The Greatest Cause

One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is how a lot people get involved with various causes.

Why do people do this? Because people like to get participate in causes they believe will bring about change and make things better.

Nothing wrong with that!

For example, some people like to advocate for better treatment of pets, the elderly or minorities. Other people get passionate about issues such as urban renewal, stopping domestic violence or ending abortion. Some people are all about cleaning up the environment or making food safer.

You’ve likely noticed that the internet is brimming with advocacy websites where people can give money, sign petitions or register to volunteer.

The disruptions of 2020, whether they be due to medical, political or social issues, have only added to the amount of causes which people can attach themselves to.

Some causes are great, while some are suspect. Some causes are propelled by pure motives; others have roots that are more insidious. It takes a bit of discernment to figure the difference between a good cause and a cause that may be misguided!

The primary reason I know people are engaged in various causes is mainly through social media. That’s where I find people posting about the causes they believe in and the actions they feel should take place to resolve some of life’s problems.

There are a lot of causes I’m all for. Our world is far from perfect, and sometimes we need advocates to help bring about change in order to better our world.

But when it comes to our myriad of causes, I have a thought: for us Christians, we ought not pursue our cause to the point it impedes or supersedes the cause of the Gospel. That’s because sharing and spreading the Gospel is the greatest cause. Nothing else comes close!

More than anything in this life, people need to know about the forgiveness and peace and restoration that comes from embracing a relationship with Jesus.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t get involved in worthy causes. I’m just saying we ought not  let our investment in our particular cause do anything that might veer people away from clearly seeing Jesus and his message of spiritual reconciliation. Practically speaking, my concern would be that we become too combative or dismissive toward others as we seek to advance our cause.

I’m thinking that we ought never allow our advocacy (for whatever we might be passionate about) make it harder for someone to find new life in Christ.

See, we typically embrace a cause because we care. We believe in the mission. Which is great!  (It really doesn’t make sense to join of a cause that really doesn’t interest you.)

Yet, I wonder if such passion and devotion can sometimes cause us to become so wrapped up in our personal cause that we temporarily forget about the cause above all causes.

In other words, as a result of a strong devotion to our personal cause, we might be in danger of building barriers to the Gospel rather than constructing of bridges.

Simply put, if I’m not willing to defer my passion for my personal cause for the greater cause of reaching others for Christ, I likely need to check my heart and reestablish my priorities.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul wrote about his rights and authority as an apostle. Yet, even though Paul possessed these rights, he didn’t feel he had to insist upon them being practiced. Paul let the Corinthians know that, if he wanted to, he could have pressed them in a few areas, such as being monetarily supported for his labor and having a family. In other words, Paul could have pressed his causes upon the Corinthian Christians.

But what does Paul say the causes he could have pushed? Check out his response:

If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News. (1 Corinthians 9:17-18 NLT)

Bottom line, Paul was a man who, like a lot of us, had opinions and passions about things, but he knew when to set those opinions and passions aside whenever the Gospel was involved.

So, causes are great. It’s good to have issues we are concerned about and seek to do something about them. I’m all for making our world a better place.

But may we never lose sight of the greatest of causes: the message of light, life, grace and hope. More than anything, people need Jesus.

 

The Garden Many Christians Ignore

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (CSB)

The recently passed J.I Packer once commented on the state of the American church like this:

“The North American church is 3000 miles wide and 1 inch deep.”

That’s just a fancy way of saying, in a general sense, we are shallow.

We may have large church buildings.

We may have burgeoning church programs.

We may have large church attendance.

But at the end of the day, if Packer is correct, many of us are grossly undeveloped in regard to our spiritual maturity. Simply put, we’re putting more energy into creating facades than into laying foundations.

Here’s a reason I think this happens: its much easier to work on the appearance of godliness than actually doing the hard work of pursuing godliness.

If all we do is try to appear mature, it won’t take much for the superficiality of our so-called maturity to be revealed. The smallest trial will unravel us because we were not equipped to handle it.

As a result, when any sort of pain, suffering or challenge comes our way, we quickly become unglued. We can’t help ourselves, let alone anyone offer assistance to anyone else. We fall apart rather than stand firm.

So what’s the problem?

From my vantage point, I would say the problem is our refusal to tend to our inner life.

In other words, we aren’t willing to apply ourselves to the discipline of spiritual development. Likely because it’s hard work!

The issue of spiritual shallowness is nothing new. Paul gave his protégé Timothy a clear and distinct charge in order to be effective in his ministry:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV)

So, what do I mean when I speak of the inner life? I’d describe the inner life as what’s going on inside of us. Its the collection of our thoughts, our attitudes and our emotions.

When the inner life is untended, the outer life is usually a mess.

  • When we think in a worldly, selfish manner, we typically lack in love, humility and servanthood. As a result, we operate out of pride, greed, lust or envy.
  • When our attitudes are driven by the flesh, we often say or do things that aren’t life-giving, but tear down and destroy. Thus, our mindset is set on survival rather than servanthood.
  • When our emotions are unchecked, our life can look like a roller coaster, hurtling up, down and around. We lack self-control, which results in a lot of collateral damage

The truth is that rather doing ministry, many of us with untended inner lives need to be ministered to!

I think some of the reasons our inner lives are so neglected include our over-busy lives, an overabundance of distractions,  and a culture that celebrates performance and production to the exclusion of faithfulness and thoughtfulness.

Add to the mix our propensity toward laziness and disobedience, which only make matters worse.

