Keep The Christ In Christians – 12 of 12


Every person you meet is a child of God.  Let that sink in.

I think that all of us who would call ourselves by the Name of Christ would do well to put aside the arguments and divisions among us in order to remember this unchanging fact.  It’s supposed to revolutionize the way we perceive others, and ourselves.

Every person you meet is a child of God.

No matter who they are, what they’ve done, or what kind of character faults you think they have. God’s loving pursuit surrounds them with passion & affection & purpose just as much as it does for you.  You are His hands and feet and mouth toward this end.  Indeed there will be judgment for every soul, but we need to stop believing & acting as if that’s supposed to happen in this life according to human initiative & discretion.  That part of God’s story hasn’t started yet, it still is yet to come.  Now is the time for following the ways of Jesus…He loved & served everyone He met…and pointed them to the Father.  Our motivation for sharing the message about Jesus, “The Gospel” (literally “good news”), must not be about about making converts…but making friends & family.  Our understanding of “Church” must be more about “who” than “what.”  Our part is to continue in the footsteps of Jesus and His early followers in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, and let God be God.

Once again, I’ll quote my wise dad:

“I did 8 groups for unchurched but curious people, 2008-2012, comprised mostly of agnostics with a sprinkling of atheists…”skeptics.”  In each group I asked what they thought of the church. Without exception each group agreed that “they (Christians in the church) talk too much and do too little, and much of what they have to say is mean-spirited.” In this media saturated, I-phone connected, emailed and noisy culture we live in, talk has never been cheaper. When we approach the day, our filters are in full gear and we actually hear very little of the noise that is directed at us. The institutional church is part of the noise. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay wrote a great book called “The Tangible Kingdom.” They say that the actions we do and the character of the fellowship we form are essential to getting a reasonable hearing from the people we wish to talk to…that the Kingdom of God is essentially tangible, not essentially verbal.“ (Taft Mitchell)

I think the reason that many skeptical people today think that Christians are hypocrites is because we’ve collectively allowed our focus & motivations to be shaped by carnal (aka man-made) desires & dreams…so we no longer look & smell like the Jesus of the Bible.  Our skeptical brothers & sisters have strong “B.S. filters,” and they can smell a phony from a mile away.  They look at us, then they look at the New Testament, and sing the old song “One of these things is not like the other.” Here’s Jesus’ advice to the backslidden Ephesian church in the first century A.D., which reminds me so much of American Christians today: “I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:4-5).  

So, I challenge myself to remember who He is, what He valued, how He lived, and be dedicated to following Him in my own clumsy & imperfect way.  Will you join me in this? Here are some bread-crumbs back to the path of Jesus and His earliest followers:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:13-26)

“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)


Keep The Christ In Christians – 11 of 12


Marina and I were talking last night about how confusing and counter-intuitive it can be to understand & trust God’s ways.  We were discussing the differences between two ways of understanding His role in our lives…specifically the extent to which we’re supposed to lean on Him for guidance.  It can be pretty confusing at times, and the opinions of His followers are all over the map.

On one extreme, there are those from liturgical and/or didactic (aka “heady”) faith traditions who seem to focus on following the right beliefs & doctrines & practices, knowing that God will “work everything out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.”  These types tend to walk through their days with a “God is with me and has given me the Mind of Christ to make good decisions today” attitude, and tend to address Him for specific guidance occasionally for “big decisions.”

On the other, we have those from more expressive and experiential backgrounds who take “walking by faith, not by sight” quite literally…believing that God has specific plans laid out for every little part of our every day, and that our role is to remain so connected to Him that His Spirit is constantly whispering instructions into our ears.

As a centrist who tries to stay away from the extremes, I always seem to find myself taking the best of both and forging something in the middle.  Although that’s somewhat true in this case, I must say that the longer I walk with Christ, the more I read and know His word, and the more time I spend praying and witnessing the answers to prayer, the more I am distancing myself from the trappings of my didactic heritage that tends to put God in a box.  God is supernatural, and that essential quality that performed miracles and spoke through people in the scriptures did not end with the Apostles…it was just getting started.

