Growing in Character Isn’t Optional for Christians

2 Peter 1:5-7 urges Christians to grow their character: in kindness, self-control, etc. But what if they do not? Peter doesn’t say that it’s a matter of trying hard enough. He says in verse 9, “You have forgotten your cleansing from past sins.” So, verse 12, “I will remind you of these things.” Peter is saying that, if the forgiveness and salvation of Christ is real to you, you will live it out in your character and life.

How can we make sure we remember?

  1. Be at worship for the Lord’s Supper. It’s a visual reminder of what He has done for us that we get to participate in.
  2. Read the Bible. Meditate and reflect, not just study.
  3. Study and apply God’s truths in groups. Just like the Lord’s Supper, reading and applying the Bible is a community event.

Are Politics Your Idol?

I’ve been known to dabble into politics now and then even though I carefully keep it out of the pulpit unless there is a clear-cut moral issue addressed by the Bible.  But I really don’t get caught up into it as much as I used to.  Looking back now, there was a time it was probably an idol.  I have to be careful it doesn’t become one again.  Here are some signs to look for to know whether or not poltics has become an idol in your life.

  1. FEAR!  If our views are threatened by those in power, our response will be complete panic.  I remember doing that when Clinton got elected.  Anytime we believe  that if OUR politicies and people are not in power that everything will fall apart we’re demonstrating fear.
  2. DEMONIZATION!  Our opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken but to be evil.  When we go down that road, we’re idolizing our brand of politics and it’s ultimately dangerous.

Can you add any other symptoms of idolizing politics?

How can we know if Christ is Lord of every area of our lives?

First, we need to identify the false gods of the culture around us. Instead of bringing our pain to God, we cover it with sex, drugs, sports, TV, video games, shopping, accumulating stuff. These things provide people with security and identity but often divides heart worship between the Lord and that pain reliever.

Second, we need to look honestly at each area of our lives–our families, careers, possessions, ambitions, time, etc. and ask two questions of them:

  1. Am I willing to do whatever God SAYS about this area?
  2. Am I willing to accept whatever God SENDS in this area?

Don’t “Prostitute” Your Life

What are we doing when we do not listen to our God-given leader, Jesus Christ? What are we doing when we worship other gods instead of the true God? We have “prostituted” ourselves (Judges 2:17).

Prostitutes live out of control and are desperate. They give themselves without getting any real pleasure or love in return. The use of the word “prostitute” here tells us that when we serve an idol, we come into an intense relationship with it and in which it uses us, but does not truly care for us. We become vulnerable to it, little more than a slave to it.

The image also tells us that God sees ALL sin–all idolatry–as “adultery.” A marriage is an exclusive, legal commitment, but it is not ONLY that. It involves deep, intimate selfless love. The Church is the bride of Christ!

This shows us why God responds to Israel with anger (2:20). His anger is not opposed to His love. It is the expression of it! His anger is that of the innocent, jilted lover; his love is that of the forgiving husband.

If You Could Be Perfect In One Area of Your Life, What Would It Be?

If I could choose one place to be perfect, it would be in my parenting.  Every word, every action has an impact on my children–often in ways I don’t see or understand.

That doesn’t mean they would be perfect, but when they’re 40 and in therapy they could never say, “I’m this way because my dad….”

What about you?  Where would you choose to be perfect?

The 4 Levels of Love

Bernard of Clairvaux, a man who led a renewal movement in the 12th century European church, has an incredible insight about the “levels of love” as we relate to God and understand ourselves.

God is love, and because we were created to resemble Him, we, too, have an impulse to love.  But that impulse first leaks out in a badly perverted form.

Level #1: I love myself for my sake.  In other words, we’re selfish.  That’s true of every child born into the world.

And then we hear about a God who is good enough to do what no one else would, to look after us.  Good.  It’s about time.

Level #2: I love God for my sake.  That’s how most people who believe there is a God regard Him.  Each thinks, He is Someone who exists to make me happy, to make my life better.  Now I can go to church and worship God without any real sense of sinfulness or any significant dislodging of my selfishness.  I can go to church with the same expectation that carries me into a restaurant: feed me well. I want what you serve me to taste good and be good for me.  I’ll leave a big tip if you deliver.

Eventually it becomes appallingly clear that I can be a little hellion who loves no one but myself.  And a new word enters our vocabulary–wrongI’m wrong.  And when I realize that I’m wrong, another new word occurs to me that I need: Forgiveness.  Maybe then we hear about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.  Before, goodness meant my receiving whatever I wanted.  Now that same word is measured by Someone sacrificing His well-being in an act of utter selflessness for the well-being of someone who is utterly selfish.

