Christianity 201

January 24, 2022

Carving Out a Place for Prayer into Your Schedule

Today’s first-time writer here is Heather Knowles who lives in the  West Highlands of Scotland. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, and daughter. Her blog is An Unfinished Work of Art (tag line: Otherwise known as a Work in Progress.)

You can be a blessing to the various writers we feature by creating some traffic for their site. There’s two devotionals by Heather today, and you’re encouraged to click the titles for each, which follow, and read them on her page.

Making Time for Prayer

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. – Mark 1:35 NLT

Is it important to make time for prayer?  Well, yes it is, but why?  I’m sure that we have all sat through sermons expounding the benefits of prayer and underlining the fact that Jesus took Himself off to pray on a regular basis, and if He needed to pray, then so do we! But actually going out of our way to make time for it?  Letting prayer “interfere” with our established daily routines?  Let’s take a closer look.  Consider for a moment your relationship with your partner, best friend, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, anyone important in your life.

When two people first fall in love, they become a bit obsessed with each other, spending as much time as possible in each other’s company, ringing up, sending messages, cards, gifts, etc. If a relationship is ‘one-sided’, it’s not going to go very far – it takes two people to build a relationship.  Any relationship can only grow and develop as people spend time in each other’s company, as they get to know each other better and on a deeper level.

And now think about your relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know about you, but my relationship with God can only grow, deepen and develop as I spend time with Him – not just a rushed few seconds here and there, when I can ‘fit Him in’ to my day/schedule/diary/routine, but real, quality time.  God has done His part. He speaks to us through His Word, He has given His Son, He has laid down His Life, He has sent His Holy Spirit. Now it’s up to me to do my part to grow my relationship with Him – to spend quality time with Him, to prioritize Him in my day, to listen to His promptings. I know that I am richly blessed to be in such a privileged relationship, where I can come before the throne of God and simply chat to Him.

Jesus took Himself away to pray before and after performing miracles, when He needed peace and quiet, when He needed to hear from His Father, when He wanted to strengthen and consolidate His relationship with God the Father. To grow my relationship with God, to strengthen it and to consolidate it, I need to do likewise, and it is such a wonderful blessing to be free to come to Father God to get to know Him on a deeper, more personal level.

Bonus article:

A Challenge!

Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV):  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ““Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.””

How’s that for a challenge? You’re not following me?

Well, Jesus said that we have to love God totally and completely – that’s the most important thing to do, the first and greatest commandment.  It’s the second one that presents the challenge.

Love your neighbour as yourself. That’s a huge challenge – why?

Because I have to love myself!  In order to love my neighbour, I have to love myself.  I can only love them as I love myself.

So who is my neighbour?  Is it really only the people that live next-door?  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that loving your neighbour means more than loving your immediate circle of family, friends and next-door neighbours.  He taught that loving your neighbour means more than just being kind and considerate to people you meet in your day-to-day life.  He taught that loving your neighbour meant more than just being respectful, generous and tolerant.  He taught that loving your neighbour means searching for the outcast, the rejected, the marginalized, the abused.  It means drawing alongside them, making space for them, listening to them, getting close to them, accepting them as they are, looking for the spark of Christ in them, searching within them for the likeness of God – for He is surely there, as we are all created in His image – and then holding out the hand of love and friendship, being pro-active to right wrongs and to end injustices.

I can only love them as I love myself, and to do that I need to have a God-given perspective of who and what I am because it’s easy to be self-depreciating and to hold myself unforgiven, and to beat myself up over past mistakes, to drag up memories of past sin and feel so very, very unrighteous and unworthy.  But what does God say about who I am, and what I am?  His word tells me that I am:

  • His
  • His beloved
  • His prize
  • His bride
  • Called
  • Chosen
  • The apple of His eye
  • A new creation
  • A temple of His Spirit
  • Forgiven
  • Redeemed
  • Blessed
  • Elect
  • Victorious
  • One in Christ
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made
  • Set free

Thank you Lord for your great love for me, and thank you that you have that same love for everyone I meet, for everyone who has ever and will ever live here on earth.  Help me Lord to have a right self-image, and to see you in others, that I may love myself and my neighbour.  Amen

August 24, 2017

How Inclusive Should We Be?

by Clarke Dixon

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”  Ephesians 2:19 NIV

This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household.  Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is.  We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread.  We want to feel inclusive.