In the amazing book “Experiencing God,” author Henry Blackaby shares these words:

“Some people have suggested that God gives us general directions and then turns us loose to work out the details of our lives.  I disagree.  God’s intention is to have a love relationship with each of us.  We get ahead of ourselves when we try to discern a life plan up front…But God doesn’t necessarily lay everything out that way.  He may place you in one job at one location for an extended time, but God’s assignments come on a daily basis.  You should always be open to whatever He has for you – even if it’s not something you could have foreseen…We tend to seek things that keep us comfortable, but God is not restricted by our fears.  He sees beyond our current limitations and is constantly leading us to grow into the person He knows we can become.  Nowhere does the Bible teach that God gives us a life plan and then abandons us to work it out.  Rather, the pattern and emphasis in Scripture is a daily walk with Him in which He gives new assignments and then works through us to accomplish them…Isn’t it typical of us to ask God for a detailed road map before we are willing to set out on the journey?  We say, ‘Lord, if You would just tell me where I need to end up, then I’ll be able to set my course and go’…but that is not the way God led people in the Scriptures…He intends to accompany us on the journey.  He wants us to continually heed His voice and go with Him one day at a time. As long as we walk daily with Christ, we will always know where to be…”

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (James 4:13-17)

“I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:12-18)

Let us live today by hearing & following the Spirit’s voice.


Keep The Christ In Christians – 10 of 12


There’s a lot of talk about this today, and Christians seem just as divided as everyone else…partly because different scriptures say different things.  For example, have you ever noticed that in Matthew 7 we are taught not to judge, but in 1 Corinthians 2 we are taught to judge everything?  This is a lesson about taking the “whole counsel of scripture” instead of picking-out the parts we like from their context and making them say what we want.  There are verses like this about money too.  When it comes to how we share money, there are 2 types of Christians: Those who think we should share everything equally, and those who think we should all be independent of each other but depend on what God gives us individually.  OK those are 2 extremes, the 3rd category is those who balance both according to circumstances.

We often tend to vilify those on the opposite side of the spectrum from where we land on this.  The low-income want wealth taken away from those who are hoarding it and redistributed to everyone equally, while the rich want lazy people to stop living off the hard work of others, get off their asses and get a job.  Of course, these represent two extremes, but you’ll definitely hear both of these views today if you read the news or talk with people.  Americans are polarized about this.  On one side, many Democrats have a Robin Hood wealth-equality mentality of stealing from the rich to give to the poor; and on the other, many Republicans want the rich to be left alone in the hope that their wealth will trickle-down to those who work for them.  This is happening today in the Kingdom of America, and regardless of where you land on this, how are we supposed to approach wealth and resources as citizens of the Kingdom of God?  Here are some scriptures:

This one speaks of Wealth Equality:

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter [of giving to meet the financial needs of others]. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:9-15)

This one speaks of Personal Responsibility:

“Dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13)

All of us are accountable for how we use what we have been given:

“[The people of the church should] take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God. Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives. Give these instructions to the church so that no one will be open to criticism. But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith…” (1 Timothy 5:3-8) 

“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19) 

There is more than enough wealth in the world to meet the needs of everyone.  There is no shortage of wealth, only a shortage charity.  There is also no shortage of laziness, only a shortage of responsibility.  Indeed, charity is needed from those who hoard the world’s wealth for their own benefit, and responsibility from those who are lazy and demand others to meet their needs for them.  One error is greed-the pursuit of wealth….the other is envy-the pursuit of that which belongs to another.

Regardless of where we stand in this – on one extreme or the other, or right in the middle – let us all use whatever time, treasures, and talents God has given us to serve Him and others.


Keep The Christ In Christians – 9 of 12


I used to believe that the more I had, the happier I would become.  This was especially true when I compared my wealth & possessions to others.  As far back as I can remember, when I was still just a little boy, the love of money (and the things money could buy) has offered elusive hope.  I remember my first real skateboard, a Logan with a wood deck and urethane wheels.  I remember the Christmas I got it, when my family lived at 1002 N. Lowell in Santa Ana, CA.  I remember riding it, and trying my first tricks, on the sidewalk in front of my house and getting my parents to take pictures of me.  I was so happy…I had arrived…life was complete and I was satisfied.  Until I wasn’t, which probably didn’t take very long at all.  I could share about 1,000 other stories like that, and you probably could too.  It’s human nature, and we all deal with it…especially in America.

