Investing in and Taking Inventory of our Sanctification

We invest in what we love. Take a quick second to think about that statement. It’s true isn’t it? If you love your job, you invest your energy and effort into doing excellent work. If you love the thought of retirement, at some point, you invest in a financial portfolio. If you love being healthy, you invest your energy and effort into eating right and working out. If you love your wife and children, you find the time to invest in them.

Peter, in his second epistle, expresses that those who know Jesus—those who have been saved and redeemed by King Jesus; those that know Him and have been given everything they need to live a godly life—are to “make every effort” to invest (to supplement) in growing in their faith. In other words, Peter, after having explained that God has done all the heavy lifting to give us what we need for living a godly life, turns to explain how believers are to be active in their sanctification—the process by which God molds and conforms His people into the image of Jesus.

Without going into detail on the specific areas (which you can do by listening to a recent message of mine) Peter mentions, I want to spend just a few moments addressing four principles of investing in our sanctification.

First, our investment is PERSONAL. Investing in sanctification is something we “get” to do rather than something we “have” to do. Or, put another way: it is something we should “want” to do rather than “have” to do. Growing in our faith and relationship with Christ is personal. Because of His unwavering and unconditional love for us, and our growing love for Him, growth in that relationship should be seen as a privilege and honor, not some burden.

If you see following Jesus as more of a burden than blessing, it may be that your view of following Him is more mechanical, ritualistic, and religious rather than personal and relational.

Second, our investment is INTENTIONAL. Investment, regardless of what area of life it’s in, is intentional. Someone investing their time coaching a little league team is intentional. Someone investing their money in a money-market or 401K is intentional. A husband investing time in planning date nights with his wife is intentional. The same is true with regard to sanctification. We have to be intentional.

Being intentional requires planned and deliberate action to exert energy and effort into cultivating our relationship with Christ.

If someone wants to lose weight and they go out and buy a treadmill but never intentionally use it, they won’t lose weight. In a similar manner, if someone follows Christ but never spends any time with Him (reading, praying, and seeking Him) or His people (gathering corporately, meeting with other believers), then that person hasn’t been intentional and therefore is unlikely to grow.

Third, our investment is GRADUAL. Just as it takes time for a financial portfolio to increase and grow, it takes time for us to grow in Christlikeness. We don’t go from zero to hero overnight. That’s why we refer to sanctification as a process! As we personally and intentionally invest, we see gradual growth. Here’s a sobering truth that hopefully makes you and me take a deep breath: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE PERFECT! You are going to fail; you are going to drop the ball. You are going to miss the mark. But, in the process of sanctification, understand that you fail forward—knowing that every step (and misstep) along the way God is molding you and shaping you into the image of Jesus. In other words, He is working all things out together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Sure there will be days you echo the Apostle Paul, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

In the gradual process of becoming like Christ, it’s important to remember that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), and that the same grace that saved you is the same grace that sustains and sanctifies you!

Fourth, our investment is SYNCHRONIC. Although Peter’s list seems sequential—add to virtue, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, etc.—it’s more synchronic. It’s synchronic because the Christian life isn’t about a checklist. For instance, it’s not like I master virtue and then move on to knowledge. The characteristics and qualities that Peter lists are all areas in which we are to grow simultaneously and synchronically. They are all interconnected. However, the last characteristic that Peter lists is love. And, like I alluded to earlier, it is love that drives all the others. It is Christ’s love for us, and our [growing] love for Christ that compels us to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and brotherly affection.

So, how’s your investment? Are you investing in your sanctification? Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t ask you if you’re working FOR your salvation? But, are you working out, working in LIGHT of your salvation. Are you taking the life that has been imparted and imputed to you and cultivating it through the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, silence and solitude, corporate worship, accountability, etc.?

In conclusion, to help take spiritual inventory on how your investment in sanctification is going, here’s a list of ten questions I borrowed and adapted from Donald Whitney’s, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. As you read through them, be honest with where you think you are.

