How religious pretense is a danger to authenticity

Within the cultivation of an authentic Christian lifestyle, there is a sacred religious piety that evolves within the individual. This piety is not fulfilling any type of rote of religious practice. Piety is the hallmark of one’s reverence toward that which is sacred and holy. There is genuine piety in a person’s relationship with a Sovereign Heavenly Father and then there is a pretense of piety that offends a Sovereign God. This religious pretense is a danger to authenticity because it is more of an outward appearance rather than a genuine inward change and transformation.

In Matthew 23:23-26 describes the religious pretense of the scribes and pharisee’s:

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full [b]of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

It is one thing for someone to walk in disobedience. However, it is entirely more dangerous to walk in disobedience and present a more outwardly appearance of maintaining compliance to those same commandments. More dangerous because the focus of the individual is not on the inward self that is defiled, it is maintaining an appearance to hide the inward defiled self. Genuine authenticity in the Christian life begins with an inward transformation. It is cleansing of one’s heart, soul and mind. Through this process, the inward self flows outwardly in order for us to grow in love and reverence of the sacred and holy.

Are you living a life that is based on outward glamour and religious pretense? Or, have you had a genuine change of the inward self where piety has taken root and is producing a truly transformed authentic Christian life?

Loving God – Fundamental and important command

This morning’s devotion and commentary comes from Our Daily Bread by Philip Yancey.

When asked by a lawyer to identify the most important rule in life, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In those words, Jesus summed up what God most desires from us.

We are not merely called to come unto Christ. We are not merely called to take up our cross on a daily basis. We are not even merely called to preach the Gospel and heal those who are broken and ill. None of this is possible, in fact, unless we understand one simple truth: Authentic Christian living involves us developing a romance with our Heavenly Father. We love God and seek to deepen that love for Him and with Him.

Love is the foundation of a healthy relationship. As we seek after and draw near to our Heavenly Father, we do so because we have a desire to love Him. Within this deepening love comes trust. How are we to love God?

I wonder how I can possibly learn to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind. Neal Plantinga remarks on a subtle change in this commandment as recorded in the New Testament. Deuteronomy charges us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (6:5). Jesus added the word mind. Plantinga explains, “You shall love God with everything you have and everything you are. Everything.”

We come to love our Heavenly Father in the same way that a child develops their love for their own earthly Father. Through the dependence and reliance on time spent together, receiving appropriate direction and counsel, being able to come and discuss our difficulties and challenges we face, knowing that our Heavenly Father is there. In today’s society, there are many who have not experienced a healthy love of a Father. Today is a day to turn to the one true Father of all and humbly come before him with all your brokenness and heartache and lay it all on the alter of prayer. Seeking God daily and drawing near to God brings about subtle and significant changes in our own perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. We grow in love with a Father that is for us and with us in all things and in all ways.

For many today, this may be quite difficult. Blogger JMJ Mitchell writes this in her blog Endless Strength:

There are similar passages in Mark and Luke where Jesus says that we must love God more than anything else…more than our family and friends.  This is a hard thing to comprehend because I think it’s a pretty normal thing for most of us to feel like we love our spouse more than we could love anyone or anything else. Or maybe we look at our children and we acknowledge a level of love that we cannot fathom being surpassed.  Yet, Jesus still commands us to love God the most.

She continues:

The homily centered on the fact that we are not to love God because HE has any NEED for our love.  That idea is preposterous because God, Himself, IS love.  There is nothing we can give to God.  But, our happiness (whether to be had on this earth, in this lifetime or in the next life) depends on our ability to love God the most.  If we love God more than we love our family, our friends, our things, our jobs, our activities…then we order our actions in such a way that we are happy.

Because we come to love our eternal Father in heaven, we order our lives in a manner where blessings are able to flow outwardly. In fact, the passage states that we are not only to Love God with everything, we are also commanded to love our neighbor as we love our own self. This is selfless love – giving of ourselves over to another person. It is through our deepening and strengthening love of God, that we strengthen and deepen our love for our families, for those within our churches, and those within our communities? Want to learn how to be compassionate person? Love God and learn how our Sovereign Father is compassionate.