We Americans are, by far, the most privileged people on the planet…and statistically speaking, the most depressed and disillusioned as well.  If Christians in America were categorically different in this area, it would be really obvious…but honestly we’re not.  Although a huge portion of generosity in our society comes from people of Jesus, we really have a long way to go in parting with our treasures.  Even some of our ill-fated “health & wealth” theologies are smokescreens for greed.  It seems to be everywhere out there…and inside of us.

How did Jesus and His early followers approach wealth and possessions?

“Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-20)

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” …Jesus answered…”You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth…” (Mark 10:17-22)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For [those who don’t know God] run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mathew 6:19-33)

So there you have it.  It’s really an issue of trusting where happiness really comes from.
Perhaps if we gave away more of our money & possessions, we would experience more of what God has in store for us?


Keep The Christ In Christians – 8 of 12

I just had an awesome phone conversation with a friend in Michigan who’s also doing ministry in a very unconventional way.  It was super insightful and encouraging.  Those of us who operate on the periphery of mainstream Christianity in our pursuit of God’s leading often find ourselves in lonely places, and it’s always incredibly refreshing to talk to someone on a similar path!  We were commiserating about times in our pasts when we felt limited & controlled by man-made strategies & programs…and how breaking out of those forms to “follow the Spirit’s leading” gives so much more freedom and inclusion to all God’s people, as long as we can tolerate the mess!
Unfortunately, many of us in church leadership can’t or won’t or simply don’t know how…so we try to “re-engineer” church with new & improved master-plans that promise to bring greater effectiveness and cohesion.  Many of these forms don’t really work-out in the long run, and are replaced with still newer ideas in a perpetual quest for the next big thing.  Sometimes people get hurt in the process, and it tarnishes the church’s reputation and leads to disillusionment.  This has been happening in church leadership since the 60’s & 70’s really, but the fevered pitch of constant redevelopment has picked up with the Post-Modern age, as churches today are losing people and struggling all over the country.  Collectively, we have developed expensive & glorious worship environments, robust systems of learning & sharing the Gospel, and have devised every tactic we can think of…and have left multitudes of disgruntled and disillusioned seekers-of-truth in our wake.  Are you a victim of this?  So am I …and I’m also a perpetrator.   
There’s a belief in me, and many of my brothers & sisters in leadership, that the reason for the decline and the remedy for revival is to find or create a new model…a new system with the right set of strategies & tools that will ‘work’.  I’ve created many programs & initiatives over the past 9-years since leaving “the fold” of normal church ministry, and some of them have failed miserably.  Sometimes we believe things that aren’t true.  I’ve suffered because of it…not only that those investments of time & energy & passion didn’t work, but that some of the people who were part of them were negatively affected by my experimentation.  Failure is a good teacher…and I’m trying to listen.  What I’ve come back to in the past couple of years (and what I believe we’re missing as the Church in America) is that leading others to follow Jesus has little to do with figuring out pre-determined strategies for them follow, and everything to do with helping them hear & heed God’s voice for themselves in their own unique ways.  We need to rediscover the lesson my preaching professor Joe Grana always said: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID (K.I.S.S.)! In the end, simplification may not help save churches from closing, but it can unclutter the path between people and their God.  Here are some things to ponder:
Jesus’s taught a lot, but the system of belief and practice He always seemed to come back to was incredibly simple…sort of a LESS IS MORE philosophy based on principles rather than practices, function rather than form.

“An expert in the [Old Testament] law tested Jesus with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:35-39)

“Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1-12)

Jesus occasionally taught in the religious centers of His day (Synagogues, the Temple), but was most well-known for teaching in homes, around town, and in countryside settings.  His followers continued this practice and met in homes primarily.  They met in the temple courts until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., then they went “underground.”  In the historical record, there are no church buildings for at least 150-years…in which time the Church grew like wildfire.  Early followers of Christ weren’t dependent upon religious leaders or buildings, they were directly connected to God in fellowship with each other.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

In the ministries of Jesus and the Early Church, it seemed like leaders pretty much let the individuals & groups of the Church work out their own rhythms & practices, over time, with general guidance & encouragement.  Later (as seems to be human nature) things became more complex & bureaucratic. 
As we seek to love and honor the Lord and lead His Bride, we need to remember that:
  1. Jesus is the Head of His Church, no intermediaries are needed.
  2. There are many local churches, but only one Body of Christ. She is incredibly diverse as He intended.
  3. The purpose of church leadership is to equip God’s people for works of service…that means developing & sending ministers into the world, not attracting consumers.
  4. Every person we meet is a son or daughter of the Heavenly King.
Leaders, let us love and serve the Body as Jesus did

