Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 5)

4 | Be Isolated

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 5)

Strength in Numbers

Interesting fact: termites cannot digest wood. Instead, they rely on millions of microscopic organisms of over 100 different species living in their stomachs to digest the cellulose in the wood for them.

MEET THE PEEPS: Just some of the

MEET THE PEEPS: Just some of the “friends” termites rely on to live.

Termites require community to survive. A termite without its comrades starves to death, no matter how much wood it consumes.

This is not only true for termites. Humans, too, thrive in community and starve in isolation. While this may look different for different people (e.g. introverts suffocate on too much community but still need a network–albeit smaller, more selective network than extroverts–of deep, meaningful relationships), even a strong person, if isolated, is vulnerable and easily defeated.

This is evident in many areas of life.

Want to lose weight? A diet and workout plan coupled with determination can still be easily defeated in time. However, procrastination and compromise are less likely when the plan is done with a trainer, a partner or a group.

Likewise, addicts who participate in support or recovery groups have greater success of overcoming their addictions than those who attempt to fight alone.

Within helpful communities (specifically those whose members are intentional about contributing to each other’s well-being and success), a person finds strength, support, encouragement, counsel, accountability, and even very practical help (e.g. financial, physical, etc.).

Unfortunately, many are intentionally or unintentionally becoming isolated from these vital communities.

The Exodus from Church

The following info is from: Tyson, Jon. Sacred Roots: Why the Church still matters, part of Barna Group’s “Frames” series. (Zondervan), 2013; particularly pages 22-27.

It seems fewer and fewer Christians recognize the Church as God’s solution to our need for community. Research from a Barna Group study in 2013 exposed some disturbing trends.

wpid-haveyouattendedchurchinthepastsixmonths.jpg.jpeg

More than one-half of American Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000; 15-34 year olds) and Gen-Xers (born between 1965 and 1980; 33-50 year olds) have not attended church or a church-related function in the last six months.

In fact, only 2 out of 10 Millennials believe church attendance is important. Of those who do go, only 1 out of 10 says they go because they believe the Bible says to gather with other believers.

Oddly, when asked what factors help Americans grow in their faith, church was not even named among the top 10 factors.

Compare these numbers to older generations–for instance, 40% of the Mature/Silent Generation (born 1927-1945; over 70) rating church as “very important”–and the decline is obvious. The practice of believers consistently gathering as a meaningful community is in jeopardy.

Some churches have responded by making their worship, sermons and resources available online. This addresses people’s need for solid biblical teaching but cannot forge human interaction. People have the need for both the content and the community of the Church, and options other than gathering with believers may satisfy the former but cannot satisfy the latter.

The result is much like a termite who eats plenty of wood but has no companions to help it digest.

The Reason to Bother

What’s the big deal? Is it really so bad to be withdrawn from consistent participation in a community?

Ask the antelope who is not careful to stay within the safety of the herd.Hunted

Ask the inhabitants of Laish.

The Danite scouts observed that the inhabitants “lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationships with anyone else” (Judges 18:7). We’ve already seen how their city was prosperous, well-fortified and suspecting no trouble, so why worry about relationships? Why do the extra work to maintain connection with surrounding peoples?

No doubt, relationships take time and effort and can be messy. So why bother?

Because attack and hardship will come eventually, and when it does, having no one to help will practically ensure defeat.

[The Danites] attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else” (Judges 18:28).

Gather Your Team

Just as a lion preys on the antelope who gets separated from the herd, so our enemy preys on those who are not connected to a helpful community.

We have already learned from Laish’s defeat about how to be victorious rather than victims.

The best investment in our security is not money, insurance, alarm systems, etc., but an intimate relationship with Jesus.

Keeping in mind that hardship is imminent, we must remain vigilant, disciplined and dressed in the full armor of God.

We must train ourselves not to rely on any luxury for contentment, most effectively by voluntarily denying ourselves what we crave most through the discipline of fasting.

