Slow Down

So I have been a little busy this last week. How about you all? Is anyone not busy out there? I feel like we have replaced the word “good” with “busy” when someone asks how we are doing. We have managed to pack our daily lives full of tasks, appointments and people. But in all this busyness, do we still have time for God?

I would argue that probably the thing causing the most damage or harm to a Christian’s walk with God is our schedules. We have hundreds of different people or jobs that require our attention. And because these seem to be more clearly visible and urgent we set our Bible down and go deal with whatever the problem is. We have pushed our time with God back to “when I have a moment.”

But just as any relationship suffers when we don’t invest time into it, so does our relationship with God. If I only spend time with my girlfriend once I have completed all of my other daily tasks she won’t be all too happy and our relationship won’t grow. Yet, for some reason, we do just that with our relationship with God. So how can this change?

Well I don’t have some grand secret to making your life easier. I can’t add an hour to each day or tell you some master plan to improve your efficiency by 25%. But I can tell you some things that have helped me.

First, get your priorities straight. Most of us will make sure we spend time with loved ones. Most of us make sure we sleep 6-10 hours a night. Most of us have time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And many of us make sure to watch the same television program each week. But when it comes to our Bible or prayer time, we just squeeze it into whatever is left. We have given God left overs.

David says in Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” I love this picture of David desiring to know the Lord. Very few of us actually know what it means to be starving. But watch us get just a little hungry and we will not stop until we can eat. Do you ever get like this with the Word of God? Do you ever desire it so much you will not stop until you can study or pray or worship? I think we have our priorities way out of line when our God is given mere left overs.

Secondly, I think we need to simplify. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” We need to find time to be still before the Lord. Devotion time on your way to work in traffic helps the road rage, but doesn’t really help us focus on God. Checking your cell phone at Church every 10 minutes for a score update isn’t being still before the Lord. Praying and doing five other things isn’t being still with God.

I find it interesting that many older people I talk with wake up at 5 or 6 am and do their devotions each morning. It’s not like they got old and started doing this, but have been doing it for over 50 years! Their generation understand the importance of starting the day out in silence with the Lord. If you are having a tough time finding time to be still before God, try waking up a little earlier.

Finally, I think it’s good to schedule or organize time to spend with God. I know some worry that this will take the spiritual aspect out of it, but I can promise it doesn’t. When we get busy, having a schedule makes sense. We schedule other important things in our lives, so why wouldn’t we schedule time for our most important relationship? The thing is, you have to stick to it. We often start with a great schedule, but soon something happens, our schedule gets thrown off, and we are back to handing God whatever was left from our busy day.

This is why scheduling is related to the idea of simplicity and priorities. For example, if I have a date scheduled with my girlfriend, I am not going to call that off unless it is an emergency. Treat your devotion time as if it were a date with your Heavenly Father. Don’t allow it to be something you can do another time, but make it an important part of your daily life.

So I hope that each of us can try to slow down a bit. Yes I know you are busy. I just don’t want your busyness to be your undoing. So get those priorities straight, get organized and even wake up earlier if need be. I can tell you that there is nothing more important than having daily time with God.

Is Gratefulness Dead?

So before I start this week, I need to mention that whole May 21st end of the world thing. I want you all to know that not all Christians were on board with that group. In fact, most of us were completely against it. Matthew 24:36 makes it pretty clear that not even Jesus himself knows when the end will come. So how could we, messed up sinners, presume to know if the Son of God doesn’t even know? But I do want to extend grace and hope to those who did think May 21st was the end. Come back to Jesus. Come back to what the Bible really teaches and not some “secret code” that you think the Bible has. Jesus’ grace is great enough even for misinformed people.

Anyways, this week I thought I would talk about something that has been bothering me lately. It seems more and more people are busy marching along in life, not knowing the dangerous path we are all on. It is the slippery slope of “more”. Our world has become a world of bigger, better, and faster. No matter what culture you live in, the driving force behind it is this idea of getting more. It could be more money, more friends, more happiness, more experience, more knowledge or more anything.

But is this a good thing? Is this drive for more and more really something that is making our lives and those around us better? I am afraid that in our pursuit of “more” we have forgotten two very important words: gratefulness and contentment. Think about it. Nowadays do we talk about someone in a complementary way using those two words? Usually they are used in a negative sense. “He just seems to be content with his life,” is used rather than, “Wow, he is so content with his life!” For some reason we have associated contentment with laziness and lack of ambition.

And this is the lie of “more.” Satan and the world wants us to believe that true joy and life is just barely out of our reach. If we just have a little more (insert whatever you think you need more of) we will have joy and meaning in life. So we keep trying to get more of whatever that thing is but the more we get the more we want! The danger is even when we get what we thought we wanted, we are still left wanting more. It seems to be a never ending cycle.

That’s why I have started to wonder if gratefulness is dead. I had just finished teaching some students and was walking to another lesson earlier this week. Teaching English is often frustrating because the main reason students want to learn English is to get a higher paying job so they can buy more pleasures. As I was walking, I saw a man on a cart who had no legs and was rolling down the street.

That’s when it hit me. All week I had been hearing people with different life problems but very little gratefulness. I heard lots of complaining and worrying but not much contentment. How many of you are grateful you have two working legs? How about two working eyes? Clothes? Three meals a day? Friends? The Internet? How many little things do you take for granted everyday that others would love to have? Look at your life. I can honestly tell you that if you are able to dress yourself each morning and walk to work you are amazingly blessed! Yet instead of being grateful for these blessings we seem to forget how much we really have and complain about minor inconveniences.

