What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

There are many answers for what it means to be a Christian: following the teachings of Christ as taught in the Bible, following the Holy Spirit, or loving others. All these are true, but these can be simplified even further: being a Christian means experiencing God’s love for you.

God calls us to Him. All have fallen away from God and need to be saved by Jesus to return to Him. (Romans 3:23). For some of us, this is a new idea, but others have heard this their entire life. Whether you grew up in church and know all the answers to every Bible trivia question ever asked, or if you are hearing these ideas expressed this way for the first time, the truth is the same for each of us. We need to experience the love of God in our lives everyday.

We need to experience the forgiving love as we repent and turn our lives to Him, each and every time there is a need for repentance. We need to experience His redeeming love as we grow into an understanding of His purpose for our lives. We need to experience His bountiful love as we learn to trust that He provides for us.

As we learn to be more and more aware of His love for us, we can then experience an awareness of God on a deeper level, as God is love. This new awareness transforms our moments, and enlivens our lives as we learn to see things through His perspective. Being a Christian is about walking day in and day out in this awareness. We can fill our days with a fullness of life and the power of God based on knowing Him more.

Part of this process of growing more aware of His love is learning to believe what He says about us. God says we are loved, we are valuable, we are precious, and we are eternal. Not only do we believe this about ourselves, but when we look at others, we should believe in their value as well.

When we see God’s love and experience how it flows from Him to everyone, we see their value and we know that we are all children of God, equal before Him. He shows no favorites; He loves all of us.

What Is Love?

Love is broadly used in our culture, but not often specifically defined. The Bible tells us that it’s by our love we will be known as Christians (John 13:35). Applying the broad definition of our culture to such a specific Biblical purpose can lead to confusion about how we are supposed to be living. Defining exactly what we mean by love, in the sense of how it defines us as Christians, can be very helpful.

Love Can be an Emotion

Love as an emotion is arguably the most connected form of love. We feel love towards dear people in our lives. We seek out romantic love in a partner. We find material things that we love-our new favorite thing from lip balm to new houses.

All of these  feelings revolve around the emotional sensation of connecting with someone or something. This emotional side of love is a legitimate experience of love, and is important when we need to connect with things and people we value.

Love Can be an Action

Taking action to do something good for another person is also called love. It’s the expression of the emotion that we feel. We feel love toward someone and so we do something good for them, or we help take care of a need they have.

Expressing love as an action is an important part of love because it tests the mettle of our affection and determines how much we mean it. It makes our connection tangible.

The Balance of Love

We walk in love when we keep emotions and actions feeding each other. In some cases, the feeling comes first and the action comes later. Romantic love often, not always, falls into this pattern. Other times, we do what we know we should for others and the action fills us with a feeling of good-will to them. Serving others usually follows this pattern. Both ways are important and living in love means we are experiencing both sides of the love: the action and the emotion.

The Love of Christians

As Christians, there’s more to the love that others should see in us. Most people have love in them, Christian or not. It might be only a small amount of love, it might be highly conditional love, it might be damaged and manipulative love. It’s not that Christians have love and nobody else does; it’s the type of love that Christians have that sets them apart.

The type of love that Christians have is a selfless love. The love we offer others is a love that came to us through God by the sacrifice of Jesus: ultimate selflessness. What sets us apart is that our love doesn’t come from us and fill our needs first. We have a love that starts with the needs of others, not the needs of ourselves.

Being known by our love means we become filled by something so clearly that it becomes what all people see when they encounter us. Our ultimate defining feature should be an overflowing of God’s selfless love for everyone.

The House Stands Firm - Luke 6:48

The House Stands Firm

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Luke 6:46-49 ESV

In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about two people who heard His words. The first stood and the second fell. This parable can give us insights into not only how we should live, but what to expect of life. The imagery in this parable about the flood is especially timely as we pray for our friends across the state and country that are dealing with rising flood waters. We can learn much about spiritual preparedness from seeing the troubles with the rivers.

The key thing about the parable of the two house builders is that both of them heard Jesus. Imagine with me that they both went to church as kids, went to VBS in the summers, and lived fairly decent lives for the most part. This is the part about hearing. We are so blessed to live in a place where churches are common (at least, here on the north edge of the Bible belt, anyway), and we can associate freely with others who share our faith.

It’s easy to assume that all the people in our circles are making the same choices we are, but it’s not true. Not everyone who is hearing is building the foundation as we are. Christian culture is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but Christian culture itself isn’t what we should be striving for. Without the foundation of obedience, it’s just a nice place to live, at least till the waters rise.

