Tag Archives: jesus

Cowboys and Christians

John-Wayne-Cowboy-Poster

I bet you’ve never heard ole Marshall Dillon say
Miss Kitty have you ever thought of running away
Settling down will you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please
She’d of said, “Yes in a New York minute”
They never tied the knot
His heart wasn’t in it
Stole a kiss as he rode away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place

(From “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith)

Do you like old westerns? Growing up, I always thought my grandpa was just like John Wayne, and he looked like him too.  We love it when the loner rides into town, cleans up the mess, and leaves like he came – independent and alone.

We like other kinds of hero movies for similar reasons.  When the hero, against all odds, saves the day without the help of anyone else, we cheer! There are no stereotypical heroes. Men, women, children, dogs. We root for the underdog and love to see him or her win.

They are the savior of the moment. They didn’t need anyone.  Everyone needed them.

We have adopted quite a liking to this loner mentality.  Our culture today is as individualistic as it has ever been.  We know more about our friends than ever through social media, but we are statistically more lonely and depressed than ever.  We pride ourselves on our independence and ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Even the “American dream” encourages this idealism that pits a person or family against the world to succeed in wealth, prestige and power.

But is individualism best?

My own personal savior, Jesus Christ.

The individualistic ideal of today that is standard thinking for many in America is foreign to so many others around the world, and it is a relatively new concept associated with the rise of industrialism, capitalism, and urbanization.

In days gone by, a family would need the entire community to survive.  Older generations weren’t carted off to homes for senior care.  They were incorporated into the everyday life of the family.  The nuclear family wasn’t separate from the collective.  People didn’t seek to be alone.

When you read the scriptures through the lens of individualism, then it would seem fitting that Jesus is our own personal savior. One for each of us.  But Jesus didn’t just come to die for you alone.  His plan was for the world.  The language of the scriptures isn’t that of individualism; it exudes collectivism.

Yet, when we read stories like the gathering of the first church in Acts 2, we immediately think of terms like socialism or communism or utopian societies or cults.  They thought of community.  They were using what they were blessed with to help those they considered family.  To seek independent wealth would be to show disdain for the collective need.

This collectivist mindset was the norm for those in the Middle East in the first century.  Yet, today, we are far removed from such thinking.  If we could refocus to see the collective view, the scriptures would open up to us in new ways, the church would mobilize again to look like she began, and we would find new purpose in our faith in Jesus.

When you read the word “you” in the New Testament, more often than not the word is plural – speaking to the whole church – not just the individual reading.

As it is, our individualistic mindsets convince us to hoard our wealth and give leftover to the church. We hide in buildings to see one another once a week or less, and we convince ourselves that we can seek this personal relationship with Jesus without attending services with other hypocritical Christians.

These ideas are entirely foreign to the church of the New Testament – the church of Jesus.

Jesus is your savior, but he’s the savior of the whole world, and you’re a part of it.  He’s the savior of the church, and you’re a part of it.  YOU (singular) aren’t the church.  WE (collectively) are the church.

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Mountain Roads

Have you ever taken a trip up a mountain road? I’m not talking about one with pavement or that your Ford Focus could cruise along. I’m talking about a mountain road that will take you above tree line.

When you embark upon a mountain road trip, you must begin with the proper frame of mind. To think you are doing this for a joyride will have you met with frustration and worry. Taking a trip up a mountain road is an adventure.

Depending on the time of year, you may be met with all sorts of adversity. You must have high clearance, and four wheel drive is recommended, for you are going where normal cars cannot, and you’re doing this for the scenery, access to places few can go, and adventure.

On a few occasions, I have met sharp rocks and bald tires. I have changed flats on mountainsides in the rain. I have had to move boulders to forge ahead. I have encountered streams that needed to be crossed and snow banks that needed to be traversed. I’ve even come upon logs that either had to be moved or driven over. A few times I have even come to a place where the vehicle could no longer go, and I set out on foot to see what lays ahead.

Driving mountain roads is definitely an adventure.