How have we forgotten the true desire of our hearts to come to love God first and foremost in our lives? Living authentic Christian lives begins with obeying this simple command – to Love God with everything we have. how are you loving God today?

5 key principles defeat produces growth

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, and how you can still come out of it.” -Anonymous

First time in Seahawk franchise history did the team and the 12th man obtain the Superbowl championship. Those who watched the game saw the defeat of the Bronco’s (43-8).  The Seattle Seahawks franchise has won 8 division titles, 2 NFC Titles and now 1 NFL Superbowl title. Compare this to the Bronco’s franchise history record of 9 Division titles, 7 AFC Titles and 2 NFL Superbowl titles. In addition, the Seattle Seahawks had gone to the Superbowl twice in their franchise history while the Denver Bronco’s went 7 times to the Superbowl. For Seattle, this Superbowl win showed the fans that our team has grown and became one of the best teams in the NFL. The Denver Bronco’s also proved that they had become one of the best teams as well. Yet, in this last superbowl, the Bronco’s faced an abysmal defeat. Faced with a strong defense, offense and special teams – the Denver Bronco’s mustered all that they could to do their best despite the onslaught they faced.

So, what does this have to do with living an authentic Christian lifestyle? Simple, really. In life we face our wins and we face our defeats collectively in various seasons. As the saying goes: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The question is – how do we handle defeat? And, more importantly, how does defeat foster growth? Here is how.

1. Accept the present reality

We may not know the exact thoughts of Payton Manning and his team as they realized their team faced great odds of winning against the Seattle Seahawks. However, it may be safe to consider that the looming reality this game was not going to be won caused them to question their ability and purpose. In life, we question the reality of the situation and how defeated we have become. We may have drawn on the strength of others, received encouragement and empowerment from wise friends and our own counsel with God. Our faith is placed properly and yet, it happens, we fail in some way and become defeated.

Accepting the present reality of our defeat begins the process of growth. This is because, when we are ready to accept the fact that we have been defeated, we actually release ourselves from emotional and spiritual bondage of self-inflicted suffering. We free ourselves from spiritual torment in questioning God and our own faith. Through the power of acceptance, properly placed in Jesus Christ, we are able to move forward in how to utilized those moments of defeat as stepping stones toward greater growth and empowerment. In fact, through acceptance, we do not allow denial to take root in our lives.

This does not mean that we say “I am utterly defeated and therefore it is no point”. We still have to live, we still have to apply ourselves and continue to drive toward the goal. In fact, watching the game, the Bronco’s did not give up, they continued to strive for the goal. They continued to play and made some really good plays within the game itself. Despite the fact that they were too far behind to win the game. We merely do not stop living our lives and live out our faith because we are defeated. We live out our lives and faith while fully aware and accepting of the fact that we are defeated and still move forward despite this.

2. Focus on what can be improved

Once we accept the reality of our defeat we free and empower ourselves to look at what needs to be improved. We look at what is working and what areas are weak. Then, we come to strengthen those areas that are weak. In Football (as much in all sports) we review the nature of our loss and investigate what may have been accomplished differently. We are not focused on the would have, could have, should have. We focus on what we are capable of improving.

This is where it takes work. Hard work and it begins with being Honest, open and willing to make necessary changes – even sacrifices in our own lives. Here, we take personal inventory of our own moral values, strengths and weaknesses. This is especially true if we find ourselves defeated by temptation.

3. True defeat comes when we give up and true growth comes when we rise above our defeats

There are two different types of defeat. The first is what this article focuses on – those moments in life where we experience defeat during various seasons of our lives and the ability that we are able to bounce back and turn them into growing points in our faith and life. The second is our own volition of giving up and not even applying ourselves and accepting the defeat because of our own self-pity. The difference between the two is one becomes a victim and seeks others to rescue them – sometimes persecuting those who may  not understand their plight. This involves blaming others for the misfortunes that have befallen them.