In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.

Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can.  There are two ways to do this.  One is to declare that all roads lead to God.  The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road.  Hence, your fears over the journeys of your loved ones are put to ease.  And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.

Then there are the exclusivites.  They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them.  Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there.*  Mind you, I have not met very many exclusivites in my travels, even among Baptists.  It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.

How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones?  Should we join a tribe?  Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing?  Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?

Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward.  Here is the short route:

  1. Be solid on Biblical theology:  Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above.  See verses 1,2, and 11.
  2. Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
  3. Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8.  And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
  4. Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God.  See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28.  It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
  5. Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity.  See verses 15,19-22.  We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that.  And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.

Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others.  But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing.  It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.


*Clarke is a Baptist so he’s allowed to say that!

September 3, 2015

Has Your Identity Been Stolen?

This is our fifth visit with Ben Nelson at the blog, Another Red Letter Day. Click the title below to read this at source.

who you are in ChristIdentity Theft

It’s a huge problem today. People have had their identity stolen and they don’t even know it until they go to check their assets and realize don’t have any access to their wealth.

I’m not talking about cyber-crime.

I’m talking about Christians who think they are lowly sinners, barely citizens of the kingdom of God. Christians who believe they are barely saved, and stand the risk of eternity in hell if Jesus happens to come back the day they skip church. After all, we should never do anything we would not want Jesus to find us doing when He returns.

It’s a crime, and Jesus is the victim.

What the thief made off with is that for which Jesus paid the ultimate price. God didn’t just pay a ransom of gold and silver to buy you back from the clutches of hell. He laid down the ultimate ransom. A life for a life. The life of the One and only Begotten Son of the Almighty, for you—for me.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. – Romans 5:10

We know from the Word that this transaction did not simply return us to His ownership—His slaves. He signed the papers with His own blood, and declared us—not His property—but His family.

Satan offered us up as slaves for sale, but Jesus paid for daughters and sons.

Sadly, though the price has been paid and the chains have been broken from our wrists and ankles, we approach our Father as though we are still enslaved by the hater of our souls.

It’s a crime, and the world is the victim.

Heaven’s plan, detailed by Jesus, included us walking through our generations as He walked through His, abiding in His Father, breaking the power of sin as we encounter it in the lives of others, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead, setting the prisoners free.

the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. – 1 John 2:6

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. – John 14:12

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. – Matthew 10:7-8

Because Christians don’t know who they are, or what they have in their possession, they live low impact lives. They (we) keep our heads down, not wanting to impose our “beliefs” on anyone else.

It’s a crime, and Christians are the victims.

We have been given so much and yet live with so little. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, – Ephesians 1:3

The Host of this party has asked us to sit in the best seat—a heavenly seat with a perfect view of all that surrounds us. And yet, every time we approach our Abba, we’re groveling, begging forgiveness. Our lives are marked with compromise, not because we don’t love God, but because we don’t know we can live above the poverty level.

and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, – Ephesians 2:6

Let’s take back our identities, and live like the supernatural soldiers we are.


February 15, 2014

Chosen People, Royal Priesthood, Holy Nation

Chosen People Royal Priesthood Holy Nation

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

Today we look at three blog commentaries on this passage, beginning with Lara Love at Walk by Faith Ministry who reminds us not to get the wrong idea when scripture refers to us as royalty:

I have often through the years heard believers in Christ proclaim how wonderful, and important, it is to receive and partake and enjoy the incredible blessings of being so-called royalty because we have been adopted through faith in Jesus Christ into the Kingdom of God. “We’re royalty! We’re princes and princesses!” people have told me, encouraging me to see myself as God’s princess and to therefore thrive and to appreciate the gifts of being royalty. They have encouraged me to see myself as a daughter of the most high God, and to enjoy being His princess. Admittedly, I have fallen short of living the abundant life promised me in Christ. And truthfully, I have often seen myself through eyes other than God’s – i.e. not exactly a princess!

