Saturday, February 28, 2015

How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends: Part 1

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Having grown up in the church, I’ve seen many young people seemingly drift from our Lord.  At one point, it seemed like they were close to Him, but now it seems as if they’ve forgotten Him.

This is a saddening thing.  But even more saddening is the realization that this is not at all uncommon.  In fact, it’s become the norm in the Church today.  Left and right, youth are packing up and leaving the church in hordes.

As I see this happening, I’m forced to ask the question, “How do I deal with friends who are distant from God?”  It’s a touchy situation.  However, unless I’m going to allow them to walk away from the faith entirely, there are a number of things I must understand.

I’m not all that close to God either.

When I look to the wondrous perfection of the Lord, seeing His holiness, love, purity, and grace, I cannot help but come face-to-face with my own imperfection, sinfulness, filthiness, and incapability.  As I stare out across the chasm between God’s flawlessness and my own pitiful unworthiness, “close” doesn’t seem to be a fitting description.

In comparison with the distance between my character and my Savior’s, the difference between my “closeness” and that of anyone else is fractional at best.

Yet if I thought it were only a matter of who’s “closer” than whom, I would be missing the point.  Our position on the journey of sanctification is not really as important as our direction.  My job is to point people to my Savior; the rest is up to Him.

Are they truly a Christian?

If I am to ever try to bring people back to a right relationship with God, I must determine where they stand with Him.  My response to a brother or sister who is drifting away from the path of righteousness is different from my response to someone who is not a Christian at all.

Ultimately, the lifestyle of a non-Christian’s life is not my highest priority.  While it’s easy to focus on others’ behavior, my job is to spread the gospel and let the Lord take care of the rest.  So if my friend is not displaying evidence of a regenerated heart, there’s not much of a point in my trying to “fix” their lifestyle.

However, if I know that this friend is indeed a Christian, I have another responsibility.  As passages such as James 5:19-20, Galatians 6:1-5, and Luke 17:3 explain, I am accountable to my brothers and sisters as a member of the Body of Christ, and they are accountable to me.

(I won’t expound in this post how to tell whether a person is a Christian, but you’re welcome to discuss that in the comments!)

Is it my place to confront this person?

After realizing my own weakness and evaluating the relationship a friend has with the Lord, it’s important that I know when to confront a brother or sister and when to only pray for them.  After all, I can’t confront everyone, even though we all have areas of sin in our lives.

Fortunately, Matthew 18:15 gives a key condition to confronting sin: “If your brother sins against you …” (emphasis added).  Thus, if another Christian wrongs me personally, it’s my responsibility to resolve it.

But what if a friend is committing a sin that doesn’t involve me?  Am I to leave it alone?  Since there are many specific situations, this is largely something I must determine myself.  Each circumstance requires careful prayer and consideration.  (I will also leave this for further discussion in the comment section, since it is such a broad issue.)

I can’t change anybody

Ultimately, no matter how much I try, no matter how sincere my intentions, I will never be able to change anyone.

But really, why would I want to?  From my experience, just about everything I try to change of my own power fails.  Miserably. 

I can’t change anybody.  But that is just the way I want it.  I can rejoice, knowing that the very One Who has the power to change my hard heart can use me as His instrument to do His work in the hearts of those around me!  What an incredible thought.

So before I can hope to help any wayward friend, I need to ensure that my attitude is right.  I must understand that I’m not as close to my Savior as I may think.  I must ascertain where my friend is with the Lord.  I must know when it is right to confront them.  And finally, I must realize that I cannot change anyone of my own effort.

With this understanding, if God is prompting me to confront a brother or sister, how do I go about doing so?  How do I talk to someone about my concerns without turning them away?  Be sure to come back Wednesday, when we’ll discuss the “how” of dealing with far-from-God friends!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

God or Others?

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We all know that our individual relationship with God is of prime importance.  Studying scripture is essential in bringing us closer to our Lord and Savior.  In the same way, prayer is also crucial.  Perhaps some of us are faithful in such spiritual disciplines; more likely is the fact that we still have a lot of work to do in that area.

But what if I told you that bible study, prayer, and other individual disciplines are not the most important part of a Christian’s life?

Sure, those things are necessary – and we should take joy in them!  But if all of us spent the entirety of our lives with our faces in a book or our heads bowed, who would be living out that faith?  We can mature in our knowledge of the Heavenly One as much as we want, but if there is no evidence of that knowledge in our lives, then our efforts will have had very little purpose.

