When Lonely: Don't do this...Do this.

Loneliness is both a reality we'll all face and an opportunity that has the potential to launch us spiritually. First, we need to call out those pretenders. There are three things that vie for our attention when we get hammered with a lonely heart. These three things promise the moon but simply can't deliver. 

1. Things: We could also call this "stuff". Things or stuff want us to reach into our wallet and try to purchase something to fill the void of loneliness. Even a shopping spree can dull the pain for a time, but then the pain of loneliness will return with even more power when the material buzz wears off. 

2. Noise: There isn't enough music or sit-coms to dull the pain of loneliness. Noise can be a distraction for an evening but when we head off to bed the silence within us can be overwhelming. For some, the noise of life has actually become our friend. But this friendship can never truly satisfy. It leaves us with a hollow sense of lifelessness. 

3. Fools: When loneliness hits us we are tempted to find almost anyone to fill us up. Some lonely people have wandered into marital commitments with fools. More of us have given away our heart, our deepest longings, and our wildest dreams, to a fool. Fools can dress up in church clothing, talk with authority, and even feign compassion. But the person who, out of their own insecurity, is willing to trade confidences to climb a ladder of approval is dangerous. Fools will also contrive stories to climb in authority. Don't be on the same ladder with a fool. The temptation to become "tight" too quickly must be squelched. Watch and wait. See if they've thrown others under the bus in the past and stay clear until trust can be gained over time. 

The bottom line: No single thing, no noise, and no fool can fill the void of loneliness. Take the time, I mean to carve out time, to cultivate a friendship with God when no one else seems to be there. The whole idea of new life is that, in Christ, we now have a "friend". God gives us prizes in disguise. Loneliness can be a bonanza – getting to know the greatest friend on earth. He has a vantage point like no other friend and he can overflow us with his presence. Yes, we need friends to fill us up. But let God touch our deepest needs, first!

John 15:15

EVENT - College and Work-force Single Adults: Nite-out with Karl & Junanne on February 23rd. Karl will be sharing the Big 3 questions every single adult should be asking themselves that will transform relationships. Come to 180Chicago.church this Sunday for more info.

Things - Noise - Fools < Friendship with God

Loneliness is both a reality we'll face and an opportunity that has the potential to launch us spiritually. First, we need to call out those pretenders. There are three things that vie for our attention when we get hammered with a lonely heart. These three things promise the moon but simply can't deliver. 

1. Things: We could also call this "stuff". Things or stuff want us to reach into our wallet and try to purchase something to fill the void of loneliness. Even a shopping spree can dull the pain for a time, but the the pain of loneliness will return with even more power when the material buzz wears off. 

2. Noise: There isn't enough music or sit-coms to dull the pain of loneliness. Noise can be a distraction for an evening but when we head off to bed the silence within us can be overwhelming. For some, the noise of life has actually become our friend. But this friendship can never truly satisfy. It leaves us with a hollow sense of lifelessness. 

3. Fools: When loneliness hits us we are tempted to find almost anyone to fill us up. Some lonely people have wandered into marital commitments with fools. More of us have given away our heart, our deepest longings, and our wildest dreams, to a fool. Fools can dress up in church clothing, talk with authority, and even feign compassion. But the person who, out of their own insecurity, is willing to trade confidences to climb a ladder of approval is dangerous. Fools will also contrive stories to climb in authority. Don't be on the same ladder with a fool. The temptation to become "tight" too quickly must be squelched. Watch and wait. See if they've thrown others under the bus in the past and stay clear until trust can be gained over time. 

The bottom line: Nothing, no thing, no noise, and no fool can fill the void of loneliness. Take the time, and sacrifice the time to cultivate a friendship with God when no one else seems to be there. The whole idea of salvation is that, in Christ, we now have a "friend". This could be the biggest prize in disguise–getting to know the greatest friend on earth. He has a vantage point like no other friend and he can overflow us with his presence. Yes, we need friends to fill us up. But let God touch our deepest needs, first!

