Do people pity you?

misunderstanding

The election season renders to us an extra level of self and cultural examination.  We ask ourselves, “What are the laws and rights I value?”  and we weigh  our personal interests against the campaigns of the various candidates – ultimately choosing to vote for the one who most aligns with our greatest passions, needs and interests.  This particular election is leaving many feeling as though there is no candidate they truly endorse and therefore are left feeling as though they will vote for the lesser of two evils.  This simply means no one candidate upholds much of their personal value system, but one offends them more than another does.

We as a people are extremely divided, opinionated and vocal about our personal beliefs.  And this is the structure of democracy:  that we all have a right to our own opinion and the majority vote will be given the power.

When we look at one another and listen to beliefs and worldviews we have a variety of responses.  We get angry, we get hardened, we systematically build up our responses and defenses, we feel compassion, we love, or we can even pity one another.  As Christians, we are given much leeway to respond to culture and our circumstances with almost all of these responses – so long as they are all rooted ultimately in love.  We can have righteous anger, we must be prepared to give intellectual and informed responses, we are commanded to be compassionate and giving and all of this is driven by a love for God that overflows into a love for people (Eph 4.6, 1 Peter 3.15, John 13.34-35).

Have you ever stopped to consider the world’s response to believers?  The most common reality and teaching on the subject is Jesus’ teaching that the world will hate Christians because it hated Jesus:

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.20

It is a very convicting thought to evaluate our acceptableness to the world.  Am I proclaiming the Gospel, am I living in such a way, am I following Jesus’ example such that the world around me hates me?

But let’s look at another interesting teaching:

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

– 1 Cor 15.16-19

Often times people will become angered because of our political positions on issues like abortion and the sanctity of marriage, and our bold proclamation that Jesus is the “only way” to Heaven and eternal rest in Heaven.  Anger is typically a response to thoughts and our interest in convincing others to believe as we believe.  Pity, however, is a different emotion evoked by a lack of understanding or a feeling of superiority in intellect or circumstance.

So my question is simply this:  Why would the world pity believers?  Does the world pity you?

I know a couple who has given their life to the service of God in international missions.  For their entire adult life they have raised support from Churches across the United States and have scraped by on less than 100% support for years.  They are now at the age we in the US would consider “retirement age”.  They have no savings to speak of, they have no pension, they do not own a home, to state it bluntly:  they are not prepared to retire.  They have nothing, and they will have to work until they die, even if they draw Social Security.  Christian friends and family members who have supported their ministry for years pity them.  The non-believing world thinks that they are nuts.

In 2008 I attended training for missionaries with families who were being sent around the world with take the Gospel to the nations.  There were some who were being appointed to South America and Europe – those somewhat normal mission fields where one can actually be granted a missionary VISA and function boldly as a Church planter.  There were many, however, who were being sent to the 10/40 window and countries considered closed.  Countries where it is illegal to be a missionary, proclaim the Gospel and teach people about Jesus.  And while there were some singles and a handful of married couples without children, many had multiple children – and all under the age of 14.  Grandparents, friends, and church members were angry:  How can you put these innocent children in harm’s way?  How can you take little babies to places where there is limited medical care?  The outside world can see the appeal of moving somewhere exotic or the Europe, but they think those moving to difficult places are crazy at best and idiotic at worst.

Christians are called to live their lives in such a way that the outside world would pity our life choices.  This, of course, does not mean that we should make unwise decisions, but it does mean that our decisions should be based on the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Scripture.  Jesus taught profoundly that it is incredibly difficult for a wealthy person to be saved, and if we are unwilling to give up everything that we have for His sake we are unworthy of Him.  This includes possessions, family and comfort (Matt 10.37-39).

Jesus also commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations – and that not only includes but necessitates the difficult places (Matt 28.18-20).

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us and pray for those who hate us (Matt 5.43-48).

Jesus commanded us to store up treasures for ourselves in Heaven by not storing up treasures on Earth (Matt 6.19-21).

