When you don’t feel like praying.

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How are your personal, daily, invigorating quiet times going?  Are you a spiritual rock star who prays without ceasing, who rises before the sun every morning to pray and meditate, who memorizes large passages of Scripture and takes notice of the Holy Spirit in every situation?  If so, I want to be more like you and you can stop reading.

The rest of us, however, seem to go through seasons of feast and seasons of famine.  Times when we are excited and eager to read the Bible and pray and talk to everyone we meet about Jesus and times when we get caught up in going to school, buying houses, raising kids, and the day-to-day.

I am a FTM (First Time Mom, for those who do not frequent the motherhood websites).  My precious baby girl just turned six months old and I have a confession to make:  she has rocked my schedule and routine.  Before she came along I was a machine.  I love change and adventure but wherever I find myself I dream big and develop daily habits.  I need routines to be successful so my morning coffee, quiet time and exercise get drafted into my day whether I am living in the middle of the tropical rain forest or working a 9-5 in Denver.

However I was not prepared for this life-change they call motherhood.  My pregnancy was a difficult one that left me on bed rest, sick and delivering a month early.  You can read more about that here.  And after a week in the NICU when we brought home our five pound baby who needed to eat every two hours to thrive, I had no dream or plan of a schedule.  I existed in a fog, trying to keep both of us alive.  I have a confession:  I did not want to read the Bible.

I know, you are shocked.  How can a person call herself a Christian and say that she does not want to read the Bible or have a quiet time?  I’ll tell you how:  I had grown so accustomed to my hour-long routine of study, prayer and sermon listening which was concluded in another hour of blog writing that I thought anything less was not worthy of my effort.  Quite honestly it sounded exhausting.  A well meaning friend asked me how I was adjusting Spiritually after a month or so and I confessed to her that I had been neglecting my routine.  She spoke some beautifully comforting words to me:  give yourself some grace.

You see, I am an academic at heart.  I love to study.  And as such I have always struggled with prayer.  I trust the sovereign plan of God and prayer often feels like lip service because He already knows every hair on my head and every intention of my heart.  But the moment I found out I was sick and that my baby was in danger, my prayer life radically changed.  I prayed.  And I cried.  And I prayed.  And I cried some more.  Then we watched our little baby in the NICU and we prayed some more.  We prayed.  My husband and I have tried (and failed) for two years to develop a prayer routine in our marriage, but the minute she was born we locked into a beautiful habit of regular prayer together.

Our Spirituality and our relationship with God must grow and develop.  It is not static, and God is not interested in providing us salvation from Hell apart from a relationship with Him whereby He changes and refines us.

I was growing in my prayer life.  And I knew that I wanted to develop good habits and set a good example for my daughter.  Have you heard that routines are good for babies too?  So what did we do?  For the next few months, my daily quiet times were made up of reading Bible story picture books with my daughter who seemed to enjoy looking at the colors and pictures.  But God was faithful and spoke just as dynamically to me through “Noah and the Big Boat” as the study on Hebrews I did last year.

We need to be coming to and relying on God for our joy, for our strength, and for our comfort.  We need to be confessing our sins to Him and rejoicing in His forgiveness.  We need to be changing.

“I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.”

– Ps 119.147

We will only find true peace and ability to persevere if we remain in and abide in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

– John 15.4

But remember to consider your circumstances and seasons.  There will be times when you have an abundance of energy and time to spend hours in deep study.  There will also be times when you have to wake up every two hours to feed an infant and cannot think beyond putting on a house coat.  God is gracious and wants to meet with us and encourage us in all of those circumstances.  He might even get as bored with our normal routines as we do!  He will sustain us differently in these different seasons and in the ways we approach Him.

So instead of beating yourself up for missing a quiet time or intensive study one day, let’s consider today.  Let’s forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead (Phil 3.13)!  Let’s see where God is at work around us and meet Him there.  Let’s allow Him to develop our Spirituality by adjusting to our circumstances and let’s give ourselves grace for those occasions when we are not Spiritual rock stars.  We are all still a work in progress, and it is God Himself who is at work within us:

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

How God Used the Church to Save Me.

“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

– Is 42.3

Four and a half years ago my life fell apart.  Everything I had ever worked for was gone.  Jobless.  I was alone.  Homeless.  Literally half-way around the world from my home and community.  I had spent twenty years of education planning for a specific career and life which I was fortunate enough to spend four and a half years practicing, but then it all came to a screeching halt; completely outside of my control.

