Blending in with the culture

In the previous articles in this series we talked about why we do not view where we live with the same focus and intensity as we do when we go to other countries for missions because we spend all of our time focused on making this life our home.  But why do we do that?

The reason we get so sucked into the comfort of this world is because we have adopted the philosophy and ideals of our culture. In many ways we have become part of the world.  What is it we do that sets us apart from non-believers?

Every year hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in advertising; just to tell you why having those Nike’s will make you run better, why you need the latest iPhone (or Android) or how Coca-Cola will refresh you more than any other drink.  They spend that much money because it works.  We are bombarded with those images every single day while we try to entertain ourselves with television and then we get obsessed about needing the next new thing.

But in order to get all that fancy stuff you need to make more money, which means spending more time going to school for that better degree and working overtime.  You spend all this time dwelling on these obsessions and it steals our thoughts and our time away from the family and away from our mission, the gospel.

Then we get hindered even more because we don’t want to share the gospel with those we work with because someone might get offended and we will get in trouble which means no raise this year or even loosing your job.

Welcome to the American Dream.

The American Dream is a vicious cycle that we get ourselves trapped in.  We have fun with all of the latest stuff but then it catches up to us.  I got so caught up with this trap that I had to borrow money to buy more stuff because I did not want to wait a few months to get my iPad or a second car with cash.  Now I have to work just to pay off the credit cards and loans from things I purchased in the past that I do not even use anymore because I replaced them with other things I bought with yet more borrowed money.

And then we think nothing about it because the rest of the culture is the same way.  Even the culture of the church is caught in this trap.

But while you or your church and your pastor may not think much of that lifestyle, God is offended by it.  God even goes as far as calling those who do live like society enemies of the Cross.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. – Phillipians 3:17-19

By focusing on the things of this world instead of God you are not just failing to do what is best, but you are being an enemy to Christ, to His mission, and to the cross.  Christ came for a mission and if you are so distracted by the things of this world that you are ignoring those around you that are dying, then you have become an enemy to that gospel.

You can’t be in the middle, there is no neutral position, we are either For Christ or against Him (Luke 11:23) and this verse in Philippians 3 makes it clear that we are really seen as the enemy of the cross.

You will, of course, deny that you are the enemy of Christ, I mean, who would admit that?  Unless you are an atheist who directly opposes God you would not consider yourself an enemy of God.

But then look at the rest of the passage.  Does that describe you?

“Their god is their stomach”… Do you care more about what you eat and drink than you do about serving Christ?  Does eating and drinking consume more of your time than you give to God?

“Their glory is in their shame” really hit me.  How many times have you bragged about something and found joy in something that, in comparison to God, you should be ashamed of?

“I got so drunk last night I don’t remember what happened.”
“She’s hot. I would sleep with her.”
“Check out this new beamer I got. Only $500 per month.”
“Last Saturday we had a Lord of the Rings marathon… It literally lasted all day”

How  many of these things that we brag about would we, or should we, be ashamed of if we thought about bragging about it to God in light of our mission?

Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards...
Simon Cowell at the National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, London, October 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I boasted for a while that I got to meet Simon Cowell (You know, from American Idol).  I would tell everybody that I met that I thought would be slightly interested.  “Hey there guard on the military base, did you know I got to meet Simon Cowell?  Yeah, I did! Met him in a hotel hallway, I even got my picture taken with him!”

Yeah, I was so proud of that moment…

And then God whispered to me “Why are you not this excited to tell people about me?”

None of that stuff is wrong in itself but they shouldn’t be what we are proud of or things we really find joy in.  We should be boasting in Christ because we are sinners and honestly we have nothing worthy of boasting about outside of Christ.

Next time you want to brag about something, think about bragging to God about it.  Is it something that you should be ashamed of in light of His holiness and perfection?

Then the final part of that passage I know hits me hard, and almost all of our culture as well.  “Their mind is set on earthly things.”

What is your mind set on?  Do you spend your time dwelling on things of this earth, or on God and His mission?

This ties back to the beginning of this article series.  If you are in Africa on a missions trip you are focused completely on the gospel, on your mission, on others.  When we get back home our mindset changes back to “normal” and we focus only on the things of this earth.

That shouldn’t be.  Our minds should always be on Christ and on the gospel, on our mission, nothing else matters even a tiny bit in comparison.

Am I saying that you are not allowed to have any fun on earth at all, and that our life needs to be nothing but witnessing on the streets, going to church, and living with the bums on the street and if I sit down to watch one movie I am being an enemy of God?

Well….

Find out in the next article on this series. 🙂

The Problem with Getting too Comfortable

In the previous article we discussed how we do not need to go to other countries to do missions, but that our mission field is right here, where we live and work and spend our day to day life.  But we don’t see the area we live in as our mission field.

Why is that?