Often times our Christianity is simply moral and ethical purity.  We obey the laws, we don’t drink (too much, anyway), we don’t do drugs, we don’t have affairs, we don’t do the big sins.  We go to church and we look squeaky clean.  Unfortunately, popular research is catching up with our moralism.  The secular world is scientifically proving the impact of drugs and alcohol on the body.  Research is proving that pornography is not only destroying marriages but having profound psychological impacts on people and psychologists and counselors and speaking out against it.  Sexual promiscuity, extreme wealth and the pleasures of the world have been proven not to ultimately satisfy, and thus countless articles have been written on the drug usage and suicide frequency amongst the wealthy and celebrities often speak out about the reality that money cannot buy happiness.

For Christians to be content financially, in a faithful monogamous marriage, and in general ethical living makes sense to the population at large.

Ethical and complacent living is neither what Jesus calls us to, nor what the world would consider pitiable.  Jesus calls us to give up our lives radically for His glory and for the salvation of the lost.  Just like He did.

Is your life pitiable to the world?  Or are you striving for moral excellence?  Are you building up treasures on Earth or in Heaven?  Are you following the example of the world, or are you following Jesus’ example?  If the Gospel were somehow disproven, would your life be proven a waste?

Are you still concerned about Paris or Syria?

adhd

We are one day shy of the three week mark past the attacks on Paris.  The resulting conversation about Syrian [and all] refugees lasted nearly a week.  For three whole days we were concerned about our veterans, our homeless and children in foster care – because they are, after all, more important that foreigners who need help.

But already the facebook profile pictures are back to normal – no more French flags are seen…veterans, orphans and the homeless have been as quickly forgotten as the refugees who are running for their lives.  All because we have the attention span of toddlers.

When was the last time something truly grabbed your attention?  Is there anything in your life that drives you?  By which you are convicted?

If you call yourself a Christian, Jesus must be that.  If you read and study the teachings of Jesus, you come to realize that He demands our lives.  You cannot consider Jesus simply a “good teacher” or someone from whom we can learn some things.  He was either a complete lunatic or someone to whom we must devote our lives.  He claimed to be God.  He claimed to offer us eternal life.  He demands full devotion.  We cannot fall in between complete denial or complete devotion.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

– C. S. Lewis

We float from thought to thought, from meme to meme, and even in or workplace we need breaks to maintain the highest production level and ingenuity.  But Jesus intends to transform us from the core.  Before we begin the Christian walk, Scripture describes us as dead in our trespasses (Eph 2.1).  We are wicked and incapable of doing anything righteous or glorifying to God (Rom 3.10).  But when we give our lives to Jesus, He takes out that heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh (Ez 11.19), and He causes us to become a new creation (2 Cor 5.17).

When you go from being single to being married, everything in your life changes.  Well, it should change.  When you go from being not a parent to a parent, every decision you make is altered.  Your entire identity changes, and your entire lifestyle and decision making is forever changed.

So it must be when we become a new creature in Christ.  When Jesus gives us a heart of flesh, when the Holy Spirit abides within us, we can no longer make a decision without the influence of God.  If we can go about our days and never give God a second thought, then we should be greatly concerned about our Spiritual well being.  You must breathe to be alive.  In the same manner, you must interact with God on a Spiritual level to be alive Spiritually.

Jesus is not a fad.  The Gospel is not a news story that comes and goes in a week.  Salvation is not a life event that happens and from which we move on like graduation.  Christianity is our identity, and a relationship which must be nurtured.  Let us discipline our minds and hearts today.  Let us recognize the life changes that can and should come with submitting to Jesus as Lord in our lives.  Let us fight to maintain a mindset that is focused on eternity, and not float from crisis to crisis, from good thought to good thought, but let us meditate on God and abide in Him today.

Christian Narcissism

As our society continues to deteriorate by political correctness, tolerance, individualism and self-help-ism, Christianity is taking on a new face.  And it is not Christianity.  Knowing Jesus is about dying to self.

“And [Jesus] was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

– Luke 9.23

We have turned Jesus into our cheerleader.  He accepts us unconditionally, He loves and affirms us no matter what we do, He is on my side.  We sing songs like “I am a friend of God”, we write books about who we are in Christ, and we tell ourselves over and over again that we are loved.  Jesus loves me, this I know.  We use Jesus to help boost our self esteem.  He came to save us, He exists for us, He adores us.