Love level #3: I love God for God’s sake.  When I realize who He is and who I am, when I see that He loves me when I use Him, and died to forgive me for being so self-centered, I become a Christian, a forgiven sinner who loves God for who He is, a lover like no other.

Bernard’s insight into the Christ life reaches still higher.  Gratitude begins to stir.  A longing rises up.  I want to do something for someone else, for God.  I look at what I have, at who I am.  Perhaps I have musical talent.  Perhaps I’m relational difficulties.  The longing takes shape and I realize that everything I have (those gifts AND those trying circumstances) is an opportunity to release my gratitude to God.

Love level #4: I love myself for God’s sake.  Now everything in me (weaknesses and strengths) and in my life (trials and pleasures) becomes an eagerly received opportunity to bring Him pleasure by trusting His goodness, counting on His promises, and living to delight Him).

Suffering is transformed from pain requiring relief into a costly opportunity to delight the God I love.  Blessings, all the good things I enjoy, no longer remain sources of pleasure to enhance and exploit, but now stretch before me as avenues for displaying my love for God, both by accepting them with gratitude and by sharing them with joy.

So what level are you on?

How Faith Dies in a Generation (and how to avoid that)

So often a generation of Christians weakly passes on the faith to the next.

In Joshua 2:10-11 we see one such generation “knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.” The saving acts of God were no longer central to them. They had not learned to rejoice in what God had done.

As a result of forgetting the gospel, they “did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (2:11). What does God say is evil? Turning to love and serve idols, mini-gods, non-gods.

The word “Baal” is the Canaanite word for “Lord.” This new generation forgot about the Lord and instead served other gods.

It is striking that this happens within a generation. Their parents, though flawed and half-hearted, had faith. They served the Lord. Their children “served the mini-lords.” Who is responsible?

Did the first generation fail to parent properly? Or did the second generation just harden their hearts. Mistakes in one generation are often magnified in the next, nominal one. Commitment is replaced by complacency and then by compromise.

So what needs to be done to pass on faith on to the next generation?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25 tells us what needs to be done.

  1. We ourselves must love God whole-heartedly. Vs. 6, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” That means we are not hypocritical or inconsistent in our behaviors.
  2. We apply the gospel practically. Vs. 7 refers to routine, daily life. Instruction in God’s truth is not the same as a lecture. Rather we “impress” truths about God by showing how God relates to daily life.
  3. Vs. 20-25 tells us that we are to link the truths of the faith to God’s actions in our living. We are to give personal testimony to the difference God made to us. We are not to speak of beliefs and behavior but of our personal experience with God. We are to be open about our own struggles to grow. We are to be transparent about how repentance works in our lives.

We must be consistent in behavior, wise about reality, and warmly personal in our faith.

Us to God: “I can’t.” God to Us: “You won’t.”

Sometimes we say, “I can’t!” to God when He really sees our effort and says, “You won’t.”

In Judges 1:19 it says that Israelites “were unable” but in 2:2 God contradicts that claim and say, “You won’t.”

Israel’s failure to obey God was based on flimsy excuses, not the valid reasons they conjured up.

3 General categories of “can’t” justifications for disobedience:

  1. Forgiveness. “I can’t forgive him.” Yet God commands forgiveness (Matthew 18:35).
  2. Some truth telling. “I can’t tell him the truth. It would destroy him.” Yet God tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25). What we really mean is: “If I tell him, he may not like me anymore. he would be upset. I won’t risk that cost–I would rather disobey.”
  3. Temptation. “I can’t resist doing this though I know it’s wrong.” Sin has addictive power–it is true that we may not be able, through sheer willpower, to stop doing something by ourselves. But we can get help. God always gives us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).


Better or Broken?

We think that the progress of society somehow means better–better me, better you, better job.  But even with all that society can accomplish, we can’t seem to solve the big problems facing humanity.  We can genetically modify seeds to produce endless amounts of corn, yet people still die of hunger every day.  We can harvest stem cells and perform embryonic research, but disease continues to ravage humanity.  We can connect with anyone on the planet, but we still suffer from depression and loneliness.  We can amass billions of dollars, yet our cities swell with the homeless and impoverished.  People still murder and get sick and leaves their spouses.  Society could build a tower that reaches the moon if it wanted, but it will never mend all the broken pieces of the human race.