Keep The Christ In Christians – 7 of 12



But I think it had a different definition for Him than it does for us. Faith, to Jesus, would have been synonymous with absolute trust & certainty in His Father to the extent that it shaped everything else about Him and brought heaven to earth.  He said crazy things like “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it will move” (Matthew 17:20)….and “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things…” (John 14:12).  Verses like these have been pulled out of context and used to legitimize all kinds of crazy stuff ever since, but He did indeed say them…and impossible miracles have happened in His Name all throughout history and to this day.  So what did He mean, and what exactly is faith?

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

“You were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue in your faith and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News…This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.”  (Colossians 1:21-27 excerpts)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Faith is complete & unreserved trust that God is 100% real, and that your temporary life on this broken planet is 100% His.  This results in patterning your priorities, language, budget, relationships, associations, future, legacy, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g after Christ’s example…because this world is not your home.  THAT is what a Christian is…literally a “Little Christ.”  Now, God certainly understands that we are imperfect, corrupted beings who make mistakes (aka “sin”)…that’s basically the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!  But if your definition of what it means to be a Christian is anything less than this type of understanding & commitment to Christ, then I would guess that you may not be one.  I believe that this is why the church-as-we-know-it is dying in America…because collectively we do not have faith.  You may go to church every Sunday & give offerings & try to be a good person & even say you believe in the altruistic nature of Jesus’ teachings…but that’s just religion, and it doesn’t glue you to Jesus in faith.  Belief, REAL belief, always produces compliance.  Check your soul on this, friend.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Yesterday I wrote about persevering through pain & persecution….today I want to talk about the prize.  Not the one that waits for us later, in heaven…which in our timetable hasn’t started yet.  I’m talking about the other one, the Kingdom of Heaven, which started with Jesus and has been rolling along ever since.  The Prize is Him inside of us, like a stream of living water, changing us and the world around us according to His plan.  The confusing, troubling thing about faith, and prize that it activates, is that they are ALWAYS shrouded by crisis…and that throws us off:

“Following God’s voice will always include the element of crisis…because He calls us to walk by faith.  “How you respond to His invitation reveals what you truly believe about God, regardless of what you say.  This major turning point is where many people miss out on experiencing God’s mighty power working through them. If they cannot understand exactly how everything is going to happen, they won’t proceed.  They want to walk with God by sight, not faith…God does not want you merely to believe what He says.  He wants you to obey what He commands…To get from where you are to where God is…requires significant adjustments in your life. To move from your way of thinking or acting to God’s way of thinking or acting will require fundamental adjustments.  You can’t stay where you are and go with God at the same time.” (Henry Blackaby, in ‘Experiencing God’).  

If we decide that walking-by-faith in this way is simply too difficult and let it go, we also release the prize of the Kingdom that’s available to us in this life.  so don’t let go…or, rather, let go of other stuff so you can grasp onto The Lord in faith!

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.” (1 John 5:1-4)


Keep The Christ In Christians – 6 of 12

I have a love-hate relationship with exercise.  This is one of those areas in which my wife & I are completely different.  She LOVES everything about exercise…thinking about it, doing it, preparing for it, reading about it, teaching it, etc.  It’s like her love language.  For me, exercise is a means to another end.  I just want to stay in decent shape…and since I’ve been in the field of construction, this has taken on an even more important dimension.  This year has been difficult for me physically.  I’ve gotten hurt a lot, and as a result am having my first bout with atrophy…first of many, I suppose!  
Atrophy is what happens to your muscles when you don’t use them enough to maintain their current level of size & strength…your body decides that you must not need all that muscle tissue anymore, so it starts cannibalizing the valuable resources there and diverts them to other areas that need more…or stores it as fat 🙂  It sucks, doesn’t it?  Fighting your way back from atrophy into fitness sucks too!  It’s hard, it steals time from my day, takes months to accomplish, and it HURTS!  So why do it?  Because what we gain by being faithful to the process far outweighs the pain of getting there!
There’s a lesson in there for us…reminds me of this scripture:

“We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-18)