Back to our imagining, we see the two house builders again. However, one has been actively finding ways to incorporate the teachings of Jesus into his daily life. He doesn’t just smile and nod when the preacher makes a good point and then sleep through the rest of the week. Instead, he digs into the word himself and finds ways to make it real in his day. He chooses habits that are founded on putting the Lord above everything else and loving his neighbor. There’s no hypocrisy here, but honest living and seeking God.

The second builder is living a nice life as well. It’s the same suburbs and similar lifestyle as the first builder, but something is different here. This builder didn’t bother with making habits that incorporated what he learned in the Word. He barely reads the word himself. After all, why bother when he sits through a sermon every week? He wants good things in his life, and he tries to raise decent kids, but there’s no daily searching for God. Instead, it’s more about maintaining status quo and not creating ripples in his world than any kind of devotion to living his beliefs.

At this point in our journey, there’s little difference. On a sunshiny day with grass and flowers all around, builder two might look like the better option to go for. He isn’t so disciplined about dull religious things, seeming to have more fun the first guy, overall.

Then the waters rise. Trouble comes, and it doesn’t hold back. The houses are being tested and tried. Any weakness will be discovered as the rushing, powerful waters surge around the dwellings that have been build day after day.

The difference in the builders suddenly matters more than they could have known. The first one leans into his habits. Troubles rise around him, but he leans on the truth that’s he learned. His habits carry him through when his feelings of goodness have abandoned him. The darkness doesn’t cause him to fear because he has practiced the knowledge of the God’s nearness. His house stands, firm and solid. It will outlast the storm and stand as the waters recede. The foundation is firm and the day to day living created a haven in times of trouble.

The second builder isn’t so fortunate. As the waters pour around his house, it immediately begins to crumble. Doubt rushes in and anger at his situation. He can’t believe God would let this happen to him! He didn’t miss a Sunday morning service, and he loved and cared for his family. Why did his house have to face troubles? Realizing that the problem lies in the very foundation of his house, he tries desperately to build walls and stack sandbags to keep the trouble at bay. Surely, the last ditch effort will be pitied by God and the house will stand. But, no, the troubles come anyway. The water rises, no matter the effort and the small walls raised too late can’t keep the torrent away. As the powerful surges break against the house, it begins to cave and float away.

Jesus’s parable reminds us that troubles aren’t a sign of believing or not believing. Troubles come at all of us. The book of Matthew says that it rains on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), meaning that life happens to all of us, no matter our standing in the world.

How we weather the troubles of life is dependent on our habits, our thoughts and focuses in life. How much time do we spend experiencing the Lord in our life, versus simply learning about the Lord in church? Are we really building habits that mirror his teachings, or are we fitting in to the culture around us, some of which happens to line up with his teachings?

The storm is real and it’s not just one storm. Little things every day wear at us and threaten to wash away part of our foundations. With the words we say and our reactions and our choices, we either build up our house to withstand the waters, or we are ignoring our foundation for small walls that wash away. Let’s focus on choosing our foundation to be in the Lord Jesus Christ and building habits that reflect our devotion.

Protecting Others - Ezekiel 34:4

Learning to Help the Sheep

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So [the sheep] were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. – Ezekiel 34:4-5 ESV

The Lord gives each of us a responsibility toward others in the world. He gives us responsibility that varies from person to person. Some have a great deal and are responsible for many, while others have little and therefore are responsible for little. It could be anything from a pastor over a church to a CEO over a company to a parent. It could be a friendship that God’s asked you to invest in or someone who needs mentorship. No matter what kind of relationships you’re working with, how you handle them is important to God. How do we know if we’re handling it the right way?

Ezekiel 34:4 lists several responses that should be happening, but doesn’t when we are selfish. Healing the sick, helping the injured, seeking the lost, and being kind are several things that we must be doing. This is not a “would be nice” category. God isn’t politely asking, if we wouldn’t mind, could we help him out and take care of others? He’s saying this is what needs to happen to keep us all healthy and protected.

In addition, there’s one thing that’s listed here that we should not be doing: leading with force and harshness. When someone is lacking or hurting, they are vulnerable. If we are a “have” in a world of “have not’s”, we must be very careful to not put burdens on people that they can’t live up to. It’s a huge risk when we are helping others to want to help them to be like us and have what we have and think like we think, but that’s not the goal. We are not the ultimate; God is.

Most people would agree with everything said so far here, but I want to take it to another level. I have never knowingly oppressed someone. I have not intentionally withheld food from a hungry person or even blocked someone’s access to healthcare. So, how does this apply to me? How am I supposed to actively seek the health and wellness of the less fortunate when I don’t feel like I’m actively part of the problem?

I am fully convinced that the first place that these factors come into play for us is in our words. Are our words full of life for all people in all situation? Our words are an indicator of what’s going on in our hearts, and our actions are an extension of what our hearts believe. If we want to know if we’ve lined ourselves up with the teachings of God’s Word, we need to start by listening carefully to our words.

