How to Keep Your Christian Life Healthy

Let me just say this: it’s fairly easy to have an “out-of-balance” Christian life.

  • We can easily become filled with knowledge about God, but allow that knowledge to make us prideful. (Check out 1 Corinthians 8:1)
  • We can distort the teachings of God’s Word and become life-sucking, heart-crushing legalists. (Try Matthew 23:23 or Colossians 2:20-23)
  • We can become practitioners of something I’ve heard described as “sloppy agape,” the idea being our expression of compassion far outweighs a love for truth. (Take a look at Romans 6:1…or read 1 Corinthians 5)
  • Or, we can appear to others as having a Christian life that is nice and tidy and impactful, yet on the inside, our hearts could be far from God. (Consider Luke 16:15)

Remember the story Jesus told about two people who went to pray? One was a religious Pharisee who, supposedly, had all of his spiritual ducks in a row. He even bragged about it, causing him to look down on the other.

The other man simply admitted his failings. He didn’t brag, he confessed.

To complete the story, Jesus commended the second man, saying he would walk away from that prayer session justified by God.

So, how does one keep their Christian life from going out of whack? How do we maintain health and movement and vitality in our pursuit of worshiping God, growing spiritually, serving others and reaching the world?

May I suggest three things will keep us both grounded and moving:

First, pursue correct Christian doctrine

We must ground our spiritual life upon the truth God provides for us in His Word.

Otherwise, we’ll be led by our emotions and preferences.

Most churches have what’s called a statement of faith. It’s a document that often begins with the words, “We believe.” In this statement, declarations are made about the nature of God, the problem of sin, the work of Jesus, the conditions of salvation, the usefulness of the Bible, and so on.

And (hopefully), such conclusions are made by studying the Bible.

But, Christian doctrine isn’t just made up of static facts about God. It also includes how Christians are supposed to act. Which brings up the second aspect of a healthy Christian life:

Second, pursue proper Christian practice.

It’s not enough to know a bunch of information about God. No, the Christian realizes that a relationship with God impacts our attitudes and actions.

We are not only called to know about the faith, we are called to practice it.

James 1:22-25 is a shining example of how dangerous it is to be a Christian in mind only:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (ESV)

The Bible offers a balance between things we can know about God and what we can do for God.

To say we know God, yet live in opposition to how he calls us to live is an absolute paradox that is not meant to exist. Rather our knowledge of God is intended to be fully integrated in the daily decisions of our lives.

Finally, one more thing that pulls everything together:

Lastly, pursue pure Christian motives.

If we don’t act out of right motives, we stand as hypocrites before a holy God.

If we do things to draw attention to ourselves, we short-circuit our spirituality.

In Matthew 6, Jesus offered this stern and sobering warning to those of us who would try to appear saintly, all the while operating from ulterior motives:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 ESV)

And completely complementing what Jesus said, Paul wrote:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3 ESV)

The Pharisees often appeared religiously together on the outside, but the conditions of their heart were their undoing. No other group of people received such harsh condemnation from Jesus as these men did with compromised motives.

Of them, Jeremy Taylor offered:

“The Pharisees minded what God spoke, but not what He intended. They were busy in the outward work of the hand, but incurious of the affections and choice of the heart. So God was served in the letter, they did not much inquire into His purpose; and therefore they were curious to wash their hands, but cared not to purify their hearts.”

So, here’s my simple prescription to make sure our spiritual lives are lined up for God-approved success.

  1. Right doctrine
  2. Right practice
  3. Right motives

Those three working together will produce a believer full of truth, grace, and compassion.

And such a soul can expect to be both blessed and used by God.

 

 

 

 

Come Out of Hiding

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8 ESV)

When nearly three-year-old grandson Jude is over at the house, it’s not uncommon for me, on a whim, to shout out to him, “Let’s hide from Gaga and Aaron!”

To which Jude immediately starts laughing uncontrollably as we run across the house in search of a spot to conceal ourselves.

He loves this game!

Not long after we’ve hidden behind a door or crouched behind a bed, Gaga and Aaron will start tromping through the house, calling out, “Where are you guys?”

Now I could hide for a looooong time. That’s what the game is about, right?

But not Jude. As soon as hears those voices calling out to him, he starts squealing, and sometimes he answers their calls by saying, “We’re here!”

