Modern Day Sanhedrin

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Have you ever heard of Passion Play Ministries International? It is an organization that tells the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus to thousands of people in many nations and cities in the US and around the world through a live-action drama. The play is a large production with hundreds of people in the cast and part of the crew. The headquarters for this ministry is in Farmington, NM of all places. Yet, with such a humble headquarters location they are doing great ministry in spreading the gospel of Jesus around the world.

I was privileged to get involved with the Passion Play of the Four Corners last year for the first time. My wife saw an ad somewhere stating that they needed singers, and that is something I love to do, so I decided to join. I was part of the choir last year and sang in the opening song as a trio with a couple other ladies. I was also the host pastor for a night where I got to lead the opening prayer and then invite people to respond to the gospel message at the end.

It was an amazing experience, and I can truly say they are changing lives – not only lives in the audience, but even lives within the cast and crew itself.

This year I went back to audition, and I was told that the choir was going to be practicing on Tuesday evenings. Well, I am solidly booked on Tuesdays with my position as den leader for the local cub scout pack, so I decided to do some reading and see if God wanted to use me for a speaking part this year. Apparently He does. I was told that night I was to report to the Sanhedrin block when rehearsals began.

The Sanhedrin? I was to be one of the bad guys who connived to have Jesus crucified. These were the legalists that had missed the heart of the message of the Messiah and therefore missed Him when He came to them.

Oh well, if that was where God wanted me to be then so be it. I began to read, and after a few nights the director of the Sanhedrin block of the cast informed me that he wanted me to play the part of Caiaphas. Really? Not only was I going to be a bad guy, but I was to be the worst one – the High Priest!!

As I have been learning my lines and preparing for my role it has really weighed on my heart the severity of the role I must play. I have to be angry at Him. I have to accuse Him. I have to reject Him. I have to be all the things I preach against each week as I minister. Sure, this is only a play, but the weight of the things, I must sa,y hang no less heavily on my heart.

The one idea that keeps coming back to me, though, is this: The religious leaders of the day – the Sanhedrin – rejected Jesus and everything He stood for because they didn’t understand Him, and they were threatened by His doctrine as they saw it required a change in their way of life and livelihood.

Don’t we do the same thing?

Don’t we reject Jesus as we decide day after day to give in to our selfishness instead of allowing Jesus to reign in our lives and call the shots? Don’t we ignore Jesus as we get caught up in our lives or even worse, our religion? Don’t we reject Him as we feel that following Him would require a change of lifestyle that will threaten our comfort on every level, even fincially? Are we not just as guilty as the Sanhedrin?

When Peter preached the first sermon about Jesus in Acts 2, he finished by saying, “You, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:23,36)

That verse is for us too. We crucify Jesus when we put our selfish desires above His. What does Jesus require in response? Repentance and Baptism (Acts 2:38). When you understand what you’ve done and keep on doing to Jesus it should bring about remorse that leads to repentance. When you see what He has done for you by willingly dying for you in spite of your rejection it should inspire a desire for allegiance to Him that leads you to baptism.

Don’t stay like the Sanhedrin. News is that even Caiapha, after the resurrection, became a follower of Jesus. It’s not too late for you to follow Him either.

If you would like to know more about Passion Play Ministries International you can find them on the web at www.passion-play.org.


A Silent Epidemic

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Can you remember what the popular television shows were back in the 50s? How about the 60s? Think more recently into the 80s and 90s. The popular shows back in the day were shows centered on the family where mom and dad were a solid couple, and dad was the obvious leader of the home.

Over time the shows have changed to where the families represented became increasingly dysfunctional to the point that the most popular shows any more aren’t about the family at all (Duck Dynasty has been an anomaly to this trend and has hopefully shown Hollywood what the people want to see more of). Most of the popular shows are about murders, or zombies, or even a drug-dealing teacher. Better yet are the reality shows where people tune in to see their favorites perform some feat in a competition or survive on an island somewhere while being totally sleep-deprived.

In the process of this media shift one character morphed then disappeared. In the 50s and 60s dad was the champion. In the 80s and 90s dad was the buffoon. He was the one who created the comedic thread of the show. Mom was the rock and the obvious leader. Nowadays, a show without a dad is so common it is hard to notice.

