Stress

…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. ESV 1 Peter 5:7

I’m not sure how it does it, but my phone has a stress meter. You put you finger on a sensor, wait a minute, and it gives you a stress readout. Interestingly enough, it’s mildly accurate…when I was on vacation, it registered low stress; upon coming back it registered moderate stress. I think it really charts how many times a day I check my email and then registers my stress level accordingly :-). Ironically, on vacation, I started awake at three in the morning and then stayed awake for an hour worried my rental home won’t rent when the tenant leaves in two months. What’s up with that?

The following verse in Peter reminds us the devil roams around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Perhaps when we are stressed and anxious we play right into his hands. For this reason, Peter urges us to cast our cares on Him because He deeply cares for us. On Saturdays I examine myself–my soul, my mind, my physical body. Part of this examination is a stress check. Am I taking on too much? Am I trying too hard to play God? Am I worried about things that I need to turn over to God? Is my anxiety a sign of idolatry: worshiping myself as God and hoping I can fix things that only God can fix? Do I need to cast more things on Him and grow my fear and reverence for Him? These questions help expose my stress and anxiety level. Then I can begin to give these things to God.

Because we are complex creatures, our souls, bodies, minds and spirits are intertwined. That’s why I try to examine them all together each week. If my mind is anxious, often adding sleep and a good run (aspects of my physical body) will help. If I’m stressed, but haven’t fed my soul with adequate time with the Lord, then often an extended time of prayer and mediation on Scripture will help. Often, I need to renew my mind–reminding myself of the sin of anxiety and of God’s promises to me. Through these steps, I limit my stress, and am able to cast my anxiety on God…where He wants it in the first place. Rest in Him, my friends!

How To Get Rich

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. ESV Proverbs 11:24

Spiritual formation often runs contrary to our way of thinking. Perhaps this draws our hearts to the Lord and forces us to think as He thinks instead of how we think. As expected, the Biblical way of getting rich differs from our traditional approach. Most of us know to get rich, you generally have to stay out of debt and invest wisely. We know the power of compound interest, the stock market, mutual funds, the rule of 72 and so forth. However, Solomon taught that to grow richer, we should focus on giving freely. Being that he was the richest man in the Bible, I figure he knew what He was talking about.

While giving freely contradicts basic investment principles, it taps into the heart of God’s grace. God’s gracious character calls Him to give generously to us…it’s the heart of the gospel that led Christ to the cross to purchase our salvation. Through the generous offer of the gospel, God gained the reconciliation of His creation. In the same way, God calls us to give generously and promises to provide for us in return. Interestingly enough, He also notes that if we withhold what we should give, we will only suffer want in the end.

As such, may I encourage you to expand your generosity in your search for wealth. My wife and I began our marriage giving away 10% of our gross income, and have worked to raise that 1% each year. While we haven’t always been able to maintain that pace, I’m shocked that while not rich, we have more than most at our stage of life…all while investing over 20% of our gross income in the kingdom. This year we are stretching again and investing several thousand in an adoption process…something that will involve giving of our time, hearts, emotions and more. I share these things not to brag, but to encourage you that God truly blesses generosity. If you want to be rich, make sure some of your first steps involve generously giving financially and otherwise (time, effort, resources) to others. You will grow all the richer. Be warned! If you withhold what you can give (it’s all God’s anyways) you will suffer want. Live generously!

Entertaining Strange Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ESV Hebrews 13:2

At prayer time tonight, Chris and I were discussing the encounters we have with people throughout the day. He had a rough day with some of his interactions at work, and I had two of my three appointments cancel on me. While tempted to get frustrated with people, we encouraged each other that every interaction with people is an interaction with someone created in the image of God, marred by sin, and loved by Christ. His difficult interactions with coworkers were interactions with sinners in need of the gospel. My interactions with people cancelling appointments were interactions with sinners in need of the gospel (actually one was supposed to come by and film their baptism testimony…this sinner had encountered the gospel!). Our interaction together encouraged us each to continue to love each person God brought across our path.

The author of Hebrews reminds us sometimes, the strangers we encounter are actually angels. In the Bible “angel” means messenger, so this could be just regular people God has entrusted with a message for us. Or perhaps it means an actual angel straight from heaven (appearing in human form). Regardless, we must have the heart of Jesus toward all strangers who cross our paths. Only the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives can make us sensitive to each person God brings our way. Hence, we should begin each day praying for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, especially involving strangers we meet throughout the day. The checker at the grocery store, the cop running the speed trap, the strange coworker in the cubicle by the water cooler, the irate parent at the IEP meeting, the TSA officer at the airport…one of them just may be an angel…or messenger from God. In this way, we may even encounter a cussing, irate angel! (Just think of what God could teach us from that!)

Ask God to soften your heart to the stranger. Ask Him to make you keenly aware of their presence. Remember we were strangers to Christ and He died for us. May we have His love and compassion on other strangers, and encounter angels each day.

