The Role of Habits in Transformation

white concrete spiral stairway

We tend to use the word “habit” to refer to negative behaviors, such as biting your nails, wasting time online, cracking your knuckles. But not all habits are bad.

In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg talks about the science behind how habits are created, and how to replace bad habits with good ones.

Habits As Vehicles for Transformation

In my recent post Going Through the Motions, I talked about how the biblical metaphor of walking, which describes a pattern of life, implies small, continual actions which lead somewhere. With this in mind, habits can be vehicles for transformation. They help us build practices into our lives that shape us into certain kinds of people.

In his book, Desiring the KingdomJames K.A. Smith pushes back against Rene Descartes assertion that we are fundamentally “thinking beings” who happen to have bodies, and asserts that are bodies play a much more integral part in our formation than many in Western society have tended to think (as a result of Descartes’s philosophy). Thus, the things we do with our bodies have a role in shaping our affections and forming sanctified habits.

“Spiritual disciplines” refer to actions such as prayer, church attendance, studying the Bible, giving generously, serving, taking communion, fasting, and more – which are taught in the Bible and were modeled by Jesus himself. Spiritual disciplines are habits which serve as vehicles of transformation: shaping us through repeated action into certain kinds of people.

See: Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why

Habits Prescribed by God

Drew Dyke in his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, points out how God prescribes routines and rituals designed to build holy habits into the lives of His people:

“God commanded the ancient Israelites to observe seven sacred annual feasts, keep the Sabbath, tithe their income, purify themselves, worship regularly, and present offerings and sacrifices at the temple.

Though the New Testament frees Christians from having to keep the whole Jewish law, there are still sacraments like baptism to symbolize our spiritual rebirth and the communion meal to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus. On top of this, our weekly gatherings include rituals designed to instill beliefs and behaviors to bring us closer to God and each other.

Even in ‘low church’ settings that don’t use the liturgical calendar or recite ancient creeds, there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers, and preaching each Sunday. There are Sunday school or midweek small group meetings.”

“But We Shouldn’t Be Religious or Legalistic, Right?”

I have met people who say:  “Oh, I don’t want to be religious or legalistic — so I only do those spiritual disciplines sporadically.”

This is not about legalism nor empty religiosity. We do not believe for a minute that any of these things save us. Nor do we do these things in order to manipulate God into blessing us or giving us what we want. That is the definition of legalism: believing that your relationship with God is predicated on your ability to keep rules.

Instead, we do these things in order to be healthy and grow. Eating and sleeping and drinking fluids help us be healthy physically: to do these things only sporadically would be very unwise and cause you to be very unhealthy. The same is true when it comes to a neglect of spiritual disciplines.

Atheism and the Ache for Spiritual Disciplines

Drew Dyke shares in his book about a talk he heard from a man who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms.” “He waxed eloquent about singing Christmas carols, looking at religious art, and the experience of paging through the Bible.” The surprising thing is that the speaker, Alain de Botton, is an atheist.

“We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it…. Religions go, ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the lesson 10 times a day. So get on your knees and repeat it,’” – Alain de Botton

He isn’t being critical of repetition; just the opposite. He acknowledges that Christianity is very good at creating habits which fuel transformation, and recognizes that atheists are poorer for lacking this.

I would argue that these spiritual disciplines cannot be translated into an atheist or agnostic framework because they are tied to Christian theology. Some humanists try to be “good without God” – but what they lack is the foundation of Christian spiritual formation, which is justification by faith: the fact that in Christ we are accepted and loved by God apart from our good works.

Alain, like James K.A. Smith, states that “The other thing that religions know is we’re not just brains, we are also bodies. And when they teach us a lesson, they do it via the body.” He also praised the biblical practice of dividing up time by having repeating holidays such as Easter and Christmas, which force us to “bump into” key beliefs and celebrate them again and again.

Essentially what this atheist man was rightly observing and praising was that spiritual disciplines are designed to help transform through the development of habits.

