Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Loyal Leader

William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible: the letter to the Hebrews wrote: 
The real leader, if need be, dies in loyalty. He shows men how to live and is prepared to show them how to die. Jesus, having loved his own, loved them to the end; and the real leader having loved Jesus, loves him to the end. His loyalty never stops halfway. (p. 195)

Wow! What a thought. 

The best Christian leaders are people whose loyalty to Jesus gives them the courage to live a life worthy of Jesus and his sacrifice. These leaders understand that their lives are an example on how to live. This also includes preparing to die well.

This raises the question: Am I prepared to show other people how to die? 

To be honest, it isn’t something have really considered. My main focus has been on how to live well because death isn’t something I have had to face. It is hard to be an example to someone when you haven’t had to experience it yourself.

Maybe that is the wrong way to think about it.

Rather than thinking about the end of life, perhaps we should think about life. When we do something well to the best of our ability we can walk away confident that we did well. If we apply this to the end of life, we can face death with no regrets when we lived by faith, remaining loyal to Jesus.

The true leader in the Church is the person who is loyal to Jesus. 

Doubts may come, hardships may arrive, and persecution may be present, but that leader remains committed to Jesus. He or she is an example of what it means to live by faith, even if that commitment takes them to their death. 

No matter what, they will not forsake their King.

If I am to be the leader my family and church needs, then I have to be an example of loyalty and faith no matter what happens in my life. Attendance my rise and fall, but my confidence remains in Jesus. Health issues may creep in, but I remain faithful to Jesus. 

Loyalty and faith are not fickle. They are committed through the ups and downs of life.

A good leader realizes that his life is on display and that his actions are a powerful testimony of his faith. As people follow his example, they are constantly preparing for the end of their life, because they can face death with no regrets.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Be Different

It is hard to be different and to stand out from those around you. 

I find it easy to go with the flow and to allow myself to be influenced by the very same things that influence the rest of the world. It takes intention and work to go against the current of the culture.

This is exactly what we need to do.

It is essential for people who follow Jesus to live differently from the world. 

The apostle Paul wrote:
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true (Ephesians 5:7-9; NLT).
Christians are a changed people. We no longer participate in the same activities that the world does. These are activities that continue bring corruption and sin into God’s good creation. This is why it is crucial for us to live lives of faith.

 How do we do this? 

How do we prevent ourselves from being influenced by the culture in which we live? 

I believe the writer of Hebrews have provided us with some answers to these questions:
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 hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2; NLT).
In these two verses we find four actions we must do if we are going to live differently from the world.

First we must remember the witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith...

Hebrews 11 is filled with great examples of faith, men and women who trusted God through the ups and downs of life. The writer of Hebrews wanted people be encouraged by these examples. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, and the Apostles give us encouragement as we attempt to live faithfully in our culture. Remember, there is a reason God preserved their lives on the pages of Scripture so lets learn from them.

It is also important to remember that through the past two thousand years more and more people have been added to this great cloud of witnesses. On the pages of history and through the years of our lives are more men and women who are examples of what it means to live faithful lives in a culture not aligned with God’s will.

The second action we need to do is remove the hindrances
...let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress.

Change is difficult. 

One reason it is difficult is because it means that we are wrong in the way we live. If we were living right then a change wouldn’t need to happen. 

A second reason why change is hard is because of our habits. It is hard to break a habit, no matter how much we may want to be rid of it. Habits are ingrained in the way we do life.

We all have junk in our our lives that needs to be removed. We have self-image issues that rob us of confidence. We have relationship issues that cause problems with those that we are closest with. We have emotional problems (depression, anxiety, perfectionism, guilt, etc.) that need to be addressed. 

All these things hinder us from being the people God created us to be, and so we need to face these issues and deal with them. That might even mean going to a professional for help.

The universal weight people carry is sin. 
Yes, the weight of sin is different for each of us, but it is still there weighing us down. For us to get rid of it requires that we attack it, struggle with it, confess it to God, and continually look for ways to uproot it form our hearts. We cannot go with God and allow sin to remain in our lives unchecked. If we are not struggling to rid our lives of sin then we are not living a life of faith.

