What Hinders a Fully Integrated Christian Life

by Alexei Laushkin

In the present-day Western Church there are two dynamics that often hinder and slow a fully integrated Christian life: excessive individualism and the role of economic secularism.

Excessive Individualism

Individualism the sense of self and privacy and identity is not in and of itself a bad thing. There is a scriptural basis such as in Galatians 5:1:

For freedom Christ has set us free

But as the author will go on to say in Galatians 5:13:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Freedom is for service. It is for deference. It is for voluntary submission. It is for taking our place within a community of people. Freedom is for building up. Freedom is for choosing to be self-sacrificial. Freedom is for the uplifting of the body.

In other words freedom is not to be used to try and hold people away from who we are. Freedom isn’t to be used to hold our community and churches at a distance. Freedom isn’t a covering to live a secret double life. Freedom isn’t it’s own good; it isn’t meant to draw attention to itself. It isn’t meant to be used to push people away who annoy us, inconvenience us, or to disparage those whom we don’t naturally get along with.

Freedom isn’t meant for total anonymity. It isn’t meant to be used as a sort of a-la-carte menu for us to pick and choose our level of comfort and vulnerability with those around us. When freedom is used for excessive self-protection it becomes a tomb for loneliness, isolation, and alienation from those around us.

Economic Secularism 

Economic decisions that better the outcome for our families, our futures, and our well being aren’t in and of themselves a bad thing. But something can happen when our economic aspirations become a sort of displacing idol visa via other people.

The typical westerner goes from primary and secondary school to college and university to their first job. This process involves a series of relationships that are easily broken in order to help facilitate the ultimate goal, which is economic security, to get a job and keep it, a good paying or at least fulfilling job at that.

In the process though, an individual can become excessive in their breaking ties with various people, until they develop a habit which essentially downplays the role of others within their lives. You’ll find many people who have no one person who has known them outside their immediate family for multiple years.

In fact, such knowing and presence becomes not very valued, so when it comes the time for them to mature and grow and become stable and present members of a Christian community, you find that their lack of experience in close friendships and commitments fosters a kind of perpetual immaturity on their commitments to community to people, and to those around them.

People become a sort of discarded element in their quest for satisfaction and abstract fulfillment. Such Christians tend to find contentment in ideas and theologies and not the practical day to day relationships offered to them within their community, their jobs, and their day to day routines.

Instead of moving from a child to a mature Christian adult emulating the character of the father, such Christians are stuck in a perpetual adolescence where the idols of excessive individualism to protect themselves and a blind adherence to economic secularism end up isolating and stunting the growth of said Christian.


Advent Invites Us into God’s Timing

by Alexei Laushkin

This season leading up to Christmas, traditionally known as Advent, can be very busy, so much so that we can miss the staggering invitation, peace, and tranquility which is the timing and pacing of God’s kingdom. “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” captures this reality well. Consider some of these lines:

And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

God in his goodness and kindness and generosity towards us stands ready to invite us into the news of his kingdom.

Have you ever considered why the birth of the Savior was announced to Shepherds? Perhaps they were calm enough to listen and receive the good news of the kingdom. When the pundits and decision makers of the time would have thought what does such an announcement mean for my place and position, the Shepherds could still receive the news with a soft hearted joy. The splendor of the ages was revealed to the lowly.

Have you ever had this overwhelming desire to be in Bethlehem, to have witnessed that first Christmas? To just receive the remarkable news of God’s son being born. To simply be one of the Shepherds or one of the wise men come to offer him gifts from afar. To have been aware enough of God’s timing to have caught the moment in which the king of the world and all therein was born.

What joy to just contemplate the thought and consider that first good news.

What the First Christmas Teaches us About All Other Ones

What I really love about “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is the ability to capture the sense of God’s joy in the midst of our weariness and indifference. That first Christmas was pure joy celebrated against most of the world continuing as it did before, unaware of the Advent of new tidings and new beginnings.

And in some sense this is how Christmas and the Advent season is always celebrated. The great joy of God’s beginning work of salvation in the midst of our indifference and inability to be aware of what this means for us.

Consider further these lines:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

There will come a time when the earth gives back the sound, when we give back the sound to which the angels now sing. There will be a time where we grasp the significance, meaning, and great love of these things. Where we too will be undone like the Shepherds or the Mother of God at the profound nature of God’s goodness.