Spiritual disciplines are “Spirit-empowered, heart-calibrating, habit-forming practices to retrain our loves.”[1]

Video Discussion

Check out the discussion Mike and I had about transformation, and the roles of the hope of the resurrection and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Also, about half-way through I  spill coffee on my Bible…

 

Is There a Prophecy that Says that Jesus Would Come from Nazareth?

jesus christ figurine

Matthew chapter 2 tells one of the most overlooked and skipped-over parts of the Christmas story: the mass killing of innocent infants and toddlers by king Herod “the Great.”

When you read the Christmas story to your children, you might likely leave this part out. Chances are that if you attend a school Christmas pageant, the kids will not act out this part of the story.

And yet, it’s an incredibly important part of the Christmas story, because in effect, it tells us what Christmas is really all about: God came to us in order to rescue us from the tyranny of evil, sin, suffering, and death.

This past Sunday we studied this story to kick off our Advent series, “God With Us.” You can listen to the message here: “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”

One of the most interesting parts of Matthew chapter 2 is that Matthew points out several prophecies which Jesus fulfilled. However, Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus was raised in Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets. However, you can look through the Old Testament all you want, but you won’t find a prophecy which mentions Nazareth as a city directly. What then is this verse referring to?

Mike and I sat down for our weekly Sermon Extra video to discuss this topic, and answer that question. Check it out:

What Does It Mean that “Judgment Begins at the Household of God”?

inside photography of church

In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter makes an interesting statement; he says: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

Judgment might seem like an odd word to use in regard to the people of God… Hasn’t Jesus already taken our judgment upon himself on the cross? What is Peter referring to here, and how should we understand this statement?

The Waters That Buried Some, Lifted Others

In 1 Peter chapter 3, Peter referred to the judgment that took place in the time of Noah, and said that the waters of that flood were a type, or a picture, of baptism. The judgment of the flood, which was a judgment upon human wickedness, did effect, touch, and impact even those who were believers. However, because those believers were in the ark, the waters of the flood did not crush them, but rather lifted them up.

The ark, in this case, is a picture of Jesus. When we climb into Him by faith, and are hidden in Him, He takes the brunt of the storm of God’s judgment, which, apart from Him, we would not be able to survive on our own. As we are in Him, the waters which destroyed those outside the ark actually serve to lift us up and they have a cleansing and purifying effect.

The Fire That Destroys Some, Purifies Others

Along with water, Peter uses another word-picture in this letter: fire, which is used to purify precious metals, like gold.

Paul uses this same analogy in 1 Corinthians 3, where he talks about how our actions in this life will be tested by God as by fire; those things which were pure in motive will withstand the test, and those good things we might have done for the wrong reasons will be burned away like wood, hay and stubble.

Essentially, Peter is saying that the judgment of God will have the effect on believers, not of destroying them, but of purifying them, and clarifying who is really in the faith.

This makes sense, especially in light of the fact that earlier in the same chapter (1 Peter 4:1-4), Peter called his readers to holiness and to separate themselves from the sins which formerly enslaved them.

Malachi’s Prophecy

In his commentary on 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney says that in these verses (1 Peter 4:12-19), Peter is alluding to a prophecy of Malachi:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:1-3)

God’s judgment has a double purpose: to purify his worshipers and to consume the wicked.

In Hebrews 12, the writer says that it is proof of God’s fatherly love for us that He disciplines us.

Rather than cleansing us in purgatory, God’s cleansing of his people is a process which takes place in this life through our trials. Our suffering in this life does not atone for our sins, Jesus’s suffering did that for us, but God uses our trials in order to form us into the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:29), purify us like gold, and prepare for us a weight of glory to be revealed.

Further Discussion

https://twitter.com/DominicDone/status/1199788112060112896

This week Mike and I sat down to discuss this verse in more detail. One of the things we talked about was how persecution and hardship has the effect of purifying the church and “weeding out” those who have come to Jesus for the wrong reasons. One example we bring up is my experience with the Roma (Gypsy) population in Hungary and the false promises of the “prosperity gospel.” Check it out:

Did Jesus Go to Hell?

night dark halloween horror

The Apostles’ Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds – in continual existence since at least the 4th Century A.D. – contains a line which many people have found intriguing: it declares that Jesus “descended to the dead.”