Sex as Worship

Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love! Song of Solomon 5:1

Many commentators feel the author of the line above is actually God, encouraging Solomon and his bride to take their fill of sexual intimacy in their marriage. This shouldn’t seem as a surprise to us, as the New Testament is abundantly clear that the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4), and Paul’s admonition to not be apart for long (unless it be for prayer–1 Cor 7:5). In fact, we had a running joke in our newlywed small group that sex was actually worship. It wasn’t so much of a joke as it was a practical application of Scripture!

I hope this encourages you that our spiritual formation should be fun! Jesus came to give us life and to give it to the full. Wouldn’t it make sense that something that can be as awesome as sex would have come from God and be a part of worshiping Him? I suspect at this point, many of you (actually probably most of you) assume I’m completely crazy, because you have found sex to be difficult or painful in a variety of ways, even within a strong Christian marriage. Don’t despair, I understand that, and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Remember, the curse has touched all areas of life, and we should expect something as spiritual as sex to be deeply under Satan’s attack. Perhaps that’s all the more reason for us to seek to redeem sex through the gospel. As hard and painful as it may be, working through the sexual challenges we face in marriage is a part of our spiritual formation.

For those of you who are in a strong marriage with no sexual tension…enjoy the worship. Seriously, praise God that things go well for you, and recognize that the intimacy you share with your spouse is a picture of the intimacy we share with Christ. Draw from that to deepen your relationship with Christ. For the rest of you (and I suspect it’s the majority) that struggle in various ways, look to the gospel. Remember that the marriage relationship is a picture of Christ and the church. Seek to deepen your relationship with Christ, and as a result, your sex (and worship response to God) will improve. Obviously, there is MUCH more that needs to be addressed here, but that will be in another post.

Sins of the Father

I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. ESV Exodus 20:5-6

Do you ever see your worst tendencies playing out in your kids? Why do they pick up on our greatest weaknesses, but not our greatest strengths? I have heard it said that what the parents allow in moderation the children do in excess. Could it be that my sins, left unchecked, will be multiplied in my kids? This seems to be the teaching of the verses mentioned above.

Exodus 20 lays out the ten commandments, the second of which is to not make idols that we worship and serve. The scary commentary above directly follows this command. Perhaps God knows that if the fathers engage in idolatry, the children (for three and four generations) will naturally follow in their footsteps. This truth should humble and scare us. If we as parents idolize things of the world, we can expect our children to idolize the world more so. If sports are more important than church, then we shouldn’t be surprised when our kids walk away from church. If buying a new car is more important that generous giving, then expect our kids to idolize cars. If we idolize our tv time so that we fail to spend time in God’s word, it shouldn’t surprise us when our kids never crack a Bible as well. Our children will worship what we worship (only more so), so if we worship idols, we must expect the same of them.

God does leave us with a promise…He shows steadfast love to thousands of those who keep His commandments. While our sins seem to ruin three or four generations, our righteousness (through Christ and the power of His Spirit) can impact thousands. What greater encouragement could there be to eliminate idolatry from our hearts and lives? One of the greatest drives of my spiritual formation is this determination to eliminate idolatry so my children don’t walk in my footsteps. I already see them becoming like me in so many ways (good and bad), that I must ensure idolatry is not one of them. Make this an urgent matter of prayer.

Enjoying Work

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God ESV Ecclesiastes 2:24

I’m blessed to have a job I absolutely love. Monday can be hard, but today I got to present the gospel to someone in my office (they hope to be baptized shortly). Then I spent some time studying the big picture in 1 John in preparation for my next series. Perhaps the highlight of the day was walking in the sanctuary, taking the names of every member of the church to the Lord and asking for His blessings on their lives. Yes, I’m blessed in the vocation God has given me.

Solomon agreed finding enjoyment in our toil was a blessing from God. He recognized God doesn’t always allow us to enjoy our work. Granted, there are days that people don’t respond to the gospel, that my mind wanders during prayer, and I have to lead meetings that go nowhere. However, on the days God blesses, I stop to thank Him for it. My prayer for you is that you are able to enjoy your work as well. God has given you unique talents and abilities and gifts. By His grace, I hope you have found a vocation that fits your unique nature and that by and large brings you joy. In that way, our work becomes worship, and is a celebratory part of our spiritual formation.

Remember, you don’t have to have a “ministry” job to worship God. If you love fixing cars, and God enables you to do that, then you get to enjoy your calling! Repairing cars involves understanding God’s creation and provides a service that blesses our fellow-man. Others of you are gifted in other ways, and you find great joy in managing a spreadsheet, or selling a product, or treating an illness. If you are able to enjoy your job, know this is a blessing from God.

