Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Blessing.

 Merry Christmas! What wonderful words to be able to say. This time of year, so many people get depressed, stressed, grumpy, or withdrawn it is unbelievable. Some for good reason. Maybe Christmas brings up painful memories. Maybe they don't have the family or friends to spend the holidays with that they would like. Maybe Christmas puts too heavy a financial burden on some people.

Whatever the reason, a lot of people don't find Christmas to be so "Merry."

I am reminded of Charlie Brown desperately trying to "get" the Christmas Spirit. His compassion for a sickly tree was despised. His disdain for an overly commercialized production misunderstood. And his frustration at the competition over Christmas Spirit won by Snoopy was too much for him to take.

I truly hope and pray that you, reader, are not one of them. And if you are, here are some reasons that you shouldn't be.

Christmas is about Christ. Yeah, I know that you already know that. But let it sink in for a moment. The world has been lost in sin, without hope, without direction and God chose to intervene.

God CHOSE to help mankind and his Son Jesus was the single greatest gift that was ever given. Think about these verses of scripture for a moment.

Philippians 2:5-8

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus was and still is the second part of the Godhead. The Son is the second person of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son was in Eternity with the Father and Spirit and chose to humble himself, set aside the benefits of deity, and come to earth as a human being. A man of a lower social order. He deserved to be worshiped and adored by all creation, yet He chose to come into our world and live as one of us so he could die a condemned man on a cursed tree.

That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. So remove all of the hustle and bustle, the gift buying, the crowds, the decorations, the family gatherings, and you still have one of the most monumentous occasions to celebrate that mankind has ever seen. If you understand the enormity of what Christmas means, then you can get into the Christmas spirit, the Spirit of Worshiping the God who loves you, without needing any egg nog, carols, lights, or wrapping paper. (Though, I must admit, egg nog may have been given by God to help celebrate the birth of the King of Kings. A drink worthy of majesty.)

This year, think about those who are able to celebrate Christmas without all of the social acceptance that we here in America enjoy. Persecuted Christians in the Muslim world who celebrate under threat of imprisonment, persecution and loss.

But they still celebrate.

I don't write this to make anyone feel guilty or to dismiss the difficulty that some have during the Christmas season. I am writing this to help us all see that Christmas should be a time of worship and thanks for the fact that God sent his Son into the world to save sinners. Of whom I am chief.

In order to get a view of what Christmas is truly about, think about the lyrics to this popular Christmas song.

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christmas is about the Gospel. It is about God saving mankind from himself. The long march toward the cross started the day the Eternal Son stepped out of heaven and into creation as a child who would grow to a man. As a man, he would offer himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sins. 

That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Indoctrination vs. Discipleship

Indoctrination: to teach (a person or group of people) systematically to accept doctrines uncritically. It is an accusation that is commonly placed on religious practices.

Often times, rightly so.

The process of indoctrination is thousands of years old and has been used countless times over. Indoctrination forces a set of principles, values, or thoughts onto a person, demands uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of everything taught, frowns on individual expression and condemns creativity as dangerous.

The church has been at its worst when it has resorted to indoctrination in order to try to spread the message of Jesus Christ.


Because that is not what Jesus did, taught, stood for, or why He died on the cross. Lets get this straight right now. Jesus never indoctrinated a single person. He fought constantly with the Pharisees, who, consequently, were all about indoctrination.

Jesus was into discipleship, not indoctrination. Whereas those who are interested in indoctrination are concerned with conformity, Jesus is interested in the person as a whole. Mind, body, and spirit are all part of Jesus' teaching and it never involves blind conformity. Indoctrination discourages and condemns questions and free thought in the interest of "maintaining doctrinal purity."

Jesus, however, encouraged his disciples to ask questions. Why? Because questions are the beginning of faith. Jesus said "Seek and you will find" not "listen and repeat after me." This is the greatness of discipleship. It involves you as you are. Your being. Your soul. Your likes and dislikes. Its like Jesus comes along side you and says "I am going to fully invest myself in your life. I'm going to get to know you inside and out. I am going to know what makes you tick. I'm going to love your for WHO YOU ARE, and in the process, I'm going to teach you how to live. I'm going to teach you truth and how to recognize truth. I'm going to show you great and hidden things you do not know. Don't worry, I am going to be with you through this whole journey. Don't be afraid to ask questions and don't quit when it gets hard. I promise to be with you."