Our culture has shifted along with our viewing habits. For thousands of years the dad has been the center of the family, and whether good or bad he was considered the leader. This created a stability in the home that allowed for proper growth of children in spite of what was going on in the world around them.

As our culture shifted so did the dads – right out of the picture.

We live in a culture where stable homes in which mom and dad have been married and faithful to one another are in a minority. Healthy marriages are an endangered species in this culture where there are commercials on tv with men proudly stating that they are married but looking for someone other than their wife to mess around with. Dads are hard to come by as men are more promiscuous without desire for responsibility, so children grow up in a home where dad is absent. In some homes, dad is physically present but still mentally absent.

We live in a culture today with an epidemic of abandon. We live in a culture that is home to what I call the daddy deficit.

The bible is clear about our roles as dad. We are to be the head of our homes – not as dictators, but as representatives of Christ. We are to be the ones guiding our children to love Jesus. We are to be the ones who are living as examples in our homes and in the community – examples of what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. We are to be the providers for our families in finances, spiritual growth, physical protection, and selfless sacrifice.

What can we do to overcome this deficit? How can we battle this epidemic? First it starts with us men taking an oath, making a pledge before God, that we are no longer going to allow the culture that surrounds us to raise our children. We are going to pledge to remain faithful to our wives. We are going to dedicate ourselves to influencing our children (and their friends) with the ways of our Savior, Jesus.

Then it will take the stamina and dedication to live out those promises so that our families and the world around us see that this is no mere talk. It is easy to allow our wives to be the spiritual leader of our families. It is even easier to quit on family before we even start. But it takes a real man to be the head of the household the way God ordained him to be.

After we start with our own families, then we reach out to other kids who don’t have this kind of example. They need to grow up seeing what it means to be a real man of Christ. You have a chance to help a young person stop this epidemic of following after the daddy deficit. You have a chance to change the world, and it all begins with you.

I challenge you. If you haven’t been the man you need to be in your home it is time for some serious repentance before the Father. If you have been leading your family in Christ, then talk with your kids and see which of their friends need an example like your family in their life. You cannot be a Christian and sit idly by while the world consumes your family.

Join with me in stopping the silent epidemic. Help me eradicate the daddy deficit.


The Chaos of Influence

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My kids have been introduced this year to basketball. We signed them up at a church in the next town for Upward Sports.

Having never done basketball before, there is a pretty sharp learning curve when someone is thrown in with other kids who have played for the last two years. Each practice and game is filled with input from both coaches as the kids try to learn the skills needed to win.

Game times are extremely chaotic. There are usually two basketball games going on simultaneously with only a double-row of chairs separating the two games. Kids on one court hesitate when the referee on at the other game blows a whistle. Parents are stacked on top of one another to watch their kids. There is yelling from parents and coaches alike as they all try to encourage their kids to take this shot or pass the ball or block that person.

In the midst of the chaos it is difficult for the kids to hear the voices that are speaking to them and trying to help them excel at what they are doing.

Isn’t this so true in each of our lives as well?

We have voices coming at us from all sides daily. There are voices on the television and radio. There are voices from our bosses and coworkers. There are voices from our friends and neighbors. There are voices from our families. There are voices from the books we read and the internet. There are even voices within our own heads.

Each voice is trying to earn the right to influence your actions.

Once, Jesus was talking about his followers, and he called them his sheep. He referred to himself as the shepherd. He said that others would come and try to lead the sheep away, but the sheep would not follow because they didn’t recognize the voice of the shepherd. Then he said this about his sheep:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

if you consider Jesus your shepherd, then his voice should be the one that rings out through the chaos of noise in your life. You will come to recognize that voice more easily as you spend time with she shepherd in his word, through prayer, and as you spend time with others who are listening to and following the shepherd. It will also be easier to recognize the shepherd when we whittle away the other voices in our lives that stand in stark opposition to our shepherd’s voice. We may not be able to get away from the voices, but we don’t have to give those voices any rights within our lives to dictate feelings, choices or actions.

We each have a choice as to which voices we allow to have authority in our lives. Jesus wants us to make his voice the priority, and his voice is saying “Come, follow me. I love you.”


What is the church of Christ?

