Tag Archives: christianity

Sinless Christians

I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible for a Christian to become mostly sinless.

Now, I’m talking about born-again believers here. Jesus-followers.

In his book “The Grace Awakening,” Chuck Swindoll said many of us are taught that “we’re only human,” and “we can’t  help but sin.” And this is what we’re being taught after we’re saved. Swindoll disagrees. He asserts that it is possible to become less and less prone to sin as we become more and more spiritually mature. He says teaching to the contrary dismisses grace altogether, negates the purpose of the Holy Spirit…

I read Ezekiel 36:26-27 last week, and I’ve been thinking about it and going back to it ever since.

What do you think?

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Just Plain Greedy

What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to move in church?

In my last post I briefly mentioned the concept as far as spiritual maturity is concerned:

On the other hand, some believe the church is a place to be fed. The more spiritually mature you are, the greater your expectations of the church. Worship should be lengthy, the Holy Spirit should move tangibly, and the pastor should “go deep.” As long as I’m able to come and get all my needs met, I’m satisfied. But if the church doesn’t feed me “meat,” I’m out!

I’m not saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a place in the church. (That would be stupid.) But I do think some views on the subject are narrow.

  • Has the Holy Spirit only moved when “worship” goes on for an hour or two? (By “worship,” I mean the musical portion of the service.)
  • Has the Holy Spirit only moved when people feel goosebumps, or they cry or laugh, or the hair is raised on their necks?
  • Has the Holy Spirit only moved when people are speaking in tongues and/or prophesying over each other?
  • Has the Holy Spirit only moved when people pass out or fall to the floor?

If these things are true, then does it mean the Holy Spirit hasn’t moved if worship is only 20 minutes? If nobody “feels” him, has he moved? Chip Judd, a local pastor here in the Carolinas, said it’s great for people to pass out under the power of the Holy Spirit; but what happens when they get up?

I’m not saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t move through worship, or goosebumps, or tongues, or whatever. I’m saying those things don’t mark the spiritually mature church.

The Holy Spirit brings movement. He brings fresh perspective, and conviction, and empowerment. He brings change. He brings glory to the Father and the Son. He brings love (first), along with joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These things mark a spiritually mature church where the Holy Spirit is moving.

As opposed to babbling, goosebump-laden saints crowding the altar, snatching up all the mannah and leaving none for those who’ve yet to taste his goodness.

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Is Jesus the Only Way?

Here’s the next message in Erwin McManus’ series, “Life’s Toughest Questions.” In it he addresses the question, “Is Jesus the Only Way”? Click here to listen.

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What About Sex?

This is the third in Erwin McManus’ “Life’s Toughest Questions” series (from Mosaic Church). In it, McManus answers real questions from real people (received via e-mail/blog comments). The questions are about pre-marital sex and homosexuality, among others. McManus answers from a biblical perspective. Here’s “What About Sex.”

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Ugly, Hard, Messy Lessons

The other day my 10-year-old son got in trouble in school again.

His troubles began when he was 2. My sweet, precocious and very active little boy suddenly began having tantrums. My husband and I were separated at the time, and I was pregnant. I attributed this out-of-the-ordinary behavior to his age and the circumstances.

But it never stopped.

Eight years later, he’s been kicked out of four child care providers and has been suspended from school several times. It’s not a normal week if I don’t have at least one conversation with my son’s teacher, assistant principal or principal. I have these horrible, tense conversations with the adults in his life, listening as they describe his latest failure, and I feel their judgment. I feel their blame, and I fight the urge to wheedle.

So when DJ came home from another rough day, I sent him to his room to wait for me. When I went in, he was sitting on the floor wrapped in three blankets, his face and head covered.

“Why are you sitting there like that?” I asked. He took the blanket from his face and looked at me.

“I don’t want to be this way.” I could hear the truth of his words in his voice. “But I feel like I can’t change.” There were tears, but not the hysterical kind. They were resigned tears. My heart broke (again).