Discipleship is personal. Discipleship is relational, intellectual, emotional, social, and on-going. Indoctrination is interested in people saying the right things, looking the part, and in producing quantity over quality. Indoctrination is a one time process where someone is told what to think and then moved along. Discipleship is personal investment that encourages questions, seeking, and personal growth.

This is the problem with much of our so called "Bible-study" today. Much of it is incorrectly based on the principles of indoctrination. It gives people the "answers" for life in a bullet point format, tells people what God wants them to think and to be and then moves on to the next approved lesson.

This isn't how Jesus taught.

If God had wanted us to learn from bullet points, scripture would be laid out differently.

You see, indoctrination is a cheap and ineffective substitute for discipleship. It tries to skip the discipleship process by giving people the "answers" ahead of time. Unfortunately, getting the answer is not how we learn and grow. The discipleship process is how we learn and grow. The answer isn't effective if we lose the process. So, instead of trying to skip to the end, we need to get back to true discipleship.

Think about this. Jesus, the pre-existent Logos/Word of God in flesh, took three years to train his disciples. If anyone could have skipped to the end and taken the short version it would have been Jesus. Yet, here he was, teaching, walking with, loving, valuing and investing himself in the lives of His disciples for 3 years. And in those three years we hardly see Jesus asking his disciples for quick, indoctrinated answers. Even when they came to Jesus looking for those answers Jesus redirected them.

So, this raises the question for you and your church. Are you making disciples or simply trying to indoctrinate people? If you are indoctrinating people you will get a lot of people who can say all the right things but not live them. You will get Pharisees.

And Pharisees are hypocrites.

You also must ask: "Have I been indoctrinated or discipled?" You may be surprised at the answer. Do you grow in your faith by asking questions and seeking or by wanting a quick black or white answer to something that really doesn't affect your life one way or the other?

Jesus commanded us to make DISCIPLES of all nations. It is time to let go of the easy but ineffective model of indoctrination and rise Above Reality by embracing discipleship.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is Your God Safe?

Have you ever been truly frightened? Not worried, a little anxious, or nervous, but freaking scared out of your mind? The kind of scared that you don't talk about later because you remember the feelings too well? Ever been that kind of scared? Odds are, at some point in life you have been. It isn't fun.

It is something we try to avoid.

At all costs...

So what happens when we experience that moment when we realize that the God we serve isn't as safe as we once thought? In fact, we realize that He is terrifying and have to think hard about everything we have learned about God. What happens when the God who has always brought us comfort suddenly scares us to death?

The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 1:7

Fear: Emotional foreboding or dread of impending distress or misfortune.

Not quite the message of the modern church is it?

What has happened today is God has been turned into a therapist, we are the patients, and the therapist's goal is to make us happy and whole. God is safe and quiet. He is there to calm your nerves and make life pleasant. He is a friend who is always supportive and never critical. He is a compassionate care-giver that understands the human plight and just wants to help. So, if you will just let Him, He will make it all better because you were created to live "in total victory." (quoted from Mr. Happy himself, Joel Osteen)


Problem is, that is not why Jesus died and it is not what God has in mind for us today.  It is not at all what Paul had in mind as he evangelized the Gentile world.

Perhaps, no, CERTAINLY this misguided view of God is what has kept many people from growing in their Christianity. If God is there to make us happy, then He will never ask us to do anything that could possibly be difficult or lead to struggle, pain, or sorrow.

Lets look at the scriptures to see where God called someone to happiness and comfort for the sake of His Kingdom.

Go ahead and look. Sure, there was that one guy.


No, his life was pretty hard.

No matter how long you look, you won't find it. Happily ever after in God's Kingdom means hard service and sacrifice until you die, THEN, you get to enjoy eternal blessings. Think about this list

Paul-imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, bad health, poor, hated and despised
Peter-crucified upside down
John-boiled in oil (survived), imprisoned on an island (survived)
John the Baptist- imprisoned, beheaded
Job-lost his whole family, his health, and his wealth BECAUSE he was a righteous man. (Bet Joel doesn't preach on that one!)
Jonah-swallowed by a whale (brought it on himself)
Isaiah - Sawed in two
Jeremiah - beaten, put in the stocks, thrown into a pit, repeated attempts at his life
Moses - led an obstinate people in circles for 40 years...

