How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others – all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

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How Sanctification Works

When we become believers, we’re given a couple of gifts.

1) We get to go to Heaven when we die.

2) We get to have a relationship with God now.

What we’re not given is instantaneous spiritual maturity.

We are the same ole shmucks we were before we accepted Christ, screwing things up, refusing to cooperate with God and His plan for our lives, oscillating between giving up on this life that’s just too hard and trying to control every little thing under the sun in an attempt to self-protect. We keep these patterns up when we begin walking with Christ. They don’t magically disappear.

And every day for the rest of our lives, we have a choice to make: will we cooperate with the Lord’s desire to gently grow us out of our self-defeating patterns, or will we hold onto our patterns more tightly than we hold onto our Christ? A lot of us mentally assent to the former while living the latter…

This whole process of “growing up” in the Lord is called sanctification. And the Bible speaks to it. In fact all of Paul’s letters to different churches contain encouragement for them to mature spiritually because it’s that important and it’s that central to the Christian life. So it’d behoove us to explore how sanctification works.

Today, I want to highlight just two verses on the subject.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Both these scriptures speak to growing spiritually… But did you notice how that growing occurs?

God does it.

GOD does it.

God DOES it. 

God does IT!

Is that not the best news you’ve heard in awhile?!

Our only responsibility in this whole “making ourselves better” thing is to be open to the Lord, to have a cooperative spirit. He does all. the. rest. 

We don’t have to try harder to be better Christians or read more or serve more or pray more or tithe more or ______ more or get our own hearts right or pull ourselves up by our boot straps.

We aren’t responsible for our own sanctification. We are only responsible for being willing to be sanctified by God, and He will surely do it.

When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church

Yesterday I struck a nerve by writing an article called When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church. My main point was it’s not okay to be selfish, and leaving your church because your personal preferences aren’t being catered to is unbiblical.

I would be remiss, however, to leave the discussion at that. Because the fact is there are times when it’s okay to leave your church – and by “okay” I mean biblical.

The number one reason you should leave your church: the Gospel is not being preached.

Here’s what I am not saying: it is biblical to leave a church if the Gospel isn’t preached how you like it preached. In other words, if you don’t like the preacher or his preaching style, I am not saying you are right to leave. In fact, yesterday I said you’d be dead wrong to leave over that kind of thing.

What I am saying is, unfortunately, there are a lot of feel good churches out there that teach things not found in the Bible.

Churches that teach Bible stories but never get around to explicitly stating that Jesus is God, He died for our sins, He rose again, He is the only way to Heaven and right relationship with God, and we all need Him.

Churches that preach self-help instead of Jesus-help. The Bible teaches all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and apart from Jesus we can do nothing (read: we can’t help ourselves), but if we remain in Jesus, we will bear much fruit (read: Jesus is our help).

Churches that teach if you love Jesus enough, you will be healthy and wealthy. The Bible teaches in this life believers will have troubles of many kinds, trials, sufferings and hardships, and nonbelievers will hate us.

If the aforementioned unbiblical things are taught at your church, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (like Romans 3 and John 15, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to teach the entire scope of the Bible, not just the bits and pieces they like.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that doesn’t preach the Gospel is to perpetuate a lie, namely that Jesus might be a nice guy, but He isn’t necessary. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they are hearing the Bible when they aren’t, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep teaching falsehoods: people and money.

A second biblical reason to leave your church is like the first: the leaders (main decision makers: pastors, elders, deacons, etc.) are living in ways that the Bible explicitly says not to.

What I’m not saying is you should leave your church if you think the pastor’s house is too big or the elders’ aren’t spending money the way you would if you were in charge or the leaders sometimes make mistakes or they occasionally sin or they have hurt your feelings or they have weaknesses. Your leaders are human. They aren’t perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.