And sometimes he won’t even wait to be found, but will instead run out and find those from whom he is supposed to hiding from.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with a lot of kids under 4 years of age.

For most of them, the concept of hiding just isn’t natural. And so they can’t play the game for very long.

There is a certain strain from being humanly disconnected that, in pretty short order, creates more tension then these kids can stand. The result? They dash back into relationship. That’s their comfort zone.

But somewhere along the line, many of us actually become more adept and more comfortable at hiding.

We learn to become deceptive.

Or, our guilt, shame or embarrassment motivates us to somehow “go off the grid.”

For many of us, hiding makes sense.

This can be particularly true in our relationship with God.

Rather than running to Him, we can find ourselves avoiding Him.

Perhaps this was an aspect of what Jesus meant when he called his followers to practice a faith that could be compared to that of a child.

See, kids aren’t comfortable with hiding. But many of us certainly are.

So, we hide from God…or try and deceive God…or perhaps try to avoid God.

Rather than maintaining a joyous relationship with Him, we spend more time trying to get away from His presence.

If you recall the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), once that selfish son received his early inheritance from his father, he immediately dashed off to a far-off city.

The reason? Partly so he could do whatever he wanted (even if he knew it was wrong), but also so he wouldn’t have to deal with the disappointed gaze of his father.

He was hiding by means of geographical distance!

And sometimes the Christian is tempted to do the same.

Which is why this verse from the Book of Jeremiah ought to be burned into the frontal lobes of our minds:

“Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 ESV)

It is possible to hide from our fellow human beings. But hiding from God is an impossibility.

We’re not fooling Him. We’re just fooling ourselves.

When we do sin, the best way to handle is not by hiding, but running to restore the relationship.

Not waiting to see if God will find us, but sprinting to find him to make things right.

1 John 1:9 provides the course of action that brings us back into fellowship with God after we have broken it:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)

Last thought:

Just as God provided clothing made of animal skins for Adam and Eve (for the purpose of covering not only their bodies, but also their shame), God provided Jesus to be the answer to our problem of broken fellowship with God.

God has provided a way for a reconciled relationship!

So running and hiding doesn’t really make any sense.

But running to Him to experience His love, grace and forgiveness does.

Gaining Spiritual Traction: The Necessity of the Word

Allow me to start this post off with a propositional statement:

The spiritual activities (some call them “disciplines”) that help us grow as followers of Jesus demand our personal involvement.

We can’t appreciate these activities from afar. We have to become engaged with them.

Trying to engage in spiritual growth apart from spiritual disciplines might be likened to trying to become a bodybuilder by simply storing weights in our garage.

So…what is it that God has for us that puts us in position to see ourselves start seeing some real, significant growth?

Completely vital to spiritual development is what I call the washing of the Word.

This is the idea that we don’t just bump up against the Bible now and again…but that we continually wallow in it!

Here’s my take: just as important as it is for the Christian to in tune and influenced by the Holy Spirit, the believer has to have thoughtful, prayerful interaction with the Bible.

See, one of the  primary functions of the Holy Spirit is to help God’s Word make sense to us!

This is called the ministry of illumination!

But the ministry won’t happen unless we have something to be illumuned!

For many, the Bible is nothing more than a big, intimidating book that is best left in the hands of scholars and theologians.

But that’s not God’s heart.

God wants each one of us to read the Bible, study the Bible, learn the Bible, listen to the Bible, think about the Bible, apply the Bible and even memorize the Bible?

By means of the Bible, we get to learn these basics:

  • The character and nature of God.
  • The will of God.
  • The plans of God.
  • Our standing before God. (Not such good news)
  • Our way back to God.
  • Our design and purpose from God
  • Principles for successful, God-pleasing living.

To accomplish this, God uses the various writing forms such as:

  • Biography
  • History
  • Personal letters
  • Poetry and song
  • Prophecies

And running throughout the Bible, from cover to cover, from Genesis through Revelation is this one consistent theme: Redemption.

Boiled down to its most basic, the Bible tells the story of how a holy God accomplishes the task of bring lost, wandering, rebellious sinners back into a relationship with Him.

No wonder we ought to be interested in what the Word says!

Jesus said this in John 8:31: “If you abide in my Word, you are my disciples indeed.”

Here’s the deal: I believe it is downright impossible to be a God-pleasing follower of Jesus without some awareness of what the Bible says!

We don’t become disciples in a void.

