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Spiritual Trash

Spiritual Trash

I have a confession to make….there is one household chore that I refuse to do. I try my best to contribute whenever I can, but this one thing falls on my husband… every time. What is this nasty chore that I wholeheartedly hate to do?  It’s a little thing called taking out the trash. Perhaps I am being a little dramatic, but the intoxicating smell of rotting old food makes my stomach turn.  I am thankful for the new Febreze trash bags, but honestly, they can only mask so much of the odor! Keep in mind, I live in the always sunny, forever warm, Florida – so the trash gets an extra boost during the summer months.  You are probably wondering by now though why I am ranting about something that everyone has to do….take out the trash. The reality is we would never dream about letting all of our physical trash remain in our house for weeks or months on end, but I would argue that we do this unknowingly when it comes to our insides. Sure, we put fast food and over processed carbohydrates in our systems, but I am speaking in a matter of the spiritual trash that we allow to rot and fester in our lives.  When was the last time you took out your spiritual trash? 

Back in the day I was a new, bright-eyed, ambitious youth leader and I had the great idea to test out this ‘theory’ with a bunch of good-hearted teenagers. I proudly announced, “Kids, this week we are going to take out the trash,” (as I carried in make believe trash bags stuffed with pillows). Let me tell you, I was in for quite the surprise. The challenge for all the kids was a week of taking out the trash in their spiritual lives. Every student was given a journal and they had to record everything that they digested that could possibly be poisoning their systems. The lists were long, to say the least, ranging from perverse music, to TV shows, to language that they heard daily and had become immune to at school. Some of the teens journals were pages upon pages for each day of that rather long week. However,  I wasn’t there to become their personal conviction – that can only come from the Holy Spirit.  Nor, was I there to point the finger, because I too decided to take out the trash in my own life and my list was just as long! It was a harsh wake-up call for us all.

So here’s where the challenge is passed on to you. First let me start by answering some questions that our flesh loves to ask in order to counter our spiritual need for purity:

Is this necessary?

This is vitally important as we honor God. Our bodies are His temple and we must realize that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth does speak. We are all filled with impurities that stop us from living correctly and we must attack these issues head on so that the enemy will not cause us to stumble. After all, who wants their life to smell like trash?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ Romans 12:2

Because of the fallen world we live in, is it possible to do this without becoming a hermit?

I am not going to lie, living life right is difficult and everyone has their own burdens to release at the foot of the cross. Most of the things we intake are not allowing us to be transformed but rather conformed. Yet, nothing is worse than living in denial. Nothing is worse than covering up layers upon layers of sins that rot away at our souls, without ever taking the time to clean up. It’s a clever trick that the enemy loves to play when you feel trapped by all of your sins (the trash in your life) without feeling God’s sovereign love and forgiveness that wants to cleanse you completely. There is freedom in taking out the trash.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Can I even do this exercise without feeling guilty and constantly falling short?

The reality is that even when we focus on this ‘exercise’ we will be reminded of just how tragic our shortcomings are. This sheds light on all of our fleshly cravings and all of our weak temptations towards sin. Paul was no stranger to this, especially when he spoke about doing the very things he shouldn’t do and not doing the things he knew he should do. In fact, it was a constant battle for him to choose God’s will over his desires and this is the Apostle Paul! So be encouraged, because Paul was constantly coming up short, just like we do, and he was in a constant state of preaching God’s good news.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

I encourage you to meditate on God’s word as you clean your life from its hazardous materials. Don’t be afraid to allow other strong Christians to keep you accountable, and remember to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. There is no shame in admitting that this will be challenging and there is no condemnation when you are striving to honor God. He will honor your efforts and give you the strength you need when your flesh is weak. So, perhaps we should all go do my most dreaded chore. Let’s all go take out the trash knowing that when we do this, we will begin to look a little less like our filthy former selves and a little more like the God we love and serve.

Surrender

What Do We Need To Surrender to God?