Taylor Mansion
Taylor Mansion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the main reason we see this as not being our mission field is because we have made this our home. We have put a lot of time and effort into making this a safe and comfortable place to live where we can sit back and relax from the stresses of life.

But our citizenship is in heaven – Phillipians 3:20

We have forgotten that the earth is not our home.  As Christians our residence is in heaven, not on earth.  Our time on earth is just a temporary stopping point where we focus on our mission before heading home.

We are citizens of heaven, not of earth, not of the U.S., not of the middle class lifestyle, but of heaven.

But instead of living for the mission we forget about it because we get comfortable and distracted in the business and entertainment of our day to day life.

When I was in the Navy I would travel for weeks or months at a time.  Being away from my home was tough.  I missed my wife and my home, but I was there for a mission.  Sure I had a little bit of fun when I could, but my main focus was to do my mission for the military while I anxiously awaited the day I could return home to the one I love.

It should be like this for us.  We should be anxiously awaiting our return home, to see Jesus, the one we love more than any other.  We should not distracting ourselves and making our lives here comfortable enough that we do not care about the mission, about Christ, or about heaven.

Peter urges us to treat this life as travelers just passing through and to avoid the lifestyle of those around us.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh – 1 Peter 2:11

Abstain from the passions of the flesh?  That’s no fun.  God gave us these passions to enjoy ourselves with while we are here, didn’t he?  The problem with our culture is that we are all about the passions of the flesh above all else.  They become our obsession, but when we accept Christ we are told to deny ourselves and not let our flesh, our desires, or our passions become our master.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, – 2 Corinthians 5:1-2

Our home here is supposed to be nothing more than a tent.  And by tent I do not mean we are only supposed to have structures made with fabric sides and zipper doors.  It means that what we have here is temporary, something we can throw away and lose if we are called to, not something we attach ourselves to that keep us grounded where we are.

Why are we so determined to purchase homes when they just tie us down?  Renting a place many say is throwing away money, but if you are not sure that God wants you to stay in that area then renting frees you up to just go when God calls you elsewhere.

Again, I am not saying that it is wrong to buy a house, but what I am saying is look at how our lifestyle decisions effect our ability to fulfill our mission.  It just shows where our focus and our treasure really is.

Paul even goes a step further and says that everything he gained in this world is now considered a loss, garbage even, in the mission for Christ.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ – Phil 3:7-8

Your car, house, cell phone, computers, clothes, all of it is nothing more than garbage compared to us knowing Christ!  How do we even try to compare the importance of the mission that we have to save those who are lost with our toys and gadgets?

So why do we obsess over this garbage so much?   Why is it so hard for us to believe that we are citizens of heaven?  Why are we so determined to settle down and make our home here on earth?

We will look at that more in our next article.

Don’t be discouraged.  These articles cover some deep topics that are close to our heart, but our God is gracious and merciful.  Keep reading to the end. 🙂

Stop wasting your breath

As a Christian we know that it is our duty to live for God and not waste our life; it is what we are called to.

But when we think about not wasting our LIFE, that seems like a long term goal with no serious act on today.  I mean, when asked “What do you want to do with your life?” I always instantly think about the future, what I want to eventually do, not what I am doing now.

Our life is a gift from God, but not just our whole life, but every single instance, every breath we take.  There is absolutely nothing we could do to make us take one more breath if God did not allow it.

Think about that for a second.

That breath you just took – and the one you are taking now – is only possible because God is letting you breath.  That’s right, it is not your right to breath, you cannot demand to God to let you breath one breath longer, it just isn’t up to you.

So what are you doing with that breath God is giving you right now?  Are you using that breath to swear? To lie or gossip about others?  Are you using it to do anything negative against a person when you should be trying to lift them up?

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; – Philippians 2:3

If we adopt the mindset that as Christians we are Holy and set apart from the rest of the world, and that every breath we take is meant to bring honor to God meaning with every single breath we should be loving God and our neighbors, if we truly believed that, then how different would our actions be?

We are not called to be part-time Christians.  Jesus died to save us, not just on Sunday, but every day.  And by accepting Him as the Lord of our life that means we say we want to totally and fully put God as the master of every single moment of our life.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind – Romans 12:2

That means right now, with that breath, you should be bringing glory to God by your actions, your words, and your attitude.

If not, then pray that you will start to live out the faith that you proclaim, that God would work through you in some way every moment of your day.

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt throughdeceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24

So stop wasting your breath.   It is the first, and biggest, step to not wasting your life.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*

Better than others?

Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

The word for “selfishness” was eritheian which appeared in chapter 1:17 to describe those who opposed Paul. Without question such behavior is of the flesh and not of the Spirit (Galations 5:20). Along with “empty conceit”, the two negatives are followed by a postive exhortation: “regard one another as more important than yourselves.”

