Tabloid Church

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.
– C.S. Lewis

“Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick”
“Dick Cheney is a Robot”
“Disney Murdered Lindsay Lohan’s Twin”
“Elvis is Alive”
“Cher Removed Ribs to Slim Down”

These are examples of tabloid headlines. A tabloid is a smaller publication than a newspaper, and it usually contains sensational, bizarre, and even laughable news. However, these sell. If we only look at celebrity gossip, we would discover these types of headlines bring in annually $3 billion. It is a lucrative business that can destroy people’s lives or bring them their 15 minutes of fame.

Did you know there is another type of tabloid? It is one that is published word of mouth in the church. We see something, we assume something, and then we can’t help but spin a story better than J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, or J.R.R. Tolkien.

How many of us have had a story spun about us for something found on social media? or a prayer request given based on an assumption? How many of us have seen or overheard something, and then spread a tabloid headline?

Is the church supposed to be this way?

The Mark of the Church

In today’s world, it seems like you cannot go on social media without finding someone claiming the mark of the beast is coming (Revelation 13:16-17). Written is some obscure article mentioning microchips in vaccines or some weird mathematical gymnastic routine leading to 666, and the tabloid article sells to Christians faster than weed in Colorado.

But, there is a different mark we do not talk about. It appears as nice clichés on Christian art passed by unnoticed in the church. It is engraved as “mottos” under a church name. In some form or another, it can be boiled down into two phrases – Love God. Love Others.

Loving God and loving others are the two commandments Christ gave as the greatest (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, Jesus tells the disciples (and for all Christians) the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).

Is our creating tabloid headlines about each other loving?

The Paparazzi and the Pharisees

The ones who go after celebrities, attempting to photograph them, and sell their stories are called paparazzi. Their mission is to discover and dig up these stories and sell them to whoever will listen. Usually, these stories do not portray people in a good light. Tabloids contain stories of scandals, so we at home can say, “Wow, I am glad my life isn’t like that.” Tabloids, also, contain stories to cause us to say, “Wow, I wish I was like that.”

The paparazzi can be compared to the pharisees. They knew everything about everyone. The pharisees know everything. They handled themselves with great care. Before someone could ever accuse them, they were quick to accuse others (John 8:1-11). Sinners had to be exposed, and the pharisees were there to catch the story. But, sometimes the story published was about how good the pharisees were (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus even pointed out how the Pharisees behaved in order to create this good exterior (Matthew 23:1-36). However, this wasn’t a tabloid story Jesus was giving. Instead, Jesus condemned them for their behavior.

The pharisees were like the paparazzi. They were quick to find those scandalous stories, and promote the good stories of themselves. Their goal was simple – “Look at how awful those people are, and look at how good I am.” Quite similar. The problem for the pharisees was Jesus. He kept interrupting their tabloid business and control over the people.

Are the paparazzi and the pharisees marked by love? No. To even consider a tabloid heading to be loving is laughable. Therefore, is it loving for us to create stories of people in the church in order to create a sensational headline? Or are we just like the pharisees? We want to know everything, judge everyone by our standards, and make sure we look good. It doesn’t seem that black and white to us. Instead, we mask our tabloid-triggered mind by our concerns and our prayer requests.

An Abused Verse

I Thessalonians 5:22 states, “Stay away from every kind of evil.” It can be rendered in many different ways – “Flee from all appearances of evil, “Do not associate yourself with any appearance of evil,” etc.

We have all heard this verse. We have probably been told we have done something which crosses this verse. But, has this verse been abused in how we judge the actions of others?

I Thessalonians 5:12-28 gives us the context. There is not much in declaring what is “every kind of evil.” However, we do see a common thread of doctrine in this passage. One kind of evil would be those who preach a gospel contrary to the message of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10). We, also, see that we need to treat people with goodness and not evil (I Thessalonians 5:15). Since this letter is first written to a church, Paul is stating we need to be kind to our brothers and sisters first, and then to the world (Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 2:1-15).

But, there is a “kind of evil” we like to focus on more than the ones mentioned in the passage. It is usually marked by something which makes us uncomfortable. It is what we would call evil by our preferences. Now, I am not saying we exchange what God says is evil and call it good. But, we need to be careful how far we take I Thessalonians 5:22.