1. Do you thirst for God?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

2. Do you strive to govern your life according to God’s word?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

3. Are you sensitive to what God may be doing in and around you? In other words, are you contemplative or reactive to what happens to you or around you? Do you immediately start complaining when things don’t go your way, or do you pause and ask God what are you doing? What do you want me to do? What are you teaching me?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

4. Are you a loving person?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual, temporal, and physical needs of others?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

6. Do you delight in, and are you devoted to, the bride of Christ?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

7. When is the last time you exercised in the following spiritual disciplines?

  • Prayer
  • Bible Reading
  • Corporate Worship
  • Evangelism (Had a gospel conversation with someone)
  • Served others
  • Stewardship (giving)
  • Fasted (you went without food or device in order to seek God’s direction and will)                                                            
  • Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin

8. Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin?

                            Always                  Often                           Seldom                         Never

9. Are you a person who holds grudges or extends grace? 

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

10. Do you strive to live here on earth as if you were living there in heaven?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

Cruising with Mickey Mouse: Things the Church and Disney have (or should have) in Common

Last week my family and I went on a Disney cruise thanks to my mother-in-law! We had the most wonderful time—eating unlimited desserts, watching the shows, sitting by the pool, taking in majestic ocean views, being surprised by the little towel figures at night, and an all-day child-center. In experiencing a Disney cruise for the first time, and having some down time on the boat, I jotted down some things that I think the church and Disney have in common—or at least should, to some degree, have in common. While I jotted down more, here are the top five.

  1. Disney has created a global brand.

Disney is not just a North American name or a Western name, but a global one. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Indiana or India, Colorado or Chile, South Dakota or South Africa, Kansas or Kenya, or Hawaii or Hong Kong, most people have heard of Mickey Mouse, and perhaps Walt Disney. And if they have the resources, they have experienced or plan to experience Disney in some way.

The global phenomena of the Disney brand means that its message along with its characters and stories cross-translate to the various cultures and peoples throughout the world. The message of “where dreams come true” and the characters of Mickey Mouse to Cinderella, coupled with each character’s story, resonate with every boy and girl throughout the world—not to mention every person regardless of age.

The universality of the inclusive branding of Disney is something that the church shares in common.

God is a universal and inclusive God who’s on mission to redeem a people for himself from all peoples of the world.

Thus the message of God along with his people and their stories should capture and resonate with the hearts of every people, regardless of age, throughout the globe.

  1. Disney makes it their aim to bring joy to others.

Now before you pushback on this one and say that they are in the “business” of bringing joy to others, I want you to think about how good they are at this aim compared to all the other “businesses” that aim to bring a joyful experience to others. Sure, with Disney, people pay to experience joy…happiness; however, while I am sure something exists that tops the Disney experience, I have not been to or experienced any other business that does a better job at excelling at bringing joy to others.

On the boat, kids lived in a state of joy, and parents and grandparents experienced the flood of happy and joyful feelings as they experienced the elated emotional wonderland of their children. To my chagrin, there were even newly weds and adults on the boat without children that seemed to be delighting in enjoyment. In short, when people come in the presence of Disney—be it a cruise, the parks, or its movies—joy fills their lives.

Think about this, Disney brings temporal joy to those who pay for an experience, but the church is to bring and be joy for the world through and by the free grace of Jesus Christ.

In other words, we bring and are joy for the world not because they pay for it, but because Christ has paid it and we just live in that joy.

  1. Disney has a diverse team that serves its mission.

One of the interesting things that I learned while on the boat is that there were over a thousand crew-members from 55 nations. That’s just on one boat! I think it would be safe to assume more nations are represented in the Disney universe—in its different venues and sectors. What does this suggest? That Disney has a mission that fosters unity even in diversity.

As it stands, it seems that Disney does a much better job than many churches in embodying a mission that fosters unity in diversity. Why? Because they have united around the mission of “where dreams come true” and being the happiest place on earth where customers/consumers leave having their joy-jars filled. In short, they come together to fulfill the Disney experience of which its customers anticipate.

On the other hand, the church has a difficult time with diversity because instead of coming together around the mission of glorifying God by sharing and showing the gospel of King Jesus in all spheres of life as God creates a people for himself, they, many times, get bogged down in the pseudo-mission of making it about themselves—their preferences, traditions, rituals, and goals—to the degree it isolates those who are different.

The more complex you make mission, the more fragmented and homogenous it becomes; the simpler you make mission, the more heterogeneity can flourish.

