Have you ever been distracted? I do my best not to text and drive, mainly because I don’t want screenshots of my last text being used as a don’t text and drive commercial. But, there are other times when I do get distracted while driving. For instance, when I’m scrolling through podcasts, trying to find something I want to listen to at the moment. There have been times, when I’ve been distracted for so long, that when I actually start paying attention, I don’t know how I got where I am. I’m sure you never do that.
The enemy would love nothing more than to distract us. If he can keep us focused on unimportant things, we won’t have enough energy to focus on God. And, if he can distract us at the very foundation of our being, then he can get everything else in our lives spinning in the wrong direction.
Just like we can get so distracted while driving that we end up somewhere not remembering how we got there, there are levels of distraction in our lives that can cause us to end up places we never intended to get to. This is what happens when we let ourselves get distracted on the foundational level of our identity.
This is the big struggle we see happening in society today. So many of us are being led to believe our identity is wrapped up in fleshly things. So many think their identity is in their sexuality. “I’m straight.” “I’m gay.” “I’m transgender.” So many other think their identity is in their profession. “I’m a pastor.” “I’m a banker.” “I’m a stay at home mom.”
We put all out effort into “becoming” that thing we claim we are, and yet it never satisfies us. We still find ourselves trying to become “it” more and more. Until one day, we realize, “it” is never going to fulfill us the way we had hoped. So, we abandon it in pursuit of another “it”. Maybe this one is the one. And it isn’t. And it never will be because it can’t be.
So much of the Bible is based on this idea – God showing his people who they are. God designed us to worship him. Our own worth is tied to that.
“What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” Jeremiah 2:5
Whenever we worship (definition: whatever consumes our attention and affection) anything other than God, we lower our own value. We become like what we worship. If we are worshipping sexuality, we will become like that. If we worship career, our value will be tied up in that.
No wonder so many people are so unhappy. When your identity is in something that was never capable of being your identity, frustration is bound to occur.
And frustration, to put it lightly, is the climate of the day in which we live. There is very little peace around us.
The scary part is, even among Christians, there is very little peace.
For so many believers, our identity is wrapped up in religion. Religion says: “I am in charge of my own salvation, I can earn my way to God by living rightly.” And that’s what so many believers are caught up in – trying to earn their position with God. That’s why so many believers are exhausted and get burned out.
If there was something any of us could do to earn our place with God, there would have been no need for Jesus to come. There is absolutely nothing you can do, in your own strength, to prove you are good enough.
What sounds like horrible news is actually the best news.
It’s good news because the work for our salvation has already been done. It was done by Christ when he paid the price for our sins on the cross, when he rose from the dead – conquering death, hell and the grave, when ascended back to his rightful place at the right hand of the father and sent His Spirit of Truth to dwell in all who believe.
Tim Keller says our identity is received, not achieved. In Christ, we receive, as a free gift of God, our new identity. We don’t do anything to earn it, we just receive it. When we place our belief in Christ – belief that goes beyond intellectual assent and takes us to the point of re-ordering our entire lives around it – we receive our new identity. Now our life is “hidden in Christ” and we are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.
So, our approach needs to be one of receiving what God says about us. We need to receive, without question, the truth of our new identity in Christ. When the Bible makes a “you are” statement, all you have to do is receive it. You don’t have to earn it, you just receive it.
Who does God say you are?
You are a child of God (John 1:12)
You are a friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
You are no longer a slave to sin or fear (Romans 6:6, Gal. 4:7)
You are not condemned. (Romans 8:1)
You are a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
You are a saint. (Romans 15:7)
You are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19)
You are a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)
You are righteous. (2 Cor. 5:21)
You are chosen. (Eph. 1:4)
You are alive. (Eph 2:4-5)
You are God’s workmanship. (Eph 2:10)
You have been brought near. (Eph 2:13)
You are a member of Christ’s body. (Eph 5:30)
You are light. (Eph 5:8)
You are a citizen of heaven. (Phil. 3:20)
You are at peace with God. (Phil. 4:7)
You are complete. (Col. 2:10)
How would it change your life if you started living as though you already are all these things? How would it change you, to live from a position of acceptance instead of trying to earn it?
This doesn’t mean we are free to live as we please. Instead, because we have received such a gift, now our lives become about working out that which we have already received. You’ve been given the gift, now you have to work it out. But, more on that later.
For now, just receive these truths about your new standing with God. This is who you are. This is your identity. You have received this free gift of God. There’s no point in boasting in your own ability, but boast in the God who give so generously.
So, you can be bold and confident, because God says you can. You can approach the throne of grace with confidence. (Heb. 4:16). You can be confident in who you are because it’s what God is saying about you. It’s not what you are saying about you, it’s who God says you are. Period. You are this because you are HIS!
John 6 is one of my favorite chapters in the gospels. I’ll explain why, but, it would be great if you went over and read it before continuing to read this article.