For any of you whom have seen the movie or are familiar with the phrase, “Eat, Pray, Love,” you can probably guess the author’s intention and desire in wanting to get back to the basics in life. Indeed, eating, praying and loving fulfills the minimum requirements that meet both our physical and spiritual needs. Yet, mentally there is something about this concept that seems too good to be true.  The truth is, while I admire the simplicity of these three ideas, it wouldn’t take long for me to divert from this path and start adding a few more items to the list.  In fact, the more I began to ponder these three things, the more I concluded that it was simply unrealistic for my busy, complicated life. Then, I came across this story and it made me wonder if eating, praying and lavishly loving could teach me a few things about God’s perceptive on my life,

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:22-25)

This is a small story weaved into the pages of Luke about a nameless rich ruler who was probably eating and praying just fine. We know that in the verses before this passage that he was devout and kept all the commandments. Yet, the love portion of His life was missing. Yes, he loved the Lord but to what degree – enough to love others in Christ’s name? Well, as I began digging deeper into this story in the Gospel, I asked myself some very tough questions as I tried to put myself in his shoes. How does this translate to my life? If Jesus bumped into me in the mall, what would He say that would trigger a defensive nerve within me?

What am I withholding from Him that prevents me from following Him fully?

As I begin searching my own heart for difficult answers, at first glance, I felt like I was doing decent- I do indeed trust God and acknowledge that He is the source of my life. I am sure that there are many of you reading this that could answer this question confidently too. Perhaps, you also feel that you have surrendered to His plan and purposes, making your life His to mold. However, for me personally, the more I looked into the secret compartments, the hidden places; I found that I ultimately do still have sensitive areas that if they were called out by Jesus for all to hear, I would cringe and my solid faith would be a little shaken.

I have areas of my life that I think are still mine to keep.

Jesus knows my baggage just like he did with the rich man. Jesus knew the rich man and the depths of his heart. He was there when the rich man made his first great investment and earned his first return. Jesus was there when He said His prayers too. He knew what He had and what He lacked. Jesus knew the rich man needed physical materials in excess and that these ‘things’ mattered a little too much to him, causing them to get in the way of loving others. He knows you and me the same way.

The facts are that I don’t want to be defined by what is only mine to lose – my life, my things, and my dreams. The rich man was never named in the Bible because he was defined by what mattered to him the most – possessions. I don’t want to walk away from God saddened, defined by what I wouldn’t give Him. I don’t want to grasp on so tight to my own agenda that when a whisper comes to follow Him, I am distracted by noise. I want to be defined by something else, something much bigger. I want to be known by my obedience. Perhaps, in some ways, eating, praying and truly loving others is a beautiful way to simplify a complicated life.

The other interesting thing I discovered when reading this story was the context of the phrase mentioned, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.’ In Israel, back when Jesus was teaching, this phrase would have been common and everyone would have known what it meant, yet, today we are left with a bit of a riddle. So you might be thinking, what does it mean? The eye of the needle was actually referring to a narrow passage in Jerusalem that was very hard to pass through when seated upon a high camel. In order for a man and a camel both to get through this doorway, the owner would not only have had to dismount, but he would have to unload and unpack all the baggage that was on the camel’s back as well. This is what Jesus meant when He said this phrase. Interestingly, it would be much easier for a camel to surrender and allow himself to be unloaded than for people who have a lot of distractions to get rid of what is keeping them from entering into the other side of what God has for them. When visiting Israel, a few years ago, I actually saw the passage way that Jesus referred to and recognized the complexity of getting a camel through the small arch. Jesus illustrated this point in a very clever way.

What do we need to unload in order to get back to the basics of nutrition, prayer, and love?

Here are a few things I hope that you can take with you as you simplify your hectic schedule.

    1. Strip away the things that keep you from God
    2. Surrender in a way that allows no room for your own agenda (obedience at any cost)
    3. Seek love above temporary things

I hope that you, like myself, can begin to simplify your life in order that He may strip away the meaningless things and that we may surrender to God through obedience and learn to love others wholeheartedly. Eat, pray and love may be a wonderful phrase to remind us to take a breath when life seems to be set on fast-forward pace.

Healing

Healing The Pain: The Real Woman at the Well

A girl once was born in a tiny town, in the desert north of Jerusalem.  Some today call her Photine, but her name really isn’t important; in fact, from the moment she was old enough to understand, she was told exactly that: you are unimportant.  She had to remain a virgin, she could not marry whomever she liked (that would be decided for her), nor could she divorce once married.  She could not leave the house without a male escorting her, she could not work, her testimony wouldn’t hold up in court, and she certainly could not participate in politics of any kind.  About the only thing she was allowed to do with relative independence was gather water from an ancient well outside of her dusty little town with the other women each morning. 

