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Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling Alone

This is our fourth installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Last time we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Today we talk about bouncing back through our deep relationships.

People who have strong connections are more resistant to stress. The more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be because you have a strong support network to fall back on.

Surround yourself by people who make you feel good and further your development. Poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”. People who know more about the issue than I do say that the more we isolate ourselves, the more we increase our stress and frustration.  Al Gore said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

were-here-to-pump-you-upAnother quirky element of being part of community is that other people can also have an impact on our effort levels.  If the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic.

I have seen this in the gym and at Command PT time and again. If you’re paired with someone who puts out minimal effort, your own effort will diminish. If you’re with someone who is PUMPED UP and giving maximum effort, your own efforts will improve!

Why be part of a deep and authentic community?

  • We were made to exist in community

Genesis 1 lays the groundwork for it. Every time God creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.” But out of the ENTIRE created world, there is only ONE thing that is “not good.”

It is not good for man to be alone.

So man goes on a quest to find a perfect partner. None can be found. So God takes matters into his own hands and creates woman, the perfect partner for man, and thus the first community was established. We were built to exist and thrive when we take care of each other in community. Which leads us to the next point —

  • Taking care of others takes care of yourself.

Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. Researchers have found that serotonin is used more efficiently by people who engage in acts of kindness. That means the more you do kind things for others, the happier and more resilient you will be. It’s almost like we were created to do good works. If only there were a Bible verse that could back up this theory…

Oh, wait:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

 

  • Authentic Community helps us bounce back

Community groups help us as we wrestle with difficulties. AA, NA, Bible Study Groups, take your pick – being plugged into communities gives us resources and support to manage difficult times and not break. The Apostle Paul talks about this kind of thing in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 15:1-3 ~ We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

And, in the end, this is about what real family looks like. It’s not about shared blood – it’s about choosing to be an intentional part of a community of like-minded people. People who spur us on. People who won’t let us quit. People we impact and who impact us. People who keep us from breaking.

This is family.

 

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

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling with Change

Welcome to our third installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Today we talk about facing down change.

Last week I read a quotation from writer H.P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Change-1080x675Those are some DEEP words. I’ll be totally upfront with you – I’m one of those people who fear the unknown. And nothing brings about the unknown faster than change. It can be change in your job, change in your family, change in your social status, change in the government, or ANYWHERE else in life.

Change brings the unknown.

The unknown brings fear.

People who are know more than I do about psychology note that humans LOVE certainty.

Uncertainty registers as an error, gap, or tension in the brain: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again. That is why people crave certainty. Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This can diminish memory, undermine performance, and disengage people from the present.

Humanity has been wrestling with change and uncertainty since the dawn of time. From ancient philosophers, to Kansas, to Bill and Ted, the reality of change and the transitory nature of life has overwhelmed us.

This is a prevalent theme of the biblical book Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

When we’re faced with change, many of us will freeze. Change becomes overwhelming and breaks us. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes felt overwhelmed by the permanence of change. That word “meaningless” in the King James English is “vanity.” It literally means “transitory” or “impermanent.”

Life. Is. Change.

But change doesn’t have to break us. How can we bounce back in the face of overwhelming change? Here are a couple tips:

  • Acknowledge the change. One of he most important thing to do when change is happening is to acknowledge it. Running and hiding from your problems never solves them. It may delay them for a bit, but acknowledging them is the best way to move towards overcoming the difficulty.
  • Face your fears. Go through each fear brought up by the oncoming (or already present) change and write down what you would do if that fear came to pass. It’s about shifting perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote about shifting perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Instead of focusing on the seen here and now, shift your gaze to that which has REAL permanence – God! Scripture declares that He NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who never changes is walking beside you through all of your changes. He is facing them with you, so focus on that instead of the change.

  • Seek support. Many of us don’t like asking for help. The Christian community was DESIGNED to be a source of support for the believer. We ought to be taking care of each other. You should know that I have your back, and I should know that you have mine. Change is less scary when you’re going through it with someone you know and trust!
  • Switch out fearful thoughts with positive ones. Getting back to hope, we can choose to focus on positive aspects of pending change. For example, one of the changes people fear the most is death. Paul takes the idea of passing into the next life and puts an incredibly positive spin on it:

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 ~ I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Make it a habit to focus on the positive things that change can bring.

