Not Will Power but Spirit Power

Romans 7:18 “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

There’s no such thing as self-help in God’s kingdom. If self-help was as effective as its promoted to be, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus Christ to die in our place and rise again conquering sin, Satan and death. We all can identify things in our minds, hearts and lives that we’d like to change. Many of us search for answers in the strategies of human reason than the power of the Holy Spirit. The reality is our will is limited in its ability to bring sustainable and permanent change to our hearts. Stop trying to change yourself by your own will and just start following Jesus. When you surrender to Jesus as your Lord, and you start to follow him out of relationship, transformation is a natural byproduct of the work of the Spirit’s power in your life. Paul said to the Romans, “If you live according to the flesh you will die but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God.” Selah!

The Mouth Speaks what the Heart Believes!

Matthew 12:34 “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Jesus’ teaching is simple and yet deeply profound. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees about the connection between what’s in their hearts and what’s coming out of their mouths. Our words are a direct reflection of whatever is going on in our hearts. A tree is known by its fruit. Whatever the condition of the tree, so shall the fruit of the tree be. Our words are the fruit of the health or sickness of our hearts. It’s no use trying to control our tongues (James 3:8) if we first aren’t allowing the Holy Spirit to change the condition of our hearts. If we want the quality of what we say to improve, the health of our hearts must become our primary priority. This requires us to become heart conscious, not just word conscious. Many of us attempt to keep up appearances with our words but neglect the weightier matter’s of the heart. Ask God to change your heart and your words will take care of themselves. Explosive Insights!

Put off the Old and Put on the New!

Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

A new year brings with it new hopes and resolutions. The truth is by Feb 1 most people’s new year resolutions are discarded for the onslaught of everyday demands. Don’t let this be you. The bible exhorts us to put off the old self and put on the new self, patterned after Christ. If you are going to embrace the new you in 2015, you need to pay attention to your thoughts. Where the mind goes, the body follows. What is your mind predominately preoccupied with? Faith, hope and love or doubt, fear and hate. The bible exhorts us to focus our minds on the things that are above and not on the things that are below. Millions of people are unhappy and unfulfilled because they only ever look horizontally around them at the things this world is preoccupied with but God is inviting us to get a vertical perspective on life by looking heavenward and seeing life from Gods perspective. Don’t struggle in your strength to put off the old self but ask for Gods help to empower you to be the new you in 2015!

Dead or Alive?

John 15:2 “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.”

This is a challenging statement from Jesus. His words are a call to be proactive about our personal growth. A dead branch doesn’t produce anything worthwhile to anyone and will be removed. A fruitful branch will be cut back and pruned in its season in order for more fruitfulness to come. Either way, we’re going to get cut. We may as well get cut for bring fruitful and not for being fruitless.

I refuse to be fruitless. Refusing fruitlessness means I intentionally position myself to grow. Someone once said, you only grow according to the books you read, the places you visit and the people you meet. I think there are other ways for growth to occur but these three are a great starting place. What books are you reading? Which new places are you visiting and studying? And who are the people you are posturing yourself in front of to receive from? God is committed to your fruitfulness and the extension of his kingdom. Be intentional, be prepared for pruning and be ready for greater fruitfulness in your life.

From Heart to Mouth!

The condition of your heart will determine the content of your mouth. You can only keep quiet on what you really think and feel for so long until the volcano erupts and someone eavesdrop’s in on what is really going on in your personal world. If you want to change the content of your talk, you must allow God to change the theme of your heart. When God changes your heart, his desires become your desires, his thoughts become your thoughts, his ways become your ways and his words become your words.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.” When your heart burns for God, your words will ignite and inspire passion in others.

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Is Christianity Dualistic?

You might have heard the comment, ‘There’s a black dog and a white dog in your life and depending on which one you feed, will determine which one wins the battle.’ Nice thought. Problem is it’s not the bible. This philosophy reflects more of eastern mysticism (Yin & Yang) than Christianity.

Dualism is a theory that the world consists of 2 opposing fundamental entities and is not consistent with Christianity. Christianity is Christ-centric, not two equal opposing adversaries. Unfortunately a dualistic mindset has crept into the church over the centuries and has duped Christians into believing that after we are born again we have two natures at war within us – a Sinful Nature and a Divine Nature.

Romans 6 and 7 teaches, however, that once we are saved, we are dead to sin and alive to God. We have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. After we are born again our spirit which was dead in sin, comes alive in Christ Jesus and our sinful nature is erased. In Christ Jesus we are new creations, the old has gone, the new has come and we are now partakers of a divine nature. However, our minds have a memory of our old nature that needs to be reprogrammed and renewed to think according to the divine nature we have received.

What makes us vulnerable to sin and spiritual attack is not a sinful nature because that’s been done away with, but our un-renewed mind and spiritual lethargy. These two have a massive bearing upon our response to temptation. When the external fiery darts of Satan come our way, we have a choice, do we exercise our shield of faith or do we partner with the temptation and rebel against God. If we as believers do sin, it’s because we are exercising our will to do so in disobedience and rebellion against God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden, whilst having a divine nature pre-fall (Genesis 3).

The mind truly is a battlefield and needs to be reprogrammed and renewed because it has a living memory of old patterns of thinking and acting. That’s why Romans 12:2 says, ‘Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Christianity is not dualistic. It’s Christ-centric. There are not two equal opposing forces at war within you. You have been born again. Your spirit has come alive with a divine nature and now begins the process of being transformed in your patterns of thinking to think like God thinks, according to your divine nature in Christ.

The Oracle!  

God and Body Image!

