Is Christianity making you miserable?

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. -Galatians 3:23-24

Part of successfully learning to drive a car is knowing when to push the brake and the gas pedals (a clutch makes it even more complicated). If we don’t know how to use the pedals in our car it makes for a miserable driving experience. When it comes to the Christian life there are two pedals that we can push down at different times, law and grace. I think that many times we make ourselves miserable as Christians when we use these pedals incorrectly. Allow me to explain.

car pedalsThe pedal called law

Defining law

The law is the moral standard, given in God’s Word, for how we are to live. The law highlights God’s moral code and at the same time it shows us how we fail to live up to it (Galatians 3:24).

Here is a verse that I am citing as an example as one of God’s laws, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  -Leviticus 19:1-2

Indicators you are misusing this pedal

  • You begin to hate yourself for your lack of spiritual growth
  • You quietly wonder if you should just give up on Christianity because you see so little spiritual transformation
  • You wish you had more joy and gratitude in your life
  • You spend long periods of time after you have sinned doubting if God wants to have anything to do with you

It can shift from not being gracious with ourselves to not being gracious with others…

  • You are judgmental and mean-spirited towards others when it comes to their lack of spiritual growth
  • You don’t have people opening up to you and talking to you about their struggles because they know you are lacking in grace
  • You have never been referred to as a friend of sinners
  • You become very prideful because you think (self-deceived) that you are doing a decent job obeying the law and you are not sure why others can’t do the same thing

The pedal called grace

Defining grace

Grace is the amazing fact that because we broke God’s law, Jesus came to this earth, died on a cross, took our sins upon himself, rose again, and if we embrace Jesus by faith we are liberated from sin and death. We also know from Scripture that we are no longer under the law, we are now under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

Here is a verse that I am citing to give you an example of the grace of God, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9

Sometimes the abuse of grace is referred to as hyper-grace or antinomianism. Here is how one writer defines hyper-grace, “The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin.”

Indicators you are misusing this pedal

  • You are no longer taking personal sin seriously
  • You talk about the love of God but not so much about the holiness of God
  • You almost never confront someone about their sins
  • You talk about a messy life, a broken life. There is a hesitancy to call it what it is, sin
  • You are just way too comfortable with where you are at spiritually
  • Preachers who misuse this pedal rarely talk to their church about the dangers of sin

Just so you know, I constantly struggle when it comes to using these two pedals in my own life. I talk about the gospel ALL THE TIME, yet I can fail to apply it to my life. I can swing from self-loathing to making excuses for my sin in a split-second.

Here is my suggestion when it comes to how we can stop making ourselves (and others) miserable because we are misusing the pedals of law and grace

In my opinion, here is the key in all of this. The most important thing we need to do is simply become aware of the problem in the first place. Some of us have become worn out and miserable as Christians and the truth of the matter is that we are not even aware of what the root problem is. We are struggling spiritually but we are lacking a diagnosis. It may be a matter of misusing the pedals of law and grace. So, I believe it is incredibly helpful just to be aware of this problem so that we can make some adjustments in our thinking.

Once we have begun to see the problem in our own life we can take it to God in prayer. Ask God to give you a more balanced perspective and not to abuse one pedal or the other. We should allow the laws of God, his moral laws, to convict us and point us to our ongoing need for Jesus. Yet, at the same time we can quickly rejoice that because we are in Christ we are forgiven. We don’t need to walk around with a sense of guilt and shame because of the work of Jesus on the cross.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Is this something you struggle with?

 

Jeff Vanderstelt Speaking on “Going Deeper in the Gospel”

Jeff VandersteltOur vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. With that said, we have asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. On Sunday, May 17th, 6:00 PM, from the safety and comfort of your own home, you can join us for this unique opportunity.

The teaching can be found at: http://www.newlifeefree.org

What if I told you we were doing it all wrong?

We see changes in our culture and it is freaking us out

It has been written and said that we are living in a post-Christian culture. A post-Christian culture can be defined as “a culture where the Christian faith and worldview no longer has a dominant influence in society.” Many of us were brought up in a world where there was common ground when it comes to absolute truth and morality. That is definitely not the case any more. The problem is the way in which Christians are responding to the changing culture. Out of fear and insecurity about the loss we are experiencing we have become angry and have begun to fight a culture war.

We need to understand what is going on beneath the surface in the hearts and minds of the people all around us

What we need to do is stop and realize that the arguments we are having are, for the most part, symptoms of something much deeper. Let’s take sexuality for example. Many Christians are shocked regarding how our culture’s view of sexuality has changed. So, what do we do? We will argue with people (very rarely in person) about the issue of sexuality. What we normally find is that our arguments have very little power to change anyone’s mind. Why do you think that is true?

The reason that it is true is due to the fact that their world views have completely changed. Our culture’s view of truth, gender, and morality have changed massively over the years. Think of it this way, we are arguing with people about the software when the real problem is the hardware. It might just be possible that our “conversations” are having little impact because they are not going deep enough.