But at the same time, I wonder how many people who speak of the wonders of being royalty in God’s Kingdom realize that God’s Word has a job for His royalty to do such that sitting around polishing one’s prince or princess crown and calling on one’s servants to bring in the newspaper and prepare a five-course kingly breakfast might not fit so well with. God’s royal priesthood of Christ followers are God’s possession, and this belonging to God comes with a life-saving assignment. We are called to “proclaim” the Lord who delivered us out of darkness to the world at large! This does not mean that God does not want us to enjoy our lives, but it does mean that we have a purpose above all else – to love Him with all our hearts, to love others, and to share the good news of Jesus the Christ with the world. Something tells me some of His princes and princesses might need a reminder from time to time that it’s time to get out of the palace and reach out with the Gospel to a broken world in dire need of Christ.

Next, from the blog of Dayspring Christian Center in Gardena, California; we’re reminded to live a life worthy of this label that God has given us:

…If you are a true believer, you are considered to be a member of the royal family. When we have our labels here on earth, we are diligent to take care of them. We try to act the part in which our label would allude to and even carry a certain air about ourselves because of the labels placed on us.

Well, how are you taking care of the label God has given you? Are you trying to make it look good? Are you trying to live up to the meaning of what your label in God’s kingdom is? Are you careless with the label that God gave you? Do you make your label (and in turn God’s Kingdom) look bad because you don’t act like someone who has such a label of royalty? Lastly, with your label in Christ, your new identity, do others see the new you and how you’re grateful for a better opportunity or do they see the same old you just with a new label?

It’s funny, but when we get something new we EXPECT people to see that new thing immediately when they see us. The problem is that they will always only see the same you if you don’t display to them there’s something different about you today……

Who are you going to tell about Jesus today and how he made you different for eternity? People will always see you as you are until you give them some other reason to know that there is something different about you.

We pray that you let your new God-given label shine and be known to all who see you. Let’s get others excited about their ability to change spiritual labels and act like the royalty that we are given in Christ Jesus. Give God the praise for allowing you to be chosen. Not everyone will be allowed to the royal ball; but if you’re one who’s been chose to come…..act accordingly. Have a great day all. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

Finally, this is for those of you who grew up with the KJV, and know the phrase “chosen people” (used in most translations) as “peculiar people,” and for those of who didn’t grow up in the KJV, to know that we are called to be unique!  This is from the blog Word from the Word.

Have you ever known any peculiar people? I could tell you many stories of people I have known who were just plain odd. Like the man who said to the psychologist, “People think I’m weird because I like potato pancakes.” To which the psychologist responded, “That’s not weird, I also like potato pancakes.” At that point, the man became excited and said, “That’s wonderful, Doc. Listen, why don’t you come over to my house — I have closets and closets full!”

When the King James translators used the word “peculiar” in 1 Peter 2:9, identifying Christians as a “peculiar people”, this is not what they had in mind. According to A. T. Robertson, the word “peculiar” comes from the Latin word, “pecus” which means “flock”. The KJV translators were simply reflecting the idea that believers in Christ are the unique possession of God — they are His flock.

Actually the word in 1 Peter 2:9 is the Greek word peripoiesis, which has the idea of possession, or personal property. It is the preposition peri, which means “around” — connected to the noun poiesis, which refers to something that is made, or done. Kenneth Wuest, the Greek scholar, says “the Greek word means literally ‘to make around,’ that is, to make something and then to surround it with a circle, thus indicating ownership.” Thus, the New American Standard version translates this phrase as “a people for God’s own possession.” The NIV says, “a people belonging to God” and the NKJV says “His own special people.”

The verb form of this word (peripoiéomai) is found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the words of God through the prophet Isaiah, when He said, “This people have I formed for myself” (Isa. 43:21) — [emphasis mine]. It is a strong statement of personal possession — the people belong to God. They are His. So this word peripoiesis is certainly a special word to describe how unique we, as believers in Jesus Christ, are as the personal possession of God. He made us a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17) and then He put a circle around us to indicate His ownership, and said in effect “these people belong to Me.” We are indeed a “people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 – NAS).

Christian friend, I hope that you are encouraged to know that you really are “peculiar”. You belong to a special group of people who are the unique possession of God. You are a member of His eternal family. And that means, of course, that you are the special object of His love and care. It also means however, that we are to live consistent with who we are.

We’re not like other people in the world. We’re more than different — we’re unique. And so, we live unique lives to the glory of God who has given to us His Holy Spirit “as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession (peripoiesis), to the promise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14).

