Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Accept the Differences

Most of us understand that people are different and those differences are a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everyone believed and acted the same way. Diversity is one of God’s great blessings to the world. 

Even though we acknowledge the blessing of diversity, the number 1 reason we judge other people is because they are different from us. They do things different than we would, they believe different ideas than we do, they value different things than we do, or they have a different set of morals than we do. These differences lead us to call other people weird, stupid, ignorant, immoral, and evil.

Our prideful side whispers in our hearts that our way is the right way and if someone doesn’t do it our way they are wrong. This reality (even though we wouldn’t actually admit to it) causes us to be very harsh with one another. 

We see it in our discussion of politics, in our conversations about religion and theology, in our relationships at work, and our interactions with our neighbors. 

Be careful about the way you view other people. If you label people as weird, ignorant, or wrong simply because they do things differently than you do, you doing what Jesus asked you not to do. 

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

In order to live the way of Jesus we need to be humble and patient. 

The apostle Paul wrote; “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3,NLT)

Without humility we will constantly be casting judgement on others rather than embracing the diversity God designed within the world. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Which Way Are You Going?

"Our choices either move us toward God and all the pleasure that comes in Him or steer us away from Him to a life of shame and fear." ~ Erwin McManus, Seizing Your Divine Moment, p. 19

The way we view choices is odd. 

On the one hand we acknowledge the importance of choices and agree that choices are powerful things. On the other hand, we treat many of the choices we make each day as unimportant and allow habits or emotions to dictate what we do.

I like this thought from Erwin McManus because it reminds us that our choices are in fact either moving closer to our goal or hindering our progress. The reason why we are frustrated with our place in life or in our relationship with God has a great deal to do with the choices that we make.

One of the realities of my life that I have become increasingly aware of is how distracted I allow myself to be. I will mindlessly scroll Facebook or my Twitter feed rather than doing something productive. This has resulted in reading fewer books and not writing very often.

The choice to choose the path of least resistance and pick up my phone has hindered my desire to learn, to blog, and even to think.

Choosing the path of least resistance also has spiritual implications. 

The electronic distractions of television, computers, and smart phones conditions our minds to make it more difficult to concentrate while praying or reading Scripture. It isolates us from other people rather than bringing us together so we can truly be the body of Christ.

Our choices are important, and some of the most important choices that we will make are the choices that affect how we use our time. Remember when making those choices, you are either moving towards God or away from Him.

Which direction are your choices taking you?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Our Identity

{Philippians 1:1-2; NLT} 
 This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God's holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 

 For many people living in the United States if you asked them; "Who are you?", they would tell you that they are an American, that they are from a certain state, that they do a certain job, that they play a certain instrument or play a certain sport, that they are in certain relationship, or practice a certain religion. These are the type of things that we usually use to define our identity.

 There is nothing immoral about having these things as part of our identity, but for us who follow Jesus they do not tell the full story. In order to faithfully follow Jesus we need to understand who we are. Knowing our identity helps us understand the role that we are to play in God's Kingdom.

 I attended Nebraska Christian College. During my time there I was part of the basketball team, and each year, before the season began, Coach Lahm talked to us about our role on the team. He understood for unity to exist on the team and for the team to live up to its potential then the individual players needed to know and accept the role they had on the team.

In other words, they needed to know their identity. In a similar way the Apostle Paul began his letter to the church in Philippi by reminding them of who they are in God's Kingdom. This is crucial because life makes us forget our true identity. Satan uses the circumstances of life to get us to doubt God's promise and the salvation that is being completed in our lives. For our church families to live up to their potential and for unity to exist in them requires us to remember the truth about our who we are.

 In these opening verses of Philippians we discover that:

  1.  We are servants. Paul began by identifying himself and his companion Timothy as slaves of Jesus Christ. This means that the mission Paul was on was not his mission, but it was the mission Jesus gave to him. He belonged to Jesus and needed to do what Christ asked him to do. Jumping to the next sentence Paul identifies the Philippians as people who belong to Jesus. Just like Paul, their lives were not their own, rather they were under the leadership and direction of their Lord. That same thought applies to us. We have been bought at a price, and that means our lives are no longer our own. We are under the obligation to serve Jesus, the one who has rescued us from sin and death. We are called to serve Jesus, to go where he sends us. 
  2. We are saints. Paul said he was writing to the God's holy people in Philippi, that is what it means to be a saint. In the language of the Bible a saint is someone who is part of God's covenant people. The Philippians were holy because God had made a covenant with them through Jesus Christ. You and I are saints because God has declared that we are holy (Colossians 1:22) because of Jesus. Our sainthood has nothing to do with our holy behavior, and has everything to do with the reality that God has set Christians apart because of their faith in Jesus. 
  3. We are supplied. Paul prayed that God would bless the Philippians with grace and peace. In order to be servants and saints the Philippians needed to be supplied with the ability to live out their identity. They did not have the wisdom, the power, the faith, or the love to truly be God's holy people. The only way they could live out their identity is if God provided for their needs. The same is true for us. The only way we can love, serve, and forgive is if God provides us with the ability to do those things. Since we are God's representatives here on earth, we know that God will give us what we need to accomplish the task that he has given to us, because He wants us to succeed. 

