‘Thank you Lord, that I am not like other men.’

A friend of mine recently told me that he was doing a lot better now at not sinning than he was doing before he became a Christian.

This struck me as an odd thing to say. What would possess a Christian, who’s been freed from sin by the blood of Christ, to say something along those lines?

It seems as though his personal performance is pregnant on his mind. I hear a lot of performance based preaching these days from the mega church preachers that seem to dominate the radio waves here in Southern California.

 Is there some correlation to the preaching of the law for betterment and the notion that one could actually be improving on the ‘sins‘ scorecard?

                             – Steve

‘Getting Busy’

San Clemente PierWhy do Christians, ‘get busy’?

  Is it because they are told to do so? “It says so right heConstruction Workerre in 3rd Smithsonians that we ought do X,Y, and Z”

“Well, now that you’re a Christian ( did the deal , accepted Christ , made your decision, yada yada yada), you just can’t live any way you want!”

“You need to show the fruits of the Spirit!”

Is this ‘getting at it’, inspiration of the Spirit…or a response to the demand of the law?

Is there a difference, and how can you tell the difference if there is one?

   Thanks,

             – Steve

‘I’m Very Thankful for All the Bad Things in my Life’

 Right.

Isn’t that what scripture says…we are to be thankful to God for all things…good and bad?

 Last night, probably for the first time in my life, I actually was thankful to God for the bad things in my life. It was such a strange feeling. I really felt thankful about the bad stuff knowing that God was somehow using all this pain and suffering for a good purpose.

I’ve gotta be truthful (well, I don’t have to be ), usually when I thank God for the bad stuff I really don’t mean it. I do it because we are suppossed to do it. Now, I know that He knows that I don’t mean it, but I figure…what’s the harm in saying it anyway?

But last night it was different.I really meant it. But it came and went so fast it would make your head spin.  A flicker, and then it was gone. It was a real comfort to me for that brief moment. A glimpse (maybe) of what trusting God is all about.

Will that real trust in God return to me? I can’t really say. Part of me doesn’t want it to. That would mean that the pain would still be there from my broken life and the broken lives of my family.

Is it wrong to actually want to trade trust in God for a pain free life?

Do you ever have similar contradictions in your walk of faith?

Thanks.

                  – Steve

‘A Dismal Failure’

Another day has come to an end.  And as I think about the day, and what I did for others and how much I thought about my Lord, I have to admit…I was once again, a dismal failure at loving God and my neighbor as myself.

If the equation is: that 100% of my time loving God and my neigh
hbor as myself is passing, or what’s expected of me, I’d have to say that today I was at about 5% God and my neighbor, and about 95% me and my concerns.

Shall I try harder tomorrow to even out that ratio a bit? Or will I, in the trying, actually worsen the ratio because now my motives will be shot to hell?

      – Steve

‘ Shouldn’t I be Getting Better? ‘

I’ve been a Christian now for about 50 years or so.

 So you would think that by now I would really be exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, doing all kinds of great things, large and small, and sinning less and less all the time.

But that is not the case. Actually, I don’t think I’m doing very many great things at all, compared to the likes of the Mother Teresas of this world. I haven’t given up my material possesions as Jesus tells His would-be disciples to do. I do not love God and my neighbors as myself. In fact, I quite often can’t stand my God and my neighbors.

As I get closer to the appointed meeting with my Lord, I really (for the most part) see myself as for what and who I really am; the biggest sinner that ever walked the face of the earth.

Sometimes I lay in bed at night and think of people that were long ago forgotten in my life, people that I did hurtful things to. People who’s lives may have been irrreparibly damaged…by me. I think also of the many good things that I had chances to do, but never did do.

I sometimes think of what Pastor Mark tells us, that “it’s not my worst that I should worry about when it comes to God, but rather my best. For the best thing that I have ever done on the best day day of my life…isn’t good enough either.”

This seems like a hopeless situation. I don’t seem to be able to, or desire to do the things that my Lord has commanded me to do. I guess that means I could be in for a really rough go of it on judgement day.

And that would certainly be true, if it were not for one thing that we haven’t talked about until now. I have a Savior. Someone loved me enough to die for me. Someone loved me enough to forgive everything I’ve ever done wrong and everything I’ll ever do wrong. Someone has put my old sinful self to death, on that cross 2,000 years ago, and in a more personal, tangible way, 50 years ago in my baptism.(Romans 6)

So now, as St. Paul says (also in Romans 6), I am to consider myself dead to sin. It’s as if it never happened. I was washed clean, for all eternity, in the waters of my baptism along with the Word of God’s Promise to be my God. He says to me, “you are mine”. He has adopted me into His family.

So whenever I dredge up those memories of wreckage that I’ve caused , I am to realize that these accusations of unworthiness are a lie.  I am worthy. Not because of anything that I have done, or will yet do, but because of what Jesus has done , is doing, and will yet do…for me.