What I am saying is you should leave your church if leaders are stealing money or having affairs and refusing to repent or are sexually abusing children or are physically abusing their spouses or have drug or alcohol addictions that are going untreated or are consumed with arrogance and pride and refuse accountability – lifestyle choices that go against scripture and for which they are wholly unrepentant.

If your church leaders are acting in these unbiblical ways, you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, for instance). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to repent and make the necessary changes to their lifestyles in order to live and lead biblically.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you must leave. To remain a part of a “church” that allows leaders to consciously and consistently live lives that are opposed to scripture is to perpetuate a harmful and untrue version of Christianity, namely that we can expect Jesus to be our Savior without having to submit to His lordship. Your mere presence makes you an accomplice to and responsible for the falsehoods being taught as truth, maybe not from the pulpit, but by the behavior your leaders are modeling. If you know that any seeker who comes to your church will be misled, deceived into thinking they can live anyway they want to and still expect a ticket into Heaven, and you keep attending and tithing, you are giving your church the two things they need to keep perpetuating falsehoods: people and money.

A third biblical reason to leave your church: there is no opportunity for your personal growth in your relationship with Christ through the study of scripture.

Here’s what I am not saying: you can leave your church if the pastor doesn’t “feed you” on Sunday mornings. In other words, if you aren’t “getting” anything out of the message, I’m not saying you have biblical freedom to leave. You don’t. If you only ate one meal a week, you’d die, and it’d be your fault. The same is true of our spiritual lives. You are responsible for feeding yourself, and you need to eat daily.

What I am saying is your church should help you find food. They should encourage personal Bible reading, whether that’s providing a reading plan or Bible study material, they should be doing something to point you toward personally acquiring more Bible knowledge. They should also encourage mentoring/discipling relationships where someone older in the faith teaches someone younger in the faith. These are biblical concepts, and churches of any size can and should help their congregants grow in these ways. 

If there are no opportunities like this at your church – and I mean none, not just none that you like or none that “fit your schedule” – you need to pray. A lot. And then you need to approach the leadership in humility and love and tell them you’re concerned. You need to have an open dialogue with them, using scriptures to support your grievances (Romans 12, 2 Timothy 3, and Titus 2, for example). And then you need to pray some more, asking the Holy Spirit to convict them of any wrongdoing and empower them to develop ways to encourage congregants to grow in their personal relationships with God.

And after a good long while, if nothing changes, you can leave with a clear conscience. But you don’t have to. You could take the initiative and go find your own Bible study resources… You could take the lead, find an older believer, and ask them to disciple you… And you could stay at your church.

The last reason leaving your church could be a biblical decision: God is calling you to serve somewhere else. 

What I am not saying is if you’re unhappy at your current church, and you’re pretty sure God would want you to be happy, and you think you can make that happen by switching churches, then God must be in that decision. God is more concerned with your spiritual growth than with your personal happiness, and he likes to use uncomfortable situations to encourage such growth, including, but not limited to, less-than-satisfying church experiences.

That being said, I believe there are times God legitimately calls people to leave their churches to go serve elsewhere. It may be to go plant a new church in an under-churched area (read: not 1 mile down the road from your current church). It may be to go on the mission field. It may be as a result of moving out of town. It may be because another church has a legitimate need for someone with your gifts and talents to come use your gifts and talents to serve their body. 

If you feel like God might be calling you to go to another church, you need to pray. A lot. And ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal to you what’s really inside. Be honest with yourself. If you are genuinely being called away from your church, your motivation should be one of spreading the Gospel and serving others. There should be no trace of bitterness and/or entitlement. In your heart of hearts, your incentives for going to a new church should not include any selfish reasons – “I am more fulfilled there”, “the pastor really connects with me”, “I like the music better”, “I really get into the worship”, etc.

If you check your heart and you still feel called to a different church, pray some more. Ask the Lord to prepare your current church for your departure, because, even if you leave for biblical reasons, your leaving will leave a hole in your current church. That body will be changed.

