Feeling Stale? Here’s A Cure For Spiritual Dryness (New Day Book Review)

newday_med

For most, if not all Christians, there are times when our spiritual life feels stale, dry, or perhaps even empty.  You may read the Scriptures and spend time with the Lord, but it doesn’t seem to produce anything.  While these times are certainly tough to weather, it can be helpful to focus on the newness that is in Christ.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21:5 NASB)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

New Day: The New Humanity Lives in the New Creation by Means of the New Covenant is a new book by Milt Rodriguez that may help provide a cure for spiritual dryness.

Milt writes in his typical conversational style, but in a unique way. New Day is written as a devotional style book as though Jesus is speaking to the reader, which makes the book more personal.

New Day reveals beautiful pictures of all that is new in Christ. The new day, the new humanity, the new covenant, the new command, the new creation, the new song, the new heart, and more – all of this is in our Lord, and it is growing newer and newer!

There are many Scripture references throughout the entire book, although it is recommended to read the book first as though you are reading a letter, and then read through it again looking up the specific Scripture references.

I really enjoyed this book as it daily drew me closer to Christ and helped me to focus on what is above, where Christ dwells in eternal newness. This book is a true gem!

Here are some quotes from the book:

“I am the rising One! I have not only risen (past tense), I am also still rising. In fact, rising is a part of my very life and nature. I am always rising. I live in perpetual rising. This continual rising gives light and warmth to all things. I am rising itself. And I am rising within you. This rising gives birth to newness inside of you. My newness, freshness, light, and warmth are rising in you.”

“My kingdom, my new creation is a massive place. The spaciousness of this place cannot even be grasped by the human mind. It is the place where all of my riches can be seen, known, and experienced. It is the place of the great expanse and the great adventure. It is the place of the glorious unknown and the wonderfully never ending discovery of me. And inside of me and only inside of me will you receive your fulfillment. This is the place where your life supply will be found. This is the place where you will discover all of your unlimited resources. So enter into this vast land where you can roam for the rest of eternity. You have been chosen before creation for such a destiny. You have been chosen before the old creation to live in the new creation.”

“You can of yourself do nothing. But as you abide in me, and live by my life, you will fulfill this new commandment. You will love your brothers and sisters as I love them because it will actually be me loving them through you. The foundation of this great love is my cross. It is the beauty and power of a life laid down and resurrected by the power of the Spirit. This love comes from a certain kind of lifestyle; the crucified lifestyle. That is, a life which is constantly being laid down for others.”

Thank you, Milt for this refreshing unveiling of Christ.

(This sounds like something to sing about… don’t miss the great new song below!)

Amazon (Paperback)

Amazon (Kindle)

Milt’s Website

Withholding Love

Jesus makes many bold statements in His Sermon on the Mount. One such statement was:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 NLT)

More than likely, someone who is considered your enemy is doing something that harms you. They may be completely in the wrong of the situation. They may have no legitimate reason for causing you harm, pain, or discomfort. And yet Christ calls us to love them anyway. Not only that, but His indwelling Spirit in you brings forth His character and manifests His power to love enemies in and through us.

Nevertheless, this is a difficult saying to follow! It is even difficult to always love those whom we would consider our neighbors.

What Jesus essentially says is that His desire is that we love everyone, regardless of their behavior towards us.

Honestly, can we really imagine any less for the Bride of Christ?

I bring this up to share an observation that I have seen in myself and others who desire to follow Christ and live by His life: when a person treats someone badly (like an enemy would), they often respond by withholding their love from the person hurting them. But in reality, this is exactly the opposite of the character of Christ. The love of Christ transcends human behavior. Everyone is eligible to receive His love.

What is more, I have observed Christians (myself included) who do this to those that you think would be their neighbor, such as their spouse, children, parents, friends, and other Christians.

The reality is that instead of turning away from someone who hurts us, Christ’s life in us draws close and embraces them. Christ’s life desires to shower them with love, even when we are hurting.

