How to Abuse Your Relationship With God.

girl-hair-meadow-403I have to admit.

Sometimes I think God is in an abusive relationship with me.

I get it. “Abuse” is a word loaded with paper trails, court appeals, and restraining orders. It does have baggage. But when taken at face value, to abuse simply means to misuse, or use improperly.

In that vein of thought, here are three ways in which you and I can ab-use our relationship with God.

Hopefully you don’t resonate.

1) Talk to him only when you need something.

Dr.Allan Walshe, my professor from my youth and young adult class, laid this gem on us:

“Requests are a part of prayer, but they are not the heart of prayer.”

He further explained that the heart of prayer is a relationship – a sincere, singular commitment to a personal God who knows you and longs to be known.

This was paradigm-shifting because prayer, for the most part, had been nothing but a calling bell for my Cosmic Butler.
It’s usually my 911 line for a bruise all the way to a breakup. Yes, I do season my communication with the occasional pre-meal grace. Yes, I do thank him for that miraculous A.  But prayer is still optional communication. I need it when I need God.

Yes. God does want us to come to Him with our requests and desires. As a matter of fact, he’d rather have us to come to Him than anywhere else. But we diminish the function of prayer when we relegate it to a mere transaction. Check out what Aunty White had to say about prayer:

Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (SC, 93).

God doesn’t want to be used. He longs to be loved. I’ll do well in trying to remind myself of that daily. Today, did I talk to him when there was nothing for me to ask him? Did I take some time today to tell him how great He is just because? Did I talk to him as I do to a close friend?

I wonder how our marriages and relationships would fair if we only talked to our partners only when we need something from them.

2) Enjoy the privileges of the commitment while ignoring the responsibilities of it.

When I join a company, I am made privy to two things: My membership privileges and the company contract. I can enjoy these privileges as long as I’m a member of the company, but the moment my choices conflict with the company contract, I may potentially lose my privileges as well as my membership.

Enjoying the privileges of my company while ignoring its responsibilities is a sure way to get fired. Yet when it comes to my company and commitment to God, the same rules remarkably do not seem to apply.

The privileges of Christianity are many. We are called to enjoy gifts like grace, peace, community, purpose, strength, joy and eternal life among others. But while we do that, we are concurrently called to uphold the responsibilities of Christianity such as discipleship, love, sacrifice, service, and join in with the missio dei of seeking and saving the lost.

Unfortunately many of us want to enjoy the crown without bearing the cross.
We let Jesus do all the dirty work while we get to enjoy his spoils. The German theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, referring to this as “cheap grace”, galvanized his sentiments with the following definition found in his epoch-making book, the cost of discipleship:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

Have mercy.

Have I enjoyed the privileges of salvation while ignoring the responsibility to my Savior? How have I done that done that today?

Salvation is free but not cheap. The price tag is still high. What then should be our response to the One who paid it all?

3) Ask him to modify your behavior without transforming your life.

The overarching meta-narrative of scripture begins with man created in the image of God and ends with the complete restoration of that image in man where the old order of things has been replaced and transformed into a new one.

The apostle Paul mentions this new order in his letter to the Corinthians:

“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”

In order to effectuate this, he exhorts the church in Rome not to conform to the patterns of this world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Scripture is replete with references which convey the necessity of a total soul transformation. God seems to be asking more of his people because he wants to do more. And yet I still find myself asking him to change certain parts of my life not realizing that God is more interested in transforming all of it.

But is it wrong to ask God to give me more patience? Is it wrong to consult him for my weaknesses? I think not.  However, I think I’m missing the point when behavior modification takes precedence over a desire for life transformation.

The ultimate end of a relationship with God is God Himself. He wants us to see him face to face and to enjoy Him in an unadulterated atmosphere of holiness. This requires us to be changed and transformed into His likeness in order for us to withstand His glory in eternity.

Then what about our behaviors? When God transforms the life, behaviors are more than modified – they are repurposed.