This is a mutilation of one of the most precious truths in the world.  Yes, Jesus does love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

– John 15.13

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die on the cross and raise again, paying the punishment for our sins so that we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.  But what is the end goal here?  Did Jesus do that because we are so precious and He wants to affirm us and make us happy and comfortable in our own skin?  Or did Jesus do this in spite of us, to make great His own glory?

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

– Rom 5.8

God did not send Jesus to die because of our worth.  He sent Jesus to die in spite of us.  We were His enemies.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

– Rom 5.10

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—

– Col 1.21-22

And this magnifies God’s greatness, His grace and His mercy.  People, in their self-righteousness, might be tempted to lay down their lives for a loved one, a good man, or even a king or nation.  But God sacrificed His only son for wicked people.

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.

– Rom 5.7

In clear, unashamed terms:  God has created us for His glory.  He does not exist for ours.

But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.”

– Is 43.1-7

What does this mean?  It means that our women’s Bible studies should not be focused on looking inward and building ourselves up as adored by God.  It means that we should be looking outward to God.  Being a Christian is not a self-discipline of believing good things about ourselves, it is dying to ourselves and believing great things about God.  Is it true that we are friends of God?  Yes!  By all means:

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

– John 15.15

But the glory here is not who we are, in being a friend, the glory is that the God of the universe accepts us.  Therefore, we should not boast in our proximity to God, we should boast in God.  It’s not about me, it’s about Him.  John the Baptist stated most clearly our example of how we should react to our salvation:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

– John 3.30

Do you examine the Scriptures looking for promises to boost your self esteem and worth?  Or do you examine the Scriptures to get to know more intimately who God is, and to make much of Him?  Is God on your side, or are you on God’s side?  The “What Would Jesus Do” phenomenon swept youth groups in the late 1990’s, and people began to answer the question by their own perspectives and not Biblical ones.  Jesus would accept everyone, love everyone, affirm everyone, and let us just be ourselves.  Right?  I saw a meme on the internet recently that might shock some:

wwjd

Jesus made a whip and chased people out of the temple who were selling and exchanging money.  Did Jesus accept and affirm them?  Or perhaps most commonly misrepresented is the adulteress:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.3-11

Jesus did not get on her side.  He told her to go and sin no more.  Adultery was not acceptable to Jesus, He told her, I forgive you, now go and change.  He invited her to get on His side.

Let us be careful to remember that this is not about us.  Yes, God promises us peace, rest, and eternal salvation.  Life in the fullest!  But that is all ultimately to His glory.  In order for us to have life in its fullness, we must die to ourselves, we must look to Him.  We must get on His side, join His team, follow Him and make much of Him.  Let’s stop trying to build up our self esteem, because we are sinners and we will fail continually.  But let us glorify the one who saves us in spite of ourselves, and rest in His goodness and mercy.  Let us focus on Jesus today, not on ourselves.

What would you do if someone disproved Christ’s deity?

Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity.  That’s what the Bible says (John 14.6).  And because of the weight of the implications of the claims of Christ and His life, rumors and lies about Him were started before he even ascended back to Heaven:

“Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened [the resurrection].  And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”  And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’  And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”

– Matt 28.11-15

Somehow the Pharisees understood Jesus’ self-predictions of death and resurrection, even though the disciples did not.  And they were prepared at the time of His death to prevent the appearance of a resurrection (setting the stone and guard), and they immediately jumped to action to set in place a cover-up story after Jesus did come back to life.  They understood the implications of His claims:  He is God, He has authority and He alone can offer eternal salvation.  If He was found to be true, then they were the heretics, not Jesus.

