Yesterday was the last day of summer, at least for us. It was the last day that the pool was open before it shut down for the year. Most of our summers involve a significant amount of swimming and this year was no different. So, when the pool was finally closing down last night, it felt like the end of the summer for us.
But, before it did, we made the most of it. I spent about an hour throwing my children and the children of three other families into the pool over and over again. Needless to say, I am hurting today…
During the course of the afternoon, I was watching my son swim. He loves to just float in the water, underwater. This is a miracle because he used to scream like he was being murdered anytime he would get water in his ears. Now he loves it. He also HATES the cold water. He is perfectly fine just being in the corner of the pool by himself, jumping in and out of the water. As I was watching him, I saw myself over and over again. I saw myself in him.
I grew up in Australia and spent a significant amount of my life by the beach. I love the water. I love to just dive under the water and float. But as much as I love water, I HATE cold water. I don’t have a lot of body fat on me so I feel the cold significantly. I could also spend all day, by myself, in the water and be just fine.
I didn’t teach my son any of those things. I didn’t sit him down and instruct him that he was to love floating, hate the cold and enjoy his own company. He just does those things because he is my son. He carries my DNA and strangely enough, that also affects things other than genetics.
John 1:12 tells us that, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Do you receive Him? Then you have become a child of God and if you are born of God, you carry the DNA of your Father.
I was thinking on this yesterday as I watched my son. If I carry the DNA of my Father, then there are things in me that come directly from Him. I may not even be aware of it, but I get the gift of being like my Father. It may be the most normal thing to me, but others see it and see my Father in me.
It also means that the DNA that is in me will produce the image of my Father simply because that is what it was designed to do. That’s a great relief and a great responsibility. In the same way that planting a tomato seed in the ground will produce tomatoes and not potatoes, your life is designed to produce the image of God. A cultivated life will produce the work of God simply because that is what it is designed to do. You cannot escape the power of that DNA… If you will cultivate it.
That’s the part of the equation that requires us. The cultivation is up to us.
My son loves the water right now, but if I stop taking him to the pool and I never give him the opportunity to cultivate that love, he may forget. His love of floating may get filled with a love for other things. In time, he may completely forget his love for water. That would be a sad day. What could happen if I cultivated that love? We have all seen the Olympians whose parents poured hours and time and money into the things that their children loved and ultimately produced champions. It could go either way.
The question today is, what are you going to cultivate? Just because you carry the DNA of your Father doesn’t mean you won’t be tempted to fill your life with other things that cause you forget who you are. It is easy to crowd our lives out with things that are lesser loves. It is easy to forget who we are.
So, we need to be reminded. We are not simply striving to be like our Father. We actually carry the DNA of our Father in us. We may not even be aware of it at times, but we will naturally do things that look like God simply because we are sons of our Father. We do, however, have a responsibility to cultivate that DNA in our lives and continue to produce the fruit of a God-life in our lives.
What things can you do this week to cultivate the God-life in you?
I remember a time that I went through the gospels with the intention of noting every miracle that Jesus performed. It was quite an arduous task. With tools available on the internet, I probably could have just searched Google and found an appropriate answer to my question. I could have looked up commentaries or read other’s opinions but I wanted to do the search myself. At first, I found myself looking for the big miracles because, frankly, they were the easiest to spot. The miracle of turning water into wine, the miracle of healing Peter’s mother in law, the child raised from the dead, the lepers healed, the blind eyes opened. But as I continued to search, I began to realize there were far more miracles that Jesus accomplished that were often unnoticed even by those who were the recipients of the miracle.
Jesus displayed the miracle of wisdom when He was confronted by the rich young ruler. Even though the young man didn’t take Jesus advice, the words of Jesus were an invitation into life for him.
“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”” Mark 10:17-21 NASB
Did you catch it? Did you see the miracle that took place? Jesus felt a love for him. It’s a phrase that could be easily missed by those too busy to notice, but it’s there. The miracle of kindness displayed in wisdom.
There are many more miracles, great and small, scattered throughout the gospels. Some of them are noticeable, some of them take a little more investigation. Because of the nature of those types of miracles, they are often missed but they are miracles nonetheless.
Why are these events miracles? Because they are the demonstration of something that is not natural. If we believe that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control are all fruits of the spirit then when those things occur, we are encountering something that is inherently spiritual. If God is love, then acts of love must have their origin in the very nature of God himself. Can those acts be distorted? Absolutely. In much the same way that a child reproducing a Picasso would distort the image of the original painting in their attempt to copy the source, love can be distorted through immaturity. Anyone with a trained eye, however, would smile at the attempt to reproduce Picasso, however feeble, and encourage the child to keep trying, get trained, and continue to paint. Chastising the immaturity of the burgeoning artists will only hinder the opportunity for growth. Gentle instruction, redirection, and mastery of the discipline will eventually bring about a more faithful reproduction of the original.