These are three of the many ways I think I have abused my relationship with God. What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar or different situation? If you care to share, leave a comment below!

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Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus.

photo-1421809313281-48f03fa45e9fI’ve always wondered what the phrase “be like Jesus” meant.

Does it mean to copy His appearance? If so, does that mean I had to grow a beard, sow my own clothes, and chuck my shoes for some sandals?

Does it mean to imitate His personality? Then does that mean I have to swap my hyena laugh for a sanctified snicker? Sing softer in the shower? Or replace my srilankanamerican accent for a more middle-eastern one?

Or does it mean to mimic his character?  Be more loving? Caring? Inclusive?

However way you look at it, there were people in history who made it their life’s aim to be like Jesus.
One such individual was the apostle Paul who appeals to his readers to “imitate him as he imitates Christ.” In another letter, he encourages some church folk to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run the race of faith.

As a matter of fact, both scripture and history are replete with individuals who proclaimed that the strongest argument for Christianity were Christians who acted like Jesus.

This even resonated with the famous Indian liberationist Mahatma Gandhi, who made the following statement:

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”

Ouch.

Here’s the bottom line:  Christ-like behavior is the acid-test of true Christianity.

But here’s the thing..

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus.

“Wait a minute, Kev. How can you be like Jesus without focusing on being like him??”

Buckle up.

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. The word that needs to be sharpied and spotlighted in that sentence is focus.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that focusing on being like Jesus was the way to do this Christianity thing. I thought I was supposed to focus on walking, talking, and acting like Jesus to display his character.

And I tried. I tried my best to be more loving, be more caring, and be more inclusive.  I tried my utmost to be Jesus-y with others, especially towards my non-Christian friends to be “salt” and “light.” I tried my best to have the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right behaviors.
But instead of becoming more like Jesus, I found myself becoming more disappointed.

Because the more I focused on being like Jesus, the less I focused on Jesus and more on my works.

Check out how Dallas Willard puts it in his book Renovations of the Heart:

“The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deadening legalisms…”

Mercy.

Now let’s just say that my trying to be like Jesus actually made me more like Jesus. If that was true ( and I wish it was sometimes! ) the object of glory will then be my works instead the grace of Christ!

Inevitably, my spirituality will become my savior while my Savior will be used for my spirituality.

Christians should not focus their efforts on being like Jesus. In theological jargon, that’s called “righteousness by works” and that’s not how the game’s played.

“So Kevin, if I am to be like Jesus, and focusing on being like him is not going to get me there, what else am I supposed to do??”

Glad you asked. Here’s my answer and the seminal point of this post:

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. Christians should focus on being with Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus preaches a sermon where he likens himself to a grape vine and his followers to attached branches. Then he makes a remarkable statement:

“If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice. The branches were not asked to focus on producing fruit ( good works) to produce fruit. They were asked to remain with the vine so they can bear fruit.

Christians are not called to produce fruit. They are called to bear fruit.
Christians are not called to focus on producing Christ-like behavior. Christians are called to bear the characteristics of Christ by remaining with Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul when he says that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

So when you are with Jesus, spending time alone with him, talking with him, meditating on his love for you, and receiving his grace, He will transform you from the inside out. The more we admit we are powerless to beat sin and inculcate Christ-like behavior by ourselves, the more we open our souls to the work of God to change us into the likeness of Christ.

But isn’t that works? Yes it is. A lot of works.
But the most important work of a Christian is to focus all the efforts in being with Jesus in word, thought, and deed.
This requires you to forgo your need to prove your worth to God so that Jesus guide and transform you.
That’s probably why Oswald Chambers says

“all I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be holy.”

Don’t focus on being like Jesus. Focus on being with Jesus. And He will make you more like Him.

What are your thoughts? What are some ways you can start being with Jesus instead of trying to be like him?
Leave a comment below!