I was raised in a Christian home and attended Church and youth group regularly, learning the personal spiritual disciplines of the faith.  When I was in High School my family began attending a church that focused on the love of God as His major attribute.  Yes, “God is love” and it is indeed a wonderful truth to know and cling to concerning His character and relationship to us (1 John 4.7).

I learned in theory and through the teaching of the Bible how the Church was commanded to take care of one another in our moments of struggle and need.  As a naive teenager I watched as we fed the poor through a food pantry, clothed them at the local mission, embraced our friends and their families when teenagers were killed in car accidents and threw lavish events to invite the neighborhood to hear about Jesus.  These people clearly had a variety of needs and we were doing our best to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” (1 Cor 12).  And even though I loved my friends at Church, even though I loved God, I was never truly desperate for them, or for Him.

Studying science and music at a liberal arts university broadened my perspective to the blossoming narcissism that we now know as millennialism.  This worldview was in stark contrast to the strong work ethic and independence I had learned at home, but the Spiritual and emotional needs of my generation and our world become more real and my understanding of how we need to love one another and serve each other – specifically as Christians – deepened…to some extent.

Grad school was a whirlwind of excitement which led me to my dream job.  It was becoming a reality.  I attended a vibrant Church who loved me and their immediate community and had a heart for the world – the likes of such I have not seen since.  Then I moved half-way around the world to live on a tropical island working as a tour guide trekking through the jungle amongst Muslim and animistic people.  I maintained my relationship to that Church, having no local one abroad, and they cared for me and I cared for them in a “long distance relationship”.

Then the bottom dropped out.  Then came the day that I needed God to survive.  Then came the day that I needed the Church.  And in that day the Church truly exemplified the love that God is towards me.  Those old adages became my reality:  I saw that the love from the community I had in the church was real.  What was most real, however, was the fact that they did not stand beside me blindly.  They were concerned first and foremost with my Spiritual well being.  I did not handle myself perfectly through those days, and neither did they, but there was full grace for sins confessed and together we came before the throne of God.

For weeks on end I needed only to survive.  I spent sleepless hours in the Bible and prayer, listening to sermons and learning to trust God when nothing made sense.  Church leadership and friends checked in on me.  They held my hands.  They prayed with me.  They counseled me.  They cried with me.  They hung out with me.

However, I still needed a job.  I still needed to get back on my feet.  The elders, the Church body and my parents were my strength as I searched and found work half-way across the country.  Just months after the shock of my world ending, I packed up and moved 1,100 miles away.  I did not want to move so far, as the Church was the only thing I had at the time, and I floundered a while in search of my new community.  I was so raw and broken, in fact, that I had none of the normal pleasantries polished.  I often wonder what those poor unfortunate souls who crossed my path in those days thought of me.

When I finally found that new body, the transition was smooth.  My new church picked up where my old church left off.  It looked different, as I did not have the history with them, but they learned my story and paired me with a mentor who had walked this path before.  God used this new season to rebuild and restore a broken and crushed heart, and to establish a faith that understands from experience that He is indeed sovereign in every situation and works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8.28).

In those days I was the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick.  But God is always faithful and will never break the bruised reed and will fan the flame anew as long as the spark remains (Is 42.3).

This, friends, is why God gives us the body.  Scripture teaches us that true religion is to care for the widow and orphan (James 1.27).  But we also learn that God has given each believer special gifts, abilities and measures of faith – and those are all for the service of one another (1 Cor 12).  Yes, we are commanded to love the world and to care for the lost, but we are given one another the body first.  We need one another to push one another on to holiness, to meet one another’s needs, to support one another when the bottom falls out.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

– Gal 6.9-10

We, as believers, are guaranteed suffering.  It is, in fact, through suffering and trials that our faith is purified and refined.  This is why we must be open and vulnerable to our faith community, so that those who have gone before us can encourage us on the path.  So that those who are walking the same path will be encouraged to keep going, and those who come behind us can follow our examples.  God is faithful and will always be present, and sometimes we need one another to push us on and remind us of those truths we have read so many times.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

God loves His church, and He has given it to us as a gift to carry, encourage and love one another through this journey we call life.  Find a Church.  Love your Church.  Build strong and real community.  Push one another on to holiness.  Carry each other through the difficult seasons.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn.  And in this way you are serving Jesus (Matt 25).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

Am I Really Beautiful?