In that chapter, we see Jesus perform one of his most popular miracles – feeding the 5,000.
It’s one of our favorites from the time we are kids. Many of us probably grew up seeing that story taught on a flannel-graph. If you don’t know what flannel-graph is, then you missed out.
After Jesus feeds the 5,000, the disciples get in a boat and start rowing to the other side, Jesus strolls out on the water and meets them.
The next morning, everyone who had eaten the bread saw that Jesus and His disciples were gone, so when some boats arrived, they got in them and went looking.
Jesus teaches. And his teaching gets more difficult.
“Anyone who wants to come after me must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” When I hear Jesus teaching this, my mind immediately goes to the Walking Dead. Especially the scene a few seasons back where people were becoming cannibals. And since they didn’t have refrigeration, they had to keep their victims alive to preserve the meat. And that epic line: “You taste good, Bob.” Sorry.
What was their response? “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it.” Ya think. What in the world was Jesus getting at here?
It’s no wonder people left. We probably would have left too.
What was Jesus getting at here? This is the thrust of what Jesus was getting at:
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
In his retelling of this story, John uses the word believe 10 times. What does it mean to “believe in the one he has sent”?
Belief in the New Testament is not just intellectual. In reality, neither is belief today.
There are many who claim to have beliefs, but when you look at their lives they don’t live out those beliefs. We all understand this to mean that they don’t really believe what they say they believe.
The kind of believe that Jesus (and John) are talking about is this, the kind of belief that when you believe it, you reorder your entire life around it. This is how belief is understood in the New Testament. If you believe something, it will be seen by your actions. The is true for the word hear in the Old Testament. If you’ve truly heard God speak, you will do what He says. “Hear, O Israel, The Lord your God is one…Love the lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” If you’ve heard God speak, then you will do what He says.
That’s what Jesus was getting at here. The work God requires is to reorder our entire lives around Jesus.
What were the people of the crowd doing? They were following Jesus for what they could get from him. They got some good bread and wanted more. They weren’t following Jesus because they believed he was the holy one sent from God. They were following Jesus for a freebie. They liked the handouts.
This is a very important point and question for us to ask as followers of Jesus:
What is your motive for coming to Jesus?
Why do we come to Christ? Is it because we, like Peter, believe that he has the words of eternal life? Or, are we like the crowd, and we just want Jesus to give us free stuff?
Too many of us, myself included, have come to Christ for what we can get from Him. When what we really need to do is come to Christ to give ourselves wholly over to Him.
We treat God like a genie in the sky whose primary existence is giving us the stuff we want in life.
We can see this fleshed out in our prayer lives. How much time to spend seeking God’s face compared to how much time you ask for his hand? How much time do you spend seeking to know God, to hear God, to understand God, to learn what His voice sounds like, to get to know your heavenly father who created you in his own image and loves you more than any other created thing? Contrast that with how much time we spend asking God to give us this thing we really want, or this job we really need, or to change this person so they won’t annoy me so much or to resolve this situation so I won’t have to deal with conflict, or to make me rich so I don’t have to worry about money and can just focus all my time on loving people.
Isn’t that what most of us do? Don’t most of us come to God because we want bread to fill our stomaches when what we really need is the bread that can fill our souls? No wonder we’re so messed up! We’re trying to fill our souls with something what was only meant to fill our stomach.
We allow the drive to fulfill the desires of our mortal flesh to supersede the need of our immortal soul.
How do we know when our motive has shifted from fulfilling our desires to belief in the one God sent?
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
We know our motives have shifted when we stop being consumed with doing our own will and become consumed with doing the will of the Father.
When it seems as though the world around us is falling away from God…when it appears that so many people who were once followed Jesus, but have since stopped…when person after person seems to drift away and never return…what do you think is happening?
What’s happening is, people aren’t getting what they wanted from Jesus, so they go somewhere else to find it. The call of Christ is not simply one of association with him. Were there people who hung out with Jesus? Sure. But that was never his point or mission. His mission wasn’t just to amass a crowd. This story is the proof of that. He didn’t want social media stats to prove he was the bizznezz, he wanted people who would follow Him no matter the cost.
There will always be a cost to following Jesus. In fact, the requirement of following Him is for us to lay down our selfish motives and agendas, and daily pick up his mission and mandate for us.
So many of those in our modern era who appear to have “fallen away” were likely never “in Christ.” They were merely associating with Him to get what they wanted from Him. And when the call of Christ on their life became to great, and they weren’t getting their own personal dreams and desires met from Christ, they walked away. Just like the crowd here.
What will your response be to the call of Christ on your life?
My prayer for me is that my response will be like Peter:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
There is no where else I can go, Jesus. You’re the only true source of life. You’re the only true bread of life. The pull of everyone and everything else is death. The pull of the desires of this life are fruitless. The hunger of this world can never be filled by the darkness of it. There is no where else I can go. I not only know intellectually that you are the Holy One of God, but I believe that you are the holy one of God. I believe to the point that I’m willing to reorder my entire life around your will.