  1. Disney’s engagement with culture is multifaceted.

While I cruised with Disney, there are so many other cultural veins where Disney is present. They own TV networks (outside of their Disney networks, Disney also owns ESPN, ABC, A&E, and Lifetime), radio stations, music and book publishing companies, film companies (including Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel), and theme parks. Disney literally has its hands in the business, entertainment, sciences, arts, and education realms. Because of its cultural production in these different areas, Disney has helped shape and craft culture. The shaping and crafting of culture has given them a lot of cultural capital.

This notion of a multifaceted cultural engagement can be (needs to be) something that the church learns from Disney. And, for those of you who are unaware, the church has had a multifaceted cultural engagement in its history (think of hospitals, schools, and other organizations and institutions).

I’m not suggesting that the church create an alternative Disney with theme parks filled with Bible characters; but I am suggesting, as James Hunter and Andy Crouch have in their own way, that if the church wants to help shape, craft, reach, and/or speak into culture, it needs to, at the very least, contribute to it. This can be through the creation of ideas, businesses, arts, sciences, educational institutions, organizations (and NPOs), and entertainment.

I believe the mission of the church isn’t only reserved for the spiritual realm, but the material and cultural realm.

Thus, I believe the church is not just called to be convictional-prophets living in the cities sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and warning people to flee the wrath to come, but also culture-producers working in the cities showing the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he inaugurated and will one day consummate.

When we share and show the gospel in its entirety, we become a movie-like trailer providing a glimpse of the soon coming, radiantly glorious consummated kingdom where everything [culturally] done in the city will orbit around and reflect the glory of King Jesus.

  1. Disney propagates happy endings and for dreams to come true

Disney is all about happy endings. Every Disney movie or story that I can remember (except for “Old Yeller”) has a happy ending. In fact, one of the Disney musical lines from “Pinocchio” is: “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…when you wish upon a star, your dreams comes true.” Disney has provided narratives where the prince shows up right on time to awake the sleeping princess, where the evil villain is finally defeated, where the family is reunited after a treacherous journey, where they find the treasure and live happily ever after, and where the world is saved from annihilation.

I think the notion of longing for happy endings and for our dreams to come true is theologically on point.

Scripture teaches that due to our sin, we have created the environment of unhappy endings and shattered dreams, and cannot do anything to reconcile that. However, we long for our happy ending, our lives to be made right, our world to be devoid of pain, evil, and suffering.

It’s in our doom that God promises our Deliverer; it’s in our recession in sin that God promises our Rescuer; it’s in our suffering God promises a Savior; it’s in our waywardness God promises the Way; and it’s in our chaos God promises a King. Given our plight, God sends his Son Jesus—the universal, rightful, Creator-God, King, and hero—to experience the ultimate unhappy ending so that he can give all those who call on his name the most incredible and eternal happy ending—where they truly live happily ever after in the New City.

In closing, I’m grateful for the things we can learn from all kinds of businesses, people, and experiences and apply them to our understanding of Scripture and church. I have great appreciation for Disney as a company and what they do. While they have a great product and provide a great experience, I believe we (the church) have a great Savior and if faithful provide an eternal foretaste of the glory divine.

Catch Me if You Can: The Creation, Goal, Destruction and Deliverance of Counterfeit gods

Tim Keller in his work, Counterfeit gods, along with Kyle Idleman in his latest work, gods at War, engage in the topic of idolatry. Idols are in essence counterfeit gods that take the preeminent place of the Triune God revealed in Holy Scripture. As I was thinking about this whole idea of idolatry, particular the counterfeit nature of idols or gods, I remembers the movie, Catch Me if You Can. Maybe you recall the movie— starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio—which was based upon the biographical sketch of Frank Abagnale, a teenage con artist who posed as a Pan America pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. He primarily made his money by forging fake checks. In this movie, we see that counterfeits are created by the created, are created for a selfish purpose, they lead to destruction, and they can be overcome. I believe the plot line of this movie presents some similarities for people in understanding the nature, purpose, and consequences of counterfeit gods, as well as how they can be overcome—or at least how one can be delivered from their dominating grip.