We may look at a married couple, who belong to our church, enjoying a glass of wine together. Our minds may quickly jump to this passage telling this couple to stop and stay away from all kinds of evil. However, does God’s word say it is evil to drink? It says do not be drunk (Ephesians 5:18). Proverbs, in many places, tells us to be careful when around those who are drunk and being led astray by them (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:20). But, don’t we jump to the conclusion that any type of drinking is a sin, and therefore must be avoided at all cost? Is that biblical thinking? What about the Christian in our church who has a tattoo? Don’t we secretly tell our kids to stay away from him, because we want them to avoid all kinds of evil? There are many more examples of this. But, is this biblical thinking to deem anything we are uncomfortable with as evil when Scripture is actually silent about it or gives general principles?

We have abused one verse while ignoring one very key passage: Romans 14. Here, Paul states very clearly that Christians will live their lives differently. They will read Scripture and apply it to their lives in the ways the Holy Spirit guides them. Then, Paul reminds us with the law of liberty comes the law of love. We need to love each other and prefer each other with how we live our Christian walk. We do not want to cause a stumbling block or an obstacle for someone in their faith.

“Yes, this is why that Christian should stop what they are doing. They are making me uncomfortable.” We are quick to say something similar, aren’t we? We want every Christian around us to love us by conforming to how we live the Christian life. Is that loving? In an age of technology and social media, it is difficult to avoid seeing the private lives of those in our churches. We see something, we make an assumption, and then we create the headline. Is that living in the law of love? The law of bondage extinguishes the holy flame of freedom. The law of love creates an environment of discussion and understanding in order to love each other. The law of love follows a basic principle of Matthew 18:15-20 – talking to each other rather than about each other.

The Law of Love in Action

So, how should the law of love look in our churches? Good thing there is a passage on that – I Corinthians 13.

Paul tells us the church needs to be marked by love and his statement echoes that of Christ’s in John 13:34-35.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love does not look for a scandal or something wrong. It does not assume the worst about our brother or sister Instead, it sees the best and believes the truth. Love does not have a suspicious mind. Love seeks to understand, and love is willing to agree to disagree when it comes to the law of freedom. Love does not unite over things we are against. Love unites over our savior: Jesus Christ.

Creating tabloid headlines does not live out the law of love. In fact, its very contrary to what the church is to be marked by. Tabloid headlines divide the church. It creates an image we have to uphold in order to be seen as a good Christian; instead of letting Christ be our good.

Have You Heard?

The Christmas before my wife and I married, I spent the holiday with my future in-laws. It was a wonderful time together. My mother in-law bought my wife (then fiancée) and I matching pajamas. She smiled so big when we opened that gift. She asked us to try them on. We did, and it brought joy to her. She took a picture and posted it on Facebook as a celebration to the memories we made. However, when I returned to my home church, I heard a tabloid headline. “He and his fiancée are wearing matching pajamas. Therefore, they must have slept together before being married!” I’m serious about this. It got so bad, I removed the picture from my profile.

You may laugh at this situation, but it happens to a lot of people in the church. We see something, we assume something, and we create that sensational story. Is that being loving? Is that living out the law of love? Where in I Corinthians 13 are we to be suspicious of other believers? Where does it say we get to be the judge, jury, and executioner of how one Christian lives for Jesus differently than another? James 4:11-12 states when we judge others we place ourselves back into a law of works rather than the law of freedom and love. Essentially, we put each other back into the bondage of slavery to laws (Galatians 5:1-15). As a result, we bite and devour one another like piranhas as we criticize each other by our standards and not God’s (Galatians 5:13-15).

What is our goal as Christians? To make others live their life like us or like Christ? What does creating tabloid headlines about each other say to the world? Is it loving to see a church filled with more gossip than a Jr. High girls’ slumber party? What does creating tabloid headlines do to each other in the church? Does it create unity? Does it drive people away from the church?

How can we be loving each other when all we are doing is assuming the worst of each other?

Far From Over

“Where there’s life there’s hope.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Everyone knows. You can read it on their faces. “Disappointment,” “Another number for the statistic,” or “I really thought God was going to use her” are words you could hear them say if their eyes could speak. They know. They heard. You feel so small. How could someone like you keep going?