All of these people and more suffered and suffered some more because of their faith in God, yet they all persevered and continued to serve God. Why? Because their God wasn't safe. They knew He was unpredictable, powerful, and that their purpose was to serve no matter what. Today, people get angry and leave when a worship service runs too long.

So I ask you, when was the last time you were truly afraid of God? I know it is seems like a strange question in today's culture, but seriously, have you ever been so overcome with the knowledge of his power, righteousness, and holiness that you literally became afraid of Him? If you haven't, then you don't know Him. You may know about Him, but you don't know Him personally.

Because when you do know Him, you know that occasionally and sometimes quite often, He is going to ask you to do something that you don't like. You know inherently that He has called you to do more than simply go to church on Sunday morning. You know that your life is not your own, but belongs to Him because he bought you. The price? His Son Jesus Christ.

And when He calls, you obey. You listen and you do it even though you know you are going to catch it from friends, family, and enemies alike. You are scared to death but you do it anyway because you are more AFRAID of God than you are of the situation.

You know your god is safe when all he calls you to do is whatever comes easy or when the biggest sacrifice you make is the $5 you throw in the plate as it comes by. God is seen as too safe by too many people.

The problem with a safe god, is that you get safe results. Paul's God wasn't safe, and so, Paul himself wasn't safe. Thus, Paul changed the world. He paid a price for it, but he also accomplished great things. Everyone wants God to be active in their lives, but what they really want is the safe god, not the God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth.

The Psalmist understood it. Check this out.

Psalm 97:1-6
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; 
 let the many coastlands be glad! 
 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; 
  righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 
  Fire goes before him 
and burns up his adversaries all around. 
 His lightnings light up the world; 
 the earth sees and trembles. 
 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, 
      before the Lord of all the earth. 
The heavens proclaim his righteousness, 
and all the peoples see his glory. 

Let me tell you a secret: That Psalm was not written to give you warm fuzzies. It was written to express the power, majesty, and perfection of God. It was written to cause fear, fear that leads to worship and service.

If you are serving a safe God, then you are leading a safe life that probably has you bored to death. Why? Because you were created to serve this terrifying, majestic God. You were created for Him and His purposes and His purposes are big. Let go of the safety of your safe god and serve the God who created Heaven and Earth. The God who sent His Son to die a horrible death so save your soul. Stop being safe and start living in faith. Get back into the scriptures and learn about the God who WILL tell you to do something that will scare you to death. When He asks, then you will find out what your faith is made of. If you obey not only will you stop being safe, you will wonder why you have waited so long to follow the God who is always Above Reality.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

"He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." Proverbs 21:17

We live in a society that is completely enamored with entertainment. From American Idol to the News, we are constantly looking for someone to entertain us. We celebrate athletes, actors and singers because they entertain us. Our educational system is based around making learning "fun" and people often focus on whether they enjoy their jobs. Let's face it, we are so busy having fun that it is a wonder that anything gets done in this world.

However, if this is indeed the world in which we live, then it has to affect our view of God and how we serve Him. Instead of worship, we have productions. Instead of fasting, we have feasts. Instead of discipleship, we have recreational small groups. Fun is the order of the day and we are getting plenty of it.

The issues stated above are just the symptoms of a larger problem. Worship is my response to what I value most. If I most value entertainment and "fun" in my life, then I will naturally order my priorities and values around it. Even God will become a source of entertainment to me. Fun becomes and idol.

So we have to ask, "What do worship and service at the altar of fun look like?" First, it must bring fun into my own life, so I will demand that my church and my God make me happy. If my church does not "meet my needs" then it is perfectly suitable for me to find a better source of entertainment and say "God was leading me  to this church" when what was really meant was "I really liked the coffee bar, basketball court, entertaining praise band and motivational speaking that is passed off as preaching."

Second, after my needs are met and I am being entertained, I will naturally want to serve my "god" and thus will want to bring entertainment into another person's life. So, I will learn guitar, sing specials at church, start a recreational small group, and hang-out as much as possible with others so I can prove just how "fun" Jesus really is to those who don't know Him.