Humility before God and man is a virtue every child of God needs to strive for. A spirit of pride in human relations indicates a lack of humility before God. Paul is thus exhorting the Philippians to consider others before themselves.

Paul explained how humility can be expressed (philippians 2:4). Instead of concentrating on self, each believer should be concerned for the interests of others in the household of faith (cf. Romans 12:10). Preoccupation with oneself is sin.

Now I find myself being guilty of thinking myself better than others, particularly non believers when they are steeped in sin….I find thoughts like, “At least i’m not doing THAT!” or thinking that just because I’m a child of God that that makes me so much better than those who’re not. And I know i’m not the only one who struggles with thoughts of thinking us better than others BECAUSE we’re not steeped in sin and BECAUSE we have the victory over that. But in your rejoicing over your victory and freedom from sin’s bondage, be careful not to start thinking yourself BETTER than those who ARE still bound. Paul’s telling us that we are NOT to think ourselves BETTER than others no matter how steeped in sin or evil that other person is…we must remember that God once viewed us as just as evil and sinful before we were redeemed (even IF we never did anything as “bad” as that other person). In our victory in Christ, let us not become arrogant and snub our noses and look down on those who do not have that same victory, or maybe other brothers and sisters, even, who may not have the same gifts we do or maybe their gifts are seen as not being as “powerful” as our gifts are. Remember that the world’s view of greatness is not God’s. Those who labor in prayer in their bedrooms for ministry leaders, those unknown “unnamed” prayer warriors, those whose names the world does not know, they just may possibly be the ones who are seen as greater in the eyes of God than even well known evangelists, or those famous propheciers, or “miracle workers” who the world sees as “great men of God.” Remember that in God’s eyes, the greatest gifts of all aren’t the “sign” gifts (the tongues, the healings, the prophecy, even being raised from the dead…all those gifts that baffle and awe those here on earth)…no….to God the greatest of ALL gifts is love and He urges us to pursue that above all other gifts.

If we cannot practice humble attitudes with each other, then how can we be humble before God? If we cannot live in humility with each other, if we insist on thinking ourselves greater than others for whatever reason, and voicing an arrogance and pride, then we are in direct disobedience to God and His commands.

Now Christ offers such a wonderful example of humility and it’s illustrated beautifully in

Philippians 2:5-8 our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

In verse 5, believers are exhorted to have the same attitude–selfless humility–Christ exhibited in His humiliation and condescension. In verses 6 and 7 Paul is saying that Christ Jesus is of the very essence of God, and in His incarnation he embraced perfect humanity. His complete and absolute deity is carefully stressed by Paul here. The Savior’s claim to deity infuriated the Jewish leaders (John 5:18) and caused them to accuse Him of blasphemy (John 10:33).

Though POSSESSING full deity (John 1:14; Colossians 2:9), Christ did not consider His equality with God as something to be held onto. Christ did not hesitate to set aside His self-willed use of deity when He became a man. As God He had all the rights of deity, and yet during His incarnation state He surrendered His right to manifest Himself visibly as the God of all splendor and glory.

Christ’s humiliation included His making Himself nothing, taking the very nature (form) of a servant, and being made in human likeness. These statements indicate that Christ became a man, a true human being. The Greek says that He “emptied Himself” which denotes a divesting of His self-interests, but not of His deity. The word “likeness” suggests similarity but difference. Though His humiliation was genuine, He was different from all other humans in that He was sinless (Hebrews 4:15).

Thus it is seen that Christ, while retaining the essence of God, was also human. In His incarnation He was FULLY God and FULLY man at the same time. He was God manifest in human flesh (John 1:14).

Some have wrongly taught that the phrase “being found in appearance as a man” means that He only LOOKED human. But this contradicts verse 7 which says that He literally by very NATURE was human also.

The condescension of Christ included not only His birth, but also His death. And it was the most cruel and despicable form of death which was limited to non Romans and the worst criminals.

No better example of humiliation and a selfless attitude for believers to follow could possibly be given than that of Christ. With this example before them, the saints at Philippi would be “like-minded” (as was used in Philippians 2:2) and live humbly before their God and each other.

So, since Christ who, if ANYONE has full right to Lord it over anybody else, truly DID have the right to be and act as if He was better than ALL…since He having this right did not take advantage of that right while He was here on earth…then what makes us any different? We are to follow Christ’s example in all things…even in His humility and His servant hood. He had full rights to glorify Himself and act better than all other humans, but instead He humbled Himself and became a servant, not lording His rights to deity over anyone. Now although we are not divine, we as children of God should never in thought or action consider ourselves to be better than others, if those others so prove to act and think in an ungodly manner. It’s a hard thing to do, to consider others as better than us no matter HOW they act…but it is something that God expects of us and it is something that Christ Himself did….so we must strive to be living examples of His humility.