As Christians our true identity is more than what we do or what we know. Our identity is built on Jesus. When our faith is in Jesus then God gives us a new identity. We are servants and saints who are generously supplied by God. This knowledge is crucial as we find our place in God's Kingdom. 

Questions to consider: 

  • When you think about who you are what is the first thing that comes to mind? 
  • Do you identify more with being a servant or being a saint? 
  • Why do you feel that way? 
  • How has God supplied for your needs in the past?

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Commitment of our Hearts

One of the amazing promises of the Gospel is that new life is available in Jesus Christ.  This is the life that God created us to live.

In John 10:10, the very passage Jesus declared his purpose to give people abundant life, Jesus called Satan a thief who steals, kills, and destroys the life God has given to people. Through Jesus, God gives life, but Satan is out there to make sure that life is not enjoyed.

One of the ways Satan robs us of life is to convince us of lies about who we are. When we believe these lies we are prevented from taking the next step forward, we are held down with oppressive guilt, and we are impeded from developing relationships that bring accountability and encouragement into our lives. It is hard to step out in faith when you believe that you are fatally flawed in your character.

The reason these lies are believable is because we know our weaknesses. Each one of us have sin in our lives that we have struggled with for years, and yet have not overcome.

You may have tried to stop gossiping, but every now and then you can’t resist the temptation to pass along a particular juicy bit of information. Perhaps you have tried to quit telling “dirty” jokes, but when you get together with the guys you can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to join in. Then there are the things that you do when no one else is around, from what you look at on the internet to the movies that you watch. All followers of Jesus have sin that seems to stick with them, no matter how much they hate it and struggle to overcome it.

Please remember, this is a common experience for everyone who follows Jesus. Yes, God wants us to overcome the sin in our lives. Sin hinders our relationship with Him and is a stumbling block in our effort to reach out to others with the grace of God.

It is true that God desires sinlessness, but it is also true that God has also promised us forgiveness. John wrote:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9; NLT)

What John wanted his readers to understand is that God knows we are going to sin, and so He promised to forgive those people who confess and repent. That is great news, and should be a welcome relief in the midst of our guilt and shame.

I believe the implication of this reality is that God is pleased when we enter the battle against sin and start to take action against those behaviors that hold us in bondage. It is through this struggle with sin that God shapes us into the people He wants us to be.

Every sin you commit doesn’t make you a moral failure. As long as we live in these bodies of flesh in a world that is dominated by evil (things opposed to the life God wants us to live) we are going to sin. We need to remember the amazing grace of God, for without the safety net of grace every sin would result in our destruction.

Not only is God patient with us, but He is also actively at work to give us the ultimate victory from sin. We cannot undo the consequences of our sin. This means our only hope is to be rescued from sin. That is what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection.

This rescue operation doesn't happen overnight. It is a life long process, and this is why the New Testament says we are saved, we are being saved, and that we will be saved. Our rescue began the moment we put our faith in Jesus and it continues until Jesus comes again.

The reason for this long process is because we habits that have been ingrained into our lives through years of repeated behavior, and therefore it will take months, if not years, to overcome these behaviors. In this struggle we are going to win battles and we are going to lose others. It is an act of faith, and it pleases God, when we engage the enemy and begin the long campaign to rid our lives of sin. This is the process needed to develop holy character.

The writer of Hebrews wrote about this truth:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.(Hebrews 12:1-4; NLT)

These witnesses to the life of faith all struggled with sin in their lives. The great icons of faith in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, and David) had periods of life when they disobeyed God and sinned, but God still counted them as righteous. Why did God do this? Because their hearts belonged to Him and they were willing to follow God wherever He led them.

What matters most to God is the commitment of our hearts.

We can beat ourselves up because we still have sin in our lives, but God is pleased when we faithfully follow Him. I am not saying sin is unimportant, what I am saying is that when our hearts belong to God then sin becomes insignificant.