Third, my discipleship will not consist in quoting and understanding scripture, but in following the latest pop-Christian singer. We will trade our theologians for those who are especially gifted at entertaining us and marvel at how God is using them in miraculous ways.

The problem with all of this is that it doesn't look or function any different than the world. We just chose a different kind of entertainment. Less sex, less materialism, more God talk, more positive thoughts, but in the end, it is based on the same value system: my entertainment.

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy Christian artists and creativity as much as the next person. Truly using a talent that God has given you is what we all should be doing. What I am talking about is our value system as American Christians. Do we strive to achieve "virtue" or fame? Do we serve humbly or do we look for celebrity status. There is a line between enjoying a Christian artist, field, or art form and making it into an idol and currently I fear that the church in America is on the wrong side of the issue. Worship is about far more than having a killer praise band, a slick visual presentation and an entertaining message. Worship is about giving ourselves to God, praising Him and serving Him according to His desires and not ours.

Lets look at a couple of people in scripture and see how much fun they had.

The Apostle Paul
Whipped, stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, starved, imprisoned, abandoned, and killed for his faith in Jesus Christ. Somehow, I don't think he would be too impressed with the worship wars over contemporary and traditional music. Paul's concern was not with being entertained nor with entertaining others. In fact, Paul went out of his way to make sure that he preached the Gospel, "not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Paul made sure people were not drawn to his entertaining speech (as was custom in his day) but to the actual message of the cross.

The Prophet Jeremiah
Jeremiah was a young man when God called him. He spoke about the sins of Judah and warned them of impending disaster. He was hated, maligned, thrown into a pit, blamed, and ultimately alone because of God's message. He saw the destruction of the city that he loved and wrote a lament over the city that became a part of our Bible. (Lamentations)

Now, I am not saying that fun is bad. I like to have fun. But it cannot be at the expense of discipleship. We cannot refuse to STUDY our Bibles because it is "boring." We cannot church-hop because we aren't being entertained enough. We cannot allow our worship of God to be hindered because it isn't the style of music we prefer. If you can't worship God to a particular style of music, then you aren't worshiping God. You should be able to sing praises to the creator, sustainer, savior God to the sound of an out of tune piano and a banjo and mean it just as much as you would if it were your favorite artists in the world.

We must repent of this dependence upon entertainment as the driving force behind our worship and service. It is absolutely the truth that God is going to call you to a lot of things that are not fun at all in your life. You must submit to them. God is going to call you to sacrifice. God is going to call you to serve in tangible ways and not just in ways that spread more entertainment.

Read again what Proverbs 21:17 says about over-valuing entertainment "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich." Spiritually we are becoming poorer and poorer all the time in this country. It is time to shift our values back to the pursuit of God and virtue and rise Above Reality.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Find Your Purpose: Service

When the hammer hits the nail, that is when we know something is getting done. As we have seen, we are called to Discover God, Find our Purpose and finally to share the journey. As we continue to look at ways that we find our purpose in life, we will find that it will almost always involve giving, sacrificing, and effort. What's is the old saying: "Nothing good ever came easy?"  In the Christian lifestyle this is always true. God does not call us to the good life of ease and repose. He calls us to good old fashioned sacrificial service. There is no other way around it. If you want to know God, you will have serve people. 

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 the Apostle Paul wrote: "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake." Paul says that he did two things. He proclaimed Christ and he served. We must come to see these two as inseparable. The two sides of the evangelism coin. If we want an avenue to share the gospel, we must serve. If we want people to hear our words, we must serve. If we want to know God better we must serve. If we want to experience true community, we must serve. 

So what is service? It is work done by one person or a group of people that benefits another. See, it is a person getting outside of himself or herself and doing something for the good of someone else regardless of personal return. Service means I do it simply because it will help you and I am not looking for ANYTHING in return. In fact, the best servants on this earth are the ones you have never seen. They are invisible. They serve without fanfare and without recognition. This is what God calls all of us to do. Serve. 

The tricky thing about service is that we often like to pat ourselves on the back for our service and, thus, lose the entire concept. In the Gospel of John the disciples begin arguing about who is the best. You know the kind of arguments John is talking about. The kind of arguments that overlook personal shortcomings and emphasize the faults of somebody else. The kind of arguments that allow a person to talk big and yet do nothing. Yeah, those arguments. 

