Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Part 1

Conflict is not fun. We all know this, because this is why we shy away from creating conflict. Sometimes creating conflict, however, is the best way to show love.

Christ and Conflict

Jesus intentionally created conflict.

  • The law of the Pharisees said healing was work and, therefore, should not be done on a Sunday. Jesus healed anyways right in front of them.
  • Any form of harvesting grain was forbidden on the Sabbath, yet Jesus allowed the disciples to pluck and eat grain as they walked.
  • The temple leaders allowed selling animals and other commerce in the temple courts. Jesus made a whip, flipped tables, and rebuked them.
  • At one point Jesus proclaimed that his followers would need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Why did the Prince of Peace create so much conflict?

Today we do not see creating conflict as Christ-like, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus created conflict often. He created a different kind of conflict, however, than we often create.

We are most familiar with un-Christ-like conflict. We argue and fight because our expectations are not met, we say unkind things because we are angry, we take what is not ours. We armchair quarterback life, proclaiming how we would do things differently and how much better life would be if everyone did things our way.

We are selfish, prideful people. Jesus was not.

Jesus never argued selfishly, snapped angrily at someone, or felt like he was entitled to anything. He never got upset because one of his expectations was not met, and he never said, “I told you so.”

Jesus used conflict as a tool to initiate healthy change in people’s lives and to open people’s eyes to truth.

  • Jesus healed on the Sabbath because the Pharisees had turned a day of rest into a burden.
  • Jesus allowed his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath because the Pharisees were more focused on outward obedience than on inward surrender.
  • Jesus drove the money changers and business people out of the temple because the leaders were more concerned about making money than they were on prayer and the health of people’s hearts.
  • Jesus told his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood because he knew that many of his followers were only there for the show.

Creating Conflict Correctly

Proverbs 27:6 (AMP) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are lavish and deceitful.”

Sometimes the only way forward in life requires conflict. That conflict may be difficult, but it is the only way to resolve an issue. According to this proverb we prove ourselves to be true friends when we are not afraid to wound our friends. An enemy will try to cover over an issue and brush it under the rug in order to keep things pleasant and enjoyable.

I have to admit that many times I have been more of an enemy than a friend because I was too afraid to bring up a difficult issue. I valued my own comfort more than the health of a situation.

  • When we are offended and we are not able to resolve it internally within a short period of time, God calls us to speak up about how we were offended. The discussion may be hard and uncomfortable, but if the conflict is handled with grace and humility the result will be a healthier relationship.
  • When a co-worker does not follow through on an assignment, we love them best and we are better businesspeople when we go directly to them and speak about it.
  • When we are leading a rehearsal and someone messes up a part, everyone needs us to step up and kindly correct the mistake.

Conflict is necessary for growth, and when we avoid conflict we are impeding our growth and the growth of everyone involved.

Two notes are in order.

  1. Do not create conflict with a person who has proven to react in an abusive way physically, verbally, or emotionally. Get counsel and help in those situations before engaging the person at fault.
  2. Remember that a problem usually has two parts, which means that we must always remain humble and willing to own our part of the problem, no matter how small.

Where do you need to demonstrate love by being willing to create necessary conflict?

Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Prologue

What are the key truths you live by?  Have you ever thought about what principles guide your life?

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We all have them.

We all have core beliefs that shape how we live.  Some of us have intentionally chosen those beliefs, and some of us are riding on the coattails of others.  We are trying to be like (insert name here), so our values mirror our idol.  We often do not think twice about the values of the person we are following.

In the next several weeks I want to share what I believe are two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life.  These two truths are only a drop in the bucket, but they are two of the principles I value.

In presenting these truths I run the risk of someone thinking I “have it all together.”  Well, let’s put that one to rest.  I do not.

My life is fulfilling in many ways, but there are many areas of my life that need work, just like yours.

I invite you to comment and join in the journey with me.  Part 1 coming next week.

A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?

Devotions for the Artist

The word “devotions” has gotten a bad rap.  “Devotions” are often tied to boring rituals of Bible reading and long prayers, when the “boring” piece is usually the fault of the person doing the Bible reading or praying.

God is certainly not boring; he is anything but.  So how do we resurrect the practice of devotions, and how can artists make this essential discipline a unique expression of their gifts and calling?

