Monday Musings: What’s your story?

Last week, I went to Chicago…

And, I saw lots of different people with lots of different stories.

Young and old.

Rich and poor.

Black and white…

And everything in between.

We all have a story.

A story of where we’ve been…and where we’re going.

A story of who we’ve been…and who we want to be.

A story of what we’ve lost…and what we hope to find.

A story of when our life changed…and when it might change again.

A story of how we became who we are…and how we want to be better.

A story of why we think we exist…and why that matters.

We all have a story that is our unique story.

But, at the end of the day, we are all image-bearers…

Created by a God who doesn’t make mistakes.

Loved by a God who can save you from anything (including yourself).

Forgiven by a God who sacrificed his greatest love to pay for your sin.

Cared for by a God who knows your needs better than you know them.

Rescued by a God who does impossible things every day.

Accepted by a God who knows what it feels like to be rejected.

If you have a personal relationship with God, this is your story.

If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, this can be your story.

So, what’s your story?

Attitude Check: what our attitudes are really telling people right now

Attitude.

Been thinking a little bit about that word lately.

So last week, I decided to type in “attitude quotes” into my Google search bar to learn a little bit about people’s perceptions of “attitude” and how it impacts our lives.

“Attitude is everything,” is one of the more common viewpoints out there. And, even though it’s kind of an oversimplification of how our attitudes impact our lives, there’s a lot of truth in that statement.

Our attitudes really do impact not just our lives, but the lives of those around us. Two historical figures have summed it up this way…  

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” – Winston Churchill
“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” – Albert Einstein

Turns out that our attitudes matter…a lot.

Especially as Christians.

It was Paul who wrote in Philippians 2:5…

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

If you go back and read verses 1-4 of that chapter, you’ll find examples of what having a Jesus’ attitude looks like. Paul says things like…

Stop being selfish (v3)

Stop trying to impress people (v3)

Be humble (v3)

Start thinking of others as better than yourself (v3)

Stop being proud (basically all of verse 3)

Stop doing only what’s best for you (v4)

Start paying more attention to the interests of others (v4)

Okay, so here’s the deal.

Our attitudes as Christians matter…A LOT.

The people around us (think your family, neighbors, coworkers, friends, etc.) are learning from us. Among other things, they are learning how we react and respond to the things going on around us (good and bad)…in our communities, in our nation, and in our world.

And, our attitudes (and the reactions that go with them) are giving people either a good and positive view of who Jesus is or one that makes Jesus look petty, selfish, arrogant, and condescending.

Clearly, these are difficult, divided days that we are all living in.

Right now, the division and disagreements we have are centered primarily on politics, race, COVID-19, and the economy.

But, even if/when these issues fade away or get resolved, there will be other things for us to divide and fight over. And the people around you will always be looking to you to see how you react and respond to them.  

So, ask yourself, what is your attitude telling people right now?

Is your attitude helping people see what having a Jesus’ attitude looks like?

Are you pointing people to Jesus these days or are you just pointing fingers?

Attitude may not be everything, but our attitudes as Christians say a lot.

May we be a people who have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had and consistently point people to Him.

Even when…especially when…it’s hard.

We are all image-bearers…and why that matters in a divided country.

Divided.

In last week’s Monday Musings’ post, I suggested that that will be the one word that best describes the year 2021…

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We now enter a week that started yesterday with churches all across the country pausing to recognize “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.

Today, as I write, many people in our country are pausing to remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

And, just two days from now, our country will inaugurate a new president and vice president to lead us for the next four years.

Depending on things like your race, politics, religion, socio-economic status, and even family background, each of these days probably mean something different to you.

And, because of this, these days (and this week) may end up only highlighting the division that you already sense and feel in your heart toward those who think or look or act differently than you.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because, regardless of all that divides us, we all have one thing in common.

We are all image-bearers.

All of us have been created in the image of God.

From the moment of conception, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever the color of our skin, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our political or socio-economic status, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our religious beliefs (or even lack of them), we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our family background and history, we are His image-bearers.

We could go on, but the point is this…

We are all born image-bearers of our Creator God.

But, we are also all born broken image-bearers in need of a Savior.

The good news is that God knows that and sent His Son into the world to save us…to redeem us in our brokenness and to give us life to the full. (John 3:16-17 & John 10:10)

The bad news is that the devil knows that too and is doing all that he can to steal and kill and destroy the lives of God’s image-bearers. (John 10:10)

Behind all that divides us in 2021 is a battle far greater than the one’s we wage over race, religion, politics, or anything else.