If you leave for unbiblical reasons, your leaving will cause disunity. Some people will feel angry you left. Some people will start to wonder if they should leave, too.  Seeds of division will be planted (or watered and harvested if seeds were already there).

But if you leave for biblical reasons, although people will be sad to see you go, they will remain unified. In fact, they will be strengthened because they know you’re leaving to further the Gospel elsewhere while they stay and continue to spread the Gospel where they are. Paul calls this being partners in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5), and it is an encouraging thing to stop and think about people you love who no longer go to church with you but in whom you have total confidence that they are laboring for the Kingdom somewhere else just as hard as you are where you are. It bonds us, this Kingdom work.

If you’re considering leaving your church, make sure you’re doing so for a biblical reason – an others focused reason – and not just because of a personal preference. The biblical reality is there are very few situations in which God wants believers to change churches and a whole host of reasons Satan wants us to change churches. Discern wisely, friends.

When it’s not Okay to Leave Your Church

Can I be honest with you?

Thanks.

I’ve been thinking A LOT about biblical church membership this past year. More specifically, I’ve been trying to come up with a good rule of thumb for when it is okay for a church member to leave their church and go find a new one.

Unfortunately, my church has been in a bit of an upheaval for some time. To sum up why, our pastor left for the mission field 18 months ago. We had guest preachers for several months before hiring a new pastor a year ago. And, shocker, the new guy isn’t the old guy.

New leadership has brought new staff, new priorities, and new strategies. And we all know how well people deal with change

So. Upheaval.

I suppose because I have a small leadership role in my church (lay Bible study teacher), or maybe because I’m always in the wrong places at the wrong times, people have come to me with their complaints about all the changes.

And I have listened until I am blue in the face (listening really takes it out of me, apparently) about all the reasons people are upset. And my strategy for helping folks has been to boil things down to this one question: is the Gospel still being preached?

Invariably, they must answer yes. Our new pastor is very clear from the pulpit every Sunday that Jesus is the Son of God, He died for our sins, and He is the only way to Heaven.

So, in my book, because the Gospel is still being taught, any other changes, no matter how small or large, are not reasons to leave our church.

But a lot of my friends are still hung up on their personal preferences not being met.

“I’m not connecting…”

“I don’t like the new guy’s preaching style…”

“I don’t like that they spent money on ______…”

“I don’t like that my area of ministry is getting less attention than another area of ministry.”

But what these people are really saying is, “My plan would be better than the current plan.” And while that might be true, for people to take that as a reason to leave the church is to say, “My plan is more important than the current plan.”

They even rationalize things by saying, “I deserve to be happy with my church. With so many good churches to choose from, what’s the harm in finding a new one?”

Well, our friend Paul, a staunch proponent of unity in the body, says this, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others,” (Philippians 2:3-4).

It is selfish ambition and vain conceit to say, “If my church leadership doesn’t do things how I want them done, I’m leaving.”

It is only looking to your own interests and ignoring the interests of others to leave your church over personal preferences. Why? Because the church is a body, and each member is a vital part of that body (1 Corinthians 12). When one leaves for selfish reasons, there is a void, and it HURTS THE REMAINING MEMBERS!

Paul goes on to tell believers, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus was never concerned about titles. He wasn’t worried about being rightfully honored. He didn’t focus on Himself or using His abilities to further His own agenda. He made Himself nothing, humbly serving others.

We church members would do well to do the same. Being a part of a church is not about you. It’s about others. And when you go to church with this question in the front of your mind – How can I serve someone here today? – then you get what Paul was talking about! Then you are living what Jesus modeled!

And – bonus – when you approach church this way, you will be more fulfilled.

If you are discontent with your church, ask God to help you change your priorities from yourself to His Kingdom. Look for ways to serve others so they will see Jesus in you and be inspired to move closer to Him themselves.

Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

A common misconception is that Old Testament Jews were saved by keeping the law. A lot of people think if those who lived before Christ obeyed all the Jewish rules and/or made all the appropriate sacrifices when they did wrong, God would let them into Heaven. Wrong.

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping the Law never saved anyone. Paul, who kept the law faultlessly (Philippians 3:6), tells us the truth about the law, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin,” (Romans 3:20).

So the 613 commands given in the Old Testament were given, in large part, to prove how inadequate humans are. We can’t keep all the rules. We fall short daily, which proves to our prideful selves that we have a real need for a Savior.

(Note: Our friend Paul, who claims his “righteousness based on the law” was “faultless”, is prone to exaggeration. One commentator puts it this way, “Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard,” (Guzik).)

Knowing this about the law, fast forward to a peculiar verse in Galatians. Paul says, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Galatians 5:14).

But what do we know about our ability to keep the law? WE CAN’T!

So, putting two and two together, we CAN’T love our neighbors as ourselves. When we try, our inadequacy quickly becomes apparent. Our need for a Savior to help us love well becomes glaringly obvious.

Realizing this, I can give myself a little grace when I don’t love well. I’m human, and I can’t expect myself to have the capacity to love well given that fact.

But much more importantly, I would do well to remember how utterly dependent I am on Jesus.want to love others well. I want to consider them more important than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to please God by obeying the commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39).

But I need Him to help me. And He will. All I have to do is ask (1 John 5:14-15).

Does God Ever Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

SufferingI shared an article on my Facebook wall the other day in which a pastor makes the case that God does give us more than we can handle. I happened to agree with this suffering Christian. However, a friend of mine who loves Jesus and the Catholic Church and knows Scripture took issue with the article.

(Note: you need to have Christians – and by that I mean Jesus-following and Bible-loving folks – who don’t think like you in your life. I joked with my friend, “As iron sharpens iron, so a devout Catholic sharpens an evangelical Protestant.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true.)

The dialogue with my friend helped me get to the bottom of why I agreed with the pastor’s sentiment and what he could have done to be more clear about his statement that God gives us more than we can handle (assuming his intent was to be biblical).

Go read the article for some background if you want. I’ll wait.

While my Catholic friend brought numerous disagreements to the table, his main beef was that, through Christ, we can handle anything (Philippians 4:13), and, if we believe in God’s sovereignty, we are to believe that whatever is happening to us is God’s will (Ephesians 1:11). That fact alone should give us reason to rejoice (Philippians 4:4) and embrace the burden (James 1:2), motivating us to stand up and endure. Not to mention, my friend pointed out, that God loves His people and would not “burden us past our capability”.

(I told you this guy is sharp.)

Clearly, I couldn’t refute my friends thoughts. I agree with his Bible-supported statements, although I could take issue with his assumption about how a loving God would and wouldn’t act, per his last thought. On the whole, my friend’s arguments are right.

And, yet, I still agreed with the bulk of the article stating the (seemingly) exact opposite: God does give us more than we can handle at times.

After some thinking, I realized the discord between my friend’s correct assertions and the author’s correct assertions was due to a lack of clarity on the author’s part.

The author wrote with an unspoken presupposition in mind that made a subtle appearance toward the end of the article but should have been more prominent. Because it wasn’t, my friend jumped on the lack of clarity and assumed the author to be off his biblical rocker.

The major distinction that wasn’t made clear is this: when we operate out of our own strength, what God gives us is often more than we can handle. But when we operate in total dependence on Christ, He will supernaturally enable us to handle anything. 

So, you see, both my friend and the author are right.

We have to get to the end of ourselves – we have to be broken, unable to bear anymore in our own strength – before we learn what it is to fully rely on Christ. God knows this, which is why, I believe, He does allow us to experience more than we can bear IN OUR OWN STRENGTH. We won’t turn to Him if we can bear it all alone.

