Category Archives: obedience

Four Reasons

Sometimes I wonder why things are the way they are. I question why people do the things they do in the ways they do them. This questioning has led me to a great understanding of many things in my life as I don’t take things merely at face value. But what about Christianity?

What makes Christianity so great? Here are four things I see as invaluable about Christianity.

1. Eternal Life

This week a good friend of mine died. It was hard to watch him go, and now that he is gone, I miss him. Yet, to watch him while he lived, and to listen to him, was inspiring. He couldn’t wait to be with the Lord in heaven – face-to-face with Jesus. He couldn’t wait to see the Garden of Eden. He couldn’t wait to be healed of his cancer.

Eternal life is a central belief of Christianity. We believe that when we are saved, we are granted eternal life. This life allows us to have direct access to the Creator of the universe who above all things and in all things. We believe that through Jesus there is no longer separation between God and man necessitating a human mediator like a priest, for we are all priests, through Jesus, who have direct access to God.

This access begins when we are saved. At that time, the Holy Spirit is given to us (Acts 2:38) – God’s Spirit living inside us – and that Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14). This promise of heaven gives us hope beyond this life. It is a hope for something more than simply becoming dust again to a purposeless end.

This hope allows for a perspective shift among Christians. This world is not all there is, so everything is temporary.

2. Family

When you receive salvation, you are granted entry into not only the presence of God but also his family. He created all of us, but we chose to live our own way like runaway children. Through Jesus, he invites us back into the family along with other believers. What this means for us each day is this: we don’t have to live this life alone. When we try to live life alone, it is very easy for temptations to overcome us, and we walk away from God again and again. But when we are doing life together with other people who are trying to live the ways of Jesus in their everyday life, it becomes easier to stay on the narrow path ourselves. Some people claim they don’t need the church to be a Christian. This is totally in contrast to what the Bible says (Hebrews 10:25). The greatest commands are these: Love God, and Love Others (all others – even your enemies). In fact, in 1 John 4, John says that we love God BY loving others. The Bible also says we are to do good (read: love) to all people, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:10). I know that some churches are filled with Jerks. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. At times everyone can be mean – even you and me. The church is full of broken sinners in need of the grace of God through Jesus. Hurt people hurt people. Latch onto the good people. Do life with them. Let God sort out the bad, but don’t cut yourself off from the family because of one or two. And in today’s culture, if you are in a church that isn’t loving, you can probably find one that is loving just down the road, or maybe across town.

3. Purpose and Direction

Of the things I have mentioned so far, this may be the one not understood the most by well-meaning Christians. When you give your life to Christ, you are pledging devotion to be His follower, His disciple. That means you are pledging to live according to His teachings. You don’t have to live life haphazardly. Through the teaching of Jesus, there is a direction for your life – a code by which you should live. This code gives a standard. It allows us to evaluate our lives to see whether we are doing good or bad. In atheism, there is no standard of good or bad – those ideas are subjective to the person. In Christianity there is a standard (2 Timothy 3:16).But this direction isn’t just a set of rules to govern our lives. It is meant to help us live out our purpose as well. What is that purpose?We are called to help the kingdom grow through evangelism (Matthew 28:12-20). Every. Single. Christian. Is. An. Evangelist. Or at least they should be. Here is where Christianity is falling by the wayside. The majority of Christians don’t live out their purpose. We are supposed to love other people, and through that love, we show them the way TO Jesus and the way OF Jesus. When you don’t understand your direction and purpose, it is easy to become the kind of Christian people run away from rather than toward.

4. It’s free

So many religions around the world expect you to do certain things to achieve relationship with their deity of choice. Christianity is not this way. The purpose and direction of Christianity are there to help you live a better life and enjoy life more. They are meant to help this world become a better place. They are not meant to help you achieve some sort of status before God.

We are all sinners. We have all walked away from God and His ways. We have all broken his commands to love. So what can we do to undo what we’ve done?

Nothing.