As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, this battle is not “against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

We live in a culture right now that has convinced us that those who don’t agree with us are our enemies.

(The polarization and division we see/feel in our country is a product of that).

But this week, I am reminded again that the real enemy of all of us isn’t walking around in human skin.

The real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to steal and kill and destroy the life of the unborn image-bearer.

The real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to steal and kill and destroy the dignity of another image-bearer simply based on the color of their skin.

And, the real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to hate other image-bearers just because they think or act or look differently than we do.

The truth is, we are a divided, image-bearing people.

And, if there was ever a time (and a week) where we need to put into practice the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, this is it.

May we be image-bearers who don’t just love the image-bearers that love us back.

And, may we also be image-bearers that are always pointing other image-bearers to Jesus.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48)

Monday Musings: when personal comfort and safety become idols

Comfort and safety.

Let’s all admit that we’re creatures of both.

We live in a culture where a person’s comfort and safety is seen as an inalienable right…something worth fighting for even.

At the core of every person’s views on life, religion, politics, money, relationships and everything else is a deep-down desire for their own personal comfort and safety.

And, unfortunately, this desire has seeped its way into the Church.

We idolize comfort and safety just like everyone else.

We make choices everyday based on how comfortable or safe that choice will make us feel.

At the core of religious consumerism and the “Christian ghettos” we choose to inhabit is our deep-down desire for our own personal comfort and safety.

And, the problem with that is this…

We’re actually surprised when we have to face hard things.

We’re surprised that we might actually have to take risks or to suffer as Christians…either because of our faith or simply because of the fact that we live in a world that is horribly broken by sin.

And, so we end up living risk-averse, low-impact spiritual lives in a world that desperately needs us to “turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.” (Luke 9:23)

When pursuing our own comfort and safety become the driving force behind the everyday decisions that we make, we eventually become spiritually impotent people who spend more time whining and complaining about the evils of our culture instead of looking for ways to transform it.

It’s almost as if we’re surprised by the fact that it might be hard, unfair, risky, or uncomfortable to live as Christians in a God-less society.

But, the reality is we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Suffering is part of the deal of following Jesus…our own personal comfort and safety is not.

We know this is true because Jesus said it is, and His life on earth backed it up…He really was a “suffering servant.”

It was Jesus who said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But, take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We know this is true because Jesus’ first followers said it too, and they also went out and backed up their words with actions.

It was Peter who said…

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 & 19)

As we continue to face trials and suffering in this world, may we be a people who suffer well…in a manner that pleases God.

May we be a people who keep on doing what is right even when it requires us to get out of our comfort zones, take risks, and do hard things.

And, may we do these things trusting our lives to the God who created us, always remembering that He will never fail us or abandon us.

Monday Musings: stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Rut or groove?

It’s hard to tell the difference between the two at some levels.

But, when you dig a little deeper, you find out just how different they really are.

I mean…would you rather feel like you’re stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Exactly…

You don’t want to be stuck in a rut.

A “rut” by definition is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”

The truth is we can get stuck in all sorts of ruts…in our relationships, our careers, and yes, even our faith (more on that later).

We’d much rather be in a groove when it comes to all of these things. But, the interesting thing is that a “groove” is not that much different than a “rut” (at least by definition).

A “groove” is simply defined as “an established routine or habit.”

So, what does this have to do with our faith?

When it comes to our faith, it’s easy to go back and forth between a rut and a groove. We can be stuck in a rut for days or weeks (or even years) at a time. But, we can also get in a groove…and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.

You might be stuck in a “faith rut” if deep down your relationship with God has become dull and unproductive.

On the surface, you might be “doing all the right religious things” (going to church, reading your Bible, etc.), but your faith is stagnant.

Your spiritual life is not producing any fruit (in your life or anyone else’s).

You’re going through the motions.

Or spinning your wheels.

Or shadowboxing.

If that’s how you’re feeling right now, I have good news for you…

You don’t have to stay stuck in that spiritual rut you’re in.

You can get in a spiritual groove…you just gotta get your heart right.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s people doing religious things while their hearts are far from Him (see Isaiah 29:13 for one example).

So, how do you move from a place of spiritual dullness to a place of life-giving, spiritual fruitfulness?

I’m not going to give you a simple formula or a 5-step process for that…because it might just turn into another rut for you.