We will celebrate Christmas as not a day of fulfilling our own desires but as the culmination and beginning of all that is good and right about God. That in his infinite goodness and kindness he desires to meet us where we are at and to bring us great tidings of great joy. The birth of a Savior, the possibility of new life, the invitation to join him at the first Christmas as we celebrate his son, the true king of the world.

The love that God has for humanity would cost him a great deal, it was sacrificial and holy and full and kind. And yet Christmas was the beginning, Advent the anticipation of that beginning. The good news that despite our sin, despite our indifference, despite our inattention, God had come into the world and begun the work, a work which in some sense culminates in revisiting that first Christmas, with the joy of the Angels and the Shepherds. To be invited back to celebrate a new what God had done and was beginning to do, for all of our sakes. The lyrics from “O Little Town of Bethlehem” captures this best:

Cast Out our sin and Enter In Be Born in Us today

Here is the invitation in the midst of all the indifference and chaos that accompanies life in this time of year, and has accompanied life in every age in this way, an invitation to new life. An invitation to good news, which is the coming of a Savior to bring God’s ways and the possibility of reconciling to him back into the human picture. Truly good news in the fullest sense for every age.

Just from Sin and Self to Cease

by Alexei Laushkin

One of my favorite hymns is ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.‘ Surprisingly simple and to the point. A fairly simple refrain too: ‘O for grace to trust Him more,’ and ‘Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him.’

Trust, love, grace.

Dwelling and being. Simple, straightforward, almost childlike. Not like a meaty hymn or things that are equally true of God, but just pure and to the point and life giving if we take the time to dwell in it. Consider Matthew 18:3:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

There’s something about the life of faith that has the quality of simplicity, peace, rest, and non-complexity. A profound beauty that enters into our lives of chaos and busyness and says-be still. That says to us in a decisive way, no not these things, but these things.

You see that’s what the delight and joy of children do to you. They point out your world and invite you into theirs. Theirs which is a simple, pure, delight in being in your presence, or playing outside, or just finding something funny, as if for the very first time. As a busy adult, entering into the life of a child, is jarring and very freeing. Try it sometime.

You’ll find a simplicity that pushes back against the complexities of life that to often determine the pace of our days as adults.

It’s echoed best in these lines from the hymn:

Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Taking life, taking rest, taking joy, taking peace. It’s almost like entering into the quality of the beauty and refreshment of what it must have been like when the world was first made. Those early days in the garden. We’d want to lose ourselves in that kind of peace and wonder.

That kind of peace is an aspect of faith. It’s the aspect less tied to sin and more tied to self.

Open to New Possibilities 

Turning from self is perhaps one of the most difficult disciplines and dilemmas that Christians have faced in every age, but is particularly poignant today.

The American life is filled with kinds of promises, kinds of means of salvation, kinds of good news. If you work hard, play by the rules, you should be given a chance at a good life. It’s a great promise, but when it becomes an idol it really can drive things in unfortunate ways.

God’s presence entering into our lives can sometimes feel like a strong wind. Think of how God used the wind to part the Red Sea.The work of the kingdom can feel like a great wind, drawing us from our own-selves and complexity into something entirely different.

One response to this wind is to be overwhelmed, another response is a kind of childlike awe. That quality of humble delight is often much better suited for those moments where we are being pushed beyond our comfort zone into something much healthier.

This requires a different inner expectation. An expectation open to new possibilities, open to how God might use the circumstances of our lives for purposes we didn’t really fully imagine for ourselves. That’s an aspect of living by faith too.

God invites us to sit at his feet like Mary, to learn of his ways, to understand his purposes, to enter into the mystery which was the life of Paul’s, the mystery which was the revelation given to the Apostle John, of God working with us in real time, and making himself known to us in simple, small, but steady ways.

Like Moses encountering God at the burning bush, he didn’t know the God who would work through him to rescue God’s people out of Egypt, or the God that would speak with him as a friend, the intimacy and trust wasn’t there yet. Before Moses could speak to God and had his face shine brightly from the encounter, he had the bush. And the God of that burning bush began to re-orient Moses.

Moses needed a faith that was open to his expectations of his life changing. God met him as he was and gave signposts as he worked with Moses.

And the aspect of faith that is ok with change, is childlike.

It’s the simply taking, life, joy, and rest from God. It’s one way we know God is with us, God as Emmanuel, being open to our plans and ideas changing, because God is anchoring down the aspects of us that need anchoring for the journey ahead.