December 3, 2013

Despite My Disobedience and Failures, Who I Am

Today’s thoughts are from Joel Spencer at the blog, The Double-Edged Sword. There is much good Bible study material here, so be sure to click through to read this at source, where it appeared under the title, The Mind Set On The Carnality Of The Flesh.

Romans 8:6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”


For the mind (phronema: thoughts and purposes) set on the flesh (sarx: carnally minded, the body, sensuous nature of man) is death (thanatos: misery of the soul arising from sin; figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin), but the mind set on the Spirit (pneuma: Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus Christ) is life (zoe: vitality, fullness, active and vigorous devoted to God) and peace (eirene: rest, quietness, tranquility, tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ).”


For the thoughts and purposes of man that are of the carnal, sensuous nature are misery and darkness, but the mind set on the Holy Spirit is a life of vitality and rest, assured of its salvation in Christ.


Some people are fascinated with the goings on of the flesh. Indulgences and pleasures are front and center throughout every corner of the globe, perhaps none more tangible and present than here in the US. Many a Christian, with great pleasure I might add, will woefully point a finger at the carnality of the world. But what of us (those called according to Christ)? Are we, the Body of Christ not also riddled with a different set of carnal pleasures often disguised as religious exercise or super-spiritualness? It should be of no surprise that carnal gratification can be found wrapped in religious performance. Have we not learned from Jesus’ confrontations with the religious elite of His day?

But that’s not what I’d like to delve into today. I’d like to pose a question. What if this verse could encapsulate a two-fold message? The first being the obvious – in Christ, we’re to forsake the carnality of our flesh and pursue the things of the Spirit. Although this is, and forever will be, an ongoing task, it’s quite elementary. Secondly, and perhaps missed entirely, is what I’d like to pose as a possibility. I like to call it “failure fascination”. This second message is that a Believer in Christ can actually be captivated with the existence of their carnality. This person is always consumed with their shortcomings and sin. Please don‘t get me wrong, there obviously needs to be a constant awareness of our need to pursue holiness and spiritual maturity.

That being said, I don’t believe it’s spiritually healthy whatsoever to have a mind entirely set on my carnality and sin.

With the obvious instruction of this verse to be setting one’s mind on the Spirit, can that be done when one is always enamored with their personal failures and sin? I don’t think that it can. In an underlying sense of translation of this verse, I think that this too is a mind set on the things of the flesh (fixated on shortcomings and sin). As I’ve stated a lot over the last year or so, I’ve come to terms with the reality of my carnality. I’m OK with the fact that sin will be a certainty for me until the day that this body breathes its last breath. Now this in no way excuses me to sin or live a voluntary life of disobedience, excused away by this carnality. As Paul said, the fact that I have a proneness to sin and God’s forgiveness of it is absolutely not a license to excuse it. In fact, I still loathe my wretchedness apart from Christ. But…. but! In Him I’m being conformed more and more into His image. I no longer spend my days dwelling on my sin and offenses. Quite simply, I’ve embraced that they will always be a part of my physical state. It is a simple fact that my Heavenly Father is very well aware of.

So with this approach in action, I choose to set my mind on who I am in Christ. I meditate on who He is creating me to be, despite all of my disobedience and failures. I no longer walk in a lifestyle of willful sin. I just don’t. So I’ve moved out of that mindset to one of going to my Father in the midst of it all – my victories and my transgressions. Now I choose to delve deeper into cultivating my relationship with my Father, free from the distractions of my sin which will always be present.

God, in His superior design and handiwork, set in motion a plan before time that would leave me in my physical body post-salvation for a reason.  

God’s blueprint was obviously never to remove us from our natural state upon surrendering our life to the Son. With this in mind, I rejoice over my current condition as one given to me by God Himself. So do I, as Paul did, groan and long for my heavenly dwelling? You’d better believe it! There are days when I literally cry out longing to be free from this body of flesh so that so I can interact with my Father unencumbered by the limitations of this body. I hate the sin that entangles me! But there is a beauty within this journey. Without my sin and disobedience, I would never see the beauty that is the forgiveness and longsuffering of my Father. I would never see my need for the sacrificial gift of my Saviour Who laid down His life for me despite knowing I would fall even after surrendering my life to Him. It’s my brokenness as I keep my gaze set upon the things of the Spirit that leads me back to the place of absolution.

