Parachurch Leaders – Rethinking Our Spiritual Authority

Tim was a part of a group of passionate young believers on campus.  He was being discipled by a Christian just a couple of years older than he was.  One day, Tim’s discipler came to him and said, “we’ve all decided that we’re moving to California.  Get ready, we’re leaving in a week.”  The assumption that this older Christian made was that he was the spiritual authority for Tim, so he expected him to simply submit to that authority.

Similar stories could be repeated:

  • A campus ministry leader tells a student that she’s not allowed to get a tattoo, and she needs to obey their spiritual authority.
  • A mission team leader tells a team member he can’t vacation in country X, and he should obey this spiritual authority.
  • Ministry staff are told who they can and cannot date, or even whether they can date.
  • Students involved in parachurch organization Y are told where they are allowed to go to church or what conference to go to or what to do with their summer.
  • A staff of ministry Z is afraid of letting their leader know that they are taking a new position with another organization or moving into the marketplace.

Now, we could argue about what areas of life spiritual authority should speak into, but for now let’s ask whether a leader in the parachurch has spiritual authority over those they lead.

First, what about the staff serving under a leader.  If I am a missionary team leader, a campus director, or CEO for a Christian non-profit, what sort of authority do I have over those serving under me?  The answer is simply organizational authority.  You can hold them accountable to doing their job.  You are their boss, NOT their pastor.  And the parachurch gets in major trouble when they begin to assume authority over their staff that is reserved for the local church.  So, other than the professional authority related to the job description of my staff, I only have soft power in their lives. They work for me, they do not submit to me.

Will I try to encourage them in their faith?  Will I speak up when it seems they are making unwise decisions?  Might I suggest avenues for growth or good places for vacation?  Likely, I will do all of those things, but not as their spiritual leader.  No, I am simply being a friend and a brother in Christ.

Second, what about the people we serve.  Do Intervarsity, Stumo, Cru, or Navs staff have spiritual authority over students in their ministries?  Do World Vision, Samaritans Purse, OMF, or PIONEERS staff have authority over the men and women they serve?  Again, the answer is no.  They are NOT the church, even though some will eventually plant new churches.  It will be the elders appointed over those churches who carry the weight, responsibility, and therefore, authority over God’s people.  I don’t make anyone give, serve, lead, submit.  I have no spiritual authority.  I only have responsibility for my role within my organization.

Does that mean I won’t rebuke sin in the life of another?  No – but I do that as a brother in Christ, not as their spiritual authority.

So, friends in the parachurch, we are NOT the Church.  We are only scaffolding for the Church.  We serve her!  We love her!  We support her!  We SUMBIT to her!  The leaders of the Church have been granted authority that they wield as servant, as under-shepherds to Jesus.  Let’s remember that.  And let’s, instead, seek simply to serve, to wait tables, to wash feet, and to submit even our parachurch work to the authority of the local church.

Single Men – Manage Your Household Well

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In 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes of (potential) elders in the church: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”  At first blush, we might think that this is only to do with child-rearing and, perhaps, marriage, but is that right?  Is this instruction only applicable to the man, married with children?  I think not.  Here’s why.

First, remember who is writing.  Paul, himself, seemed after all, to be an elder of the church in Antioch (Acts 13.1-3).  Paul was single and yet exercised oversight for the Church.  As did Christ himself.  Further, no one assumes that as long as an elder is happily married and has children who behave, that they have fulfilled all that is expected in managing his own “household.”  If his finances are a mess, he’s not managing well.  If the physical structure of his home is collapsing and he does nothing about it.  If the activity of the home in unhealthy, even if the people in it, somehow, remained healthy, he would not be managing well.

Finally, in case my previous points weren’t strong enough, to be someone who mishandles his household requires lacking other characteristics clearly required of an elder: self-controlled, sober-minded, respectable, hospitable.  What do those characteristics mean when it comes to managing the affairs of your home, whether that’s a home full of kiddos with lots of rooms or it’s the one-bedroom apartment of a Christian bachelor?  It means stewardship.  So, what does such a stewardship look like for single men in the body of Christ?

If you are a single man, perhaps in testing for the role of an elder at your local church, you can’t simply look past these verses.  Instead, press into them.  How you manage your finances may be a place to start.  Are you piling up debt or are you increasingly able to use your finances for the Kingdom?  If you have college debt, are you paying it off quickly?  Are you tithing?  What will you do with the church’s finances when you’ve shown no ability to manage your own?

