Friday, January 22, 2021

Following Jesus Isn’t Easy

Take a moment and consider your life. Examine your lifestyle and the desires of your heart. 
Now answer this question: “Is that what Jesus wants from your life?”

Here is the problem with the way many of us live. At least I know it is a problem for me. We want the promises of God, but we are not willing to live like a follower of Jesus. 

If all that was required to be a Christian was to show up on Sunday morning and sing few songs and listen to a sermon, then being a disciple of Jesus would be easy. A seat in the sanctuary would offer us safety and security.

Being a true follower of Jesus is anything but it easy and it certainly isn’t safe. 

It requires getting out of the sanctuary and living to a moral standard, a standard that makes us seem like fools or prudes in this world: as aliens and strangers (1 Peter 2:11; NASB). If people don’t think we are strange for the way we live, then we are not living the way God’s wants us to live. 

Let’s face it, it is hard to be different and stand out from the crowd.

Being a disciple of Christ requires a new set of dreams: 
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20; NASB). 
When we made the decision to accept Jesus as our Savior we gave up the right to decide what we will do with our lives. Our lives becomes a matter of God’s will. 

It is hard to give up on our dreams and follow after Jesus.

This is the point that I want you to understand: When we stay in the sanctuary we miss out on the best that God wants for us. 

The life God has created us to live is discovered in living out what we belief. This is what actual faith is all about.

The life of faith isn’t safe. It beckons us to leave our comfort zones. It asks us to risks the way we learned to live life so we can discover true life.

John 15:9-13 (NASB)
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

A question for you to ponder: Was Jesus safe in loving us?

Absolutely not! 

By loving us he made himself vulnerable to rejection. By loving us he served people who hated him. By loving us he gave up heaven and lived on this earth. By loving us he died a cruel death on the cross, taking on our sins. 

Jesus did not live a neat little safe life. Jesus faced struggles. Jesus had hardships. 

Do you know what? 

Jesus also knew love and joy. In spite of all the terrible things Jesus experienced, he still experienced the best life has to offer.

We don’t equate pain and joy. 

For us in order to be happy our lives have to be pain free.

According to Jesus the route to a full and joyous life is the route of pain. 

We discover the life God has for us when we live lives of love. Not just a life when we feel nice about other people, but when we make sacrifices to bring the Gospel into the world.

We don’t equate serving with love. 

For us love is about what other people do for us and how they make us feel. 

We discover love when we humble ourselves and become a servant to those around us. 

It doesn’t sound glamorous or fun. It is the way that we make the Gospel come alive in the world.

Jesus promised us a full life, but He did not promise a life that was comfortable and safe. 

The full and joyful life Jesus promised is discovered by loving God and loving people. 

Do you want the full life? Get out of the sanctuary and trust God with your life and love the people who live around you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Assume the Best

Why is it that we want to believe the worst about other people?

It seems like humans have a tendency to attribute bad motives to the things people do and to believe the negative things we hear about people.

I think one reason is why we do this is because it is an easy way to feel better about ourselves.  

All of us have our own issues that we struggle with, those things that we would like to change about ourselves. When we hear about a person making a positive change or impact we become envious of their success. Rather than celebrating their success, we look for ways to tear them down (even if we would never verbally say anything).

This means when we hear something negative about someone else we secretly feel better about our situation, because we tell ourselves that they are not as good as they seem. 

Believing the worst about people helps us feel superior to them.

This is a terrible thing to do.

One reason it is terrible is because life is not a competition. Someone else’s success doesn’t diminish who I am one bit. We should be able to rejoice with those who achieve success and experience good things in life. 

The opposite is also true, someone else’s struggle doesn’t make us any better of a person. We should be able to empathize with people who are struggling because we have our own set of struggles.
Matthew 7:12 (NIV)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Another great reason why we should assume the best about other people is because that is how we would like to be treated. When we stumble and fall we don’t want people thinking the worst about us. Rather, we want people to be sympathetic to our situation.

Remember, our failures aren’t always the result of sin on our part. 

Sometimes our failure is due to life circumstances. We fail to keep a promise because we had some sort of an emergency that prevented us for doing what we said we would do. 