A struggle spoken, a failing revealed, and everything crashed around you. The light you thought was there was snuffed out, and all you could grasp was the fainting smoke as you fell deeper in the darkness.

We understand what it is like for a part of our story to come to light only to shove us back into the darkness. We come forward with a failing to find forgiveness, a struggle to find a solution, and all we are given is shame, guilt, and a scarlet letter to be seared on our chest as we walk this life. Our lives feel shipwrecked, the chapter written, and our story becomes one to find its home among the great tragedies of history.

What do we do when the light of a bright future turns dark? What do we do when the struggles and the failings become our identity?

The Source of Shame

Shame is a terrible feeling. It weighs down the thoughts, emotions, and extinguishes any spiritual flame. When we speak of a struggle or a failing, shame pushes our bodies to the ground until we cannot stand up. It is like heavy rain bending our knees to its power.

Yet, where does shame come from? We came for light. Yet, we only found darkness. Why? It says in 1 John 1:5 God is light, and there is no darkness in him. The shame does not come from him. Romans 10:11 promises anyone who trusts Jesus for his light will not be put to shame.

It comes from one place: us. We are the givers of shame. When people come to us for help, what do they find? Quick prosecutors and swift executioners. We are quick to put others on trial for their struggles and their failings. Someone who is repentant wants forgiveness, yet we dish out consequences. To them it feels like their life is now over. They have to prove themselves worthy to regain our grace and acceptance.

Is that how God treats us? Think about our struggles and failings. Did God take away a future because you struggled with something or because you sinned? Or did God come to forgive you and to give you hope of a new beginning?

The Author of Our Story

God is not a God of shame. Instead, he is the one who writes our story (Psalm 139:13-16). He knew from the day you were born all the struggles and failings in your life. Yet, what did he do? His holiness drove him to do the greatest act of love in human history.

No more shame. Jesus felt it as his clothes were ripped from his body. No more guilt. Jesus felt our guilty sentences hammered into his body. Our tears over the bleakness of sin were felt by Jesus as his blood dripped like tears on the ground. This is the author of our story.

He is not quick to judge like we are. Instead, he is patient. God wants all to repent and find grace (II Peter 3:9). He sees your struggle burdening you with its heavy chains and invites you to rest (Matthew 11:28). There is no shame or guilt in the rest of God, because in Christ that condemnation no longer exists (Romans 8:1).

This God is the author of our story. He does not deal in shame like we do. He only offers us forgiveness, a new life, and a fresh start.

The Darkest Night

Yet, we still feel we shipwrecked our life. We fell into that sin. We revealed we struggle with that thing. Our future is now taken away. Is that the truth? Or is that how we treat others?

Think about a man who felt called by God to teach the Word. Yet, he falls into sin. Even though he repents, what happens? His ministry is over. Think of a woman working hard to reach the children in her church, yet she reveals a struggle. What happens? She may be removed from her position. Why? Because, she revealed a struggle.

This brings on the darkest night, and we feel all is lost. If we only kept our mouth shut.

We are like a woman who is labeled as the “Town Slut,” and she is the outcast of her people. Instead of enjoying the company of the other women at the well, she is forced to go alone in the heat of the day. All she can see is the blackness of her shame. (John 4:1-42)

We feel like a man whose mind seems to be torn apart as we struggle. We know God’s word, but we stumble over this one thing time and time again. Our accountability partners chain us up in order to protect us and other. Inside we scream as mental torture seems worse than the devices invented during medieval times. (Mark 5:1-20)

Yet, is there hope our dark night will end in a sunrise? Or will we be forced to endure the darkness or take our own lives alone in the dark?

Out of Dark Light

What is the common theme in the two stories just told? It doesn’t end in tragedy, because something happens. Jesus steps in.

He meets the woman at the well, and gives her hope. He meets the man tortured by demons, and gives him a steady mind.

He does the same for us. Our story is not over because we fell or because we struggle. Our story is over when we allow others to write it. Jeremiah 29:11 is a beautiful promise. Since God knew we would have this dark night in our journey, do we not think he can give us a bright future using it?

I Peter 1:3-9 brings light to our darkness. We have a living hope. The light is there. The words and thoughts of others may hide it, but Jesus reaches out to us, and gives us his light.

Out of darkness comes light. This light is Jesus – dawning as the night becomes the darkest.