We seem to have the idea that our relationship with God comes first, and our relationships with others come second.  But this is simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong; no one in our lives should be equal-status with the Lord.  However, our relationship with Him and our relationship with others are not separate.  As 1 John 4:20 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

If, in our relationships with others, we are not showing evidence of the One Whom we claim to know, then our knowledge is of practically no value.  But if we truly are growing in the knowledge of the Holy One, it will be absolutely unmistakable to those around us.

Our problem is that we tend to have an individualistic mindset with our faith.  We are taught that we owe nothing to other people; our faith in God is all that matters.  While there is some truth in this, do Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 resemble such an attitude?

As Christians, we are called to serve others, putting them ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  We cannot continue to isolate ourselves, thinking that we’re choosing that which is most important, even if that "important" thing is a noble pursuit.

Like I said in last week’s post, balance is the key.  If we spend no time with the Lord, yet try to live out His word in our lives, we will face a contradiction.  But in the same way, if we live our lives being more concerned about what we’re getting from God than what others are receiving, we will neglect Christ’s calling.

Let us pursue Christ and allow the two sides to fall into perfect balance, growing as individuals and strengthening Christ’s body as a whole.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How Do I Balance it All?

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In our lives as Christians, it seems that there are so many things on which to focus.  Read scripture, nurture relationships, share the gospel, be patient, be kind … and on and on the list goes.  When we focus on one thing, like patience, we lose sight of many other issues and create a dozen more things on which to focus.  It’s a lifelong battle to juggle everything.

Obviously, balance is necessary for a healthy life.  But how can we possibly focus on everything at once – every character quality in which we need to grow – and not lose sight of some other thing that requires our attention?  How do we find a balance?

Eastern religions and the New Age movement will tell you that the key to balance is essentially escaping life, be it escaping the bounds of reason, culture, or social relationships.  But in reality, we are not meant to escape life.  We are to be in the world, not separated from it – and yet still achieve this balance.

Our biggest obstacle in trying to achieve balance is, well, trying to achieve balance.

If we try to juggle every issue in our lives, we will end up dropping the ball in every area.  The truth is that achieving balance is outright impossible for us broken humans.

When we understand that balance is an impossible feat for humanity, we come to realize that there can be only one source of balance: Christ.

We tend to have the wrong approach to our relationship with the Lord.  We focus on the small things – our character, works, etc. – and think that those things will bring us closer to the Lord.  However, our focus should first be on the Lord, and everything else will come as a natural result (cf. Matthew 6:33).  

That is, after all, what the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) means.  It’s the natural result of walking in the Spirit.

So how do we find balance in life? Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ alone.

We must stop trying to juggle everything in our lives, because we are utterly incapable.  Instead, our focus must be entirely on Christ.  When we make Him our sole pursuit, following His lead, we will find that all the things on which we used to focus will come naturally (cf. Psalm 37:4).

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Fear is a Sin

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As it turns out, the Lord has quite a lot to say about fear in His word.  In fact, some claim that the Bible tells us 365 times not to be afraid!  Understandably, there are plenty of examples, such as Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7, Joshua 1:9, and (a personal favorite) Matthew 6:25-34.

The topic of fear, though, is unique.  We Christians love to quote passages about casting away fear.  They make us feel safe and secure - and rightly so!  But what makes the subject of fear so unique is that we treat it differently than just about any other issue.

When God says, "Do not steal," we avoid stealing.  When He says, "Do not lie," we avoid lying.  But when He says, "Do not fear," we take a moment or two to ponder God's peace and then move on.

Do we not realize that the Lord commands us not to fear, just as He does other sins?

Yes, that's right.  Fear is a sin.  Recall 1 John 4:18: 
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."  
Fear and anxiety are complete opposites of the nature of the Almighty.

The problem is that we often fail to view fear, anxiety, and the like, as sins.  We think that they are forces over which we have no control and are dictated by our personalities or our past experiences.  But are these justifiable excuses for sins such as pride or hatred?  Of course not!  Why do we continue to try to explain away our sin?

Now, if my only aim in this post were to explain that fear is a sin, I would be missing the most important point.  The fact that fear is a sin should not leave us without hope.  Rather, it should fill us with joy.  Why?  We have been set free from sin!

If fear and anxiety were forces beyond our control, what hope would we have of escaping from their grip?  But, as Romans 6:14 explains, 
"For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."
Fear, anxiety, worry, doubt.  They're all sins.  Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, however, we have the power - and the responsibility - to put to death such sins in the name of Jesus!  And that is reason to rejoice.