But, I will say this…

If you find yourself stuck in a spiritual rut right now, the only way that you’re going to get out of it is if you really want to.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27…

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

This spiritual race that you’re in is life-long, and it’s full of ruts and grooves.

So, run to win…with purpose in every step.

Get yourself in a good, spiritual groove…

And stop shadowboxing.

Monday Musings: free drinks for life

“Free is a very good price!”

Growing up in Portland, I used the hear that phrase a lot.

It came out of the mouth of a local businessman who used it to promote his business on TV and entice people to come into his stores…and spend money.

Ahhh the catch.

Seems like there is always some kind of catch when something is “free” doesn’t it?

Buy one get one free.

Free drink with 12 points.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I like free stuff.

It’s just that we often have to spend money or work at something before it actually becomes “free.”

Because nothing in life worth having is truly free…right?

Wrong.

The truth is that the best thing you can have in life is free.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way in Isaiah 55:1…

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink-even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk-it’s all free!”

And, then there was Jesus, who told a woman who was filling up her empty bucket with water at a well…

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus understood that we’re all thirsty…and not just physically thirsty.

We all have spiritual thirsts.

We all have relational thirsts.

We all thirst for significance, security, and acceptance.

We all thirst for meaning and purpose.

The bottom line is, we were all created to be thirsty beings.

And, we all go after all kinds of things to quench our thirsts.

Power.

Status.

Money/possessions.

Comfort.

Control.

Relationships.

Idols.

Religion.

But, here’s the deal…

All of those things will cost you something.

And only leave you more thirsty.

God created us to be thirsty beings, but he also gave us the opportunity to quench all of our thirsts forever in Jesus.

At the end of the day…

At the end of your days…the only way that your thirsts will be quenched forever is by accepting something that is actually free.

So, take Isaiah’s advice back in Isaiah 55 when he says…

“Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.”

Jesus paid to quench your thirsts forever with his life. But, there will be a day where your time on this earth will run out.

A day when this free offer is no longer available for you to accept.

A day where Jesus will be the one sitting on his throne in heaven saying…

“It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega-the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:6)

Free is a very good price…especially when it’s truly free.

The invitation is there from Jesus.

Free drinks for life.

Are you ready to accept his invitation before it’s too late?

Advent Musings: Is God’s Way the Only Way?

Religion is like a mountain…so the saying goes.*

And, we’re just all at the bottom of that mountain trying to figure out the best way to climb it.

My path may be different than your path, but that’s okay…

Because all the paths lead to God (or whatever you call him).

The Buddhist path.

The Hindu path.

The Christian Scientist path.

The Muslim path.

The Mormon path.

The Christian path.

(Insert your path of choice here).

One mountain…many paths…same destination.

The question is, can this even be possible?

Can all religions by true?

Or, to put it another way, can all religious paths lead to the same place?

For all religions to be true (and lead to the same place), two things would have to happen…

  1. God would have to be a universalist.**

2. We would have to be able to achieve the impossible…

We would have to be able to save ourselves.

But, the reality is, we can’t save ourselves.

We can never be good enough.

Nice enough.

Generous enough.

Holy enough.

Separatist enough.

Perfect enough.

Or religious enough to save ourselves.

Because religion doesn’t save anyone…only God saves.

So, God looks down on His creation from the top of that mountain and sees the impossibility of anyone reaching Him…

And He makes a way.

The way.

He sends an angel named Gabriel to a virgin named Mary, who tells her that she will bear a son whose name is Jesus.

This Jesus will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David…and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Because, as Gabriel says, nothing will be impossible with God.***

God did the impossible.

God is doing the impossible.

God will do the impossible.

He has made the impossible possible by sending His Son Jesus down the mountain to us.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

He is the way, because He is the path.

He is the truth, because He is the only path that truly leads to God.

He is the life, because the end of His path is eternal life with God.

Every religious path requires faith.

But, the Christian path is the only path where you’re putting your faith in someone other than yourself.

And, that someone is Jesus Christ.

The Bible says that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, and that whoever believes in Him will not die…but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

God’s way to salvation is Him coming down to us and doing the impossible.

All of the other paths to Him require us to find a way to save ourselves…

And, that’s just not possible.

*Oprah made this viewpoint popular back in the early 2000’s, and it’s still going strong in our culture today.

**A universalist believes that all humankind will eventually be saved.

***For the rest of story, read Luke 1:26-38.