There are other times when we are in the midst of making progress in overcoming some bad habit, and we have a moment of weakness and slip into our old behavior. Focusing on the failure overlooks the progress we have made.

There is one more reason why we should be generous and assume the best about other people: people are mean.

It could be that what we hear about another person isn’t even true, that it was made up be someone to discredit our friend.  If we cannot verify whether or not the story is true, we should trust our friend’s character.

Divisions happen in families, teams, organizations, and churches because people tend to believe the negative about each other. As followers of Jesus we should break that tendency and assume the best about one another. 

All of us are in the process of becoming better people and what we need is encouragement, rather than condemnation, along the way.

Monday, January 18, 2021

More than Just Words

 What we believe matters. Our beliefs have the ability to shape our thoughts, world views, and behaviors. This is why we need to make sure what we believe is true.

With that being said, we have to recognize that understanding certain doctrines doesn’t mean we have faith in God. We can intellectually affirm that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean that we actually have faith in God.

What is also true is that we can understand what those words mean, but still not understand God's character. If our relationship with God is based purely on definitions and doctrines, then we will miss experiencing God for who He truly is.

To gain a better understanding of God requires moving away from the intellectual pursuit of knowing about God to the pursuit of actually knowing God. That can only happen as we trust our lives to Him.

It is one thing to say that God is the great provider, but it is another thing to experience God providing for our needs. 

We can say that God is the Great Physician, but it is another thing to experience God’s healing power in our lives.

Our ideas of God fall short of who God is.

Hebrews 11:29-31 (NLT)
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Each of these examples mentioned in Hebrews 11 remind us what made the difference was the response of faith that allowed people to experience God’s power. Because of faith God parted the Red Sea, because of faith God tore down the walls of Jericho, and because of faith Rahab was rescued from Jericho.

All these people had an incomplete understanding of God, but because of their faithful actions they experienced God in a real way. This allowed them to see God in a more true sense then a careful study of Scripture is able to do.

Living by faith adds a real dimension to our understanding of God that our academic and devotional study are not able to provide.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Prayer: Keep Doing Good


Heavenly Father, I ask for the strength to do good. You have blessed me to be a blessing those around me, and that is what I want to do.

Give me hope to continue to bear Your image in this world. It is easy to become discouraged when I think what I am doing is not making any difference. Give me little glimpse of the difference my love and action is having in the world.

Open my eyes to the opportunities to show Your love to other people. I confess that too often I keep my attention focused on myself and the things I need to take care of. I want to see the world through the eyes of Jesus so I can discern the true need of people.

I give my life to You and Your Kingdom. Use me to make a difference in the lives of others. I pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Keep Moving in the Right Direction

 I need this reminder.

With the enthusiasm of New Year's Resolutions fading away, I am guessing you may need to hear it too.

Changing our behavior is hard work and it takes time. 

Very rarely are people able to make significant life changes over night. Not only do we have undo years of habit development, but often we have to deal with our own negative self talk. 

At times it really seems like there is a part of us that doesn't want to change, regardless of how bad and unhealthy our behavior may be.

Something that I have been dealing with the last few weeks is the voice that tells me, "That is too little and too late." There is a part of me that wants me to believe that it doesn't matter what I do, all my effort will be a waste in the end. At times it feels like true lasting change is a hopeless dream.

When I listen to that voice I fall back on my old habits. When that I happens I want to throw in the towel and give up.

This is why it is crucial to remember that a mistake is not an excuse to give up. Nothing would ever change if we gave up when a mistake was made.

We need to remember that mistakes happen. They are part of learning a new skill, and it is okay if we are not perfect. The more we work on what we are changing, the easier it will become.

Remember what John wrote; "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 1:9; NLT)

God provided a way for us to leave our sin in the past. He knew that we were going to stumble and fall, and so He made sure that even in our sin there would be an opportunity to return to Him.

Because of forgiveness, our sin is not an excuse to give up.

If that is true for sin, how much more true is it for the mistakes we make as we try to alter our habits and change our lives?