We need to go beyond throwing truth grenades and look to build relationships

So what do we do? One main idea that I keep expressing time and time again is that we need to build actual relationships. We have to give up the idea that the hard hitting meme we post or the political rant is going to make any difference. All that it is going to do is push people away and make it less likely that they will ever come to know the Truth personally.

Imagine this for a moment. Christians, working hard to build old-fashioned relationships with people who are very different from them. Listening. Showing genuine empathy. Asking lots of questions. Being open to the idea that we can learn from others who come from very different backgrounds. It is in the context of a relationship that we can go beyond the surface and talk about the basis, or the foundation, for what we say we believe. The online post or rant is easy, and if we are honest, it feels good to throw out an occasional truth grenade and pretend that we actually accomplished something positive. To go deeper in relationship will come about only when we love people more than we love winning an argument. But the question we are faced with is this, will we take the time, get out of our comfort zone, and actually build relationships with people very different from us?

Church, we must seize this pandemic moment!

I just participated in an online meeting where JD Greear and Andy Crouch were talking about “Ministry During and After a Crisis.” The meeting led me to this thought, it would be a catastrophe for Christians to fail to embrace the truth that God is at work during this pandemic. I say that because I am concerned that we are tempted to coast through this pandemic by binging on TV, wine, and food. More than coasting or even worse, numbing or escaping from the realities of life, certainly God desires to transform his people and prepare them for a new season of ministry.

As we think about the book of Acts (and church history in general) we find that God uses persecution to light a fire in his church and for the spread of the gospel. Is it possible that God wants to use Covid-19 to do a new work in our lives, churches, country, and world? I will be bold enough to say that the answer is yes! With that said, I would like to give us 8 things that we should be doing now and that that will empower us to come out of this pandemic ready to make a positive difference in this world.

  1. Spend time in God’s Word. Here at New Life Church I am excited to say that we are going to begin a church-wide campaign that encourages people to be reading and studying God’s Word. We can’t expect to grow spiritually, or to be ready to see how God wants to be at work in us, if we are not digging into God’s Word. Are you immersing your heart and mind in the Word?
  2. Spend time in prayer.  Are you using this time to ask God light a fire in your life? Are you asking God to use this time to create a spiritual hunger in the lives of people in your everyday life? This Sunday, May 3rd, we are working with a number of other local churches to have a community time of prayer online. Pray, pray and pray some more. We simply can not expect to see the Spirit work if we are not faithful in prayer.
  3. Ask and answer the question, what work does God want to do in your life? Are there some strongholds or idols in your life that God wants to surgically remove? Are there any life long habits that have caused you more pain than anything else? Addictions, anger, bitterness, apathy, legalism,  materialism, lust? God has given you this unique time in order to shape you into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
  4. Don’t give into fear and anger. During this pandemic we have acted as if people are the enemy. I don’t know if this behavior is really new, perhaps it is just heightened during the past few weeks. We have been acting like the enemy is people who disagree with our opinions regarding Covid-19. The bible can not be more clear that people ARE THE MISSION, not the enemy! Even now during the pandemic, let’s use words that heal. Consider the possibility that your “well-researched” conspiracy theory is really just nonsense. Speak and live in such a way that draws people closer to Jesus. Don’t burn relational bridges during this pandemic.
  5. Be praying specifically for “Who’s Your One?” Here at New Life Church we have asked people to identify one person in their everyday life that needs to know Jesus personally. So let me ask you, who’s your one? Keep praying. Reach out to them via cell phone or Zoom. We don’t need to go off mission because of the trials we are going through.
  6. Maybe the best thing you can do is truly unplug, get away from distractions, and find rest in Christ. There have been times when I have thought, why in the world (pastors might be the worst at this) are we trying so hard to keep ourselves busy? Maybe it’s God who is working overtime to get us to slow down so that we will focus more on him. A.W. Tozer writes this, “Unquestionably, part of our failure today is religious activity that is not preceded by aloneness, by inactivity. I mean getting alone with God and waiting in silence and quietness until we are charged with God’s Spirit.”
  7. Leave behind the idea of a being a lone ranger Christian. This pandemic has revealed to us that we need to be in relationship with other people. Community in the church is the green house for discipleship to flourish. Let’s stop with the idea that it’s “just me and Jesus.” When things get loosened up, when it is OK to gather together again, get involved in a Life Group or whatever your church calls it.
  8. Be determined to come out of this pandemic and leave behind consumer Christianity. If this pandemic is over and you are still sitting at home on Sunday morning looking for the best worship experience then you need to know that you have moved away from following Jesus and into a lifestyle of consumerism. Make a commitment NOW that when the pandemic is over to be more involved than ever in your local church.