This hymn like the last one I covered, is just a profound and simple reminder, how trust and re-orienting ourselves to the living God produces some marvelous moments of joy and peace. And that childlike pleasure in the love a child has for his parent is available to us in the faith.

That’s also an aspect of journeying. Just enjoying who God is and how he works. A relief from the weights and toils and a foretaste of the kingdom.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 


Just A Closer Walk With Thee

by Alexei Laushkin

There’s something very simple in these powerful lines from “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” Consider:

I am weak but thou art strong

Singing from such a simple place. I am weak without you Lord, help me walk closer, help me draw near, help me be more confident in my walk with you. Help me know you walking with me, help me make you my desire and confidence today.

The author of this hymn, is giving us a timeless Christian prayer.

Lord I need you more, help me draw closer. Grant me the desire and unceasing focus to draw ever-closer and lean ever-nearer into my daily walk with you.

Desire is the Beginning of Christian Formation 

We have to desire and want to draw closer to God. How that desire comes about is different for everyone, but we can say desire is so key whatever the starting point.

We can also say that desire becomes a great treasure to us, a pearl of great price, helping to cement our deepening love and walk with the Lord. At that point we start seeing the fruits of living a fully Christian life. Not the fruits of changed circumstances, but the fruits of a God who brings in his wings, healing, worth, affirmation. We begin to know a God who says, I know you very well, and I am well pleased with you, I am glad I made you and took the time to create you. I delight in you because you are my son, you are my daughter, and that’s reason enough. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, to me you are very worth while.

For many that kind of deep and intimate loving affirmation is really what helps them know and see a truly loving God.

Usually when we know him well and we feel the love of him knowing and accepting us fully, wanting to know him better comes fairly naturally to us. The way you might miss a friend or loved one, you begin to miss the Lord when your attention has been drawn away from him. And so you strive to make more complete the promises of faith so that they might re-anchor and re-orient your sense of time and meaning and purpose. 

When this occurs, no matter what happens to the Christian that simple confidence of faith is never shaken. Christianity displaces the life of the Christian, it re-orients his sense of time, it re-orients his loves, it re-orients his commitments, it displaces secular time, and fills him with great joy, because it is durable through the trials, waves, temptations, storms, pains, and tragedies of life.

It’s durable not as an escape from time, but as a reformation of time, a re-orientation of time, through the Holy Trinity we are drawn into God’s sense of time and goodness and provision, and that sense is so much more trustworthy and durable and full than the day to day we used to experience that it grants us great contentment, because our contentment is re-oriented towards the kingdom of God.

This is the victory of the saints. His blessed assurance. Not well being, but a very intimate and loving God who intervenes and makes things well in this life and the one to come through his presence. This is the ark of rescue, and in this way Jesus makes a mockery of the sin, evil, and decay in this world.

Begins with the Daily Walk 

This victory is for the Christian, and it is accompanied by the prayers of desiring that closer walk.

Just a closer walk with you, that’s my plea. Jesus grant it, let it be. Daily drawing closer to thee. Let it be Lord, let it be.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

Creating Space in Your Life for God

by Alexei Laushkin

So how do we end up creating space in our life for God, for our faith to flourish, for our inner man to grow? How do we grow in daily confidence in order to trust an all gracious and all merciful Lord?

Does such space just happen because we desire it?

How many times have you opened the scriptures or set aside time for prayer and been left feeling that it was rather root and lifeless.

How are we to create such space and such a life for ourselves that we might more fully take on the character and characteristics of Christ.

The Gospels Point to the Way

The beatitudes have some very telling examples. Let’s take a look at some of them in the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s Matthew 5:6:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

And Matthew 5:8:

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

When I was in college I can remember reading the Sermon on the Mount in this way. So when I read Matthew 5:6. Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, I thought to myself, oh Jesus means, blessed are those who really want to be righteous. So if I really want to be righteous than I’m blessed.

It took me years to think differently on some of these passages. Or consider the Psalms. Psalm 34:8:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Taste, see, thirst, hunger. 

These are all bodily senses. We taste, we see, we thirst, we hunger. When we want food and we don’t have it, we hunger. When we want water and don’t have it we thirst. When we taste we are satisfied. When we see, we believe.