Since God forgives our sins, then we should be able to forgive ourselves of the mistakes we make, and keep moving in the direction of becoming a better person.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We Need to Discuss Truth


This tweet from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is true. 

Lies are contrary to the truth and are not just mere opinions.

As a Christian I want to seek, believe, and even defend the truth.

Here is the thing, it isn’t always easy to tell what the truth is.

For example, I like to say that love is the central command of Christianity and the resurrection is the central truth of Christianity. 

I believe the resurrection of Jesus is true and not a lie. There are different pieces of evidences that I use to support that belief. 

Yet, there are very smart people who will offer their evidence on why the resurrection never happened.

In other words, there is a difference of opinion when it comes to how we arrive at something being truth or a lie.

I bring this example up because I think many things within the realm of politics fall into this same sort of category. When trying to arriving at what is true, we have to discuss our perspective about why we believe something is true or not. 

It is not good enough to simply declare something to be true or false. We need to be wiling to share our thoughts and listen to why someone else believes what they do.

To simply declare something to be true or false causes dialogue to end and division between people to increase.

Here is another example.

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021 a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D. C.

That is a statement that virtually everyone would agree to be true.

What isn’t agreed about, and the areas of opinion that should be discussed are: 

  1. Whether that mob was incited by President Trump? 
  2. Was it an insurrection or coup attempt?
  3. What defines someone as a domestic terrorist?
Here is my point: Our different perspectives give us a different understanding of truth. If we are truly committed to truth then we should be willing to hear those different perspectives.

This is precisely why freedom of speech is such an important part of life. It allows us to dialogue with one another. It helps us refine our arguments and beliefs. It gives us a chance to demonstrate why certain things are lies.

A major problem we are facing in the United States is the inability to really participate in the process of free speech. We want to be able to say what we believe the truth to be, but we don’t other people to respond with their perspective. We would much rather stay within our own little echo chamber, having our world view confirmed, than stepping outside that bubble and having it challenged.

We need to be brave enough to have civil conversation with people, seeking to understand why they believe what they believe, rather than just declaring the other side is lying and walking away. 

The true benefit found in the freedom of speech is the opportunity to point out the inconstancies, errors, and false beliefs the other side has. It gives you the ability to answer those who promote a different ideology than you do and make the case for why your beliefs are true.

This is such an important freedom, and skill, to have.

Monday, January 11, 2021

What Really Matters

Remember the t-shirts that had the message: “______________ is life, the rest is just details” written on it?

It is not uncommon for people to have one or two passions that dominate their lives.

Some live as if football is life and others live as if politics were life and still others live as if family were life. We have a tendency to make something the focal point of our lives. 

Disciples of Jesus need to recognize our tendency to elevate a passion to the ultimate position in our lives. It could be a good thing like family and career or it could be a destructive thing like drugs and partying. 

It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that we recognize our ability to do this.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is for knowledge and understanding: Paul wanted his readers to know what really mattered in life. 

For Paul what mattered in life wasn’t whether or not the Republicans controlled the government, who was going to play in the Super Bowl, how much you weigh, or the amount of money you make. 

It is not that these things don't matter, but at most they are secondary issues.What ultimately matters is the way we live. 

In other words, Paul wanted to make sure that his readers lived lives that represented Jesus and honored God.

This is hard to do. 

We usually think in terms of how we can avoid bringing dishonor to God’s name. Trying not to dishonor God is not the same as intentionally doing things that glorify Him. 

I think this is where many of us are at in our walk with Jesus. 

We are satisfied with trying not to sin, trying to avoid what God prohibits, and we miss truly demonstrating God's character to the world. We are content with not hating our neighbor rather than truly loving him.

What we need is a shirt that says, “Following Jesus is life. The rest is just details.”

Following Jesus through the ups and downs of life is the way we demonstrate his character in this world. 

That is precisely what we are created to do.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Prayer: Set My Mind

Heavenly Father,

I humbly confess that I allow the things of this world to distract me from the life You have called me to live. The distractions politics, entertainment, fun, and pleasure prevent me from truly setting my mind and my heart on those heavenly things which lead to life.

