Christian Living

Merely Obedient

Today we pause to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s life is one we can point to and agree, “Yes, in his lifetime his work moved nations.” One man brought voice to millions and inspiration to billions.

Many people will reflect on Dr. King’s work and build a wall around his legacy, affirming his works and bravery while simultaneously distancing themselves by labeling him as uniquely gifted by God. As if to say, “I could never be like Dr. King. He was special, gifted, talented, extraordinary– I am ordinary.

My challenge to you would be to examine Dr. King’s work closely for yourself. Read his sermons, watch speeches given at rallies, and wander through the nearly 1 million items in his online archives.

Then ask yourself this question: Was Dr. King gifted or merely obedient? 

As I’ve examined Dr. King’s life, his works, his writings, and his early ministry I’ve discovered a man wholly ordinary but extraordinarily obedient to the calling God placed on his life.

Remember Moses? A man with a speech impediment who murdered a guy in his early adult life? When God called him he was overcome by his ordinary-ness. He complained back to God, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) and “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

Imagine the lunacy of Moses trying to educate God on his personal history and faults? Moses gave God a few good reasons why he was too ordinary to lead a million people out of slavery and God replied back over and over again… I’m not asking you to be extraordinary, just merely obedient.

Ultimately, Moses is recorded as a hero to the Jewish people, not for his bravery in standing up to Pharaoh, but for his obedience to God. He didn’t lead a million people out of slavery. But he did show up and was obedient.

Don’t make the mistake today of honoring Dr. King’s life work without asking yourself, “Am I being obedient to the calling God has laid on my life?”

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Christian Living

Living the Gospel Physically

Permissiveness prevails in the church today. Obedience is mostly viewed spiritually, rarely physically manifesting itself.

It’s almost a foreign concept today that walking with Jesus would mean be tied to physical obedience. We’ve cheapened a relationship with Jesus down to the point where we aren’t really asking new followers of Jesus to do anything more than raise their hand or bow their head. If we are honest with ourselves, most of our churches expect little more of congregants than to show up and write checks to fund the church.

We want to prosper but we don’t want to sacrifice.

Maybe, just maybe, a walk with Jesus is supposed to be as physical as it is spiritual? In other words, we lie to people by reshaping the Gospel around what Jesus can do for them. More importantly, we lie to ourselves when we walk with Jesus safely and justify our safe-walk with Jesus with cultural answers to Scriptural truths.

Allow me to show you three examples of extreme physical obedience to God.

#1 Give it all away – Acts 2

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

I hear Christians say all the time, “If we could just go back to the way it was in Acts 2, the church would grow.” I agree. Let’s start by selling all your property and possessions and lets live together in a community where we share it all.

“Well, well, well… that’s too extreme. This is the modern age. We couldn’t just do that anymore.” If it’s so extreme why did the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to write it down in Acts?

Lesson #1 – Physical obedience to God may be risky to your possessions.

#2 Move somewhere unsafe – Nehemiah 2

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”

I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

There’s nothing wrong with living in the suburbs. But if God has called you to the city you are going to have to deal with city realities. You are probably going to have to send your kids to “those schools” and live in “that neighborhood” and you might have to deal with “those people.” If God called you to it, than He has declared to you that  those schools are His schools, that neighborhood is His neighborhood and those people are His people.

But, it’s my responsibility to make sure my family is safe and my kids get the best education they can.” Actually, that is crappy practical theology. There is no where safer for your family than in obedience to His will. And there is no better education you can offer your kids than your obedience.

Lesson #2 – Physical obedience to God redefines what it means to be safe.

#3 Cut it off – Genesis 17

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14

Let’s be blunt here. As a pastor, I had a hard time getting people to show up for Spring clean-up. How do you think it’d go if I stood up on Sunday after my message and said, “If you are ready to walk with Jesus in obedience to what you just heard, and you are a male, please stay after the service today. We are going to cut off some skin from your penis as a symbol of your commitment. Doing this won’t save you, but it will show God that you are serious. Not the whole thing, just a little bit of skin.

Done. Empty church. No need to vote, I’d be fired! There are news trucks in front of my house by the time I get back from Applebees. The byline of the story would probably call me the perverted penis pastor or something like that. There would be talk shows on CNN accusing me of being a cult leader. Congregants would line up to talk to Katie Couric, “He’s a nice guy and we love him as our pastor. He was always trying to get us to be dedicated to walking with Jesus, but it was just too far to make it some sort of physical thing.

And yet, this is exactly what God told Abraham to do. You want to be God’s people? Let’s seal the deal by making it personal. Line up every male and prove you are serious about this covenant. We’re not talking about taking off a digit of your pinky. We’re talking about cutting part of your penis off! As a Bible college student we were studying this passage and I raised my hand to ask a question. “I’m not trying to be smart. But do you think God gave Abraham some sort of instruction manual with this? I mean, how did he know if he cut enough off? And… who do you think went first?