What about your time?  Are you redeeming the time, using it for things that matter, for things that are eternal?  Are you wasting it on things that don’t matter, managing your fantasy football team, role playing campaign, and social media accounts, but failing to manage your household?  Both Jesus and Paul are united behind the idea that you, single brother, should be the most fruitful member of Christ’s body.  Here’s Jesus in Matthew 19:

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The implications are that those who choose a celibate life (make themselves eunuchs), ultimately, do so for the Kingdom!  For Christ’s cause.  Paul is even more explicit in 1 Corinthians 7.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am…To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Why better to remain single, we may ask?  Paul answers later in the chapter.  It’s for service, for focus on the work of Christ!

The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided…So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.  

Single brothers, you have more time than if you had a wife and children.  I remember in my first year of marriage, I began to grow anxious about getting everything done that was on my plate.  I realized how much time I was giving to my wife and it was just dawning on me the impact that was having.  I was feeling Paul’s words here.  It was good to give time to my wife.  As her husband, I must do this.  For those unmarried, however, Paul says you don’t have that anxiety because you have the better situation.  You can focus on Christ.  Your time is undivided.

What about your home? Is it well cleaned and in good order?  Are you able to host friends, family, strangers, Bible study because you are taking care of your “personal” space?  Or, is it filthy?  Brothers, does the cleanliness of your home resemble the bedroom of a 13-year old boy?  Cleanliness is NOT next to godliness, and yet, how you manage your household says much about your faith and maturity.

Finally, what about your ministry?  Are you discipling men?  Are you investing in other singles?  Are you investing in married men?  The household of God is made up of both…how will you manage His household?  As mentioned above, is your time given to eternal things?  Is your focus undivided as it should be – focused on the Lord and His work?  Are you cultivating skills that will serve the Church in new ways?  Can you lead a Bible study, train in evangelism, preach the Word, organize an outreach or service?  Why not?  Your time, which is NOT your own, is undivided.

So, single brothers, if you aspire to the office of elder, are you managing your household well?  Even if you don’t aspire to it (and I believe Paul would say, “you should”), these characteristics should still be true of ALL believers – married and single, male and female.  The call to a household well managed is a universal call for Christians because our lives are not our own, our time is now our own, our home is not our own.  No, they are given for stewardship, and as we steward well these lesser things, the Lord will then give us the greater.  Don’t waste your singleness.  Don’t waste your household.  The Lord is near!

Seven Times a Day do I Praise You

During my sabbatical, I wanted to try a new spiritual discipline, and I chose fixed-hour prayer.  Fixed-hour prayer can mean many things depending on person/group, but what they all have in common is that at specific times during the day, you stop what you are doing and pray.  Here are some variations on that:

  • Folks may have 1 time fixed (in some ways this is what a daily quiet time is), while at points in Church history, you’ll find people stopping as many as 7 times throughout the day/night.  Seems like the most common is a morning, midday, afternoon, and/or evening, so 3-4 times each day.
  • Some people will use a prayer book or perhaps a breviary of some kind to guide their times of prayer.  Others will use their daily Bible reading plan to direct their prayers.  Others will simply pray about what has happened in their day and what is still ahead, using the fixed-hour as a chance, simply, to reconnect with the Lord throughout the day.
  • While many who practice fixed-hour prayer are Catholic, many protestants are now using it as a tool for growth.  Some call fixed-hour prayer, when done at certain standard times, “the divine office.”
  • All versions seem to try and make the time no longer than 10 minutes.  It’s not a time of Bible study OR over covering your entire prayer request list, but really a chance to turn to the Lord and commune with him.

As a protestant, from the Reformed tradition, this was a new practice for me.  I find that many of the guides/helps out there are either Catholic or very influenced by the Catholic tradition.  This means, for me (and those who may share my convictions), that I had to do some sifting whenever trying to use a help.  Some of the most popular “protestant” options would be Phyllis Tickle’s series The Divine Hours (free live online version here) and Reuben P. Job’s series of Guides to Prayer.  If you do really want to use something like these, there are things in each of them that I’m not 100% happy with, but there’s also a lot of help in them, and you can simply skip the bits that are unhelpful.