We can’t undo wrong by doing right. The merit system doesn’t work that way. In order to undo our wrong, there has to be a substitution for our life. This is where Jesus comes into play. He lived perfectly, and at his death and resurrection, his perfect life was exchanged for broken, sinful one if we would receive it.

We can’t live good enough to deserve to be in the presence of God, but through Jesus, we are granted entrance into God’s Kingdom and into his family in spite of our wrongs (Romans 5:6-8).

Christianity is the only religion where salvation is given freely. All these blessings listed above are free. You don’t have to earn them (Galatians 5:1).

The way to connect with the blessings of God is to be connected to the Cross of Jesus (Romans 6:1-4). That’s it. We ask God to cleanse our consciences (1 Peter 3:21), and we trust that He has saved us. We cannot save ourselves.

I’m glad to be a Christian. There’s so much hope here. I hope you will consider joining the family too.

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R.E.M. Was Right

“It’s the end of the world a we know it…” But I don’t feel fine.

Our world seems to be crumbling all around us. Media shows us atrocities daily stemming from numerous causes. As we watch these things happen, and experience these horrors either firsthand, or through a loved one, we can’t help but feel somewhat hopeless.

But why are all these things happening?

Some want to blame this, that, and the other. Others want to avoid the question altogether. But few are really speaking into the reason for the tragedies we are witnessing daily.

Our world wants nothing to do with God and the hope He offers.

FORGETTING THE PAST

60 years ago, Christianity was thriving. Churches were growing, but it was the beginning of the era of decline for the church. As people began experimenting with the New Age movement during the Hippy Era, and some traded religion for science, skepticism set into our culture, and the church did nothing.

It was easy for the church to do so. She had been the primary influencer in nearly all of society for ages. This understanding allowed people to believe that culture would convert their friends and family. In the USA, Christianity had been a primary influence even in government.

So, when times changed, instead of renewing the vigor for evangelism, the church simply watched. It wasn’t everyone in the church, but it was the majority, and that was enough to begin the decline.

IGNORING THE PROBLEM

Instead of reaching out to the lost with love and grace, the church fought against one another, striving to declare each sect the “right” sect – forgetting that sectarianism (division) is expressly condemned by the scriptures. The church was busy blaming one another as the masses began to leave. Fed up with the hypocrisy of “I’m right, and you’re wrong”, the world turned against the church. And, in turn, it turned against God.

However, instead of identifying the lack of God and His principles in society, everyone continued to blame one another or blame things. We blame God, Satan, video games, guns, science, illegal immigrants, other denominations, other religions, other races, politicians, and many more. The list goes on and on. But we don’t blame free will. We don’t dare take any of the responsibility, either. That would mean we would have to change – if we were the problem.

In the age of the apathy of the church, she began to atrophy.

No longer is the average Christian evangelistic. This has been the case for a long while. Shortly after the church was established, the church allowed the government to be the great evangelist through a partnership of the church with the state. As time went by, we assumed people inherently believed in God because of the cultural influence of the church, so we waited for the preachers to do the evangelism. All the while, we got fat with teaching from those same preachers.

When you eat and eat and eat, but you never exercise, you become fat through your laziness. This is the nature of the church. She, her members, want the preachers to preach and teach and evangelize; all the while the masses in her ranks can feel comfort and connection with God through education and emotional experiences once a week (three times if you’re “devout”). Where is all the action of the church like we read about in the book of Acts?!

FACING THE FUTURE

If the church (THAT MEANS YOU) doesn’t return to her calling according to Jesus in the scriptures, she will die. Sure, God can keep a remnant, like He has done for thousands of years, but should we really hope for that?

Shouldn’t we rather get out of our doors? Shouldn’t we discover how to use this wealth of knowledge that is imparted to us every week? Shouldn’t we return to the mission of the first church – the Kingdom of God and it’s expansion through love?

How many people have you brought to Christ? I’m not talking about inviting people to church. I’m talking about actually sharing the good news of Jesus with someone.