Countless books have been written to discuss the authenticity and proof of Jesus’ claims.  The disciples, if they truly had stolen Jesus’ body and made the whole thing up, would not have suffered persecution and death for the sake of their lie.  People – like Peter and Paul – would not have been radically transformed apart from the power of the Spirit and Jesus’ self revelation.  Christianity would not be the largest religion around the world if there were any proof to disprove the Bible or Jesus’ claims.  2000 years have left Jesus unchallenged.  I highly recommend “More than A Carpenter” and “The Case for Christ” if you would like to do more apologetic reading on the topic. But now I reflect on the simple question:

What if someone could disprove Jesus’ claims?

The Church that Paul started in Corinth was infiltrated with a variety of false teachings.  One of these teachings that came through was that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  This belief, in fact, was was separated the two major Jewish sects of the day:  the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the Sadducees did not.  (Aside:  If want to set this to memory, just remember that the Sudducees were “sad, you see” because they did not believe in the resurrection.)  Paul wrote a dynamic and strong response to this false teaching in a letter to the church:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

– 1 Cor 15.12-19

Is your life, is your faith so focused on the glory of God through the hope of Jesus Christ that you would be the most pitiful fool on the Earth if it proved to be untrue?  Or would it not really change anything? Do you believe life to be vain?  Or do you love your life and Jesus is just the key to have a pleasant eternity?  If He is not real, then we will just reincarnate or go into an endless sleep?  One of the other religions will kick in? Scripture calls us to complete abandon.  To give our lives completely to Him; to do everything to His glory and honor:

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

– 1 Peter 4.11

Let us live in such a way that if Christ were proven to have never existed, the resurrection to have never happened, or for Him to be a liar, that we are, of all men, to be pitied most.  We look like fools.  We have nothing else worth living for.  I think I would say, “Get me a gun, life’s not worth the living.”  Then, and only then, are we fully given to Him.

And there is no need to worry.  His Word endures forever.  You will not be ashamed.  He will not be disproven.  People have tried for 2,000 years, but He is God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He is the way, the truth and the life.

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

– Jer 29.11

If you are a Christian, if you have ever been around Christians, or if you have ever seen any Christian paraphernalia, chances are high that you have seen, heard or have memorized this verse.  This is a promise of God; a direct quote from His mouth (to the people of Israel, while in captivity to Babylon, but generally applied to God’s goodness and intention for His people).

Yes, it is true.  God has a perfect plan for your life.  He is sovereign, He is in control, and He will work everything out for your good and His glory (Rom 8.28).  However, often times that does not look how we think it will look.  I saw this cartoon online and it was too perfect not to share:

God has a wonderful plan for our life

His will is our sanctification, that we be more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3).  God wants to prosper our Spirits in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23).  He does not necessarily want to prosper our bank accounts.  Our good might be the trials of this life that cause us to persevere, and praise God because perseverance produces “proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5.4).

Think on that today.  As our traditional day of giving thanks as a nation rapidly approaches, let us rethink those things for which we give thanks, those things about which we complain, and those things which we overlook.  Because God is working all of those things for His glory and our good.  Our hope, Christian, is Jesus.  Our future is eternity.  Keep your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).

How far is too far?

How far is too far?

This question plagued my youth group while I was in High School.  Everyone wanted to know where exactly the line had to be drawn in their physical relationships with their boyfriends/girlfriends.  Students, in general, were not concerned about honoring God in their relationships, they only wanted to know at what point they were sinning.  And being a single thirty year old, I am realizing that people are still asking that same twisted question.

Unfortunately, Scripture tells us that by asking that question we are already sinning.  Why?  Because anything apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  What that means is that if you are not holding hands with your significant other in faith to the glory of God, then it is sinful.  If you are not eating in faith to the glory of God it is sinful (1 Cor 10.31).  If you are not speaking or working your job in faith to the glory of God it is sinful (Col 3.17).

Have you ever stopped to consider the evolution of line drawing?  Two generations ago, going to the movie theater was unthinkable for Christians.  Playing cards was an offense worthy of being kicked out of the Church.  One generation ago, the Church unanimously considered bars forbidden.  In fact, many Christian members of the baby-boomer generation and generation before would not eat at restaurants if they served alcohol.  It was illegal to make, sell and drink alcohol in the United States from 1922 to 1930.