Another factor that must be talked about but often isn’t is this: harshness is cultural. Meaning, you can’t compare your words to the words of people around you in order to determine if your words are harsh or not. What’s acceptable to say and how to say it is determined by many factors, most of which have to do with the people that surround you and the ideals you grew up in. If your culture and mindset and circumstances are filled with harshness, you will not be able to tell that you are harsh. You will blend in and you will be just like everyone else. Harshness, unkindness, and hypocritical thinking can only be identified in one place: the presence of God. Only by comparing yourself to the one source of true love in the world can the light of awareness shine on your words.

We must be willing to put ourselves in the light of God and humble enough to allow the truth of what’s there to fill our mind. It will not be pretty; seeing sin in ourselves can be a heavy weight. However, when we are holding tightly to the hand of God, that weight is lifted as He takes over renewing our mind and teaching us to be like Him.

We cannot let our culture determine our righteousness. We cannot even let our culture ask the questions for us that need to be asked about who we are and what we value. We must step away from what circumstances tells us is right and allow the power of the Lord to lead us and guide us. Only the will we know how to step into building up relationships and people instead of damaging them with every word we speak. Once we know that our words are in line with the truth of God, we can begin to see if our actions and our words are lining up. What we speak is powerful and when we are consciously choosing our words, we can begin to consciously change our world.

Without Complaining - Philippians 2:14-15

Without Complaining

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, – Philippians 2:14-15 ESV

For the most part, people tend to want to fit in. We like to find our group and enjoy being with people that “get us”. As Christians, we believe certain things not only in the abstract theological sense of things, but we believe that what we believe changes us and these changes should impact our behaviors. As a result of these behavior changes, we stand out from the world, and our differences should point others to see God.

Apostle Paul gives one sure way to stand out from the world in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Why is this so important? How do we go about removing these things from our daily words? While this may seem like a straightforward command, the process of doing it every day requires discipline and commitment.

In order to begin choosing to not complain, it can be helpful to keep in mind what Jesus said about our words, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). When we are grumbling and complaining, what is the abundance of the heart that causes those words to come out of us? The answer in every case, no matter how much you don’t want to admit it, is selfishness. You’re feeling bad for your circumstances and your troubles and what you’re going through: you, you and more you.

In the case of complaining, we say out of one side of our mouth (pun intended) that God is our provider and out of the other side that we don’t have enough money. We say we’ll serve the Lord, but then we whine about how hard our job is or how boring it is or how mean our boss is.

We are called to speak out of the abundance of a heart that’s fully transformed by God and the words that come from that kind of heart are never complaining or grumbling or picking a fight. This is much easier said than done, however. There are two things that we have to do and continue doing to keep our words in line with His Spirit.

  1. Be aware of what we’re saying.

As we go about our day, it is easy to stop being aware of what you’re choosing to say. Words come so quickly sometimes and by habit so that we can have entire conversations that we barely remember. We have to start choosing to listen to our own words. This doesn’t mean fear what’s about to come out of your mouth, and at first, maybe not even trying to change it. It simply means practicing thinking about your own words.

An analogy from another part of life is a food journal. Many diets recommend tracking all the food that goes into your mouth as a way to start seeing where changes need to be made. This is the same idea, but for words instead of food. Of course, it would be impractical if not impossible to write down every word you say in the day. That’s not quite what we’re going for. Instead, a simple habit of listening to yourself sets you for the next step.

  1. Choose to frame things positively

We’ve all heard a conversation that goes something like, “It’s all going to turn out terribly!” Another response, “Don’t think that. Be positive!” The first person responds, “I’m positive it’s all going to turn out terribly!” While that might be good for a bit of a laugh, it’s not good for changing your perspective to something positive.

Part of negativity that leads to complaining is a lack of perspective that includes God. We tend to forget His promises and His greatness. How else can we give up on ourselves or our circumstances so easily? We have to choose each and every time to frame our response to things with the goodness of God in mind. Even our thoughts need to in line with this. Changing the words we speak without changing our thoughts leaves us with a feeling of hypocrisy or ineffectiveness.

By choosing to be in a positive perspective, we prepare ourselves for the last step.

  1. Change the bad and keep the good

We often think that being positive means ignoring our circumstances, but that’s not right either. Our circumstances may be very serious and need addressing. Sometimes we we’re most tempted to complain it’s because there’s valid issues that need to be dealt with. There’s nothing wrong with making changes in tough situation. Simply complaining about things will never get the problems solved; we have to make the choice to change things.