Older translations of the original text into English sometimes translate this phrase as saying that Jesus “descended into Hell.”

Looking at the creed in ancient languages is interesting as the Greek text says: κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, which means: “descended to the bottom” – and the Latin text says: descendit ad inferos, the word inferos being translated as “Hell.”

More recent translations into English have chosen to say “descended to the dead” rather than “descended into Hell” as “the dead” would be more accurate biblically and theologically than “Hell.” The reason for this is based on a particular understanding of “Sheol” in the Old Testament and the Jewish mind, which was the dwelling place of all souls, being divided (according to Luke 16:19-31) into two parts: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades, AKA: Hell.

Abraham’s Bosom, it is believed, was a place of comfort for those who died in faith, i.e. the “Old Testament saints,” such as those described in Hebrews 11, who died prior to the redemptive actions of Jesus. The theory, therefore, is that 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6, Peter is describing how Jesus went to Sheol after his death on the cross but prior to his resurrection, and declared to the deceased souls held there what he had accomplished in his life and death. This message would have been a message of redemption and release from Sheol, to the immediate presence of God, to those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemptive work of the Messiah, and a message of condemnation for those held in the Hades/Hell portion of Sheol.

I have written more about this here: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

I also explain this in some detail in this past Sunday’s sermon from 1 Peter 3:18-4:11 – The Resurrected Life. The part that deals with this topic begins around 17:30.

However, there are several different, and possible, interpretations of these verses which Mike and I discussed and outlined in this week’s Sermon Extra video. It’s worth watching, as we discuss different views, such as that this speaks to Jesus preaching to demons related to the Nephilim in Genesis 6, Jesus preaching through Moses, etc.:

 

Does God Want You to Be Happy?

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Maybe you’ve heard someone say it before: “God doesn’t care about your happiness, he cares about your holiness.”

Is that true? I don’t believe so.

Recently at White Fields, I taught on the subject of holiness from 1 Peter 1:13-25. You can listen to the message here: 1 Peter 1:13-25, “The H Word”. As I talked about holiness, I made the claim that the reason why God wants us to be holy is because holiness leads to happiness, and God wants us to be happy.

Holiness vs Happiness?

I have sometimes heard people say things along these lines: The world offers happiness, but God doesn’t care about your happiness, He cares about your holiness!

I completely disagree. Not only does it send the absolute wrong message, it is not accurate biblically.

Sometimes people think that holiness is opposed to happiness. “The worse something makes me feel, the better,” this thinking goes, “because the more miserable I am, the more holy and godly I must be,”

Friends, that is not holiness, that is self-righteousness.

While there may sometimes be an aspect of self-denial involved in holiness, the purpose of that self-denial is because it will lead to more happiness, not less, in the end. I will elaborate on the relationship between self-denial and happiness in a future post.

For Christians to pit holiness and happiness against each other is a fundamental error, and a misrepresentation of the heart of God and the gospel.

Jesus: Holy and Happy

In Hebrews 1:9, we are told that Jesus was: 1) holy (he loved righteousness and hated wickedness), and 2) the happiest person who ever lived (anointed with the oil of gladness beyond all his companions).

Furthermore, this verse tells us that Jesus’ happiness was the direct result of his holiness (“therefore…”).

Holiness is not opposed to happiness, rather holiness is the pathway to happiness.

Therefore, when God says “be holy as I am holy” – he is inviting us to be happy as he is happy!

But Isn’t “Joy” Different than “Happiness”?

Sometimes people have tried to make a distinction between “joy” and “happiness.” They claim that whereas “happiness” is momentary and fleeting, “joy” is something which is unemotional and doesn’t depend on circumstances.

Furthermore, this line of thinking tends to say that “happiness” is what “the world” has, but “joy” is something that only Christians can have.

This is a false dichotomy. It is well-intentioned, but incorrect, both linguistically and biblically.