Where is the line today?  The church is more diversified in some of their line drawing, but many Generation X believers frequent bars.  Their ethical line is drawn at strip clubs.  Can you imagine that your grandparents could have felt about movie theaters the way you feel about a strip club?  That playing a game of solitaire would be as reprehensible as paying for a lap dance?

I recently went to a question and answer time at a church where anyone from the community could come in and ask the pastor any question they had about Christianity.  The premise was to engage the community where they are, let them feel out the church, and let Christians and non-Christians alike find Biblical answers to whatever it is that would hold them back from belief.  It was held in the church building.  And they served alcohol.  80 years ago that would have been illegal.  Two generations back, you could have been kicked out of the church.  And today we use it as a meeting ground.  Will the next generation of Christians find strip clubs morally acceptable?

My intention here is not to discuss the moral acceptability of kissing, movies, restaurants, bars or strip clubs.  My intention is to observe the fact that the Church, when operating in legal freedom, has wrestled with defining the line.  But the fact that we would set up for ourselves lines by which we can flirt with sin exemplifies a lack of Spiritual transformation in our lives.  If we set up ethical or moral boundaries and function without consideration of glorifying God within those boundaries, we are white-washed tombs.  We are paving our path to Hell in gold.  We are defaming Christ.  Why?  Because we have not been transformed and we would call ourselves “Christians” – people who are like Christ – when we are living for ourselves and our own consciences when we have not sacrificed or suffered or fought any battles with sin.

Therefore, we must be confident of our daily activities that they are not only morally acceptable to God, but that they are done in faith and to His glory.  If the Bible says to honor the marriage bed (Heb 13.4), can you in faith obey God making out with your significant other?  If the Bible says that liars are sinners (1 Tim 1.10), can you in faith fudge on your income taxes or tell white lies to keep peace with coworkers?  If the Bible says that cowards and unbelievers’ place is in Hell (Rev 21.8), can you live by faith in fear and doubt?  If the Bible says do not store up treasures on Earth (Matt 6.19), can you buy a vacation home, expensive clothes or a fancy car in faith?

Ask the Spirit.  He will guide you.  He will reveal sin in your life.  God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33).  If you ask Him to reveal sin in your life, He will not ignore your request.  Just be ready to hear the answer!  And we must search out His will in Scripture, because His will is our sanctification (1 Thess 4.3).  The Bible says do not get drunk (Eph 5.18).  We do not need to ask Him about that.  The Bible says do not fornicate, have affairs, have idols, practice homosexuality, steal, covet, gossip and swindle others (1 Cor 6.9-10).  No need to wrestle over His will on those things.  He will not change His mind.  But He will give you the strength to overcome, and a way out of the temptation (1 Cor 10.13).  We all have our sins of disposition.  Perhaps you are prone to lying.  Perhaps alcoholism runs in your family.  Perhaps you are physical hypersensitive and are what psychologists would call a “sex addict”.  We all have sins of habit and entrapment that are natural to us.  But God transforms us from the inside out, giving us clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24.4).

Let us not walk the line.  Let us run with the freedom granted to us and glorify God with our whole beings, humbly submitting to His standards and walking in faith.

 

Keeping Christianity Cool

“I’m not religious, I follow Jesus.”

Have you heard the fad?  Christianity today is no longer a religion.  We have relationships with God.  We follow Jesus.  We do not choose a denomination because these things that divide us are of man.  Doctrine is old and stuffy and something scholars study in a dark room, it has nothing to do with us.  I’m going to tattoo Greek words like slave and love on my biceps, play the guitar leading music on Sunday mornings and go on a two-week mission trip to the third world to show my devotion.

doulos

That is, after all, what Jesus wants, right?

Jesus was indeed extremely concerned with external and false religion.  He regularly condemned false religiosity and used terms to describe it like “white washed tombs”, “brood of vipers”, and even “Sons of the Devil” (Matt 23.27-28, Luke 3.7, John 8.44).  He also emphasized a relationship with Himself, specifically saying that our hope is found in abiding in Him (John 15.1-11), and the way that we abide in Him is to have the Holy Spirit living in and through us (Gal 2.20).