Don’t Count Yourself Out

Yes, we know this. We have light and a future. Yet, we still count ourselves out. We allow the words and actions of others to trap us and end the story for us.

When others count us out, they are not believing that God is the God of new beginnings. When we count ourselves out, we forget who God is. Psalm 43:5 reminds us that when we feel the turmoil of our failings and our struggles, we need to hope in God.

Was Jesus done with Peter after the denial? No. John 21:15-19 proves Peter’s story was not over. Jesus restored him and used him to start the church. Our struggles and sins do not define how God will use us. He knows we are sinners. He knows we are imperfect. God finds that beautiful.

God finds beauty in the weak and the broken. Why? Because he can astound the world with it. You get to be a living transformation of grace. (I Corinthians 1:26-30). So why do we count ourselves out so fast? We may see our story as over, but God sees it as far from over.

This is Not the End

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is entrusted with the One Ring. He journeys to Mordor to destroy this burden. Yet, how many times does he think he disappoints his companions? Even at the edge of Mount Doom, he takes the ring for himself. Sam, his best friends, sits in tears as Frodo begins to walk away with the ring. However, that is not the end of the story. Even in the darkest night, light comes. Frodo fights Gollum, one of the ring’s previous owner, over the ring. Gollum falls off the edge into the flames, and the ring is destroyed. Does Sam shame Frodo for his struggle to keep the ring? No. He stands by his side as a new world begins.

It was the struggle that brought the beauty. It was the failings that brought out the appreciation of a new beginning. Sam stood by Frodo’s side, because Sam saw what would come out of this struggle. In a musical adaptation of Tolkien’s tale, when the ring is destroyed, these words are sung: (listen – start at 1:50)

Out of death, life
Out of night, day
Glory from sorrow.
Out of grief, joy.
Out of storm, come strength for tomorrow.
Far beyond feeling, destruction of pain.
Come, breath of healing, a new life will reign.

This is how God sees our struggles and failings. Out of it is going to come something amazing and something beautiful. He is the God who brings a beautiful ending in a story of tragedy. He is the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). He is the one who says, “The story is far from over. Look what I am about to bring out of it.”

He shows that life can be resurrected from the dead (Romans 6:5). This is how he views our story which is filled with failings and struggles. He is going to bring life out of death, day out of night, and a new life will reign (II Corinthians 5:17).

See, the shame and guilt from others is like a trap, because we aren’t looking at the Author of the story (Proverbs 29:25).

We all struggle and we all sin. Instead of being forgotten in the darkness, God says to us, “Look up.” When we do, we see the stars. His light has not gone out.

When we feel the gaze of others trying to push us down over a struggle or a failing, look to Jesus. Look up. He is the light in the darkest night. He is the life out of death. He is the firstborn of the dead giving us that new life we crave.

We don’t have a scarlet letter. We don’t have to live controlled by the shame others put on us.

Your story is far from over. The darkness is real, and no one sees the tears you cry. Yet, don’t give up hope. Look up. See the stars. You still have life, so God is not done with you. You are far from over.

Accepting Your Story

“We are God’s productions, His compositions.” – David Jeremiah

Alarm goes off. You hit the snooze for just five more minutes. When the alarm sounds again, you sit up. The day has begun. As you get ready, you look in the mirror. You don’t look only to fix your hair or trim your beard. Instead, you see something else. You see your story. You see where it all began walking through the various chapters and twists which brought you to this moment in time. A thought flashes across your mind as if it was written in the sky, “How did I get here? Where am I headed?”

We all have those thoughts. However, we do not always deal with those thoughts. We bury them under makeup, clothing, hair style – an image. We can’t face the struggle of those thoughts, because it might shake the whole core of who we are.

Life feels like a puzzle dumped out on the floor, without a picture, and with pieces which don’t seem to go together. We study the pieces carefully. We force some together with failure, and some fit into place like a beautiful tiled floor. Yet, when company arrives or we have to face others, we hide the pieces we do not like or the pieces that do not fit. We can’t be seen as someone who does not have it all together.

Why is that? Why do we look at some pieces in our lives and think it is better if we threw them away? What makes us want to be perceived as having it all together? Are we truly accepting or throwing away the whole story God has given us?