First, counterfeit gods are by nature created by the created. In other words, those who have been created create them. A Jeep commercial’s slogan highlights this when it quotes, “The things we make, make us.” Thus, the nature of counterfeit gods is that they are created by man—whether they be a philosophy, religion, product, game, a political system or party, a sexual experience, a monetary system, drugs, substances, etc.—in which they become man’s fixation to the point man preeminently worships the created rather than the Creator.

Second, what is the purpose of counterfeit gods? Essentially counterfeit gods are created to satisfy an individual. The seduction and temptation of the serpent to Eve expresses that the offering of counterfeit gods lies at the false promise they can do something the Creator cannot; or they provide something that the Creator for some reason has hid from the created. In the end, counterfeit gods are created to offer meaning, or an escape from something, or an avenue by which we can crave our desire(s). Frank Abagnale accentuates this point. The movie paints him as a troubled teenager that used counterfeiting as a way to run away from a dysfunctional divorced family. In addition, it satisfied his desire to be important, to live a life of luxury—something his father had, then lost. Eventually counterfeiting and falsifying his vocation became his vocation—his meaning to life.

Thus, counterfeit gods become our fixation in order to help bring meaning in our life, escape something in our life, numb a pain present in our life, or satisfy an insatiable desire in our life. However, as seen in the movie, as well as in real life, counterfeit gods have a shelf life. In other words they are like pain medicine—the affects are only temporary. Just as Abagnale had to continue to forge fake checks, so too people who run to counterfeit gods for meaning, an escape, a numbing, or a fix will continue to return to them over and over and over. Sometimes, people may think that a particular counterfeit god becomes defective and thus turns to another counterfeit god, only to find it too is defective. Thus they continue this cyclical lifestyle—always trying new counterfeits, but never finding true meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

Because counterfeit gods carry a shelf life, they consume and control our life; many times leading to self-destructive behavior that hurts the individual as well as those around them. Catch Me if You Can reveals the destructive nature of Abagnale’s counterfeiting escapade. His actions hurt businesses, abused relationships, and left him lonely, unfulfilled, and guilty. The counterfeit gods of power, sex, money, substances, self-absorbed religions, philosophies, and ideologies leaves one in a self-destructive vulnerable position in which they potentially can cause grave harm to themselves and others (see the history of self-centered civilizations). Because the use, implementation, and worship of counterfeit gods are selfish and are thus consumed by and for the individual, counterfeit gods inevitable raise the individual to the place of God. And when fallen, sinful, depraved humanity sits in the place of the holy divine, consuming the created for personal enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment, nothing good can result for the betterment, or common good of others (see King David and his sin with Bathsheba).

Last, while I have described the nature, purpose, and destruction of counterfeit gods, which is certainly negative, there is, nevertheless, hope. Deliverance and redemption from a life of counterfeiting and consuming counterfeit gods is available. For Frank Abagnale deliverance and redemption became available when he owned up to the sin and destructiveness of his actions, behavior, and even his lifestyle. After Frank gives himself up, he is sentenced to 12 years in prison. While in prison, Abagnale aids Carl, the FBI agent, by pointing out how one of the checks Carl is carrying is counterfeit. Long story short, Carl works for the release of Abagnale so he can help the FBI in the counterfeit division. The ending credits of the movie reveal that Frank has been happily married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest, is still good friends with Carl, has caught some of the world’s most elusive money forgers, and earns millions of dollars each year because of his work creating unforgeable checks. Talk about deliverance and redemption!

When it comes to the elusive career of humanity in forging counterfeit gods that overpromise and under-deliver, and which cause great destruction in our life as well as those around us, there is one who promises deliverance and redemption. There is one who works for our deliverance and release of the counterfeit prison. Jesus, the conquering and liberating King of Glory has come to take all of the destruction of the counterfeit gods of our life and of this world on himself, burying them; in addition he takes upon himself all our sin and brokenness which has resulted from our counterfeit lifestyle, delivering and redeeming us to be used for his mission in the world—the proclamation and demonstration of his redemptive and restorative kingdom.