As I said before, it is not a joyride. If I was looking for scenery without danger, I would be nervous from the drop-offs and narrow roads. It would ruin my day when an obstacle arose. My attitude would be adjusted by every unforeseen circumstance.

But I drive mountain roads for the adventure, and that adventure brings me joy.

I have seen mountain sheep and tundra. I have been to alpine lakes with pristine water. I have breathed clean air and seen for miles and miles. I have driven places most people will never see and found treasures absent in lower elevations.

The adventure is worth it, for the benefits outweigh the trials.

In our churches, we pray, a lot. Nearly every week I hear others pray on numerous occasions, and one of the most common things prayed for is safety. Are we called to be safe? If I was striving for safety in my wanderings, I would never attempt to drive a mountain road, and I would never see the places I’ve seen.

If we walk this life looking for safety, we will never achieve the goals God has set for us to reach the world for Him. Safety is not possible when you are evangelizing. Safety isn’t attainable when you are pouring yourself out for others. Safety is not a goal of the church that belongs to Jesus.

Jesus has redeemed our life – bought it – He owns us. He wants to use us, and in the name of stewardship, we seek safety. And the church dwindles.

Have you experienced the joy of seeing a friend and loved one give his or her life to Christ? Then, you have taken the risk of rejection. Have you poured yourself out to the point of exhaustion in service to someone? Then you have experienced the joy of selflessness. Have you loved unconditionally only to be burned? Then you know what Christ experienced. Have you heard the call to visit (mission trip) or move (missionary) somewhere new for the sake of the kingdom? Have you heard the call to reach your neighborhood? Did you pray for safety?

Christianity is meant to be an adventure. You are meant to live in ways few live to change the world for the better. You aren’t created for safety. Safety is for those who do not need a Savior.

The next time you pray, pray for courage, boldness, strength, power, love, mercy, faithfulness, and other such things that will cause you to live an extraordinary life in Christ, by His Spirit who lives in you. And be adventurous for Jesus.


Most Owned, Least Read

Annually, bibles sales account for over $1,000,000,000.00. Yet also annually, only about 20% of the population say they read their bible regularly. The Bible is the most widely owned, least read book in history.

Why is this?

Every week, church people gather to worship and hear a message from the Bible. The more devout followers also attend bible class and/or small groups one to three other times during the week. Yet, for even these, the Bible isn’t read until they are in those study settings.

Again, I ask, why?

The Bible is an intimidating book. 66 books written over two-thousand years ago at the latest, and some of them nearly 3500 years ago. Yet for 35 different authors over the course of nearly 1500 years to write a book that contains a single thread bringing hope to generations is a miracle!

The Bible contains many teachings that are hard to understand. Does anyone really know for certain what Revelation is about, in detail? There are so many religions claiming the Bible as their book, yet they differ dramatically in their practices. How can a simple person understand it? Why even try? Isn’t it easier to trust that what my preacher/teacher says is reliable?

That’s awfully trusting of you!

For years I have wondered what it would be like to preach a sermon from the pulpit and completely make up all the scripture references and tell a message that gets close to but doesn’t match up with what is really in the Bible. I’d have the fake verses on the screen. No one opens their bibles during that time anyway. How many people would even notice I’d be lying? You wouldn’t notice, unless you already knew the book.

Preachers and teachers, even the most sincere ones, are fallible humans, just like you. They make mistakes, just like you. They have limited understanding, just like you. And they can’t read minds, just like you, so they do not know how a particular passage of scripture directly applies to you, personally.

Instead of waiting for the preachers to preach and teachers to teach, what if we read the Bible for ourselves? Then, when we engaged the preachers and teachers, what if we had questions about what we were already studying? What if our study led us to feel more confident in sharing God’s truths with others? What if studying the Bible daily created transformation inside us that others could see? What if we found greater contentment and joy through the perspective given us through the scriptures daily?

If we didn’t look to the Bible for guidance and a moral foundation in our lives, then how would we be different than the atheist who claims no moral truths? We could make up whatever we felt was right, and many religious people do just that.