In the end, the habit that has stuck with me and that I have brought into my daily routine is fixed-hour prayer at midday, in addition to my morning devotions.  When my alarm goes off, I simply stop whatever I’m doing.  That may mean in the middle of writing an email OR halfway through lunch.  I take just a few minutes to pray about what has already happened in the day, pray about what I’m currently in the middle of, and pray for what remains on my schedule for the day.  Though, first, I’m asking for growth in intimacy and joy in the Lord, and only then asking for wisdom, help, blessing, fruit in my work and relationships.

I’d like to add one other fixed-hour…likely mid to late-afternoon.  In the evening, I’m often with God’s people or perhaps having family devotions at the dinner table, so it serves in many ways like a fixed-hour, though I’ve not been as consistent with that as I’d like.

It has been a meaningful practice.  I do believe it’s kept me prayerful throughout the day, even as I work and go about life.  It’s been FUN to just stop whatever I’m doing and turn to the Lord, to recognize His presence, goodness, sovereignty, and to spend a few moments focused on Him.

What about you?  Want to try it out?

Opportunity Cost – Focus + Time

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So, yesterday, I talked about multitasking and how I’m leaving it behind.  Well, this post will be short because I’m piggy backing off of yesterday’s in order to say that you can waste time in two ways.  As we saw yesterday, you can multitask it and lose it by not being available, attentive, present to what you’re doing.  But, and this shouldn’t be news to anyone, you can also waste it by simply doing worthless things with it.

What I don’t want is to tell you what you can and can’t do with you time, but I am telling you that you need to figure out what you ought to be doing with your time.  My 3-month sabbatical flew by.  Life is flying by.  It’s a blip on the radar of eternity.  You are grass that is here today and gone tomorrow.  You will give an account for how you spend your time!  Don’t waste your life!  So, for reflection, here are things that I’ve faced recently.

  • I love baseball.  My Nationals won the World Series this year.  They play 162 games (averaging 3.5 hours) from April-October.  That’s a lot of time.
  • There was a day that you could watch everything worth watching on TV and still have a little time left over.  That day died two decades ago.  My shows might be different than yours, but if we’re serious about our lives, then most, if not all, of them have to go.
  • I’ve had friends say, “I’d like to be more involved in church, but I’m just too busy.”  These are the same friends that have literally watched 40+ seasons of shows on Netflix, etc.
  • Whatever time I spend watching shows, that’s time I can’t get back.  I can’t use for my family.  I can’t use to minister to others.  I can’t use for quiet and rest and sleep.  It’s gone.

Look at your smart phone, go to the screen time page…how much have you been on your phone this week?  Go to your profile page on Hulu or whatever…how much time of you given to being entertained?  Does something need to change?  Pray for strength.  Ask for help.  Shut down some accounts and give that money away to something eternal.

I’ve not arrived on this issue…but I’m on the journey.  Join me!

Killing it at Multitasking OR Being Killed by Multitasking

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Well, I promised that I would be sharing lessons learned from my sabbatical with you.  You’ll notice as we walk through these over the following days/weeks, that some will be pretty basic lessons (perhaps that I should have learned years ago) while others will be deeper waters.  Some spiritual, some habitual (though with spiritual ramifications).  Some for how I work, some for how I worship.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on each!  And so let’s jump into the first lesson.

I have given up multitasking.  If you didn’t know already, there are now an infinite number of studies showing how unhelpful multitasking is.  Apparantly, it’s not even multitasking so much as it is shifting from task to task for, often, no real reason other than it has popped in your head or vision.  Some even have shown at least some moderate connection between multitasking and a decrease in brain density.  It may be turning people into literal air heads.

I knew this going into my sabbatical, yet I was still making no change to my behavior.  If a text popped up, I interrupted the email I was writing to read it.  If a new email came in, I’d put down the article I was studying in order to read it.  Increasingly, random thoughts of what could be done would pop in my head and I’d feel almost an inner compulsion to do it right then instead of a more reasonable time.  I was getting things done, if in a scattered sort of way.

During my sabbatical, I left email and social media behind.  As I reflected on how this was affecting me during my sabbatical, I began to make some more helpful connections.  I remembered an old public service announcement that compared your brain to an egg, and the effects of drugs on your brain as frying that egg.