However, Jesus was extremely concerned with doctrine and religion.  He spent three years of His life teaching, and after He died and rose from the dead, He spent His time explaining how the Old Testament pointed towards Him (Luke 24.26-27).  James makes a bold statement:

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27

He sets the standard for pure and undefiled religion, such that honors God, and it is to care for the needy and to not look like or be caught up in the world.  Through the power and leadership of the Spirit!

Christianity is different from all other major world religions because all other religions focus on how I, by my own strength, can get right with God or escape the problem of evil or suffering.  Christianity admits that I am incapable of getting right with God on my own, but God Himself made a way for me to be reconciled with Himself, through the death and life of Jesus Christ.

But we need to be very careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The term theology might sound stuffy, but it simply means “the study” (-ology) “of God” (Theo)”.  Can you know someone if you do not talk to him or hear from him?  God has given us His written Word, the story of history and how He plans to redeem us through salvation and redeem us at the end of time, all in one book!  He is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33), but has told us many things about Himself, His character, His desires and how we can honor Him.  And doctrines are simply themes and applications that are present in Scripture.  Every time we say something about Jesus or the Bible we are saying something doctrinal or theological.

But we are so afraid of being forced into a mold that we reject the structures that God established for us while unknowingly floundering around in them, unable to define our beliefs and systems.

So what are you?  A Christian?  A follower of Jesus?  Did you get on His Twitter account and click “follow” to see His pictures and hear His stories on occasion?  Or have you sold out your life to devotion to Him and His ways?  The term religious carries connotations of piety, holier-than-thou mentalities and elitism and we realists want to reject all of that and embrace our sinfulness as realness.  Genuineness.  But is there anything wrong with piety?  Surrendering yourself to devotion to God?  Not being caught up in the world?

The heart is the key.  False piety – devotion for the sake of your reputation or appearance – is worthless.  But so is “following” Jesus and tattooing “slave” on your arm if you are not truly His slave.  Most people know you should not wear a wedding ring if you are not married.  Singing in the praise band is just as fake as preaching doctrine that is not life transforming if you are not dying to sin everyday and walking your path to the glory and honor of God.

And please.  Do not go to the third world to take pictures with starving children and come back thankful for what you have.  Most churches in the non-Western world pity us because we are enslaved to all that we have.   Just stay home.  And send your money to help missionaries who have devoted their lives to seeing those people saved.  Or better yet, devote your life to reaching the lost.  Go on a strategic short-term trip where long-term personnel can use you to get the Truth out to people who have never heard before.  Or give your life.  Be the real deal.

Call it whatever you want.  Be a follower of Jesus.  Be religious.  Be a theologian.  When I was a kid it was popular to be a “Jesus freak”.  Christian trends come and go.  But it all hinges on the foundation of a radical change form the core:  We must be made a new creation.  Many generations past were concerned with religion in terms that our hipster Christianity rejects, but they wrote songs like this:

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul, I come to him,
He’ll never cast me out.

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The written Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
Salvation through his blood.

My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost he came to save;
For me his precious blood he shed,
For me his life he gave.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

Is it enough that Jesus died, and that He died for you?  Will you give your life in complete surrender to such a Savior?  Or will you follow Him on Facebook, watching what He does but never engaging in true, full relationship?

Speaking all things into existence

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and  upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

– Heb 1.1-4

I absolutely love the book of Hebrews.  It is unsigned, and many people would argue that Paul wrote it, but irregardless, the book is solid.  If you need to fall in love with Jesus for the first time or for the fiftieth time, just read the first few chapters.

These first few verses are deeply implanted in my mind.  The little phrase,

“He upholds all things by the word of His power”

blows my mind.  I wrote before on how God used this verse to radically free me from a random and short lived fear of flying, and praying that verse back to God daily for months and meditating on the magnitude of the reality therein has regularly rocked the foundations of faith on which I live.

Jesus is continually speaking you, me, this computer on which I am typing, and everything in the world into existence.  His creative power is so vast and powerful that He is upholding the universe – just by commanding “exist”.