And finally, we must cultivate “a herd,” a network of companions committed to each other’s well-being who will fight for one another, celebrate victory together, provide for each other, encourage, support and counsel each other.

This commercial perfectly depicts God’s design for how a community of comrades can literally mean the difference between defeat and victory.

[2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Big Game Ad: Team (Extended)]

Do you have a team, a herd, a community of people who have your back?

Parents, do your kids have that? Have you helped them develop, not just acquaintances or friends, but a community of peers and adults purposefully invested in their success?

If not, a great place to start is to find a local church with children and youth ministries, family/adult small groups and recovery groups. If you live in Lewisville, Flower Mound, Highland Village or any of the surrounding areas, Garden Ridge church of Christ would love to be that community for you and your family. Find out more at http://www.gardenridge.org. (Explore the “Ministries” menu for various groups to fit your needs.)

Tell Your Story

We would LOVE to hear what your helpful community means to you and how they’ve come through when you needed them. Please add a comment to share your story with us.

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Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 4)

3 | Lack Nothing

(Four Ways to Be Easily Conquered, Pt. 4)

Prosperity seems to be an advantage, but in fact, it may be the very thing that keeps us unprepared for attack.

Disproportionately Blessed

It certainly made Laish unprepared for the Danite assault. We are told twice that Laish lacked nothing and was prosperous (Judges 18:7, 10), no surprise because of its ideal location.pampered

The city was situated perfectly at the foot of Mt. Lebanon and the Hermon mountains, whose melting snow provided the majority of the water for the Jordan River. This made Laish uniquely lush and fertile in an otherwise arid region.

Also, they had apparently faced little or no mistreatment since another way to translate the Hebrew phrase for “lacked nothing,” is, “no oppressive authorities taxing them.”

No doubt, this city–like many people–seemed disproportionately blessed.

The Misfortune of the Fortunate

How could such prosperity be a bad thing? I can think of two reasons.

1 | Wealth becomes a target on the wealthy person’s back.

Capture01People who are perceived to be more privileged evoke the envy of others who feel unfairly deprived, making them targets of hostility or theft.
Wealth may have the advantage of providing for greater safety measures–high-tech home and car security systems, insurance on expensive possessions, living in gated communities, etc.–but a disadvantage of wealth is that it makes such measures necessary.

Proverbs 13:8, says, “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but the poor hears no rebuke” (NASB).

The Amplified Bible expounds,

“A rich man can buy his way out of threatened death by paying a ransom, but the poor man does not even have to listen to threats [from the envious].”

Whether wanted or not, prosperity naturally calls attention to a person, making them the object of admiration to some and a more compelling target to others.

Including spiritual foes. If Job was singled out by Satan because he was so fortunate and untouched by hardship, we too may expect to be harassed for our good fortune.

2 | A person who lacks nothing becomes dependent on having everything.

The longer we live in prosperity, the more it becomes our norm. Before long, having everything feels so normal that it feels necessary.

When something is taken away, we panic at the thought of living without it, even if it is something many people easily live without. Maybe even something we ourselves were previously content living without.

This is true for me and cell phones.Capture02

I did’t have a cell phone until I was a junior in college, and I didn’t have a smartphone until four years ago (2011). Before that, I lived actively and even did youth ministry without a phone with internet, GPS, texting, camera, cloud storage, etc.

naked-smart-phone-addiction-dependency-confession-ecards-someecards-300x167Now I shudder to think of having even one of those functions taken away, much less trying to live without any cell phone at all.

The more we have, the more we require to “survive” and the greater our shock when we are forced to go without.

Boot Camp

Misfortune can be good for us, then…so good, in fact, that we should intentionally inflict hardship on ourselves if we hope to overcome difficult challenges that will inevitably befall us.

Our success in battle depends on how we train in boot camp.

In boot camp, if soldiers “lacked nothing,” it would be quite a shock to them in combat when they have to live on very little and they’re under attack.

Training conditions should mimic actual battle conditions so there is familiarity, not shock, when suddenly forced into the discomfort, deprivation and danger of battle!

