Month: June 2012

Living The Christian Life

I read a couple of verses of Scripture one day this past week that seemed to jump off the page. I meditated on them throughout the rest of the day and considered their application in my life. Here are the verses:

And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this. (2 Kings 19:30-31).

I would encourage you to read the chapter and get a feel for the context of what is going on in the story. God’s people are facing a tyrannical ruler (Sennacherib) who has promised their destruction and, in these verses, God promises that His remnant will survive and even thrive. He says that they will “take root downward and bear fruit upward.

This phrase hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat back in my chair and thought, “This should be true of every believer.” We should take root downward and bear fruit upward.

But, what does this look like practically? Here are some things that came to mind as I meditated on these verses and, specifically, this phrase.

Take Root Downward

We must be connected to the vine. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). In a real sense, abiding in Christ is taking root downward. This means we must make a conscious effort, daily, to ensure that we are connected to the vine (Jesus) by spending time in God’s Word and in prayer.

We must have a marathon mindset. For some reason many of us have the mindset that spiritual growth will happen overnight. We believe that we will wake up one day and suddenly have a deep and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, we live in the world of microwave dinners, fast food, and instant oatmeal. The truth is that spiritual growth does not magically happen overnight. It takes time. We must approach the Christian life and our own spiritual growth with a marathon mindset. Day after day, month after month, and year after year of walking with the Lord, immersing ourselves in His Word, and living in obedience to His Word is needed if we are to take root downward.

Bear Fruit Upward

We were redeemed for a purpose and that is to bear fruit. Paul, after unpacking the amazing reality of salvation, wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The expectation for every believer is that he or she is bearing fruit (ie. doing what we he/she was redeemed to do). What does bearing fruit look like practically? There are several things: (1) We should be making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), (2) The fruits of the Spirit should be evident in our lives (Galatians 5:2-23) (3) We should demonstrate love to our neighbor (Matthew 22:39, Matthew 25:35-40).

We will be known by our fruit. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their fruit (John 15:8). How do you know if a tree is an apple tree? It produces apples. How do you know if a tree is an orange tree? It produces oranges. One of the greatest testimonies to the power of the gospel message at work in this world is for people to see it changing us! Our goal is not to live under the radar but to display gospel power and gospel change by the lives that we live.

*God’s Word is rich and His Spirit is active!

The Holy Spirit, New Shoes, And An Honest Spiritual Evaluation

I bought a new pair of running shoes Monday. My old ones were pretty worn out and I begin to experience some discomfort. Buying these new shoes reminded me of the story my parents always tell about buying me new tennis shoes growing up.

I usually got two new pairs of shoes at the beginning of each school year and I absolutely loved going to pick them out. Whenever we got home, I would put on the new shoes and beg my parents to come watch me run down our driveway. You see, I had this grand illusion that my new shoes made me run faster. If you have ever seen me run, you would know that running fast is not my specialty. In fact, my grandfather would say, “Michael, you run hard but you just run in the same place too long!”

As my mind was wondering back in time, I was struck by a thought. We, as believers, have the same tendency in our spiritual lives. We believe that a new Bible reading program or a new worship CD will magically enhance our spiritual growth. If we can just get to this conference or go hear this celebrity pastor speak, then we will take leaps and bounds in our Christian life.

The only problem is that this is an illusion. I fully believe Bible reading programs, worship CD’s, conferences, and celebrity pastors can be beneficial tools in our lives. Here is my concern: We are prone to believe these things will make us grow spiritually, in the same way I thought new shoes would make me run faster.

We often lose sight of the fact that apart from the Holy Spirit working in our lives, these tools will have little value for us at all. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as our helper (paraclete) and Scripture emphasizes that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is expansive. Consider that it is the Spirit, which dwells within us and guides us into all truth (John 14:26), intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27), produces fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), gives us spiritual gifts (Ephesians 2:8), empowers us and gives us boldness to tell others about Jesus (Ephesians 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:13).

While these tools may be useful in our lives, the true power of spiritual growth rests with the work of the Holy Spirit. I know I often find myself focusing much more attention on the tools than on the Spirit’s work. In a real sense the tools become nothing less than gods in my life.

So what do we do? How do we approach these “tools” knowing that true spiritual growth comes from the Holy Spirit at work within us? Here are a few practical things I was reminded of:

1. We need to be filled with the Spirit. Even though the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, we are reminded that we need to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is a continual action verb – the Spirit should continually fill us. By this, Paul means that the Spirit should control us. Consciously we make the decision to yield our will and desires to His will and work in our life. When we are Spirit-filled we can be assured that the tools described above are best understood and appropriated. We will hear, read, and apply things that the Spirit deems most important instead of deciding what we, in our flesh, deem as most important. Whenever we read Scripture, worship, attend a conference, or hear the Word of God preached, we should be conscious to yield ourselves to the Spirit and give him free reign to work in our lives.

