Leaving the Past Where it’s At

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

 For the record, I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

 It is fair to say that far too many of us get stuck in the past in an unhealthy way. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. Following are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in the future:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

 Most of the time we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense that we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It is critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). Mostly because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is taking time to prayerfully process painful events from our past and then making the choice to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal stuff. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blinded to our own faults and junk. That typically leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the church services of the past.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2ndTimothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. It is critical we remember that no one in the history of forever has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing stuff (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now. It is impossible to see God work in the present when we are distracted by the past.  

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a worldly sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

The Reason Christians Don’t Overcome Addiction (It’s Not What You Think)

Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies~ Jonah 2:8 NLT

 No rational and/or marginally informed person would waste time arguing that addiction is not a massive and growing problem in our society.

 One in eight Americans are clinically dependent on alcohol. 12.5 million Americans abuse prescription (legal) opioids (Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Methadone Morphine, Oxycodone). Heroin addiction has reached a twenty year high. Gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions are affecting millions of people from every walk of life and the vast majority of those individuals are not winning their personal battle with addiction.

 Sigh.

 If addiction were an issue only non-Christians struggled with then there would be little point in me (or any other Christian) addressing the problem.  What non-Christians do and don’t do should not be the concern of those inside the Church (1stCorinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to attempt to modify the behavior of those who do not profess faith in Christ. Christians are commanded to pray for non-Christians and share the gospel with them. Period. Forcing a non-believer to act like a believer before they become a believer causes (in my opinion) more spiritual harm than good. Forcing non-Christians to act like Christians simply produces well-behaved heathens with a false sense of security.     

 But that is another topic for another day.     

 Christians struggle with the same addictions as non-Christians and addicts in churches affect everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1stCorinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5) so when one part of the body is sick, hurt or sinning the consequences of the sickness, hurt or sin are felt throughout the rest of the body.

 Christian addiction causes the church to lose its credibility and also its voice in the culture when the people in the church struggle with the same stupid stuff everyone else struggles with. Christians cannot legitimately advise others on the saving power of Jesus (or anything else) if we cannot adequately manage our own junk. 

 Furthermore, anytime one member of the body of Christ struggles with sin the whole body becomes corporately weaker. Spiritual weakness in the body makes us all less able to fulfill our calling as salt and light in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, Luke 14:33-35). Christians with addictive behaviors lead Christians and non-Christians alike to believe that Christ has no real power to change our nature or keep us from sin (2ndKings 17:15). This leads to fewer conversions and fewer people who were raised in the church sticking around. I am convinced that the mass exodus of Christian kids leaving the church in recent years has more to do with the lack of power to overcome problems (including addiction) they have witnessed in the lives of their parents and parent’s friends than any other single issue.

 If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most Christians do) then addiction is an issue that must be addressed in our churches. We will never lead the unbelieving world to spiritual freedom until we experience it in our own lives. Dealing with any addiction in the church does not begin with starting a support group or an accountability program it begins with the recognition of the true nature of addiction.

  Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not simply a bad habit, a sign of poor coping skills or a genetic predisposition gone awry. Addiction does have physical, emotional and genetic factors but ultimately addiction is a deeply spiritual issue. The addicted person gets something real and tangible from the addiction (usually a sense of peace or ability to cope) in exchange the addict becomes physically and/or emotionally dependent on that thing. They eventually grow to love that thing more than they love God or anything else.

 I am not, nor have I ever been a “there is a demon behind every beer bottle” kind of a Christian. However, I do believe we need to acknowledge the reality that there is a deeply demonic aspect to the issue of addiction. At the root of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Addicts receive a sense of comfort, wellbeing, peace or an ability to cope with stress, etc. that they should only receive from God. The addict must figure out exactly what their addiction gives them and why they aren’t going to God to have those needs met.   

 With a few notable exceptions most of what the church has done to combat addiction has not worked all that well.  I believe that is because we have adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with nothing more than a healthy self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary things but without an acknowledgment of the underlying spiritual issue they are powerless to permanently change much of anything.  