Jesus will have none of it. Does he join in the argument? Nope. Does he declare one side the victor? Nope. What does he do? He serves. He takes a towel and some water and washes every one of their feet. Here is Jesus, the Word, the Logos of God in flesh PERFORMING the lowest of tasks. He is serving His disciples. How embarrassing. Think about it. You are one of the disciples who has been railing against your brothers, building yourself up, sitting on your ivory tower when suddenly, you see your master at your feet washing off the dirt you had ignored. 


You see, it is only when we realize that there is no job below us and we have no right to any recognition that we are truly ready to be used by God in any real sense. It is when our loving actions of service match our words that we are true witnesses.

The sad thing about many of today's Christians is that this is precisely where they check out. They draw near to God and experience His wonderful, life-giving presence. They love what He has done and then God does the unthinkable. He says "Serve..." 

And then nothing. 

We search for any and every reason why God couldn't be talking to me. I mean, I work all week, I have to take care of the kids, I go to Church on Sunday, when do I get a little me time? God's response? "Serve..." We respond by telling God "I'll worship on Sunday, that's my service." So we worship, but for some reason, the feeling begins to fade and we find that the church I go to just isn't meeting "my needs" any more so we look for another church that makes "worship" a little more exciting. Then, when we find it, we are satisfied for a short time, that is, until the new wears off and then suddenly, we find ourselves without the motivation to worship and stop going to church altogether. Was it God's fault? Nope. It was mine because I refused to serve. 

When we refuse to serve we will inevitably come to see God as being there to serve us. My happiness will become what drives my life and a funny thing will happen: I won't ever be truly happy. Service keeps us from getting lost inside ourselves. It keeps us from becoming selfish. It makes us thankful for God's blessings. Instead of focusing on all the things I'm missing that could make me happier, I will see all the wonderful things that God has given me. 

Service. It is necessary to a healthy spiritual walk. If you truly know Jesus, you will learn to serve as he served. It must be sacrificial, which means your service will COST YOU SOMETHING. If your "service" to God is simply going to church and staying awake during the sermon then you know nothing of service. Talk to any mature Christian and they will have stories about how God wore them out serving other people at different points in their life. But watch as they smile, experience peace, and reflect on how wonderful it was, even when their hammer hit their thumb. You see, when we serve, we find contentment. We find fulfillment because our lives are no longer about my elusive happiness, but about obedience to our Creator. The Creator who loved and served. 

Find Your Purpose and Serve God because Service will help you rise Above Reality. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Disturbing Observation

I have noticed recently that there are a growing number of Christians who are falling into a trap that was settled in the first century by the Apostles and early church leaders. I am noticing an increasing fascination with and even a practice of the Jewish Law system. I notice it on religious programming and in churches. It is almost as if people are once again being fooled into believing that you must first become Jewish in order to become Christian. I was recently asked if I thought that our spiritual connection to God was affected by whether or not we followed the Old Testament dietary laws. 

This was settled in Acts 15. Many in the early church were confused as to where to draw the line between Judaism and Christianity and so, a Church Council was called to discuss the matter. This meeting involved all the Apostles and many "elders" or leaders within the Christian church. There were those who felt that Gentile (non-Jewish) converts to Christianity needed to keep the law of circumcision for males, dietary laws, purity laws, ceremonial laws of cleansing and ritualistic observance of festivals and the like. The Apostles (who spoke for God and with God's authority...) disagreed and said that it was not necessary for them to become Jewish in order to become Christian. All that mattered was that they placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and lived out their faith. Issue settled, right?

It seemed like many leaders had a hard time letting go of tradition so that even the likes of Peter had a hard time accepting that he could eat anything and that the Gentiles were equal heirs in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, yet even he eventually came to accept the truth and even called the Church the "Israel of God" which showed he had fully made the transition. 