The saddest part is that we are so ungrateful for the most amazing gift ever. Yes it is an amazing gift of God that you have good health, enough money to live on and loving friends and family. But all of that is nothing compared to the fact that the only Son of God died for you. A perfect man suffering a terrible death for ungrateful sinners. And instead of being satisfied and content with Jesus we think we need more of what the world offers in order to be happy.

But there is hope. The Bible teaches that the answer to the trap of more is contentment and gratefulness. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). God is enough. Actually God is not just enough, He’s more than enough! You don’t need God and money, God and a good job or God and a spouse. While money, job and spouse are all good things on their own they are not God. True contentment in life can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s what I hope you all do this week. I do want you to find more, but not more of what the world has to offer. My prayer for you all this week is that you would find more of Jesus. That you would love, honor, serve and glorify God more. That you would find your hope and joy not in more stuff but in more Jesus. That you would all realize that God is more than enough for you and that true joy, gratefulness and contentment in life are only found in Him.

May we be like Paul in our outlook on life: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). May we stop seeking more fleeting pleasures and instead seek to know the risen Son of God. May we realize that Jesus Christ is truly more than enough.

What is a Christian?

The last few weeks I have been confronted with the same dangerous idea over and over again. In both China and America I have seen repeated attempts by people to simplify and water down the Gospel in order to make it fit neatly into their lives. It’s amazing how we can change such a positive amazing gift into “pray a prayer” just so we can remain comfortable in our current condition. How can we buy such expensive jewelry and iPhones when many around the world cannot afford food or clothing? How can we own extravagant homes when millions live in shacks or on the street? How can we have state of the art entertainment and sound systems when some people don’t even have a Bible? Something has gone wrong. And I believe it is that we have chosen to change the Gospel into something that fits what we want, rather than allowing ourselves to change according to what the Gospel says.

So what does it really mean to be a Christian? First, you need to know what the word Christian means, because I feel like this word has taken on a completely different meaning in our modern world. The word Christian literally means “Little Christ” or basically, a follower of Jesus Christ. Now think about this. We are told to be like Christ, but is that what people really see when they join our cushioned Sunday performances? Or how about when they see us at work? Or what about on vacation, (but that’s my time off right?). Are you really following Christ in EVERY area of your life or just where it is convenient to do so?

And that’s where I think we have gone wrong. We have compartmentalized the Gospel message down to a Sunday morning service and maybe a study or two during the week. And we try to be honest at work and be good at home so then we can defend ourselves as Christians. But I don’t see that in the Bible. I don’t see comfortable Christianity. I see Jesus saying stuff like this: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38-39. When’s the last time you really felt the weight of those words on your life?

That stands in stark contrast to what Christianity seems to be portraying today. How can I really understand Jesus’ words when the most suffering I have done for my faith is maybe some of my friends think I am silly or foolish. So what does it take to really be a Christian? Well before I start I want you to know I am NOT claiming any kind of works righteousness. We are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and nothing I do or don’t do can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that maybe the faith you have is not based on Jesus or the Bible, but rather on your own comfort or what culture has deemed acceptable.

The truth is, in order to be a Christ follower, you need to give up everything. Everything! Now I’m not talking about quitting your job and becoming a Pastor, (unless you feel like God is telling you to do that), but I am calling you to a full devotion to Christ. You can’t hold onto Jesus and your hopes, dreams, money, family or anything else at the same time.

This is where most people get stuck. They like what Jesus says about forgiveness, grace, and heaven, but not about giving up everything to be with HIM. Jim Elliot, a man killed while trying to share the Gospel understood what it means to follow Christ. He once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

This idea is also displayed in the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31. Today, if an affluent young man ran up to us asking how to be a believer we would probably take them down “Romans Road” or have them pray a prayer. That is not what Jesus did! Instead, Jesus saw that this young man, although sincere in his request, was stilling hanging onto his wealth. So Jesus asked him to give it up which the young man could not do.

I believe this is the true root of unbelief. In Romans 1:19 Paul says that God has clearly shown Himself to us. Yet many still refuse to believe. Why? To give up a life of comfort and ease for a life of suffering doesn’t sound too appealing. We have traded a life of meaning with suffering for a life of comfort with hopelessness! We want to hold onto something else, and Jesus says in order to follow Him we have to let go of it all.

That is why Matthew 13:44-46 is so amazing. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then is his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had a bought it.” When it seems like you are letting go of everything for nothing, you are actually letting go of nothing and gaining everything!

For Non-Christians out there, I challenge you to find value. I challenge you to look at what you are hanging onto for your joy and value in life. As you do that, I challenge you to think about what Jesus said, that the Kingdom of Heaven is of so much more value if you are only willing to let go. Are you willing to give what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose?

For Christians, I imagine many of you probably read this and thought, “Amen brother!” But my question is, will you do anything about it? How many times have we read or heard someone say these words only to allow ourselves back into our routine next week? Something has to change. So why not change now? Whatever you have been holding onto instead of Jesus, are you willing to give it up? Are you willing to say Jesus is of more value than anything this world has to offer? Are you willing to give up some luxuries so others may have some necessities? Are you willing to give until it hurts not just what is extra or left over? Are you willing to leave house, job and family to go proclaim Jesus’ Gospel of Grace to the nations? Do you really believe the Jesus of the Bible or would you rather follow the fake Jesus of culture and comfort? For more on this go check out “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne or “Radical” by David Platt.

May we all see that Jesus’ promises of suffering and hardship are the path to the most amazing blessings. May we all lay down whatever distractions and comforts Satan has put into our lives and instead take up our cross. May we let go of our own comfortable made up version of Jesus in order to know, love and honor the true Jesus of the Bible. May we count Jesus as more valuable than family, job, money, comfort, happiness, or anything else the world claims to offer. If we do this, we will know what it means to be a Christian.