A Change of Heart

I recently heard a godly, well-meaning older gentleman tell a young father that raising kids was just like training dogs. He explained that you just need to develop a routine of simple, specific commands that you repeat regularly and you can train them to respond on command. While most people don’t state it in that fashion, this advice reflects a behavior based understanding of parenting that is extremely common – even within the church. As parents, it is incredibly easy to make our children’s behavior the focus of our parenting. Raising “good” kids that behave “properly” is the assumed end game for many parents. While there is nothing wrong with desiring and working toward good behavior in your children, this should not be the goal you are working toward as a parent.

The responsibility of a Christian parent, the very heart and soul of all we do, is to shape our children’s heart toward God so that they will have a thriving personal relationship with him. In a word, it is “discipleship.” The focus of our parenting should be discipling little followers of Jesus so that one day they become grownups that genuinely and faithfully follow Jesus.

It should be overwhelmingly obvious that the task of discipling a child – shaping their heart toward God – has to be all about the condition of their heart. Unfortunately, this is something that many Christians miss in their personal walk with God as well as in their parenting. We are always trying to make the Christian life about performance, rather than about identity in Christ and personal relationship with the Father. God himself spoke of this problem, condemning his own people because they “…come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught (Isaiah 29:13) .” In this instance, the problem wasn’t their behavior – it was their heart. They said the right things and did the right things, but it was merely outward conformity to a bunch of rules.

Tragically, this outward conformity to religious standards that God hates and condemns is precisely what many parents are encouraging through parenting that focuses on behavior modification. Yes, you can train your child like a dog to follow your rules and do what you want them to do, but without a heart that is chasing after God they are no better off simply because they’ve followed the rules. Instead of always focusing on changing and curbing bad behavior, we must use bad behavior as an opportunity to look into our child’s sinful heart and shape it toward God.

The shortest answer as to how to do this is simply to give them the gospel.  We must give our children the gospel faithfully, constantly and relentlessly because a man-made training program of rules and commands might change behavior, but only the gospel can change a heart. When sinful behavior presents, take a step back and remember your goal. It is not conformity; it is genuine heart change. So you need to take the time to understand why they misbehaved. You need to empathize by sharing your own struggle with sin and then explain that this is a universal problem for all of humankind. Give correction and help them understand why consequences are good and necessary. Also, make sure to share the good news that God offers forgiveness and He offers to help us have victory over sin. Over all, you should place drastically more emphasis on God’s goodness than on your child’s badness.

Of course all of that takes time – much more time than a harsh word of reproach and a swift punishment. And the results take more time to. You may not get immediate conformity, but that’s ok because the goal is not to shame them into conformity but to drive them toward God’s heart. Make this the central focus of all you do as a parent. I urge you to make your child’s relationship with God more important than their behavior. Work toward shaping their heart toward God more than you work at changing their actions. Make discipleship your aim because if good behavior is your goal, you may one day reach the finish line and find you have run the wrong race and lost your children in the process.

3 Signs of Selfish Service

One of the great privileges and responsibilities of the Christian life is service. Different individuals and churches may call it volunteerism, ministry or some other title, but the idea is the same – we show our love for God and appreciation for his blessing by doing acts of service in his name. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that what appears to be service for God is actually service for ourselves. This may not always be easy to detect, but there is an interesting verse of scripture that gives us 3 signs our service might be selfish.

The verse is John 3:26 and it describes a relatively minor incident with John the Baptist’s disciples. Speaking of Jesus, they come to John and say, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” This brief statement and John’s response clearly indicate that these men were struggling with some jealousy over Jesus’ ministry and were, at least for the moment, serving for selfish reasons. Before I articulate these signs, I do want to be clear that the presence of these signs in the lives and ministry of these unnamed disciples does not make them bad people. It just makes them human and I would suggest that each of us be aware that we are indeed susceptible to falling into selfish service in our own ministries from time to time. The following signs of selfish service should help us in determining our own motivations for serving.