Yet, today I see over and over where many teachers are giving the Old Testament precedence over the New. Dispensational heresies are notorious for this. (If you don't know what Dispensational theology is just think "Left Behind, John Hagee, etc...") So, today there is once again confusion about the place of the Old Testament. Jesus summarized the Old Testament nicely "the Law and the prophets they testify to me..." The point of the Old Testament was to point us to Christ by progressively revealing God's will for his Kingdom. Once we get to Jesus Christ, that Revelation is completed. (Kind of sounds like a Book "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" that was written as the conclusion to all Scripture.) So anything that the Old Testament teaches is to point us to Christ. The New Testament is primary, the Old Testament is secondary. The New Testament re-interprets the Old. 

Lets make this clear. We are not under the Old Testament system of ritualistic or ceremonial law. It is OK to eat pork. It is OK to shave your beard if you are man. You are not unclean because you have a blemish on your skin. There are not secret messages hidden in the text of the Hebrew letters. And the Church (those who belong to Christ) is God's chosen people in this world. The Moral Law (think 10 commandments) is still in effect because it revealed God's character and Jesus imported them into the New Testament understanding of God's Kingdom.

No longer was God's Kingdom centered around an ethnic race of people and the temple that was in their chief city. Now it is centered on the man Jesus Christ, his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection three days later. The people of God are no longer identified by a mark in the flesh (circumcision) but by Faith in the Living, Resurrected man Jesus Christ that results in being filled with God's Holy Spirit, which results in circumcision of the heart. Therefore, there is no reason to move backwards by observing feasts, festivals, and ceremonial laws. Our identity is completely wrapped up in Jesus Christ and not in religious practices. Commit your life to Jesus Christ and give up dead works of the law and you will rise Above Reality. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Work of God

When Jesus confronted the legalists and their all too familiar brand of legalistic, performance based faith, he condensed everything that God wanted from mankind into one sentence. It is a statement that, when understood, drives legalists and fundamentalists crazy. You see, the Pharisees had created a performance based religion that required absolute obedience to dizzying details. Blessings like the Sabbath rest were turned into a means for judgment and ridicule. The idea that somehow we can perform enough works to be righteous persists even today as many so called "conservatives" try to impose an ever growing list of "works" that a Christian must perform to "prove" his or her Christianity.

Naturally, because people are seeking for God and want a relationship with Him, they start to ask questions that the people asked Jesus. In John 6:28 a group of people asked Jesus "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered in an unexpected way. He did not give them a list, which is what they wanted. He did not rail against the sin of the day, which legalists and fundamentalists like to do even today. No. It says this in John 6:29 "Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Did you catch that? Belief. In no way did Jesus say "God hates your actions and wants you to clean up your life and then He might like you." He didn't say "The work of God is for you to make a list of rules and keep them flawlessly and then appoint yourself judge over others who do not keep your rules." No. Jesus said "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He has sent." 

The work of God in your life, what you have to do to be accepted by God is to BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. It is a list of one item. ONE. 1

1. Believe in Jesus Christ
2. Refer back to item 1. 

Now, I know some of the legalists are going to start barking about sin and repentance and easy believism at this point. Hang in there and I will address your concerns. 

The point, is that legalism begins with the assumption that I can have a righteousness of my own if I just try hard enough. Fundamentalism teaches that we as a people can force others to have a righteousness if we just pressure them hard enough. The problem with these two positions is that the Bible clearly teaches that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Paul even admits in Romans 7:18 that "nothing good dwells in me, in my flesh." So why continue to push harder and harder when the Bible clearly teaches that our righteousness is like filthy rags before God. Who are we trying to impress?

Jesus knew that nobody could be righteous. Jesus knew that I would fail him no matter how hard I tried. God knows all about my sin and yet, he wants to have a relationship with me anyway. And so, he provided a way. By believing in Jesus Christ, I get to claim His Righteousness as my own before God.

Seem unfair? 

It is. 

For God. 

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the single most lopsided, unfair, rip off in the history of the universe. Jesus, who was righteous, died on a cross and got me, a sinful, ungrateful, screw-up. The righteous Son of God paid his life so that I could have a righteousness that is not found in keeping a list of do's and don'ts. But by faith alone. This is why Jesus could condense the work of God into one sentence. All God wants you to do is to "believe in the one whom he has sent." 

By believing in Jesus Christ, you are admitting that you need a savior. By believing in Jesus Christ, you are admitting that you cannot keep a list of rules. Not your own, not your legalistic neighbor's, not God's. You are admitting you don't have it all together and that you need God's help. That is the work of God. To cry out for help to the One who offered help: Jesus Christ. 