We further see this contrast in the parable of the prodigal son. When the wayward son returns home after squandering his father’s inheritance, the father runs and greets him with a hug and lavishes him with gifts and a parrrtayyyy! The older brother, however, distances himself from the celebration and broods over his father’s easy forgiveness and love towards his restored son. Again, the father approaches the elder son in love.

In Against the Tide: The Unforgettable Story Behind Watchman Nee by Angus Kinnear, a story is told of the young Watchman Nee telling a mentor of his about a coworker in the Lord’s work who always refused to follow Nee’s logical advice. The brother was a few years older than Nee and he used this to get his way over and over. After much complaining to his mentor, she said to him,

“‘Have you, right up to this moment, never seen what the life of Christ is? Do you not know the meaning of the cross? These past few months, you keep asserting that you are right and your brother is wrong. But do you’, she went on, ‘think it right to talk as you have been talking? Do you think it right to come and report these matters to me? Your judgment of right and wrong may be perfectly sound, but what about your inner sense? Does the life within you not protest against your own resentful behavior?’

By meeting him thus on his own ground she had touched him on the raw. Dumbfounded, he had to admit to himself that even when by human logic he was right, the Holy Spirit within pronounced his attitude as quite wrong.”

Neither our own rightness nor someone else’s wrongness should really determine how much love we give to someone else. Jesus, in His own words and actions and through His indwelling Spirit in us, compels us to love all in all situations.

Certainly, there are times when something that is right in the Lord’s eyes requires a strong stance from us; but even this must be done in great humility and love.

In the Apostle Paul’s words,

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:14-21 NLT)

In other words, don’t withhold your love from others, even when you’ve got a legitimate right to do so. By this, the Bride of Christ becomes perfect, “even as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

A Profound Parable

I’d like to share a parable with you that has deeply impacted me and those I have shared it with.  This story was passed to me a couple of years ago by a dear friend, Solomon Levine, while we were sharing time together at a spiritual retreat camping with some other brothers in Christ.  It was fitting as we were sitting outside sharing the Lord’s life together and we had been contemplating how Christ is revealed in nature.  Solomon’s father, Alan, had shared the story with him.  I forget the publication that had printed it, but I recall the pages were quite worn.  I took pictures of the pages with my phone so that I could read and reflect on the story in the future.  I have not been able to find a source to request permission to share the parable, so I’m going to go out on a limb and share this precious story here.  The story is below and a few thoughts from myself are at the end.

The Parable Of The Bamboo
By B. E. Newcomb

On the hillsides in the Kucheng District of China, the most valuable trees are often marked with the owner’s name. A common way of
 conveying water from the mountain springs down to the villages is in channels made of lengths of bamboo fitted one to the other.

A beautiful tree stood among scores of others on a lovely hillside, its stem dark and glossy, its beautiful feathery branches gently 
quivering in the evening breeze.

As we admired it we became conscious of a gentle rustling of the leaves, and a low murmur was distinctly heard: “You think me
beautiful, you admire my tall stem and graceful branches, but I have nothing to boast of. All I have I owe to the loving care of my Master. 
It was He Who planted me here in this very fruitful hill, where my roots, reaching down to and dwelling in hidden springs, and
continually drinking of their life-giving water, receive nourishment, refreshment, beauty and strength for my whole being.”

“Do you see those trees to one side, how miserable and parched they are? Their roots have not yet reached the living springs. Since I
found the hidden waters, I have lacked nothing.”

“You observe those characters on my stem? Look closely–they are cut into my very being. The cutting process was painful–I wondered at the time why I had to suffer–but it was my Master’s own hand that used the knife, and when the work was finished, with a throb of unutterable joy I recognized it was His own name He had cut on my stem. Then I knew beyond doubt that He loved and prized me, and wanted all the world to know I belonged to Him. I may well make it my boast that I have such a Master.”

Even as the tree was telling us of its Master, we looked round, and lo! the Master Himself stood there. He was looking with love and
longing on the tree, and in His hand He held a sharp axe.

“I have need of thee,” He said. “Art thou willing to give thyself to Me?”

“Master,” replied the tree, “I am all Thine own–but what use can such as I be to Thee?”

“I need thee,” said the Master, “to take My Living Water to some dry, parched places where there is none.”