This is where I want to be. This is where I long for you to be as well.
What is your response?
1 Peter 3:14-16:
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
I have lots of thought about what’s going on in the world right now. I’m wired that way. I think & process internally. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about things, thinking about the world, thinking about why this or that is happening. I’ve written some about what I see going on. We’ve talked about this around our table here at church. In fact, we just talked about this today. Jim was sharing about how our response to evil should be to do good. And I wholeheartedly agree. It’s biblical. It’s not just in this passage, but Paul also mentions the same idea elsewhere.
But, this thought is striking me today. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Many of the people who should have the most hope seem to have the least.
I live in a pretty Christian world. I’m a pastor. I’m surrounded by many Christians. Yes, I also know plenty of non-believers, but the majority would definitely lean towards believers. You would think that, since the majority of people I know are believers, then the majority of information I see them share on Facebook or hear from them in conversations would be hopeful.
But, that’s not the case.
Why do those of us, the ones who should have THE MOST hope on the planet, seem to be some of the main culprits of pessimism and negativity?
I’m sure there are a lot of reasons. We, just like everyone else, are inundated with negativity. Why? Because negativity sells. Negativity gets ratings. Negativity gets your attention and gets you to click. It’s easy to get sucked into it all. I do. One of my friends on one side will post an article and I’ll read it. Then another friend will post another article on another side and I’ll read it. Before too long, I’m started to get filled up with negativity and despair.
But, I think there’s another reason. I think many of us, falsely believe that we in a war against those among us who believe differently than we do.
May I make something clear? We are not in a war against other people made in the image of God.
Before you go thinking I’m this or that, let me explain. We are not in a war against people, we are in a war against deception. There are many among us who are deceived. There are lies being hurled to and fro. There are lies driving one side to attack the other and there are lies driving the other to retaliate. Our battle is not against people who think differently than we do. Our battle is against deceit.
How we see people changes everything. If we see people who believe differently than us or who have been deceived by this or that, we have an incorrect view. Every human being is made in God’s image. No matter how right, no matter how wrong.
Without getting into the muck and mire of all that’s going on, I do also need to say, there is truth. There are absolute truths that exist. There is an order God has designed and put into place, and when we operate in accordance with that order, we thrive. Truth, however, is not found in the agendas of various organizations. I don’t care what viewpoint or stance or side, all organizations are driven by an agenda of some kind. Some good, some evil. But, the truth for humanity is not found within that agenda. We must be very careful about allowing ourselves to be led by organizations that are not clearly lined up with God’s truth. Why? We may find ourselves being used as a pawn in someone else’s game.
We only find truth from the one who is the truth. Who is the only person that lays claim to the truth? Jesus. He also happens to be the only one that has proven He is the truth and worthy of the title. The one about whom hundreds of prophecies were written and fulfilled, the one who spoke of things yet to come in his life that were also fulfilled, the one who predicted his own death and resurrection, the one whom hundreds of witnesses saw ascend into Heaven and the one who sent His Spirt of truth to dwell in his followers is the only source of truth in all creation. We do our best, as believers to interpret other things in light of God’s truth, but the only absolute truth that exists is the truth that The Truth Himself created.
I think that’s part of where we are. We’ve allowed ourselves to become pawns in someone else’s game or games. That’s why we struggle with hope, because we’re not really in the business of hope. We claim to be, but our real loyalties are in the agendas of these other organizations. We don’t have a reason for the hope we have, because our hope is no in the power of God working in the hearts of people our hope is in the power of “the man” and making sure that “the man” in charge is “our man.”
Hope Doesn’t Seem To Be Anyone’s Platform.
I don’t hear a lot of people talking about hope right now. I hear a lot of tearing down. We’re pretty good at that at the moment. We tear down people who disagree with us. When someone disagrees with an opinion, we can’t just have a civil disagreement and remain friends, we have to unfriend them on Facebook and take some kind of “principled” stand against them for holding such beliefs.
I’ve watched quite a few of the videos that have been posted of what’s going on at these “protests” and “rallies.” There’s not much in the way of hope. A lot of back and forth derogatorial statements. But, it seems that the platform isn’t so much hope as it is hate. For some reason, at this present moment, we hate those who disagree with us.
Hate is a strong word, but that’s the only word I can come up with. The fruit of hating people who hate you is hatred. That fruit is very much in season at the moment. Hate has flooded the market. And it’s driving us all down in the process.
Where is our hope?
Jesus is the only hope. There is no other source of hope. Jesus died to set us free from our bondage to the lies and deception of this world. There is coming a day when He will return and everything will be made right again. All that is wrong with the world will be gone forever and only truth will remain. We have the hope of that day that is still yet to come.