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For over a hundred years there have been churches that refer to themselves as the Church of Christ. These churches have that sign on the door or out by the street, and many people recognize that there are certain things that make these churches unique.

However, the name that is used was never meant to be a name. It is and has always been a description of the people. The people are the church that belongs to Jesus, the Christ (Romans 16:16).

So what does the church that belongs to Jesus look like? The following is a list of ideas that Jesus presented which should be attributes of his followers. I encourage you to read this with your bible open following along with the passages referred to.

What is the church of Christ?

The church that belongs to Christ understands its need for forgiveness and is anxious to be able to extend that forgiveness to others. It is not a church that holds grudges. (Matthew 6:14-15)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks the Holy Spirit in the lives of each believer. They follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they live each day – not just on Sunday. This creates within them a fire, a passion, as they experience life in the presence of God who lives within them. (John 14:15-17, 26-27)

The church that belongs to Christ understands that belief in Jesus and connection with Him in baptism (immersion) are essential to salvation. They don’t try to argue this away. They accept it and are willing and eager to follow Jesus’ instructions and example in this manner. (Mark 16:15-16)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that unity with one another is essential to life in Him. They believe that this unity is key to their ability to evangelize to the world. They are not known for their division. (John 17:20-21)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that faith is essential to a person’s ability to follow Jesus. They recognize where their faith is weak and ask Jesus to strengthen their faith through the Spirit at work within them. They understand that without this faith it is impossible to please God. (Luke 17:5-6)

The church that belongs to Christ is a praying church. Prayer is seen as powerful and necessary to the connection and relationship between the church and God. They understand that it is through prayer that much of the power of Christ is released upon the world around them. They follow Jesus’ example of being constantly in prayer. (Luke 5:16; 11:1-13)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that He has called each one of us, no matter our past, to evangelism – to tell others about Him. This is not just the preacher’s job, but it is the role of each follower. A follower excited about his or her Savior cannot help but tell others about Him. (Mark 5:19)

The church that belongs to Christ believes that communion – partaking of the body and blood of Jesus – is essential to the life of the believer. They believe it is in communion with Jesus that relationship with Him is fostered as often as it is taken. (John 6:53-56)

The church that belongs to Christ doesn’t make it a practice to stand in judgment of others. They are accepting of all people because they recognize that all have sinned, and everyone has need for the same Savior. (Matthew 7:3-5)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks the reign of God, His kingdom, in their lives each day. This is not relegated to once or twice a week in a certain building but is shown by a lifestyle devoted to following God in every decision and action daily. (Matthew 6:33)

The church that belongs to Christ is full of flawed people who haven’t got it all figured out. They are broken people who are trying their best to allow God to change them, but it is a daily process, and some days are better than others. This creates an atmosphere of equality among all people regardless of race, age, gender, or class. (Matthew 9:12-13)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks to obey Him in all things. They see their obedience as part of their faith. (John 14:15)

The church that belongs to Christ seeks to show mercy and grace to all whom they come in contact with. They understand that they have been shown mercy and grace by Jesus and seek to reflect Him to others. (Matthew 5:7; 9:13)

The church that belongs to Christ is in the business of disciple-making. They aren’t interested in merely inviting someone to a weekend service. They want to help one another grow in their understanding and ability to follow the teachings of Jesus. (Matthew 28:18-20)

The church that belongs to Christ is compassionate. They seek to show that compassion in the world around them and seek nothing in return. (Luke 10:33-37)

The church that belongs to Christ is generous because it understands that everything it has has been given by the One who owns everything. It understands that the money and possessions it acquires are to be used to glorify God by helping others. It gives generously as an act of worship. (Mark 12:42-44)

The church that belongs to Christ focuses on what Jesus said are the most important ideas: Love God and Love your neighbor. This church is recognized by its love. The world all around knows there is something different about the church that belongs to Jesus because it loves like no other entity does – masses of followers banding together to be an example of love to everyone around them. (Matthew 22:35-40)

The church that belongs to Christ doesn’t worry about names on building or denominational association. This church is boundless. It has no borders. It is found in every church as people claim allegiance to the Savior who died and rose again. (John 10:16)

The church that belongs to Christ follows Jesus. No. Matter. What. (Matthew 10:38; 16:24-26)

This is the church of Christ. It’s not a name on a building but a way of life. It is all people who choose to follow Jesus – his examples and his teachings. Are you a part of that church?