When you believe, then something wonderful happens. Jesus said it himself in John 14:15-17. He said "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."

Jesus said when you love Him, you will obey. Obedience will be a RESULT of your love for Him. Not the cause, but the result. How will this happen? Because when you believe in Him, Jesus said we won't have to go it alone. He will give us His Spirit and by His Spirit you will be able to do the things you could not do on your own. 

You see, legalists and fundamentalists get it backwards today just like they did in Jesus' day. They think we have to work to be accepted by God when God said accept (believe) in Jesus Christ and you will be accepted, empowered and changed. 

No matter how hard we work, we will never change ourselves. No matter how much we hate sin, we won't stop sinning until we love Jesus. When we love Jesus, we will stop sinning through the power of His Spirit. 

So, here it is, today, because of the cross sin is a result of a lack of love and faith in Jesus Christ. How can I say that? Because Jesus said the work of God is to believe in the one whom he has sent. If I sin, it is because I have not fully loved Jesus how I should. Thus, no amount of self help, self discipline, self loathing, or legalistic judgment is going to keep me from sinning. Only faith in the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ can do that. It is wonderful, wonderful promise and gift that God has given to a fallen, sinful, rebellious people. Only the Son of God can take us Above Reality. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Find Your Purpose: Discipleship

What National League MVP played third base for the Atlanta Braves in 1991? Random knowledge such as the answer to the previous question completely fills the minds of many, many people. The topics vary, but the knowledge that people have is often astounding. Whether its sports, pop-culture, history, engines, or just the latest gossip, it is hard to miss the fact that people are willing to fill their heads with all kinds of facts, figures, and philosophies. That is, until it comes to understanding God's Word. When it comes to knowing scripture, much less doing it, far too many people who claim the name of Christ are completely ignorant of what His Word says.


Yeah, I said it and I can back it up.

I want you to ask yourself a couple of questions right now:

1. Have I read the entire Bible?
2. Do I have a working knowledge of the individual books of the Bible? (as in, what is the theme of the book of Romans, Ephesians, 1 John, Ezekiel, etc...)

If you cannot answer those questions with a YES, then ask yourself the next logical question:


Let me answer the second question for you. Because it hasn't been as important to you as it should. Before you close your browser window and stop reading, I said it hasn't been AS IMPORTANT as it should be. I am not calling your Christian faith, your love of God, or the value God's word has in your life into question. I am merely saying, if knowing and understanding God's Word were more important than knowing who God voted off of American Idol then you would be willing to carry the cross of discipleship and learn the most important words you will ever read.

Instead, most people only touch their Bible on Sunday morning while a few include Sunday night and Wednesday night and then it is normally just to read a verse or two completely out of context.

You see, God's Word is a wonderful thing, but it takes work. You have to want it. You have to want it bad because scripture is going to challenge you on multiple levels. It is going to challenge your values, your assumptions, your intellect and your commitment.

It isn't going to come easily.

It isn't going to come easily!

There is a degree of academic style learning and reading that has to go into learning scripture. You have to read it to know it. You have to know it to understand it and you have to understand it to do it. And so we enjoy quoting James 1:22 (Be not hearers of the word only, but be doers) but we don't quite understand everything that goes into that. If you want to know God, you have to seek Him out with all of your heart and that means seeking Him out through scripture.

But here is the key:

We have to let scripture speak for itself. We can't pick and choose a verse here and there and say "I know God's word." One of the most known and misunderstood verses in all of scripture is Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Most of the time, this verse is used to affirm that God is going to give you abilities and bless you supernaturally to thrive and get ahead. People often use the verse as a way to make up for shortcomings in life and to claim that God is going to give us supernatural abilities outside of ourselves so all we have to do is wait for God to move.

This couldn't be more off base with what Paul is talking about in this passage.

If you look at the surrounding verses, something called "context", you will see that Paul talking about God giving him the strength to be faithful no matter what the circumstances. Whether well fed or hungry, in abundance or in need, Paul had learned to rely on Christ for strength to ENDURE anything. This is a far cry from the way we use this verse today.

Why did we just do that little Bible study? Because it illustrates just how important a working knowledge of an ENTIRE BOOK of the Bible is to understanding it.