But, we also have hope for today. Jesus didn’t just die to set us free from the power death holds over us, He also, send his Spirit to dwell in us. Which, by his own words is the spirit of truth. And the Spirit of truth will teach us all things, and guide us into the truth. (John 16:13) That means we also have hope for the right now. The Spirit of truth wants to transform our lives today, in the here and now present realities we are living in. And if the truth sets us free, then we can also experience freedom today. We have hope for today.
And, for us who believe, who have already received the benefits of this hope, who have the future hope awaiting us…we need to become the purveyors of this hope.
What is a purveyor? A person who sells or deals in particular good; a person or group that spreads an idea, view. etc.
Purveyors of Hope
This is my agenda for this article. This is the platform I would like to see built by believers across this country and around this world. I do not have a big following. I do not have an extremely popular blog, nor am I a pastor of a mega church. I am just one person. But, if you’re reading this, that makes two of us. And together, we can start moving people towards hope.
What if, instead of responding to those with whom we disagree by spouting more incendiary comments, we sought to be the peacemakers we were called to be? What if we sought to become masters in the ministry of reconciliation? Not just reconciling person to person, but seeking the ultimate reconciliation, bringing lost sons and daughters back into a right relationship with their father.
Maybe we can join those who have gone before us and make our small contribution to the cause of humanity by joining them in dreaming of a better tomorrow. Maybe we can become those who are more interested in selling people on a dream for the future of this country than we are in trying to get more people on our side of the red rover line. Maybe we can get bold about hope, get bold about the good that we see, get bold about the dreams we have and the dreamers we know. And instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn into negativity, we find ourselves boldly standing up with the hope that we have.
May this become our platform
- May we find ourselves, when standing in the midst of negativity and hatred of all kinds the brave voice, willing to stand up for hope. Willing to say, I see a better way forward for all of us. Willing to say, we may never agree on this issue or that, but there are things more important than our agreement. After all, what kind of agreement is it if we have to force upon one another. Instead of being drawn into negativity and bitterness, hatred and unforgiveness, we will boldly proclaim that there is hope for us all.
- May we seek the brotherhood that was once written about and sung about by our ancestors and may that brotherhood truly become our crown.
- May we become masters in reconciliation, quick to admit our wrongs and quicker to celebrate others accomplishments.
- May the footprints that we leave, everywhere we live and walk, be the footprints of feet fitted with the gospel of peace. Not just peace between men, but peace between men and God.
- May we seek to be filled with righteousness, not our own righteousness or righteousness in the eyes of the a world that is constantly changing the definition of it, but filled with the righteousness of God. And may we be so filled with that righteousness that it overflows out of our lives onto the world around us.
- May we become passionate about the truth. The truth that gives actual meaning to life. The truth that tells us what is actually right and what is actually wrong. The truth that is not only knowledge, but presence. Not only factual but practical. Not only intellectual but effectual.
- May we become more focused on being and living rightly than we are about pointing out how others aren’t.
- May we become instruments of Justice, God’s true and lasting Justice for the oppressed. Not justice that makes me feel good, but justice that seeks a long lasting, effective solution.
- May we become a people so internally changed by the grace and mercy of God that we are passionate about mercy.
- And and may we all do this with the utmost humility. May we understand that it is God at work in us, causing us to will and to act according to His great purposes. Apart from Him we are nothing, in Him we have the fullness of life.
- May we constantly work at turning the eyes of this world away from the hatred and violence and negativity and point our eyes towards the hope. The hope that we can all possess if we choose. The hope that is available to all people of all nations of all genders and races. Pointing people to the hope that when it is fulfilled looks like people from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the lamb…holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) in their hands…having endured great trials and having been washed by the blood of the lamb…we will one day be sheltered by the presence of the almighty, at that time we will no longer hunger or thirst, the sun will no longer scorch us and the lamb will be our shepherd who leads us to springs of living water and will himself wipe every tear from our eyes.
We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort, but if we all get busy spreading hope things will get better.
Will you join me?
I’ve often described the church as a community. Many churches do. Many churches have it right in there name. This-or-that Community Church.
But, is that really the best description of what we are supposed to be as a church? What does that communicate to the people of our church or the people outside our church? Have we even thought about it?
What is a community? This is the primary definition:
“a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”
Is that what we are? Is the church just a social group, and the only reason we’re together is because we live in the same neighborhood?
What do you think of when you think of community? For me, I think of neighborhoods. I think of the people that live around me. That’s my community. Many of us go to church with people who don’t live anywhere near our community.
Are we just together because of our cultural and historical heritage? Is that all that binds us? Let me challenge you, if that’s the only reason you’re a part of a church, you need to dig a lot deeper. You don’t go to church simply because that’s what your family does. There’s so much more to it than that.
So, what are we? We are family. We may not be related by dna, but we, who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, have the same Father. We have been adopted into His family, and now we are sons and daughters. We have a seat at the table of the King. We have an inheritance. We are co-heirs the the Lord of all creation.
