January 24, 2014

Creating A Consistent Lifestyle

I felt frustration as I listened to a successful pastor friend share his view of loving people trapped in sin.
He did not use the word sin, my mind used the word sin.  I felt sad as the message of compromise arose from his story.  It sounded like the culture of the world had infiltrated his ministry.  To my friend loving people and embracing them included approving of unrighteousness .  There was no delineation in his story between a Godly lifestyle and life in the world apart from Jesus.  I understood his compassion and his devotion to love.  I also know that in order to be imitators of Jesus we need to love with an incorruptible love.  
Jesus knew that there would always be tension between living a kingdom lifestyle and becoming absorbed by the world.  Jesus says that his love inside of us is greater than anything we face in the world (1 John 4:4).   It requires intentionality, wisdom and maturity to embrace people trapped in darkness with God's love and not embrace their sin.  I think fear is often responsible for our inability to untangle a person from their behavior and love them like Jesus does.  Jesus also understood how fear often drives hearts that haven't experienced his perfect love.  1 John 4:18 is straightforward in stating that there is no fear in God's love.  When we are afraid of a person's negative lifestyle choices we often react inappropriately; we either bless what needs to be addressed or we ignore and reframe.  This is not conducive to setting captives free.

I confess that I am not an emotional thinker and that I usually have an opinion on most matters.  However I have matured in harnessing my opinions unless they are solicited.  My pastor friend asked if I agreed with his theology.  My response was prefaced with assurance that I clearly do not have the complete answer to this tension.  The challenge at hand is loving and embracing people and their unresolved issues, sharing the path to freedom with them while not compromising our personal spirituality.  We must understand that God is the only one who can set a person free.  I explained that this tension can only be addressed if we are not threatened by sin and in the context of a healthy relationship.  This tension can only be welcomed into lives of those who know they aren't God.  So my answer to my friend was a 'no' spoken in love.  In order to lead people to freedom we can't patronize ungodliness.

We create consistent lifestyles when we are committed to truth.  When we speak the truth in love it releases words that have the power to unlock darkness and provide opportunity for God's love to begin transforming people.  The threat at this point is believing that we have to defend God's truth by making sure that people are comprehending our words.  This usually takes the shape of preaching, judging, shaming people into agreeing with God.  It actually is reduced to wanting people to agree with us.  I frequently watch people speak truth to hurting people with a smile and end with red faces shouting judgements about their life.  This must amuse God.

If we desire to help people trapped in darkness who want to be free we need to grow up in our ability to love.  A few questions might help to evaluate your spiritual maturity level.
What do you 'feel' when you talk to people who are living a sinful lifestyle?
What do you 'think' about people who don't understand God's standards?
What is your role in setting people free?

"But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head even Christ, from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love".  This is a great guide for co-laboring with God by following his leading.  It releases us from the results of speaking God's truth.  This is a principle that will equip us to grow in love and develop the character of Jesus. When we set God's standards as a constant in our lives we creating lifestyles that aren't shaken by the world.  If you long to love people the way Jesus loves people, I suggest starting with a difficult person who you disagree with.

November 15, 2012

Breaking Addictive Habits

Addictions are frequently mislabeled, misunderstood, and inaccurately counseled.  Although I agree that programs that equip people to abstain from destructive behaviors are valuable, I do not believe that they are the answer to freedom.

Addictions are usually rooted in deeper issues than the behaviors that people seek help for.  We cannot deny the fact that addictive behaviors are multi-layered and contain emotional, physical, spiritual and natural components.  However, we must also examine the reality that addictive behaviors set up habits that require intentionality to break.

Most addictive behaviors have compulsive thoughts attached to them.  Thoughts, emotions and behaviors cannot be separated.  Destructive actions are always rooted in dysfunctional thoughts.  I suggest that people who are trapped in addictive behaviors address the thoughts that ignite their behaviors.

Compulsive thoughts create anxiety.  The Bible tells us that if we will pray and release our anxiety to God he will replace it with peace (Philippians 4:6).  God's peace is so complete that the Bible says it is beyond our ability to understand.  Prayer begins the process of overcoming addictions and the Holy Spirit extends the process to guard our hearts and minds (v. 7) and enables us to sustain our freedom.

In order to break a negative habit, research says that it must be replaced with a positive habit.  People that stop smoking often start chewing gum.  This is an example of exchanging a negative habit with a positive behavior.  The Bible tells us to exchange our negative, compulsive thoughts with godly thoughts, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things---put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you" (Ephesians 4:6:7).   We have the power to control our thoughts.  We can choose to think about positive things when we are being triggered to think about the thoughts that lead to addictive habits.