You’re not going to be able to escape change. But it doesn’t have to break you. Realize that change is a normal (albeit stressful) part of life. But it IS a normal of life. Back to Ecclesiastes, the writer says in a very famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Change is gonna come. But it won’t break you.

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

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

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!

My 5 Year Old Sucks at Theology

Of course she does, shes five! Lemme back up a sec…

The other night as I was putting her to bed and she asked one of THE questions in theology:

“Daddy, why did God make us?”

Now as we’re approaching the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and as I was asked to write a piece on Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone),  my brain started thinking about how I could convey to a little girl the idea of God’s glory being the ultimate desire and design for humanity.

Glory of GodIn the end, I gave her a simple version of the Westminster Catechism, “Baby girl, God made everyone to glorify and worship Him.”

“No, Daddy, He made us to love each other and to be nice.”

Yeah, she wasn’t picking up what I was putting down. I’ll try again next year. But I wasn’t wrong. We ARE so that we can give God glory. It’s like the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 ~

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Paul says this at the end of talking about the controversial topic of eating food that had been offered to idols. Not as big an issue for Western Christians in the 21st Century, but it was for Paul and the early church. But ultimately Paul called people to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the individual conscience with the idea that Christian liberty allows us a wide range of activities…with one caveat.

Do everything to the glory of God!

And this is where we often come up short. Sure there are some areas we surrender and do to God’s glory. Other times, if we’re totally honest, our behavior does NOT glorify God. And this is a key point of the Reformation – not just that everything we do is for God’s glory, but that everything we do is ONLY for God’s glory. No one else is on equal footing. God alone should be the motivator of our thoughts and actions.

If we started to view our days through the lens of Soli Deo Gloria we’d probably change a lot of what we do.

  • Should I really post that on social media? Does it bring glory to God?
  • Should I really pass on this story about Jake that I heard from Sarah? Does it bring glory to God?
  • Should I really talk to my wife and kids like this? Does it bring glory to God?

An honest assessment shows up coming up short. Not only do we put other things before or equal to God, but even when it’s God alone our behavior doesn’t daily live for His glory.

Kind of depressing, actually, to thing of how often I miss the mark here. Thank God for His grace.

But that’s another Sola…

Christianity: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

stupid isEven people who have never seen Forrest Gump have heard the expression, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It’s the way Forrest’s momma teaches his that real stupidity is not in intellect or how others judge you. Stupid people are reveled through their stupid behavior. People who DO smart things ARE smart people. People who do stupid things…well, you get the idea. And that concept is not unique to stupidity. It’s a truism of many facets of life. If you want to know about the character of a person, look at his actions. His behavior will out the truth. Smart people are those who DO smart things. Careful people are those who practice safety and care. Friendly people are those who behave as friends. In his first letter, John says it’s no different with spirituality and righteousness.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3)

I think John would have us understand a few things here:

  • We ARE family!

It’s an amazing thing to think about. In a world where people are striving for connection, where we settle for the superficial “friends” of social media, we are invited into a community of faith that becomes our family. God welcomes us with open arms and says, “There is a place here for you.” But that means something more than just a place to belong.

  • Family begins to look and sound like each other.

One of the funniest parts about belonging to a community is that we take on the look and speech of that community. Each family will have its own peculiar lexicon that develops over the course of time and shared experiences. I remember one time my family went to Wendy’s for a meal. While my mom was in line, my younger brother (maybe 6 years old?), my dad, and I went to the corner table. My brother was climbing over and under the tables and came up suddenly and hit his head on the bottom of the table. Trying to communicate what happened, he cried, “I boomped my head!” Naturally we thought this slip was funny, and it became part of the family lexicon. 30 years later we will still say to each other, “I boomped my head (or arm, foot, etc.) when we get injured.