Sometimes we can’t change the circumstances, but we can always change ourselves. We can either change our choices to give us more freedom or we can simply change what we think about it. Use this time to see more of the Spirit coming through you in the form of patience or long-suffering. Find reasons to celebrate God with you no matter what’s happening. We can also consider reaching out to others for help, whether that be friends or professionals. Sometimes, circumstances depending, others can help us see the solution we need to fix a problem.

Watch your words, and surrender both them and your heart to the Lord so that His righteousness will be the only thing that is seen in you.

Surrender to God’s Righteousness

Dead to Sin

Are you living as one who has died or one who needs to die? We should be living as those who have died, since the work on the cross is completed. Are you striving to die to yourself? Then you are striving to do the work that Jesus already did.

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. [1]

Trust that God Meant What He Said

21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,[2]

When we take on the work of dying to our self, we are taking over the part of making ourselves righteous. When God said you are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, He meant it. Your job is to believe it.

Self-righteousness come in to play when part of our heart can’t accept that God really truly made us righteous by Jesus alone. We think that we can improve our overall righteousness score by making up some of the difference. Another way it can creep in is when we think that perhaps God died for the good parts of us, but we get to keep all the good parts.

We don’t think these thoughts directly of course; that’s too much contradiction. These things come across far more subtly.

Does This Mean We Can Do Whatever We Want?

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. [3]

In Romans chapter 6, Paul addresses the question of giving in to sin after we’re saved. In chapter 5, Paul establishes the completeness of God’s grace and how it was brought through the blood of Jesus. In chapter 6, he opens by saying, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.[4]

Paul new that an understanding of grace doesn’t mean an excuse to indulge our selfishness. Our new selves should be wholly and completely devoted to walking in the way of Christ. We have been raised in the power of new life through Christ and are therefore free to submit ourselves and follow Him.


Submission to our new life is vital to continue walking in the way. We must choose how our hearts and minds focus on Him.

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [5]

 What’s It Take Then?

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. [6]

  • Resist the devil – Actively oppose temptation and lies
  • Draw near to God – Practice being aware of Him and intentionally set time aside to be with Him
  • Cleanse your hands and your hearts – Repentance
  • Lament and mourn and weep , mourn, be dejected – Recognize the loss that happens from sin, the damage that happens from being separated from God
  • Humble yourself before God – Recognize your true status before Him

Stay in Love

It is so easy in walking with Christ to turn things into a check list or another self-improvement activity. It’s so easy to fall out of love with the relationship part of things. Just as in a marriage it’s important to take time to keep the love alive, we must also choose to focus on this as we walk with the Lord.

In the passage from James 4, it says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God is yearning for us! These actions aren’t the actions of a self-righteous individual that is trying to be “better” and earn more brownie points with God. This is the actions of a loving person who realizes that behaviors other than this will keep their true love away.

God is yearning for us; are we yearning for Him?

Additional Resource



[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Pe 2:24–25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 3:21–24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 6:12–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 6:1–4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jas 4:4–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jas 4:7–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Finding Wisdom

13 Happy [is] the man [who] finds wisdom, And the man [who] gains understanding; 14 For her proceeds [are] better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. 15 She [is] more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. 16 Length of days [is] in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor. 17 Her ways [are] ways of pleasantness, And all her paths [are] peace. 18 She [is] a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy [are all] who retain her.
– Proverbs 3:13-18 NKJV

What Is Wisdom?

Psychology Today says about wisdom, ”Psychologists pretty much agree it involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs.

“Wise people generally share an optimism that life’s problems can be solved and experience a certain amount of calm in facing difficult decisions. Intelligence—if only anyone could figure out exactly what it is—may be necessary for wisdom, but it definitely isn’t sufficient; an ability to see the big picture, a sense of proportion, and considerable introspection also contribute to its development.”[1]

Our wisdom level is indicated by how we react to our life circumstances. Some circumstances highlight wisdom more than others.

  • Situations with unknown results (unsolved problems)
  • Situations with high emotion or high stakes
  • Situations that challenge personal beliefs and morals

Unwise behavior examples:

  • Waiting till all factors are known before deciding
  • Deciding before any factors are known
  • Panicked or completely emotion driven decisions
  • Basing decisions on results that are unreasonable or, at the least, are not guaranteed
  • Loss of perspective on the problem
  • Loss of self-awareness in difficult circumstances

Practical examples of what unwise behavior

  • I’ll keep off from serving others until I know for sure that I’ll be appreciated.
  • I have no clue what’s happening so I’m going to go with the first thing that pops into my head. Probably that means the Lord is leading me.
  • I don’t know why I said that when I did, I just felt so angry.
  • Knee-jerk reactions to others hurtful comments (or even losing something like a phone or driver’s license).
  • The salesman promised me I’d save $100 dollars, so I’m out to buy new shoes!
  • My problems are so bad that there’s no one who can understand what I’m going though.
  • I thought I’d be more honest, but when the person was looking me in the eye, I chose to lie rather than risk upsetting them.