Could it be that the lack of vitality & influence of Jesus’ Church in America may be due to the Spiritual Atrophy of His people?
What would spiritual atrophy look like, and what would cause it?  Essentially, if a whole generation of individuals & churches started saying “no” to the ways of Jesus and “yes” to the ways of the world,   in a persistent and self-justifying cycle, this could cause a crisis of spiritual atrophy that would effect His witness in an entire nation.  The good news is that we’re the most wealthy & technologically advanced nation in the world…the bad news is that these types of blessing are not meant to be hoarded & treasured as we have done, and collectively the affections of God’s people have been diverted toward maintaining these false gods along with the rest of our country with an effort that leaves little time & energy & passion for the things of God.  We’re damaging our own souls by lounging in temptation and neglecting spiritual exercise.
Let’s take an example from the Apostle Paul:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Perseverance means putting up with things that are really uncomfortable for a long time because of the prize that waits at the end.  Jesus and His followers knew that this world was not home, but a place to learn & love & be about our Father’s business.
Here are a couple of parting shots.  Allow them to buffet your spirit and produce the effect desired by The Master:

“All these people [God’s faithful servants in the Old Testament] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”  (1 Peter 4:12-19)


Keep The Christ In Christians – 5 of 12


There are few ways that American Christians are more divided today than in the realm of politics.  I’m not going to touch this polarized hot-topic with a 10-foot pole…not because I don’t have opinions or because I’m afraid to pick a side, but because I think the vehement differences of opinion that are causing Christian brothers and sisters to bicker & fight & battle are simply not the point.  I’m not interested in having half of you demonize me because I don’t share your opinion about your chosen set of topics.  Personally, I see both truth and corruption on both sides of American politics today, and why shouldn’t there be…it’s the world!  I call for honesty and respect among all who would claim to follow Jesus…regardless of “what direction our country is going.”

Truly, if you look at the historical and Biblical record, it’s clear that Jesus was neither purely conservative nor liberal, but appealed to all types of people.  He’s a wonderful model for us, I think.  At times He was quite liberal…especially when it came to social issues of His day regarding the honor and treatment of marginalized people.  At other times, He was obviously conservative…upholding the Law of Moses and the Prophets and teaching others that obedience to God’s ways was equal to loving Him.

Here are some passages that seem to show two sides of Jesus the Christ:

Jesus The Liberal

“When one of the Pharisees (aka super-religious conservative guy) invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”  “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

Jesus The Conservative

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”(John 2:13-17)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

In my opinion, we need to hold onto one without releasing the other…and let go of the ridiculous expectation that we’re all going to agree about everything.  Living in sincere harmony with others  has nothing to do with what you agree on…it’s about respecting each other enough to allow for differences of opinion.  Also, we need to keep the main thing the main thing…

“We have a poor history of staying put on the priorities of the Kingdom of God. Historically the institutional church has often been so wrapped up with the culture it was in that it found it difficult to set aside unjust causes…slavery, both in England and in America…the actions of the WWII German government…becoming identified with a particular political party… And we have been polarized by social issues like the Jesus Movement in the late 60’s, the abortion controversy, homosexuality, etc, etc. Every time the church or part of the church has become issue oriented, we have taken a side step from our main purpose and have often ended up looking obstructionist, plain silly, and mean-spirited.” (Taft Mitchell, my favorite super-wise old guy)

Christ wants His People to shine for Him during this time….Some of us need to stop acting like Middle Schoolers with the slander & back-biting & name-calling…allowing for variation in how our faith in Christ is supposed to play itself out in this fallen world and political system that will always be fallen until His return.  We need supportive dialogue with each other, not shameful scandalization of each other!

I’ll close with these scriptures:

“Love must be sincere…Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Live in harmony with one another. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12-excerpts)

“My prayer is not for them [Jesus’ disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)


Keep The Christ In Christians – 4 of 12


Flip a coin.  Heads or tails?  It depends on a lot of factors that we’re not in control of…and not supposed to be, unless we’re trying to cheat the system.  But both sides are there, ever present at both ends of the tiny little cylinder we call a “coin.”  We flip coins when we can’t figure-out something mentally without making a faux-pas socially.  The coin decides for us, and the two parties agree to abide by the result.  Wouldn’t it be great if relationships & decisions in life were that easy?!  There are some correlations here for what it means to follow Jesus.