We need the direction and instruction and inspiration and encouragement and exhortation that only the Bible can provide.

Regarding the usefulness of the Bible, Paul wrote these words to his pastor-in-training, Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

How’s that for a ringing endorsement of how the Bible can make an impact on a person’s life?!

Regarding the value of the Bible in the life of the Christian, pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie said this:

“To a great measure, success or failure in the Christian life depends on how much of God’s Word we get into our hearts and minds on a regular basis and how obedient we are to it.

Everything we need to know about God is taught in the Bible. If we neglect the study of Scripture, then our spiritual life ultimately will fall into disrepair.”

Let me part with a series of questions designed to help you evaluate your relationship with the Bible.

  • Is God’s Word affecting you today?
  • Is it sustaining your life?
  • Is it controlling your thoughts, which will ultimately affect your actions?
  • Does the Bible inform how you conduct yourself within your family, the workplace or out in the community?

When Clinging To a Toxic Past Negatively Impacts the Health of our Present

This morning the following quote showed up on my Facebook page via Michael Newnham:

“We can spend our whole lives working for the approval of people with whom we do not belong. That’s not a good way to spend a life. Instead, let’s work from a position of belovedness and acceptance before God to serve the people with whom we do belong.” ~ Zach Hoag

And, as often is the case, the quote gurgled around in my mind throughout the day.

Here’s some of the stuff that reverberated in my cranium:

There are times in life when, out of necessity, we must make a clean break from a group to which we once belonged. Or at least thought we belonged.

But in some cases, making the break can be harder than it seems.

Even though we have come to the realization that we have little or nothing in common with our former tribe, we still worry about their attention and desire their approval.

For example let’s consider someone I’ll call Bill,

Bill was raised in a church that was highly legalistic and condemning. But as he entered his adult years, Bill began to learn more about the loving grace of God, coming to an understanding that God was not against him, but for him.

As a result, Bill now has a handle on a fuller, more complete theology of God.

When it comes to his selection of a church, Bill makes a concerted effort to be part of a healthy, well-balanced body that offers both truth and grace.

Yet, even though Bill has learned about the gracious God “who so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son,” he still has a tendency to look back at the spiritual tribe of his youth.

In other words (if I may employ a driving metaphor) even though Bill has a great stretch of road ahead of him, he has a proclivity to keep glancing in the rear view mirror. Bill checks his old church’s Facebook from time to time. He asks people from his prior tribe about the group’s latest decisions and plans. In one way or another, his former group haunts his mind like ghosts hovering around a graveyard.

  • I’ve seen this happen with people trying to escape the culture of drug use.
  • I’ve seen it in the way a person obsesses about the activities a former boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • And I’ve also witnessed among those who expand both spiritually and theologically.

In trying to identify the reason for such struggle, I think it all comes down to a desire to be either loved, appreciated, understood or respected.

Maybe it’s a combination of all those factors.

But, often, there will be none of things available to us from our former clan.

Instead, the only thing we find is a steady stream of judgement, ridicule and punishment

The result for us? Anger, depression, despondency.

Which ought to be a clue  for us that it’s time for us to shake the dust from our sandals and move on.

Yet, for some of us, even with the obvious staring us in the face, even after being dragged over the coals again and again, we keep going back in hopes that, after all this time, something might be different.

For some sick, strange reason, we want them to be our people even though we know they can’t be our people.

It’s as if our old relationships have a hold on us similar to the grip of nicotine.

Perhaps J.C. Watts was onto something when he said:

It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.

Now, the idea behind this post is NOT that we go through life looking for reasons to break our connections and sabotage our relationships.

Much of the Bible speaks to the great effort we are to make at staying in communion and fellowship with others.

But, there are those cases where some of our former relationships have everything in common with a toxic dump.

And, revealing that not all the fault lies just with the poisonous people of our past, the way we handle these relationships often reveals there is still some dysfunction taking place in our hearts and minds.

As to our relationship with God, 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (ESV)

I like this verse because it reminds us that the old has passed away. But this truth is something we need to practice in order to make reality.

Here are my final words on the topic:

It can be painful to cut the cord. It can be traumatic to break the chain,

But if the noxious people of our past our holding us back in any way from making the most with the people in our present (or presence), we need to do something about it.

We have to decide to embrace the tribe in which we belong, not the tribe that keeps telling us they don’t like us, don’t understand us and don’t want us.