Wise behavior examples:

  • Moving forward even when not all things are known
  • Not moving forward unless there is clarity on some level
  • Combining emotional awareness with awareness of facts and clarity to make decisions
  • Making decisions based on current information and personal priorities regardless of results
  • Maintaining healthy perspective in spite of difficult or overwhelming circumstances
  • Maintaining awareness of self and personal priorities in difficult circumstances

Practical examples of what wise behavior looks like

  • I don’t know how all the pieces of my life will come together, but I know what I can do right now to serve my family and others I come into contact, so I’ll start there.
  • I began by asking others who had done what I wanted to do for advice before I just started moving without any direction.
  • I was so angry that I asked to take a moment to myself to calm down before continuing the conversation.
  • The salesman promised I’d save $100 dollars, so I’m waiting till I see that savings, then I’ll buy new shoes.
  • The circumstances felt so overwhelming that I needed to take some time to remember what I’m grateful for so I didn’t lose my mind.
  • The comments were hurtful, but I know that I’m supposed to love my enemies, so I was able to bite my tongue and just smile.

Myths about Wisdom

Myth: Wise people live like the guru up on a tall misty mountain and speak nuggets of easily digestible (and clever) sayings

Truth: The scriptures tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so we know that we don’t have to be special people to get it, just have to seek with and have a deep respect for who He is.

10 The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do [His commandments]. His praise endures forever.

– Psalm 111:10 NKJV

6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden [part] You will make me to know wisdom.

– Psalm 51:6 NKJV

Myth: Being wise means being right

Truth: Wise people accept instruction, Proverbs 9:9, so we still have things to learn after being wise. Wisdom is the willingness to learn, not the ability to be right.

9 Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

– Proverbs 9:9–10 (NRSV

7 Wisdom [is] the principal thing; [Therefore] get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.

– Proverbs 4:7 NKJV)

God’s Wisdom is Different

Being wise isn’t about being right and it’s not about astounding others with our wit, cleverness or knowledge. True wisdom from God is based in fear of Him and an understanding of who He is. It brings awareness of Him, His nature, and His work. It even goes so far as to contradict the knowledge and ideals of human wisdom.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

– 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 (NRSV)

Wisdom that comes with the knowledge of God also means that our words and our actions align. We don’t just speak words that sound good we live them out and the truth of God can be seen our living.

My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

– 1 Corinthians 2:4–7 (NRSV)



[1] “Psychology Today.” Wisdom. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2015. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/wisdom>.

The Constant Critique

In our viewing the world, we often come at people and circumstances as if we are the great editor and critic in the sky. We look for perfection in others so we can point out all the times that it isn’t there. I don’t mean perfection as lack of sin, I mean perfection as that mysterious, mostly made up standard that we hold ourselves and others up to. We look at what they’ve brought, whether that be by their actions or a physical thing they’re offering, and we look it over for flaws and problems. WE first check to see how good it is, by our standards, of course. If we find anything imperfect, most of the time we stop there. It’s not worth my time, if I find the least thing wrong with it.

Applying this to people themselves is deeply wrong. I don’t think most people intentionally do this to people, but subconsciously, we still can do it. You didn’t do this one particular thing as good I can, or just as good as I thought you’d be able to, so therefore, I’ve lowered you in my own estimation.

What’s Behind This Behavior?

This behavior is driven by one thing: arrogance, pure and simple. Nothing about another person or even what they have to offer is worth this kind of condescension and scrutiny. Remember, we’re not dealing with sin, we’re dealing with personal behaviors and preferences.

Most of the truly dangerous critiques are so subtle and ingrained in us we don’t even view them as critiques. Examples include:

  • That person doesn’t spend as much time/effort/money on this one part of their life as I think they should. (This is usually couched as “encouragement”: That person would be so nice looking if they just tried ___________. Same root issue, same arrogance, but it’s now phrased condescendingly to assuage the guilt of the person saying it.)
  • Their work contains a mistake (typo, being incomplete).
  • It should have gone/been done like this. (This phrase, when uttered by a person who has never done or been involved in what happened, is particularly agonizing.)
  • I don’t feel like they even tried.
  • I could have made that better if they’d just asked me/listened to me.

Judgment on others and their work is so common in our culture that we think of it as a normal aspect of being around other humans. While it may be normal in the sense that it’s common, it’s not normal in the sense that it’s a behavior that’s very unhealthy.

Feeling that others will pick apart you and what you’re doing first and then accept you (or not) destroys trust. Even if you “get used to it” and accept that that’s the way people work, you still put up protective walls to keep from being hurt.