Bible

I have had the blessing of growing up in a Christ-centered home with parents who value and pursue a relationship with God.  Since my childhood I have heard and seen them listen to and read the Bible, pray, and do ministry.

My own experience has followed theirs.  I have never second-guessed the need to read the Bible or pray, but I have often missed the opportunity devotions provide to me as an artist.

I remember many sessions of prayer and Bible reading where my mind would go wandering through a to-do list, through a movie landscape, or into a concert hall.  That is, if I had not fallen asleep already!

My dad speaks of the reality of joy in a discipline being on the other side of perseverance, but I often had difficulty finding that joy.  I seemed to get lost in the perseverance stage.

Recently, however, I have found a new joy and peace in my relationship with God, and that joy and peace has filled my devotions more and more.  Here are a few things to consider if you are looking to improve your time with God.

General Considerations

  • Find a quiet place by yourself and away from distraction.  I find it best for me to use an analog Bible (read: paper and cover book) but I do sometimes use my YouVersion app.  The less electronics the better, which will take some discipline at first.  Eventually your heart and mind will crave that silence and freedom from being “plugged in.”
  • Set your heart on knowing God.  I do not mean knowing as in going to the library, but knowing as in knowing his heart and knowing how he looks at and reaches out to you.
  • Ask him to reveal himself to you before you read the Bible or pray.  He usually doesn’t show up in a vision, but you may find your heart and mind drawn to particular words in the Bible passage you are reading.  The Bible promises that if you seek God with all your heart you will find him.

For the Artist

Here is where devotions become really fun.  The options are endless.

Just a note for the perfectionists among us: Don’t judge your devotional art harshly.  God is not looking for perfection in your relationship with him; he is looking for your heart.  

  • Write a song based on a trait of God you find in the Bible passage you are reading.
  • Paint a picture to represent your prayer to God.
  • Write your prayers in poetic form.
  • Build something out of Play-Doh or Legos to represent your response to God.
  • Rewrite a Bible passage in your own words.

Today

This morning I wrote a song based on God’s pursuing love.  That phrase set in my heart yesterday and showed up again in the Psalms I read this morning.  Since I said that God is not about perfection, I am going to post the lyrics here.  They are only an hour old.

Pursuing God

Verse 1
Love of God so great and strong,
triumphant over fear;
reigning over hope and faith
you sing salvation’s song.

Chorus
Pursuing us through sin and death
and climbing Calvary’s tree,
I will sing my whole life long
of how you rescued me.

Verse 2
Leaving heaven’s throne and crown
for swaddling clothes and hay,
laying down his kingly rights
redeeming love came down.

Verse 3
Love exchanged a golden rod
for rugged wood and nails,
set aside his purple robe
for clothes of dust and blood.

Verse 4
Love destroyed the chains of death,
escaped the tomb of stone.
Power of God and Son of Man,
your love has rescued us.

Do something artistic during your devotions and post the result below.  Remember, perfection is not the focus; responding to God is what matters.

A Grid for Choosing Music

Recently my senior pastor and I were discussing music for our church.  Choosing what music to keep and what to get rid of, what to introduce and what to pass over, can be daunting.  You have to create a grid to guide you or your selections could become haphazard and unbalanced.

In the midst of that discussion a favorite scripture verse came to mind, one that has guided many of my worship discussions:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Mark 12:30 (ESV)

Jesus is telling people how they should love God with their entire existence.  As I reviewed a few other translations I found some expansions of this text:

  • All your heart: your devotion, your focus, your motivation
  • All your soul: your whole life
  • All your mind: your mental and moral understanding
  • All your strength: your energy

I have always felt that if a congregation truly grasps this scripture and applies it to their daily lives, worship in that congregation will explode.

This time, however, I saw another application of this verse.  If we want our congregations to worship God with all their devotion, with their whole lives, with all of their moral and mental understanding, and with all of their energy, our music must support these goals.

Here are a few applications:

Heart

  • Songs that help and teach people to love God with the proper motivation.
  • Songs that help and teach people to focus on God in the middle of a very distracting culture.

Soul

  • Songs that teach people a theology of lifestyle worship.
  • Songs that help people worship as they work throughout the week.
  • Songs that embrace the full spectrum of life experiences, from laments to celebrations.