Breaking the power of addiction requires a multi-dimensional approach and the pursuit must be done in the context of community because it is important to have safe people to talk to (James 5:16) who understand that the devil wants to sabotage your freedom.  We need friends who are willing to stand against demonic spirits in prayer on our behalf (Ephesians 6:11) and remind us that Jesus has empowered us to defeat demonic strategies (1 Peter 5:8).

If you have decided that you are ready to overcome an addiction, I encourage you to begin by giving Jesus permission to be in control of your steps to freedom, seek prayer ministry to resolve the lies that are fueling your behavior, contact your physician or health care provider if your addiction includes chemical dependency or a life-threatening eating disorder, ask a few close friends to pray for you and support you in the hard work required to overcome your addiction.  I also want to encourage you to pursue a multi-dimensional approach because narrow focused programs do not produce permanent fruit.  It is a good idea to give yourself grace if you 'mess-up', and understand that new habits must be established to satisfy the triggers attached to your initial addictive behavior.

God is faithful to help you complete the process once you give him permission to activate it.  I think we can agree that Philippians 1:6 extends beyond the salvation experience and includes God's willingness to resolve the things in our hearts that are connected to unhealthy behaviors and that he won't stop until they are healed if we allow him, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it..." (Philippians 1:6).

September 26, 2012

Are You Disqualifying Yourself?

What you believe about yourself controls what you do in life.  What you believe about yourself often influences your spiritual life with God and shapes your world view.  World view is usually defined by categories such as Naturalism, Pantheism, Spiritism, Postmodernism, Theism.  People like to get philosophical, intellectual, political, cultural....in discussing the topic of world view.  I like to keep it simple and frame it as a person's ideas and beliefs about life, the world and God.  As Christian believers we should embrace many absolute moral and spiritual values as outlined in the Bible, however our personal experiences both positive and negative create the lens by which we view ourselves and our place in the world.

How we define ourselves also determines what we allow ourselves to do in the Kingdom of God.  People who are trapped in a dysfunctional lifestyle seldom contribute to others.  They are often preoccupied with self-descriminating tapes running in their mind telling them that they are too damaged to interact with others. They create belief systems and behaviors that are anchored in helplessness. People who believe they are worthless, helpless and broken beyond repair often become introspective and isolated.  Isolation leads people into deeper levels of dysfunction.

I recommend that broken, hurting people intentionally pursue inner healing and the emotional, spiritual work required to become whole.  I also recommend that they connect and remain connected to a healthy spiritual community and interact with healthy people during their healing journey.  A mature spiritual community that understands the transformation process is a vital component for people who don't know the truth about themselves.

Learned helplessness is related to negative messages that children have heard and believed that influence their self worth.  It creates a sense of helplessness that restricts a child's ability to function at their full potential.    The behavior of these children reflect the labels that have been spoken over them.  Age and time do not remove the stain of labels.  God's love and truth removes everything that is false.
Many adults enter our spiritual communities still dragging the effects of their historical labels.  They disqualify themselves from engaging in community life because their identity is entangled with their labels.

The Apostle Paul says that part of our community life should include encouraging people that are timid, helping those that are weak, and being patient with them (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  He also encourages us to love each other (4:10).  As we grow in the virtue of love for those that are weak we can help them understand that through Jesus they are labeled with truth (John 14:6).  We can help them discover their place in the Kingdom of God and their value to others.  Godly communities should release hopeless people from the darkness of historical labels into the light of belonging to Jesus, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

September 5, 2012

Community Includes Broken People

What comes to your mind when you think about a spiritual community?  Many people imagine a Godly group of people who have all been delivered from their emotional and social issues.  They perceive a gathering where the people are understanding and relate to newcomers in a way that makes them feel safe and welcome.  A spiritual community is often expected to be free from any resemblance of human weakness because perfection is expected.
    Although Christian communities should reflect the thoughts and actions of Jesus, there are no perfect communities.  Communities are composed of healthy people as well as broken people.  It is easy to invite people into your life that are pleasant, emotionally stable and exhibit a high social IQ.  If we are being honest, it is often difficult to embrace people that bite.
   As wounded people enter our lives and our communities we are faced with the challenge of learning how to relate to individuals in a way that makes them feel honored but doesn't enable their dysfunctional behavior.  There is a tension in developing relationships with people who lack social skills.  Many broken people feel entitled and expect others to fill their emotional and spiritual needs.  They believe that we can cure vacant places in their heart that only Jesus can heal.  This brokenness often manifest in a 'needy' demeanor as people demand time and attention from those around them.  Although awkward people are challenging Jesus says that we should love them.
   We should be patient with those that are weak in their faith (Romans 15:1) and anemic in their ability to engage with others in a healthy manner.  We often restrict 'bearing one another's burdens' to prayer (Galatians 6:2) but I want to suggest that bearing a weak person's burden has a practical aspect which includes embracing them, including them in your life and learning to love them the way Jesus loves them.  When people question why I place so much emphasis on loving unlovely people my answer is simple and repetitive, "Because God loves us."
    There is a spiritual cycle that is rooted in God's love that is applicable to developing communities that represent the Father's heart.  God loves us--we love God--when we learn to love others the way he loves us--we complete the cycle (1 John 4:11).   God's love can diffuse toxic environments created by toxic, broken people.  We can begin to partner with God in creating healthy communities by asking ourselves how we feel about broken-hearted people. Be honest with yourself and examine your heart, do you feel compassion for difficult people, or judgement?  If you think you love God, but you don't love broken people you aren't being honest with yourself, "We love God because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:19).