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That’s how my brain felt on multitasking.  I started to realize that much of my mounting anxiety in the year before my sabbatical was being caused by my multitasking behavior.  I was training my brain to be distracted and distractable.  I was training my brain to think “What am I missing?  What else could I be doing right now? Squirrel!”  The studies back up this theory that I was forming from my own experience.  Multitasking has a very strong connection to the feelings of being distracted, overwhelmed, and scattered.  It’s depressing us, worrying us, and, in fact, killing us.

As this was dawning, I began to realize some of the spiritual ramifications.  First, I am called to be a hard worker.  By multitasking, I actually am less productive.  That matters.  Second, multitasking can be a sure sign of a lack of faith, trust in the Lord.  Your fear of missing out OR your unhealthy drive to do more are often signs that your belief in the sovereign and good hand of God is weak.  It’s hard to multitask all week and then engage in sabbath rest.  You’ve made it that much harder to slow down, let go, and trust that the universe actually doesn’t need you.

Third, my relationships were suffering, partially because I was tired from the frantic pace of multitasking, but also because I was treating my wife, kids, friends, church as if they were simply new texts or emails to be included in my work.  I was multitasking my family and my faith.  Lastly, it was stealing my joy.  Not only the joy that is clear from what I’ve already said, but simply the ability to enjoy anything without interruption.  I couldn’t even enjoy movies because I was scrolling facebook the whole time.  I tested a theory.  I went back and watched a movie that I had previously “media multitasked” and watched it with my full attention, and you know what, it was 10x better that way.  Sports games are more exciting when I’m not ignoring them half the time.  What I’m reading or praying about or reflecting on bring greater pleasure, creativity, and insight when they aren’t having to vie for my attention.

This idea of attention came up quite a bit in my sabbatical.  I heard someone (I think Mark Sayers, but he may have been quoting someone) say “attention leads to adoration.”  What we give our attention to, we can guarantee will have our affections as well.  I believe it was Sayers who said that the most important commodity we have as humans in the 21st century is our focus.  Marketers are spending billions of dollars to get you to look at, focus on something – a page, a picture, an ad…  And where our treasure is, our heart will be also.  Let’s stop throwing around, throwing away our focus.  Let’s give that precious attention to the few things that deserve it.  Join me in leaving multitasking behind.

It won’t happen over night.  I still find myself slipping back into the old ruts, but little by little, it’s happening.  And I’m feeling less anxious and more fulfilled as it happens!

The Prodigal Son…on day two

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Hello, my name is Phineas…some people call me the “prodigal son.”  At least, they use to.  You see, yesterday, I came home.  It took me about 3 weeks to make the journey back from the far country, but I made it.  And honestly, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.  You probably heard about the party my father gave for me.  He told the whole region that his son had returned from the dead.

And, here’s the deal, I really think I have.

Let me explain.  I left the far country because I was tired of being covered in pig slop, drool, and feces.  I was tired of being hungry.  I thought more than once of just killing myself.  But, I remembered how my father’s servants have food, are clean, and have a place to live.  So, that was my plan.  As I journeyed home, I worked it all out in my head – exactly what to say and how to say it.  You see, I thought at the time, “I know how the old man works.  I know if I ask it just right, he’ll give in.”  And voila, I’ll be able to be a servant, maybe work with the livestock or in the fields.  It was a perfect plan.

Until it wasn’t, until I turned past the sycamores a few hundred yards from what was my home.  The house, the pastureland, the fields all came into view.  For one final second, I thought that my plan was genius.

But, then I saw him…dad…running up the road.  I had never seen him run, and honestly, at his age, I didn’t think he could run, but…he was.  Somehow he saw me before I saw him.  While I was busy drinking in the first views of the land and barn and animals, he saw me.  And he started to run!  He must have been a hundred yards from the house when I saw something out of the corner of my eye…running to me.

Well, I think you had heard that bit, too.  But, here’s where it gets interesting.  Honestly, I thought he was angry.  Why else would he be running to me.  I began to doubt my plan…it might require a little more groveling than I expected…it might not go the way I planned.  I mean, jiminy, my father was running.

Now, I said that I think I actually did come back from the dead.  Well, as he got closer, I saw tears and a wild look of something other than anger…I wondered: could he be glad to see me?  In that second, something started to pivot, like the rattling of dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley.  I started to forget my lines…I started sweating…my knees started to buckle.  I really didn’t know what was happening…here…to me…with him!  He got to me, and though my throat was constricting and it felt like my tongue was swelling to the size of a mango, I tried to get my lines out.