“But, Master, how can I do this?”

“I can dwell in Thy Living Springs and imbibe their waters for my own nourishment. I can stretch up my arms to heaven, and drink in Thy refreshing showers, and grow strong and beautiful, and rejoice that strength and beauty alike are all from Thee, and proclaim to all what a good Master Thou art. But how can I give water to others? I but drink what suffices for my own food. What have I to give to others?”

The Master’s voice grew wondrously tender as he answered. “I can use thee if thou art willing. I would fain cut thee down and lop off all
thy branches, leaving thee naked and bare, then I would take thee right away from this thy happy home among the other trees, and carry thee out alone on the far hillside where there will be none to whisper lovingly to thee–only grass and a tangled growth of briers and weeds. Yes, and I would still use the painful knife, for all those barriers within thy heart should be cut away one by one, till there was a free passage for My Living Water through thee.”

“Thou wilt die,” thou sayest; “yes, My own tree, thou wilt die, but My Water of life will flow freely and ceaselessly through thee. Thy
beauty will be gone indeed. Hence forth, no one will look on thee and admire thy freshness and grace, but many, many will stoop and drink of the life-giving stream which will reach them freely through thee. They may give no thought to thee, it is true, but will they not bless thy Master Who has given them His Water through thee? Art thou willing for this, My tree?”

I held my breath to hear what the answer would be. “My Master, all I have and am is from Thee. If Thou indeed hast need of me, then I
gladly and willingly give my life to Thee. If only through my dying Thou canst bring Thy Living Water to others, I consent to die. I am
Thine own. Take and use me as thou wilt, my Master.”

And the Master’s Face grew still more tender, but He took the sharp axe and with repeated blows brought the beautiful tree to the ground.
It rebelled not, but yielded to each stroke, saying softly, “My Master, as Thou wilt,” And still the Master held the axe, and still he
continued to strike till the stem was severed again, and the glory of the tree, its wondrous crown of feathery branches, was lost to it
forever.

Now indeed it was naked and bare–but the love-light in the Master’s face deepened as He took what remained of the tree on His shoulders and, amid the sobbing of all its companions, bore it away, far over the mountains.

But the tree consented to all for the love of the Master, murmuring faintly. “My Master, where Thou wilt.”

Arrived at a lonely and desolate place, the Master paused, and again His hand took a cruel-looking weapon with sharp-pointed blade, and this time thrust it right into the very heart of the tree–for He would make a channel for His Living Waters, and only through the
broken heart of the tree could they flow unhindered to thirsty land.

Yet the tree repined not, but still whispered with breaking heart, “My Master, Thy Will be done.”

So the Master with the heart of love and the face of tenderest pity dealt the painful blows and spared not, and the keen-edged steel did
its work unfalteringly, till every barrier had been cut away, and the heart of the tree lay open from end to end, and the Master’s heart was
satisfied.

Then again He raised it and gently bore it, wounded and suffering, to where, unnoticed till now, a spring of Living Water, clear as a
crystal, was bubbling up. There He laid it down–one end just within the healing waters. And the stream of Life flowed in, right down the heart of the tree from end to end, along all the road made by the cruel wounds–a gentle current to go on flowing noiselessly, flowing
in, flowing through, flowing out, ever flowing, never ceasing, and the Master smiled and was satisfied.

Again the Master went and sought for more trees. Some shrank back and feared the pain, but others gave themselves to Him with full consent, saying, “Our Master, we trust Thee. Do with us what Thou wilt.” Then He brought them one by one by the same painful road and laid them down end to end; and, as each fresh tree was placed in position, the Living Stream poured in fresh and clear from the Fountain through its wounded heart, the line growing longer and longer, till at last it reached to the parched land, and weary men and women and little children who had long thirsted came and drank and hastened to carry the tidings to others: “The Living Water has come at last–the long, long famine is over; come and drink.” And they came and drank and revived, and the Master saw, and His heart was gladdened.

Then the Master returned to His tree, and lovingly asked “My tree, dost thou now regret the suffering? Was the price too dear–the price
for giving the Living Water to the world?” And the tree replied, “My Master, no, a thousand, thousand times, no! Had I ten thousand lives, how willingly would I give them all to Thee for the bliss of knowing, as today I know, that I have helped to make Thee glad.”