Joy and happiness are synonyms. Not only does Jesus use the word “happy”, but it is found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible talks about the “joy” of the wicked (see Job 20:5), and it talks about the Pharisees having “joy” when Judas betrayed Jesus.

Consider this quote from Joni Eareckson Tada:

“We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness, it is said, is an emotion which depends on what happens to you. Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight”, “gladness”, “blessing”. There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.”

Our Happy God

1 Timothy 1:11 says: “…in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:11)

The word translated “blessed” is the Greek word markariou, which means: “happy”. In other words, a direct translation of the Greek text would be: “…our HAPPY God”

Furthermore, this word makarios (Greek for “happy”) is found in other places:

Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the LORD does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2 GNT)

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the LORDand they study it day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 GNT)

Lost in Translation

As to why the English translators of the Bible in the Middle Ages chose to translate the word “makarios” as “blessed” rather than “happy” is because they considered the word “happy” to be too trite, and not religious-sounding enough. However, in the process, we have lost the sense of mirth that these words were originally intended to have!

In other languages, such as Hungarian, the word “markarios” is translated as “boldog” – which is the normal Hungarian word for “happy”, rather than the word “áldott” which means “blessed”. This more faithful and straight-forward translation conveys the heart and feeling of happiness which has been lost in translation for those of us who read in English.

Charles Spurgeon and Amy Carmichael on God and Happiness

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who worked with exploited girls in horrendous situations, and rescued over 1000 of them in the name of Jesus. She spent the final 20 years of her life mostly bedridden. Here’s what she said during that time:

“There is nothing dreary or doubtful about this Christian life. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord, whose joy is our strength.”

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” asserted:

“God made human beings to be happy.”

“My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes!”

Redeeming the Word

The problem is not with the pursuit of happiness, it is with the pursuit of happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. This is the essence of sin. But rather than throwing out the baby (happiness) with the bathwater (sin), we should redeem this wonderful word which is truly ours as the people of God, and pursue holiness and happiness – the former leading to the latter.

Resources

Randy Alcorn wrote a fabulous book on this subject, which I highly recommend: Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss happiness and God:

Here is the video of my sermon from 1 Peter 1:13-25: “The H Word”:

 

Guest Teaching This Week at Ravencrest Chalet Bible College

This week I’m in Estes Park teaching at Ravencrest Chalet Bible College, part of the Torchbearers International organization, which has a network of colleges and retreat centers around the world.

I’m teaching Genesis to the first year students, and Leadership in the Local Church to the second year students.

We’ve really enjoyed getting connected to Ravencrest; we’ve had one of their leaders, Frank Cirone, down to our church to teach on a few occasions (listen to Frank’s messages here)

In this interview with Frank which we recorded at our church office after one of his visits, he shares the history of the Torchbearers movement, and some of his ministry experience around the world. It’s pretty interesting! Check it out:

This week Mike and I made our weekly sermon follow-up video up here at Ravencrest, in which we talked about church discipline, laziness, and being a busybody. Check it out:

Pray for the ministry of Ravencrest! They are doing great work discipling, equipping, and sending out young people into the world for the mission of God!

All of Christianity is Eschatological

Image result for crushing the head of the serpent

The word eschatology means “the study of the final things”. Often times we use the word eschatology to speak about those parts of the Bible which deal with “the end times” and constructing a “timeline” of end-times events based on various verses in the Bible.

But that’s not all that eschatology is. Eschatology is bigger than that.

In Greek, the word eschaton means “the final event”. And in this sense, all of the Bible is eschatological, because from the beginning of the book to the end, the Bible tells us that all of human history is moving towards a grand climax.

A Linear Versus a Circular View of Life

Whereas many Eastern philosophies tend to think about life and existence circularly (think: reincarnation), the Bible is different in that it it thinks about life and existence linearly. 

According to God’s Word, all of our lives and all of history are moving towards a particular, final, and unavoidable end. God has a plan that is going to culminate in something, and that something is the eschaton. 