Soldiers can withstand, even succeed in, the worst battle conditions because they have trained themselves NOT to be dependent on favorable conditions or good treatment to do their jobs.

Maybe the Monks are On to Something

We can do this ourselves with a practice called “fasting.”

Many believe fasting to be an antiquated discipline practiced only by extreme pious nuts in monasteries. It seems outdated and irrelevant for modern disciples, but I believe fasting is needed now more than ever.

If we are not careful, the attitude of entitlement will infect our minds.

It is an epidemic in the American church, if not globally. Many Christians feel entitled to a certain level of comfort, prosperity and protection. When these expectations are not met, when hardship comes, they are easily conquered by discouragement, despair, bitterness toward God, compromise, or maybe even all-out surrender and defection.

Fasting is our way to practice having nothing so we will be prepared for times when we indeed have nothing.

Essentially, fasting is merely voluntarily removing something we have come to depend on for fulfillment other than Jesus.

We can fast from food, of course, or maybe a particular food/type of food (sweets; Starbucks; a “Daniel Fast” of only fruits, nuts, and vegetables; etc.).

Some fast from a certain activity that has, or could, become too important to their happiness.

Couples can agree to fast from sex for a spiritual purpose (I Corinthians 7:5).

Many modern “fasters” have chosen to challenge themselves by abstaining from digital entertainment and/or social media for a time.

A person might even fast from money, determining what income is absolutely mandatory and choosing to give away everything over that for a certain amount of time. This benefits the people, families, churches or organizations they give to and allows the person to practice finding contentment on a tighter budget.

What to fast from is different for each person. To determine what would have the greatest impact for you, evaluate (honestly!) what would be hardest to give up.

Coffee? Netflix? Sex? Facebook? Dating? ESPN? Extra spending money?

Whatever you would be most defensive about giving up if someone suggested it is probably the thing you benefit most to fast from.

I know what it is for me. What is it for you?

Enough Prayer

To paraphrase someone much smarter than me, it is in times when God is all we have that we discover God is all we need.

Do you want that kind of unshakable faith?

Do you want to be able to say, as Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12)?

Then rather than praying for prosperity, pray simply for “enough,” and nothing more.

Proverbs 30:8 is the Enough Prayer:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.”

May the Lord use both blessing and hardship to train you so you will be successful under any and every type of combat conditions.

Four Ways to be Easily Conquered (Pt. 1)

image

Some days, I’m the hammer. Some days, I’m the nail.

Some days, I’m an indomitable force of conviction, courage and self-discipline. Other days, it seems even the slightest pressure can pound me into submission.

Whether it’s diet, spending, spiritual disciplines, self-improvement, overcoming unwanted habits or maintaining new resolutions, sometimes I am impressively victorious…and sometimes I am too easily conquered.

WHEN GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH

I’m not alone in this. Anyone can recognize areas where they are particularly vulnerable to fail.

You may be unfazed by many temptations, but when confronted with a certain one or two, you consistently feel powerless to resist.

You may maintain a responsible budget, except when it comes to this one indulgence.

You may function well in most situations, but around this person or in that type of environment, not so much.

You may have resolved to establish a more consistent routine of prayer, Bible reading, participation in a church family, etc., but months, weeks or maybe even days into it, these are again neglected.

Why?! If we have genuine intentions to do what is best and to be the best version of ourselves, why aren’t our desires and intentions enough?

If we truly want victory so badly, why are we still so easily defeated?

I have come to recognize a pattern, certain dynamics that contribute to me being either victorious or defeated.

As a minister, I see the same pattern of dynamics in those to whom I minister.

In fact, these dynamics even explain how an entire city was overthrown by a handful of losers.

A CITY DESTINED TO FALL

After Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, died, it was up to the tribes to claim their territories. All the tribes were successful (to varying degrees)…except Dan.

While other tribes conquered and confined their enemies, the Amorites confined the Danites to the hills (Judges 1:34).

By Judges 18, they still had not found a territory they could conquer, and they were desperate.

imageUntil they found Laish.