Renew my heart and mind so I will desire heavenly things. Strengthen my will so I can say no to the things of this world. Give me eyes to see from an eternal perspective. Empower me to live a life that glorifies you. This is the true desire of my heart. Help me Father to pursue You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

America's True God


As a person reads through the Hebrew Scriptures it is easy to notice how Israel continually turned to idol worship. With all that God had done for them, Israel, time and time again, turned their back on God and worshiped the gods of the nations around them.

We think this is odd because we give no power to idols. We see them as nothing but objects of metal and wood that superstitious people worship. 

Idols are not false gods, rather they are the images of false gods. While we may not worship a "statue," the spiritual forces behind those idols are still at work. This video from BibleProject will help you understand what is going on.


 The United States of America is not immune to these spiritual forces. 

I think, because we don't acknowledge them, they are able to have far deeper hold on people than we realize.

Today is January 7, 2021 and yesterday I saw a surreal scene as people who supported President Trump were able to break through security and enter the Capital Building as Congress tried to certify the Electoral College vote. The whole country was shocked by the events.

It is easy to condemn the violence and talk about how this is not the American way. I think to go for this low hanging fruit is to miss what is really going on.

In addition to condemning violence, I think it is time to call out the false god that has its grip on many American Christians.

I know that when we see American flags, hear the Pledge of Allegiance, and witness other trampings of American patriotism that it is easy to point and say the idol is Nationalism.

I am not denying that is a part of it. 

People on the right certainly have the tendency to worship the United States as an idol (this is why I think it is dangerous to say the Pledge of Allegiance and celebrate State holidays during our Sunday worship times).

Yet, pointing to Nationalism misses at least half the problem. The other half of the problem is the Left's love of State Power. They want to use the power of the State to shape the country into their ideal nation.

While there are great differences between right and left, their hopes converge on one thing: democracy.

Democracy is the great god of the United States.

Jeff Deist, former chief of staff for Ron Paul, tweeted:

It is not hard to find this type of religious language used for the American system of government. 

In an article written about election integrity, Kay James wrote, "The right to vote is among the most sacred rights we have as Americans. It is fundamental to our democracy."

We love democracy.

Take this opening paragraph from an article from The Atlantic for example:
We have promoted democracy in our movies and books. We speak of democracy in our speeches and lectures. We even sing about democracy, from sea to shining sea, in our national songs. We have entire government bureaus devoted to thinking about how we can help other countries become and remain democratic. We fund institutions that do the same.

C. S. Lewis was right, we do venerate the word democracy. 

I know you are skeptical and that you think I am crazy, but stop and listen to what we are being told. Look at these headlines.

We are being told that our god is in trouble and needs to be defended. 

We are going to be told that to honor this great god we need to make some sacrifices. 

We are going to applaud as it happens.

We have done it before. 

We cheered as the government sent men and women to fight wars around the world to spread democracy.

The reality is that the demonic force behind democracy is not in trouble. What we are witnessing right now is what false gods always want: chaos and destruction. 

They don't care about you, all they want to do is corrupt and destroy God's good creation, and if they can deceive you and use you as a pawn they will do it.

So what is the solution?

I don't know if I have the answers, but let me offer a few suggestions.
  1. We need to commit ourselves to God and His Kingdom. I firmly believe that American Christians need to think through our relationship with the State. For far too long we have allowed an unhealthy relationship to exist between our loyalty to God and our loyalty to America. As a starting point I would recommend thinking through whether or not you should say the Pledge of Allegiance. If you are pledging your loyalty to America how loyal are you to God?
  2. We need think through our relationship with politics and political parties. This is another area where are loyalty to God and His Kingdom gets divided. A good place to start here is discovering the value you place on voting. Voting is the greatest way we can honor the god of democracy, and that is why I believe Not Voting is a Legitimate Option.
  3. Commit to treating other people with respect. One of the best ways we dehumanize people and rob them of God's image (at least in our eyes) is by name calling. Long ago, back when I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and calling President Clinton "Slick Willie," I was convicted of this point. Ever since then I have done my best to refer to people by their names and titles. It is what God expects me to do as His representative. This directly pushes back against the chaos and division the false god of democracy wants to plant in our families, churches, and communities.