See, spiritual maturity demands effort. And just like physical exercise, we only grow when we experience some sort of resistance.

Charles Stanley right made this observation:

“Adversity is not simply a tool. It is God’s most effective tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as setbacks are oftentimes the very things that launch us into periods of intense spiritual growth. Once we begin to understand this, and accept it as a spiritual fact of life, adversity becomes easier to bear.”

Another challenge is that, in some quarters of contemporary Christianity, tending to the inner life is seen as mystical, non-productive and self-indulgent. Some will view slowing down to tend to the soul as “touchy-feely,” wimpy or selfish.

The problem with this is that, no matter how much we may deny it, we are multi-faceted human beings, and it does us no good to ignore any aspect of our being. Like it our not, we are emotional beings! Avoiding the emotional aspect of our personhood is a recipe for disaster.

I wonder: could it be that the American value of rugged individualism is actually hindering our ability to grow as a whole person?

I have a hunch that for many of us, the real challenge is tending to our inner life this: we are fearful to look within because we know its a mess. Sort of like that closet we know needs to be cleaned, but every time we open the door to begin the task, we feel overwhelmed and simply close the door. And so the closet remains in its state of disorder.

One more thought: generally speaking, as American Christians, we’re better at doing than we are being. We like to be busy and produce, but struggle with practices that slow us down. Prayer, scripture meditation, fasting and reflection seem terribly slow to us. We like to be on task, but are less interested in preparing for the task.

For these reasons (and certainly a few more) the garden of our inner life goes untended. Rather than flourishing with fruit, it is overrun with weeds. Yet, we don’t seem bothered enough to do much about it.

Such an attitude reminds me of the story about a woodcutter who failed to take time to sharpen his ax:

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant. The pay was really good and so were the working conditions. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best.

His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he would work.

The first day, the woodcutter felled 18 trees.

“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!”

Motivated by the boss words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring down 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only manage 10 trees. Day after day, he finished with fewer trees.

“I must be losing my strength,” the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?,” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I’ve had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been so busy trying to cut trees….”

Perhaps a way to think about our inner life is in relation to root systems. Some trees are beautiful, but because their root systems are shallow, they are easy to knock over. But other trees, like the cypress trees that inhabit the stormy coastline of central California have deep root systems, which allow those trees to stand in the midst of battering winds and rain.

Here’s the bottom line: what takes place in our outer life is inseparable from what’s going on in our inner being.

If our root system is compromised, then the trunk, branches, leaves and fruit of our outer life will most certainly be negatively impacted.

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Primary Roles Jesus Plays in our Daily Lives

To be a disciple of Jesus means we allow Jesus to get into our lives.

A disciple cannot push Jesus to the sideline, but must allow Jesus to become central to all we are and all we do.

But what is it that Jesus is meant to do in our lives? What roles is He supposed to fulfill?

Of course, Jesus is our savior. At the moment of placing our faith on Him, we are immediately transferred from death to life, from darkness to light and from gloom to hope. Through Jesus, God adopts us into our family and secures our place as participants in His kingdom.

But then what? How is Jesus supposed to function within our daily existence?

Here’s one way I look at it: at any given time, Jesus is meant to serve as either our comforter or our challenger.

Said another way, Jesus either acts as our peace or our provocateur. Depending upon our need at the moment, Jesus will either console us or goad us.

Jesus, our Comforter

In regard to comfort, the Scripture that comes to mind are these reassuring words from Jesus found in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

Truth be told, the entire Trinity of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are concerned about our comfort during times of suffering or affliction. Jesus told His disciples that when he left the earth, He would leave them the Holy Spirit. One of the ways Jesus described the Holy Spirt was being “the Comforter.”

And in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul wrote about the comforting ministry that God provides to His children who are dealing with pain or persecution:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV)

I wonder, how many of us miss out on the blessings that come from God’s ministry of comforting?

Jesus, our Challenger

The other role I see Jesus playing is that of challenger.

The idea being that sometimes we need a gentle push from Jesus to do the right thing.

Although we may from time to time receive comfort from Jesus, the journey of discipleship is rarely comfortable.

That’s because the way of Jesus is typically quite different than how we would do things on our own.

  • Naturally, we are drawn toward pride. But Jesus pushes us to be humble.
  • We love to be in charge. But Jesus calls his followers to be servants.
  • Many of us are up for a fight. But Jesus calls on us to be peacemakers.
  • On our own, forgiveness is hard. But Jesus presses us to consistently practice forgiveness.

Discipleship includes the hard work of facing our sin, repenting, and turning in a new direction.

Through discipleship, Jesus will over and over challenge our natural man to die so that the spiritual man can live. Which isn’t always easy for us. In our western individualist society we do not emphasize Jesus’ values and therefore discipleship requires overcoming huge strongholds of the mind and heart.

But no one can say that Jesus didn’t warn us about the difficulty of discipleship. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. (CSB)

When we come to Jesus we are like a ball of unformed clay. But God’s desire is to see that we become more conformed to the image of Christ. And so, we will push, prod and poke us in order that we shed the selfish and sinful attitudes of  our “old man” in deference to the values and commands of Jesus.

My hunch is that we are likely more welcoming to Jesus the consoler than Jesus the provocateur.

We’d much rather have a comforting hug than be goaded to change our ways.

But the disciple of Jesus needs to become comfortable with Jesus playing both roles.

And my guess is we probably need a bit more challenging than we need comforting.