No! We need the Bible to show us the path God intends us to walk. We need the Bible to help us connect with the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. We need the Bible to combat the temptations of the evil one. We need the Bible.

But we cant get to the truths of the Bible through osmosis. The words of scripture won’t dissolve through the cover and enter our bloodstream to fill our minds with goodness. We have to open the covers and read for ourselves, or listen (there are many, free audio versions of the Bible even for your phone).

Do you know what’s in there? Do you REALLY know? It’s time to start your journey into the text today. Most translations are written on a 6th grade reading level. If you find something you don’t understand, then connect with a spiritually mature person who can help you. Be transformed by the word so that you can be used to transform the world.


The Real Easter

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When I was little, I took everything that was taught me as fact. I questioned very little. But when I became an adult, I began to question many things that were being taught to me. Maybe you’re that way too. It’s good to seek the truth.

One of the truths that men throughout the ages have tried to clarify is the truth of what really happened the Sunday after Jesus was crucified. Did He really rise from the dead, or is this just a big hoax? With Easter coming this weekend, I thought it fitting to explore the three options for explanations as to why the tomb was empty on that historic Sunday morning.

Before we begin, however, I need to make one thing clear: I take the bible as a historical document. You can study this for yourself and find out that the bible is as much a historical document as any other document from that time, and there are some things about this book that leave me with no doubt as to it’s authenticity. If you don’t feel the same way, then I’d love to talk with you about that, but that proof is for another article.

The Swoon Theory:
Some people believe that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, rather he fainted and later woke up and escaped unnoticed from the tomb.

The Stolen Body Theory:
Some believe that Jesus did die, but that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb when the guards weren’t looking. This theory is actually recorded in the bible.

The Resurrection Theory:
Some believe that Jesus did die on the cross, that he was buried in a tomb, and that on the third day, he rose from the grave.

Well, there you have it…the three theories that I know of as to why there was an empty tomb that Sunday morning almost two-thousand years ago.  Without this empty tomb, millions of people have a faith that is useless (1 Corinthians 15).  So what’s the truth?

According to history, a person didn’t die quickly on a cross.  It would take a person upward of 36 hours to die, so the soldier that fateful day would have known that these three men (Jesus, and the two thieves) would not be dead by sundown.  He then made the decision to break their legs to speed up the dying process.  On a cross, you can inhale because your lungs are expanded, but you must push up with your legs to exhale.  He broke the legs of the two thieves, but when he came to Jesus, he saw that Jesus was already dead.  This man dealt with death on a regular basis.  He KNEW if someone was dead or just faking it.  Then, just to be sure, he thrust his spear into the heart of Jesus.  If Jesus hadn’t been dead already (which he was), then this would have been the point of no return.

Suppose Jesus didn’t die and the guard missed his mark (however unlikely that is), Jesus had been through hematidrosis – which is agonizing and weakens the body, and he had been severely flogged and lost copious amounts of blood.  Mark’s gospel records that the stone in front of the tomb was exceedingly large.  Jesus wouldn’t have had the strength to escape from the tomb. Thus the first theory is busted.

Matthew’s gospel records the second theory.  The Jews were concerned that the disciples might do this, so Pilate had the tomb sealed and a detachment of soldiers sent to guard tomb.  The detachment would have probably been 16 soldiers with four in front of the tomb at a time on 6 hour shifts while the other 12 slept.  These soldiers would have been armed and standing close to the stone.  The seal would have been two leather straps cris-crossing the stone with a wax seal at the cross.  The penalty for the guards falling asleep on their watch would have been death.  Thus this story would have been HIGHLY unlikely.  Besides, it would have been difficult for the disciples to roll away the stone without waking the guards even if they were asleep.

Thus the only acceptable solution is the third theory.  Jesus DID rise from the grave.  He was alive!  The bible records that over 500 people saw him after his resurrection.  Because of the resurrection we have hope in Christ.  All of our faith as Christians rests on the fact of the resurrection.

Have you put your trust in this historical event?  Have you been connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection by being baptized (Romans 6)? Do you regularly fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25)? I want to personally invite you to connect with a church that will help you grow in love for Jesus and for his followers.  If you’re in the Four Corners area, would you join us at Aztec church of Christ? We would love to have you be part of our loving family.