 

The Single Most Important Choice You Can Make RIGHT NOW to Grow in Your Relationship with God.

awareness-of-god

What’s the most important choice you can make right now to grow spiritually?

If I were to tell you, you probably wouldn’t even believe it.

It is so simple, so unsophisticated, so candid that you might even kick yourself for not realizing it.

At least that’s what I did when I first realized it.

If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people who have vowed to spend more time with God in 2015. Maybe you are sick and tired of being sick and tired of your relationship with Him. Maybe it worries you that your relationship with God has been relegated to a prayer meeting, one worship service, and one church service per week.

If you are not, that’s ok. I’m going to let you know this anyway.

Here it is:

The single most important choice you make RIGHT NOW to grow in your relationship with God this year is to be aware.

Did you catch that?

The one thing needed to start, improve, or deepen your relationship with God this year is awareness.

The sound of those wheels and cogs turning in your head is almost deafening, so allow me to unpack this concept.

If there is a resounding refrain God has been trying to sing toward mankind throughout history, it would be the following stanza:

“I am with you.”

The story of God as mentioned in the Bible starts with God “in the beginning” with the first humans at the Garden of Eden. It ends with God promising that He will be with them in the earth made new. The story of Jesus in the New Testament starts with God declaring that He is now physically and spiritually with man. The last thing Jesus mentioned before ascending to heaven was a promise to always be with his disciples, even to the every end of the age. Time and time again, God has revealed Himself in various ways to various people and has reminded them that He is and will be with them.

It’s also evident that whenever God is with people, they change.

God revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush and Moses was never the same. God displayed himself through the elements of nature to Elijah and he was never the same. God interrupted Saul’s trip to Damascus and when he regained back his sight, he was never the same. The disciples of Jesus, when they experienced God through the Holy Spirit, were never the same. These are some of the many exemplars throughout the story of God where people are changed and transformed because of the presence of God.

But here’s a question:

As disciples of Christ, if God’s presence is with us all the time, why aren’t we experiencing change? Why don’t we seem to be growing in our relationship with Him? Why are we not experiencing spiritual growth as much as we hoped we would?

Here’s the answer: it’s because we are not aware of His presence most of the time.

We live in a world of distractions; a world that is vying for our attention while sapping our attention spans. According to the results of a survey, if this blogpost didn’t get your attention within the first 3 seconds of you clicking it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this sentence. Ads, posts, and tweets have gotten shorter yet flashier to accommodate to our ever changing media interests. Our attention is their currency.

If attention is currency, God is broke.

God is not getting all the attention He deserves from His professed people, and if you’re anything like me, you may still be struggling with paying attention to God. But the sooner we realize it, the better off you and I would be. Giving God attention is being aware of His presence and that makes all the difference to our spiritual lives.

Moses was aware of God’s presence and he was changed.

Elijah was aware that it was God who was speaking and he was changed.

Saul was aware that God was with him and he was changed.

The disciples were aware of God’s presence and they were changed.

One of my professors summed it up this way.

The presence of God + awareness = growth

The disciple of Christ, Paul, towards the end of his life wrote that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.
God is with us and in us working. All the time. But spiritual growth is cooperative act! God does the growing when we are aware of Him and is work in our lives. It’s only when we are aware of His presence, through prayer, reflection, study of His word, or in service to others, that we take the most crucial step in growing towards a deeper relationship with Him.

More awareness, more growth. Less awareness, less growth.

Do you want to grow deeper in your relationship with God?

Leave this page, close your eyes, and be aware.

 What about you? What are you going to do this year to become more aware of God’s presence in your life? Leave a comment below!

This Man is the Reason I’m Still Here ( A True Story)

Once upon a time there was a boy.

This boy was born in the verdant tea plantations of Sri Lanka to a humble tea worker and his wife. The family of 7 was poor, but had everything they hoped for in each other.

Life was good. 🙂

Then Christmas happened.