When we are interacting with someone and are in a place where these kind of thoughts are an easy go-to, we need to stop and think about what’s truly important in this relationship. Are you judging a person worthy to be your friend or to accept their work based on their perfection? Are you more likely to be friends with a person because you view them as competent, perfect, or put-together? God is no respecter of person, and I do not think it healthy for the mission of sharing Jesus Christ or for the overall health of the body of Christ to think that we should try it.

The Difference between Judgement and Constructive Observations

We need each other. We are made better by being surrounded by friends who care as much about each other as they do for themselves. Sometimes, we have blind spots about ourselves that only a friend can see and help us to improve. What’s the difference between the counsel and support of a friend and a unjustified critique? Sometimes it’s obvious; sometimes it’s not. Here are some pointers that can help determine if you should be still and look for the good in another:

  • They didn’t ask for it. We value our own opinion highly, but unless someone has somehow indicated that they would be interested in hearing your opinion, you should definitely keep it to yourself.
  • It’s not a subject you know much about. It’s very easy and very tempting to have opinions over things we’ve heard about or read about, but never actually applied to our own life. If you haven’t “been there, done that”, then don’t act like you know.
  • You’re after a result that benefits you. Is your advice truly beneficial to them and improving their life or are you after something that benefits your own? Even if it’s just to make you look smart for having wise counsel, if it’s not in their best interest, don’t offer it.
  • You are not in any kind of accountability relationship with them. Just because we’ve known someone a long time, doesn’t automatically mean we have the right to critique them. Even deep friendships can be hurt by one person trying to give input in situations where it’s not appreciated. Always treat your close friends with the same kind of respect you would someone you’ve just started a friendship with. Offering advice to people you work with should be done with much caution. If you’re not their boss, keep your input to favorite recipes and other water cooler topics.

When Can We Offer Input?

Some relationships come with the knowledge that critiques are a part of the package. The best examples of this are discipleship/accountability groups. You know that when you’re discussing life, critiques are an important part of why you’re together. If you join a group like this and bristle at every piece of input, you’re missing the point of why you’re even there. (How to give good input in situations like this is a whole other topic, beyond the scope of today’s topic.) Another example of this is boss/employee relationship. While annual reviews are no fun, they are a part of being employed.

We can always offer input when asked. Sometimes, we need help and we need perspective. If someone asks what we think, then tell them. It should be done with love, but it’s good and right to offer help when someone else asks. On that note, if you need advice, don’t hesitate to ask for it. We’ve been given the circle of friends that we have for a reason and to keep pride from allowing them help us only hurts us.

[The other end of this extreme is that you never allow anyone to make any observation (let alone judgements) on you or what you’re doing without having a bruised ego or temper tantrum. Everything that’s said to you that isn’t praise is view as hurtful and selfish. This is also arrogance, only fueled by insecurity instead of pride.]

What Do the Scriptures Say?

We are warned against both harsh judgments of others as well as the tendency to be harder on other than our selves.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. – Luke 6:37–42 (NRSV)

We cannot offer help to others when we are damaged ourselves. We think we know that we’re good; we think we know that we can fix others, but more often than not, we’re wrong. When we are building friendships and relationships with others, remember this: “…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap.” But only if you are the kind of person that first offers that kind of generosity to others.


Making Moments Matter

We All Seek Happiness

Happiness is something we all seek. Psychologists study it and scientists look for products or life changes that can improve it. Long before today’s scientific method and late-night “info-mercials” selling happiness came around, one of the wisest men alive spent his life searching for the same answer.

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by “the Preacher” tradition, and tradition says that it was King Solomon who wrote it. The fact that he says he was the son of David, king in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1) and that he had collected “have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me” (1:16) lends credence to this tradition, and most scholars agree with it.

According to the book, the Preacher decides to learn about wisdom and madness and folly (1:17) and spends his life chasing after things that are supposed to give us happiness and purpose. His overall result in all things, however, is that they are all pointless and don’t give us any security in life. (9:12) The only things that really make life worth living, according to him, are to enjoy the life you’ve been given.

So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. 10 Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave,* there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom. – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

He also talks about knowing God and living in fear and respect of who He is. That, combined with finding joy in everything you do, is “the whole of the matter”.

13 That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14 God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Choosing Happiness

Today, psychology is beginning to come to the same conclusion as the Preacher. Happiness itself is fleeting and not able to be maintained by any outside influence or material goods. Lottery winners are not happier than the average population and accident victims are not unhappier.[1]

Hedonic adaptation is the process of us returning to a medium level of happiness. It’s what happens after the high of a vacation comes down. After the raise/promotion levels out and we’re back to the grind at work. It’s our mind’s ability to return to a “normal” feeling.[2]

According to an article by Sonja Lyubomirsky in an article for Psychology Today, we can affect the process of adaptation by how we look at what has happened to us. When a positive experience happens, just enjoy it! Thinking about it or analyzing it brings it down quicker than just accepting the good feelings and experiences. When a negative experience happens, think about. Write about it, more specifically. By analyzing and journaling and expressing what we’re dealing with and going through, we can more quickly move through the bad feelings and get back to our normal happiness level. [3]

One group of psychologists says that the process of becoming happier takes 5 pathways: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, drawing on character strengths. [4] Paralleling what the Preacher learned, we can pull from this daily habits to help increase our happiness.