  1. Ministry is competition. To John’s disciples, ministry was a competition. John was their master and their ministry was the right ministry and they didn’t like Jesus messing with it. Anyone that followed Jesus was someone not following John and was thus a problem. While this seems ridiculous when thinking of Jesus, it is a big problem in today’s church. If you are involved in serving in any capacity, I want to urge you not to let ministry become a competition. That means, don’t view everything different as wrong. Don’t compare results, leaders, accomplishments, etc. – this can lead to jealousy. Don’t view your personal ministry as “the good one.” Your church isn’t the singular light in your community. Your ministry isn’t the only good one within your church, either. This kind of competitive spirit is a sure sign your service is taking a turn toward selfishness.
  2. Ministry is about numbers (26). Remember what John’s disciples said about Jesus: “all are coming to Him.” They exaggerated; John was still baptizing people and over-all Jesus was rejected. However, the point is that they were watching the numbers. They were measuring Jesus’ success by the crowds and this made them feel less successful. The world and fleshly believers equate success with numbers. The size of the crowd doesn’t necessarily indicate the success or validity of a ministry. However, selfishness causes us to measure success with the wrong standard. Any attitude that equates spirituality with numbers is dangerous. A large ministry might offer the temptation to discount the significance of a smaller one. In a small church, we might accuse all big churches of compromise so we can feel better about ourselves. We might feel our ministry is better because more kids show up or begin to feel insecure if our church event is not as well attended as another church’s similar event. This emphasis on numbers is a common indicator of a selfish view of ministry and we must guard against it.
  3. Ministry is self-serving. The very idea of ministry is that we should be serving something other than ourselves, but selfishness can cause us to lose our way. Slowly, our service becomes about self-glory, fame, importance or any other of a number of wrong points of focus in our work. We are left ministering for our own purposes rather than for God’s. As servants and ministers, whether by profession or volunteer, we must resist ever serving out of a desire for what we might gain from our service. Though service for God naturally comes with a variety of immediate and eternal blessings, we should never serve because of what we might get out of it.

Service for God is an incredible privilege and can be a genuine act of worship when done with the proper motives. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to slip into a mindset of service that is partially or totally selfish. I would encourage everyone who serves in any capacity within the church to examine their heart as to what their motives for service actually are. Confess any selfish motives and pursue once again a posture of humble, sacrificial and selfless service.

Respectful Disagreement

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Anyone who pays any attention at all knows the socio-political climate has been tense lately. In the days surrounding the presidential inauguration there have been protests and controversies and celebrity statements all over the media. On social media it looked like election season again as people battled each other over who supports who. But today, this headline wins over all the others I have seen: “Man bites ear off another man during argument about Trump!” I don’t even care about politics, but I had to click that headline. The article didn’t give much more detail than that – not even who supported Trump and who opposed. Honestly, I don’t think it matters. The fact is that we have gotten crazy enough over politics that people are biting each other’s ears off! Whatever happened to reasonable disagreement? What happened to civility and respect? Have we lost our collective American minds?

I think it is high time that we stop arguing like spoiled little children who name call and bite each other and start discussing issues like adults. Regardless of your political persuasion –or even if politics isn’t your thing at all- conflict and issues can only be resolved through profitable discussion. Disagreement is inevitable, so when it happens, stay respectful. Do not name call. Do not make personal attacks. Disagreement can always be done in a kind, loving, and respectful manner. When this happens, the door is often open for genuine dialogue about real issues – and this is what has to happen. Whether it is a social issue like racial injustice or more personal issues like who’s not replacing the toilet paper roll when they finish it – problems are only resolved when the real issues are discussed.

Because of this, I want to ask all grown up Americans to stop bickering and arguing  and begin the process of healthy, respectful communication with those who hold opposing views. You can start today by offering kindness instead of cruelty and love instead of hate. With that change of perspective, go out and enter into genuine, respectful disagreements with people so that we can make this world a better place. And for heaven’s sake, don’t bite anybody!

Exercise for a Healthy Body

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I recently read that almost half of Americans say they want to lose weight, but only about half of those people are actually making any attempt to do anything about it. While the lack of follow through is disturbing, I think this desire for physical health is great because God has given us these bodies and a healthy body is a good thing! However, of far more importance than a healthy physical body is a healthy spiritual body and far more disturbing than a lack of effort at physical health is a lack of effort at spiritual health.