Now let’s go over to the resurrection account in the Gospel of John. Here’s Jesus when Thomas sees him and believes. John 20:29:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’

The senses. They are a powerful tool for confirming and strengthening our faith, and just as powerfully thinking on the beatitudes, working the senses to hunger for Christ the way we hunger for food, to thirst for righteousness the way we might thirst for water, to cultivate the inner eye so that it does see and believe, and to desire the things of God, this takes grace and the physical interacting in such a way that the physical in our life changes.

We are so driven by our senses, that to attune our senses to the things of God is the first step to making time for God. Most of the time when we are having trouble making any time for God it is because our bodies and senses are operating according to a different principle.

If you were a school teacher and in the middle of a lesson to your students you were asked to do a task that was too outside of what you were doing (say prepare a meal), your mind and body would not and could not easily orient to this task being presented in the middle of your focus being elsewhere. You would literally fumble around and likely get irritated for being distracted from the task at hand.

Something very similar happens to our spiritual life, without focus and without the nourishment we need to depend on God and to know that more deeply, we can not bring ourselves to any attention to the things of God.

The Good News

Making time with God, especially time that engages our heart, mind, body, and soul is life giving work. If you attend to the Lord, it will be a rich blessing in your life. For some people, your life might be too busy, and you might literally have to take time away in God’s creation, or a special place that’s important to you to even start. For others, it may be a matter of not trying to fit God in to a busy life, but applying basic Christian principles to your work life or to your home life.

You might decide this week Lord I am going to focus on gratitude, and put attention to saying thank you to everything that you receive. Might be a routine work matter or a simple thank you for a greeting, but if you put attention to letting your faith sink more deeply into your life, you’ll start seeing more and more where you’d like to put your focus.

Growing in Christ, and growing in dependence, is a lifelong endeavor. There are guides for reading through scripture (click here or here), learning how to pray (click here),  finding resources for your kids (click here), and on and on and on.

Finding a good spiritual mentor or brother or elder may very much help you and encourage you in growing in time with God. But if you are having trouble start thinking about how your focus and your spiritual life interacts with your physical life and you’ll quickly find tools and places to grow.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 


Living in Exodus

by Alexei Laushkin

The Exodus is a pivotal moment for the people of God. They are rescued from Egypt, where their lives were filled with slavery, toil, and oppression and they make it to the desert on the way to the promised land.

And what do they encounter? They encounter their hearts which are filled with self-slavery, self-toil, and self-oppression. They exchange the hardship of Egypt for the hardship of their own inner life.

And this inner life provokes them against God even in the midst of great blessing, and God having known and foreseen His people’s sin waits and tests and sees if they will repent and turn.

For that is open to all of us who know the mercy of God, to turn towards him during the times of trial and great difficulty, especially as we are often deeply caught up in our own sin. We turn, he responds.

Yet instead of turning and even while being daily provided for and being rescued from enemies far stronger than them, they wrestle with God.

The God who single handedly freed them from Egypt now keeps them in the desert for 40 years.  You can almost hear echoes of the famous hymn lines:

Born to wander Lord I feel it, born to leave the God I love

Every since Genesis God has been in the process of reconciling with his people. First we have Noah, where God provides a rescue plan, an ark, and a covenant.

Than we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jacob is one of the more interesting of the old Patriarchs, for he steals his brother’s birthright and is hounded by his conscience. Jacob is the father of Israel, and he wrestles with God, wrestling with his identity and God’s promises, wrestling with how he has made and what he wants and what God wants of him.

Jacob is  a man like us, unsure and wrestling with the sin within.

You see, since Genesis we are waiting for restoration, we are waiting for Jesus.

Jesus enables a restoration from our fallen nature of sin into the glorious freedom of the children of God. He is our justification from living like Jacob at his worst, or David at his worst or ourselves at our worst, to where Adam was before the fall. He restores and heals our fallen nature. Not all at once (though justification is all at once) but through a process.

Through a journey, into the wilderness. 

The wilderness was a time of testing for the people of God. Would they wait, would they stay focused even while everything was provided for, would they be content with trusting God’s goodness.

The desert tested God’s people, remove the comfort from a man and he’s lifted with a heart that is miserly, desires that are unmet, and a total lack of contentment.

Perhaps you yourself have felt these desert moments. These times when God seems absent, though he may be providing your every need, where your heart seems to wander and get lost in its own discontent.

God’s people having been rescued from Egypt, are in the desert. Their memories quickly fade, they begin to question Moses, they know God is with them, but what sort of God lets us wander aimlessly, when do we get to become like the Egyptians great and strong, instead of weak and dependent, a wandering nation.