Her father, being an enterprising man, found a suitable husband for Photine, and married her off as soon as a dowry was agreed upon.  But this husband, as the ancient law allowed, “found something displeasing about her” (Deuteronomy 24), gave her a certificate of divorce, and was on his merry way to marry another, leaving Photine in disgrace.  No longer a virgin, and therefore unacceptable to decent men, she took any man who would marry her.  They too left.  Five husbands came and went, destroying whatever shred of dignity and communal respect Photine ever had.  Desperate, she moved in with another man for need of basic protection and provision.  And even the one activity which used to bring her pleasure, the drawing of water from the well with the other women who could commiserate with her (for they too could be married and left in a moment), had been taken away.  Too ashamed to face the others, she would wait until later to get water for herself.

One evening at the well, around 6 o’clock, a weary looking man, a Jewish traveler by what she could tell, sat down next to Photine and asked for some water.  At first she pretended not to hear him; her people didn’t talk with his people and single women, especially ones as disgraced as she, wouldn’t dare address a single man.  But something about him disarmed her for a second.  Maybe the sheer loneliness and the years of being thrown away by others allowed her to ask him why he would even talk with her.  Their conversation turned to the well itself.

Photine over the years had come to like this well very much.  It was called Jacob’s well and, as the place where she felt some independence and camaraderie, she would soak up stories about Jacob and his family that settled there.  She was especially fond of Genesis 34 – the part about how just after Jacob’s family settled in this spot and dug this well. You see, Jacob’s daughter Dinah was horrifically raped, but her brothers wouldn’t stand for it.  They found the men responsible and took their lives in defense of their sister’s dignity and chastity.  Hearing these stories, Photine would dream of finding a man like that – someone who would stand up for her; someone who wouldn’t leave again; someone who could right the wrongs of her fractured life.

“The water from this well cannot satisfy you forever,” said the traveling teacher, “but if you believe in me, you can have water in you that will never dry up, a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

“Sir, please give this water to me so I won’t have to come here any more,” Photine replied.

“Call your husband to come here with us,” Jesus said.

There it was.

Photine hung her head in shame.  Her mind raced thinking of the five men who had left her and the other she’d been living with; the disgrace of being discarded and the humiliation of her entire life leading up to this point.  She could only muster “I have no husband” under her breath the same way she had done many times before.  No tears.  No emotion.  Just the cold reality that she was a piece of floating debris tossed in the wake of men passing by.

Jesus smiled.  “I know,” he said.  “You have had five husbands and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.”

“How could this be?” Photine wondered, taken aback.  “How could this stranger, this Jewish teacher who talks about eternal life and living water, see my deepest wounds and speak of them with understanding?  With compassion?  When others find out what has happened in my life they turn away with judgment and condemnation in their eyes, but not this man.  Not this man.”

With a growing interest Photine started asking questions.  “I think you’re a prophet sir, please give me some answers.  I have listened to all the stories I could take in about God and worship and even a Messiah who will come knowing everything.  How should I worship God?”

“Daughter, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we Jews worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth…  I who speak to you am the Messiah.”

Unable to contain her excitement that here, right in front of her, was someone who heard her, saw her, listened to her, and gave her hope that she might not have to carry around the pain of her life forever, Photine raced back to the city to tell the others.  She didn’t care what they thought of her anymore, but ran right up to some of the men of the town (possibly some of her ex-husbands) and cried out “Come!  See a man who told me all the things I have done!  This could be the Christ!”

In John chapter 4 where this story is found, verse 34 says “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”

So often we hear this story told and Jesus comes off sounding like he’s saying to this woman, “Ha!  Caught‘cha!  I know you’re a sinner and just you wait.”  But that’s not true to Jesus’s character or mission.  In the chapter just before this story, in John 3, Jesus says in verse 17 “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  Jesus looks at this woman and rather sees the part that needs saving, healing, restoring.  He tells her everything she ever did, and, in a way, everything that was ever done to her, because it is God’s desire that all might be healed of their deepest hurts through His great love.

That is God’s desire for you too.  God sees that part of you that you don’t want to talk about with other people; that part that keeps you hiding, going to the well alone.  But He doesn’t point to that part of you in anger or judgment; He points lovingly and says “That.  That’s the part I want to fix.”  What I learn from the woman at the well is if I let Jesus into that part of my life the way she did, He can begin to heal it.  When I stop hiding from God the pain that I have inflicted on myself or that others have inflicted on me, when I let Him into my life, His living water can flow through me to life everlasting.  With the woman at the well I cry out to you “Come!  See this Jesus who told me everything I ever did.”  He knows you, He loves you, and He wants to restore your life through an eternal relationship with Him.