So my constant challenge is this – am I walking in a place where I’m captivated by and fixated on my carnality? Or am I free to be me, in Christ, as I go about my day to day activities? Is my mind consumed with walking according to the Spirit or am I riddled with a failure fascination?

I just don’t desire to sit around and discuss how much of a mess I am anymore.

I’m not saying that there’s not a time to delve into one’s sin and divulge in conversation about it – in a group setting or in one’s own mind. But it should never be a constant theme that overshadows all other spiritual matters and crowds out our awe of the LORD. I want to talk about how awesome my LORD is. I want to meditate on His goodness and mercy. I want to be obsessed with Him to the point of absolute fascination. In His presence, all that opposes His plan for my spiritual growth into Christ-likeness goes. His light easily drives out my darkness so I have no fear that I might somehow miss “working out my salvation” as my passage from one age (natural) to another (spiritual) continues. As the light of Christ shines within the darkest crevices of my innermost being, I can choose to give Him access and address those places or I can remain in darkness. Of course the choice is mine and it will be ongoing until my new/eternal body is inhabited. But I long to walk in absolute freedom to be me – my Christ-identity! I’m a mess, I get that. Of this there’s absolutely no debate. But my Jesus is OK with that. He’s the washer of the feet of the betrayers. He’s the guest at the tables of sinners. He’s the lover of the diseased and afflicted. He pardons the murderers.  He alone is my hope and anticipation of being freed from this natural state. I rejoice over this journey. I’m in need of saving. I’m in need of redemption. I’m in need of lovingkindness and mercy – daily! Thank You LORD that You are all of these and more. Praise be to the only One entirely capable of accepting me just as I am.

August 9, 2013

Dealing with Spiritual Dissonance: Five Steps

Although this appeared at a blog called True Woman, the message here is most applicable to men and women alike. The author is Dawn Wilson, and to read this and reader comments at source click this link: Five Steps to Dealing with Spiritual Dissonance.

Spiritual authenticityI’ve never been a jazz fan; I don’t enjoy the dissonance. As I reacted to some jazz music on a television program recently—telling my husband how much I hated it—the Spirit of God suddenly convicted me on some spiritual dissonance in my life:

“You say one thing, but do another. You tell women to be authentic, but what about this area of your life?”

“You say one thing, but do another. You tell women to be authentic, but what about this area of your life?”

A recent incident flashed across my mind, a situation when I exaggerated the truth to the point where it was a lie. Not a good thing. Hypocrisy.

Truth is one of my foundational life values, so when God pointed out the dissonance, I cringed.

My husband Bob, who directs a mission agency, shared one reason for spiritual dissonance in a recent message. “We tend to compartmentalize our lives,” he said, “and when we do that, the spiritual does not carry over into our everyday decisions.”

I wondered—how often do I compartmentalize, relegating the spiritual to designated parts of my life while ignoring or shutting it out in others? Because I want to overcome spiritual dissonance, I’m taking these five steps. I will:

  1. Recognize the dissonance in my heart. When I depart from fellowship with God, my heart wants something else more than Him. I’m drawn away by my natural desires—away from what God desires for me (James 1:14). I need to admit when my harmonious relationship with Him takes on some dissonant notes.
  2. Realize the root cause of my dissonance. I have a new nature in Christ, and God is making me more like His Son; but I still have free will to reject God’s everyday work in my life. James 1:15 says various lusts conceive and give birth to sin. I get that. I want what I want when I want it—things, pleasures, attention (1 John 2:16)—and when I want them more than what God wants for me, I’m an easy target for temptation.
  3. Repent of any sin that causes dissonance. Instead of rationalizing it away or justifying sin, I need to take it seriously. Sin will always separate me from spiritual intimacy with my loving Father. Because God is light, He cannot fellowship with darkness. My sins are already forgiven in Christ, but I must still recognize my wayward heart, repent, and turn from sin (1 John 1:8–10). I’ve got to get honest!
  4. Resist temptations that lead to new dissonance. The Word of God will help me fight the tendency to compartmentalize (2 Cor. 10:4–5; Heb. 4:12). God wants me to embrace truth and resist the enemy’s lies (1 Peter 5:8). When I take refuge in Jesus and the scriptures, God shows me His “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).
  5. Refocus on harmony to weaken future dissonance. I will praise and worship God, seek Him, and pray for discernment. Because I know my spiritual dissonance grieves Him, I am asking God to rebuild my character where it is weak and change my heart (2 Peter 1:5–9).