Because He loves us and out of His desire for us to be drawn into closer, more dependent, and, simultaneously, more powerful relationship with Him, He allows/causes our burdens to accumulate when we aren’t depending on Him enough so we will depend on Him enough. He lets situations become too much so we realize how much He is – enough.

So, per the article’s point, don’t tell someone who is suffering that God won’t give them more than they can bear. Instead, tell them God gives us more than we can bear so we learn how to bear all with Him, and encourage them to use their suffering to, “Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually,” (Psalm 105:4).

Is Anxiety a Sin?

My pastor said something I didn’t like today.

He read Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” – and then he offered this interpretation: being anxious is a sin.

To be honest, I stopped listening. I wasn’t angry so much as I was searching my mental database for a theological reason to support my desire for his interpretation of the verse to be wrong, or at least one possible interpretation of many.

Maybe the original Greek wasn’t really a command. Maybe a softer, suggestive tone was lost in translation.

I got home and read the verse in a different translation, “Be anxious for nothing…” Crap. That sounds like a command, too.

I pulled out a commentary, and it said, “This is a command, not an option. Undue care is an intrusion into God’s arena. It makes us the father of the household instead of being a child,” (Guzik). I never liked that commentary anyway.

I pulled out a dictionary and looked up the word anxious, hoping for a semantic reprieve. Google said this:

anx·ious  /ˈaNG(k)SHəs/

Adjective
  1. Experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
  2. (of a period of time or situation) Causing or characterized by worry or nervousness.
Synonyms
uneasy – worried – solicitous – concerned – restless

Really, Internet? The one time I need you to be on my side, and you’re not?

Clearly, Paul is commanding us to not be anxious, and, try as I did, I couldn’t escape that fact. And if we are commanded not to be something, then it stands to follow that when we are that something, we are disobeying the Lord. And what do we call disobeying the Lord? Sin. Geez.

With no wiggle room, I started to wonder why I don’t like the conclusion that anxiety is a sin.

Well, for starters, not being anxious – not worrying or feeling uneasy or feeling nervous – feels impossible. Sure, there are fleeting moments here and there in which I feel peaceful, but, by and large, anxious is my standard emotion. And to say that my baseline feeling is wrong is really saying there is something wrong with me. I don’t hear, “What you’re doing (worrying) is wrong,” I hear, “You are wrong. There is something wrong with you because you worry.”

While that’s a true statement, it hurts to think about. I can’t imagine Jesus having that attacking mentality toward me. Something just still didn’t jive for me about the blanket statement that anxiety is a sin.

After pondering all this, I did what any of us would do when confronted with the ugliness inside of us: I got defensive.

I thought to myself, “It doesn’t feel like I have any control over feeling anxious. I can’t never feel anxious. That is an impossible standard no human could ever uphold.” And in the midst of my rationalizing, I found a loophole that just might be valid.

It’s been said that, because we can’t stop a sinful thought from popping into our minds, we don’t actually sin until we react to that initial thought by choosing to continue to dwell on said thought. This argument is how we explain that Jesus was tempted but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Being tempted is not the sin; giving into the temptation is the sin.

So if we apply that to anxiety, we can say the initial anxious feeling about any given situation is not the sin, it’s the temptation to sin. We haven’t actually sinned until we respond to that initial anxious feeling by choosing to stay worried, a la definition 2 above.

I took this idea back to the scripture, and I caught something I didn’t see this morning. The command is, “Do not be anxious…” It doesn’t say, “Do not feel anxious…”

We will all have times we feel an intial jolt of anxiety over something. It’s not until we feed that worry that we move from feeling to being. “Being” anxious has the connotation that we are perpetually worried, not just worried for an instant.

This is a command I find easier to accept. It’s no longer an impossible standard. It allows me to be human and frees me up to experience human emotions without feeling guilty. Then, when I recognize that I am feeling anxious about something, I can choose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to not stay anxious.

I’d like to believe that’s the heart behind this verse.

What do you think?