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by telling us about the origin of the world and its original design. This story of origin forms the introduction and foundation to the story which the rest of the Bible tells: the story of God’s redemption of his creation.

The eschaton is first alluded to as soon as sin enters into the world, corrupting the good creation. In Genesis 3:16, God speaks to the serpent and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The seed of a woman (as opposed to the usual seed of a man) will be stricken by the serpent, but this one will defeat and destroy the serpent. This is a foreshadowing of how Jesus, born of a virgin, would wage the ultimate battle against evil, be mortally wounded, and yet in doing so would defeat sin, death, and the devil.

There are many aspects to this eschaton, including the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the Lake of Fire, and the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For more on these topics, check out:

Jesus came, therefore, as an eschatological Savior, and the hope that we have as Christians is an eschatological hope. All of the Bible and all of Christianity is oriented towards this eschatological hope.

Here is a video of a discussion Pastor Mike and I had about eschatology based on our recent study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which talks about the return of Jesus:

When God Leads by Closing Doors

door green closed lock

This past Sunday at White Fields Church, we began a new series called Upside Down, which may or may not be a reference to Stranger Things, but definitely comes from what was said about the Christians in Thessalonica, that “these people who have turned the world upside down have now come here also.” (Acts 17:6)

Upside Down Sermon Graphic-2

One of the interesting aspects about the church in Thessalonica is that Paul never actually intended to go there. His plan was to go somewhere else: to the province of Asia. When that didn’t work out, he tried to go to the region of Bithynia. In other words, going to Thessalonica, in the province of Macedonia, wasn’t even Plan B, it was Plan C! And yet, God did an amazing work there, so much so that Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)

Closed Doors that Changed History

David Livingstone, the great missionary who brought the Gospel to the interior of Africa, originally wanted to go to China as a missionary, but it didn’t work out. That’s how he ended up in Africa. The rest is history.

William Carey, who pioneered the modern missionary movement in India, originally planned to go to Polynesia.

Adoniram Judson, who brought the gospel to Burma, originally wanted to go to India, but the doos were closed.

Closed Doors and God’s Leading in My Life

I spent 10 years as a missionary in Hungary. They were wonderful, fruitful years. But I didn’t originally intend to go to Hungary.

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss how God led each of us to Hungary. Spoiler alert: Mike didn’t intend to go to Hungary either. Watch the video to find out where we were each intending to go, and how God led us, and how we feel about our plans not working out.

We are also now podcasting not only our sermons, but these Sermon Extra discussions every week as well. You can find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify.

Podcast Update: New Content & New Ways to Listen

black recordering microphone

They say that listening is the new reading. My friend’s tweet from this morning illustrates this growing trend:

I’m an avid podcast listener, and many of my friends are as well. I listen to podcasts while I drive, sometimes while I run, and often when I am doing busy work around the house.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

The Edison Institute did a survey of 1200 Americans about podcasting and determined:

  • Young people are listening to podcasts: 85% of podcast listeners are under 55.
  • The fastest growing demographic is among people aged 29-54, with 29% year-over-year growth in listenership.
  • Educated. 85% of podcast listeners have at least college education.

This week our podcast at White Fields Church added a few updates:

  1. You can now listen to us on both Apple Podcasts and Spotify
  2. In addition to our weekly sermons, we are now uploading a weekly conversation between me and Mike in which we dig further into some of the practical and theological issues related to Sunday’s message. (We post videos of these discussions on YouTube here).

Check out the latest episode in the player below (email subscribers click here). In this episode, Mike and I talk about whether babies go to heaven, if there is an “age of accountability” and if God judges people during this life, or withholds it until the “final judgment.”

Are Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny Pagan in Origin?

In this latest installment of the Longmont Pastor Video Blog, Mike and I discuss the origin of Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny.

Many Christians are under the impression that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny – and even the word Easter itself are pagan in origin. Is that true? Where do these practices come from, and is it bad for Christians to participate in them?

We answer these questions in this video:

For more on this topic, check out: Does Easter Come From Ishtar?