The Myth We All Believe

A lot of us have heard the myth of the Loch Ness Monster or the legend of Big Foot. There are many people who believe in these myths, and they try to prove validity.

Most people chuckle at these myths, enjoy a good movie based on it, and continue their lives like none of it affects them. However, there is one myth all of us have chosen to believe and live by – The myth of being perfect.

Perfect body, perfect job, perfect family, perfect home, perfect self-image, perfect ______; you fill in the blank. We all want to be seen as having it all together. We may not admit it out loud, but let’s check our social media, or the topics we bring up in conversations, or the panic we get when we must attend a public gathering or have company over. We can’t deny it.

The idea of having it all together, especially for Christians, is far from reality. We take verses like Matthew 5:48 (“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”), and we run ourselves into the ground. Christ isn’t saying be seen perfect and act perfect. With this verse, he is paving the way to demonstrate we can’t be perfect, and that is why we need Jesus. Romans 3:23 states no one is perfect. Later in Romans 7:14-25, Paul (considered the model Christian) exposes his life as being one of imperfection. The only perfect he can rest on is Jesus.

We need to be the same to when it comes to our lives. We will never be perfect. We chase after shifting images and shadows when we allow ourselves to believe this myth. The only one who is good and perfect is Jesus. Our stories and our lives will not be perfect. Until we stop believing the myth of perfection we will never be able to accept our story.

The Hidden Pieces

We need to let go of the myth of perfection. This is a continual effort. But, we then can deal with the pieces of life’s puzzle we hide. These may be a struggle, a family secret, an injustice done, a major failing we tell no one – that tell-tale heart beating from the floor boards of our soul. What is it? What are we scared to bring out into the light?

The hidden pieces scare us, because they are the opposite of the myth of perfection. Do you think God is surprised by these pieces? He is the one that put them in your box to begin with (Psalm 139:13-16). He knows we are scared to bring out that one piece. He knew you would go through that. He knew you would struggle with that. He knows. The God who created the whole universe, with its wonder and awe, gave a puzzle-story to you to show off that same wonder and awe (Psalm 8). This even includes the pieces we would rather cut out of our lives, than show a living soul. Yet, God gave you that piece to be used for good (Genesis 50:19-20).

Why are we ashamed over something God gave us to use for him? I think of my own life of how Christians would say I was fearfully and wonderfully made, but would do thing which would cause me to look on my disability with shame. We do this all the time to each other. Whether it is a struggle, a desire, a body issue, or whatever, Christians put each other down if it does not make a perfect image. We don’t see each other as a body, but as contestants in a pageant measuring each other by each other (II Corinthians 10:12).

But, why? Why would God give us these pieces in the first place? He gave it to us for such a time as this so the power of God’s love can be seen through us – even the bad parts (Esther 4:14; John 9:1-3).

The Diamond In The Rough

It is difficult not to compare our pieces with other’s pieces. It is like an uncleaned diamond looking around at the beautifully polished ones dazzling onlookers with their sparkle. We see the rough in us, we see our broken pasts, we see that struggle, and we know we will not be like the other diamonds.

Stop believing that lie. Diamonds have many facets to them. Like many pieces to a puzzle, it takes all the facets to create a beautiful diamond. Yet, what we see from other Christians may be only some of their facets. Our story is like a diamond, and who we are reflects the many facets God has given us.

Before we belong to Christ, our diamonds are crusted with dirty and the light inside only reflects death and no beauty (Ephesians 2:1-3). Then the story changes. Once we belong to Christ, a new light is put in us (the light of Christ). This new light begins to shine through the dirt and grim covering each facet (Matthew 4:16; John 8:12).

Our job, even with the facets we want to cover and hide, is to figure out how to let Christ’s light shine through all the facets; not just the ones which makes us look good (Matthew 5:16).

We all have facets we do not want to show (even those who seem to sparkle the brightest). Yet, God wants to use all of us; not just the parts we want him to use. We are diamonds in the rough being transformed by Christ’s light to dazzle brighter each day. Our story is that diamond. We need to let the light shine through the places we keep hidden. It can be embarrassing, but God promises he will never put us to shame (Romans 10:11). Only people shame people. Your story is you. Your many facets make up the amazing person God made you to be. Now, we need to let that light shine through and see who God made you to be in 3-D rather than the 2-D image we want to portray.