The third action we must do is run the race
And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.

God has created us to do good. 

Doing good is more than just being moral people. Doing good requires that we love and serve our neighbors. I like to say that we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing. 

Running the race that God has given to us is about doing the good works that He planned for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). So when we use the blessings God has given us to bring good into this world, we are running the race of faith.

The final action is to reflect on Jesus
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

Jesus is our ultimate example on how we are to live. He showed us how to love, how to serve, and how to forgive. We must model our lives after his life.

Jesus’s sacrifice is the ultimate encouragement we need to live a life of faith. Knowing that Jesus went through brutal times, to save us from sin, offers us courage when we go through dark times of life and motivates us to remain faithful.

We can only keep our eyes on Jesus by reflecting on his life through reading and studying the Bible. 

I think one of the reasons we fail is because we create an image of Jesus that appeals to us rather than doing the hard work of discovering who Jesus really is. We cannot neglect the study, reading, and discussion that gives us a better understanding of Jesus.

Christians are called to be different from the world. 

It is easy to participate in the activities that help us blend right into our culture. This is why we must fight the hard fight to be different. 

Are you willing to do what it takes to change your life and be different?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

More than a Personal Relationship

God deals with people through the use of covenants. 

Carl Ketcherside in his book The Death of the Custodian wrote:
The fact is that God has chosen to relate to man on the basis of covenants. He is a covenant-making God. No one who ignores this fact will ever grasp God’s plan and purpose in any age. (p. 15)
I want to throw this idea out to you: We have a covenant relationship with God and not just a personal relationship with God. 
Yes, I understand that marriage is a covenant relationship, and you can't get a more personal relationship than marriage. 

Just like marriage, the covenant God established with us through Jesus creates a personal relationship. At the same time it sets apart a covenant people for Him. 
1 Peter 2:9 reminds us:
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (NLT).
Christians are a chosen people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. 

We have a personal relationship with God, but that personal relationship is lived out in the context of community. We are in this together. Which means we have a responsibility to and for each other. None of us should try to walk the journey of faith alone. It is crucial that we help each other as much as possible because our lives are linked through Jesus.

I bring this up because I think our focus on a “personal” relationship with God sidetracks us from what God has really called us to be—a covenant people. 

Leon Morris in The Atonement wrote:
It mattered intensely to Old Testament Israel that the nation was in covenant relationship with the one and only God. All its thinking and living revolved around this fact. (p. 22)
Israel is not a great example of covenant faithfulness, but I still wonder what the church would be like if our thinking and living revolved around the reality that we are in a covenant relationship with God. 

Knowing that we are in a covenant relationship with God, that extends beyond our personal relationship with Him, leads us to consider other people. We become responsible for helping, encouraging, forgiving, and teaching one another, because that is God expectation for His people.

Galatians 6:1-3 (NLT):
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Let this be the description of our lives as we live in a covenant relationship with God that is both personal and communal. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

You Can’t Hurry Love

Americans tend to fill every waking moment with activity. With our full schedules it is difficult to find time to squeeze one more thing into our days. 

When the opportunity comes our way to help and serve some one, it often comes at us as an inconvenience. It is interrupting our schedule. So we try to hurry through it so we can do a good deed and still check off everything on our to do lists.

Sadly, this leads people feeling more like an inconvenience or an afterthought rather than feeling truly loved. 

To be different, Christians need to slow down and understand that one of the sacrifices that we make on behalf of God is the interruption of our schedules. By letting God disrupt our lives we are saying that His will is more important than our will. We are also saying that people matter more than our personal agendas.

Loving our neighbor can’t simply be blocked off on our schedules. These opportunities to love people will  appear in our lives during inconvenient times, forcing us to choose between our agendas and God’s command. 

For us to truly love people we need to sacrifice our time, our agendas, and our money to be present in the lives of other people.