For years I planned to practice medicine, and my undergraduate degree is in Biology.  As I child I loved to be outside, I would take my younger sister on “nature walks” through the woods, and catch all sorts of critters.  I used to rescue baby birds that had fallen from their nests and raise them, housing them in an old robin’s nest and feeding them worms.  I enjoy to look at nature, creation, the way things work and while I have always known that there is a time when the answer to the question “why” is “because that’s how God made it”, in studying biology I thrived on continually learning one more step between what I understand and God’s creative force.

God created the natural laws.  He established gravity, the orbits of planets, the spin of the earth and the moon to control tides.  He also created the molecular makeup of everything in existence; DNA, the transcribing of genetic material into RNA and ultimately into proteins, the exact function of each part of the molecule, and He knows the depths and expanse of everything in creation.  It was not too long ago that scientists believe the atom to be the smallest particle in creation – undividable.  And God has not only known, but he imagined, created, and continues to speak atoms and all of their makeup into existence.  The micro and macro realms of reality all exist by His spoken word.

And us.  He speaks you and me into existence.  Ps 139 is one of my favorite Psalms, it speaks to God’s knowledge, sovereignty and power over us as a comforting force.  And one of it’s strongest claims is the simple fact that He knows and has ordained the exact number of our days:

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”

– Ps 139.16

Nothing is too big for God.  He is speaking you, me, our DNA and the universe into existence.  But he also has sovereign power over these forces, as creator, he can change the way things work or temporary interrupt the natural laws:  and this is what we understand as a miracle.  The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, turning water into blood, Jesus being born of a virgin, His resurrection from the dead, miraculous healings, Jesus walking through walls, ascending back to Heaven on a cloud, transporting Phillip instantaneously from the wilderness to somewhere else;  these are all ways that we see God disrupt the natural laws that He has put in place for His divine purposes.  He can speak things into existence and He can change things by the word of His power.  Therefore, let us trust God.  He is in control and He has a plan.  He is speaking you and me into existence, and He has the exact number of our days ordained and planned.  He can change things, He can disrupt the natural laws and He will see his perfect end attained.  Therefore live boldly, trust Him, and obey His statues, for His word does not return void (Is 55.11).

Even a Circus Draws A Crowd

How do you choose where you go to church?  This is our generation’s in-house debate.  Good music?  Good ambiance?  Exegetical preaching?  Community?  A big youth group?

The church, in history, has had a variety of factors that have led to influx and attrition of attendees and members.  At times it has been illegal to gather in the name of Jesus Christ, at times is has been the state sanctioned religion.  At times it has been regarded as anti-societal and anti-governmental, and at other times it has been the cool, hip and trendy thing to do.  At times it has been the gathering of outcasts, at times it has been the societal norm.

It is commonly observed that Europe is predominantly post-Christian in society and the United States is quickly following on their coattails.  But we still foster the Bible belt, mega churches and cultural Christianity in some pockets of the country.  And many people, without a genuine, life-transforming relationship with God, believe that there is value in going to church.

So how do you pick?  Do numbers mean success?  I have been reflecting recently on a very strange habit of Jesus.  He taught boldly.  He rebuked all sin:  religiosity, worldliness, haughtiness, false humility.  Sin.  He also preformed miracles.  Unfathomable miracles!  He gave food to the hungry, sight to the blind, strength to the lame and life to the dead.  And this naturally drew a crowd.  Throughout His Earthly ministry, he drew large crowds.

One day, Jesus had preformed so many miracles that 5,000 men along with their wives and children gathered around him.  After preaching to them, he felt compassion for them because they had no food and no place to get it, so he fed them all.  The crowd, based on his teaching and on the food, believed Him to be the foretold prophet (Messiah) and wanted to make him King, so he slipped away (John 6.14).  They followed him.

And Jesus called them out:

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.'”