Sin is insignificant because it is no longer our identity. By trusting Jesus our true identity is found in him and we are now counted as part of God's Kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14).

Satan will attack us and try to get us to doubt our salvation by reminding us of the sin we cannot throw off. He wants us to get frustrated and give up.

The Gospel declares that Satan doesn't have the final word. The final word belongs to God, and He has declared that everyone who follows Jesus is Holy (Colossians 1:22). That is the word that we need to hold on to in our effort to become the people God created us to be.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Follow Jesus Even When it is Difficult

It is easy to follow Jesus when we agree with what he says.

I feel more inclined to give when I have extra money in the bank, but it is a little harder to be generous when I am worried about paying the bills.

I am okay with loving people people who are like me, but it is more difficult to love someone who thinks and acts differently than I do.

I love to preach about risk taking and stepping out of our comfort zone, but it is next to impossible to get me to do something that I am not comfortable with doing.

A true follower of Jesus doesn't get to pick and choose what commandments or teachings he is going to obey. A disciple of Jesus spends his life trying to be like Jesus in every way he possibly can.

To be a Christ Follower means that we have submitted our entire lives to the will and teaching of Jesus.

To actually follow Jesus moves us beyond agreeing with the teachings of Jesus to actually changing the way we live based on who Jesus is and what he taught.

Faith is not demonstrated merely when we do those things that we agree with God are right to do, but doing those things God has called us to do that are difficult and uncomfortable.

This is the type of life that teaches us to trust God more than we trust ourselves.

57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58 But Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head."
59 He said to another person, "Come, follow me."
The man agreed, but he said, "Lord, first let me return home and bury my father."
60 But Jesus told him, "Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead!* Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God."
61 Another said, "Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family."
62 But Jesus told him, "Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God."
Luke 9:57-62; NLT

Each of these men had an excuse why they couldn't follow Jesus right a way.

They believed in Jesus, they apparently agreed with his teaching, but what he asked them to do conflicted with what they wanted to do.

Our faith is developed when we put aside those things we want to do and change long held beliefs so we can surrender to the will and teaching of Jesus.

There were many people who wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus reminded them what was expected of them.

To truly be a disciple of Jesus wasn't just about following Jesus around the countryside, witnessing miracles, listening to his teachings, and being part of a spiritual group.

To truly follow Jesus meant to give up everything and do God's will. This is what separates the followers of Jesus from the fans of Jesus. It is the difference between merely believing and having true faith.

To really have faith in Jesus means that we do the things that don't make sense to us. Things that are difficult.

Perhaps we give up our well paying job and enter the paid ministry.

Perhaps we pick up our family and move to a different country to be missionaries.

Perhaps we decide to give a little more money even though it will stretch the budget.

Perhaps we choose to quit just sitting in the pew and find a way to volunteer in order to use the talents God has given us.

Following Jesus isn't about our safety and dreams, but rather it is about doing God's will.

When we learn to trust Jesus, even when we don't understand the reasons why or don't agree with the direction God is asking us to go, that is when our faith is able to mature and deepen.

Following Jesus is about learning to trust God more than we trust ourselves.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Live as Free People

You and I have certain rights simply because we are people.

In the Christian tradition we believe that these rights are a gift from God. These inalienable rights declare that people are equal.

We are not equal in talent, intelligence, beauty, strength, wealth, privilege, or a number of other variables that set people apart from one another. We are equal in that we have the same right to life, self-determination, and responsibility as everyone else has.

The way this equality should be seen is in how people are treated under the law. It shouldn't matter who you are, equal protection should be given to everyone.

You and I are free people, but that doesn't mean that we are able to whatever we want to do. To protect the liberty given to us by God requires living in a certain manner.

Consider the following quote attributed to Samuel Adams:

He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man...The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.

What does a free life look like?

According to Samuel Adams the person who enjoys freedom is the person who lives a virtuous life. This is a crucial thought.

Often when we talk about freedom and liberty the focus is on what we are free to do.

"Is this activity legal?" we ask.

We declare, "It is my life I am free to make my own decisions!"

While it is true that freedom often allows you to make all types of choices, that doesn't mean that those choices are equally beneficial.

Enjoying the benefits of freedom is not the same preserving freedom.

I believe that the number one reason why people lose their liberty is because of poor choices. Yes, their freedom allows them to make those choices, but those choices end up stealing their freedom.

Should a person be free to use drugs?


God has gifted them personal responsibility and free will.