Monday Through Saturday – Sunday Too

Why did you become a Christian? Were you looking for salvation from the wrong you’ve committed? Were you looking for inner peace and purpose? Were you looking for a way to overcome the grave? Were you trying to understand what science could not explain?

You became a Christian – you gave your heart to God through Jesus. But did you understand the implications of this transaction?

The whole bible is a long narrative that many people do not comprehend. So many people are looking at the small details of this law and that story and this church that they miss the bigger picture.

Man and God were in perfect relationship, but mankind cheated on God and broke the relationship. God worked diligently to show them a way back, but all ways before Jesus were tastes of that relationship. Then Jesus came and offered full restoration of the relationship between mankind and God. Now we have that relationship back, so we live in the kind of love we’ve been shown by God.

We’ve been given this relationship. Freely. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.

Now God has chosen to take up residence, not in a temple in one location, but in each heart of each Christian. God is here. God is with us. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

We got salvation, but were we looking for relationship?

We want God when we are in trouble. We want Him to take away our sniffles and cure our diseases. We want Him to ease the pain of heartache and exact justice on our enemies. We want God to change the world.

God simply wants us. All of each of us.

Have you ever loved someone so much it didn’t matter what they did, you’d live them anyway? That’s how God loves us. That’s the relationship He wants us to experience in Him.

Then, as we experience and understand that relationship, we are given to worship Him. We worship Him because He has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We worship Him because He, in all His majesty, desires relationship with us.

The worship we are called to is not Sunday morning worship service worship. That is one small part of the worship God desires from us. He has given so much for us; could we not, in return, offer Him all of our life in return? Worship is how we are to live. It isn’t simply an action we participate in once in a while.

When you fall in love with your significant other, your whole life revolves around them. Everything you do is to honor them. All you can think about is them. Is that how you react to God?

Everything you do, if you are a Christian, is done in the presence of God with God’s Spirit in you. When you speak life in others, you bring God glory. When you curse others, you bring Him shame. When you love, you reflect His goodness, yet when you hate, you misrepresent the One whose Name you confess. When you join together with other Christians, you recognize your part in His family. When you reject Christian community, you despise His gifts to you.

When you live in worship daily, you will be more committed to joining other Christians in worship weekly in a church building. However, when you make weekly gathering a priority in your life, you may find yourself encouraged to worship daily as well.

So, what shall we do? Pray to God constantly – recognizing your relationship with Him. Worship through actions that honor His Name in you. Gather with His family to experience His love through others who love by His Spirit living in them. Live in worship daily and so honor the One who did for you what you could not do for yourself.


Prayer is Not the Answer

Lately there have been several news outlets and celebrities giving people a hard time for sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims of tragedies and friends who are undergoing hard times. Just this week I saw that Chris Pratt was being ridiculed for praying for another celebrity who was overcoming a heart attack. People have been ridiculing Christians for saying they are praying for the victims of the school shootings. They claim prayer doesn’t work.

And they’re right.

Sometimes.

For many Christians, there is a desire to do something, or there is a call for change, and the immediate reaction is to pray. This is a great response!! Who better to go to in times of need than the one who created the universe?!

But, it seems there are three types of people in the camp of those who send well wishes through touted prayer.

1. The person who says they will pray but doesn’t.

I don’t blame them.

There are a lot of things going on every day. Sometimes it’s hard to pray. What if God isn’t pleased with me? Will my prayers even matter? I don’t have the right words. I’m a weak pray-er.

Really? These excuses do not come from the Spirit of God who lives in you who have devoted your life to Christ. These excuses come from your adversary, the accuser (Satan).

However, if you’re not praying regularly, you will never get better at praying, and it will continue to be easy to say “I’ll pray for you” and never actually do it.

Of course this kind of prayer is not the answer.

2. The person who says they will pray and does.

This group is devoted to trying to help another person through prayer. They are genuine in their statement that they will pray. This group is actively trying to do what is right, but even this group is divided in results.