Some reflections on this parable:

Jesus Christ is Love in action.  1 John tells us that God is love, and Hebrews says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father.  Whatever Jesus does reveals the heart of the Father.  Jesus does not only talk about love; Jesus acts in love.

What is it to act in love?  I think the ultimate expression of love is to serve others (which may be done in many various ways).

This is the heart of the Father, and Jesus became an empty vessel in order to be filled with the Father’s love.  But He doesn’t hoard that
love for Himself; He becomes a willing channel through which the Father’s love is expressed and distributed.

This is the relationship that the Father and Son have shared for all eternity.  But when Jesus became flesh and blood, He demonstrated for us how love works in reality.  Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others.

Philippians 2 describes the essence of divine love.  Jesus emptied Himself.  He did not enforce the special privilege of His divinity.  Instead He served humbly, and even died on the cross as a sacrifice for us.  No greater love does a man have than this, but to give His
life for another.

I do not believe that Philippians 2 is an isolated event that only pertains to the incarnated Christ.  I believe that Christ’s emptying
of Himself began in eternity past and will go on into eternity’s future.  It is His nature to do this in love.  He continues to do this
today as He pours Himself out into us through the Holy Spirit.

So Christ’s love in us is a self-emptying, self-denying, self-sacrificing love. But to enter into this love, we must lay down
our own will so that His will can be poured out through us.

I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them.” (John 17:26 GNT)

Will you be as the bamboo tree, and become a channel for the Living Waters of divine love?

Please feel free to share your reflections on this parable in the comments…

Not Judging Others Part 1: Our Opinions Often Cause Misjudgment

I’m starting a (probably short) series dealing with how people tend to view and judge others negatively.  I’ve observed that this can be a very dangerous habit, and unfortunately it is a habit among Christians as well.

I’d like to begin this series by highlighting something that I have found true in my own life: jumping to conclusions based on my opinions (not facts) causes me to misjudge people and situations.

One of the best books I have read on the art of communication is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.  In the book is a chapter titled Observing Without Evaluating which demonstrates the importance of separating what we see (or have direct evidence of) with what our opinion of that thing is.

Here is an excerpt of a poem written by one of Rosenberg’s colleagues, Ruth Bebermeyer, that illustrates this point:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

Rosenberg explains:

Observations are an important element in nonviolent communication, where we wish to clearly and honestly express how we are to another person.  When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message.  Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.

Here’s a couple of examples from the same chapter to make this really practical:

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Doug procrastinates.
Observation without Evaluation:  Doug only studies for exams the night before.

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.
Observation without Evaluation:  Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.

It was very eye opening for me to realize how impulsively and maybe even subconsciously I tend to jump from observation to conclusion or judgment!

Imagine finding that the trash has not been taken out and asking your spouse, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, or “Why don’t you appreciate me?”  Obviously these are assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking.  As Rosenberg points out (and you might guess yourself), this kind of communication makes us sound critical of others.

Instead of saying, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, perhaps one could say, “I noticed that the trash hasn’t been emptied, and you usually take care of it.  Have you had a rough day?”  The latter approach is clearly less judgmental and more loving and invites the other person into expressive communication.  This allows the other person to express themselves without feeling the weight of judgment or criticism, and it keeps us from jumping ahead to faulty conclusions.

As Christians, I think it is clear in the Scriptures and through the Spirit that we are not intended to judge each other in this way.

I’ve found that a good place to start evaluating if you do this yourself is to observe your own attitude and language towards others.  You might even ask those closest to you if you have a habit of doing this.

Can you share an experience or example where this has been true for you?

In part 2, I’ll suggest some potential alternatives to this behavior.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivers Paul’s Letter to American Christians

The link below is to a sermon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presented in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4th, 1956. I found this a few years ago and have been reading it every year on MLKJ Day. I think there are some profound insights here for Christians of his time and for Christians today.

What are your thoughts?