But, he wasn’t listening…he wasn’t listening to what I had to say…he wouldn’t give my plan the time of day…this wasn’t going to go they way I thought…

Now, it’s not that he was ignoring me.  Far from it – he wouldn’t stop kissing me and hugging me and pulling back so he could look at me.  He put both hands on my face and sobbed…weeping but, oddly enough, with a smile on his face.  What was happening?!?!

He took my cap off and brushed pig filth out of my hair with his gentle hand.  He rubbed my partly calloused and partly raw hands between his own, tenderly saying, “Oh Phin, your hands…oh, my boy.”  He moved around me 360, then 720, then 1080 degrees, never taking his kind hand off of me as he looked me over, sighing at my sores and singing, with quivering joy, at my face: “Oh my son, my Phineas, my boy!  You are alive! You ARE alive!  YOU,” then breathlessly, like a whisper, “are back from the dead.”

And I was.  Seeing my father’s face.  Hearing of his love for me.  Feeling his tender hand on me.  In that very moment, all I can say is that I became alive!  And, I didn’t realize how dead I was.  Not dead from pig slime.  Not dead from empty pockets or failed plans.  I was dead because I had been away from my father.  Even before I left home, I was dead, I was far from him even in the same room.

I didn’t understand.

I was blind

I behaved like a beast

I was dead

But, in his face and in his presence, I came alive!

The feast last night was great.  I sat next to him most of the time, reclining on his bosom.  I found myself looking at him similar to how he was looking at me when I first returned.  Noticing the wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled.  Noticing how kind he was to every person he spoke with.  How eager he was to make sure everyone ate and drank, pouring wine and serving lamb in between being with me.

At one point, he went out to talk to my brother, Abijah.  He and I have never gotten along.  I’m certainly as much to blame as anyone for that.  This evening, I hope I can find him and apologize, ask for forgiveness, you know.

But this morning I spent eating a hearty breakfast and then walking around the house and the land with father.  I got to help with the livestock and with the new well we’re digging.  What a joy to be able to just be with my father and work alongside him and the other workers.  I use to abominate chores of any kind, and eventually, in defiance, I refused to work…that’s what the servants were for.

Today, I find them pleasing and energizing.  This afternoon, I’m going to help bring in the last of the harvest.  What’s funny is that, yesterday, I thought I’d be helping with these things as a slave.  I was actually dreading it, but I knew I’d earn my keep.  What a difference a few hours make.  I’m now a son, risen from the dead, joying in my father’s work.

As I walk, I notice there are people who are looking at me funny.  While no one knows for sure what I did in the far country, it’s easy enough to imagine.  There was a time when what others might think of me ruled my life.  And, it’s not that I don’t want them to think well of me, but all of a sudden, I don’t feel like I have to live in the dark.  At the right time, I’ll share about my journey.

There is shame there…but, I’m learning that those things don’t define me anymore.  The problem’s always been that I cared more about my reputation, my choice, my ability to define who I am and what is right.  You might call it self-idolatry.  Self, self, self!  What a prison.  Now, I can tell everyone, “I’ve searched the world for pleasure, but only found true, lasting, and life-giving joy in my father’s house.”  He’s so wise and good.  I can trust him to define me, to define right and wrong, to define all of life.  And there’s a lot of peace in that.  I use to scratch and claw and scheme.  I was scared all the time, often I didn’t know what of.  Today, I’m alive!

Well, I better get going.  It’s time for lunch, and I’m craving some of the rich foods from my father’s table.  In fact, why don’t you come too.  I’d love for you to meet my father.  You’ll love him.  And, I know this for sure, he will love you.

Sabbatical Reflections

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Greetings, friends!  It’s been a long time, I know.  You may or may not know that I was on Sabbatical the last 3 months of 2019.  That’s why I disappeared here, but it’s also why I’m writing now.

I’ve been in full-time ministry, essentially, since 2001.  During those 18.5 years, I’ve ministered to youth and to adults.  I’ve lived in the U.S., France, Morocco, with shorter stops in East Asia, Central Asia, etc.  During that time, there were ministry successes and failures, seasons of thriving and seasons of suffering.  So, I was excited to have the privilege of taking a sabbatical.