Admitting that a person has the freedom to use drugs is not the same thing as proclaiming  drug use as a positive thing. The addiction and personality change that can accompany drug use, even with alcohol, is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a self created prison that many people cannot escape.

This reminds me of what the apostle Peter wrote.

In 1 Peter 2:16 we read; Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (ESV).

Peter taught us that we are to live as free people.  The best way for us to live as free people is to live as servants of God.

I know this idea is counter-intuitive, that true freedom is found in being a servant, but when we obey God, we are not being oppressed by some tyrant. Rather, we are being directed by the Creator of the Universe: the One who knows the best way for people to live.

Ultimately freedom is found by living out God’s design for our lives. The way we enjoy freedom is to be faithful to God's will for us.

Please understand this: No one can rob us of our freedom.

Even if someone takes over and destroys the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, we are still able to live free lives.

The reason for this is because it is not the government that makes us free.

Freedom is a gift from God. The choices we make, even under an oppressive government, are what enable us to enjoy God’s gift of freedom.

Have hope!

God, in His great wisdom and mercy, placed the control of our lives in our hands.

The choices that we make determine the level of freedom we enjoy. God left it up to us to decide whether or not we will live with freedom. This freedom is not about doing whatever we would like to do. Freedom is ultimately about choosing to live the life God planned for us to live (see Ephesians 2:10).

The ability to be free is discovered in the choices we make. Choose to follow Jesus and enjoy real freedom.

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Way of Jesus

We are told that we are living in a divided nation.

All the various media outlets are telling us about protests and vandalism and how the United States is no longer a safe place for minorities.

One group of Americans is telling another group that they are racist and sexist because of the way they voted. The other group of Americans responds by saying they rejected a candidate who was corrupt and would further destroy the foundations of the country.

The deep divisions that make up the very soul of American political life are on full display. There is no getting around the reality that there are two vastly different visions for the United States.

On the one hand you have people on the left who declare that equality is the value that must guide us into the future.

On the other hand you have people on the right who declare that we must remain true to the principles and traditions that the United States was founded on.

Each side views the other with skepticism, derision, and intolerance.

If you have spent any time on social media you know the names and the accusations that are being flung back and forth: “You are ignorant!” one side screams and the other side fires back, “You are a bigot!”

It it is a fruitless exchange as nothing gets resolved and blood pressures rise. All you want is unity, but you are told that unity is impossible because those people on the other side are terrible people.

What are followers of Jesus Christ to do?

As simplistic as it might sound we are to follow Jesus.

It may sound simple, but it is not simple to do. There are going to be people on both sides of the aisle declaring that this or that is the most important thing and that is what deserves our attention. Many of these people will invoke the name of Jesus to try to convince us that their side is the one we must choose.

When we pick a side in this political war we simple give into the hate and the division that continues to tear apart relationships, families, churches, communities, and countries.

There is a better way, and that way is the way of Jesus.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29; NLT)

Unity is possible. It is the product of people who are rallied around a common idea, purpose, or person. Unity is achieved in football stadiums and concerts. People brought together because of their shared love for a team or a band.

This type of unity is flimsy and cannot survive the constant threat of division. This threat comes from the powers that constantly looks to divide people into different groups.

There is only one power that is great enough to overcome these wall building powers, and that is the power of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus is to be the rallying point that brings true unity.

Jesus came to tear down walls. That can only be accomplished when we have our faith in him.

Within his small group of 12 disciples Jesus had at least two men who were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was Simon the Zealot who wanted nothing more than to fight against the Romans and restore Israel's independence. There was Matthew the Tax Collector who believed that compromise with the Romans was the best policy.

Jesus united these men with a common purpose.

How did he do that?

Jesus rejected the politics of the world.

Satan offered Jesus the keys to all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus held fast to God's way to bring redemption to creation (Luke 4:5-8). After his miracles of healing and feeding the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, but Jesus withdrew to the wilderness (John 6:15). The crowd shouted hosanna and proclaimed Jesus king as he rode into Jerusalem, but Jesus stopped and wept over the city because they missed his true identity (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus came to  establish God's Kingdom, but he rejected politics as the way to accomplish this task. He called his followers to make disciples of the nations, not by the power of the sword (the true power behind politics), but the power of sacrificial love.

The way for the Church to be the starting point for unity is for Christians to follow the way of the Lion, who became a lamb, who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6).

We are saddened by the deep divide that exists in our country. Healing can only happen if we reject politics and follow Jesus. Will you join me?

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Accept the Differences

Most of us understand that people are different and those differences are a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everyone beli...