SEEKING HELP

You know what? If you went to your preacher, or some other evangelistic leader in your church, and asked them how to share the gospel with your friends, I think you would find them more than willing to spend one-on-one time training you in the ways of evangelism. But that’s going to require you to do uncomfortable things and spend valuable time on others. Is that any less than what Jesus has already done for you?

Do you want to change the direction of this world? This change begins with you finding one person who is willing to listen to how love, through Christ, can change their heart.

Immorality is a choice made from free-will. It is sin. It is not the will of God, and it doesn’t have to rule us or our friends. But until someone is given the choice, how can they begin anew?

Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Discipleship Marathon

I hate running.

Even as I type those words, I’m not sure they’re strong enough to express the emotions I associate with that self-inflicted “sport” (read: torture).

Yet, I know that running is good for me.

So, in order for me to run – to do that which is good for me – I need motivation. For some people, good health is motivation enough, but I’m too stubborn for logic. I love to eat sumptuous food, and I love to be busy with other things, and I love to be comfortable. None of that will help me achieve the healthy body I need for high quality of life. So I need motivation.

When I have a goal set before me, I run. I’ve done a marathon, a Tough Mudder, and numerous other runs including, most recently, a long journey through the Grand Canyon. I trained for each of these events, and the training served me well each time. The upcoming events motivated me to do that which was uncomfortable in order to achieve success in an endeavor I had yet not attempted.

But when the race or hike or journey was over, I went back to laziness. Because it’s easier.

We all have areas in our lives where laziness, a lack of motivation, keeps us from training for upcoming journeys, whether physical or mental.

So many Christians live lazy Christian lives. There is little knowledge of the book they claim to live by. They aren’t exercising their evangelistic muscles. Their faith is weakened by their trust in their finances. It seems there is no motivation to step out and do the uncomfortable to achieve a greater reward.

In our grace-desiring Christian culture, we want God to give us grace, and we relish in that grace, so we reason that the grace we’ve been given entitles us to a lackadaisical approach to our Christian lives. Grace is good, but we are called to not only receive grace but also train ourselves to live “worthy of our calling” (Ephesians 4:1-2). We are called to continually train in the ways of Jesus to achieve the prize of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14).

Does this mean we don’t have salvation if we aren’t working? We like to say we don’t earn our salvation by what we do, but James, the brother of Jesus, tries to clarify that concept. He expresses, in his treatise on faith, that it is impossible to have faith without deeds (James 2:14-19). Faith without action is dead (James 2:17).

We are called to train daily. It’s like living in an apprenticeship. We are trying to be like our Rabbi, Jesus. We can’t do that on our couches and hidden away in our church buildings. We can’t do that in ignorance of the scriptures and without talking to the Father. We can’t do that alone.

So we need to fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). We call that “going to church”. Yes, it’s required.

We need to study the word of God, for that is where we will learn who God is and how we should live as His children (Matthew 22:31; 2 Timothy 3:16). That requires reading.

We need to tell others about the goodness of Jesus and the Kingdom of God the way Jesus did (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires engagement. Introversion is not an excuse.

We need to spend time with the Father the way Jesus did (John 5:19; 10:30; 15:5). Prayer is essential.

We need to give generously, trusting in the Father for sustenance (Mark 12:44). He wants to provide more, the more we trust Him.

So will you train? It will mean reading. It will mean time spent. It will mean giving financially in order to learn faith in the Father. It will mean uncomfortable situations and conversations. This is discipleship. It’s what you signed up for when you were baptized. Are you in? The prize is much bigger than a medal at the end of a marathon – it’s eternal life.


What Would Jesus Do?

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What Would Jesus Do?

When someone asks you, or your ask yourself this question, consider that overturning tables, beating people with a whip of cords, and yelling at people is an option.

Seriously.

Do you remember the story of Jesus droving out the money-changers in the temple courts? Some scholars believe the stories recorded in the gospel represent not just one event, but two. Imagine that. Jesus, meek and mild, got so beside-himself-mad that he disrupted the church money-making schemes and people’s businesses.