Falling Christians

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Have you ever been around a child who is absolutely sure they know everything? They correct everyone around them, even adults. They look at others with a huff of disgust as they realize the other person doesn’t know something they think is so simple. They are constantly spouting facts to make themselves look intelligent.

When you think of these kinds of people what words come to mind? Arrogant, conceited, proud, condescending, spoiled, self-centered?

Usually these people can’t even see what they are doing and how they are behaving because their need to be right supersedes their ability to consider others. Well meaning young people with no sense of humility.

I’m reminded of what Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, once said:

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.

As we examine our own lives we often find that we easily fall into this same attitude as adults. We are called to seek God, and the more we study and spend time with Him the more we realize just how little we know. The more we understand our sin, the more we realize just how benevolent and generous the grace and forgiveness of God really is.

Yet there is still an attitude among some church people today that is full of the kind of arrogance that scripture warns about time and time again. It is the arrogance of thinking we have it all figured out, and we know how to do this just right.

It is important for us to have standards and beliefs upon which we stand, but we also have to have an attitude of humility that is able to see that some don’t understand things the same way we do and that’s OK.

As you study scripture you see that some things are essentials, but many things that church people argue about are not. Salvation is essential, but Sunday morning dress code isn’t. Following Christ is essential, but having the right name on the door to the church is not. Worshipping God is essential, but the bible lists a variety of ways in which we do that with all of our being. Unity of the church is essential, but uniformity is not.

If we sit in judgment over another brother or sister then we have dethroned God and put ourselves in His place. He is the judge. We are called to love. We are called to serve. We are called to be selfless.

Some people think they have the right doctrine, but they can’t see the inconsistencies to which they themselves hold. They are busy pointing out the minute things others are doing wrong while ignoring the fact that Jesus got more angry about the arrogant religious people than the humble sinners. In their self-perceived spiritual maturity they don’t realize that they are being more immature than those they’re judging.

Some people think that just because a church has the “correct” name on the building then they are the true church. That too is arrogance. Again, we judge the hearts and motives of others whom we do not know just because they attend a church with a name different than ours.

Paul says this in Romans 12:3:
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

We must remember that Christ came and brought division, but only in families where some wanted to follow him and others didn’t. He came to bring unity to the church, and that is what he prayed for fervently in john 17. We cannot set ourselves as judge over another’s intentions, heart or even salvation and still maintain the unity of the body. Our job is to teach the truth. We can’t force people to listen, but we can love them no matter what.

The next time you see someone in church acting a way you think is in error check your attitude. Are you loving or condemning? Then pray for yourself and that other person that unity can prevail in spite of differences. Finally, go spend time serving and loving that person.

The church should be defined by its love and humility – not by its arrogance and judgmental attitudes. May you grow in your ability to love God, love Others, and be like Jesus.


James vs. Paul: A contradiction?

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about faith in my sermons on Sunday mornings. We have seen that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). We have defined faith as follows:

Believing in something so much that you ACT on that belief without hesitation.

Faith isn’t merely saying you believe in something but living like you believe in that something.

As we talk about faith there are many who want us to talk about James 2. Many people have an opinion one way or the other about this passage. Many in the churches of Christ love this passage and use it to talk about the things we do as Christians. Some people dismiss this chapter because they believe in the “faith alone” passages of Romans and Galatians. Which is it? Are we saved by faith alone or do works come into play?

Paul says this:
Romans 4:1-5
​”What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

He also says this:
Galatians 2:15-16
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

So it seems that we are saved by faith alone. This is true, but you must understand the type of works that Paul is talking about in these passages. He is not talking about the works done as a result of faith. He is talking about the works people do in order to fulfill the law – as in the Old Testament Levitical Law System.

People believed that if they followed the rules of the Old Testament to the letter they would be found righteous. The problem with this is if you break one of the laws even once you have been found unrighteous, and there is no undoing that stained record. A person cannot justify themselves by following law.

But James says this:
James 2:14-17
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

So which is it? Do you need works for Salvation? James thinks so, but he is talking about a different kind of works entirely. He is not talking about following a religion legalistically. He is talking about a life that shows its faith by what it does.