THE CHURCH; THE BODY OF CHRIST

Interestingly enough, God frequently uses the physical human body as a metaphor for His body – the church. While this term can be accurately used to refer to both the universal church (the entirety of believers in all times and in all places) and the local church, the majority of the New Testament emphasis on the church is referring to individual local churches. That’s because the local church is of great importance to God. It is through the local church that He plans to spread His gospel. It is through the local church that He intends to cultivate mature believers. It is through the local church that He intends to provide accountability, support and opportunities for ministry. It is, in fact, the local church that He has chosen to represent Him in a world that has rejected Him. With this tremendous responsibility in mind, the health of the local church should be of great importance to each of us who claim to be followers of Christ. Since the church is made up of people, a healthy local church is really just believers living the way God expects – and a big part of that is how we get along with each other. Just as weight loss cannot take place without working at it, a healthy church won’t just happen without some intentional effort. So, here are three spiritual exercises that will lead to a healthy church body.

PURSUE UNITY

First is unity. In order to have healthy relationships with your church family, you must make unity a priority. I don’t mean unity as in everybody being the same and I certainly don’t promote a lack of diversity. Too many churches think that the fact that they look the same, like the same things and agree on everything is unity. That’s not unity – that’s laziness. Unity is being different and even having disagreements and still being able to have mutual love and respect because of Jesus. Unity is working through differences for the greater purpose of God’s Kingdom. Unity is the deep and genuine joining together of the hearts of believers to each other through a mutual pursuit of Christ. True unity is only achieved through pursuit of Christ above all. You must stop pursuing your ideas, your desires, your comfort, your convenience and start pursuing unity through Christ!

RESOLVE TO PRACTICE HUMILITY

That type of unity requires humility, a quality that is foreign to our natural selves and is only through achievable through God’s grace. As Paul points out in Philippians 2, practical humility is basically a selfless concern for others. We reject selfishness and pride. We do not strive for our own glory or positions of power. We do not try to manipulate to get our way because we truly believe that other people are more important than us. A healthy church consists of believers that live out the creed: “others matter to me more than I matter to me.” Too many churches are filled with believers who just care about themselves. We must renounce this kind of selfishness and embrace a Christ-like humility.

RESOLVE TO PARTICIPATE IN SERVICE

The final characteristic of healthy church relationships that I would like to mention is sacrificial service. Service costs something. It costs something in terms of effort, money or time. It might also cost in reputation. It certainly costs in pride. The cost might be different for each of us, but serving others will cost something – though in the long term those costs are meaningless. After all, what is money and time and energy other than currency to be spent for the kingdom?! When that is our mindset we realize that though there is a temporal cost to serving others, there is also an eternal reward. God honors His humble servants. Additionally, there is also a very real benefit here and now. When we commit to serving and caring for others we find ourselves cared for beyond our wildest imagination.

God’s plan for His church is designed to be best for all of us. His plan is that individual believers will function as a single local community that loves and cares for each other. This won’t happen if each of us is only concerned with what we can get out of church or how our interests can be served. It is time that we stop doing lip service to the idea of a healthy church and begin exercising the principles that will actually make it true.

 

Photo Credit Dwight Burdette. Original here.

Christ-follower or Blessing-follower?

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“2016 – the year without presents on Christmas.” This (accompanied by a few masterfully timed sighs) was the dramatic exclamation of my ten year old a few days before Christmas. His over-the-top theatrical outburst was due to the fact that we decided to move our traditional family Christmas activities (including presents) to Monday and intentionally focus on celebrating Jesus on Christmas Day. In the interest of full disclosure, this was primarily due to the busy nature of a Sunday Christmas rather than any super-spiritual aspirations on our part. However, this decision has taught me at least one thing: regardless of my best efforts and intentions, to small children Christmas is about one thing – getting presents!

A Fatal Flaw

In children, this is generally cute and eventually outgrown along with many other childish attitudes and behaviors. However, it does reflect one universal and fatal flaw in the human condition – we make everything about us. This includes the gospel and salvation. A common focus of gospel presentations and personal testimonies is all of the good stuff we get from God. We get joy. We get peace. We get a savior. While each of these is good and true, this is essentially a reversal of emphasis between two aspects of a single truth. The truth: God sent Jesus to earth and provided a way of salvation for all mankind. Our distorted perspective focuses on the benefit we gain from receiving this gift, while the true emphasis is on an awesome God giving a gift that we need.