Do you want to know God? Know his Word.

Do you want purpose in life? Live God's word.

Do you want God to use you? Train YOURSELF in His Word.

If you start learning scripture, you will also find that the Sunday Morning sermons will probably become more interesting and useful because you will be able to interact with what your pastor is saying. Instead, too many people use the sermon as their only time in God's Word for the week. Do you eat food once a week? Then why would you only read God's Word once a week?

Discipleship is not optional. If you claim the title of Christian and say that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, you have a responsibility to learn His Word so you can live by it. So next time you are pondering the deep questions of life and come up with answers like "Terry Pendleton" (he was the MVP who played third base for the Atlanta Braves in 1991) I hope you will reconsider how you are expending your mental energies. Are you filling your mind with God's Word or are you filling it with something else?

Make a commitment to learn and live the scriptures that will take you Above Reality.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A little pause from the norm to look at some lighthearted thoughts on leadership. Even though it is humorous, there is wisdom in what is said. Will you be a courageous "first follower" of something Christ is doing in or around your life and so rise Above Reality?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Find Your Purpose: Count the Cost

We have talked about Discovering God through his love and his holiness. Now, it is time to move forward. Hopefully you know God is there and that he is the creator, sustainer of everything. His love is perfect, He IS PERFECT. Why? 

Because even the demons believe, and shudder. 

Just acknowledging that God is there is not enough. We have to exercise faith. We have to have a faith that moves and works. Think of it like this: We do what we believe. We can say we believe something, but our actions truly speak louder than our words. If we really believe something we will do it. Period. 

Jesus put it like this in Luke 9:23-24,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (ESV)

You see, here's the thing about crosses. They're heavy. They hurt. They are a burden. They lead others to ridicule you. Crosses are not attractive to modern culture. They weren't attractive in Jesus's day either. Yet, here is Jesus saying "You want to follow me? You WILL carry a cross." It is not optional and it isn't going to be easy. End of story. 

I recently heard a story of a Marine recruiter who was supposed to make a presentation to a group of men about why they should join the Marines. He didn't have much time for his presentation after previous speakers had gone over their allotted time so he simply stepped up to the microphone and said something to the effect of "in this group of men, only a few of you are actually strong enough to be a Marine. Come talk to me." Guess what? His booth was swarmed. Why? Because those attending heard the call of a challenge. They wanted to be one of those who are strong enough to make it. 

Jesus basically said the same thing. While his call is universal, there are only a few who will respond. Why? Because it means carrying a cross. It means sacrifice. It means change. It means pain. It means giving up one's life so that Christ can find it. And it isn't easy. In fact, it is so hard that Jesus likened it to travelling a small road with a narrow gate that only a few will find. The rest will take the easy way. 

So which one are you? Are you taking the easy way or the hard way? Are you carrying a cross? Is it heavy? Has it caused  you pain, suffering and separation? If it hasn't then you aren't carrying a cross. You may be carrying a superstition or a discipline. You may even be carrying a religion, but you aren't carrying a cross. You know when you are carrying a cross because it leaves splinters in your back. You know you are carrying a cross because you are dying to yourself with every step taking you closer to crucifixion. 

This is purpose.

This is why you were created. 

Not for happiness. 

Not for pleasure.

Not for success.

But to carry the cross of Jesus Christ and serve God with everything you have. But we must count the cost first. What will it take for you to fully pick up your cross and follow Jesus? 

Jesus said it like this in Luke 14:33 "any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Is following Christ more important than anything else in your life? Are you willing to give up EVERYTHING to follow him? If you are not, then you are not carrying a cross. 

Do not misunderstand this. Jesus is not saying you must be desolate, divorced, homeless and broke to follow him. He is saying that nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, can come between you and Him. If you are not ready to sever a relationship that is coming between you and Him, you are not carrying a cross. If you are not ready to give up a lifestyle that is coming between you and Him, you are not carrying a cross. And if we are not carrying a cross, we are not his disciples. 

If we are not carrying a cross, we are not his disciples. 

This is your purpose as a Christian. As a Christ follower, a believer, your life now belongs to Him and you must pick up your cross and follow Him. Anything less, and you are deceiving yourself. It is only by carrying the cross that Christ commands us to carry that we can rise above reality.