So you call yourself a follower of Jesus?

discipleI am not the bearer of good news tonight.  I’m really not.  Think of it like a trip to the dentist to get a cavity filled.  It will be over soonbut the numbness lingers.  And you drool.

When I read my Bible, the definition of a follower of Christ is pretty bold.  And definitely clear.  A follower of Christ is a disciplea student of the ways of Jesus.  An ambassador of the Kingdom of Jesus.  An example of the character of Jesus.  A servant with the eyes of Jesus.  A representative of the priorities of Jesus.  A courier of the love of Jesus.  A partner in the work of Jesus.  An apprentice who walks in the footsteps of Jesus.

Clear?  Yes.  An accurate description of people who claim to be christians today?  Not so much.

Often, instead of seeing genuine followers of Jesus who seek to emulate the heart and compassion of Jesus in every area of life,  I see more and more people who call their own shots, speak their own minds, do what they want with their money, treat people like they deserve to be treated, and live self-absorbed with worry, fear, anger and judgment.

Just like everybody else.

Far too often, being a christian has been reduced to believing certain facts about Godabout Jesus dying on the cross for our sinsand following certain moral precepts.  Mix in a little church attendance when it’s convenient and make sure you treat other nice people, uhnice.

And then you get to go to heaven when you die.

Most days, this reality causes me to hover somewhere between really sad and sick to my stomach.

So let me ask you a question.  What difference does Jesus really make in your life?  Likefor real.  If you agree with my take that the picture of a follower of Jesus in the Bible is pretty clear, then why is there such a huge difference between what we read about in the life of a disciple in the Bible and what we see in our world today?

Can you imagine for a moment what it could be like if people who claim to be the people of Jesus actually acted like Jesusand truly made a thoughtful, honest effort to do the things he told us to do?

Sadly, it’s really hard for me to picture.

I’ll be happier next time…

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Marriage Tuesday

Marriage Tuesday 2what do people see when they look at your marriage?

do they see two people forging a partnership for simply their own mutual pleasure and success?  

do they see two people drawn together by shared bank accounts and business propositions?  

do they see two people co-existing with each other, held together by the roof over their head?  

do they see two people in an arrangement of common responsibilities to care for children, household chores, and community activities?

after all, isn’t that what a civil union is all about?

i grew up in america.  this is not a culture where “arranged” marriages are fostered.  (although, i hear arkansas beats to a different drum…).  i’m pretty sure that every marriage i have been exposed to started out with at least some feelings of infatuation and physical attraction.

and those feelings gave way to how that couple chose to define love for the life of their marriage…whether it lasted three months, three years or three decades.

again, that’s what civil union is all about.

as a follower of christ, though, i entered into more than a civil union where i personally defined what love and marriage was going to be.

i entered into a partnership where the very nature of our relationship to each other…to our children…to everyone who was drawn into contact with us…would be defined totally by our identity as a disciple of jesus and not by what i felt or by what was most “sensible”.

when i read the words that paul uses in ephesians 5 to describe the relationship of wives and husbands to each other, they are profoundly simple.  “be to each other exactly as christ would be to you…in everything…at all times…no matter what.”  my paraphrase of 5:21-31.  and you should read it for yourself.  right now.

(and for the record, to strangle this passage by saying it’s all about “roles” in a marriage, is to miss the depth and purpose of what paul is saying.  he is not talking about who is supposed to be the “boss” and who is supposed to be the follower.  he is saying we are both to take on the full character of christ.  imo.)

he ends the passage with this great statement about marriage:

 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  Ephesians 5:31-32

so back to my first question of this post…”what do people see when they look at your marriage?”  if you claim to be a follower of christ, they should see his character and lifestyle in every part of your marriage.

they should see a relationship overflowing with grace.  they should see kindness and mercy…not just to each other, but to everyone you come in contact with.  they should see compassion and generosity and forgiveness and simplicity and a heart for the poor.  because that’s what the character of christ looks like.

frankly, the marriage of two disciples of christ might not even look much like a “successful” civil union.

but god will be honored.

and his opinion of your marriage is the only one that really counts anyway.

Baptism and interpretation

great day at north point.   just what the weekly family reunion is supposed to be!

there is no question that preaching on matthew 28:18-20 is an awesome privilege.   it is one of the most treasured texts of the new testament and the defining call to the mission of the church directly from heart of the master.   yup.   awesome privilege.

…Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you… Matthew 28:19

the command to his twelve apostles to make disciples of all nations is a profound one.   i can almost hear jesus say to them,  “now go and do it!”   the same is true for all of us.

in my study,  though,  i found something that really bugged me.   i studied through a bunch of commentaries,  sermons,  and study helps…and in my pursuit of an accurate interpretation of this passage,  came across a pastor who gave this insight on his blog:

The command in this verse is to make disciples or to disciple all nations.   We accomplish that by (1) baptizing them and (2) teaching them.   Let me offer an explanation about the instruction to baptize.  Baptism is in no way necessary for or a pre-requisite to salvation. However,  in Scripture baptism is assumed for the believer.   As a result,  baptism is many times connected to salvation as a direct and immediate result of that salvation.   Baptism was the sign of their conversion.   So when this passage instructs us to make disciples by the sign of baptizing them, we can understand that to mean that we are to make disciples (1) by seeing them converted to Christ and (2) by teaching them.

as a point of reference,  the passage says absolutely nothing about people being converted to christ. the words of jesus are to simply make disciples by baptizing and teaching.   remember…this is my point of reference.

i’m going to admit it right here.   i grew up in a theological environment that was often accused of placing too much emphasis on the act of water baptism.   there are people in my heritage who have been called water regenerationists (meaning that they believed the water,  itself,  had the power to save).