However, with the first one, an individual takes responsibility and accountability for their defeat and realize that just because they have failed and do not see themselves as a victim of the circumstances. While we want others to understand our plight and misfortune, it is up to us in how we turn them around and grow from them.

Hence, we decide to allow ourselves to become utterly defeated or decide to utilize our defeats to strengthen our resolve to become better people for our families, employment and community.

4. Acknowledge that it is a process that takes time

People in our society today are caught up in the nature of instant gratification. It has to happen right this very moment. Yet, the nature of growth is something that takes time and only occurs in stages. Growth from our own defeat takes time. It also takes patience.

The season for Football is over with. Regardless of whether a team has won or loss is not as important in what they are doing to prepare for the next season. In fact, each time has a fresh start at the beginning of the season.

For us, as Christians, we move through various seasons and stages of life. We simply do not stop growing and learning. Behind every defeat we face, there is a new season opening up that avails us the opportunity to grow in better and healthier ways where we become conquers through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-39). By acknowledging that it will take time and that our growing into spiritual maturity is a process of growth, we avoid becoming stagnant.

5. Realize that it is through Christ that we are able to overcome – even our own defeats

Faith is not built on the aspect that life is easy. In fact, faith only grows in those times that challenge us, where we face all manner of obstacles, and even face our own defeats. Utilizing our faith only comes from how we have cultivated it through the more troubled and challenging seasons of our lives. Without our faith, there is no hope.

For Christians, this comes in knowing that Christ is not only our Savior, it is coming to understand and know that as He had overcome the world – we are empowered (through him) to overcome our own obstacles and challenges. This is the promised blessings that we have.

No one knows defeat more so than the Savior of the world. He faced defeat daily when challenged by the religious leaders. He faced his defeat at the trial. He faced his defeat when being flogged. He faced his defeat when nailed to the cross and lifted for all to see him. He faced all of these with an eye single to the Glory and Will of God who had sent him (John 17:3) so that through Him, he is able to bring about the immortal and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Christ faced his defeats because He knew that sin and death will ultimately be defeated by his sacrifice for all of humanity.

Living an authentic Christian life is about living in the manner of how Christ lived. This includes facing our defeats in those times and realizing the greater picture that our defeats will ultimately lead to our own spiritual growth and maturation. This is only accomplished as we come to Him on a daily basis and follow after his counsel and his guidance. This does not mean we will live a tranquil life, it means that when life challenges and defeat us in those seasons, we are able to rise up with faith and hope and become conquerors through Jesus Christ.

I am with you and for you

Human beings were created to be social creatures. We are naturally designed to communicate with one another, to live with one another and to develop healthy interpersonal relationships. In this life we have allies and we, unfortunately, have enemies. No greater ally do we have than that in Jesus Christ. For if he is for us, then who is able to stand against us (Romans 8:31)? Today’s devotion comes from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

You face nothing alone – nothing! When you feel anxious know that you are focusing on the visible world and leaving Me out of the picture. The remedy is simple: Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Verbalize your trust in Me, the Living One who sees you always. I will get you safely through this day and all your days. but you can find Me only in the present. Each day is a precious gift from My Father. How ridiculous to grasp for future gifts when today’s is set before you! Receive today’s gift gratefully, unwrapping it tenderly and delving into its depths. As you savor this gift, you find Me.

The assurance a Christian has is their faith and the words of God that as we draw near to Him, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). We have a divine relationship with our creator where He is there with us and for us no matter what things we face here in life. This is where true peace is found. Are you drawing near to Christ and the Father today? What is preventing you from drawing near and knowing that Christ is with you and for you? The promise is that God will neither leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5). The only time we feel forsaken and left alone is due to our own volition and it is our own design that we have left and forsaken our Loving Sovereign Father.