Christmas that year was anything but merry. That night, the boy’s relatives had come to his house to mourn the loss of their uncle who’d tragically passed away.  A house of celebration was turned into a house of mourning when a corpse replaced the conifer as the centerpiece of his home. The boy was distraught. “This can’t be Christmas. It can’t get worse than this”  he thought.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Just then, someone from the house decided to pump more air into the kerosene lamp because there wasn’t enough light.

All it took was one pump.

The kerosene lamp burst into liquified flames which spilled on a number of people. The mourning turned to wailing as people were trying to reach the nearest exit to escape the conflagration. The 10-year old screamed and shouted for help. With his crying baby sister carefully tucked in his hands, the boy rushed out of the burning house desperate to find the rest of his siblings.

As he rapidly surveyed the smoky air for someone who can help, his eyes fell on a familiar silhouette. “AMMA! (mom) ” he tried to scream above the screams. “WE ARE HERE!!”

The boy was elated to see the one person who’d always been there for him. That can’t be anybody else but her. “AMMA!! AMMA!! COME HERE!! WHERE ARE YOU?? WE ARE….”

Suddenly he froze.

As the smoke cleared just enough to see, the boy witnessed a sight that would change his life forever.

His mom was screaming while being burned alive by the flames.

She suffered from severe third degree burns all over her body and died a few days later.
After the death of his wife, the father sent the boy and his 4 siblings to the homes of his brothers because he couldn’t work and take care of them at the same time. The boy was scarred for life. He missed his mom, dad, and 4 siblings who were adopted by other family members. In addition to the emotional pain felt, the boy also endured physical pain caused by his uncles. Finally, on the 2 year anniversary of his mom’s death, the 12 yr old took his meager saving of 10 rupees ( less than a dollar), his luggage consisting of one white t-shirt and a blue pair of shorts, and ran away from his family in an effort to put his life back together.

fast forward 5 years.

The 16-year old was working as a house boy for some American doctoral students after weeks of being homeless, food-less, and restless. One of the students, Mr.Ron Walcott, took notice of the boy’s work ethic and offered him work as his assistant.  Soon thereafter, the boy would travel all over Sri Lanka to help translate Sinhala and Tamil to English while Mr.Walcott analyzed that data for his dissertation. For the next 4 years, the American would be this boy’s father, teacher, and mentor.

The dissertation was done. The time came for Mr.Walcott to leave Sri Lanka.

The satisfaction of a job well done was eclipsed by his imminent departure from the boy.  He knew that once he left, the boy would be left in the streets. Nobody is going to hire a dhemalaya ( derogatory term for a tamil-speaker) let alone a 3-rd grade dropout.

It dawned on him that the best thing he could do to help the boy was to provide him with a good education.

Mr. Walcott took the boy to the best high-school in Kandy at the time, argued with the principal to get the over-aged boy enrolled, paid his school fees for the next 3 years, and left the country.

—————

40 years have passed since.

I’m in southern California as I write this and I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the events that led up to this moment.

you see,

The boy was my father.

Because of the kindness of Mr.Walcott, my father was able to finish high school, meet my mom in the same school, get married, get a nursing degree, work as a nurse in Sri Lanka, and currently work as an orthopedic staff nurse in Oman.

A month ago, my father came to the States for the first time in his life to see his son graduate from college.

Today, for the first time in over 35 years, he was able to meet the man who literally changed his life forever.

And I took a selfie with both of them 🙂

I probably wouldn’t have been born if not for the kindness and benevolence of Mr. Walcott. My dad wouldn’t have been in school and never would have met my mom. But the Lord has been so kind to us through and through and has used a random American guy to deliver my dad from poverty and position his family for greatness.

If you’re reading this, you are privileged. You have something that someone else doesn’t.

I don’t care who you are or what you have, but you have the power to change someone’s life.

I invite you to make a decision to change someone’s life today.

One person.

All it takes is seeing a need and DOING something about it.

Who knows. You might even affect the lives of people who aren’t even born yet.

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