So it is with us. The miracles of love and hope and kindness occur around us all the time, even if we do no see it. The question, then, is not whether or not miracles occur around us every day, but do we have the capacity to perceive them? Once we perceive them, do we have the courage to learn from them? Can we see through the weakness that is demonstrated because of the human instrument and discover the God who exists behind the miracle?
Most of us wander through our days and we do not realize how much we are missing. With the advent of portable computing, smartphones, and social media, we spend more and more time staring a screen and less and less time actually engaged in the moment. Our days are filled with information but they lack connection. Our relationships suffer, our lives are chaotic, our minds are overrun and our capacity is at a breaking point. There is so much noise and so much chaos that we don’t know how to even find the answers we are looking for anymore.
What if we could perceive the hand of God in each situation. Wouldn’t that change our day-to-day lives? What if we could actually hear His voice and be led by the leader within?
There are days when it’s easy to think that you have everything under control. You don’t forget about God, but you don’t really invite Him into the moment-by-moment stuff. Life just happens and then life gets busy and then life becomes consuming to the point that you realize you haven’t even given a thought to anything other than the things that are right in front of you… I am exhausted just writing it!
Nothing sinful has occurred, no intentional spiritual corruption, nothing nefarious has taken place – just neglect.
But spiritual neglect does more damage than you realize. Neglect causes spiritual atrophy. Neglect makes you stiff, numb, and callous to the voice of the Spirit in your life. The ground in your heart becomes dry and hard. You begin to focus more on yourself and less on the needs of others around you. It is this environment that the enemy loves! It is the perfect opportunity to sow the seeds of frustration, bitterness and self-preservation.
The worst of it is that it happens without you even being aware of it.
So what are we to do when we feel ourselves in this place? Here are some tested methods to combat spiritual neglect. These are tools that I use in my life when I begin to feel that “dry” sensation. These are tried and true methods for ensuring you don’t become a victim, but a victor!
We have a saying in our house that makes our kids cringe. “Tell me 10 things you are thankful for.” It is usually followed by a sigh or, in the case of my oldest daughter, a slight rolling of her eyes. This request usually comes at a point in the day when the whining has increased, ungratefulness is at an all time high and the kids are probably in need of a nap.
Why thankfulness? Because of what it does both to your brain and your spirit. Thankfulness puts your brain to work in the right way. Spending a few minutes a day in thankfulness can actually release the “pleasure” chemicals that your brain so desperately craves each day (check out this article for more info on that!). Think of it like a donut for your brain.
Thankfulness also forces you to go back and remember. Time and time again, the Lord told the children of Israel to go back and remember (Deuteronomy 8:2). Thankfulness is a reminder to your spirit of all the Lord has done and an invitation to look for Him in the future.
I’m not talking about singing songs, although that is a good way to get started. I’m talking about making God bigger in your life.
“Oh magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together!” Psalm 34:3
To magnify something means to make it larger. Worship is the act of honoring God because He is worthy of it. When we do this, we get a bigger picture of who He is. As we do, our issues, circumstances, and problems get a lot smaller.
An easy way to do this is by singing worship songs or by spending time focusing on who God is in prayer.
One of the best ways to combat any form of spiritual opposition is to walk in the opposite spirit of whatever you are facing. If you feel under the weight of a financial burden, respond by being generous. If you are feeling down, respond by bringing joy to someone else. If you are feeling hopeless, find someone you can bring hope to.
Doing this will cost you something. It means you will have to sacrifice your feelings or needs to respond to someone else’s needs.
There are times (few and far between) when I watch one of my children sacrifice for the other. Sometimes it’s as small as letting their sibling play with a toy they really like, sometimes it’s sharing their candy, sometimes it’s a simple as choosing the TV show that the other sibling wants instead of what they want.
When this happens, my heart soars. As a father, it means the world when my kids sacrifice for each other. Imagine how our Father in Heaven feels when we sacrifice for one another?
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of things to do when you are faced with spiritual apathy, but it is a good start.
Don’t let spiritual neglect cause your life to decay into frustration and bitterness. Combat it with Thankfulness, worship and sacrifice!
Try them out and let me know how things change! What things do you do when faced with spiritual neglect in your life?
Imagine that you showed up to church on Sunday morning and everything was gone.
The room had no stage. There were no speakers or amplification. No musical instruments. No video screens, no lights, no cameras. All you had was a room and few people. Imagine there was nobody to watch your kids for you, no coffee in the foyer, no comfy seats to sit on, and no air-conditioning (good Lord, NO!!). Imagine, for a moment, that everything was gone.
But, as everyone is standing around staring at each other, your pastor gathers everyone together in the middle of the empty space and says. “Let’s worship.”
Would you stay? Would you worship? Would you pray? To be honest, I’m not sure what I would do… “Well, I guess let’s just go to breakfast?”
It would be an interesting experiment, however. What would your church do? It would certainly expose the crutches that we lean on every week without realizing it.
What expectation do you carry into church every week without even knowing you do? What do you subconsciously need to take place at a gathering for you to feel like God was “there”? What kind of crutch do you lean on that, if it was taken away, you could no longer worship, pray, and engage your heart with Jesus?