I sat down on his bed and invited him to sit next to me. We talked about how hard it is to change our thinking and our actions, how it’s like making a new path in a wildly overgrown wilderness. We talked about Jesus, about the power the Holy Spirit gives us to change. We talked about how it’s not easy. As we talked, I looked down at his knees, knobby and ashy and small, next to my own. I put my arms around him and I held him very tightly for a long time. I thought of the people who only know him as a trouble-maker, and I wished they could see him now. This little boy is my son, my baby, and he’s worth loving and knowing! This isn’t a choice for him! I feel like I’m the only person who knows that or cares to know that … and even I forget sometimes.

I disciplined him. Then I hugged him again, and I left the room.

It’s not always like this. Most of the time I’m impatient with him. Most of the time I’m angry with him. Over the years I’ve sobbed, I’ve raged, I’ve pleaded. I’ve been defensive and embarrassed. I’ve been sad and scared. I’ve been fierce and I’ve been torn. I’ve been depressed, and I’ve been indifferent.

This year in particular I’ve been angry at God. How much did I have to pray before he would make all this go away? How much faith did I need? Didn’t he care that our lives were miserable? I came within inches of abandoning my relationship with the Lord. I mean, the skin of my teeth, you know?

In the meantime, I have prayed generally for patience (an area of great weakness for me) since I got saved. I’ve prayed to see people through Christ’s eyes, to love the way he loves. I want to be this great Christian and I want God to answer all my pious, silly prayers …

The other day my 19-year-old son said he wanted to join the military. He wanted to be an officer, so he wouldn’t have to salute people, they’d have to salute him. I said, “Why do you always want the shortcut to the perks, but you’re not willing to do the hard work to earn them?”

Speak for yourself, Sparky. What a dumb-ass I am.

Look, if this is what it is … and it is … then what am I doing? Sitting around being pissed at God instead of learning to love my son the way Christ loves him and me: patiently, overarchingly, graciously, hopefully, and consistently. I don’t believe God sends hard things solely to teach us a lesson. On the other hand, I don’t know why this is our lot. But it is. Ugly and hard and messy as it is, I just won’t waste it anymore. I don’t think it’s a situation God created solely to answer my prayers. But the situation itself has created an opportunity for God to answer my prayers. So if there’s a lesson in this somewhere, if nothing else, I want to learn it.

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Unsatisfied

I’ve noticed lately that I’m not the only one who’s unsatisfied.

I was at Theo and Aysha’s life development group a couple weeks ago, and we were talking about evangelism. One guy said he wasn’t sure he wanted to do the “evangelism thing” where we do it because we have to, because it’s the “Christian thing to to,” or we use some “formula.” Instead he wanted it to be something he does because he’s excited to do it, compelled by the Holy Spirit to do it.

The conversation sort of morphed and evolved, and ebbed and flowed in the direction of, should we be satisfied with ordinary things? Can’t we expect God to do big, amazing things? Can’t we expect him to show us stuff? And the evening ended with this powerful prayer, with all of us crying out to God, tears and snot running down our faces, asking him to blow our minds and help us to live outside of ordinary.

I was glad this guy brought up the subject. I’ve been so sick of stumbling along on this ordinary, boring, sad path. Here’s my thing: The Bible describes all kinds of amazing stuff. Salvations. Healings. Reanimations. Impossibilities. He said we could have and see these same things. So, where is it? I want it! Is it too much to ask God to blow our minds?

Blow my mind, God! I can’t be, I won’t continue to be, satisfied with anything ordinary.

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Sometimes God’s in the Dark

In my last EMT post I shared how the Holy Spirit invited me to walk down the dark tunnel. I feel like talking about that some more.

When I got saved, I was already a wife and mother, so I was pretty set in my ways. I’d gone all my life knowing little or nothing about Jesus or God. I had prayed before; I believed in God; I just didn’t have a relationship with Him. After I got saved, I had this rosy picture of who He was and of what life would be like from that moment forward. All daisies and skipping, la la la. (I stole that from Prodigal Jon, it makes me laugh every time.) This picture, of course, is inaccurate.