John 15:15

Freed From Empty Religion

There is no greater freedom than to be unchained from judgement and condemnation. The freedom we have in Christ is permission to run from empty religion. But this liberty can only be received as we come to grips with our forms of faith that have nudged out God. In place of "true religion" we set up traditions. As a stand-in for God's Spirit we install structure. When we construct a "form of godliness" we reject the origins of true godliness. When spiritual impotence seeps from our lips, we scramble for a measurement of spirituality that validates us as we are. This spiritual spiral causes us to cling to religious systems rather than our loving redeemer. But true freedom provides more freedom than can be imagined.

In Christ, we are freed from our own construct of justification. We no longer are slaves to the system that we've set up, but are unable to live-out. In Christ, we steal the weapon of condemnation from Satan that we handed him. We get relief from the beatings evil gave us with every failed attempt to live for God. In Christ, we are freed from the shame of all of our failure. In Christ, we stand in his righteousness. In Christ is true freedom.

But it's not just us who are now free. In Christ, we free others from our flawed systems and constructs of justification. In Christ, we cease to assist the forces of evil in their assault of condemnation and shame. In Christ, we claim no self-righteousness and point every soul we meet to the righteousness found only in Christ. In Christ, we become champions of grace, celebrants of truth, and we drip with a commitment to love. True religion sets us free from empty religion. And it's all found in Christ. 

Matthew 15

Hidden Doors...Passcodes...And God

I had a childhood friend who became as close as a brother to me. Jeff was a confidant and a comrade. On several occasions things got heated between us. But after a few punches landed and throwing rocks at each other from about ten paces, cooler heads would prevail and we'd be best buddies again. The greatest part about our friendship was the secrets we shared. Not the sick stuff you hear a lot about today, it was the secret stuff like crushes we had on girls, how much we made on our paper routes, the trick to get into our super high tree house, and the craziest dreams kids could imagine. There's something healthy about the secrets you share with only your closest friend.

God made us for friendship, even secret friendship. Our friendship with God has extraordinary potential to go as deep as a childhood buddy and even deeper. It's common to refer to ourselves as Christ followers or even talk of our love for God. But when we finally realize that God loves to share secrets with us...in secret...look out! Everything changes when God becomes our secret friend.

This is no joke and if we take Jesus at his word it could radically alter the quality of our life. Yes, Jesus spoke of the need for us to be salt and light. And going public with our faith is a common call for every person who's truly been touched by God. But what can't be overlooked is that God invites us into a place of secrecy - a secret place, with a hidden door, and a passcode that only you and God will know. And when we go to this secret place we find the our friendship is forged with God like it could never be when everyone else is around. But what comes of this friendship is something no friend on earth can provide. And God invites us into the secret place to see that he has something special for us...a promised reward. I don't know what the reward will be for you and I can't tell you what he's given me...it's a secret. But let's take God at his word as we listen to the words of Jesus, "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:6). What a friend we have in Jesus!

The Fear of Taking that First Big Step (Part 3)

Get The Blinders On

That first big step requires narrowing our vision. We simply can't take a big step, let alone run a great race, without blocking out distractions. Where we're going is inextricably linked to where we're looking. God's greater plan and destination for our life will be challenged by fearful distractions. This is why one of the most powerful truths in scripture involves getting focused - "Don't look to the left or the right." Spiritual blinders are mandatory equipment when fear has a grip on us. This first big step can only really happen when we get the blinders on.

There’s another subtlety about fear. That fear that creeps up in us is looking for an excuse. Fear can find compelling reasons not to take that first big step. Without blinders, some distractions appear to look better than ever before. It's a mirage. The fear that grips us is always looking for a way out, or a compelling reason not to step out. Our fear just needs the smallest excuse to never take that first big step. There's a good reason why we need blinders. Our fear is looking for an excuse and compromise loves company. It's true, compromise can't stand to be left behind. Because of this you can't afford to take a peak. It's God who authored the vision for your life and it's God who will perfect it. Get the blinders on and let God get to work. 