Our lives have been created by the Triune God with the purpose of relating to him in an intimate vibrant relationship, and reflecting his glory throughout the entire created world by embodying his characteristics and attributes, which happen as a result of him being the center of our life. Since we have been created by God and for God, man is most satisfied and fulfilled in life when God is the center. As John Piper accentuates, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Counterfeit gods, which are created by man, for man’s self-centered use, take the place of the Triune God of the universe and results in nothing good for self, for others, and especially God’s glory and purpose in the world. We must ask God to give us discernment in locating the counterfeit gods in our life, as well as his power to deliver and redeem us from the destructive, guilty, and lonely grip that counterfeit gods have on our lives. So while counterfeit gods may taunt the phrase, “catch me if you can,” God responds with the cross and declares, “Not only will I catch you, I will bury you and replace you with my supremacy, my glory, my mercy, my grace, and my redemptive, transformative, unconditional love.” Have we allowed God to catch, bury, deliver, redeem, and replace the counterfeit gods of our life?

Review and Interaction of “Desiring the Kingdom” by James K. A. Smith

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James K. A. Smith sets out to argue, in his work, Desiring the Kingdom, that liturgy (worship), whether sacred or secular, shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desire and our most basic attunement to the world (25). He goes on to note that liturgies train our hearts, teach us to be a certain kinds of people, and develop our worldview(s).

Smith argues that the problem with evangelical discipleship and formation is that the focus remains towards a more Enlightenment slant of learning focusing on information—theories, ideas, and beliefs. In other words, current discipling efforts in evangelicalism focus more on worldview and information rather than formation. Basically, Smith believes that believing right, does not necessarily lead to right behavior; but that loving (worshipping) right leads to believing right, which leads to behaving right. Therefore, he argues that man, or what he refers to man as “animals,” (I wish he would have used another word) is a desirous creature before he is a worldview one. In other words, he is a worshipping creature rather than a “thinking” one.

For both missional churches and church planters, discipleship is of great importance given the fact they are passionate about reaching people with the gospel. In, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith provides an articulation of how the church (although he applies it to the university) can accomplish the task of forming disciples. There are at least two contributions of Smith’s argument that can be applied to the realm of discipleship for both the missional church and church planting.

First, Smith teaches believers that to form disciples for the good (eschatological) vision, or kingdom, the church needs to understand the antithetical visions of the kingdom in secular liturgy that exist in culture. In other words, in order to lay the foundation for the good (eschatological) vision of the kingdom, he provides an exegesis of “secular” liturgies (Ch. 3).

Identifying modern-day idolatry, or secular liturgies (how people are innately worshippers), Smith zooms his focus on three cultural institutions: the mall, the stadium, and the university. He summarizes that these secular liturgies are visions of the kingdom—visions of human flourishing that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom (121). By providing a cultural exegesis of secular liturgy, Smith demonstrates for believers how to identify the idolatry of the culture at large. If believers can identify the cultural secular liturgies around them, they can then enact and articulate a counter-formation and worship. The stark reality is that this ethos is scarce in the current North American church. In fact, as Smith argues, the North American church finds itself adopting and forming to the cultural secular liturgies.

Second, he outlines his vision for Christian formation, or discipleship—one that is founded upon worship. Smith believes that “Worship is the ordering and reordering of our material being to the end for which it was meant” (143). In short, worship is holistic. This foundation becomes the launching pad of developing an exegesis of Christian “social imaginary” that embeds itself in the practices of Christian worship. In other words, Smith believes that worship leads to practices, and practices leads to habits. In the end, these all lead to a formation of discipleship by which the people of God are “called to be the church to and for the world—not in order to save it or conquer it or even transform it, but to serve it by showing what redeemed human community and culture look like, as modeled by the One whose cultural work led him to the cross” (207). In another place, Smith writes that the goal of Christian worship is, “to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who communally take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation—but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s cruciform cultural labor” (220).

My major concern with Smith’s thought-provoking work rests in his focus of worship preceding worldview. He writes that Christians worshipped “before they got around to abstract theologizing or formulating a Christian worldview” (139). In other words, it seems that Smith believes that Christians had the right worship before they had the right worldview. In essence, Smith argues that if Christians would desire (or love) right, then they would think (or believe) right, which means they would live or behave right.