I don’t mean to say that the daisies are all dead or something. They’re there, but sometimes you can’t see them because it’s pitch black where you are. And God is there too. Daisies and God, in the pitch black darkness.

I maybe know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too: God is light. He’s good and holy and perfect. He cannot exist in darkness. The darkness gives way to the light. Et cetera. And these things are true. So when He said I would find Him in the dark, I was in quite a conundrum. My body was at odds with itself: My mind argued convincingly that it wasn’t God, that self-preservation was my highest priority, that the hell I was living was better than walking into a dark unknown. But in my heart I knew it was God’s voice I’d heard, and I knew exactly what He was asking me to do: Trust Him … with no reassuring daisies and cheerful sun to tell me I was going the right way.

Seriously, it was one of the most scary, gut-wrenching decisions I ever made, but I chose to follow His voice into the dark. I was terrified. But God really was there, and He took my hand and led me through the dark to the light on the other side. Today I’m living in a future that wouldn’t exist had I gone the other way. I mean, my marriage, my children, my husband: Our lives aren’t perfect, but they’re so good, so much better than they were. What if I’d said no to Him? Man … our lives would suck. I mean it.

So, sometimes God’s in the dark, and if you want Him you have to just go there. Okay?

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Un-encouragement

So maybe you didn’t know I’ve been sort of discouraged lately. (Understatement.) More to the point, I’ve been sad, depressed, angry, cynical, resigned, bored, confused and exhausted. I wrote a little about it in another post called “She’s Come Undone.” (That was just the tip of the iceberg.)

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and I walked away from it encouraged. Later I wondered why other friends had tried to encourage me, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as a 30-minute lunch conversation. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized some traits. I call these traits “un-encouragement,” because they undermine true efforts to encourage. See if you can relate.

Disclaimer: I’ve been guilty of these same tactics, so I’m not passing judgment! I love and value my friends, and I know their intentions are pure.

UN-ENCOURAGEMENT 1: You’re a Liar

Sometimes when we’re sad or upset or whatever, a loving and well-meaning friend will tell us all the reasons we shouldn’t be. You might say, “I suck as a Christian and as a human being in general.” And your friend might fiercely object. “What?! That’s ridiculous! You are the kindest, most generous person I know!” The result: Now, in addition to feeling as if you suck, you also feel more lonely and misunderstood than ever. After all, you know you suck. You know the ugly, dark thoughts in your heart. When your friend objects, it just shows how your friend doesn’t know you … how no one knows you. It also makes you feel your friend doesn’t believe you. If you honestly share your feelings, and your friend responds by basically calling you a liar … well, you do the math.

UN-ENCOURAGEMENT 2: You’re a Bad Christian

Sometimes when we’re sad or upset or whatever, a loving and well-meaning friend will direct us to scripture. You might say, “I feel like God’s so far away from me right now.” And your friend might respond, “What? That’s ridiculous. Haven’t you read that God will never leave you? Listen, read Deuteronomy 31 tonight. And read the book of John. Yes, the entire book, because God’s love is written all over it.” The result: Now you feel like an even worse Christian than you did five minutes ago. You already know what the Bible says! Reading the scriptures isn’t going to help! … Wait a second … shouldn’t it help? Maybe your faith is too shallow to let the scripture “drop from your head to your heart.” Maybe God really has abandoned you! Et cetera.

These forms of unencouragement cause many people to keep their feelings to themselves. We don’t want pat answers and easy 3-step solutions, because these things are useless and condescending. So we close in on ourselves, and our situations seem increasingly impossible and hopeless. Who knows how that will end?