I have a feeling Abraham went first. He was a leader… so he lead the men somewhere they were unwilling to go on their own.

Lesson #3 – Physical obedience to God is a personal, willful sacrifice.

Discussion questions:

  • Gut check. All excuses aside, how are you doing at physical obedience to Jesus?
  • What does Scripture reveal to me about what I need to do to physically live out the Gospel in my life?
  • What are some first steps of obedience?
  • What does this have to do with living in community?
Christian Living Church Leadership

Sabbath Breakers

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

Kristen and I are drawing more and more clear lines around Sunday– the culturally accepted Sabbath day.

Our new family rule is:

Church activities on Sunday are limited to the worship service and children’s church only. No meetings. No nothing.

There have been two general reactions to mentioning this new rule on my Facebook profile.

  1. People who don’t work at a church applaud. They feel the same pressure to get involved with everything at church and want to reclaim Sunday morning as a time of worship-only as well.
  2. People who work at churches don’t appreciate my sentiment quite the same. (Staff at my church get it.) The over all impression I’ve gotten from church staff is that they wish they could make Sunday a Sabbath for themselves, but they have too much work to do and try to turn either Saturday or Monday as a Sabbath.

Now… let me be fundamentalist for a second.

Under what circumstances is it OK to willfully break the 4th commandment?

None. The principle of Sabbath is just as clear and relevant today as all of the other commandments. It’s not OK to covet my neighbors wife if it grows the congregation, is it? It’s not OK to steal if I do good, is it? It’s not OK to create an idol for the sake of expanding a ministry, is it?

So why is it OK to willfully break the Sabbath by doing a million things on Sunday morning in the name of church?

I don’t think it is. Hence, we’ve drawn a line. (Here is a good time to mention we’re not asking anyone else to do this, it’s our personal conviction.)

This is where the grey area comes in

The command of Sabbath is a trust issue. You work the fields six days a week and you trust God to provide for you and your family on the 7th. Generations of God followers have taken that literally. But we’ve entered into an age where that is seen as a figurative command.

Jesus talked about the Sabbath a few times and he seemed to have a non-legalist perspective on the Sabbath. (See Mark 3:1-6)

In fact, Jesus gave 11 examples of when it was lawful to break the Sabbath. (source)

  1. Pulling an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath was permitted.
  2. Circumcision is permitted on the Sabbath.
  3. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
  4. The precedent of David and his men eating the shewbread.
  5. Priests work on the Sabbath and are blameless.
  6. The ministry of the Messiah is greater than the ministry of the Temple.
  7. God desires mercy from His people and not sacrifice.
  8. The son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.
  9. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  10. It is lawful to lead animals to water on the Sabbath.
  11. The Father works on the Sabbath.

Back to my house, bring this home

The principle of Sabbath is abundantly clear. All throughout the Old Testament we see that God’s people struggled to maintain the Sabbath (trust issue) and God punished His people as a result. (Numbers 15 is the most extreme example for habitual individual Sabbath breakers, for an en masse examples, just look at the exiles.)

I’m audacious enough to believe that God still cares about the Sabbath. I can’t lead my family to sin by working seven days a week and in turn expect God to bless my family. (Just like I couldn’t expect God to bless me financially if I didn’t manage my money well. Or other areas of clear trust/sin issues. You can’t expect God to bless areas of your life in which you exhibit willful sin.)

As I talk with church leaders– we all treat Sunday morning as our big day. It’s the day we try to cram as much as we possibly could into the service as well as the opportunity people’s attention and presence afforded us. Sunday morning is anything but Sabbath.

And for people in the pews its inborn hypocrisy. We say, “Put God and His ways above the ways of the world.” And yet, by our actions as leaders, we put the ways of the world ahead of the 4th commandment. By our desire to cram as much into Sunday as possible, we exhibit willful disobedience.

Our words say, “Run to the Lord of the Sabbath and He will give you rest.”

Our actions say, “Flee these crazy church people who want to make your Sunday even crazier!”

As I think of the hundreds of staff meetings I’ve attended, planning hundreds of worship services, I want to go back and ask myself this simple question: “Instead of trying to maximize what we can do on Sunday morning, why don’t we talk about how little we can do? What would happen if we modeled Sabbath on Sunday’s by doing the maximum 6 days a week and called our people to a minimalist experience of worship?

There is another way

This is where our family is headed. We want to trust God with our church life. We trust Him with our money. We trust Him with our children. We trust Him with our marriage. We trust Him for safety, security, and most importantly… our salvation.

So now we’re going to trust Him with our church. We trust that as we turn Sunday into a Sabbath day for our family and willfully skip the busyness our church provides… that God will bless our church.