I am not convinced this is the case. As a rebuttal of this thought, I think of Jesus being the very Word of God, who  took upon flesh, and pointed people back to God. I think of the essence of the good-news, it is a proclamation, an announcement that Jesus is Lord; He is the King who has come. Acts 2 expresses that Peter preached the gospel and people responded. In addition, the church in the later part of chapter 2 is seen “devoting themselves to the apostles teaching.” In short, ideas, beliefs, and theology redirects the worship, or desire, of people. Think of it this way: ideas, theories, theology, or a biblical worldview, invites people back to the garden to do what they were intended to do—worship God.

Nevertheless, Smith provides a sound, thought-provoking argument for believers to have a more formative discipleship rather than an informative one, and one that is built upon a holistic worship of God as they seek to be his worshipping agents embodying and enacting the redeemed and restorative eschatological (future) kingdom.

Toys, Batteries, and a Child’s Delight

There are many cries a parent hears from a child, “I’m hungry,” “I don’t want that,” “He hit me,” “I don’t want to watch that,” “Where are we going?” “I don’t want to go there,” or “I need some batteries.” Let me highlight the child’s cry for batteries. We don’t necessarily have to remember our childhood to remember the disappointment from grabbing something we wanted to use, only to find it didn’t work because it didn’t have power. Obviously to our children, the emotional low is magnified when their specific toy or gadget doesn’t work.

Just this past weekend, Caleb grabbed a remote control car that we had bought for his birthday last year, only to find that it needed some “juice.” However, at some point over the last year he had lost the battery pack that charged the battery. Of course, I was internally flustered (knowing that these things happen) because I knew this was an expensive car bought from a specialized store in Downtown Disney. Therefore, running to the Walmart was not an option. Needless to say, Joannie was able to call a place, where, graciously, the person said they would mail us another battery pack. And I know that when we get the battery pack, charge the car, and Caleb gets it and starts playing with it, there will be a satisfactory delight. Why? There is much delight in seeing what we have purchased for our own pleasure working properly towards its created purpose.

Not that people are God’s toys, but we are his prized creation, created for his own glory, pleasure, and purpose. For us to effectively work (and not be discarded), he needed to save us—thus sending us Jesus to die in our place. In addition, in order for us to effectively work towards our created design reflecting God’s glory, we needed to be filled with power, a different kind of power than we already possessed. Truth is, man was endowed with power (dominion) at the very beginning. God gave man power (dominion) to rule and oversee his created order. However, man took that power, corrupted it, by choosing to disobey God’s rule. Since then, man has corrupted the innate power they possess to work towards their own personal purpose.

Now going back to this understanding of man working effectively towards their created and intended purpose of glorifying and pleasing God, we must understand that we need a new power, a redeemed power. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Not only does the Holy Spirit convict the world of sin (John 16:8), drawing people into a saving relationship with God; the Holy Spirit empowers God’s people for Kingdom living and mission. In other words, he empowers us to work towards our created purpose. He is the new battery to empower us to effectively work right, thus pleasing the Father. Jesus tells his disciples prior to his ascension, that for them to bear witness to him they needed power (Acts 1:8). To get this power, they needed to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to “come upon” them.

The Holy Spirit is the power, the means, by which God’s people effectively bear witness to Jesus and his redeemed kingdom. However, if not careful, there can be a tendency (especially in North America) to use other man-made power sources. It is no secret; we live in a Disney, special effects, digital, technological, consumeristic, and entertainment-crazed culture. Thus, for many (churches) there is a monolithic focus on the weekend worship experience, so much so, churches spends large sums of money to create a comfortable, convenient, special effect, and culturally relevant worship experience. Please do not misunderstand what I am trying to communicate. I am not antagonistic of any of these. In fact, in churches that I have led, we have incorporated many of these elements. However, my point is that there is a tendency to come and rely on these elements for effective witness. Yet, this is not the impetus of Jesus’ intention for the empowering witness of the Holy Spirit in the life of his disciples. His effective witness surrounded proclamation and demonstration. This included power to be bold and clear in verbalizing the gospel of King Jesus; in addition, it included power to live in both holiness and deed (love of neighbor), demonstrating the future restored kingdom of Jesus.