More than that. We were bought with a price. We are joined together by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In that sense, we are all blood relatives. We are bound together by the blood of the lamb. He is the bridegroom and we, all of us joined together are His bride.
It’s still more than that. Because of this love we have received, we are all on the same mission – bringing more people into the family of God. We are called to go out into the people in our communities and live a life that shines before them and share the love of God with them. When was the last time your community passionately tried to get new people into the neighborhood? Usually, the talk is “how do we get that one crazy family out?” But, not in the family of God. We are joined together as family.
Does that sound like a community to you? It doesn’t to me.
“What’s the big deal?”
Well, as a pastor I do a lot of thinking about the state of “the Church” today in our culture. One of the things I dwell on quite a bit is, what has led the church of today to it’s current state? What do I mean?
The church is nothing like it used to be. Gobs and gobs of “regular church attenders” consider themselves a part of their church community even when they only go once a month or less. Commitment levels in church across the country have dropped and continue to do so. Why? Why does it seem that our current church climate is so apathetic about these communities they are a part of?
Well, I think there are probably dozens of reasons. But, this, in my humble opinion, is a big one that is seldom talked about. Reasons tend to include things like busyness of schedules, widely increased sports activity for kids, crazy work schedules, etc. Are those problems? Sure. Is that the biggest problem?
Let me ask you a question: When there is something that is really important to you, how to you approach it? Let me give you an example. For most of us, our families are very important to us. Most of what motivates us in life revolves around our family priorities, agendas and desires. We take vacations to spend time with our family. We hurry home from work to see our family. We save money to care for our family. When a family member is sick, we care for them.
Our families are really important to us, so we approach our families with intentionality, purpose and passion. We make our family the top priority – as we should. Our family purpose changes the way we approach everything in life. Why? Because it’s our family.
Our approach to church used to be quite similar. The example set before us in the New Testament was very much like a family. The “held everything in common” they “shared with anyone as they had a need”, they devoted themselves to fellowship, they ate together daily. They were a family. In fact, I would challenge you to look at the descriptions of the church in the New Testament and see for yourself which word best describes what God did among them: Community or Family?
My church experience growing up was like a family. Everyone knew everyone in the church. We at meals together regularly after Sunday evening service. We visited people in the hospital. We brought food when other families needed it. Other families in our church provided our family with clothes. All of this, by the way, happened without the church leadership having to facilitate it an organize it. Sure they would encourage it and teach about it from time to time. But, it was just how we cared for one another. Why? Because we were family.
When our approach to our church is community, I think it creates some problems.
- In a community, the problems are always someone else’s fault and responsibility. That’s why we have Neighborhood associations and elected officials right? It’s their job to take care of the problems that arise. Isn’t that what they’re paid for? Have you ever heard that kind of talk in a church? I have. Why do we have to visit people in the hospital pastor, isn’t that why we pay you?
- Communities are full of critics. You’ve heard your neighbors complain about this problem or that problem. How many of them ever take initiative to do something to fix the problem? They/you may care, but not enough to act. Or, when the community leaders make a decision we disagree with, we voice our complaints loudly. Our churches are full of critics too. Full of people who like to complain about the things they don’t like but refuse to get involved to solve the problems. We like to voice our complaints, but when challenged to solve the problem, we resist.
- Community isn’t permanent. It used to be. People very rarely moved. Today, people move across town all the time. I’ve known people who moved multiple times a year. Others who move every couple of years. We get bored with a house and with our neighbors, so we decide it’s time to find something new. So we do. And we love it until it gets old too. Church used to be something we committed to for the long haul. Now, many of us change churches more often than we change communities.
I’m sure there are other problems, but these are some of the big ones I’ve noticed.
“Gee, it kind of sounds like you’re being critical.” I guess I am. But, there’s a reason.
In treating the church like a community, we miss out on the majority of the benefits.
I’ve often said, you get out of something what you’re willing to put into it. Over my years in several different churches, we’ve had people leave our church, frustrated that they never really connected with anyone. When we ask the question, “what did you do to try to get to know people”, the answer usually comes, well, “I just didn’t have the time…” or “Isn’t that your job?” In essence, the reason they’re leaving is because they expected others to do the work of getting to know them, but were unwilling to put in the effort to get to know others.
Do you know the people who stick at our churches? They’re the ones that come in and make it their mission to get to know the family. It’s very rare that one of these families will leave the church unless they’re moving out of the area. They get more out of the community because they invest into it.
In other words, they treat their church like a family. They approach church like a family. They see it as something into which they need to invest. It’s not a commodity to be consumed. It’s a family to be committed to.
How are you approaching your church?
Do you feel like you’re not getting anything out of being a part of a church? Is church just something you do once in a while, if there’s nothing better to do? Are you sitting and waiting for someone to twist your arm to be a part of this or that? Or, are you jumping in to the deep end?
We can sit around and blame the church all we want, but in the end we all know, that much of the reason we don’t get anything out of church is because we’re not putting anything in. We want to make continual withdrawals without every making a deposit. We want to be cared for and loved without ever having to care for or love anyone.
Our mindset towards church needs to change. If we can get the right mindset and approach church as a family we are eternally committed to (because we are), it will drastically alter our personal experience of church. It won’t be this outdated thing that people used to do, it will become an extremely relevant and extraordinarily powerful part of our day to day lives.
Will you join me? Will you start to shift the way you think about church? Will you start to see the church family God has placed you in as your literal brothers and sisters in Christ?
If we will, I think the end result will be so compelling to the unbelieving world around us. That was what Jesus said would happen, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” What kind of picture of Jesus have we been painting for the world with the way we approach our church?
Maybe it’s time for a new canvas.
(If you’re looking for a church family to be a part of, we would love to have you join us at SixEight Church!)
Once again, my Facebook feed is full of stories and posts and responses and posts of solidarity. There is another slew of official letters and responses to what’s went on in Charlotte over the weekend. I first heard about it last night on the news because we were with our church family all weekend. And by the way, it was awesome, so is our church family. We are really blessed to be a part of it. If you are longing for a church family, you should come check ours out, because it’s awesome.
Once again, I find myself trying to make sense of it all. But as I thought about it, it’s really simple. Let me explain.
Made In The Image of God.
God made all human being in His image. That’s it. It’s really that simple.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Every single human being is made in God’s image. From the moment they are conceived to the moment they take their last breath, we are stamped with the image of God. There is no argument, if you argue as some point along that way that we aren’t made in God’s image, then you open the door for for devaluing life all along the way. This is a hard line.
We are all made in God’s image. Because of this, every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Does that mean everyone is right about what they believe? No. But, a person’s beliefs do not make them less human. A person’s beliefs, right or wrong, do not dictate being treated in a different way.
This also must be a hard line. Why? If we are allowed to dehumanize people because they believe differently than I do, or than you do, or that popular trends dictate, then we are yet again on a very slippery slope. Who gets to decide which set of beliefs are more primary or important? Is it based on popular opinion or majority votes? If so, we should all be very wary, because there are many things that have been popular throughout human history that we see as egregious today.
All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If we abide by this simple truth, racism in all its various forms is dead. You, my fellow human, are my brother and sister because we are made in the image of the same father.
But then there was the fall.
Adam and Eve chose to rebel against that God who made them in their image. From this point on, murder, pain, grief and yes, racism entered the world. God had set up the perfect existence for us and created a garden for us to live in, where we walked with God. It was the perfect operating system.
But, Adam and Eve (and all of us since), decided we wanted to be our own gods. It wasn’t enough to be made in God’s image, we wanted to God’s power. So, instead of enjoying the world as God created it, we followed the liar into a world of deception. We replaced our Father with the father of lies. The whole foundation of our existence was cracked and began to crumble.
From that point forward (read from Genesis 3 to Genesis 4 and see how quickly things changed) our world was built on guilt, shame, blame shifting and lying. These characteristics drive our world today. And we, apart from God, are trying to create a world that is free of these things. The operating system had been corrupted by the virus of deception.
But, apart from God, we will never be able to.
Without God, we will never be able to truly end racism. Racism is not a person to person problem. Racism is the fruit of a life that is rooted in things other than God. The reason racism is not dead is because we are a fallen people. We rebelled against God. And as long as we are rebelling against the God who made us in His image, we are embracing the virus not the cure.
The virus will never provide the ultimate solution, because the foundation of the virus is deceit. We can do our best to try to legislate racism out of society. We can do our best to stand for unity and shame those who still embrace racism. But, in the end, we are using a fallen system to try to fix what’s broken. We’re using a broken wrench to tighten a broken bolt. We’re using a trojan horse to repair the damage of a worm. Racism isn’t just a behavioral problem, it’s a heart problem.
What do we do?
If we’re going to fix this (and the many other problems with our world), the only real solution is to reformat the hard drive and install a new operating system. We have to wipe the drive and start from scratch.
But, this isn’t something that can be done on a societal level. It can only be done, person by person, heart by heart, life by life. In other words, the solution to the problem of racism is not more laws. The solution is me. The solution is you. More correctly, the solution is the Love of God overwhelming our lives, overpowering the sinful ways in each of us and eradicating our old, broken ways of thinking, acting and living.
The more of us who are radically changed by the love of God, the more we still start to treat one another with dignity and respect.
We can’t expect non-believers to act like believers. It doesn’t work. It’s actually not possible. We can’t live a holy life without the power source that enables us to do so. Apart from God, we can do nothing. With God, nothing is impossible.
What is the solution to racism? Laying down your life and picking up the life God has for you.
But what if I am the target of hatred?