Soul Focus

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. ESV Psalm 25:1

Sunday worship. Is it a time to be with friends? To receive good teaching? To check the box on weekly spirituality? Or could it be a time to lift up your soul to Him? The more I reflect on my spiritual formation, the more I realize most of it boils down to simply lifting our soul to the Lord Jesus. It’s not so much about trying to be spiritual, doing a bunch of spiritual things (like prayer, Bible reading, and such as good as they are). Rather, it’s simply taking our soul (all of who we are) and lifting it up to Jesus.

For Christians, Sundays provide a great opportunity to take extra care of our souls. Hopefully you belong to a good church–a church that provides ample opportunity for you to lift your soul to the Lord. The worship time and prayer time should both be opportunities for you to present all of yourself to God…your fears, cares, pride, concerns, hopes and dreams. May I encourage you during the worship time today to not just stand and sing (or worse yet, just stand). Instead, pour out your soul to the Lord. Sing the words as coming from your heart. Pray along with the leaders that God would work in your soul. During the preaching time, don’t just listen politely or even take notes. Rather, ask God to look deeply into your soul. Ask Him to use His word to bring conviction, to open your eyes to changes you need to make, to encourage you in your distress.

If we make Sunday a day of soul searching, it properly aligns us for the rest of the week. I hope you don’t miss this opportunity. If you aren’t regularly involved in a church (or if you attend a church that doesn’t encourage soul development, please make finding such a church a top priority. Finding a new church can be daunting, but if you reach out to me, I’ll be happy to help you. Lifting our souls to the Lord is part of our spiritual formation and church is a great vehicle for this.

 

Sleep

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. ESV Psalm 4:8

I write often on sleep, but it’s honestly one of the key elements of my spiritual development. Just this past week I came across another article encouraging rest. Apparently, the happiest people sleep 7.1 hours a night. Another article indicates the US loses 63 billion dollars in lost productivity each year because we are sleep deprived. Each Saturday, when I take a deeper look at myself, I always check my physical condition, and one of the aspects of my physical condition is the amount of sleep I am getting.

I wrote before on the importance of rest and the futility of working hard to the exclusion of taking time to rest, so I won’t repeat that here. Rather, in this post, I want to gently probe us on idolatry as it relates to sleep deprivation. The psalmist quoted above acknowledges he is able to sleep well because the LORD creates his safety. The other night I awoke, and stayed awake for an hour fretting over whether or not my town house will rent in September when the lease is up. Instead of committing that to the Lord (as it really is in His hands) I gave up an hour of sleep in worry. In reality, my worry was my idol…somehow, between 2 and 3am, I was convinced I could figure out how to ensure my townhouse would rent. Other nights I stay up late working on various projects for the church. Most of these projects (things like tweaking my PowerPoint) may trace back to idols (I want people to like my preaching which means they like me). Instead of finding my identity is being liked by God, I give up sleep to try to ensure others like me.

No doubt we give up sleep for many other reasons. Perhaps you worry about health, the economy, your job or your kids. Perhaps you fear for your physical safety, or you have concerns about your marriage. True, it’s hard to sleep when these things are on our minds. However, if God is god, and we aren’t worshiping idols, we should sleep. Take some time tonight to give those idols to God…then go to sleep!

 

The effect of more stuff

When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? ESV Ecclesiastes 5:11

Solomon’s quote above aptly states a life truth I’m slowly experiencing. The more stuff you get, the more time and resources you invest in managing your stuff. In Solomon’s day, they lived in an agricultural society. As fields and crops increased, you had to increase your servants and workers who in turn ate more of your crops so that at the end of the day, you had little more wealth than you began with…it was just a bigger operation. I’ve heard similar stories with friends who have small businesses. They tell me they took home more when they worked for themselves than when they had 10 employees (with all the added costs and headaches that incurs).

I’ve seen this personally when we moved from a town home to a single family home. I managed my townhome yard in 15 minutes without breaking a sweat (mowing and weed whacking). Now we live on 4 acres and it takes at least 4 hours to mow and weed whack…not to mention the tractor is much more costly to maintain than my little push electric mower. God gives blessings, and there is nothing wrong with increasing our wealth, be that our business, our property, our stock portfolio, our cars. However, we need to realize that as we increase these things, they generally require more work, not less. The spiritual aspect comes into play when we consider our kingdom calling. We may be a great impact for the kingdom by enlarging our business. (I have many friends who minister to their employees and larger customer base.) This may keep us from kingdom ministry. (I have other friends who have lost their kingdom focus as their business overwhelmed them.) Some days I question whether my larger property is a kingdom bonus (we can and do minister to many more people in our home than we did in the townhome) or a kingdom distraction (it takes a lot more time to maintain than the townhome).

Regardless, this post is to challenge us to think through the impact our stuff has on us. Getting more may be a blessing, or a distraction. At best, it will be more complicated. Prayerfully consider your blessings and choose wisely!

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