 Freedom from addiction can only be achieved through right thinking about the problem (sinful behaviors are always a choice). Freedom comes with a deep commitment to living in complete obedience to God and His commands and the love, acceptance and grace of a healthy Church family.

 

 

 

 

Four Things the Church Needs Right Now

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power~ 1stCorinthians 2:4-5 NIV

 I have observed that there is oftentimes in life a great chasm between what we think we need and what we really need.

  Nowhere is that truer than in the church.

 Most Christians (including me) spend a lot of time asking God for a lot of things. We pray for safety and protection for ourselves and our families. We pray that God’s favor will be on our lives. We pray that Christians will have greater political and social influence in the world. We pray that God will bless us with better jobs and more prosperity.  We pray that God will bless our churches with behinds in the seats and bucks in the offering plate.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for things (1stJohn 5:14-15, Hebrews 4:16) and none of those things are bad things. Some of them are actually noble, helpful and even necessary. No sane person would spend a lot of time arguing against the benefits and blessings of personal safety, financial security, influence, or growing churches.

 That said.

 I can’t help but wonder if maybe our desire for good things has caused us to lose sight of some better things that we actually need more than the good things we spend so much time and energy going after. Following are four things the church (and the people in the church) need more than safety, security, financial blessings or influence.

 What we really need is more:  

 Power-

 Early Christians lived during a period of history that was unbelievably dark and violent. The cruelty of what they endured simply defies comprehension. Early believers were victimized by both a despotic government with literally unlimited power (Rome) and a corrupt religious system that should have known better (the Sadducees and Pharisees).  (Acts 4:1-21, Acts 5:17-41, Acts 6:8-7:60, Acts 13:50, Acts 19, Acts 20:18-20). The government of Rome and the religious system of Palestine were hellbent on eradicating the fledgling new faith and were endlessly creative (and cruel) in their attempts to do so. Identifying as a Jesus follower was so dangerous that early Christians created a series of secret symbols to recognize each other in the hopes of avoiding swift and brutal deaths. A speaker recently blew my mind and forced me to modify my thinking on a whole slew of issues when he pointed out that nowhere in the book of Acts will we find an example of a Christian praying for their personal safety or protection. Instead early Christians prayed continually for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit’s power so they could do what God had called them to do (convert a culture and glorify God). We would do well to follow their lead.

 Challenges-

 Okay, I hesitated to add this one because I get that this isn’t exactly the sort of thing most (sane) people pray for. However, sometimes challenges and difficulties are exactly what we need (2ndThessalonians 1:2-5, James 1:2-4, 1stPeter 1:4-8).  Challenges and difficulties force us to grow-up and problem solve. Challenges prepare us for future ministry opportunities (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7) and they are oftentimes the motivation we need to seek God on a deeper level. We need to embrace the challenges we face for what they are: an opportunity to become more like Jesus, preparation for heaven and the thing that will make us grow (Acts 14:21-22, 2ndCorinthians 4:17, 2ndCorinthians 4:7-12).

 Influence with ordinary people-

 Political influence is not bad or wrong, so long as it is used for the right purposes and handled with wisdom and integrity. The apostle Paul used his status as a Roman citizen to gain an advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 21:31, Acts 22:22-29).  That said, no revival or enduring cultural change (that I have ever heard of) has ever started among the political elite and trickled down to ordinary people who were just living their lives. Lasting revivals always begin with ordinary people and eventually lead to political and societal change. Rather than praying for influence in high places we ought to be praying for revival among the ranks of the common man and woman.

 Discernment-

 We live in undeniably strange times where evil is routinely called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). Oftentimes the arguments made for calling good evil and evil good appear convincing and feel credible from a purely human perspective. Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong by God’s standards. Discernment also gives us the insight and wisdom to see-through and argue against persuasive arguments that run contrary to biblical teaching (Colossians 2:4-8). Without discernment we are sitting ducks for the devil’s schemes (2ndTimothy 2:25-26) and almost certain to fall into wrong thinking that inevitably leads to wrong behavior (sin).

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing God

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time. I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God will speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to what you might have heard, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin there.

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak those words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates clear biblical instruction or principles.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.