 

A Self-centered Gospel

This may seem like the proverbial splitting of hairs, but as we build upon this faulty foundation our faith can take a very self-centered turn that was never intended. If the focus of the gospel is all about us getting joy and peace and salvation rather than about a great God giving us those things, than our life of faith becomes all about what we can get from God. The Christian experience becomes all about personal needs and desires. Following Jesus becomes nothing more than a means of getting what I can from God, from faith, and from the church.

This type of self-centered faith is why there are so many professing Christians who seem to live like nothing more than moral unsaved people. You know the ones I’m talking about – the “Christian” who might cuss more mildly, drink a little less, and go to church several times a month. But when it comes right down to it, these professing Christians are just living for themselves and have found a way to add God into their life on their terms. They want the blessings of being a Christian without any of the personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

The Heart of the Gospel: Sacrificial Love

I am not denying the tremendous blessings that come as a result of salvation. I am simply saying that the American church tends to overemphasize the getting to the neglect of the giving. You see, at the very center of the gospel story is God Himself giving up His place at the right hand of the Father. God gave up His high position in heaven to become human in order to redeem us. The very heart of the gospel is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” The heart of the gospel is sacrificial love!

As we build upon this foundation, we will certainly receive blessings, but we will also live a life intentionally focused on imitating the kind of sacrificial love we see in Jesus. My faith becomes about responding in worship to a God to whom I am eternally grateful. My Christian experience becomes all about opportunities to sacrifice my wants and desires for the sake of serving Jesus through service to others.

A Practical Impact

This change of perspective will have tremendous practical impact on one’s daily life. You will be less offended when your rights are violated. You will be less hesitant to help someone in need. You will be more willing to go out of your way to serve someone. You will certainly be less concerned about getting your way all the time.

There will also be an impact on your attitude and behavior toward the local church. You will view church as an opportunity to use your gifts for the blessing of others. You will be more willing to sacrifice your preferences, like music, and decorations, and preaching styles. You will be less determined to make everyone cater to your comfort and desires. In short, you will desire to serve in the church rather than simply be served by the church.

Life as God Intended

I am not proposing that we do not receive blessings from God and I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy them. They are a real and special and important part of what God has done for us. However, just like presents at Christmas, we cannot let these benefits and blessings become our primary focus. They are not the whole story. My prayer and desire for every true Christ-follower is that while enjoying the blessings of faith, you will live a life in passionate pursuit of the God of the blessings rather than the blessings themselves. That is living the way God intended; that is living in the manner that Christ lived. I challenge you to examine your own heart. Are you a Christ-follower or a blessing-follower? Prayerfully consider the answer and remember, it isn’t too late to make the change today!

Some Reasons to Go to Church on Christmas

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Browsing the internet today, I was reminded of one of the more shocking and ironic practices in the Christian world. No, I’m not talking about some obscure ritual like snake handling or drinking poison. And I’m not talking about some strange, random practice by some small and insignificant group of nut jobs. I’m talking about the increasingly mainstream practice in some of the largest and most prominent evangelical churches in the country of canceling church on Christmas Sunday. For a variety of reasons I think this is ridiculous. I mean, seriously?! It’s Christmas. The day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And we think it’s a good idea to not go worship on that day? That baffles me.

Now, I feel that I must stop and acknowledge that many of these churches are wonderful, gospel preaching churches that love God and His people and want to do what is right. I am also aware that missing one Sunday of church is in all likelihood not going to send a church careening headlong into apostasy. I am not even saying that this decision is necessarily wrong and I have no desire to condemn the churches that are canceling their services this Christmas. I am simply saying that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. In light of that fact, I want to offer some reasons why I think going to church on Christmas Sunday is a wonderful idea.