I read a fascinating article a while back (and if I ever find it again I’ll hyperlink it) that stated we sound like the 5 most important people in our social circles. That is to say, take the 5 people you spend the most time with, the people who have the most influence in your life, and you will find your dress and speech patterns are an amalgamation of those 5 people.

she's the devilThis is no different spiritually. Our spiritual family is supposed to change the way we look and sound. God’s family is supposed to do godly things. We turn our backs on ungodly behavior. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, righteous is as righteous does. We are called to turn our backs on ungodly behavior. We’re either part of God’s family or part of the devil’s family.

  • Finally, being part of God’s family is about MORE than personal righteousness – it includes taking care of each other.

The Bible is quite clear that we cannot be right with God if we are not actively loving and caring for humanity. If God is love, we cannot hate people and still maintain personal righteousness. There’s a unique spiritual blend – genuine righteousness means loving God AND loving each other. Any less is bogus spirituality. It’s a sham.

Think about your life. Have you actively been pursuing righteousness? Does your behavior identify you as part of God’s family? Do your actions towards others show that you are a child of God? If not, where do you need to change? How do your actions and speech need to change to reflect belonging to His family?

The Dude Abides: Hanging With Jesus

Abiding is a word we don’t really use a whole lot any more. Once upon a time it was a regular part of vocabulary. Depending on the context, it can have a couple (similar) meanings. It can mean to live/exist. It can also mean to remain. In recent history, it made a comeback in the cult-classic “The Big Lebowski.

“It’s good knowin’ he’s out there – the Dude. Takin’ it easy for all us sinners.” (Just a quick note – there is a LOT of profanity in the movie, so please don’t go watching an unedited version thinking I’m giving it the green light.)

But the Dude abiding isn’t a new idea to The Big Lebowski. It’s actually an ancient idea that plays a major part of the first letter of John. And John isn’t just concerned with the idea of the Dude abiding. John wants abiding to be a core concept of the faith. Hang with me here:

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)

John’s key concept here is that of abiding. How does John talk about the phony Christians? We know that they were not authentic Christians because THEY DID NOT ABIDE! They bailed. John makes plain that if the false teachers had been genuinely part of the body of believers, they would not have taken off.

We see this kind of thing all the time even today. People abandon the faith and walk out on God and God’s people. No, this isn’t the same as church-hopping. As frustrating as it may be to see people pick up from one church and land at another across town, that isn’t the same thing as what John’s talking about. He’s talking about people who completely turn their backs on Christ – they no longer abide with Christ.

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. (1 John 2:20-25)

John has no kind words for these people who do not abide. In fact, these false Christians who deny Christ are, in fact, anti-Christs. And while the early church clearly anticipated a single apocalyptic figure, John’s cares less about a future villain and is more focused on people bailing on faith here and now. Thus he reiterates that Christians should just follow the original message! The message that the Apostles preached from the very beginning was that which is found in John 1: In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh. This is the next part of abiding:

Let the original Gospel message abide in you! Not only do we abide with the body of believers, but as a spiritual community we let God’s message abide in us. And if we abide with the authentic community of faith, and God’s Word abides in us, then we abide in the Son.

And abiding with Jesus comes with a future promise: eternal life. We don’t just abide here and now but we have a guarantee of abiding with God forever. That’s a great plan! It’s stinkin’ ingenious. It’s a Swiss watch!

There’s no need for following some teacher/prophet who has “secret knowledge.” There is no one person that we ought to follow to put us on the path to God. The real key is abiding. Abide with Christ and with the Gospel message. Abide with the body of believers. John finishes up:

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:26-27)

God’s anointing continues to abide with us. So stick with Jesus. The end result is out of this world, man.

Be a Dude who Abides.

the dude abides

They’re Called Christians but SHOULD be Called Judgy McJudgerson

Christians LOVE to judge people.

Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?

  • We judge people based on appearance
  • We judge people based on their vehicles
  • We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
  • We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
  • We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)

And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.

judgmentWhile we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”

YES! AND HE IS!

What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.

And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.

plankeyeJudgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.

If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”

Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”

God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.

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