Some may say that following Jesus is all about studying & knowing God’s Word inside & out, concentrating on adhering to His commands every minute of every day and avoiding temptations to sin.  These folks would probably love scriptures like these from Proverbs:

Proverbs 1:7“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 12:1-2
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. Good people obtain favor from the Lord, but he condemns those who devise wicked schemes.”

I can almost see the rule-followers nodding their heads and saying “amen” now!  On the opposite extreme would be the those who say that following Jesus is all about loving and serving others…that doctrine and rules are secondary to sincere love that can cover over the sin in us and others.  This group would like these scriptures:

John 13:34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Romans 13:8
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

Which one is right?  The answer is YES….I think Jesus embodies and teaches a BALANCE OF BOTH, and calls us to be like Him.  In various situations, we need to emphasize one or the other…but always a measure of both.

It seems like most of us tend toward one of the extremes when it comes to how we think & act toward God and others.  Erring on either the side of truth or grace.  An overly pious person may struggle with legalism and find themselves a slave to “sin management”…while a bleeding-heart person may fall into co-dependence and exude a form of “sloppy agape’.”

The trouble is, you can’t pull grace & truth apart…in Christ, they are inter-dependent and meant to stay together.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When we focus on one at the expense of the other, we misrepresent our Master’s character and mission, and muddy the lens through which He is seen by those He seeks to bring into His family.  It is our mission, as Christ-ians (literally “Little Christs”) to be His presence in our world.  There will always be forms of persecution against us from those who simply do not believe in Him, but let us repent daily of the ways we obscure their vision of the real Him.

Consider these scriptures:

Romans 13:8-10 (note that I’m restating v.8 to show it’s full context!)“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”a and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

James 1:27
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Ephesians 4:15-16
“SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”


Keep The Christ In Christians – 3 of 12


I’ve done a fair amount of research about leadership, and there are a multitude of definitions about what it is.  It’s hard to quantify and generalize something intangible when there is such a variety of examples.  That’s probably because there’s such a variety of humans, with a wide array of backgrounds, passions, and motivations.  The common denominator, in most healthy cases, is that leaders are influential.  They affect the thoughts and behaviors of those they lead.  There are, of course, many unhealthy examples of leadership…involving various expressions of force (manipulation, intimidation, competition, fear, etc.).  Leaders who are admired & respected & followed understand that the purpose of their role has to do with their followers, not themselves.

Nobody understood and modeled this more effectively than the unschooled carpenter from a back-water hick town called Nazareth.  You could say that Jesus “never forgot where He came from”…in more ways that one, I suppose.  He came from a blue collar family, in a little town of no influence. This undoubtedly shaped some of His patterns, and I’m sure it was intentional.  But really, He was the Crown Prince in disguise…identifying with, loving, and sacrificing Himself for His subjects.  Wow, that sounds like a hundred movies & books doesn’t it?  It’s the Great Narrative that’s been plagiarized ever since.

Leaders in our world, both at the time of Jesus as well as today, tend to follow a completely different
paradigm…and it seems to be alive and well among Christians as well.  It is believed by many that leadership is about doing great things, exercising power, and controlling the behavior of others…all for the benefit of the leader or the leader’s cause.  Worldly leadership is about creating advantage for self, family & friends, and personal agendas.  Worldly leaders believe that the vision & power & influence God gave them was meant for their own benefit, and hijack it accordingly…but Jesus’ opinion is that leadership is about serving others, and that greatness is obtained by personal sacrifice.

These concepts apply to all of us, really.  We may believe in God, but we often act as if everything depended on us.  Like that old phrase “pray as if everything depends on God, and act as if everything depends on you.”  I think that’s stupid advice.  I think we should act a lot more like God’s actually in control…that’s the counsel of scripture…we’re just to impatient and pigheaded to yield.  Mother Teresa reminds us that we cannot do any great things for God…only small things with great love.

Jesus’ entire life demonstrated unyielding faith that His Father was in control of His mission and legacy…and turned the results over to Him.  Man, do I need to hear this!  Do you?  What we need to always remember, and get smacked in the head with when we forget, is that this world is His not ours…and that our mission in this short-life is to build His Kingdom not ours.

Amen.  That takes some pressure off me and refocuses my soul on my Master.  I know what I’m going to do about it….what are you going to do about it?

Luke 22:24-27
“[Jesus’ apostles] began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”