This does not quite fit the idea of Jesus being the Lamb.  If He’s the Lamb, He’s the Lamb who roars like the Lion of Judah.

These religious leaders were allowing outright corruption in the temple courts.  People were having to be fleeced in order to worship according to the Law of Moses.  Church services were overshadowed by immorality of the greedy kind.

Greed is called idolatry in the scriptures, and yet, here it is in the temple courts.

Is this a place you would want to give generously to?  Imagine a church like this.  Would you want to contribute to the work going on there?

Now think of another story.

Jesus gathers his disciples to the side of the temple courts watching the passers-by. Many rich people are coming with buckets of money.  Jesus isn’t impressed.

Then a widow comes, and when Jesus sees her, he tells his disciples to watch.  She barely put anything in – two small coins. Yet, this was all the money she had.

This woman just contributed everything she had to a system filled with corruption which is in complete denial of the presence of the Messiah. If I were Jesus, I might have stepped up and encouraged her to make her donation to another god-fearing charity (if such existed). It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus.

No, Jesus didn’t stop her.  In fact, he praised her.  He loved her heart of generosity and dependence on the Lord.

Would the temple use this money appropriately? Did they believe and teach the right things? No! In many ways, no.  In fact, many of the leaders of this religious movement would crucify the very man praising the woman for donating to the corrupt system.

Does the integrity of the system give value to the intent of the giver?

Many people want to get a list of all the good things being done with the money in the church treasury before they feel comfortable giving.  If a church isn’t teaching to their liking or doesn’t include the program they deem necessary, they threaten to withdraw their tithe. This currently culture seems to have a strong sense of wanting to know what the money is going toward before the wallet is loosened for giving.

Giving with expectation is tyranny in the same way that love with expectation is tyranny.  Giving with expectation is a form of blackmail. Generosity is a form of love, and love is not self-seeking, so how can one justify not giving because they have no control over where the money goes?

You may not know everything the church does.  You may not even agree with everything the church does.  Are you giving to the church?

When the offering basket comes around, are you giving to people, or an idea, or a cause? Or are you giving to the Lord?

Give. Generously give.  Gratefully give.

You haven’t been perfect in the ways you’ve spent the blessings of God, and you have sinned in spite of the love He constantly showers on you. You then, though you are imperfect, will you expect an organization full of other imperfect people to be perfect?  Will you seek to be in control of “your” money?

The next time the plate or basket or bucket is passed, give according to how you’ve been for-give-n. He has truly blessed you, and you are giving in response to Him – not anyone else.

 


Dear Church


Dear Church,

On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.

The American church isn’t growing in most areas.  In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births.  However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.

As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.

We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all.  We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith.  We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.

We evangelize.  We bring people to the churches.  We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.

As a teacher I should know better.  I have been taught the most effective way to train people.  Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching.  I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance.  And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.

Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training.  Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do.  Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me.  Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.

Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years.  How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?

Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him.  How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life?  How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?

Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him.  This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?

Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples.  He didn’t stick around and micromanage them.  How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it?  How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?

Dear church, I’m sorry.

So what can we do to fix this?  How can we become a church that thrives and grows again?  We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships.  We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry.  We model for them.  We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility.  When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church.  We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.

Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating.  These are actions.  The church is to be on the move, not stationary.  The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.

If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple. 


Confession Time


If I were to ask you to tell of your sins, how would you respond? I would assume you would balk at the question and do everything in your power either to change the subject or physically leave my presence.

Confession is a lost art in Christianity today, and its absence is keeping us in bondage.

When we have sin that isn’t confessed, it eats away at us.  It keeps us from truly finding healthy intimacy in marriage and even friendship relationships. And it keeps us from finding healing from that sin since we aren’t willing to ask for help.

Confession brings freedom.

I know the excuses. I know you’re scared to let someone know the things that are ugly about you for fear they might use that knowledge to abuse you. You’ve experienced it before. Hurt people hurt people, and you don’t feel you can trust someone enough to confess your sins to them.