 

Guilt

Guilt, Sin, and Forgiveness

It’s a gloomy day and the room feels claustrophobic. Heavy breathing can be contrasted to wide eyed stares as the jury and the judge claim a certain amount of ownership for the reading that is about to transpire. A verdict has been reached and the reality is, at this very moment in time, what is about to take place can never be un-done. These next few sentences prepare a man for either a life of freedom or an almost certain death.

I hope that you never find yourself in a physical courtroom awaiting such a fate but to escape guilt is indeed a problematic thing. Guilt is a powerful weapon that keeps a person confined to living in the cycles of limitation within their own nervous mind. How do I know this….because we were all born with a verdict of guilt. The hospital room that heard our newborn cries and wrapped us in warm blankets didn’t see the fate we were destined for, the birth certificate didn’t read ‘guilty offender’ and our parents didn’t see our horrific crime but make no mistake about it, we were born in a metaphorical courtroom where our verdict was a guilty one.

In the Gospel of John, we receive extra information about Jesus and the many lessons He taught. Unlike the three synoptic Gospels, the Gospel according to John tells us a compelling story about guilt. I love this story because it is the way in which Jesus sees us all. Please read along with me,

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.” (John 8:3-6a)

It’s a sitcom drama plot for sure; a traditional conservative Jewish woman is having a foolish daytime affair with an unknown lover. Now, notice that this woman is caught in the act of adultery and dragged to Jesus. I imagine this woman’s shame as she is ripped from her bed and pulled through the streets recognizing neighbors and seeing people point and whisper at her expense. It’s a terrible way for religious leaders to behave and their motive was of course, wrong. Here, this woman is brought to the Temple. There was only one Temple for Jewish followers and to them; it would have been the most sacred place to go, so this in and of itself was a hugely embarrassing moment as she clearly wasn’t wearing her best. All of these Scriptures set the stage for her dramatic courtroom appearance where she is about to meet the judge in garments of shame. Now, Jesus was in a bit of a predicament-should He disobey the Law of Moses or keep it and have this women killed? The true Judge needs no other authority to claim but that of being God Himself, whatever He decides next is rightful justified:

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:6b-8)

I imagine the woman’s shocked expression. I imagine the religious leader’s faces turning bright red as the ground becomes what I would guess is a laundry list of sins detailing their own crimes. What was written…their affairs, hidden murders, betrayal of each other? Who knows? Whatever it was, it was no doubt detailed as the oldest to the youngest began to cowardly walk away. It is important to remember that in Jewish culture, elders were respected and therefore, once they began to leave it was appropriate and a given that the young would skirt away also. However, my favorite part of the story is about to be brought to the surface. Jesus and a still very guilty woman are left starring at each other. What can she say knowing that she should be trying to dodge shards of rock against her skin? Her blood should be splattered across the dirt as she slowly died a miserable guilty death. Jesus lovingly looks at her and asks her where her accusers have gone. Is no one left to punish her rightfully? Jesus is the only person who could have allowed her to pay for her sins but He knew more about her past and her future than she could ever comprehend. He leaves her with this one statement about her verdict, “I do not condemn you, Go now and leave your life of sin.”

This is a powerful story and it is meant for Christians, the religious people, just as much as those who are currently far from and God living in both guilt and shame.Depending on your background it is possible you feel you are the woman in this story. You may have met the Healer, the true Judge, the one who has forgiven and set you free but you have encountered Jesus and walked away from that moment still living in a perpetual state of guilt. The truth is that you were born into guilt….so it is not entirely your fault. Additionally, the devil can’t change your verdict of an innocent fate due to the blood of Jesus but he can still make you believe that you are your own prisoner. If you find yourself raising your hand week after week to accept Christ or constantly asking for forgiveness beating yourself up for always falling short and always feeling tied to your sins, you are forgetting the courtroom moment where your verdict was metaphorically read. When Jesus said ‘forgive them for they know not what they do,” God honored the sacrifice that was being made. For centuries, lambs were slaughtered day after day to atone for guilt. The Temple wasn’t a pristine marble building where angels sang on cathedral ceilings, it was a bloodbath! It was a constant place where sacrifice occurred to pay for guilt. However, when Jesus split his blood, the perfect Lamb of God took our guilty sentence and proclaimed, “It is finished,” and this means that the guilt ended. Perhaps, this has never fully sunk in before. My prayer is at this very moment…..it would.