i have listened to preachers infer that as long as somebody had been immersed in water,  they were good to go for the rest of eternity.   i’ve even met a few people who believe that if a person were to die on their way to the baptistery,  it would be,  er,  too little – too late.

even though i don’t buy any of that kind of extreme doctrine…and don’t see any evidence of that kind of teaching in the bible,  i will admit to being a guy that sees baptism as significantly more than a theological afterthought.   i also prefer to let scripture speak for itself.

there are many groups of jesus’ disciples out there (both now,  and throughout history)  that want to make sure… aggressively sure…that people know that baptism is not important in the salvation process at all,  and that it is nothing more than a non-essential,  purely symbolic ritual that can be done…or not done…if a person ever feels a need to do it.

they teach that baptism is nothing more than an optional personal decision that bears no eternal consequence…on a par with bible reading,  church attendance,  or doing sock puppets in children’s church.

frankly,  even though i don’t hold to that interpretation,  i can still serve side-by-side in kingdom work and fellowship with those that do hold it.   what i do struggle with is people who take the clear and simple words of jesus and disregard or minimize them to support their own position.

the preacher quoted is one of those people.

in his  zeal to make sure his readers know that baptism is not necessary for salvation,  this is the kind of over-statement that is made.   “let me help you understand what jesus is really trying to say…”,  as if he needs our assistance to become more understandable.

newsflash.

what jesus is really saying is “make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them”.   don’t put words in jesus’ mouth.   leave his words alone.   they can stand by themselves.

he’s the messiah,  for crying out loud.

In or out?

can’t say that i am overly fond of all the terminology we christians use.   too confusing.   leaves too much to private interpretation.  too many terms.

it’s all in the bible,  but that doesn’t mean much to someone who doesn’t have the secret code.

are you saved? have you been born again? have you been restored?  redeemed?  purchased by the blood of the lamb?   transformed? are you a new creation?  a son or daughter of god?   a saint?   a brother?   a sister? have you accepted christ as your personal lord and savior?

have you been called? are you one of the chosen? are you part of the elect? are you a member of the royal priesthood? are you an heir to the promises? maybe you’re an alien or a stranger or a pilgrim or an ambassador.

are you a believer? a disciple? a follower?

are you going to heaven when you die?

are you filled with the spirit?

are you anointed?

are you sanctified?

are you righteous?

are you holy?

do you live by faith?

have you repented of your sins?

have you been immersed in water?

have you been baptized in the spirit?

do you trust jesus?

have you surrendered your heart?

do you bow in reverence?

have you experienced the grace of god?

some days my head hurts.

no wonder people look at us and roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders.

i can’t help but think we’ve complicated something that was originally pretty simple.


Heavy handed

last week i was reading in the psalms and i came on this passage:

Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD”–
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 32.2-5

i know this is a passage where king david is writing about the confession and forgiveness of sin, but i couldn’t help going down a side road in my spirit that morning.  have you ever had the “hand of the lord” lay heavy on you?  years ago i did…and my life course was changed forever!

i was going to college, dating my wife-to-be, living at home, working a part-time job, and basically enjoying my life.  i believed in god.  i attended church and was even somewhat active in the youth-young adult group of my small home church.

one sunday, the young couple that led our group didn’t show up for our weekly sunday school class, so we all just sat around and told jokes and waited for the hour to go by so we could go to big church.

the next week the same thing happened.  and then a third week.  we all tried to call our leaders, but they didn’t answer their phone.  they had just quit.  since i had grown up in this church and i was one of the older guys, i was sort of appointed to go and talk to our minister, clue him in on the problem (although, none of us really missed our sunday bible lesson…we all thought it was kind of cool that we could hang out in our youth room doing nothing and nobody even knew about it!), and get him to fix it.

this is where the heavy hand of god comes in.

when i told him we didn’t have a sunday school teacher anymore, he just looked at me and said, “sure we do.”  i remember repeating myself and inferring that he didn’t quite understand, but he kept staring at me and said, “i think you guys have a teacher.”  then in my naiveness, i asked, “who?  who do we have that is going to come in and teach us and lead this group?”

enter the heavy hand of god. my minister replied, “you.  you need to do it.  you’re a good young man.  you’ve grown up in the church.  the group likes and respects you.  you do it.”   i remember muttering out some response like, “you don’t understand.  i’m not that kind of guy.  i’ve never led a bible study.  i’m just an average guy.  i’m not spiritual like the rest of them.  there’s no way i can do this!  i can’t.”

this man patiently waited for my excuses to run out and then simply said, “i think god has you here for a reason.  i think it’s time for you to step up and live by faith.  we have a great need and you are the guy to fill it.”

he left no room for me to say “no”.  there was no more debate.  he wasn’t going to hear that i was too busy or too spiritually  shallow or too immature or too…anything.  he just told me to do it and god would take care of me.

from that day on, i taught that group every sunday and every wednesday night for three years.  my life has never been the same.  yeah, the hand of the lord was pretty heavy on me that day.

i’m grateful there was a bold, faithful, godly man in my life who would speak the truth and not let me off the hook.

this raises a lot of questions for me.  how about for you?  i think  i’m going to write some more about this tomorrow.  stay tuned.

Another Crazy Love thought…

crazy-love-book3here’s another francis chan quote from “crazy love”:

i quickly found that the american church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out new testament christianity.  the goals of american christianity are often a nice marriage, children who don’t swear, and good church attendance.  taking the words of christ literally and seriously is rarely considered.

you know, this is a scary thought.  not so much that we rarely take the words of christ seriously (as disgusting as that is), but that the church is a difficult place to fit in if you do.

it scares me to think that i might be a leader in a church that makes it easier for someone to fit in who doesn’t take jesus seriously, than someone who actually does.