Positive Emotion (savoring the moment): Eat and enjoy life

Positive emotion isn’t about trying to always feel good. It’s about choosing gratitude in each moment and finding ways to focus on the positive. It’s about choosing to praise God in all circumstances. Enjoying life is easy when everything’s going well and the sun’s been shining every day. When the clouds come, we can still choose to find the good and celebrate what brings joy.

Gratitude journals can be a wonderful aide in helping us keep our focus on what’s truly important. One study even showed that gratitude increases your wellbeing by 10%.[5] The effects of gratitude go through your whole life and help you find balance and joy in every day and every situation.

Ecclesiastes talks about this concept in as “Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart” (9:7). It doesn’t mean put your head in the sand and pretend that nothings happening; it’s just another way of saying enjoy the moment and celebrate what you have.

Engagement : Do Your Work Well

Engagement is the act of being connected with whatever you’re doing at the moment. When you are not engaged, you may be going through the motions of something, but you’re not giving your best or contributing to your fullest potential. Happiness is negatively affected by feeling disconnected from your everyday routine.

If you’re in a situation that you’re struggling with, it can be easy to try to change the circumstances. Sometimes, that’s the only solution. More times, however, you are better of learning to find engagement in a situation you don’t like in order to practice a beneficial mentality. While a change in circumstance might be a quick fix, almost all circumstances get old and boring and challenging. A well-developed habit of engagement no matter what brings longer lasting contentment than the short term fix of running away.

Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. – Jim Elliot

Ecclesiastes’ version of this idea is “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave,* there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.”(9:10) There’s no do-overs in life. This is our one time of doing things and we should take advantage of that by doing it to our fullest.

Meaning : Know that You’re Working for God

We all need to know our purpose and to know that we’re engaged in working in that purpose. It doesn’t have to be a great and noble purpose that brings great worldly accolades or attention. It can be a simple purpose that only you know. But knowing what that is and being able to smile about even the most mundane tasks and feel connected with God in serving that purpose can bring a huge bump to your overall happiness.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that we are here to work for God and to know God, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (12:13) Fearing God, knowing who He is and who we should be in Him (the root of obedience) is vital to finding meaning, happiness and purpose.

Positive Relationships : Enjoy the Wife God Gave You

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. – Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)

Husbands and wives are one relationship that is vital to happiness, but all relationship are important to our overall well-being. Who surround ourselves with can make or break our day and can bring us up, make us better people, or drag us down and make us feel worse. Sometimes, we can even surround ourselves with people who enable our problems because it’s easier than facing what we need to face. Good friends, friends worth having are the ones that support us and love us, but also challenge us to not stop in the middle of the race. They bring us up and help us become the fullest version of us that God has planned for us.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. ― Jim Rohn

Ecclesiastes says “Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.” As true as this is for marital relationships, it’s even true for friendships as well. Having friends and people we can turn to in the good times and the bad is an absolute joy.

Drawing on Character Strengths : Fear of God and His Judgement

We live in a world that lacks moral absolutes. We are told that it’s OK to believe what you’ve been taught, but not to expect others to believe it. It’s no longer about finding the truth that exists outside ourselves (as those of us who believe in a God with standards think), but instead it’s about finding the truth inside yourself and no one can tell you you’re wrong in what you find.

This is not helpful when learning to live a moral life. Christian morality has a dependence on knowing who God is and changing our behavior to reflect His likeness. We don’t think that we can define good; our theology says that we are all fallen and sinful and only God is good.

To operate and find happiness when we are denying ourselves what the world says is fun and entertainment, we must fully be convinced of the importance of our moral compass and draw from that when we make decisions. If we are feeling like we are just doing a duty or following an archaic list of rules, we won’t have the conviction to follow through when it matters. And it does matter.