Fast forward with me for a moment… It was gloomy day and the outdoor air felt claustrophobic. Heavy breathing by a perfect man could be contrasted to wide eyed stares as the people took a certain amount of ownership for the death that was about to transpire. A verdict had been reached, “the King of Kings….guilty.” The reality was, at that very moment in time, what was about to take place could never be un-done. These next few sentences prepared our Lord for either a life of freedom or a certain death. Jesus whispers, “It is finished.”

 

Resisting Temptation

Resisting Temptation by Loving God and Loving Others

I recently watched a teaching from Rick Warren about resisting temptation and thereby focusing our minds, hearts, and energy elsewhere. He used Philippians 4:8 as the main talking point,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.”

This verse, and the teaching, led me to ask my self the question internally about where I focus my energy, thoughts, and heart. Rick taught that resisting temptation actually gives power to the temptation, but real resistance means resetting our focus to something else. This concept leads us to a broader definition of temptation – not simply sinful patterns but more so, something that refocuses our attention completely.

At home, my wife Karin and I have developed patterns, or rhythms, that we practice which keep our intentional focus on the Greatest Commandment and, thereby, we attempt to live our lives focused on loving God to the absolute fullest (Matthew 22:36-40). For us, this provides a great template to make tough choices through. It stirs in us as we parent our kids, as we love each other, as we live in community, as we are members of families, as we are members of a church, and as we lead in our particular contexts.

Timothy Willard in his book “Veneer” writes this:

“So obedience is central to the abiding life. We’re first to obey the double commandment; love God and love one another. As we obey these two commandments, we cultivate devotion and sacrifice. These are building blocks of intimacy. Most of us understand devotion, but sacrifice is harder for us because of it’s demands.”

I find there is a lot of truth to this – devotion is easier without the idea of what sacrifices we need to make in exchange. Karin and I are in a period where we challenge each other to what we can do to further enhance our love for both God and the others around us.

Jud Wilhite, the Lead Pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, recently wrote something powerful in his book “Pursued.” He started by sharing what it meant for him to lead a large church, write books, and speak at conferences. What came next was really valuable part though:

“What really matters on your deathbed? Your relationship with God and others; it’s a short list”.

For someone as successful as Jud, at the end of the day everything he has done doesn’t matter – but what does is how have he loved God and loved others.

For me, it is my desire to strive to love God to the fullest I can at each moment and I can do this by loving those around me and keeping my eyes focused as the passage in Philippians – filling my mind with only beauty and truth.

 

Idol Worship

21st Century Idol Worship

Talk to a dozen different people and you will see what they think is important.  One couple searches for and discusses travel plans for their next trip constantly.  Business folks consistently talk about the next big deal or a project coming down the pipe.  Enthusiasts of every stripe will regale you with tales of their hobbies that fill their lives.  But for the follower of Jesus, the question we might do well to ask ourselves is, when does this job, past time, or hobby become an idol worship in my life that keeps me from experiencing the fullness of God? Matthew 6:21 is very clear that,

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

These words can simply remain in Matthew (and Luke 12:34 for that matter) as a wise saying or we can take the time to figure out what it is that we truly treasure.  But how do we do that?  How do we discover what we treasure? The simplest way to figure out what your treasure is to see what you measure.  The old adage, “What gets valued gets measured” rings true for us and we need to take the time and reflect on what we are keeping track of.

  • Do you spend an inordinate amount of time looking at your bank statements, investment accounts, and 401k’s?  Then money could be your treasure.
  • Are you constantly shopping for new clothes, seeing stylists, and working out to stay in near olympic shape?  Your treasure might just be the image you portray.
  • Is there an unrestrained need to spend on a hobby, travel, electronics, or sport?  More and more folks today are finding the need to gratify themselves and that is where their heart is.

“But Josh,” you might say, “none of that pertains to me. You are way off base on this one.”  To which I simply say, measure what is in your own life.  The three bullet points mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list of the things that we can fill our lives with.  Take the time to ask yourself these simple questions to see what it is that you treasure:

  1. Where do I spend most of my time? (both work and free time)
  2. What consumes the bulk of my mental and emotional energy?
  3. Where do I invest my discretionary dollars?
  4. How are the relationships with the people that God has placed in my life?
  5. How often do I communicate to others what God is doing in and through me?

If any one of these questions makes you feel uncomfortable or downright guilty, there is something in your life that you need to re-evaluate in light of God’s word.   Take whatever it is that came to your mind to God and allow Him to focus you on the things of Heaven and take the fresh start He offers you today.