The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5). In other words, Paul attests, that rather than using the cultural vehicle of oratory and public speaking to engage people and seek transformation, he choose to rely on the Spirit and the power of God.

Therefore, these cultural and contextual elements must not (in practice) become the battery pack that believers plug themselves into in order to be effective witnesses. While these elements are supplemental, they are not necessary. However, the Spirit of God is a necessity in our corporate worship gatherings for conviction and transformation. Furthermore, he is essential in our everyday life—in every sphere of our lives—in order for us to work effectively towards our created purpose, in which God our Father is pleased. If the Spirit of God is essential for us to work effectively as we live towards our created purpose, in which God finds delight, how do we live by the empowering of the Spirit?

1)   Surrender Control. This is another way of believing the Good News of Jesus. Jesus came to save us from ourselves, our sin. The Gospel calls us to repentance, an about-face from our old nature, our old life, and an embracing of God’s new nature, his new life. Thus, if we want to be filled with the Spirit, empowered to live towards God’s created purpose, we must surrender daily—relinquishing our control and yielding to the Spirit’s control. See Luke 9:23; Ephesians 5:18-21.

2)   Be Faithful. Surrendering control leads to faithfulness. As the Spirit controls us, we are faithful to Jesus—embodying his kingdom—thus effectively bearing witness. A lack of faithfulness leads to the Holy Spirit being grieved See Eph 4:30.

3)   Live in Community. I don’t mean go out and by a large compound where everyone can live together. Rather, I mean that we should do life with other believers, covenanting and communing together over meals, bible studies, service, prayer, and corporate worship. We must understand that God saves us personally, but not in isolation. When God saves us and transforms us, he ushers us into covenant fellowship with his people. Therefore, if we desire to see the Spirit empower us for effective witness, we must be connected to the church—the vehicle by which God has chosen to work, as well as the vehicle that is empowered by the Spirit to effectively work.

4)   Pray fervently. As the disciples were in the upper room waiting on the Spirit to call, they were fervently praying. Paul exhorts the Ephesians, in the context of putting on the whole armor of God, to “[pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Prayer is the means by which we tap into the unbelievable power of God, for prayer is our communication device that connects us to the Spirit. As John Piper militaristically notes, prayer is our “spiritual walkie-talkie” that is directly connected to our commander. As we communicate to our commander, we ask for wisdom, direction, discernment and power to effectively bear witness in every area of our life.

While we may not be toys that need new batteries, we are “[God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Thus in order to faithfully live out these good works in which we were created to do, we must be empowered by the Spirit of God. When we are, are Father has great delight!

 

Self-Righteousness: Six Identifiers for those Blinded by Self-Righteousness

Being a father provides you a front row seat peering into the manifestation of self-righteousness. When something goes wrong, and one of my children are confronted about it, sure enough, it was not their fault. From their point of view, it was clearly the other person’s fault—even if there were no others around. But before I cast judgment on them, as if to be myself self-righteous, this behavior and blindness to self-righteousness has been present in humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve.

God, approaching Adam and Eve in their hiding, asks them, “Who told you that you were naked?” From the readers account, it is a fairly simple and straightforward question; yet, they turned it into a complex answer, one that passed the buck to the next. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent does not say anything. No one took responsibility, and the fear and embarrassment they were individually feeling came as a result of someone else’s doing, not their own. This is the birth of self-righteousness.

Since then, self-righteousness can be found virtually anywhere two or more are gathered. It can be lurking in families, organizations, and churches. In addition, self-righteousness can be manifested both by the individual or the corporate body or entity. Defining self-righteousness is more a state, a condition, and/or a way of life. It refers to those who are holier-than-thou, pharisaic, or sanctimonious. It is a subtle, yet clearly manifested antagonistic pious posture people or groups have towards others. It is an “us vs. them” posture.

Here are some identifiers of self-righteousness.

1)   Self-righteousness makes one Better than, not Better together. Self-righteous groups or people walk around snubbing their nose in a pious manner as if they are spiritually, morally, physically, and intellectually superior than all other groups or people. Self-righteousness turns groups and people into constant critics parading through life looking down at those they consider outside their sphere. In short, they consider themselves “better than” those not like them. As a result, the self-righteous forfeit ever experiencing the joy and power of “better together” because they live on their own little island of “better than.”