Mind

  • Songs that teach good doctrine.
  • Songs that preach the Gospel.
  • Songs that reshape our understanding of being made in the image of God.
  • Songs about the cross.

Strength

  • High energy and celebrative songs
  • Songs that teach us to rely on Christ rather than on ourselves.
  • Songs on strength from weakness, and that teach us that God’s grace is enough for us.

What other applications do you find for this passage of scripture?  What other grids do you use to select congregational songs?

When God Becomes a Show-Stopper

What would it be like for the glory of God to fill our churches on a Sunday morning to such an extent that we would not be able to continue the service?

Exactly that scenario happened thousands of years ago when King Solomon dedicated the new temple.  His father, King David, had spent years preparing the plans and provisions for building the temple before Solomon became king.  After Solomon became king it still took him over four years to finish preparing to build the temple, after which it took another seven years to actually build the temple.

Once the temple was finally built the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the Tent of Meeting, which had been in use since it was constructed in the wilderness under the guidance of God and Moses, to the new temple on Mount Moriah.  On the way King Solomon sacrificed so many sheep and oxen that they lost count!  Then the Ark was placed under the tall, gold-plated cherubim in the temple’s Most Holy Place and the priests came back out to do their duties.

At that time all of the musicians along with 120 trumpeters led worship singing

“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

At that moment

“the house [of the Lord] was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”  2 Chronicles 5:13b-14 ESV

Wow.  I have heard of people pastors and other people stopping a service because God told them to.  I have been present when services were stopped because of technical snaffoos.  I have even been present when services were stopped because of fire alarms.

But I have never been present in a service when God stopped the service himself by just moving in and making it physically impossible to lead in worship.

What would that be like?

The Contemporary English Version says “The light from [God’s glory] was so bright the priests could not stay inside to do their work.”  2 Chronicles 5:14

After Solomon prayed fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifices.

The people fell down and worshipped.  There was probably such a sense of awe from God’s show of power that the people could not help but bow down and worship.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people were even terrified.  Imagine if God showed up on the platform at church and said to the pastor, “Move over, buddy.  I’ve got something to say.”  I think we all would be awestruck and terrified.

Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6 and he is immediately aware of his sinfulness.  I imagine some of the people became painfully aware of the sin in their life when the holy God of the universe showed up.

I expect that kind of encounter with God would be very emotional, the kind of thing that would make the your hair stand on end.  Any time you get 120 trumpeters and a large number of other singers and instrumentalists together in the same worship service you are going to get an emotional response simply because of the sheer volume.

Fortunately it was outside, but that barely lessens the sound.  Imagine the soundtrack for the yearly 4th of July fireworks display.  That’s probably the right category for this thunderous worship service.  In his book Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven Rory Noland makes the comment that many of us may be surprised when we get to heaven by the volume of the worship.  It will not be quiet.  Millions of people singing and playing instruments at the same time makes for decibel-meter-breaking volume.

Shock can probably be expected.  People showed up that day expecting to see a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a lot of bloody sacrifices, and a lot of pomp and circumstance.  Imagine the local butcher putting the sign in the door, “Back in 1 hour,” and thinking the whole time of all the work that needs to be done, the carcasses hanging back at the shop waiting to be cut up and sold.

Then God shows up.

When God tears the fabric of time and space and physically appears, shock follows.  That kind of reality is a shock to the system.  Suddenly the work at the office isn’t that important.  Suddenly the argument with your friend or spouse seems trivial.  Suddenly your craving for the latest iThing seems really silly.

Then God.

I am thinking right now that my commitment to God can probably be measured by the size of the shock I would experience if God appeared before me.  If I am just doing my own thing then God’s presence would be greatly disturbing.  If, on the other hand, I am living a life that is, to use the words of Philippians 4, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, I really do not have anything to worry about.

Caveat: if you have not placed your faith in Christ for salvation, no amount of good living will prepare you for the presence of God.  Nothing you do can win you a place in heaven.  Good living just gets you a place at the back of the line.  God’s gift of salvation received by faith alone is all that guarantees a relationship with God and home in heaven.

So how about you?

How would you react if God appeared in your worship service and took over?