But spiritual blinders aren’t nearly as much about blocking out the periphery, it’s more about getting so intently focused on our leader that nothing can distract us. Yes, Jesus is ultimately the only leader to follow so our full attention and affection must be fixed on him. He wrestled with big steps, but he broke through and ran the race to his death, so that we could live. But the grave could not hold him so we don’t fix our eyes on a cross or even an empty tomb, Jesus is risen. Get the blinders on, we have a big first step that we have to take.

Proverbs 4:27, Hebrews 12:2

Addiction...Go straight at it!

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The best way to tackle addiction is to run straight at it. Circling around addiction and attempting to sneak up on it, is fruitless and futile. Trying to learn a new angle or trick to deal with those things that enslave, has a big let-down in store. But the "straight at it" approach is spiritual gold. Addiction is like a bad friend, we get some shallow benefit but we know that they hate us, and we can't muster the courage to cut em' off. Well, it's a new day. It's time to sever yourself from addiction. Let's go straight at it.

The letter of Romans is dealing with the reality of the new birth miracle. Paul lays out stark contrast between slavery (addiction) to sin and freedom in Christ. The following verse put feet to the new birth miracle of salvation. "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." This is Paul's straight at it approach for dealing with addictions that have become like an evil spirit-leach - sucking the life from our soul.

First and forever we must get in with Jesus. "Put on Christ" is inspired, purposeful, and practical. It's an act of the heart and will. Putting on Christ is a symbol of standing cloaked in Christ's mercy, grace, and power. God always calls us to trust him before we wade into a war with our addiction. Too many times we have tried to tackle addiction in our own strength and we find ourselves more discouraged than ever before. This bold approach requires a level of surrender that is unusual. But when the pain of addiction is met with equal surrender to Jesus, freedom is in the works.

Second, cut off ALL the supply lines to your addiction. Starve it, dehydrate it, asphyxiate it, or drown it, but do whatever it takes to kill it. "Make no provision" means give it nothing to live. Nothing! This requires some strategy and honesty. With have to be true to the addiction. Answer the question, "what keeps this alive"? Be honest and exhaustive. Then go about cutting that addiction off until it dies.

You can do this. Do a "180 Now". Face your addiction head on and go straight at it. "Put on Jesus" and "make no provision". Soon you'll be looking back and seeing your own personal miracle from God.

Romans 13:14

Materialism: Big problem, one answer

Contentment is a state of being that transcends our strata in life. Contentment is the purest evidence of God at work, deep in a soul. There are several thieves of contentment, but one of the largest is materialism. It is contentment that eludes the rich and poor alike, until God can touch our craving for material things. Materialism is the sickness of scrambling to fill our "God shaped void" with something material that can somehow satisfy that craving. But it will never prove successful over the long haul. The only work that truly works, is the work of God.

Materialism is an equal opportunity master. It will suck people in from every walk of life. We can be a rich materialist or a dead broke materialist. Some may believe that the greatest evidence of materialism is riches. But in truth, there needs to be a much better measure, because materialism afflicts the rich and poor alike. Paul put his finger on the matter when he wrote these words from prison. "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." What Paul can "do" is what has eluded many of us today.

Paul learned that materialism, that need for something beyond the presence of God, can visit each of us. Paul rose above the discontent that dominated the world then, and now. He has learned the art of faith that manifests itself in contentment through every circumstance. Paul was not bragging, he was rejoicing over a lesson learned. Paul was saying something like this, "I've finally figured it out. This crazy desire that crops it's head in our life for more stuff, must be ignored. I get it now and I want you too as well." Paul's discovery of contentment wasn't a gift, it was "learned". He learned the "secret". And the secret was this: When we allow God to strengthen us internally, we won't become addicted to superficiality. When God is our strength, our stuff loses it's grip on us. 

Do a "180 Now". Let God turn you from materialism to contentment. It won't happen overnight. Contentment is learned as our strength is increasingly found in him. So the secret is out. How do we find contentment and not be shackled by materialism? Jesus is the answer for so many of our questions. We just have to let him make us strong.

Philippians 4:12-13