REAL ENCOURAGEMENT

In my opinion, real encouragement involves listening and sharing. It’s saying to a friend, “I’ve been there.” Or if you haven’t, it’s being honest about it rather than behaving as if you’re dripping with answers. I’ve found that when people are able to honestly relate what they’re feeling (and unencouragement is avoided at all costs), God’s really able to get His foot in the door. (You must also be determined not to have a pity party.) You begin to dialog about your thoughts and experiences, and somehow, amazingly, you begin to remember God’s character–as revealed not only in the Bible, but in your own life. It’s like your soul shakes off its amnesia and you begin to remember how good He is, how kind and loving He’s been. You remember the lessons He taught you before, and you recognize how they’re still applicable to this situation today. You wind up encouraging one another.

It’s also helpful to talk because nine times out of ten (I don’t have any research to back up those statistics) you realize you’re not alone. Your friend has either gone through it before, or is going through it right now. For some reason it helps to know you’re not the only Christian on the planet who has doubted God’s decision to choose you as His own.

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She’s Come Undone …

It’s late (early). I’m not tired, but I’ll pay for it later today. It’s been a while since I’ve been awake enough in the middle of the night to actually get out of bed… And it’s been a good while since I’ve posted anything. I feel detached lately.

I think of my life–the business of being me–and I’m frustrated. I feel like I’m standing in the middle of 9,546,241 very tall piles, and I’m busily moving them and rearranging them. I make some of them shorter by adding to other piles. I make some of them taller by taking away from other piles. But the piles aren’t really going anywhere.

I know these feelings reiterate everything the Bible has always said about life on Earth. More and more I see the truth: This world has nothing for me. Life, as seen through the lens of “achievement” and “success” and “democracy” is empty. Everything is vanity, grasping at the wind. In other words, who gives a crap? Why do I?

But here’s what’s really bothering me: I think I know what to do. I think I know what God wants from me. But I don’t know if I have the courage to do it. It seems impossible, and I’m a chicken. I’m a lazy little chicken, moving piles around because that way it looks (to me, and to everyone except God) like I’m doing something. Moving piles because I know how to do that. I hide behind my 9,546,241 piles, whether I want to or not.

Do I derive some strange comfort from being in this place? Omigosh, I think I do. I guess that’s the price melancholies pay. Here’s something funny: Because of my natural bent, I resent this box called “personality” (specifically the box called “melancholy”) because it means I’m a slave to some prescribed notion of who I am. “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” I rage at the machine! Yeah. Typical melancholy.

I have to break this cycle. And I know, I really do, that the answer is found in my relationship with God. I’m actively, aggressively being passive with Him. I love Him so much, but I just feel like being in my shell right now. I’d like to pretend He can’t see what I’m doing in here. I know, at least, that He’s waiting for me to poke my head out. I think He’ll smile at me when I do. Like the way my mom smiled at me when I was 3, and I packed a jar of peanut butter and a spoon into a hobo bag and “ran away.” I was gone all of five minutes. And when I came back, my mom smiled at me, and we went on with life. She told me later she’d watched me the whole time I was gone, when I thought I was alone.

I’m going to bed so I can move piles in my dreams.

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The “Mustard Seed” Thing

I’ve been chewing on this one for a few days. Thought I’d share.

A couple weeks ago my family was fasting, primarily to help our unbelief. On the last day of the fast I was praying and asked God to increase my faith. Right away the scripture came to mind when the apostles asked Jesus the same thing–so I looked it up.

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6)

In answer to the apostles’ request for more faith, Jesus said, “If you had a mustard seed of faith …” In other words, their problem wasn’t small faith, but no faith at all.

I felt the Lord compelling me to open my hand, so I did. As I looked at my palm He said something like, “Your hand is empty now. But if you put a thing in your hand, then you would then possess that thing. And if you drop it, you no longer possess it. Either it’s in your hand or it isn’t.”

This being the case, even a very small amount of faith–if possessed–is able to achieve great things. Faith, whether it’s as tiny as a mustard seed or as great as a mountain, is useless if you don’t have it. It’s like trying to drive a compact car without the keys, and muttering, “If I just had a bigger car, I’d be outta here!”

I do think there’s a place for bigger faith. But at least for me, I needed to have some measure of faith first before I could ask God to increase it.

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