  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a great way to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Not to be too obvious, but it is Christmas. And Sunday. Seems like a good day for some church.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday affirms the belief that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not that we cannot make Christ the center of Christmas from home, but it seems appropriate to set aside a little time to go to church if it’s really all about Him.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a testimony to what is most important to you. Like it or not, your actions do speak louder than words. By going to church, your actions loudly declare that church, worship, God’s Word, and other believers are important to you. More important than, say, presents or sleeping in.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday can be an act of sacrificial love toward God. There are things that are inconvenient about a Sunday Christmas, but we can sacrifice our conveniences out of love for God and appreciation for all He gave up for us.
  • Going to church on Christmas demonstrates a genuine understanding that church is about worship and not personal gratification. It really is all about Him, not me.
  • Going to church on Christmas is a proclamation that Christmas is not just a cultural celebration. It is a religious observance that commemorates the coming of a Savior, the forgiveness of sins, and redemption for all mankind.
  • Going to church on Christmas acknowledges the importance of the faith community in our individual lives. Though many churches cancel services to provide for family time at home, going to church affirms that our church family is equally important.
  • Going to church on Christmas can be an opportunity to serve. Many people will go to church on Sunday, some for the first time. When you show up ready and willing to serve, you can have an impact in their lives.
  • Going to church on Christmas can create a great foundation upon which to build the rest of your Holiday festivities. You don’t have to give up family time, special dinners, presents, or other traditions to go to church. You can go first and then enjoy a special day of celebrating that is truly focused on Jesus.

I know that we all celebrate in different ways, but I hope that you will consider joining many of us who will be at church Christmas morning. I personally can’t think of a more appropriate way to start the day than gathering in the name of Jesus with a group of his followers to praise Him on His special day. Merry Christmas!

Stranded…Again!

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Driving down the road in the first big snow storm of the season, my oldest son says, “Hey Dad, I hope we don’t get stuck in the snow like last year.” To which I replied, “Well, if we do, let’s make sure we all handle it better than we did that time.” The incident he’s referring to was quite memorable -especially to small children-, but certainly not a highlight from my career as their role model and not one of our better moments as a family. We were driving in a snow storm and chose to drive up the steepest hill I’m aware of anywhere near where we live. And we had bald tires because I’m also not so great at the whole vehicle maintenance thing. Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far and ended up stranded part way up with children whining and mom and dad not so politely or quietly blaming each other for the predicament. As I said, not our finest hour. So, when I replied to my son that we should all do better, it was a sincere desire as well as a reasonable goal, but certainly not anything I wanted to test out in the near future.

However, fast forward a matter of minutes and we are once again stranded on a snowy road discussing our options for getting home. The situations were very similar, yet wonder of wonders, we did indeed all respond quite differently. Certainly I was frustrated that the vehicle was in all likelihood totally shot and my wife had her suspicions that I could have done something about it and the kids definitely were uncomfortable. Just like before. But unlike “last time” there was no whining, complaining, yelling, screaming or blaming. (And the kids did well, too.) There was laughing, joking, calm conversation about God’s plan and provision and even some prayer. After a good Samaritan stopping to help and a phone call to some great friends who came to our rescue, we finally made home. All in all, a good night.

We certainly aren’t perfect and probably didn’t pass with flying colors, but we responded better this time than last. And in this crazy journey of life, that’s a victory! Now, I’m not saying we didn’t feel discouraged and that we weren’t a little bit curious about how God would provide. Difficulties like this, though a fairly routine part of life, can certainly be frustrating. However, they can also be a reminder of God’s great love and mercy. You see, He didn’t give up on us when we failed miserably at responding to difficulty. He provided for us anyway. He loved us anyway. He gave us many opportunities to grow our faith. He showered us with His forgiveness and mercy and loving kindness for an entire year and then put us in a very similar situation to the one in which we failed so that we could see the product of all His hard work in us.

As you face whatever rough patches come your way, I encourage you to look for what you can learn and for how you can improve. Accept God’s forgiveness for whatever shortcomings you find and praise Him for His grace and mercy. Let go of the failings of yesterday and embrace the small successes that God brings your way. And most of all, trust His goodness even when you find yourself stranded for a little while.

