Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are You Eating An Organic Spiritual Diet?

By: Joanna Harris
Joanna Harris is an author and blogger with a tremendous passion for God.  You can contact Joanna here.  For more on Joanna and her ministry, check out her website here.  There you can also find links to her other blogs.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
-Romans 12:2a

My church recently went through Chip Ingram's book True Spirituality as we studied through Romans 12. Ingram's chapters on how to renew our minds were very thought provoking. He writes about how what we put into our minds – our mental and spiritual "diet" –determines our mental and spiritual health.

I can relate to this concept because I'm very careful about what I eat and what I put into my body. Though I indulge in a piece of cheesecake once in a while, my main diet consists of healthy, organic, home-cooked food. Because I've been eating this way for so many years, I don't even like "junk" food anymore.

Comparing my spiritual "diet" to these same standards is really helpful for me.

Is what I'm allowing into my mind "organic," as in God-created and approved, or is it man-made and corrupted?

Am I feeding myself from God's Word or just taking in spiritual "fast food" that other people have prepared?

Do I still enjoy mental or spiritual "junk" – things I know aren't spiritually healthy for me?

Good questions.

Recently I watched a program where an evangelist interviewed people on the street. Only two of the people stated that they were atheists. The rest claimed to be Christians. When he asked if they ever watched R-rated movies, without exception they all said yes.

I know some of the people only claimed to be Christians while others probably were genuine in their faith. Yet I was shocked and saddened that there was no apparent difference in their behavior. They all watched R-rated movies, all admitted to lying at times, along with other sinful habits the evangelist asked about.

How can this be?

Don't you think we, as Christ’s followers, should act so differently from the world that regardless of their theological understanding they wouldn't dare claim to be a Christian because they know it means a radically different lifestyle?

Paul wrote to the Roman Christians centuries ago not to be conformed to this world. He explained that the way not to be conformed is to renew our minds.

Our actions and behaviors are a result of the way we think. And the way we think is determined by what we take into our minds and hearts. We cannot feed on a diet of spiritual "junk" food and expect to have a healthy spiritual life.

If we eat the world's “food,” we will live like the world. And the more we consume a worldly “diet” the less appetite we’ll have for what is good and true. But the more we feed on God’s Word, the hungrier we’ll become for things that are pure and eternal. And when we eat a spiritually "organic" diet, consuming God's truth, we will live differently as the Holy Spirit works transformation in us.

Thankfully, our outward behavior doesn't affect our standing with God. We are declared righteous in Christ by God's lavish grace (Rom. 5:1-2). But our outward behavior does reveal our inner thoughts. That is what we are called to renew.

I know it isn't easy. We're bombarded by worldly messages and values 24/7. Renewing our minds requires evaluating what specific media we need to eliminate. It requires purposing to fill our minds with things that are noble and lovely (Phil. 4:8). And it requires assessing healthy limits of what we take in, because even with a good mental diet, sometimes just the sheer volume of information and images can overwhelm our spirits.

That's why sometimes I take a week and practice a spiritual fast/feast. I fast from TV and movies, and I spend extra time reading God's Word, listening to sermons online and just being quiet. When I do this, cutting out the noise from the world and soaking myself in God's truth, the results are amazing. I can think more clearly, hear God's voice more distinctly, and I have a greater peace and joy in my spirit.

I want to live like this every week, but the pressures of life often crowd in. Still, those seasons of fasting/feasting are always precious and help refocus me and prepare me for what's next.

I really do want to live differently than non-Christians do. I want to think differently. I want to be continually transformed and filled with more of Jesus' beautiful life. Maybe then those who only think they are Christians will see Jesus living in me and come to truly know Him – as the wonderful Savior, Healer and transforming God that He is.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever he does prospers.

-Psalm 1:1-3


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cold-Water Sacrifice

By: Adam McClendon

Well, it finally happened.  I got called out by Reuben Nessmith on the cold-water challenge.  If you are not familiar with the cold-water challenge, it works like this.  Someone “calls you out” on social media.  They immerse themselves in cold water and then challenge you to do the same within 24 hours and donate $10 to the charity of your choice.  If you don’t do it within 24 hours, you are supposed to donate $100 to the charity of the person who called you out.  Okay, that’s basically it.

Again, I got challenged by this “so-called” friend.  One problem, I’m not on Facebook a lot, so I only have a few hours to do this thing.  This morning, my wife and I got up, got the kids off to school, and I was talking about all the stuff I had to do when I made the mistake of opening Facebook.  There it was: the challenge.

I reluctantly relented and decided that I would alter my plans for the day.  I quickly grabbed my swimming trunks, a change of clothes, my wallet, my phone, and my keys and headed for the church where I work.  My wife came up with a brilliant idea, “Do the cold-water challenge in the baptistry.”

Pulling up into the church parking lot, I realize that in my rush to leave to complete this challenge, I left my bag at home with my laptop and all the stuff I needed to get done today.  Arrrgggh.  Okay, no problem, I’ll figure that out.  Then, after recruiting a video volunteer, I went up to the baptistry and did it!  Yes.  Immediately, I reached for my towel to realize I left that in my office.  I’m soaked right now.  No, I’m like a personalized raincloud.  I didn’t even know clothing could hold that much water.  Again, no problem; although, it’s apparent this deal is going downhill, and it all started with that little challenge.