Living Our Story With Courage And Strength

It is not easy living and accepting our stories. It is difficult accepting the pieces God has given to us. We have people in our lives who try to mold us into their version of us they want to see. They take God’s Word and read so much into to it in order to create Christian clones. This is not what God planned. Christians should never be clones of each other.

God has created the church to be like a body (I Corinthians 12:12-27). We are going to be different. Our purposes are different. Our personalities are different. If we all looked alike and talked alike, then we would probably kill each other. The world does not need Christian clones warring against the world. The world need Christians living as the individuals God made us to be showing the love of Christ as he made us to love to the world around us. We aren’t building an army for war. We are building an army of servants using the battle plans of love and truth to shine Christ to a dark world.

Our stories are different from each other. Our paths are different. God never said he would give everyone the same race (Hebrews 12:1-2). He gave us our own race he wants us to run. The course is different for each believer. Yet, we are all called to continue to look to Jesus as we run.

Accepting our stories ultimately comes down to that: looking to Jesus. He is the light in our diamond shining through our facets. He is the one who gives us our pieces and purpose. When we hide the pieces we are ashamed of, we miss out on the full potential God has given to each of us.

There will be people who will judge us, mock us, and lecture us in order to make our image more like their’s rather than Christ’s. To those people, we need to avoid them. We, instead, need to lean on those who are pushing us towards God’s potential in our lives. Those individuals see our flaws, our embarrassing facets, our struggles and encourage us to live with these facets for Christ; rather than hide them.

Inside all of us, God has put, through the Holy Spirit, a flame of courage to live for him. We want to. We want to step out our doors and be who God made us to be. Yet, we lack the strength. I am reminded of a scene from The Giver (Watch). Jonas had the courage to do what he was called to do. Yet, the Giver knew he lacked the strength to do it. We are the same with our stories. We have the courage, through the Holy Spirit, to live for Jesus through all our facets, yet we lack the strength. The strength can come from prayer and God’s Word, yet one place we skip over time and time again – the Church. The Church is to be a place where we can get the strength to courageously live (Hebrews 10:24). The Church, through God’s Word and prayer, strengthens us. We could not be who we are created to be without our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Each of our stories are different. Our paths are different. We have a different puzzle set before us. Yet, we know God ordained for us to have this story. All he asks us to do is to accept the story as his gift to be used for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). You may lose friends in the process, but it is better than not living who God made you to be.

Accept your story. Look at all the facets God has given you. Begin to let Christ’s light shine through you, the diamond in the rough, as you use each facet to bring glory to Christ and God’s love to the world.

Escaping Skid Row

“God is the only one who can make the valley of trouble a door of hope.”
– Catherine Marshall

Little Shop of Horrors

If you are into musicals, then this is a underrated classic. Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of Seymour and Audrey, trying anything, to escape the life on Skid Row. Unfortunately, Seymour discovers an alien plant which can only be fed human blood. However, the plant begins to bring in excitement and business, but Seymour must continue to feed it. What they thought was their way out of Skid Row trapped them.

Please watch the opening song before you continue reading – “Skid Row”

Where your life’s a joke
Where relationships are no go
When your life’s a mess
Where depressions’ just status quo

The lyrics to this song describe life for our characters in Skid Row. However, these lyrics represent our lives as well. When we struggle with depression it can feel like living on Skid Row as shown in Little Shop of Horrors.

As you watched, did any of the lyrics stick out to you? “I keep asking God what I’m for, and he says, ‘Gee, I don’t know.'” Depression feels like this. We feel we cannot escape and we will suffocate on the smog as we continue to pray for someone.

The Reality of Depression

Depression is real, and it is a killer. Many Christians want to say, “Since Jesus is your light, Christians don’t struggle with depression.” This sentiment slaps the face of those who can tell you it is very real as they try to find any escape out of the smog.

The struggle with depression is not due to one thing. It is not from lack of faith or not trusting God enough. These are fruits which can be birthed out of depression. It is a core reality as an individual deals with who they are, their past, and how they can’t escape. It deeply chains itself to the very heart of a person. There is no root cause that is the same for everyone who struggle.

