Legalism and Discipline

Discipline can elicit a harsh and immediate rebuke in many Christian circles because it is often equated with legalism. 

Legalism for the unaware is church speak for man-centered righteousness most noticeable in the Pharisees in the New Testament. 

There’s was an external righteousness of earning God’s love and approval. 

God’s Word forcefully and rightly condemns this way of living. 

Pharisaical legalism and discipline aren’t the same. 

One is based on the idea that your actions earn you God’s favor. 

The other is based on the idea that consistency and diligence are the pathways to spiritual growth. 

One concentrates on attaining salvation by works. 

The other concentrates on being transformed into the image of Christ.

Christians often hear the first message when the other is preached and it leads to frustration and heartache. 

The life God calls the Christian to isn’t a life devoid of work. It simply redefines its why. 

You are called to work hard, just not for your salvation. 

Marching Into The Unknown

You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a powerhouse duo exchanging witty banter wrapped in an Affair To Remember esk story. At least once each year, I beg Hannah to let me dig it out and throw it in the ol’ DVD player. Every time, is almost like the first time all over again. Isn’t it that way with our favorites? No matter how many times we’ve seen them, we never get tired of them. As I sat down to write this morning, it popped into my mind. Scene after scene, line after line. In fact, I’m replaying the scene about the Godfather in my head as I type. Greatness!   

As I sat here replaying it in my head, another scene came to mind. Less funny, more serious, yet something I find immensely helpful in this season of life. Midway through the film, Meg Ryan and a character named Birdie have lunch. Meg Ryan’s character has just made the decision to close her charming little bookstore. In the exchange, Birdie issues a series of lines that have stuck with me. They hit me each and every year.

“You are daring to imagine,” Birdie says, “that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn't feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you're not. You are marching into the unknown armed with...Nothing. Have a sandwich.”

Everything about those lines is lovely. Meg Ryan’s character is feeling low because the business her mother built and left to her, is closing. In the midst of this deep pain, Birdie reminds her of the immense bravery it takes to face the unknown, to do the thing you find particularly hard and difficult.

I feel Hannah and I are marching into the unknown ourselves. In just a few short days, our first son will arrive. Talk about a life changer. Our whole world is about to be upended, in a good way. While we’ve done everything we can think of to prepare, there remains a great deal we are unaware of.

I’m freaking out inside. There are so many questions swirling around in my head, that it hurts. How little sleep is in my future? How will that stress impact our marriage? Do we have enough diapers? Is there anything I’m forgetting? Do we have everything we need for the nursery? Will I drop him? Will we be good parents? What will this new adventure bring into our lives? So many questions, so little answers.

How do you prepare for unknown situations, when you’re freaked out and haven’t a clue what to expect? I’ve thought about that question and a hundred like it. They’ve kept me up at night, and haunted my dreams. They’ve followed me around and lived with me for months on end. Today, I’d like to share with you the result, and how we are preparing to face the unknown once more.

The truth is, this isn’t the first time we’ve “marched into the unknown” and it certainly won’t be the last. We’ve walked this path before, and so have you. Facing situations, events and circumstances you aren’t entirely sure of, is as common as it gets. You don’t know the future, and as a result everything comes with a side of doubt and uncertainty.

Your level of uncertainty changes minute by minute, day by day. While uncertain of every aspect of most situations, you have a reasonable expectation for how it will go. You’ve had similar experiences before and have formed some idea of what most things on your calendar will look like. Other events however, throw massive amounts of uncertainty your way. The more that stands to change in your life, the more unknowns you have to be stressed over. Whether something big or small, the uncertainty is headed your way.

Abide with Christ

Don’t allow uncertainty and stress to threaten your world, and hold you captive. The surest way I know to throw off the heavy yoke the things of this world attempt to lay upon me is to look to Jesus. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Abiding with Christ is the only path to peace in this life, and joy everlasting. One mark of walking with Him is peace in the midst of chaos. You have no need to worry, because you know who’s in control. There is never a moment in your life, during which the Lord wants you to worry. To worry is sin. It communicates your concern that God might get things wrong and that if you just had control things would turn out alright. How often does this pattern play out? How many of the things you’ve prayed the Lord would spare you from, are the very things that ended up shaping who you are the most?