Paul’s Letter to American Christians

Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday

If you are wondering about the strange title, and maybe feeling like correcting the clearly poor grammar, please view the video below before hurling any virtual stones. ;-)

On a serious note, I would like to pass on something I read recently that I have found to be all too true in my own experience of marriage and the experience of many couples that I know.

I’ve been reading Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. First off, I have to say that if I were going to right a book of marriage advice based on my experience, this would be it. Much of what is in this book is rings true to me. I wish I had read this book years ago. Not only do I agree with much of this book (I don’t agree with everything, but these are minor points in the scope of this book), but I believe it also points us to Christ’s desire for marriage and other relationships.

The premise of the book is that to have a loving marriage that displays Christ, one should keep in view the many opportunities to be built up in Christ that marriage affords. The tag line of the book reads, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” The author’s point (I’m paraphrasing) is that marriage isn’t supposed to be easy work, because it is not “easy” work to crucify our flesh and to live by the self-sacrificing life of Christ that indwells us. But marriage certainly gives us many opportunities to do just that, and through those experiences we are made into Christ’s image. Personally, I have found the most freedom, peace, joy, and fulfillment when I have loved my wife as Christ loved the church: sacrificially and unconditionally.

I would like to share a short passage from the book that I think hits the nail on the head in regard to living the marriage life and living by Christ’s life.

“Contempt is born when we fixate on our spouse’s weaknesses. Every spouse has these sore points. If you want to find them, without a doubt you will. If you want to obsess about them, they’ll grow – but you won’t!

Jesus provides a remedy that is stunning in its simplicity yet foreboding in its difficulty. He tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye (see Matthew 7:3-5).

If you’re thinking “but my spouse is the one who has the plank,” allow me to let you in on a little secret: You’re exactly the type of person Jesus is talking to. You’re the one he wanted to challenge with these words. Jesus isn’t helping us resolve legal matters here; he’s urging us to adopt humble spirits. He wants us to cast off the contempt – to have contempt for contempt – and learn the spiritual secret of respect.

Consider the type of people Jesus loved in the days he walked on earth – Judas (the betrayer); the woman at the well (a sexual libertine); Zacchaeus (the conniving financial cheat); and many others like them. In spite of the fact that Jesus was without sin and these people were very much steeped in sin, Jesus still honored them. He washed Judas’s feet; he spent time talking respectfully with the woman at the well; he went to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Jesus, the only perfect human being to live on this earth, moved toward sinful people; he asks us to do the same, beginning with the one closest to us – our spouse.

Begin to find contempt for contempt. Give honor to those who deserve it – beginning with your spouse.”

- Sacred Marriage, pages 70-71

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not have contempt for each other, whether it is in marriage or otherwise, but may we have contempt for our own flesh when it causes us to resent, demean, or take advantage of someone else. The life of Christ chooses the way of love because He is love; often this is a very difficult way for our flesh, but Jesus tells us that if we come to Him with our burdens, His way is light.

To try to do this in our own power is foolishness. But to trust Christ, listening to and following the still, small voice within, is to find peace and joy on this difficult path.

I pray that this brief insight is helpful to you if you are struggling in your marriage or other relationships.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

(2 Thessalonians 3:5)

The Sweetest Perfume

12 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.  (John 12:1-3)

The story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet  with costly perfume brings to mind the worthiness of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive our love and affection.  It brings to mind the need for us to be broken so that our lives may be poured out in honor of Christ, just as the perfume was poured out to bring forth the sweet smell.  This act of sacrifice filled the house with a sweet aroma, just as God’s spiritual temple, the ekklesia, is filled with a sweet aroma when we sacrifice for Christ and each other.

Certainly, this was a very sweet perfume!

But was it the sweetest?

Remember later that Jesus disrobed in an upstairs room and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet, a very lowly task for Israel’s Messiah.  In fact, it was so far below what Peter thought was respectable for the Messiah that he initially refused the gesture.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

And Jesus did just that, although He did not do it in that upper room.  Jesus went on and suffered the vile, tortuous, inhumane Roman crucifixion.  And as Jesus became sin itself and declared, “it is finished”, His side was pierced and His blood flowed.