Problem solved, and I go over to shower and change for the day.  I’m only about 45 minutes behind schedule on an already too-busy day.  We can do this.  Oh no!  Noooo!  No! No!  Panic sets in.  Did I pack…?  Did I?  Oh, no way!  I left out one critical piece of clothing at home (I’ll let you imagine what that might be).  And, now, I’ve officially begun, in my mind, my bad day, and it all began with that cold-water challenge.

Well, obviously, life went on and my day worked out.  As I reflected on these little sequences of events, a thought occurred to me.  A sacrifice should require some sacrifice right?  The point of the cold-water challenge is to do something that is a little inconvenient to highlight charities that fight for people who deal with major inconveniences every day.  Whoopty doo, my day didn’t go according to plan.  I experienced some setbacks, so what.  

This experience revealed some things about me and my world of which I’m not proud.

First, I’m too busy with my plans and see shifts in agenda as interrupts versus God’s divine little opportunities in life.

Second, I’m blessed.  If these events are what constitutes a frustrating day, then I have an incredibly blessed life.

Third, I’m too focused on myself.  It was all about me.  It was all about my day, my schedule, my frustration, etc.  That leads to the third thing.

Fourth, I’m far too easily frustrated.  Get over it man!

Fifth, I’m not compassionate enough.  These charities are a reminder that I’m an over-privileged self-absorbed punk, and that there are people in the world with real needs and hurts that I need to think about, pray for, and give to more often.

Looking back, I don’t think I would want my day to have gone any other way.  Thanks God for the not so subtle reminder of the world in which I live and how far I have to go to understand your purpose for my life.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Lord is My Shepherd

By: Adam McClendon

So often, when I think of the 23rd Psalm, I think of funerals.  This reaction seems due in part to that vivid statement at the beginning of verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….”

However, Psalm 23 is not just an epitaph.  It is a Psalm for the living.  This Psalm is describing the Shepherd’s loving care for his living sheep while providing a confident hope for a future glory.

David begins his Psalm with a simple confession, “The Lord is my shepherd….”  So much truth and comfort can be found in that simple statement; however, one question particularly stands out to me at this stage in my spiritual walk: Do I yield to the shepherding hand of God in every area of my life?

Do I acknowledge God as the Shepherding Lord that he is even when I’m at work?  When I’m at home?  What about late at night when everyone is asleep?  What about business trips?  After all, what happens at Vegas…well, God still sees.

The Good Shepherd has a purpose in leading his sheep down the right path for his name’s sake.  Am I faithfully following for the glory of his name?

Do I seek to be sensitive to his shepherding-touch even in the midst of the mundane moments of life?  For example, what about when I’m in the grocery store?  Am I seeking his guidance, looking to his leadership in how I use the money he has given me, how I control my eyes, my tongue, and my actions while I’m there as a testimony for his name’s sake?  When I’m mowing the lawn, am I sensitive to the Shepherd’s guidance?  Am I open to his prompting to mow the neighbor’s yard, pray for my children, or quit mowing and go inside and spend time with my spouse?  When at work, am I open to him guiding me through his agenda for my day versus what my Outlook calendar says?

These are important questions that are prompted when I seek to live under the Shepherding hand of God. 

May God help me to see and submit to his leadership, glorifying him in all that I do.  For, the Lord is my Shepherd.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Desert Faith

By: Adam McClendon

Read Exodus 17:1-7

God led the Israelites out of the bondage of Egypt and into a desert.  He could have directed them through any number of paths, but he chose the desert where their thirst for water grew and their faith was tested. 

Exodus 17:1-2a explains that along this path through the Desert of Sin (ironic name, isn’t it?) God brought his children to camp at Rephidim.  Now, Rephidim was normally well watered, but on occasion, the streams dried up and the ground turned to dust.  This was such an occasion.  Imagine that frustration.  The all-knowing God brings them to a place that had plenty of streams at one time, but are currently dry.  The children of Israel were surrounded by the evidence of water, without any water.  They had reminders all around them of the potential for relief, without any relief. 

Can you imagine how that felt?  It was maddening and it was the perfect place to test their faith.  It was the perfect place for God to press the question:

Will you trust me?  Will you obey me even when it doesn’t make sense?

Have you ever had a great need, and been reminded by everyone around you that you can’t have what you long for?

Maybe you want to have children and can’t, but everyone around you seems to be getting pregnant.

Maybe you want to work and can’t seem to find a job while everyone else takes their vacation and talks about their retirement account.

Maybe you want to serve God, but are riddled with illness and facing potential death.  Everywhere you look, you see healthy people laughing and living it up as if they do not have a care in the world.

Maybe you want to get married, but can’t seem to find the “right” person, while every time you turn on facebook or twitter you see college friends getting engaged.

It’s maddening isn’t it?  Yet, it is in the midst of the desert that the authenticity of your faith can shine the brightest.  It is in the midst of the desert that you are most readily confronted with the question: Will you trust me?  Will you obey me even when it doesn’t make sense?

So, will you?  Will you faithfully follow God through the Desert of Sin believing that serving him in the desert is better than feasting in the palace with any other master?