This is how we can love our neighbors well.

Monday, August 16, 2021

What Can We Do?

 We live in a sin corrupted world where violence and death too often reign, and we are powerless to do anything about the evil that surrounds us.

 In moments like these all we can do is focus on what is within our power to control. So we pray, asking God to intervene in the cares and concerns of our heart, and we commit to loving our neighbor. 

This what is under our control to do.

Seek to Discover Jesus

Reading through the book of John it becomes evident that there were great disagreements about Jesus' identity.  This is even seen in the Pharisees. Here is a group that we generally talk about opposing Jesus, but the reality was that there was a disagreement about Jesus among them (John 9:16).

In John 10:19 we again see that people had a disagreement about Jesus: When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him (NLT). 
There was this disagreement, or division, because Jesus provided a paradox for them. 

On the one hand Jesus taught with great authority and insight. 

On the other hand Jesus did not obey the culture expectations of the day. He was not always a "good" Jew.

All these centuries later, people still have disagreements about who Jesus is. 
  • Some want to classify him as a good teacher who was able to give profound spiritual insight. 
  • Some may elevate him to the position of prophet, a man of God giving people a word from God. 
  • Some label Jesus as a liar who led people astray. 
  • Some call him a myth who never existed. 
People are still divided about who Jesus is.

Since I claim to follow Jesus, it is important that I understand who Jesus is to the best of my ability. 

Now, I admit, it is easy, even by looking at the biblical account, to create Jesus in my image. To make a Jesus I am comfortable with, who will support my agendas, and promote my worldview. 
Even within the Church there are many different ideas of who Jesus is, how he lived, and what he taught.

This means we need make an effort to discover who Jesus is. 
  • We need understand the culture in which Jesus lived which provide much needed context to his teaching. 
  • We need to seek to hear his teaching through the ears of his intended audience.
  • We need to learn why see his miracles and ministry through these first century eyes.
 It is easier to engage the Gospels, as well as the whole of Scripture, at just the surface level, as we look for those eternal truths to apply to our lives. But, I have come to believe that we miss much of the truth God has for us by not digging deeper into the text. 

People will always be divided over who Jesus is, but that shouldn’t keep us from the responsibility of doing what we can to discover the Jesus of history. 

I believe that when we commit ourselves to such a study we will be blessed with the gift of getting to know who Jesus is and all that he has done for us.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Liberty Depends on Virtue

 I love this John Adams quote for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is because it reminds me that the most important thing I can spend my time doing is making disciples. Freedom and liberty are not independent of the choices that we make. 

Living with virtue makes us free from the consequences of bad choices that lead to our enslavement. When we are not enslaved we are free to help and serve those around us. This is how we live as a benefit to our community.

The second reason I like this quote is that virtue reminds us that there is an outside authority  that defines right and wrong. We are not the ones who define good and bad, rather we look to God for His wisdom to guide us in the type of life we should live.

A loss of liberty in the United States can be traced back to the reality that as a country we have lost the notion of virtue. Instead of virtue we have turned to politics to determine what is right and wrong. 

This is why every election turns into “the most important election of our lives.” 

Instead of electing people to lead us, we fight a battle to determine who has the authority to determine what is right and wrong. It is a fight that will always be nasty and brutal as dividing lines between people and groups are created.

It is impossible to have unity when there is no common understanding of what virtue is. There is no hope for unity in the United States apart from a common understanding of virtue.

Instead of using political power to try to conform people to our understanding of right and wrong, we need to focus on discipleship and teaching people the true source of virtue: the wisdom of God.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Discipled in the Way of Partisan Politics

 One of the basic truths that we need to remember is that everyone is going through a process of spiritual formation.

A big influence in spiritual formation is the information that we consume and what our minds think about. This is why the New Testament emphasizes our mind and thoughts.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phillippians 4:8; NLT) 

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. (Colossians 3:1-2; NLT)
Our minds play a major role in our discipleship. This is why we need to be intentional about what our minds think about.