Ecclesiastes, in all its admonitions to enjoy life, always reminds the reader that God is the judge and we are to fear Him (in reverence adore Him) and honor the commandments and teachings knowing we will stand before Him on judgement day. “God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (12:14)

As the Preacher says in his conclusion on the matter, it’s about knowing God and remember who He is. In this life of instability and change and ambiguity, we know we can rely on Him and that He is there for eternity. Getting to know Him and getting to enjoy being in His presence both now and in eternity is the whole reason and purpose for us.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3 (NKJV)

[1] Adams, Susan. “Why Winning Powerball Won’t Make You Happy”. Forbes. Com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/11/28/why-winning-powerball-wont-make-you-happy/. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[2] Amin, Amit. “The Hedonic Treadmill”. http://happierhuman.com/hedonic-treadmill/. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[3] Lyubomirsky, Sonja. “Hedonic Adaptation to Positive and Negative Experiences”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/496/hedonic-adaptation-positive-experiences.pdf. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

[4] Zone Positive. “Five Pathways to Happiness”. http://zonepositive.com/good-life-survey-learn-more/.

[5] Amin, Amit. “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Even Know About”. http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/. Retrieved May 3, 2015.

Strong Enough for Fruit

Producing a character full of God’s Spirit

First Things First – Christine Caine daily devotional, April 21

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples – John 15:8

It was a sobering moment when I realized that the fruit of the Spirit did not include how well I could preach or how effective I was at giving altar calls. Nowhere in the Bible could I find a Scripture that said, “By their gifts you will know them.”

I realized then that there could be no doubt I had been examined by the Lord and found lacking. Deep within me, I came to accept the fact that I had a long way to go in my spiritual walk. I needed some time to deal with my issues and to strengthen my inner person so my gift would not take me to a place where my character would not keep me.

Sadly, all too often I hear of destinies that have been sabotaged because Christians have focused on developing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives rather than seeking the fruit.

When the gifts of the Spirit on a person’s life are greater than the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life, that life will begin to crumble. Let’s ensure that we are not only seeking spiritual gifts but also producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Nowhere in the Bible could I find a Scripture that said, “By their gifts you will know them.” How about “by their results you will know them”? What do we think defines us as Christians besides love?

I needed some time to deal with my issues and to strengthen my inner person so my gift would not take me to a place where my character would not keep me. The phrase “my character would not keep me” is a powerful statement to me. Who we are in our hearts is far more important that what we do in this life and we can get so carried away with what we’re called to do that we forget about who we’re called to be. We forget that we should be asking the Lord to try our heart.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you. – Psalm 26:2-3 (NRSV)

Sadly, all too often I hear of destinies that have been sabotaged because Christians have focused on developing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives rather than seeking the fruit. What are your gifts? What is your fruit? In a nutshell, the gifts are what you do and the fruit is who you are.

When the gifts of the Spirit on a person’s life are greater than the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life, that life will begin to crumble. Gifts are given to help us serve others in our own unique way. We are constantly being challenged to step to the next level of our abilities. When we are walking with the Lord this can be a beautiful opportunity to know Him better and learn to love others more.

… From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. – Luke 12:48 (NRSV)

Sometimes, however, we should be taking an honest perusal of our hearts and minds and saying that maybe this step is not one we’re spiritually ready to take. At that point, what could have been a blessing is now a temptation. It has morphed to something that will not benefit us because, in order to go to the next level, we will have to use our strength and our effort and our talent to move there.

When we stop and humble ourselves before the Lord, we can take the next step in His strength, knowing His character will be in us and leading us forward.

Spiritual Maturity

The spiritual maturity this kind of self-aware activity takes is higher than the maturity level for Sunday morning pew-warmers. This kind of deep spirit trolling takes commitment and honesty in the presence of the Lord. This kind of maturity requires the ability to see God above ourselves, our circumstances, our emotions, and our desires.

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. – Psalm 22:2-3 (NRSV)

In Psalm 22:2-3, David clearly wasn’t having a warm-fuzzy feeling encounter with God here. He felt ignored, “you do not answer”. This wasn’t a casual conversation either, he was engaged intensely and was tired, “find no rest”. Reading on in Psalm 22, David is have more than just a bad day; he’s feeling near death. This isn’t an insignificant thing that he’s bringing before the Lord. He’s begging and pleading and pointing out the insufferable nature of his circumstances.


Such a small word but in this context, it tells so much about David’s view on God. David was exhausted and was praying prayers that went unanswered while being threatened by strong foes (Psalm 22:12,16), but it not dissuade him from seeing the grandeur and glory of God. He knew exactly where God was and who God was and didn’t allow the frustrations of his circumstances to bend that in the slightest.

That steadfastness is the spiritual maturity that we are required to have in order to face this kind of character work. We will not be able to be formed into the image of a holy God if we can’t get our eyes off ourselves long enough to look for Him.

When we are in that place, our character can grow and be transformed. Then we will be able to carry the load of fruit that God has planned for us. We will be able to step into the good works, our gifting, with ever-growing, ever-renewing strength.

Devotional, First Things First, from April 21, 2015 is copyright Christine Caine International. Used by permission.