Finally, a city they–even the Danites–could conquer.

The question is, what was so WRONG with Laish that made them so RIGHT as a target?

It’s an important question because the same things that made Laish conquerable are the same things that make us so easily defeated.

Judges 18:

[The five scouts] came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.

When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, “How did you find things?”

They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatsoever.”

11 Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol.

27 Then they…went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else.

FOUR WAYS TO BE EASILY CONQUERED

From this, we see four dynamics that led to Laish’s defeat, the same ones that contribute to our own:

To be easily conquered:

1  |  Be safe and secure.

2  |  Be unsuspecting.

3  |  Lack nothing.

4  |  Be isolated.

If the Danite scouts were ecstatic to find these qualities in Laish, we can be sure our enemy, too, is seeking these same qualities in us.

It may be difficult at first to see how some of these could work against our welfare, so over the next several posts (Thursday, Monday, Thursday, Monday), we will unpack how each of these contributes to our victory or failure.

Begin praying now for God to help you see any of these, or other factors, that make you vulnerable.

Part 2: “Be Safe and Secure” coming soon!

How Far is Too Far…for Turtles?


All of us tend to wonder, “How close can I get to sin and still be innocent?”


How Far is Too Far?

Man in sneakers standing at the yellow line with Do Not cross message

Many teens and young adults, wanting to maintain purity in their dating years, ask the question: “How far is too far?”

This is not only a teen and young adult question, nor is it specific strictly to dating. Every person is faced with the decision where to draw the line between sinful and safe.

  • How much physical affection can we enjoy without sinning sexually?
  • If drunkenness is a sin, how much can I drink without being technically drunk?
  • How vocal can I be with my judgmental opinions without being guilty of gossip?
  • How flirty can I be without being unfaithful to my spouse?
  • How openly angry can I get without “losing my temper?”
  • How low a priority can I make spiritual practices while still maintaining the façade of an active relationship with Jesus?

For some, the question is conscious, for others, unconscious, but all of us tend to wonder,“How close can I get to sin and still be innocent?”

Turtles at the Surface

TurtleAndShark_02About this, we may draw some valuable insight from sea turtles.

Scientists studying the ecosystem of Shark Bay, off the west coast of Australia, were puzzled to observe that five times as many Loggerhead sea turtles are killed by tiger sharks than their cousins, the Green sea turtles. Seeing no obvious reasons, they studied further and discovered it has to do with their breathing habits.

Greens spend relatively little time at the surface, pushing their faces out of the water long enough for only a single breath before retreating once again toward the sea floor, while Loggerheads routinely spend two or three minutes at a time at the surface with their faces above water.

Tiger sharks rely on the element of surprise, stalking and attacking almost exclusively from below their prey, making the Loggerheads lingering at the surface more vulnerable to the stealthy predator.

For sea turtles, even an instant at the surface exposes them to mortal danger, but every second longer only multiplies the risk exponentially.

Thus, it would be foolish for a turtle to ask, “How long is too long at the surface?”

The more discerning turtle—and incidentally, the one that will likely live longest—asks instead, “How can I stay close to the bottom for as long as possible?”

A New Direction

It is no less foolish for us to inch dangerously close to the line of sin, hoping to stop just short of trespassing.

In fact, “How far is too far?” is not even a biblical question! Rather than speak of righteousness as a line or a position, scripture instead speaks of it as a direction

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

The wise disciple moves constantly away from areas where he or she is vulnerable and exposed to Satan’s attacks and constantly deeper into intimacy with God.

Righteousness is not a position, but a direction. Thus, the question we should be asking is not, “Is this action across the line?” but rather, “Does this action take me closer to the predator or closer to God?”

If we’re looking for the line we shouldn’t cross, perhaps we’re looking the wrong direction. Why not make it our goal to see just how far we can go in our intimacy with God instead?

Let’s Hear from You

I’d love to hear your wisdom on this.

Reply and tell me: If you had a child or a friend who sought your advice about how far was too far in a certain area, how would you respond?