If I didn’t hate the open letter model of blogging and internet communication so deeply, I would have begun this blog post, “Dear women’s ministry, stop telling us we are beautiful”.  The feminism movement and society at large have undertaken the impossible task of convincing every woman that she is truly beautiful in her own skin and the Church has jumped on this bandwagon in the spiritual sense.  Books have been written about how beautiful we are in the eyes of God, women have been empowered by believing the mantra that God has created us just how He wants us, and women’s groups are seeking to convince us that we are all special; we are all beautiful daughters of God.  The frills and the bows and the tea parties are all just as sweet as pie.

Now, I was an outdoorsy tomboy type growing up and while I love to get dressed up and wear my pearls I still prefer cool tones and minimalist decor and have never in my life been accused of being overly girly.  Thus the traditional mother-daughter, pink and lacy events have always been lost on me.  But this new movement of self-realization and self-empowerment for women is extremely dangerous at best – heretical at worst – and it is more than simple preference.  Here’s why:

We, as human beings, are not fundamentally beautiful and perfect “just the way we are”.  In fact, the entire message of the Gospel is that we are sinful, wicked, and damned without a hope “just the way we are”.  We are all born with a sinful nature and can only sin apart from God (Rom 3.23, 1 John 1.8).  This sin – any sin – is condemnable before God because He is perfect and just and therefore cannot overlook it (Rom 6.23, Ex 34.7).

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

In order to understand God, Jesus and our eternal hope we must first and foremost understand this sobering reality about ourselves.  Yes, it is magnificently and beautifully true that God loves us, but He loves us in spite of this terrible reality and we must confess this reality in order to enter into right relationship with Him.  His love for us is not fundamentally based on who we are or what we have done.  His love for us is based on His goodness, His mercy and His glory.  We cannot earn His love, we do not deserve His love and we cannot make ourselves presentable to Him.  He makes us presentable and that is why we can – and must – come to Him “just as we are”.  We are hopeless and helpless without Him.

Thus when we understand the Gospel
we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at God.

It is not God’s primary objective to give us good self esteem.  It is not God’s primary objective to make us feel beautiful and valuable and warm and fuzzy.  It is, in fact, God’s primary objective to help us die to ourselves in order to look to Him and love Him and serve Him and others selflessly.

[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

 – John 3.30

The fallacy of focusing on “our identity in Christ” is that we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them back on ourselves.

Now, theologically and practically it is extremely important to understand our role and purpose as Christians and in Christ.  Much of the New Testament is geared towards explaining our roles in the body (the Church), in society and as individuals.  It is right and good to understand and receive God’s love and to therefore walk confidently in the identity of a chosen race and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2.9).  But we must always remember the purpose and end of these truths:  to bring glory to God.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not receive mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 – 1 Peter 2.9-10

Am I beautiful?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is good and right to take care of ourselves physically.  Asceticism is not what God calls us to, but we as women should adorn ourselves well both inside and outside.  Sometimes we miss the word “merely” in Peter’s exhortation to women and convince ourselves that our physical appearance does not matter:

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

 – 1 Peter 3.3-4

The Proverbs 31 woman that we all idolize dresses well and takes care of her body:

“She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.”

“She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.”

 – Prov 31.17, 22

We must also remember that God has given us our physical bodies and we must take care of them and be good stewards of them.  But our goal must not and cannot be pride or finding our value in our appearance.  Our goal must be to bring glory and honor to God by how we are presenting ourselves and caring for our bodies and our souls.

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

1 Cor 10.31

Therefore, ladies, let us stop clinging to and trying to convince ourselves of the fact that God finds us beautiful.  Because we are only beautiful and lovely insomuch that we are in Christ.  When we are covered by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus, we are indeed beautiful before God but it is not because of our physical appearance and it is not because of who we are.  It is because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  He does not want us to find our value or self worth in ourselves but in Him.  Let us stop looking at ourselves.  Let us get over ourselves.  Let us decrease so that Christ may increase.  Let us focus on Him.  Let us live to bring glory and honor to Him.

What if I don’t like our president?

At the end of eight years, the general population is almost always ready for a change.  In the history of our country, it has only happened a couple of times that one political party was able to see their candidate take office after eight years.  We see ourselves getting too progressive and long to return to our heritage and then we feel so stuck in our ways that we need some serious change.  New generations rise up and consider their values earth-shattering and they rock the country, only to get bogged down in the mundane and a new generation rises up.