Perhaps this can become a theme song for us…

Most Important Dating Advice

I recently went on a walk with my daughter Audra. We talked about dating and what to look for in the person she dates or marries. She amazes me with her maturity at such a young age. That conversation led me to write this brief post.

Ready for the dating advice? Ready or not, here is is…

Date and marry someone who passionately loves Jesus AND the church.

That’s it. Here is why that simple advice is so important; nothing else will make a bigger impact on your marriage, family, and your spiritual growth. Maybe you are a little uncertain about the person you are interested in. Maybe they say the right things, but something seems/feels a little off.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for when it comes to the person you are interested in:

  • They have a hard time articulating the gospel and describing how they came to know Jesus personally. The reason might be that they have confused religion with being in love with Christ.
  • They say some of the right things about Christianity and the church but their life does not really line up with their words.
  • They only go to church when you put pressure on them.
  • They don’t have Christian friends.
  • They don’t have a hunger to know God through the Word and prayer.
  • Their presence in your life does not inspire and motivate you to seek after God with all of your heart.
  • You don’t ask mature, Christian friends (and parents) what they REALLY think about the relationship. Inwardly you fear what they might say.

15 Things I Would Tell My 15 Year Old Self

  1. You are going to come face to face with the pleasures of partying and hedonism. It Michael High Schoolwill come very close to killing you and it won’t satisfy the deepest cravings of your heart. It’s a very seductive lie.
  2. Relax! Don’t worry so much about what people think of you.
  3. Plan now for what you are going to do when you are done with High School. It seems like a million years a way but it’s not.
  4. Girls are good. But they are not the sole meaning and purpose of life.
  5. Make sure that you are really drawing closer to Jesus rather than just going through the preacher kid motions.
  6. Try your best to keep perspective. You will be strongly tempted to think that these teen years are all that matter. Which will lead to way too much drama and inner turmoil. Truth be told, your best days are ahead of you!
  7. You and your family don’t have much money, its OK. Again, don’t worry so much about the car you drive or the clothes you wear.
  8. Don’t drop out of High School (which I did). Study hard.
  9. Take some chances (don’t worry about looking like an idiot) and try to make the basketball or football team.
  10. You do have some good friends at church. Open up, tell them how much are struggling at school. Don’t deal with it all by yourself.
  11. Don’t be so terrified of the cafeteria and the fact that you do not know anyone. Find one person to sit with and talk to. You can do this.
  12. You are not as smart and wise as you think you are, talk to your mom and dad more.
  13. The friend with the maroon Camaro is going to get you in trouble. Walk away.
  14. You will grow up and love to read. Why aren’t you reading now? Read!
  15. Those skin tight jeans are not nearly as cool as you think they are.

It’s crazy, as I started compiling this list I began to realize how much of a hold fear had on me during my teen years. Fear of man. Fear of fitting in. It’s probably why songs like THIS still resonate with me. Confidence in who I am and how God has made me would be one thing I would want to change about my 15 year old self.

What would your list look like?

 

Week 1: Ask Pastor Michael-Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Covid-19 has made it challenging to gather as a church family. Partly, in response to the isolation we are facing, I decided to do “Ask Pastor Michael.” I am asking people in my church to email me any questions they have about the Word of God. Then on Sunday nights at 6:00 pm I am streaming my answer on Facebook.  One of the first questions I received was, why does God allow suffering? Of course I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and questions.

Ladies, you gotta read this book!

I knew after reading the first couple pages that I was going to like this book. I don’t just like it, I love it. Rachel Jankovic speaks directly, boldly, and challenges many of the unbiblical messages that are being taught these days about what it means to be a woman. Here is how Rachel starts her book:

Perhaps I should open this book with a warning. If you are looking for a book that will gently pet your bangs and soothe your worried brow, telling you how beautiful you are, this is not it. I will not stick only to the feel-good themes and ways to boost your self-confidence, telling you that you (no matter what you are doing at the moment) are enough. I will not give you a big pep talk about how to fight for you, and there is no chapter on morning affirmations. This book is not here to help you in your quest for self-love. I want something much, much better for you, because I want something true for you.

The goal of this book is to encourage and equip believing women to see their identity in Christ as the most essential part of them, and to see all the ways that will work its way out in their lives, manifesting itself as strength, dignity, and clarity of purpose.

Have you found yourself saying or reading things like this?

“I was born that way.”

“God wants me to be happy.”

“Follow your heart.”

“I’m enough.”

Instead of merely getting upset that someone is challenging the way that you think (or talk), be open to the idea that God, through the power of his Word, wants to fill your mind with biblical truth and wisdom.

Moms, this is a great book for you to read, think about, and pray over. But it is also a great book to talk about with your daughters. Our daughters are in a world that desires to fill their minds with false concepts about what it means to be a woman.

HERE is where you can purchase this book (and a study guide), and I strongly recommend you do so.

If you want to get a better sense of the worldly wisdom that Rachel is fighting against spend a few moments watching the videos below.