We have access to a vast amount of information. All of our devices are designed as media consumption devices. 

As we consume media and as that information directs our thoughts and emotions, our spirits are being formed. 

This is the reason the world feels so divided now. Everything in life has become political. 

Politics deals with the best way to run the world. We come to believe that our side has the best way to run the world and the opposite side wants to destroy our way of life.

Making everything political has led us to live with fear and declaring everyone who doesn't agree with us as our enemy. 

In this environment, imagine what happens when the pastor says something that you don’t agree with?

Too often the pastor becomes the enemy. You can convince yourself that he has, at the very least, been influenced by the enemy, if not entirely in their camp. 

If you are able to see the pastor as an enemy, who is leading the church astray, leaving that Christian community behind is an easy thing to do.

The sad reality is that many Christians in the United States are being discipled, not in the way of Jesus, but in the way of partisan politics. It is hard to breakthrough this partisan barrier because people have convinced themselves that their politics are the politics of Jesus. 

Instead of consuming and meditating on cable news, podcasts, Facebook, and Twitter, we need to read and  meditate on the Bible. 

If we are going to be discipled in the way of Jesus, then we need to let Scripture challenge us in all the different areas of our lives. 

We can't allow our partisan political culture to be the greatest influence in spiritual formation. If we do, then we will end up looking just like the world.

That is not what God wants from our lives.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Should We Listen The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill?


This tweet popped up on Twitter last week. It got me thinking about listening to a podcast like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, because I do think there is a danger to it.

1. We need to avoid treating in like gossip. This might be my #1 issue with it, because after listening to an episode I want to Google “Mark Driscoll” to see what he is up to now. So there is a fine line there between the journalistic storytelling the podcast is and gossip.

2. We need to see the big picture. This isn’t just about Driscoll and Mars Hill, it is about Evangelicalism and celebrity. How we justify certain behaviors if we believe they are getting the right results. There is a parallel here with the Evangelical support of President Trump. Evangelicals were okay supporting Donald Trump, in spite of his treatment of women, because he promised them things they wanted. They believed he would deliver the results they wanted. People justified Driscoll’s behavior because he appeared to be getting good results.

3. We should remember that in the midst of bad that happened at Mars Hill, God still brought about God. Remember, we worship God, who is so powerful that He is able to bring good out of bad and life out of death. This is what Paul wrote; “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT). Yes, the Mars Hill story contains tragedy, but it also contains examples of God’s grace and transformation. This is one of the great lessons from the podcast.

Should we bee listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill?

I think it is something worth listening to as long as we avoid the temptation to use it as an excuse to cast judgment on Mark Driscoll. This podcast gives us the opportunity for self reflection and consider the question: In what ways am I using God and His Kingdom to build my own platform?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Are Christians Coerced?

 Are Christians coerced into following Jesus?

I can understand that view if the primary focus of what God is doing through Jesus is rescuing people from Hell. Then the fear of Hell would be one of the main reasons for trusting Jesus.

To be honest fear of Hell was a motivating factor for me when I was baptized and started my journey following Jesus.

That may have been my starting point, but it certainly isn't where I am today. While I accept the reality of Hell (leaning towards conditional immortality), it is not a motivating factor in my life. 

To be honest, I hardly think about Hell. 

Rather, my focus is on my calling to make disciples and the hope of New Creation that comes through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

As we mature in faith our reasoning for following Jesus should change. 

The fear of Hell might be the initial reason why a person puts his trust in Jesus, but it shouldn’t remain the primary reason for faith. 

There should come a time when love overcomes the fear, and the reason for faith is to love: God and people.

1 John 4:17-21 (NLT )
And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

 John wrote that love empowers us to be confident on the day of judgment. He emphasized that it isn't just our love for God, but God’s love for us that gives us confidence and drives away fear. 

This love is made real in our lives as we follow Jesus.

Fear doesn’t transform our lives. 

Yes, it might get us started making changes, but that intense fear can't sustain the transformation process. 

Only love is able to do that. 