The kind of deeds James is referring to have to do with faith. Faith without action is mere words. It’s not faith at all. If we are going to claim to have faith then there needs to be evidence of it by the lifestyle we show daily. Your lifestyle, the deeds you do daily, shows whether or not you have faith.

James and Paul are not in contradiction with each other. They both believe that faith shows itself in what we do (Galatians 5:6).

So, you are not saved by proving yourself worthy. You are saved by a faith in God that expresses itself daily in a lifestyle of love for God and others and trust in the Creator to sustain and fulfill you.

So are you saved by faith? Yes! But faith cannot be defined without action. May your life reflect that saving faith, and may others see that faith in you.


What is a Church to do?

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It has been a beautiful thing to work with the Aztec church of Christ over the last two years. I have seen many lives change as people grow in their understanding of the bible or even come to Jesus for the first time. As a church our Sunday morning attendance has more than doubled in the last two years and Sunday morning class attendance nearly matches our worship service attendance.

I have enjoyed listening as person after person has spoken of the love they feel in this congregation. People here really try to treat one another like family. We welcome people regardless of their background or flaws, and we treat them with joy. This has created a family atmosphere that I think is one of our greatest draws as a church reaching out into the community. When we follow Jesus’ two primary laws, Love God and Love Your Neighbor, we find that people want to be a part of what we are into.

It is easy to maintain that family dynamic when we are a church of 50-80, but when we grew over 100 we began to see that dynamic change a bit. Well, at least I’ve seen it. Haven’t you?

So how do we keep the small church love in a medium-sized church?

To keep from allowing our growth to hurt rather than bless our gatherings we have to recognize a few things. First we must recognize the dynamic of our congregation. We are a church made primarily of young to middle age families. We have some seniors who we love dearly, but they do not comprise the majority of our attendance. We are also a congregation that comes from all over the region. We aren’t a church entirely made up of people from our neighborhood or town. We have people that come from Aztec, Flora Vista, Crouch Mesa, Bloomfield, Navajo Dam, Cedar Hill, Farmington, La Plata, Bayfield Colorado and points in between. For many people it is difficult for us all to meet together more often than just Sunday mornings.

Second we must realize that more people means more contacts, and more contacts mean fewer meaningful contacts. In a church of 50 the preacher can get to know the few families represented fairly well, but in a church three times that size it is difficult for everyone to know everyone well. You may recognize this as you look around the room on Sunday and see people that you can’t call by name much less recall anything about them.

Third we should note that while not all people here are new Christians, many people are new within the last couple of years. This newness often brings a reluctance to jump in and get involved right off the bat in roles that are traditionally seen as leadership roles.

Church growth is a great thing, but it does bring certain beautiful challenges.

If you want to know what keeps me up at night it is this: how can I help this church continue to grow into mature disciples of Christ and maintain the family dynamic that we all love so dearly?

I know that the Spirit is the One who guides our moves as a church, but He has commissioned me to be a leader in this church. I take that responsibility seriously, and I’m excited to see where He leads.

As such, He has been showing me through the scriptures as well as church growth studies and discussions with other ministers of growing churches the direction He wants us to go to facilitate discipleship growth while maintaining the family dynamic.

This year you are going to hear me talk a lot about small groups. I am going to show you what the church looked like in the first century and how small groups were the key to church growth and health back then. I want to show you how small groups can be a key to helping all of us grow as disciples of Jesus in a much more meaningful way. I’m excited to show you how small groups bring unity and family atmosphere to a church whose numbers don’t support such dynamic.

There are other things that we will be working on as a church this year as well. We aren’t looking to start small groups tomorrow. I want to talk to you about this and help you see the joys of small groups before we ever embark on this journey. Many of you may even begin to realize that you’ve been involved with small groups already but didn’t recognize it as such.

I’m praying for Aztec church of Christ. I’m excited where the Spirit is leading us. Will you join me in prayer for the church as well? If you have questions or concerns, will you come talk with me about them? I’d love to hear what’s on your heart and mind.

May The Lord bring spiritual and physical growth to His church this year as we seek His will and strive to love Him more and love those around us as well. God bless you all.


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