Behold, the sweetest perfume to ever anoint anyone!

Behold, the crimson flow from the true Spotless Lamb, who has washed us from head to toe, just as Peter requested.

Behold, the eternal, perfect, blood of Jesus Christ that washes away our sin, guilt, and shame, and ushers us into new life.

Just as the woman sacrificed her most costly possession to pour out on Jesus, our Lord sacrificed His own life-flowing blood to be poured out for our sake.  Has there ever been a more costly ointment than the infinite life of God?

We, whose righteousness is like filthy rags, have been washed clean and clothed in true Righteousness.

Making Room

I’ve seen a lot of online chatter the last few days about being willing to decrease in order for Christ in us to increase (John 3:30).

This brought to my mind the thought of making room in ourselves and in the ekklesia for Christ to be enlarged.  If I have not emptied myself, how can I be filled with Someone else?

Which begs the question: is my life about what I want or is it about what Christ wants?

It’s a lot like when I clean out my garage.  As I have learned to make room for Christ in me, I’ve been able to toss some things out in the garbage.  And that is liberating.

I’ve thrown away man-made religion, trusting in my efforts to make me right with God, thinking poorly of others, being “puffed-up” with knowledge, worrying, fear, defending my reputation, focusing on right doctrine above right relationships, treating others without respect, gossiping, and the list goes on.  These things left me no space to store the new things that Christ was waiting to give me.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

And of course, this is an ongoing process… that garage never seems to clean itself.  Almost every time I go in my garage I realize there are things that I don’t need.  It is the same when I look at myself in the light of Christ.

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.  (Philippians 3:7-11 MSG)

A Servant’s Heart

The things in life that drive us crazy, especially when committed by the people in our lives, are most often opportunities for our own growth in developing the humble heart of a servant.

This is where the living presence of Christ in us leads.

As Paul said, “You must have the same attitude as Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:5)

It is easy to become consumed with frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness without this attitude towards our circumstances.

You Can Count on Conflict

Confession: I meet with a group of believers who have no pastor, preacher, priest, or clergy set aside from or above the rest of the church. There is not a designated human leader.  Our heart is to let Jesus himself be the head of the church.  Everyone in our meetings is free to participate in sharing with the saints and in leading the saints as the Spirit leads them.

However, that’s not really the point of this article.  I want to focus on something that I’ve observed happening because we meet and live together in this way: we all have to deal with each other.

When there is a specific leader in a group and a problem arises, the tendency is to expect the leader to deal with the problem.  So if one person hurts someone else’s feelings or wrongs them in some way, they go to the leader to get things sorted out.  The leader is expected to mediate everyone’s disagreements and arguments.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of going directly to someone who offends you and working to sort things out privately (Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15).

This is pretty much what happens in our little body of believers.  We all have to deal with each other.  We have only Christ as our mediator, and sometimes a wise saint or two to help.  As various issues between saints come up we each learn practically how to live with each other with love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace despite disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:12-15 ESV

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.  1 Corinthians 6:7-8 MSG

In short, we learn to bear the cross with each other.  We learn to lay down our lives – our needs, plans, desires, preferences, ambitions – for our brothers and sisters.  And without someone in charge to keep things in check, there is plenty of opportunity for learning these lessons.  Though there are sometimes scars left behind, I’ve seen much maturity and wisdom bloom from these trials.

Some people consider this messiness of life together something to be avoided.  Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about this part of life together; I’m really not a fan of confrontation.  And wherever people are rubbing up against each other, you can count on conflict arising and the need for confrontation.  However, I’ve seen that this is the process that God uses to fit his children together into the spiritual dwelling place that he desires to have in this earth.  I’ve seen this process produce exactly the characteristics that Paul encourages us to put on, as long as we are willing to put on the character of Jesus.  Disaster ensues when we approach conflicts still wearing the old man who always defends himself above others.

You may be in a church that does have a designated pastor, but you can still experience this maturing process by trusting Jesus and dealing with conflicts directly and privately whenever possible.  But remember, as Paul wrote, to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forgiving each other.  Remember that Jesus tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.  (Matthew 7:12)