I know you are probably thinking, "All this pondering stuff has made Paul a little nutty."

I am not denying that that is a possibility, so let me add one last thought. 

This is not a plea to scrap the whole system or to say that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. Rather, it is a word of caution. Democracy is more than just a political system and there is a spiritual reality behind it. We need to be careful in our interactions with it. 

God's people are commanded to only worship Him. So once again I will stand with Joshua and say:

“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15; NLT)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Formulas Aren’t Bad

I like Kyle Idleman. I have used his stuff and will probably use it again in the future.

With that being said, I do have an issue with this tweet.

I understand the sentiment. It comes from that same line of thinking that says “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” 

The reality is that Christianity is both religion and relationship. Those two ideas are not opposites. We can have a relationship with God while believing the truths of the religion and observing its disciplines. 

In fact, I am not sure how you have a relationship with God apart from the religious practices discovered in Scripture.

The same is true with leaning on God and having a formula for prayer. Doing one does not negate the other.

In fact, they can, and should be, complimentary.

Here is the reason this is important to me.

This year I went through a time of depression, maybe the most severe depression that I have dealt with, and prayer was key in my struggle to overcome it. The prayers that I used (and still are using), the guided prayer of the One Minute Pause App and written prayers from the Wild at Heart App, helped my to “lean on” God. They provided me with the structure, words, and even purpose for my prayers when I was struggling to pray.

While it is essential to emphasis that we prayer to a God who is alive and desires to have a relationship with us, I think it is also important to provide people with resources and guidance in how to pray. There are activities, words, and themes that help us in our prayers.

I don’t want people to miss out potential life giving help because they want to avoid using “formulas” in their spiritual lives. What matters in prayer is our intention and faith, and if reciting the Lord’s Prayer or using a written prayer helps you vocalize that faith, then we should use it. 

God’s people have always recited prayers. The book of Psalms is basically a prayer book for Israel which helped guide them in their prayers and their worship. 

What matters is not whether or not we pray prayers “from the heart” or recite a prayer written by someone else, what matters is the faith and intention of your heart.

We can lean on God while using a formula to pray.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Real Issue

This tweet popped up in my timeline. I have no idea who John Harwood is and I don't follow him on Twitter.

When I read this tweet it brought to mind three thoughts:
  1. The President of the United States should not be "the most powerful human being on earth." Having a powerful chief executive was one of the fears our founders had when they created the Constitution. What Alexis De Tocqueville witnessed of the president during the early part of the 1800s was that the president  "has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends; and his influence in the state is too small for the success or ruin of a faction to upon his elevation to power." How times have changed. At one time the citizens of the various states would have viewed a powerful executive with suspicion, but now a president who is able to make things happen, both at home and abroad, is expected. Maybe it is time to question whether or not the executive branch should have as much power as it has.
  2. Since we accept the president as the most powerful person in the world, isn’t logical to assume that fraud and corruption a good possibility during an election? I am not saying that this election was "stolen" from President Trump, but I am saying, "I don't trust elections in general." There is nothing about what I know about corrupt human nature or a corrupt government that gives me confidence in our elections. There is too much at stake for too many people for them to truly let "the people" decide.
  3. Why is it okay to call President Trump obese when you would have an absolute hissy-fit if he said that (and he has and they did) about another person? This is one of the things I dislike about politics in general, the complete double standard people have. They are fine with giving their side a pass on bad things, but will go absolutely crazy when the other side does it. While both sides do this, from my observation, the left is much worse about it.
The real issue at stake isn't why President Trump is continuing to fight for the election, rather, it is why does one office hold so much power? 

Not only for the United States, but for the world. 

N. T. Wright talked about that reality on the Ask N. T. Wright Anything podcast when he took questions about the election. He acknowledged that the U. S. Presidential election has ramifications for the entire world. This should not be the case.

Regardless of whether or not you think Donald Trump was a good president, the thing that we should be the most concerned with is how we can limit the power the president has in this world. 


Living a God Honoring Life

We are created in God’s image. The main point of that reality is that we are to be God’s representatives in the world. I like to say, “We ar...