July 19, 2012

What Motivates You?

My definition for motivation is very simple, it is the internal or external factors that control your behavior.
Motivation is a very engaging topic with significant insight into a person's success or failure.  Psychologist, sociologist and economist agree on the science of motivation and how it relates to a person's productivity.  Research tells us that productivity extends beyond rewards to increase positive behavior, and punishment to lessen negative behavior.  Research also tells us that financial incentive does not always lead to a person's top performance.  Top performance, producing products that meet universal needs, answers to world problems are a result of a person's desire to obtain autonomy, mastery, and creativity.  This explains why volunteers are often more productive than experts.  It is because they are not motivated by money, they are motivated by passion.

It is true that different people are motivated by different things, however internal motivators are either positive or negative.  I want to narrow the discussion and ask you to consider whether you are motivated by fear or passion.

In my office people frequently request prayer because their lives are ruled by fear.  Fear guides their decision-making, controls their interaction with others, and sets the parameters for what they will allow themselves to experience.  Fearful people tell me that they feel lonely and unloved.  They are often full of anxiety and physical dis-ease.
It is interesting that fear makes people feel unloved because scripture tells us that God's love is the answer to fear (1 John 4:18).  Fear and love cannot co-exist.  When I talk about this scripture to fear-driven people they cannot relate to the concept of perfect love so they proceed to tell me about the people in their lives that they love.

It is important to understand that perfect love is associated with maturity. To reach the maturation stage in any area we must grow and develop.  Most people understand that unresolved fear grows and becomes stronger and stronger often reaching a paralyzing state.  Many people who once were mildly afraid of something are presently living with phobias.   All phobias are rooted in unrealistic fears.  Although the progression of fear is more familiar to many than the growth of divine love it is important to choose to embrace God's perfect love to replace our fears.  When fear is replaced by perfect love passion becomes the motivation that leads us to accomplish great things.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love".   1 John 4:18


June 28, 2012

Moving Forward In Life

What do you want your life to look like, and what will it take to get there?
These are two appropriate questions I pose to people that want to make sure they don't miss their destiny.

Many Christian believers agree with a world view that God's will for every follower of Jesus is the same.  It is a world view that discounts personal dreams and visions and restricts each person's future to evangelism.  It is a standard that places guilt on those that share Jesus outside of the religious lines of conformity.  World views are composed of our basic beliefs about God, relationships, professional pursuits, self-care and influences our approach to life.

Although I agree that life with God should include introducing others to Jesus and telling them that He is the only way into the Kingdom, I believe that God has designed each person with unique gifts and skills for the purpose of sharing Jesus in a way that does not compromise who He created them to be.  I believe that God cares about the desires of our heart and our dreams for the future (Psalm 20:4, Psalm 37:4) and delights in our individual expression.

Assuming that you are committed to Jesus let's return to one of our original questions, "What do you want your life to look like?"  The first step in defining your future is to connect or reconnect with the desires of your heart.  Dreams are often lost when painful experiences are not properly dealt with.  Unresolved issues rob our ability to remain fixed on the passions that God placed in our hearts.  Unhealed emotional pain hinders everyone's ability to live from the fullness of who they are.  A dysfunctional, unrealistic world view also defines our self-perception.

Identity and dreams cannot be separated.  People that know who they are often know what they want and how to get there.  However those who don't know the truth about their identity are frequently crippled in their ability to move forward in life. They often loose hope in the future.  They don't realize that God has a plan to release them to a promising future (Jeremiah 29:11).

I suggest that people who feel disconnected from their destiny begin by asking Jesus to tell them the truth about who they are and remind them of their forgotten dreams.  Once connected to your passion you can ask God to order your steps and begin to move toward your destiny (Proverbs 16:9).
 "In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your paths" ( Proverbs 3:6).

People frequently tell me that it is encouraging to know that God is willing to help them move forward.  They feel comforted knowing that He is the answer to their internal confusion concerning their future.  It is exciting to discover that embracing your dreams is actually partnering with the Lord's vision for your life.
"The steps of a man are established by the Lord; And He delights in his way"  (Psalm 37:23).