writes:

 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:20-22)

Paul is NOT advocating for slavery. In fact, notice that he says a slave should gain freedom if he is able to do so. The heart of what Paul is talking about is really finding life contentment in Christ WHEREVER you are. Our position does not dictate our contentment. This is why Paul can write that he has learned to be content no matter his situation. He can starve or be full. He can be free or beaten and in chains. His contentment comes from his rock-solid faith in Jesus.

We’re never promised happiness. We’re promised that God’s grace is sufficient for us. That is real contentment – resting on God’s sufficiency no matter what life throws at us.

Paul reminds us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

But how can you work on getting over the stuff? How do we let go of the world’s understanding of happiness and pursue contentment? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Memorize some Bible verses about stuff and/or contentment. If you’ve got the words of Jesus easily accessible when you’re walking through Best Buy, maybe you’ll be able to get out of the store without caving to the “gotta have it” mentality so pervasive in our culture.
  2. Practice giving something away every week. Make a habit of refusing to let stuff control you – give something away. It breaks the power of stuff over your life and allows you to brighten someone else’s day.
  3. Serve people who are worse off than you are. Nothing puts our lives in perspective like helping others who have it worse than we do.serve

You can do it. You can find real contentment. It’s not found in stuff or circumstance. You can be dead broke in a dead-end job but still experience godly contentment. Let God help you find it.

I’m the Most Humble Guy You’ll Ever Meet

Humility picHumility is one of those things that I know is good for me but also one of those things that is so hard to put into practice. Our culture regularly drives us to “be number one!” Many of us have jobs that require an annual review in which we sum up all of the great things we did through the year.

And yet, humility is a foundational characteristic that is supposed to make up the Christian life. It is the quality Christ exuded when taking on humanity and dying on a cross. If Christians are supposed to make his character our own, then humility needs to be near the top of our own list of character development. For our own growth, humility begins with a proper recognition of our place in the universe. Isaiah 66:1-2 says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

Since God is the creator of the cosmos, what can we possibly bring to the table? Those questions are rhetorical. Our planet is a mere footstool for God (and the feet were not a clean and honorable part of the body in the Ancient Near East, which is why Peter freaked out when Jesus tried to wash the disciples’ feet). God doesn’t want us to feel down and depressed about how insignificant we are. This is, however, a call to recognize the greatness and grandness of God. A high view of God puts us on the right path to humility.

One we get that human/divine relationship understood, the next step is to look in the mirror and not think better of ourselves than we ought. Luke tells a story of Jesus in Luke 14:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.

If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

HumilityThere’s a practical wisdom to Jesus’s words. It’s FAR better to choose humility than to have someone else thrust humility upon you! Don’t get so big-headed you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Instead, choose lowness and, if other people exalt you – score! If not, you’re no worse for the wear and can avoid the walk of shame when someone tells you you’re in a place for someone more important.

Finally, humility involves building others up. Paul writes in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I would also contend that part of looking out for the interests of others includes not taking credit for an idea or action from another. Give proper credit where credit is due.

We’re not looking for false humility. That’s just pride in disguise. But a genuinely humble person who recognizes her place before God, who accurately sees himself in the mirror, and who honestly seeks to build up others, will be the kind of person who reflects the character of Christ.