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving as a holiday is many things to many people. It might be little more than a day off to one or a significant and profoundly meaningful day of reflection to another. It could be about turkey and football or the end of fall and the beginning of Christmas. Perhaps it is a day for family gatherings, parades and Charlie Brown specials. Whatever your Thanksgiving entails, I’m guessing that in the midst of it all there will be a time of reflection and giving of thanks. For the Christian, this should be a special day filled with worshipful gratitude to our heavenly Father, but even for those who are not a part of the family of faith it is generally a special day filled with greater than usual gratefulness.

It’s about more than more.

Though gratitude should be a constant companion of every Christian, we generally find ourselves putting forth greater effort over the holiday season to “be thankful” and “count our blessings.” Along with everyone else, I usually focus on the quantity of my thankfulness. You know the drill: more thankful for more stuff more often. While this is certainly good and commendable, I have found my thoughts going in a little bit different direction this year. I’ve been thinking more about the quality of my thankfulness.

Don’t forget quality!

I don’t mean how good I am at being thankful, but rather the quality or substance of that for which I am thankful. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I should be thankful for everything. However, I recently read a statement that caused me to consider the types of things for which I am most frequently thankful. The quote by D.A. Carson is this: “…by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.”

While a general attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is important and becoming in the life of a Christian, it can also be an effective gage of where our priorities really lie. This realization has led me to consider whether all or most of my gratitude is focused toward material things, possessions and physical blessings. There is much to be thankful for that is outside of the scope of the material realm.

Expand your thankfulness.

Here are some areas to consider as you offer thanks this holiday season and the rest of the year.

  • Spiritual blessings and not just stuff. Are you as thankful when you are shown grace, mercy and patience as you would be if you were given cash or some other material gift?
  • Meaningful relationships. Do I value people or am I merely thankful for I get from those relationships?
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Are you truly grateful for God’s direction in your life and His Word that is available to you?
  • Spiritual growth. Do you feel as grateful when your children manifest Christ-like character as you do when they excel in school or sports? Are you as thankful for personal spiritual growth as you are for career or personal success?
  • Trials and difficulties. Are thankful for the hard things God places in your life or are you only grateful when life is easy?

Be thankful for your treasure.

Obviously we should also be thankful for material blessings and personal comforts, but that isn’t world that we should be most preoccupied with. After all, Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:19-21 that we should “…not lay up … treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Make it your goal this season to evaluate what is truly most important to you. If necessary, make some adjustments and be sure to offer thanks for your real treasure.

The Path to Joy

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulty and uncertainty of life. There is great turmoil in our nation surrounding political and social issues. There are serious questions about the future for those of us who are people of faith. Looking around, I see a great deal of pain and suffering. I know many people that deal with chronic and constant pain. Many others are struggling with pain from relationships or some other emotional pain. The reality of life is that it can be difficult and painful and often can leave one discouraged.

In contrast, I also know that the Christian life is meant to be a life of joy. Peter writes that believers in Christ are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Paul prayed for the church to be filled “with all joy…” (Romans 15:13). The psalms talk about singing and shouting with joy. Unfortunately, there are times that I wonder, “How exactly is that possible?”

Though life’s experience may cause me to question the reality of having joy despite the difficulties in life, my understanding of God’s Word leaves me confident that it is indeed possible. The Apostle Paul provides a multitude of examples of this through his own experiences and it is a common theme in much of his teaching. One of the common threads that form the foundation for a life of joy is that we must turn our attention away from ourselves.

Selfishness is a plague that we cannot seem to escape and far too often it worsens when things go wrong and life gets tough. We turn inward and become so focused on me; my problems; my trouble; my pain. That just makes us more miserable. You can be certain that if you focus on your problems, you will have very little joy.

Instead, we must turn our attention outward. We must look for opportunities to use our difficulties to advance the cause of Christ and bring God glory through our problems. We must look for ways to bless, encourage and serve others. I can assure you that through choosing to look outward you will find a renewed joy in your own spirit. You will find that one of the fastest way to bring a little joy into your own life is to focus on others instead of yourself.

If you are struggling to find joy in life, I challenge you today to stop living life for yourself and begin living it for God’s glory. The crazy thing you will discover is that when you live for yourself and your own happiness, you never actually find joy. It is a blessed paradox of following Christ that when you begin to live for His glory above everything else, you find immense joy.

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

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Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons