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Christian Living illustrations

The Fulcrum is Jesus

Sometimes I sit in church with the realization that for a lot of folks they think this is the center point of their walk with Jesus. As if, somehow, the fulcrum of the Christian life is attending a worship service?

We’ve been raised (Christian language: Discipled) to make church that “can’t miss” thing of the Christian walk. In evangelicalism, the practical disciplines of the spiritual life are:

  • Go to church
  • Regular Bible reading
  • Daily prayer

If you want bonus points:

  • Join a small group
  • Serve in a ministry of the church

Don’t get me wrong. I do most of those things on a regular basis. And these are very good expressions of the Christian life.

But these are the peripherals of the Christian life, not the fulcrum.

The church is not the centerpiece of your walk with Jesus. That’s idolatry.

You can’t sit in church and say… “YES! This is it.” Attending church (passive action) isn’t it anymore than watching football on TV is the same as playing in the game. (active participation) Jesus didn’t come so you could go to church. He didn’t tear the veil between Levites and the people so you could watch church. That’s a foundational misunderstanding in the person and action of Christ.

Your load... is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That’s so much more than church involvement, reading your Bible, praying, being in a small group, and serving in the church. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they are too cheap and easy to be “it.

What Jesus describes is all encompassing. Like two lovers in the first 90 days of their relationship! 

Your output… is to love your neighbor as yourself. The output of your walk with Jesus can’t just be church involvement. It’s can’t be about you and your learning. It can’t be about serving at the church. That’s not what Jesus said was the output.

According to Mark 12, the output of loving God with everything is loving your neighbors. (You know, the people next door.)

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:27-31

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Christian Living

Ruin Your Reputation

Photo by Dioboss via Flickr (Creative Commons)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:8-13

There’s a lot of reputation management going on in the church today. Scornful lips espouse warnings about “the appearance of evil” and it’s kissing cousin, “be careful who you associate with.

When I was in Bible college I remember some of this being taught in our Student Life Guide. These community preferences defined social life at Moody Bible Institute… and for many, set the course of their social life going forward.

  • You aren’t allowed in bars, because people drink alcohol there.
  • A male student can’t go to the home of a female adult alone. (And visa versa)
  • You can’t go see movies, because how will people know you are going to the PG movie when Rated-R movies are being shown?
  • You can’t work somewhere in which alcohol is sold.

[In fairness, these were community rules. Students willfully chose the school in full knowledge of the rules. No one at MBI said they were Biblical rules– but the message was clear. This is how Christians behave.]

Two problems with reputation management:

  1. Our Lord had a horrible reputation. He hung out with low-life’s like tax collectors and prostitutes.
  2. Jesus didn’t respond too kindly to religious people and their reputation rules.

Ruin your reputation

I love this passage from Paul’s letter to Ephesus. Ephesus was the Las Vegas of its day. A tourist town. It’s a city with a big harbor and lots of sailors. Consequently, it was a city with a whole slew of brothels and a temple to the fertility goddess Diana.

Ephesians knew dark places. And for the most part, the church in Ephesus was filled with people who knew the dark places all too well.

If the church were to re-write verses 8-13 it would go something like this:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, so don’t go to those places. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed to darkness is overcome by darkness—and everything that is illuminated by darkness dies.

Striking difference, eh?

That’s the difference between having a religious reputation and having a Christ-like reputation!

Paul’s command was simple: Go to dark places. Seek them out. Even the ones from your past. And bring light.

See, going to dark places and seeing “bad things” doesn’t mean that you have to be a part of it. To the contrary, you can find those in darkness and bring the light of new life!

As believers, it’s our job to go to dark places and bring light. A life pleasing to Jesus isn’t concerned about reputation. Often times, it’s ruthlessly ruining your reputation for the purpose of introducing grace, forgiveness, and hope to the darkest places you know.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Categories
Christian Living

Let Grace be our language

Is grace enough for you?

Maybe I’m a cynic but I don’t think grace is a hallmark of a lot of Christians. We’re too busy having unrealistic expectations for one another and then wallowing in the disappointment of failed relationships.

I’m too busy judging you for judging me for grace!

Let’s get past this oddity of evangelical culture and descend into the heart of what we believe.

We’re all perfectly imperfect. We need to expect imperfection from the people around us while individually, through the power of Jesus, trying to make our live more like Jesus. Not to celebrate it. But build it into our expectations for one another.

I sin. I am messy. I hate things about my nature. Loathe even. I sadden myself with my sinfulness. Sometimes I disgust myself.

Failure is a part of our walk with Christ. Some would say it is the beginning of our walk with Jesus. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of maturing. It’s part of learning.

You simply cannot walk with Jesus in a state of false perception of yourself, your mess, and your unique ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Think about it like this…

The whole reason God created Eve was not for a sin bringing playmate. It was because the Father looked at his creation and said, “Its not good for man to be alone.”

There is no more alone place than in a broken relationship. Conversely, there is little more powerful on this world than a grace-filled relationship with two people.

Here’s my encouragement

Every day you are given the choice between grace and judgement. In all things, chose grace.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership Politics

L’agenda

The longer I walk with Jesus the more complicated my life seems to get.

Kids, ministry, job, dreams, bills, skills, personality flaws, responsibilities… the list is endless. Life is complicated. Scary. Confusing. Worrysome.

At the same time, the longer I live the more simple the application of God’s Word gets.

When things seem really complex and over my head I am reminded of how Jesus spoke into the complexities of a “religious life.

One day Jesus was talking with a group of religious people. And, as religious people are known to do, they all carried a specific agendas. They wanted to know if Jesus was on their team. As they sat around testing Jesus on his belief on the issues of the day they were flustered by his ability to respond with Option C on an Option A or B test time and time again.

They were upset with him because he had taken the things that divided people… agendas with teams, financing, factions, and power… and given simple answers with a new agenda.

So they put their heads together and nominated the biggest religious expert in the room to trap Jesus. This question was the 1st Century equivalent of, “If God is a good God, why do bad things happen in the world to good people?”

Here’s the agenda-laden trap:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him 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 22:34-40

Baffling simplicity.

L’agenda

Jesus’ agenda for your life is quite simple. As we see above, all of a God-pleasing life flows from those two bullet points:

  1. Love God with everything.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

A popular phrase in Evangelical circles, full of agenda, has repackaged Jesus’ words and simplified it too far by saying we are called to “Love God, Love People.” But I think Jesus is smarter than they are. And his agenda rings clear enough for me.

Jesus’ agenda for my life is to love him with everything I’ve got. (From my skills, to my personality, to my family, to my vocation… everything) And the action of that agenda is to love my neighbors as myself. (You know, the people I live near, see in my daily life. Neighbors implies really close to me, and is specific to a group of people I’m to have regular casual contact with. It’s the people on my block, not the people in the pews or in my youth group.)

All of God’s word is to be applied through that lens. Jesus sets the agenda.

When I study Scripture I’m left to ask myself, “How is God calling me to love him?” and “How can I love my neighbors as myself because of this teaching?

It’s personal and communal– but not religious

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for the church. In the same passage of Matthew 22 and other places in the Gospels, Jesus refers to his relationship with the church as his bride. To disrespect the church is de facto disrespecting Jesus. (If you said you loved me but disrespected my wife… I’d punch you in the face. What kind of husband wouldn’t?)

I’d prefer not to get punched by Jesus for disrespecting his bride.

At the same time, I wonder if many churches have made the agenda about them? There’s nothing more annoying than a selfish bride. Sure, there is love there… but there are a lot of strings attached to that love.

Other churches are defined by their size… hardly a respectful description for a bride. We’d politely say things like, “She must be a good cook.” Right?

Other Christians are defined by the political bedfellows they keep. Their agenda is confused with the issues of the day. Their leaders espouse vocal support of things like a right to own a gun while all the world desperately needs of them is to embrace their right to love their neighbor.

Still others are defined by their application of Revelation 2-3. They look at Jesus’ proclamations of judgement and they say… “Wait a minute. Jesus isn’t judging First Baptist of San Diego any different that he is judging San Diego Church of the Nazarene or even the Diocese of San Diego… Jesus loves and judges us by where we live in community, not where we individually gather to worship.” And those churches are defined by the agenda of neighbors loving neighbors, churches loving churches, and sharing in the great love of their Savior in the L’agenda.

My prayer today for the bride of Christ is that we would be a people defined by our world-changing L’agenda for our neighbors and not the trappings of a religious life.