These are valid. Trust is easily broken and much harder to build.

However, if a sin you’re struggling with becomes public knowledge, it may hurt at first, but there is freedom from having to hide it once it is revealed. Then you’re free to work on that issue without restraint or secrecy.

We treat confession like it is optional. We confess when we feel like it to whom we feel like it, and sometimes (often times) we don’t confess at all. The scriptures are pretty clear about confession.

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Psalms 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Confession is essential to the growing godliness of the believer. Through confession we invite the accountability needed to actually stop sinning. It is possible to stop that sin you’re struggling with.

Confession is given first to God – not because he doesn’t know, but because you need to admit your problem.

Confession is given next to your brother or sister in Christ. If you’re married, start with your spouse. Beyond that, confession is better done with someone of the same gender. The purpose for this type of confession is to invite them into your struggle to pray with you, check on you, and walk with you as you grow beyond this temptation.

People in recovery programs understand the need for this kind of healing process. We shouldn’t think that because our sin doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs we don’t need the same process to overcome our sins.

If you’re struggling to confess, start small…confess the little things. Then you will see how they react and help. If you’re looking for someone to confess to, look to your minister and his wife or your elders and their wives. They would be honored to join with you in this journey of healing.

Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, my sin stinks just like yours, so I have no right to look down on your struggle when I have my own.  If we all understood and behaved according to this fact, we would be much more eager to confess to one another.

May you find healing through confession, and by this, may the church become strong in unity and love.


You Get What You Ask For

Be careful what you pray for. You might just get it. 

When we pray, we are encouraged to pray for what we want and to be willing to follow the will of God whatever the outcome. But what if the will of God isn’t what He gives us? What if He gives us what we wanted even if that means he has to work a different outcome?

God had a plan for Israel, but they wanted a king, so he gave them one. It wasn’t exactly pleasant for the Israelites, but they got what they wanted, and eventually God worked out His will for them anyway. 

We just voted in a new president. Many churches prayed for the outcome of his election. Many Christians prayed specifically for Trump to win, but is that what the church needed? 

The American church is weak. The American church largely functions like a 40 year old bible nerd that still lives in his mom’s basement. 

Where is evangelism? Where are wonderful works of the Holy Spirit? Where are those strong in the faith who are able to speak truth without fear of their fellow man? Where are the “greater things than these” that Jesus promised we’d do?

Yes, there are preachers and some Christians who function this way, but this is not the norm. 

If the American church functions largely to put on Sunday morning bible classes and worship assemblies, then she has missed the call of the New Testament. 

The American church is full of people who claim to be Christians but don’t even know what Christ said about how to live. They look just like the world and cower at the concept of being blunt enough to tell others about the dangers of sin and the need for a savior. They don’t want to be seen as religious “nuts” and work hard to be cool according to the world’s standards. 

When has the church been strong? The church was strong under the persecution of the Jews, Pagans, and Romans in the first three centuries. The church is still strong in places where persecution is more than just a hateful glance or derogatory comment. The church is strong where there are threats of prison and death. 

Why? Because if you’re still going to choose the way of Christ in such circumstances, you’re going to have to be truly filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. There are no partial Christians in places like that. There are no “Sunday morning only” Christians in that culture. 

Perhaps what the American church needs is some persecution. Maybe she needs to lose some of her rights in this nation. Maybe her members need to be threatened in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. God has done it before. One day, He will do it again. 

I pray for President-Elect Trump and his staff. I pray for our nation. I pray especially for the church – that she begins to pray prayers more like Acts 4 – prayers of boldness and not protection; prayers of courage in the Spirit of Christ.

It’s well past time for Christians in this nation to come back to the Christ they claim with their lips but deny with their lifestyle. It’s time for the church to be a bastion of love in a world gone mad with fear and hatred. It’s time for the church to stop being “of convenience” and start being actually “of Christ”. 

What are you going to do to help the church be what Jesus calls her to be? Change starts with me, and it starts with you. 


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