My prayer for spiritual authenticity comes from Colossians 1:10:

“To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

How does spiritual dissonance creep into your life? What has God taught you about not compartmentalizing your life?

September 7, 2011

What Do People Know You For?

Dan Navarra guest-posted this at Shawn Stutz’ blog where it appeared under the title…

Get Filled Before You Fall

Not so long ago, I was a college student.  I remember those years vividly; they were marked with extreme amounts of fun, plenty of turmoil in my romantic relationships, lots of pizza, and three years of working with high school students as an intern.  It seems like every college student goes through this phase of discovery at some point once they leave the birds nest of ‘home’ – and I was no different.  Questions about identity, self-confidence, and doubt often filled my mind in between arrogant and prideful thoughts about my own scroll-sized list of accomplishments.  In fact, if I were to take my accomplishments and list them out on a scroll, I’m pretty sure I thought that scroll would never end; but instead it would just flow into the adjacent room and catch the attention of everybody else over there.  After all, I was pretty awesome.  Who didn’t want to be me?

Well, the short answer is: me.  I didn’t want to be me because I wasn’t sure who that was.  Who was I?  What was my actual identity in?  I was searching.

My senior year of high school I read an incredible book entitled Abba’s Child, The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning.  One paragraph in particular became a guiding beacon of light in my search for who I was.  As I was asked to guest blog on the website for a college and young adult pastor, I felt like perhaps some of the readers of this post might find themselves in a similar debacle as myself and in need of a guiding principle to be their beacon of light.

“And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy.  We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing.  We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public.  And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.” – Manning, 22

I was running.  That was for sure.  I was manufacturing a self that everybody responded to; and not manufacturing a self that revolved around the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.  And i knew it.  So I slowly did the best job I could to correct myself towards what I thought was the right thing to do.  I prayed, spent tons of time in the word, started volunteering my time more, saw needs and met them for the Kingdom, and slowly was feeling like I had finally begun to hit my stride as a man.  I felt affirmed by my community of friends and co-workers because on the surface I was giving my everything to the Kingdom.  Hey, that’s what Christians are supposed to do, right?

Well, yes.  But…

I actually discovered an important truth during this time of my life: we can make our identity revolve around good things, like serving the church or learning everything one can about the Word.  And even though our identity is wrapped up in “good” things, it can still not be a healthy place to be.  My self-worth became wrapped up in being able to answer accountability questions properly.  If I had a rough week with my small group, I took it personally.  If I wasn’t practicing that great new worship song, I felt out of place.  My identity got wrapped up in doing what the church wants us to do as Christ-followers.  The problem was, my self-worth and identity was not in Christ: it was in the work I was doing for Christ.  I needed an intervention.

Going into my senior year of college was when God started to break me.  My internship ended at my home church.  Instead of promoting me for a third year of interning, the leadership informed me that I was not going to be brought back.  I thought it may have been a money issue, so I offered to work for the same wage for another year.  They declined.  I offered to take less money only to hear the same result.  I offered to merely volunteer in the ministry as a small group leader, but was turned down.  Finally I got the memo: my time there was over.  The following two months were a complete waste of my life.  I wasn’t doing ministry, so I stopped following God.  Once I had nobody holding me accountable for doing all the “good” things, I stopped doing them.

After two months of staying out too late and waking up after lunch, one night God spoke to me.  2:00 AM, I was laying on my bed in the heat of a hot summer night.  I remember this so vividly.  I was laying on my bed, staring at my high ceiling when it clicked for me: my life lacked purpose because I was not doing ministry.  God and I had a back and forth conversation that night.  I felt Him tugging on my heart: to just be in relationship with Him, and then minister out of that fullness.  Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter three came to my mind:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19

I rediscovered that I needed to minister out of my own fullness that comes from what God is doing in my life; not from somebody else’ expectations for my faith.  My ‘runaway slave’ mentality was running towards doing validating ministry where people affirmed my gifting: it had nothing to do with my own walk with the Lord.  Now, with my mentality quickly changed, and renewed commitment to walk with God first before I chose to walk with other people, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do to get back to my purpose of making a difference for the Kingdom in people’s lives.