I am declared righteous…for Jesus’ sake.

Getting better for the sake of my employer, my neighbor, my family, is always a good thing. Getting better for the sake of my Lord is not possible beyond what He has already done for me.

If you disagree with what I’ve said, that’s ok, but I would like to know why you feel I’m wrong on this one.

           Thanks.

                     – Steve Martin

I Am Not Spiritual

You who are spiritual….explain yourselves.
by William MacKinnon

I had an epiphany of sorts a few days ago while in my car. I was on the way to the hospital to see a church member who was sick. My revelation struck me so forcefully that I believe I said it out loud. “I’m not spiritual.” Then I proceeded to try to figure out what that meant.

I am a Christian. I am a follower of Christ and a believer in the bible. You might point out that to also say “I’m not spiritual” seems to be a contradiction. I agree. I’m somewhat bothered by it. You see there are so many things that seem to go with Christian spirituality that I’m missing that it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

Let me preface things by saying that I believe I have a spirit, whatever that means. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the attitudes and feelings that should go along with being a Christian that I’m quite obviously deficient in. I’m going to list them here and articulate them as best I can. Perhaps some of you will relate to these. Perhaps you will conclude that a) I’m a horrible Christian, or b) I’m not a Christian at all.

Prayer is hard for me: It shouldn’t be, should it? It’s hard for me to discipline myself to do it, hard to focus on what I should pray for and hard to remember to do it as often as I think I should.

I don’t lose myself in worship: I should, shouldn’t I? I don’t. My mind wanders, I sometimes get sleepy. I’m aware of people coughing and babies crying. I pick up on mistakes I think the preacher makes and miss the point of the sermon. During the singing, often my main thought is “are we ever going to be allowed to sit?”

I’m embarrassed by public displays of piety: Isn’t that what it’s all about? I’m not just talking about FALSE piety, but sincere also. I don’t say things like “Praise the Lord” and cringe a little when other people say it around me. “Thank God” doesn’t bother me but anything stronger makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to pray in public. I don’t always pray before I eat.

I don’t like witness-wear: In fact, I’m more than a little ashamed of it. Does this mean Christ is ashamed of me? Shouldn’t I be loading up on Tommy Hellfighter tee shirts and Got Jesus? sweaters? Who am I to criticize the sincere efforts of others to share their faith?

I’m not humble: Don’t Christians have to be? This is a constant struggle with me. I teach two adult classes, and love to do so. But I also like to hear the sound of my own voice and almost always think I’m right. Doesn’t that disqualify me?

I’m not burdened: Not much anyway. Aren’t real Christians always burdened? For the lost, the poor, the sick, etc? I share my faith, and my resources, and I pray. But shouldn’t I be spending more time in holy anguish over these things?

I don’t read my bible every day: Shouldn’t I want to? I read it and have read it quite a bit, but I don’t make it every day. Am I in the minority here?

I sometimes have doubts: About God, my faith, etc. Other Christians don’t, do they? I’m not saying I’m wracked with doubts, but sometimes they are there. I’m not always 100% sure of my faith. Is anything less acceptable?

I don’t feel God: This is a big one. What’s wrong with me? I’m not even sure I know what that means. I’ve been happy, joyful, contemplative, serious, reverent, etc. It that God? What does God feel like? I believe in His presence because the bible assures me of His presence. Is that enough? I don’t have a lot of “experiences” that many other Christians seem to have. What do I do about that? When the worship leader or preacher stands up and says “if you can’t sense the Spirit after that song (or message), you’ve got something wrong with you!”, I’m the one who shrinks back in his seat amid all the amens and head bobbing.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but I think you get the idea. Pretty bad eh? So what is the solution? Spend more time with God? Well, I believe God is with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so squeezing more time in there is going to be tricky. Read my bible more often? Several years ago I spent weeks reading my bible for hours a day, every day. While tremendously beneficial in many ways, it didn’t really address the things listed above. Pray more? See #1 listed above.

Or perhaps the easiest conclusion for you to reach is that I need to really get saved, and “all these things will be added unto me.” Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. There’s a snag however. I really am saved, that is, if the bible really is true. Trust me, I’ve been through the “are you sure that you’re sure” wringer. I’ve had preachers from all over the country make me doubt my salvation. And believe me; some of them are very good at what they do.

But I keep coming back to the same question. Is the bible true? I hope it is, because I’m placing my trust in what it says, and not how I feel. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I have confessed Him with my mouth. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Should I trust the bible; or an experience (or lack thereof)?

So let’s take the “he’s not really a Christian” option off the table for a moment. Where does that leave me? Well, there’s still the “he’s just a lousy Christian” alternative. While that may be true, I don’t think it serves our purpose for this discussion.