This quote from A. W. Tozer struck me particularly hard this week.
“There is grief in my spirit when I go into the average church, for we have become a generation rapidly losing all sense of divine sacredness in our worship. Many whom we have raised in our churches no longer think in terms of reverence—which seems to indicate they doubt that God’s Presence is there….Much of the blame must be placed on the growing acceptance of a worldly secularism that seems much more appealing in our church circles than any hungering or thirsting for the spiritual life that pleases God. We secularize God, we secularize the gospel of Christ and we secularize worship.” A.W. Tozer
I guess the question I am really asking is this – what happens when God is not enough? I can tell you what happens. We get busy replacing what we think is missing with things that give us a similar feeling. The result, however, is far more deadly that we realize.
We will start to equate the wrong things with God’s presence.
We will begin to think the emotional high that comes from a certain musical progression is the presence of God. Now, hear me out. I love a good musical lift. I love the crescendo in music that lifts the soul. I am a musician and a songwriter and there is no more powerful thing than being able to lift people with the power of music. The problem is, my soul being lifted by music is not always a good indication of the tangibility of God’s presence. And, if we train ourselves to believe that it is, we will end up like Pavlov’s dog, salivating because of a trained behavior and not because of the real presence of God.
We will begin to think that another great sermon is what will change the world. Well, bad news… If sermonizing was going to change the world, it would have been changed already. We do need great teachers to encourage us, challenge us and guide us but the responsibility is always on the individual to do something about it, not on the preacher to compel you.
We find ourselves needing more and more props to keep our attention. More lights, more videos, more creative elements, more distractions.
And, as we keep adding those things into the mix, we create a context for spiritual dullness because we have trained people to be satisfied with junk spirituality instead of offering them something real.
Say, for example, you woke up in the morning and needed to grab something to eat as you ran out the door. On the table in your kitchen was a plate of eggs and a donut. Let’s be honest. Unless you are really committed to your health, 9 times out of 10 you are going to grab the donut.
Why? Because it is quick, it is easy, and it provides temporary fulfillment. But, about 3 hours later, you are going to sugar crash…
When God is not enough, we start to offer people donuts.
Now, let’s be real. I love a good donut. But, if I ate a donut every day… I think you can see where I’m going with this.
So what are we to do? What you can you do personally to make sure that you are not pounding down spiritual donuts each week? Most of us will not have an opportunity to change the world, but we can change ourselves. We can’t always take on the establishment, but we can change what we do when we show up to church. Here’s what I would do if I was you.
- I would bring an offering of praise no matter what it sounds like, looks like or feels like.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalm 95:2
- I would make sure that no matter what church I go to, I am there because of Jesus and not because the worship is “amazing”, the teaching is “life-changing” or the place has an indoor coffee shop.
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:3
- I would commit to live a daily life with Jesus and not rely on a church to fill me up so I can face the big bad world each week. Living a life of devotion will enable you to gather with your church family each sunday without the expectation of them having to meet all your needs (because, in reality, they can’t!)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18
Most importantly, however, I would make sure I asked myself this question on a regular basis – is God enough for me?
Some days are easier than others to believe that God is for us.
A few days ago, my wife was traveling across the country with our three children headed for a family reunion. Over the years, my wife and I have traveled across the country many times, far more than most people, and never had an issue. No flat tires, no mechanical issues, no accidents. We have been remarkably safe over the years.
But this trip was different because I had to stay home while she traveled across multiple states by herself. That makes things a little more stressful, to say the least. So, when I get a text message about 4 hours into the trip telling me that she is stuck on the side of the road with a blown out tire, I am little frustrated with God.
Really? The one time she is traveling by herself on she is in the middle of nowhere, hours from home and now she gets a tire blow out? Add to that equation a few terrified children, semi trucks flying past at 70- miles an hour and her telling me she called some random mechanic close by to come help her, well, I have some questions for the Lord.
Remember that scripture about Him giving His “angels charge over us” and the entirety of Psalm 91? What happened to those promises?
Some days are easier than others to believe that God is for us.
There are days when the bonus shows up, the loan gets approved for the house you want, your kids get into the college they dreamed about, tickets to disneyland are half off – those are the days that we believe that God is for us.
Until things get hard, then we start to question everything…
One of my least favorite verses in the Bible is from the book of James.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Not something you write on your wall above your bed, but it’s the truth. Nothing exposes what we really believe about God more than a few “various trials.” It seems a painful way to learn… Don’t stop there, however. What is the end result? The opportunity to become perfect and complete, lacking nothing. That’s a pretty good reward for a little endurance.
The reason for my frustration the other day was simple. I had forgotten who God was. So today, I reminded myself. He is the God who guides.
“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.”
That’s a promise you can take hold of. You will not be abandoned in the wilderness. You will have shade in the day and light during the night. You will have the Spirit of God to instruct you. You will be cared for, provided for and have all that you need to finish the work that God started in you.
And, when you hold on to that promise, you stop accusing God of neglecting you and start trusting that He is for you.