God: “Do anything. Start a Bible study in your backyard even!”

Dan: “OK, with who?”

God: “Guys”

Dan: “OK, when?”

God: “Tuesdays”

Dan: “Tuesdays?  What time?”

God: “You pick”

Dan: “Got it.  Thanks.”

That was the dialogue that followed.  I asked God what I was supposed to do, and out of that birthed one of the greatest displays of the Church I’ve ever been a part of.  That night, at 2am, I text-messaged ten of my closest students, friends, and former students asking them if they wanted to meet for Bible study.  I heard back from eight of them within minutes affirming my invitation.  We set our meeting time for Tuesday night at 8pm.

From that first gathering a few men, birthed a group of guys who gathered weekly to study the Word, pray for each other in incredibly vulnerable ways, worship together at the top of our lungs, and a warmth of fellowship I don’t think could ever be matched.  The group exploded.  Within six months, I had some twenty-five guys meeting in my backyard every week.  The weather was turning cold, so it wasn’t unusual to see guys in snow gear huddled around the fire pit.  But they kept coming.  Eventually we shifted to the garage with space heaters.  It was an incredible revolution that happened that summer in my heart and life.  I began to minister out of my own fullness: and God harvested fruit because of my obedience.

I tell this story because perhaps you find yourself “doing the Jesus thing” and not actually experiencing the fullness that comes from a relationship with the God of the universe.  If that’s where you are, quit running.  Don’t resist.  Submit your life to a partnership with the ultimate companion, and then go about your business with that fullness as the primary fuel that sustains and enables you.

~ written by Dan Navarra

April 16, 2011

Reproducible Ministry

Today’s post is from The Leadership Institute’s Alan Fadling.  It appeared on his blog Notes from My Unhurried Journey under the title, Discipleship – Reproducing Life and Ministry.

I recently heard again the saying:

“Give someone a fish and they eat for a day,
Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.

What kind of a ministry do I provide. Am I making people dependent on me for their daily bread, or am I teaching men and women to listen to God for themselves in ways they will be able to continue over their lifetimes? This is the difference between producing and reproducing ministry.

One way I’m learning to reproduce ministry in others is to invite them into the processes I use to planning an event or gathering. I need to have thought deeply about the rationale and reason for what I do.

One key to reproducible ministry is profound simplicity in what I teach, counsel, and plan. I’m not talking about being simplistic. I’m talking about what Thomas Kelly called “the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.” He says that “the last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity that lies beyond complexity. It is the naïveté that is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God–yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy.”[1]

When we are simplistic and reductionist, we don’t inspire many to reproduce what we are doing. Being profoundly simple inspires people to try their own hand at ministry. Profound simplicity inspires people to believe, “Hey, I could do that!”

Ministry is reproducible when it flows with integrity out of my own life. Instead of thinking of ministry merely something I prepare to do, I am learning that ministry is rooted in who I am becoming and how I am relating with others. I reproduce ministry when instead of only sharing the finished product of my preparation process, I share the process. I can prepare a Bible study and then creatively walk students through the basic process that I went through (on a smaller time scale), rather than just giving them the fruit of my study. Reproducible Bible study would be discovery-oriented, not just delivery-oriented.

Reproducible events or gatherings would involve not just planning them behind closed doors and then delivering the finished product. It would involve doing some groundwork, then walking through the process together with a few who are willing, even hungry to learn.

Reproducible ministry will appeal to external motivation, but seeks to influence through modeling, inspiring and other increasingly internal motivations.

Reproducible ministry is more cooking school then chef, more cultivating learners than just teaching, more developing leaders than just personally leading. This is a paradigm shift. It always feels faster to do it myself than to teach another to do it, whatever it is.

Reproducible ministry requires a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence in God. If my leadership is the means by which I try to establish my value and importance, I won’t be willing to share that role with others. I won’t want to share my “trade secrets.” I may resist reproducing ministry out of fear that someone else might do it better than me!

Father, help me learn to be one who reproduces ministry in the lives of those around me, even as I learn to receive from You a reproduction of Your own ministry in my life. Reproducible ministry is “Christ in me.”

~Alan Fadling

[1]Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 36-37.