2. We should not grieve the Spirit. Sin in our lives grieves the Holy Spirit. John Wesley shined light on this passage when he wrote, “Do not force Him to withdraw from you, as a friend does whom you grieve by unkind behavior.” Sin that is not repented of and not confessed should not be in the life of a believer and when it is, we are assured that the work of the Holy Spirit is stifled. We must beware of our tendency to compartmentalize our lives in such a way that we allow sin, that has not been confessed and turned from, to remain in our lives while at the same time attempting to grow spiritually.

*Let’s use the available tools but remind ourselves, daily, that our greatest need is for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives!

Healthy Living: Beginning Again!

I had set a goal to lose 30lbs this year (actually by March 31,2012) and to say it has been a struggle would be an understatement! The first six months of 2012 have been crazy for me and for our family. One of the things that has fallen by the wayside during this transition is exercising consistently and eating healthily. My plan at the beginning of the year was to update this blog each week with my weight-loss progress and the things I learned that week about myself/living healthy during the journey. So here we go: I’m beginning again!

Current Weight: 225lbs

Goal Weight: 195lbs

Here are a few things that have been extremely helpful as I think and plan for this journey:

1. Michael Hyatt’s podcast on gaining more energy. He encourages you to do 10 specific things that will help you become more energetic each day (hint: exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and spending time with God are all included in this podcast).

2. Dr. Alvin Reid’s Beast of Workout video has been a huge help as I have gotten back into the swing of things. My plan is to do cardio 4 days each week and this workout 3 days each week.

3. This app has been helpful as I have been counting calories and tracking my exercise.

4. This book has made a huge impact on me concerning healthy living from a biblical perspective.

5. My wife is a huge encouragement and both of us are trying to help push each other and encourage each other in healthy living.

God Is For God

The title may seem a bit harsh but it is true. God is no sharer of glory, nor should He be. God is for God. His purpose in creation and redemption is ultimately the glory of His name.

Psalm 138 was one of the chapters that I read this morning as I work through the ESV Bible reading program in 2012. I was freshly reminded of the truth that God is for God. He is for the furtherance of His name in this world. Though we are objects of His affection, we are by no means the point – He is.

Consider Psalm 138:1-2:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

There is no doubt David worshipped God because of His steadfast love and faithfulness. But it is evident David recognized that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness was based on one thing – God is for God. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness did not point to David’s worth but to God’s desire to exalt, above all things, His name and His word.

Here are some things I was reminded of:

  1. My worth is based on Christ. I am a worthy object in the Father’s eyes because of Jesus. In the same way that David recognized he was not the point; I am freshly reminded that I am not the point. Jesus Christ is the point. His saving grace and the glory of his name, proclaimed in this world, is the point. Jesus saved my soul and my greatest privilege in life is praising Him for who He is and what He has done.
  2. My personal kingdom pales to compare. So often I find myself concerned with the furtherance of my kingdom. Will I succeed? Will I be noticed? Will things go well with my ministry? I am freshly reminded that these are the wrong questions. Here are the questions that I need to be asking: Will I be faithful, week in and week out, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ be evident in my daily life? Will Jesus Christ be the point of my ministry and will I be Spirit-led instead of Michael-led? Why would I waste time building my own pitiful kingdom when God allows me to be used by Him as He builds His kingdom?
  3. God’s Word is fresh and His Spirit is active. Even though my heart can be cold and distant in the mornings, I am grateful that God’s Word warms it every time. I am grateful that His Word is fresh. I am grateful that His Spirit is active. I echo with the writer of Hebrews: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

When Life Is Crazy

Life has been crazy at the Kennedy household! We have just relocated and I have begun my first pastorate. Transition is tough but here are a few things I have tried to keep in mind over the past couple of weeks.

1. Make spending time with God a priority.

It is easy to push spending time with God to the back burner. You have a thousand other things to do: boxes to unpack, calls to make, etc. Spending time in personal study of God’s Word and prayer has been a lifeline for me over the past few weeks. I have written in my journal a bunch and have recognized afresh my dependence upon my Savior. I have rested in His presence and it has been refreshing. Life is busy but my time with God each morning is a necessity!

2. Take a break to relax.

We run from meeting to meeting and task to task without ever stopping to “smell the roses.” Our culture emphasizes efficiency and productivity to the point that many of us have lost the ability to truly relax. There is always one more thing we can do in our day but, in reality, that one thing will not make a huge difference if we really think about it. When life gets busy take some time and go for a walk, throw the Frisbee with your 4 year old or immerse yourself in a hobby. Break away from the rut of work, Work, WORK. Relax. Get outside and enjoy life!

3. Exercise.

I wish I could say that I have exercised like I needed to during this transition. I have not but, when I have exercised, it has been wonderful. Exercise allows me an opportunity to de-stress, listen to a quality podcast, and work up a sweat. I return from my workout felling refreshed and energized (why I don’t do it everyday is beyond me!). When life is crazy, strap on your running shoes and go pound the pavement for an hour.

*What do you do when life is crazy?