Is it possible; just possible, that I (and others) might be wrong about what it means to be spiritual? Could it be that daily bible reading, public piety, long prayers and religious clothing aren’t a true measure of spirituality? I recall that the Pharisees had all these things and that Jesus wasn’t impressed with them.

Let’s take a step back and start with the word itself. The word “spiritual” as used in the New Testament is the Greek word pneumatikos, and the lexical definition is: one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God. Well, like most lexical definitions, that’s not terribly helpful, but if we can look at the word in its context, perhaps we’ll get a feel for the true meaning. The New Testament actually only uses the word a few times as a personal descriptor, so we don’t have to do an exhaustive study. In fact, 1st Corinthians contains the greatest number of references. In Chapter 2:14,15, Paul uses the word Spiritual as a contrast to Natural, i.e.: Christian versus non-Christian, so that’s not much help. In Chapter 3 he uses it as a contrast to Carnal or babes in Christ. The remainder of the references carry the same general meaning as the verses in Chapter 3: mature. To be spiritual as a Christian is to be mature in your faith. Not a babe. Not a novice. Not carried about with every wind of doctrine and new idea that comes out. To be mature is to have a measure of wisdom. To be mature (spiritual) is to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in a recognizable way. And guess what? None of the above (or rather, their converse) appear in the list of Spiritual fruits in Galatians 5:22. A person may exhibit any or all of the characteristics I listed above, and still have a measure of maturity. A person may exhibit the opposite of any or all of the qualities listed above and still not be spiritual.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not patting myself on the back because I’ve concluded the things above don’t matter. Far from it. Prayer, scripture reading, humility, etc are all good things! (Except witness-wear. Sorry) I haven’t concluded that I really am spiritual. Just that the things I listed aren’t true indicators. I haven’t decided to stop striving. Just to change my focus.

So where does that leave me? Do I fit the biblical definition of Spirituality? I don’t know. I’d prefer to leave that judgment to someone else. I may not be humble but I’m smart enough to know that I should try to be. Back to square one? No, not really. You see, I can look back, and see where God has brought me from. I may not sense the Spirit, but I can see the fruit of His presence. I may not feel led, but I can see where I have been led. I may be growing slowly but I know I’m growing. So I’ll keep on. What else can I do? Maybe these other things will come to me in time. Maybe they won’t. I don’t really care all that much. I have faith, and He is faithful. I am satisfied with that.

Bill Mackinnon

Where does this leave you? Is your “spirituality” something that you cultivate, or work on in the sense that you have something to do with it?

Thanks.

     – Steve

‘Does Motivation Count?’

When I was a kid, my parents often gave me jobs to do around the house. Yardwork was mainly the area of my responsibilities as I had sisters that took care of the chores inside the house.

When I was specifically told what to do, I did it, for better or worse, out of a sense of duty. I usually did a good job, and was normally happy with myself and my parents were generally satisfied with the job that I did. But it was just that…a job. It was a task that was required of me and I did it.

Every great once in a while, I would take upon myself a job that was not required of me. One that my parents had not asked me to do. Something that just needed to be done. It seems that I can almost remember exactly what these things were (as opposed to the regular mundane chores) that I did, more or less spontaneously.  One time I reworked the brick walkway that led to our frontdoor and sanded and repainted the porch outside the front of the house.

No one had asked me to do it. It wasn’t even mentioned in passing that it needed to be done. But I did it. And I went about this work, which was far more difficult  than my normal duties, with great joy.

My parents were thrilled when they saw it. I was given lots of thanks and praise for what I had done.

There is definitely a distinction between the two types of work that I had engaged in as a youngster. One was because I had to do it, and the other was because I wanted to do it.

Do you think my motivation in the second example showed a sense of selflessness, and was therefore the better work?

Are there any parallels to be drawn when we look at ourselves today in the light of our obedience to what God requires of us?

         – Steve

‘ Casual Comfortable, or Vestments ?’

If my pastor wants to suddenly shed his vestments for a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops, what difference does that make?

 Just because a pastor wants to be comfortable and look  like the people he (or she) serves during a worship service, is that necessarily a bad thing?

In my neck of the woods (and in many places) this seems to be happening more and more with pastors.

 Does this trend alarm you, or is it perfectly natural and practically harmless…or even beneficial?

  Thanks!

            – Steve

‘The Impulse to “DO”…

We just have to contribute . If not…then we are nothing.

We will not to be nothing. We must be something. So then, where does God fit in?

If we will not let God be everything (because we want a piece of the action), then we relagate Him to nothing, and we become everything (with the best of intentions), we have just replaced God with ourselves. 

This turns everything upside down. That probably tickles the devil to no end.

 “Doing” was the status quo before Jesus arrived on the scene. So He lives a sinless life, and is crucified on the cross for…the status quo to continue?

If we are all going to be lined up and judged according to our efforts, than what was that death for? Was it even necessary?

                            – Steve