This is hard. While I have been mocked and made fun of plenty in my life, I have never really been treated poorly because of my race. So, I can’t exactly speak from experience. But, I do follow someone who set a pretty perfect example for how we ought to handle being treated poorly.
Jesus set the example for us. What did Jesus teach?
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Matthew 5:43-47
Not only was this Jesus’ teaching, it was his life. How did he respond to persecution? He didn’t set the town on fire. He didn’t riot. He didn’t stir the people he was leading to mount an insurrection. In fact, in the end he was replaced with someone who did when the people chose to release Barabbas instead of Him. He, endured the beating and the ridicule and the cross. And what was his response in the end? Forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
We can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. When we see an unbelieving world acting out in rage and violence like we have seen this weekend, we see a world living out the only thing they know: brokenness. We see a world, veiled in corruption. Their only frame of reference is deception. There is no hope or peace to be found within the confines of this broken and corrupt world we live in.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see the world acting this way. And, we, like Jesus need to learn to respond to this brokenness in the same way Jesus did. We see the world who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And our desire should not be revenge, it should be compassion. Our desire should not be to hurt, wound or murder. It should be a broken heart. They’re not thinking, speaking, seeing or hearing correctly. They don’t know what they’re doing.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
– Romans 12:14
What is our response? Good. Do good. Be good. Live good. It’s kindness and generosity. I understand the desire. We want to lash out in rage over the injustice we see. And we do have a responsibility to stand up for those who are being oppressed. But, we do not have a responsibility to respond with more injustices. We stand and lead the way for forgiveness. We don’t stand for the rights of one human over another. We seek to bring every human together.
Ours, after all, is a ministry or reconciliation.
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor. 5:11-21.
Maybe we can all be ambassadors of reconciliation. Not to a political party or other agenda that is driving us. But, ambassadors seeking to see the world reconciled to the God who created them to live in harmony with him and with one another. The only hope for true, long lasting reconciliation is found here.
This is a big one.
Love is one of the biggest driving forces in the world around us. Love may be THE dominant force in the world. It definitely rivals power.
We use the word all the time. We love our family, we love our cars, we love our pets, we love this dessert, we love that movie. We love God and we love the way God loves us.
Do we really have any concept of what love is? Where have we derived our definition for love? Have we allowed the world’s idea, misuse and manipulation of love to affect how we think of love?
How does the world define love?
- “Love is when you don’t seem to know why you’re attracted to a person.”
- “Love is handing someone a loaded gun and believing he won’t pull the trigger.” “Spongebob”
- “If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” – Johnny Depp.
- “We’re all a little weird and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness, and call it love.” – Dr. Seuss
- “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” – Haddaway
But, if the Beatles were right, and, love is all we need, shouldn’t we know what it is? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Is it strongly liking something? What is love?
If love is, “Baby don’t hurt me no more” then most of us don’t really love the people we claim to love the most since the people we most often hurt are the ones closest to us. Therefore, the people we really love the most are the ones we know the least.
If love is finding someone else with the same weirdness as me, then apparently I’m in love with everyone else who hates onions as much as I do.
If love is who I’m falling for next, then I’ve never really loved anyone.
If love is trusting someone won’t hurt me, that’s kind of like Haddaway’s love.
If love is not knowing why you’re attracted to someone, then love is not just merely physical impulses, but it’s stupid.
What then, is love?
To know what love is, we need to go to the one who created it and see how He defines it. We must used God’s definitions to define love. We cannot allow ourselves to veer off course and let our surrounding culture define love? Why, because in my lifetime alone, culture’s definition of love has drastically changed. What used to be love is no longer love. What is now love, didn’t used to be love. It’s a moving target.
But, it’s worse than just a simple moving target that’s hard to stake down. The reason the target is moving is just as concerning as the fact that the target moves. There are many different agendas out in culture who are driving the shifting definition of love. Their desire is not what’s best for you, it’s what’s best for their agenda.
We, not just when it comes to love but in everything, must first seek to know God’s truth. We must allow God to define love for us, and when God’s definition of love stands in stark contrast the culture around us, we must also have the courage to embrace God’s truth. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us. Why? Because God actually has our best interest in His heart for us. He is not trying to use us or manipulate us. His truth is the foundation for the things we long for in life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
Also, God is love. (1 Jn. 4:8) If that is what God is, then wouldn’t He know best how to define it for us?
Ok, seriously, what is love?
The Bible actually has several different words for love.
In the Old Testament we have the words:
Ahab: To have affection for
Chashaq: To cling, to love, delight in, desire, long
Dod: To boil, to love, a love-token, lover, friend, beloved, uncle
Agab: To love sensually, amorousness, inordinate love,
Racham: To fondle, to love, to have compassion, mercy, pity
Agapao: To Love, Deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, dute and propriety. Of the head.
Agape: Affection or benevlonce, dear, love
Thelo: To determine, choose or prefer, be inclined, delight in, to love, to please,
Philadelphia: Brotherly love, kindness. Of the heart. (Other variations of this word, to love your spouse, humane…)
Bigger than we imagined.
All of the words above are translated love in different parts of the bible. Some translations will translate them differently, adding word to help add clarity (which, I personally prefer when they do this but I know others who don’t). So, some things become very important.
1.) When we’re reading our bibles, we need to remember they are translated from a language that is very different than ours. We don’t build words the same way words were built in Greek and Hebrew. In Hebrew, even the individual letters carried their own meaning. When you take the definition of the word and add to it the meanings of the individual letters, you get a much bigger idea.
For instance, the Hebrew word for love is ahava (אהבה), which is made up of three basic Hebrew letters: aleph (א), hey (ה), and vet (ב).
From these three root letters of a-hav-a, we can discover two root words.
The first is hav from the two letters hey (ה) and vet (ב), which means to give. The letter aleph (א) modifies this word making it אהב,which means I give, but ahav is also the Hebrew word for loved. (Jewishmag)
This Hebrew word, therefore, contains this tremendous truth: giving is fundamental to loving. (From: http://free.messianicbible.com/feature/love-and-the-hebrew-language/)
So, we need to do a little deeper digging to help find the meaning of the text. Which word for love is being used? Agape or Phileo? Ahab or Agab?
2.) We cannot use our one, culturally driven definition of love to inform our understanding of what the Bible means with the use of the word Love.
So, what is a biblical definition of love?
One of my favorite bible study resources is bible.org. There is a ton of great material there to help us really understand God’s word to us. So, let’s look at how love is defined there:
Love is the heart-felt affection of the Christian in response to the love God has shown toward us, especially in the gift of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Love is an affection which prompts the Christian to action. Love is first and foremost directed toward God and then toward others in an order of priority: God, family (especially our mate), fellow-believers, our neighbor, and even our enemy. Love subordinates the interests of the lover to the one who is loved. Love inspires our deliberate, diligent, self-sacrificial service to others, which is intended for their good, at our expense. (https://bible.org/seriespage/31-what-thing-called-love-romans-129-13)
Now, we’re getting somewhere. Love is the heart-felt action I have in response to the Love God has shown me through the sending of His son to pay the ransom that sets me free from the prison my sin created. It’s not just a feeling, but it is a feeling. It’s a feeling that leads me to action. What is the action that this feeling leads me to? First, to Love God with everything I am. Then to love others. But that’s not all. If we stop there we stop short of what love really is.
Because, we love in the way God has loved us. How did God love us? Sacrifice. God sacrificed His own son for us. The Son sacrificed his position in Heaven to walk among us. The Son gave his life. God sacrificed for the ones he loved. This is what love is. Love is sacrifice. It is laying down your life for God and others. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.”
While love is partly feeling, love is also deliberate. Love is something I choose to do and I keep on choosing to do. I keep on choosing to love by sacrificing myself because love is also diligent. And I do this, not for what I will get out of this person in return, but at my own expense.
Love is also action. Love is not just a feeling that makes me feel good about myself. That’s what too many of us have done with God’s love. We’ve hoarded it for our own benefit. But, becoming love – becoming God’s love – moves us to action.
The love which God calls for is a holy love, a love which hates sin and loves righteousness. The love God calls for is a sacrificial love. It requires us to subordinate our desires and interests, so that we may serve others selflessly. The love which God calls for is one which looks for long-term rewards rather than short-term pleasure. It endures hardship, suffering, and pain, for the benefit of others and for the service of the King and His pleasure. It is a love which takes risks and which shines forth when others are shrinking back. It is a love which responds to and reflects the love of God for us. (https://bible.org/seriespage/31-what-thing-called-love-romans-129-13)
Love is first received from God before we can truly love another. Until we have been “Rooted and established in Love.” we have no source from which to pour out love on others around us. That was Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
We have to be rooted and established in love to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” that we may be filled to the measure – which means – filled to the full of all the fullness of God. Why would we need to be filled to brim?
So that we have the power to:
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:1-6)
God’s sacrificial love, poured out over us and filling us up to the brim is the power source for the life of love we are called to live. Without this filling of God’s love, all we have is empty religion trying to earn our own salvation and position with God – which is impossible.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. – 1 John 3:16-20.
Love is action. If love is not acting, love has broken down. And when we receive the filling of love that leads us to the feeling of affection for God, which helps us begin to understand the fullness of God’s love, which leads us to the deliberate pursuit of God and diligently living out the commands of God (“15 “If you love me, keep my commands. Jn. 14:15), then we our lives become truth. We aren’t just in alignment with the truth, but we become truth. We are a part of truth. And we are now better able to worship God (“24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jn 4:24)
This, not all the other rubbish the world is hurling our direction, this is what love is.
And, this love is better than life. (Psalm 63)