For the next month and a half we are in a unique situation where we still have an acting president but the next one has already been chosen.  This means something profoundly true:  almost everyone very strongly dislikes one of the two men.  The voting world who chose President Elect Donald Trump is sick and tired of Barack Obama, while many others still consider him to be one of the best presidents our country has known and fear that Trump is going to single handedly destroy our nation and “undo all the progress we have seen” these past eight years.  In short, if you are neutral about both men – or possibly even like both men, you are probably very far removed from politics.

One of the attributes that makes our nation unique and great in many people’s eyes is our first amendment:  our freedom of speech.  We can say whatever we darn well feel like saying and no one can harm us for it – or judge us, as the culture now states.  There are some tricky aspects to that as we can still be legally protected from slander and harassment, but none of us lives in fear that our daily conversation, our social media posts or even our blog posts will land us in jail.  We have an inalienable right to our opinions and we will make them known.

God, however, has a different opinion about all of that.  Slander, gossip and disrespect are all sins – which are fundamentally rooted in pride, arrogance and selfishness.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

– Ps 101.5

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”

– Prov 10.18

“Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

– Titus 3.2

God simply and profoundly commands us to speak evil of no one.  Not only that,  he clearly and profoundly commands us to respect our leaders:

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.17

One might object to this commandment because of how wicked our current or upcoming president is.  We simply cannot respect or honor a man who (fill in the blank).  But Peter was writing to the early church who was being persecuted and murdered.  The people were “scattered” across the known world – they were running for their lives.  And Peter’s command was to honor the king:  the king who would murder them for loving and serving Jesus.  Is Obama murdering us?  Is Trump threatening to murder us?  Are we running for our lives?  Even if this were the case we would still be commanded to honor the president.

One may object further and cite our form of government which allows us a voice in choosing our leadership and laws.  “We must speak out and help others make informed decisions.”  “It is our civic duty to have a strong opinion and to play our role.”  Yes, I whole-heartedly agree that we live in a unique and wonderful country whereby we are granted a part (albeit a very small part) of the decision making process.  This is why presidential candidates spend months and millions of dollars campaigning:  they must win our vote!

I would also argue, however, that there is a good and right way to make informed decisions and even to disagree with the values and positions a candidate would take while still respecting and honoring him (or her).  There is even a godly way to recognize a candidate’s moral failures, sin and perceived lack of qualification without slander, gossip and sin.

The reality is simple.  We live in a fallen world.  We are functioning in a fallen and broken system.  Democracy is not God’s form of government!  We are allowing ourselves to be governed by fallen and broken people.  Even if our president were the most mature and godly man to walk the face of the Earth, he would still be a sinner and a man.  He would make mistakes and we would disagree with him on something.  And each of us are fallen and broken people.  Imperfect people will choose imperfect leaders and mistakes will be made.  Period.  And yet we are commanded to respect and honor one another, and we are commanded to respect and honor our leadership.

Scripture does clearly command us to fight sin and pursue holiness.  Thus we see the example of Jesus, the apostles and many others to disobey the leadership when they would have us sin or not follow God (Acts 4.19. 5.29).  We also have the example of some of the greatest forefathers in our faith standing up against political sin, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abundance of people who fought against the slaughter of the Jews and non-Arians in WWII.  We must never follow blindly, we must always evaluate our own actions and our government by Scripture, and we must refuse to sin even when we would be commanded to by men.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we might be able to make an impact and bring about change!

But this in no way changes God’s expectation of us that we love all men and that we honor the position of king (or president in our nation).

So let me simply ask you this question:  Are your facebook posts and your political conversations Biblically loving, respecting and honoring the president?  Have you slandered Trump, Hillary or Obama?  Sure, you might do a better job.  Sure, you might know better.  But God does not give us a pass to disrespect or not love someone just because we know better.  He sovereignly and intentionally places every king and president in power.  Do you trust Him for that?  Do you follow His leadership when He gives you an opportunity to make a positive change?  Do you obey Him and respect authority?

You do not have to like your leader.  You do not have to agree with him either.  In fact, you are expected to weigh your actions and obedience against Scripture an never sin in the things that you do – therefore you should intensely evaluate your leadership  But you must love him.  And you must respect him.  Otherwise, we bring the condemnation of God upon ourselves:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

– Rom 13.1-2

Slander is still slander when spoken against our leadership.  Gossip is still gossip when spoken against our leadership.  Whether you distrust or dislike our current president or our future one.  Let us examine ourselves and remember our tongues.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

– James 1.26

Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

What is the answer?

Image result for Jesus is the answer

This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.