As we move from fear to love as the primary motivating factor for following Jesus, we move away from being coerced to being a partner in the work God is doing in the world.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Live as an Exile

A follower of Jesus Christ is a person in exile. 

I know that it doesn't feel that way. 

We were born in this world. 
We are comfortable with the culture that we live in. 
This world is familiar. 
It feels like home. 

We may sing songs about this world not being our home or talk about how God has mansions waiting for us in heaven, but the reality is that we like it here.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

God created a good world, and that means there are many things that are part of this world that are enjoyable. We should find joy in this life.

Yet, one of the themes that runs through the Bible is that God's people are to be a holy people, a set apart people. Over and over again God's people choose to be another "Canaanite people" rather than God's covenant people.
We have this tension of living in a world that God intended for us to enjoy while seeking to live differently from the world around us.

To do this properly we need a shift in our thinking.

Traditionally we ask the question: "How close to the line can I go?"

More often than not we are interested in how we can push God's boundaries so we can live comfortably in the world.

We need to make a shift to turn away from the world and move in the direction of Jesus.

You and I are created in the image of God. This means we are to demonstrate His character in this world. We do that best when we follow the example of Jesus. 

Jesus lived as foreigner in this world:
I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. (John 17:14, NLT)
In his prayer to the Father, Jesus confessed that the world hated him and his followers because they did not belong to it. Jesus' teachings and his way of life were foreign to the the way of the world.

Foreigners stands out because they are different.  

They speak a different language. 
They dress differently.
They celebrate different holidays.
They have different values.  

Christians are to live like foreigners in a strange land.  Our goal isn't to learn the language and the customs of this world, but to adopt the customs of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The apostle Peter wrote:
Dear friends, I warn you as "temporary residents and foreigners" to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (1 Peter 2:11-12; NLT)
How does the apostle Peter want us to live?  As "temporary residents" and "foreigners"! We are displaced.  We are not at home!

I want you to catch this: when we live like the world we are not part of God's Kingdom!  

God isn’t interested in people who will merely confess Him and believe in Him.  The Bible teaches us that everyone will bow a knee confess Jesus as Lord. What God wants is a people who will live by faith, people who will bow before Him now.  

People who will be motivated by a different set of desires.  
People who live by a different set of standards.  
People who love people no one else will love.  
People who will not abandon the customs of their home country, but will teach those customs to others.  
By living differently we proclaim to the world that there is a better way to live!

In his book The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus wrote:
From the moment we become citizens of the kingdom of God, we become aliens and strangers in a world that chooses to live absent of God.  From the first step taken to follow Jesus, we are out of step with the rest of the world.  Once your life is in sync with the story of God, you become out of sync with any story that attempts to ignore or eliminate God.  You are a stranger to them, an alien among them, a nomadic wanderer who, while refusing to be rooted in this life, seems to somehow enjoy this life most. (p. 93)

Are you walking out of step with the world?  

My great concern for American Christians is that we are not.  

I know that many of us have a different moral standard than the world, but our hopes and dreams are the same dreams the world around us has.  Our dreams and desires center around success, money, happiness, and love.  The list could go on, but the point is that while we are morally different from the world we are not spiritually different from them.  

That my friends was one of the problems Jesus had with the Pharisees.  They looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were filled with dead men’s bones.  White washed tombs.  

We need to quit fooling ourselves that to be different from the world is just about having a different moral standard.  Being different from the world is primarily about our desires, dreams, attitudes, and thoughts. It is about the direction of our lives and what we are willing to sacrifice to accomplish.

A temporary resident doesn’t put down roots in the land he is living.  Instead he hopes and dreams for his home and thinks of the day when he will finally join his family there.  

How can we think about settling for the things of this world when God is offering us so much more?
How can we think about being like the citizens of the world when God is calling us to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven?  

Since this world is not our home let us live like citizens of Heaven.

The Spiritually Mature Life: Having the Fruit

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I started a new sermon series at Bethlehem Church called A Spiritually Mature Life. This sermon series is focused ...