My greatest fear, though, at the beginning of the sabbatical was that I’d screw it up.  That every day I would find myself thinking, “Am I doing this right?  Am I wasting this precious opportunity?  Are the things I’m doing going to accomplish what I am hope to in these days?”  That was the flesh.  Yes, I wanted to have a plan and some goals for the time, but the point of a sabbatical isn’t accomplishment, but renewal.

That was another fear, I knew what I wanted from the sabbatical.  Besides physical rest, my major goal was spiritual renewal.  But, how do you plan for that?  I can take naps like a champ, but there’s nothing I can do to guarantee the refreshing and energizing of my soul before God.  Only one person can do that!  So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to let you guys in on what God has done for me.  I’m going to testify to the reality that God has graciously done transforming and restoring work in my life through the sabbatical!

Some of what I’ll share are what I call “ahas.”  Things I’ve learned about myself or about reality that I hope to incorporate into my life moving forward.  Some of them, though, are holy gut-punches – the Lord peeling back callouses on my heart or digging His finger into infested wounds in my soul.  And it’s primarily been these things that He has used to bring renewal.  I think of Ephesians 5.13-14 as the best descriptor of God’s work of bringing light into dark spaces.

13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

When we’re asking to be exposed, for the Lord to shine His drag-everything-out-into-the-light-of-day sunbeams from the face of Jesus, then revival, awakening, resurrection can happen!  I hope you’ll follow and COMMENT as we take this journey.

Are We Too Heavenly Minded?

That is a question I’ve been spurred to think about recently because of reading a sermon by Richard Sibbes called The Hidden Life.  Of course, the question really stems out of the quote “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” which I probably quotes a number of years ago, but now see how silly it is.  Sibbes’ sermon is based on Colossians 3.3-4.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It is an amazing sermon, and I want to work through it a bit in my own reflections as well as here with you.  If you’d like to read it, you can do so here.  If you’d rather listen to it, then I’ve got something for you as well.  Upon my first reading, after about 2 pages, I said to myself, “I’ve got to record this!  This is so good, and it needs to be preached.”  So, friends, I recorded the sermon.  You can find it here.  I hope I represented the heart behind it in my reading, and I hope it encourages you.

What you’ll notice is that Sibbes argues that these 2 verses are not only the grounds for, but also the way to live out the commands of verses 1-2 and verses 5-10.  In other words, verses 1-2 which tell us to be heavenly minded and verses 5-10 which tell us to put to death what is earthly in us are two sides of a coin – the coin of the Christian life, you might say.  And they are things we should do because of the truth of verses 3-4, and also things that we CAN do because of verses 3-4.

So, because of the truth that we are hid in Christ and will appear with Him in glory, we seek to be heavenly minded, knowing that it will produce in us the greatest earthly difference in our lives, in our churches, our families, and our neighborhood.  It’s a masterclass on preaching the Gospel to ourselves.   And it exposes the shallowness of a statement like “you’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

Please listen to the sermon and let me know what you think!  In my next post, I’ll try to outline the sermon and make some initial comments.

 

Overcoming Sin through Holistic Discipleship

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Sorry for the break, but here we are with the final installment of this series on overcoming sin.  The first part discussed the role of boundaries in our walk with Christ and the second talked about becoming fluent in the Gospel, seeing how the good news speaks to the specific heart idols with which we struggle.

In this post, we will discuss the 3rd and final layer…that of Holistic Discipleship.  You will notice looking at the pyramid that this piece is the largest, the foundation.  That is because when this piece is strong and well established, the other two pieces are almost unnecessary.  Let me elaborate.

When someone, especially a man, is struggling with a particular sin, we tend to make that single issue the only thing we are focused on.  If we struggle with lust, we read books about it, join groups about it, and have boundaries and accountability around it.  When we read our Bible during that time, we are usually either looking for passages about that struggle OR trying to apply other passages to it.  We become consumed with fixing that particular issue.

While the heart behind this is good, I’m suggesting that it’s unhelpful.  It takes our eyes off of God, his love, his tenderness, his glory and goodness and focuses them on our sin, to the exclusion of the rest of our spiritual lives.  There is more to discipleship, to knowing God than simply fighting lust or pride or greed.  There is the fullness of God, his Word, and his works to be explored.  The deeper we go in all the fullness of God, the stronger our walk will be.  The more we delight in him, the less of a pull we will feel from the world.  Think of 2 Corinthians 3.18…how are we transformed?  Not boundaries…not even by identifying our heart idols, as good as both of those things are.  But how are we changed?  By gazing on Jesus.  By spending time with Jesus.  By seeing and learning to enjoy Jesus!  That’s where transformation happens and we do that through spiritual disciplines and partaking in the ordinary means of grace.