We are a body image conscious culture. We are bombarded everyday with images and ideas highlighting the importance of a persons image.

According to Sir Wiki, “Body image refers to a person’s perception of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of his or her own body.” The phrase was first created by Austrian psychoanalyst Paul Schilder in his seminal work in 1935. Our personal experiences, personality and cultural forces all contribute to shaping the way we think about ourselves.

Body image has become a god to many westerners, due to the sexualization of our culture. We go to extreme lengths to look a certain way and act a certain way for our sense of significance and for the notice of others or both.

As I read the bible, I don’t see God having a problem with people looking after their bodies or wearing fashionable clothing but I do see a problem when we have made our own image more important to us than being made in the image of God himself and thus worshipping him.

Romans 1:22-25 perfectly describes the current state of our culture.

“Claiming to be wise, they become fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God, for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

How much of your time is taken up with thinking, dreaming and working towards the ideal image of yourself? Have you exchanged worship of God’s glory for your own glory? How is this working for you? Are you joy-filled or discontent?

A person’s identity must be found in Christ and Christ alone. Genesis 1-2 outlines that every male and female on the planet has been made in the image of God. We have been created to worship God and steward what God gives to us, which includes our bodies, clothing, possessions and money.

Jesus made himself of no reputation but abandoned himself to the Father’s pleasure and will. What image are you trying to portray to others? Leave the pretenses behind and just pursue God. God is more than capable of helping you find your identity in him and not in the cultural forces around you.

Grace!

Rethinking Christian Progress!

The one thing the bible promises us regarding life in this world is that it will be hard and filled with trials, temptations and tribulations. Nowhere does the bible promise that we’ll have our best life now (as popularized by Joel Osteen). in 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

This morning I tweeted an important phrase from pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything and it is the idea of an “over-realized eschatology”. I want to use this term to say, too many Christians live with an “over-realized eschatology” expecting  now on earth what God has promised only later for eternity. This causes us to live with unrealistic expectations for what we will and won’t face in this world.

In light of this how do we approach growth and progress in our faith?

The Gospel didn’t just ignite my faith but it’s the fuel that keeps it going and growing me everyday. The Gospel has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Progress begins with understanding that in Christ, we’ve already been qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven. Working out your salvation with fear and trembling is focusing on working out what Christ has already given to us and worked into us by his will and for his pleasure.

Our natural instinct as believers is to almost exclusively measure Christian growth around behavioural improvement but the greater issue is what is behind the good or bad fruit of our behaviour? Bad behaviour happens when we fail to believe that everything we need, in Christ, we already have. On the other hand, good behaviour happens when we daily rest in and receive the finished work of Jesus in deeper and deeper ways, destroying any need to secure for ourselves anything beyond what Christ has already secured for us.

The hard work of growth we are called to is to believe again and again the gospel of God’s free justifying grace everyday and resting in what Christ has finished on our behalf. I think real spiritual progress happens when our natural understanding of progress is rooted out and it’s not about first behaving better but believing more fully what Jesus has already accomplished.

Gerhard Forde, in his work, Justification by Faith, once said, “It’s not our movement toward the goal but the movement of the goal on us” that helps us progress in the Christian life. Pastor Tullian (Pg173) says, “Sanctification involves God’s daily attack on our unbelief – our self-centered refusal to believe that God’s approval of us in Christ is full and final.”

When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. The more we focus on our need to get better, the more neurotic and self-absorbed and worse we actually get. I have to admit that I’ve been too pre-occupied with myself for most of my life and my pre-occupation with my performance over Christ’s performance makes me increasingly self-centered and distant from God and others.

Christian progress is forgetting about yourself! So, aim for progress but remember what it isn’t, your personal improvement and moral progress. Progress is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ’s finished work for you, which will inevitably produce personal improvement and spiritual growth.

Grace! 

I’m not who I used to be…

2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come.”

I have been a Christian for nearly 30 years. At 4 years of age I can remember confessing my sin and believing in Jesus Christ, as I was led to God through the influence of my parents and other older believers. I’m so grateful to God for his sovereign grace at work in my life and it has been an amazing adventure of discovery and growth, albeit painful at times.

Truth is, I cannot believe how far God has brought me in my own spiritual journey. Even as a Christian and pastor, just a few years ago, there were things I wrestled with in my heart, which manifested in my marriage and relationships with others. Now by God’s grace those same struggles are no longer on the dashboard of my life. Granted, there are other challenges that I must run to the Gospel with but God’s empowering grace has rescued me already. I think this is how it should be, if we are working out what God has already worked into our hearts. It does seem, though, that the closer you get to God, the more aware of our sinfulness we become. 

Sanctification is a key theological term which describes the process of a believer becoming more and more like Jesus. Regeneration is the initial act that gives birth to our spirit and begins the sanctification process, whereby the indwelling Holy Spirit transforms us to reflect the character of Christ. This is both a joyful privilege and painful process.

When Jesus saves us, he transforms what we find joy in. Our flesh finds joy in self but our regenerated spirit finds joy in Christ and others. Our flesh finds joy in lust but our regenerated spirit finds joy in purity. Our flesh finds joy in revenge but our regenerated spirit finds joy in forgiveness.

The cross where Jesus died to atone for our sin, is the place of the great exchange – our sin for God’s righteousness. The process of sanctification is the process of dying to self and coming alive to Christ. It’s the process of finding joy in a cross -centered life, rather than finding joy in a self-serving life.

As a Christ-follower, you should be changing. You cannot taste of the eternal gift and not be changed by it. Jesus does something in you by the work of the Holy Spirit and you too will wake up one day and say, “I’m not who I used to be…”

Grace!