The self-righteous forfeit ever experiencing the joy and power of ‘better together’ because they live on their own little island of ‘better than’.

2)   Self-righteousness makes one more Selfish, not Selfless. Those with snubbed pointing noses do not live life in order to serve others. Rather everything they do, or want done to them, serves their self-righteous interests. Remember, self-righteous groups and people are interested in keeping a good clean public image, devoid of any blemishes. They will protect themselves, even if it costs lying, distorting, or mischaracterizing someone or something else. Self-righteous groups and people are the center of their world; everyone, including God, rests outside the center. However, if you listen carefully you will find that self-righteous people use God as ammunition to fuel their self-righteousness. They will use language, “I am only doing it for God.” Or, “God told me to…” or “God is pleased with me.” In other words, they use God as the prop in the play of their life.

The self-righteous use God as the prop in the play of their life.

3)   Self-righteousness makes one Repulsive, not Attractive. No one wants to be around groups or people that are self-righteous. Being around the self-righteous does not build up, but only tears down. They are very quick to point out how you are not like them, and how you fail to meet their standards. They highlight the planks in everyone else’s eyes but themselves. Thus, there is nothing attractive about being around the self-righteous. There resides no love, no grace, no mercy, and no compassion. They are all law, no grace. They may appear attractive on the outside—looking as if they have it all together—but their internal condition releases a hideous odor that drives people away. As Jesus stated about the Pharisees, they are like white-washed tombs.

Self-righteous people may appear attractive on the outside—looking as if they have it all together—but their internal condition releases a hideous odor that drives people away.

4)   Self-righteousness makes one a Forceful, not Faithful. When I think of someone being forceful, I think about the Crusaders. Crusaders engage in a holy war, seeking to turn people over to their side in a coercive, insidious, and vicious way. They live with the mentality if you are not for me, or for our group, then you are against me or our group. This characterization manifests itself in ugly divorces, church feuds, political groups, or activists groups, etc. On the other hand, one who is faithful seeks to win people by the standard of the one who sent them. For believers, we are not Crusaders forcing people to live according to our standards; rather, we have been commissioned by the King to be sent out to faithfully preach and demonstrate the good-news—the good-redemptive news, the good-grace-filled news of Jesus. Self-righteous people whop people over the heads in order for them to believe in their way; Jesus followers attempt to win people’s hearts in order to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Self-righteous people whop people over the heads in order for them to believe in their way; Jesus followers attempt to win people’s hearts in order to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

5)   Self-righteousness makes one an Exclusive Purists, not an Inclusive Person. Self-righteous zealots are very protective who they associate with, or who they allow in their group. Only those similar and like-minded are invited into the gates of the self-righteous. In addition, if it is a self-righteous individual, be sure that unless you side with them, agreeing with them in everything, or do it their way, you will be kicked-to the curb. You will be viewed as a traitor, a sinner, an evil doer, a non-conformer, a person who has “not seen the light.” For, they will not let competing ideas, thoughts, sides, or people enter into their self-righteous world. They must keep it clean.

6)   Self-righteousness makes one Haughty, not Humble. The self-righteous need no help. They can achieve everything—including salvation—on their own. Their faith and hope is in their ability, morality, and works. If they looked in a mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the greatest one of all?” They would hear the mirror answer, “You.” Such a haughty posture leads to a rigid life devoid of grace. They don’t believe they need grace—given their stellar ability to perform—therefore they don’t show any grace. Haughtiness, therefore, hardens one’s heart preventing them from seeing their true need for God and seeing the true needs of others.

In this blog, I have tried to identify at least six manifestations of self-righteousness. The reality is, we must all take off the blinders of self-righteousness. For within our still damaged, distorted, and sinful bodies there is the dormant disease of self-righteousness that potentially can awake at a moments notice.

In closing, what kind of life counteracts that of self-righteousness? Micah 6:8 gives a great answer. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (or steadfast love) and to walk humbly with your God.” Justly looking out for the interests of others, having a lovingly disposition towards all, and walking humbly with God as we seek to live for His glory and renown, counteracts any self-righteous impulse that may arise in our life.