Remember in our first post, we talked about an athlete.  Putting up boundaries is like wearing a cast…it helps keep us from hurting ourselves even more.  The second layer, Gospel  Application, when applied to that metaphor is like physical therapy.  Like an athlete rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, with repetitive and focused movements, it is the focused application of the Gospel for the rehabbing of our heart idols.

This third layer is different, it’s the total body work that an athlete might do to maintain health and strengthen their bodies.  Cardio, stretching, weights, balance, agility, sprints, etc.  They all exist not for rehab so much as overall health.  Similarly, our prayer life, time in the word, memorization of Scripture, listening to the preached Word, Christian fellowship, worship…they are all meant to keep us healthy and build up our spiritual strength.  When an athlete is holistically healthy, she is less likely to be injured.  When the body is strong and fit, it doesn’t need a cast.  So to, the spiritually healthy don’t need boundaries (though they may still have them), and they don’t have to spend a ton of time on Gospel application for one, single besetting sin because they are daily destroying heart idols as they appear through regular and holistic spiritual disciplines and the ordinary means of grace.

So, if you have a besetting sin.  First, set up boundaries.  They will make it harder for you to hurt yourself and others.  Second, with the help of others, discern the heart idol(s) that is at the root of your besetting sin.  Understanding why you find that sin so attractive and what the Gospel has to say to that.  But don’t forgot, along with that, do not give up pursuing a holistic maturity through the normal means of grace.  Don’t navel gaze.  Lift up your eyes and see Jesus, your righteousness at the right hand of the Father.

Fighting Sin – 2nd Layer

In our previous post, I started sharing about fighting sin.  I went on to unpack the role that boundaries play in overcoming sin.  In short, they are important in that they create opportunity and space for growth, but boundaries do not change the heart, so they are never the whole answer.  That brings us to the second layer.

The second layer to overcoming sin is Gospel Application.  What is that?  Gospel Application is the heart work of asking, “why am I so attracted to that sin?”  If I’m angry all of the time…why?  If I’m filled with lust…why?  What is the pay-off?  And there’s always a pay-off.  We don’t do things, as humans, unless we want to.  This reflection is how the heart idol behind our sin is exposed.

Once I understand why I do what I do (and you might need help discerning that), I begin to look at that heart idol through the lens of the Gospel.  What does the good news have to say about my idol.  It may say, “you’re trying to save yourself with your chronic, idolatrous overworking.”  It may, instead, say, “Your idolatrous desire to be loved and accepted by others is a sad, false, little copy of the huge love that Jesus offers you.”  It has an answer to any guilt, shame, regret, longing, or need you believe you feel.  It really does!  At our church, we call the ability to apply the Gospel to specific needs, circumstances, etc. “Gospel Fluency.”

Of course, this is where the fight really begins.  Satan and your flesh and the world do not want you to give up your sin for the One who truly loves you and can satisfy and heal your broken heart.  So, we muster up Gospel knowledge to bring it to bear against ongoing temptation and desire.  We commit time to meditate on God’s Gospel promises!  We memorize scripture that will declare His truth to us.

CLARIFICATION: I haven’t said this yet, and I really should have from the very beginning.  We cannot fight and win against sin alone.  First, sin must be exposed before it can become light (Eph 5.13-14).  Until sin is exposed, we can’t even start to fight it.  And exposing sin means confessing it…it means telling another person, “I’m trapped and I need help.”  Second, isolation is breeding ground for our own desires and lusts.  Bringing someone else into the equation automatically means that I’m not alone anymore just to do whatever feels good in the moment.  Three, others will have wisdom and encouragement for us.  They will help us discern the heart idol, discern Gospel application, and remember the Lord’s benefits (Ps 103.2).  Finally, we were never meant to live alone.  God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit.  He made us to reflect that, not by being alone, but by being in relationships that matter.  Chances are that we are in the predicament because we isolated to begin with, we refused to share what was happening before things got so bad.

So, TOGETHER, we search our hearts and bring the Gospel to bear on our idols.  In the next post, we’ll look at the the final layer of overcoming sin.