2a. The person who prays that God will do something.

This is a common prayer, right? “God, please do something about violence in school, or my dying grandmother, or my upcoming test.” We pray to God for many things, and we wonder why those things are not being resolved as quickly as we think they should.

There was once a man who wanted to win the lottery. He prayed and prayed to God to let him win the lottery. The lottery came and went, and he was just as broke, so he prayed once more, “Why didn’t you let me win the lottery?” Then he heard a voice from heaven saying, “You have to buy a ticket first.”

When we pray for God to do something, He wants to act, but the way in which God acts most frequently is through us, people, His children. So many people want God to fix our society, and they hope He’ll use someone else to do it. Many people say “something should be done about this” while looking around the room for someone else to do it.

Perhaps God isn’t moving, and the prayers aren’t working, because He wants to use you, but you aren’t willing to be used.

2b. The person who prays for God to use them to do something.

Much less comfortable than the regular “God, do something” prayer is the one that expects God to use the pray-er through whom He will answer the prayer. If we are praying for God to change the moral culture of our society, we need to look for how God wants to use us to do it. If we pray for someone to be comforted, we should be willing to go comfort.

When we have the attitude of surrender to God for Him to work through us to resolve the issues about which we pray, we will find God working in mighty and effective ways to do just that.

So, prayer is not the answer, entirely. Prayer is the medium through which we seek God’s will for how He wants to use us to be the answer to the very prayers we pray.


Dodging Copperheads

When I was a boy, I loved to walk in the woods near our house. They held old trees and vines. There were ruins from the Civil War, and cypress trees, and right in the middle was a swamp teeming with nutrias.

One day, my friend an I were exploring through the woods, playing along the creek that fed the swamp. We each had machetes, because what boy doesn’t want to be dangerous? As we hopped along the cypress knees, my friend hollered for me to look down, and as I did, I saw something that gave me a fright! At my feet was a copperhead snake coiled up and reared back to strike!

In a split second I jumped, and it struck, both at the same time. As it struck (fortunately, just an inch or so in front of my leg), I swung my machete and took a chunk out of it’s back. I watched it slither away through the water and disappear under the root of a cypress tree growing in the creek.

It took me a couple minutes to regain my composure as my adrenaline flushed though my system. If I had been bitten, it would have meant certain hospitalization, and depending on the severity of the bite, some have even died from copperhead venom.

Have you ever had something dangerous sneak up on you like the snake did on me? Have you ever stepped into a dangerous situation accidentally?

The Bible says the devil is prowling around constantly, like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is also a serpent in the garden looking for someone to trap into death.

Lately there have been many things happening in our world that cause us to react strongly within our minds. The school shootings in Florida, Kentucky, and even here in Aztec, NM are great examples. Government policy often creates emotional dissonance within us. Even the male commentator for figure skating at the olympics dressed like a girl has many expressing consternation.

It’s easy to have opinions. It’s easy to allow our emotions to control our reactions to situations. It’s easy for Satan to sneak right up and cause us to sin, creating moments of death in this world by our words and actions and attitudes.

We must be constantly on guard. We must monitor our responses to stimuli. We must react with love, not hate or division.

But how do we do that? James says the man who can control his tongue will be perfect in every way, because the tongue is a restless evil full of deadly poison (James 3:2, 6). How do you use your tongue when you are caught up in the emotional response to negative stimuli?

Maybe you need to distance yourself for a moment until you can calm down. Maybe you need to take a sabbatical from Facebook or other social media that is fostering so much division in our culture. Maybe you need to remember you do not have to respond at all.

It is better to remain silent than to murder someone with hateful speech (Matthew 5:21-22). For when we let our anger, our sinful impulses, control us, Satan saddles up and rides us all the way back to death (Ephesians 4:26-27).

If you’ve been guilty of letting your negative emotional response to some situation damage your relationship with others, you need to make amends (Matthew 5:23-24).

May we be people who speak life in this world, not letting the copperheads at our feet cause us to stray from the ways of Jesus.


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