Abiding with Christ involves spending time with His word and doing what it says. Abiding and obedience are inextricably linked, so what does God’s word tell us to do, with our anxiety and fear?   

Pray

“Don’t be anxious in anything,” Paul said, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry, anxiety and stress are heavy burdens you just don’t have to carry. Cast them off and let Christ deal with it. What keeps us up and costs us sleep, makes Him laugh. He is not worried and He has it under control. Lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus in prayer because He cares for you. While the burden may be too much for you to bear, it’s not too much for Him. Let Him carry it.

Prayer is a powerful tool God has given you to fight the stress and anxiety uncertainty sends your way. Lay it all out there. "Tell God all that is in your heart,” Francois Fenelon said, “as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others."

God can do something about what’s troubling you and He wants to. What you have in Him is a loving father. Loving fathers are concerned with what’s keeping their kids up at night and want to alleviate their burdens. The Lord is no different. Put it all out there in very real, and raw terms. He loves you and wants to hear what’s on your heart.  

Focus On Truth

“The most important battle you will ever fight,” Todd Wagner said, “is the battle for your mind and the most important weapon in this fight is truth.” Your mind is flooded with a million different thoughts each day, and not all of them are good, helpful or even true. What you do with each of those thoughts will determine everything.

You have to train yourself to think rightly in all circumstances by constantly reminding yourself of what’s true. You facedown what you don’t know by focusing on what you do. You may not know exactly what the future holds, but you can know who holds it. Fix your gaze on Him.

Consistent time in God’s word is the only way this happens. There’s just no way around it. No matter how many times you hear it, daily time in the Bible is the lifeblood of the Christian life. It offers practical and helpful instruction for every aspect of life, especially when staring down anxiety, but most importantly the Bible connects you with the author of life Himself.  

“Finally, brothers,” Paul said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Releasing your anxiety is only half the battle, you have to embrace truth in its place. Focus on what is true, honorable, pure and more. This is how you transform your mind, so that you know how to respond rightly no matter what comes your way.

Seek The Wisdom of Others

“The physical presence,” Bonhoeffer said, “of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” The Lord has been incredibly kind to you in that He has made you a part of the body of Christ. Within the body are countless men and women who have walked your steps before. What is uncertain to you, may not be to someone else. Ask good questions, seek counsel and wisdom, and avail yourself to the wisdom of others.  

The input and experience of your fellow believers can help alleviate a great deal of stress. Their insights can be huge. Go find someone who's walked the path you’re headed down. Regardless what the road ahead looks like, you can face it. Lock arms with other believers and wade into ambivalent seas ready to tackle what comes together. Remember that we is stronger than me. You don’t have to go it alone.

4 Great 2016 Advent Guides

We are two weeks removed from Thanksgiving. I’m sure each of us has undertaken the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, and come home victorious. Whether you braved the ice and the snow, galavanting all over a tree farm or climbed the heights of the attic stairs to retrieve a box tree, your mission to decorate and prepare your home for the most cheerful of seasons is complete. But, what about your heart? We spend so much time, money and energy on every aspect of the Christmas season, but how often do we pause to reflect on exactly why this time of year is different from the other eleven months?

One of the most popular and oft sung songs this time of year is Joy To The World. Written by Isaac Watts in 1719 few hymns fill our hearts with such exuberance as this one.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Closing our eyes, we can picture Christ’s coming. What a wondrous sight to behold! We sing of joy entering the world in Christ, and indeed it has. But that’s not entirely what Watts had in view when he pinned this classic. Watts had not just the first advent of Christ in mind, but His second as well. Reflect on Christ’s first coming is imperative before we can ever be ready for His second. Watt’s hymn serves as an admonition to do just that.

“Let every heart,” Watts says, “Prepare Him room.” Below I’ve collected four advent guides to help you do just that. You’ll find a guide for men, one for women, one for families and one for everyone. It doesn’t matter much which of the guides below you grab, but it does matter a great deal if you’ve prepared room in your heart for Christ. Throw open the doors and welcome Him in. In Christ God made provision for you and for me. That is after all what Christmas is all about.

Advent 2016: Christ Was Born For This via He Reads Truth

Advent 2016: Christ Was Born For This via She Reads Truth

Seeds of Christmas: A 2016 Family Advent Guide via Watermark Community Church

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy via Desiring God