– John 6.26-28

Then they had an entire dialogue as to how they were to work the works of God.  Jesus defined the work of God as believing in Him, and they asked for a sign.  As though the five loaves of bread and two fish that he multiplied to feed all of them, with twelve baskets left over was not a sign, because God provided manna for Israel daily for forty years.  They wanted Jesus to feed their bellies every day.  But Jesus rocked their entire thought process.  He asserted that the bread that comes from Heaven gives life.  Like manna.  And then he said “I am the bread of life” (John 6. 35).  They started to grumble (John 6.41).  And not because He said I am the bread of life, but because He said I am the bread that came down from Heaven (John 6.42).  So Jesus rebuked their grumbling and said:

“‘Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.’  Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’  So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.'”

– John 6.49-55

He is the bread of life.  Not physical bread, not bread that can be eaten with the mouth, because the physical bread that came down from Heaven was manna and when the Israelites at that bread, they still died.  But we have to spiritually eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life, and to abide in Him.

This was a very hard teaching (John 6.60).  So what happened?

“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

– John 6.66

The crowd left.  Such that Jesus was left with the twelve only, and He asked them if they were going to leave too (John 6.67), but they responded that they had no where else to go and that they believed that He was indeed the Messiah (John 6.68).

Jesus, when the large crowd gathered, taught them the hard truths.  This truth is the foundation of Christianity.  If one does not abide in Christ, he is not saved.  He is not of God.  He does not have eternal life.  And this simple, yet very hard and offensive truth turned the entire crowd away.

The Gospel is offensive.  Jesus’ truths are offensive.  No one wants to hear that he is totally depraved, evil and wicked at the core and there is no hope for him apart from Jesus Christ unless the Spirit has revealed his sinfulness within his heart and is drawing him to repentance.

So when we look at churches, we often see large numbers and think, “This must be a great church”.  Good music draws in the Gen X crowd.  A large youth group draws in parents of children/youth.  Theological preaching draws in the academics amongst us.  But even a circus draws a crowd.  Jesus did not care about numbers.  He cared about true belief, true conversion and sincere hearts.  He dispersed the crowds that gathered for the wrong motives.

I wrote recently on the phenomenon of revivals.  There are times that Spirit moves powerfully with a community, within a church, within a country and leads people to conviction of sin and radical repentance, and churches are full.  And there are times that false teachers tickle our ears, telling us self-help tips that make us feel like better people, assure us of a false salvation and set us on a path paved in gold to Hell (2 Tim 4.1-5).

Let us take Jesus’ lead.  Let us choose to dig in and search out the hard truths.  Let us present these truths boldly, in love and with great patience (2 Tim 4.2).  And let us not fall into the trap of following the crowd.  Because often times the crowd wants manna, not Spiritual food.  They want a sign, when they have seen an abundance of signs (1 Cor 1.22).

Let us look for Jesus and a mighty work of the Spirit in regeneration – salvation of souls – when we look for a Church.  Let us look for strong, bold, patient teaching.  Let us look for obedience, service and evangelism.  And let us leave our personal agendas at the door.

Don’t follow the crowd.

Follow Jesus.

The Daughter of a Biker

I have mentioned before that I ride a motorcycle.  It is my favorite means of transportation, and weather permitting, I ride it to work every day!

A few weeks ago, I had some volunteers come to work with me at the office.  I had ridden my bike, and we all left at the same time.  The next day one of the volunteers came in and wanted to chat about the bike.  I told him that I had grown up riding behind my dad and he replied, “I could tell you were the daughter of a biker by the way you drove off”.

That is a huge compliment because I love my father and consider it an honor to be compared to him or affirmed in likeliness to him.  And he rides his Harley well, so I am honored to be considered accomplished if I were to ever ride like him.

This, of course, got me thinking.  Do I live my life in such a way that makes people think, “That girl is a daughter of God”?

Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

– John 15.4-8

I reflect regularly on the admonitions to do everything to the honor and glory of God:  eating, sleeping, talking, working, playing, etc. (1 Cor 10.31, Col 3.17).  And if Jesus’ words here are true, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” that honors or glorifies God, then we must live completely in and through him.  And because “whatever is not from faith is sin”, we must act in faith always (Rom 14.23).

So does our acting in faith make us visibly like God, such that one recognizes we are Christians?  Do people know that you are a Christian by your love (John 13.35)?

Remember who you are.  Remember whose you are.  And act like it.

Let it be known that you are a child of God.