Can you hear some of the dialogue of what might have been desired and yet what was experienced.

Yet God’s rescue plan for humanity is playing out in this same desert. His trying of character, as in the days of Abraham, so in the days of Noah, so in the days of Moses, is there no one who will follow me? Is there no one righteous to be found?

Why is God asking these sorts of questions of humanity? Like waters in a desert stream is the man who can trust in God despite his circumstances. You see our ultimate rebellion was to trust in ourselves, and so we reap what we sow. But when we trust in God even if nothing good occurs we reap a rich inner harvest for this life and the life to come.

Consider the very lives of Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Moses, and David. Where any of their lives simple? Where they not harassed, constantly facing danger and toil, and yet the Lord God delivered them from all these challenges, temptations, and tribulations.

Blessed is the heart of a man who is stayed on God and knows Christ as his true dependence, whatever he may face in outer oppression (matters of Justice) or inner oppression (matters of the heart). For both can derail a man from trusting God in his wilderness, and yet dependence, and yet blessed is the main whose heart remains focused and steadfast whether he sees oppression from without and from within.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

The Justification of the Tax Collector

by Alexei Laushkin

We face limitations. Life is full of them. Limitations on our job, limitations of our resources, constraints on our time. Limitations are a central feature of life. We feel the constraint on our time and the weight of our responsibilities.

And in many ways this is a very very good thing, but at times it can lead to a sort of hardness of heart. The story of the tax collector is instructive.  Consider Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Tax collectors were despised in Israel. They were symbols of oppression and the means by which Rome robbed Israel of its nationhood and the people of God of their dignity.  They were a constant reminder that Israel had no true king and was beholden to the nations. A daily reminder of how far they had fallen since King David.

Tax collector and sinner these were synonymous terms.

Tax collectors were betraying God. That’s how the people viewed them. Betraying the people. Imagine what this man must have felt, being a faithful child of God and yet being in a profession that put him squarely outside the camp of God’s people.

Yet Jesus says this man is justified.

This tax collector trapped by his circumstances is justified. Why is that?

Consider the heart of this man. He knows what he is compelled to do and it bothers his conscience, it trouble his heart. He cries out to God, have mercy, have mercy on me a sinner. 

Mercy Lord, mercy.

We often confuse the commands of scripture. We hear the story of the good Samaritan. We think that to truly do a just act requires me to bandage every wound, payout every expense, do everything in my power regardless of its impact, than I’ll be as holy as the good Samaritan. But when happens when we are constrained like the tax collector?

Not the sort of constraint of pride that led one man to bypass the injured man. Nor the constraint of disgust that prevented the other man from helping his brother. But the real constraint of time and resources and other good things that we are responsible for. What does scripture say about us?

The cry of the tax collector is a more appropriate model. The tax collector knew he was constrained to do what his heart did not want to do, and he cried out to God. He said Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

This is instructive. The tax collector had a soft heart. That’s to be our lived reality. A softness of heart, a tenderness of spirit, to take in the humanity of the circumstance before us.

On a recent visit to Auschwitz Pope Francis was asked what he was hoping for in terms of his time there. And he said something very constructive and simple. His reply- the grace to shed tears. In light of the circumstance he wanted the softness of heart to be present.

That’s the sort of life we are asked to cultivate. The life of presence.

One of the great challenges of living in a secularized age, is the lack of humanity we often experience. The rush of time, the pull on the inner individual, the slow death of feeling less and less human. Time that prevents us from just being, let alone time that never allows us to be as God calls us to be. A loving and compassionate people, regardless of our station and ability to help.

That’s what the tax collector teaches us. He teaches us to be troubled when we are doing something that is beyond our ability to control or even do. To take the time to be softhearted.

Repentance for the tax collector didn’t mean giving up his job, it meant living into the reality of the brokenness of his experiences and finding the grace and love of God that was much closer to him than his fellow pharisee. 

The Lord enables us to thrive in our circumstances by depending more fully on him, but a good start and a good check up for us is simply are we responding  well to what is truly before us. Are we striving more fully to adapt the heart and compassion of God to close friends and neighbors in need or circumstance that are unjust but beyond our control. For wherever we find ourselves, the cry of the heart to say, Lord I know this is wrong but I have no other out, please have mercy, that cry is a surer place for our hearts and our lives to dwell.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own.