Depression feels like you are stuck in Skid Row. You are forced to live there. You hope to escape the smog choking the life out of you. Dark shadows haunt you as you live there. No peace, no hope, no light – only ghosts whispering in your mind. When people try to help, it feels like a Christian giving a tract to a homeless person, but never helping. You scream to be rescued, but the smog chokes out your screams and blinds others to your tears. You would do anything to escape “Depression Row” – this leads to you using drugs, alcohol, porn, shopping, relationships to escape. However, when you realize these things only keep you there, you are shown one door out – death.

This is a reality for many who struggle with depression. How can we bring light and hope to clear the smog?

Where Your Life’s A Joke

This statement is a key phrase uttered over and over again to someone who is lives in “Depression Row.”

It may be said differently, but the core of someone feeling their life is a joke, failure, or burden suffocates them. As they sit with their thoughts screaming at them, a person walks by and hands them a piece of paper – written it says Jeremiah 29:11. Like a slap in the face, they crumble it up and throw it away. “How can God give me a future? It seems like his plan was to place me here.”

The verse is a great truth of Scripture. But, there is one thing missing. Jesus leads by example. He personally brought the ideals into reality (John 1:14). He helped many people experience the reality of God’s Word – healings, miracles, life lessons, his own death and resurrection. We hand those struggling with depression the ideals and say ,”Escape your cave, and head to the light!” (Sound familiar? Plato’s cave) This way of handling people is not biblical. It is based in ancient Greek philosophy.

God never wanted us to just think about the ideals and escape our caves. He brought the ideals into reality. Romans 1:20 proves to us that God wants us to experience his attributes through experiencing his creation. We were not meant to only lock ourselves away to contemplate his truths. Instead, we can see God in creation and in those around us.

“To love another person is to see the face of God,” is one of my favorite quotes from Les Miserables. When someone believes their life is a joke, help them to experience God’s purpose for them. Come along side them, pick them up by the hand, and walk beside them pointing out how they have purpose. Show them the reality of God’s truth. When they see reality, even if it is a small candle of light, the smog can begin to dissipate around them.

When You’re Life’s A Mess

This is another saying out of “Depression Row.” Lives are messed up, shipwrecked, and no hope for ever getting out of that vicious cycle. It hurts to go after hope only for it to be grabbed out from under you as you burn another bridge or shipwreck another dream.

Similar to “your life’s a joke,” this statement really hits home in the church. In the church reside many untold stories of how people have messed up their lives. However, just like with the pandemic, they wear an everyday mask so other Christians won’t look down on them. When Christians smell the blood of failures, they become like sharks ready to rip and shred.

The church today has become nothing more than the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). But the issue is, no one wants to admit they are the tax collector. This leads to many to struggle with depression. When openness is a facade for consequences, getting rid of the unwanted, a gossip platform, there is no grace and no room for true growth.

When we act like we have nothing serious in our lives or are not open about our own failures, then those struggling with depression feel their life is too much of a mess to have any hope. Would you rather trust someone who walks around like they are perfect or someone who admits their imperfections, but you see them living in grace?

Clearing the smog of depression requires openness on behalf of one trying to help. We need to be vulnerable with each other. Can we show the reality of how our own messy lives have been redeemed and transformed by the grace of God? Or are we too protective of our image?

Depression suffocates individuals as they believe their lives are a mess without hope.

Someone Show Me a Way to Get Outta Here

Many who struggle with depression do not want to stay there. But, the cry for help is not for a verse or a prayer. It is for someone to show them a way out.

Jesus took time with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and Peter to show them a way forward (John 3; John 4:1-42; John 21:1-19). Paul describes the church in I Corinthians 12:12-27 as a body. A body is made up of many parts, and when one is hurting it feels like the whole body is hurting. But what happens with someone struggling with depression? Usually, the church cuts off that part, and tells them to work on themselves before they can be reattached. “I am praying for you,” or “Here, read this passage or this book,” are all common things said. Is that acting like a body? No. The body runs to the rescue of a hurting part.

Struggling with depression and wanting help is not a cry for a piece of paper with directions. It is a cry for someone to physically show them the way out. It means we have to walk along side of them through it all. I Corinthians 13:7 declares through the fog of depression love bears all things and endures all things, and love gives hope.

God always provides a way out of darkness and into the light. He did not just give us his Word. He also gave us the church to answer those cries for help.

The Great Escape

Seymour and Audrey wanted to do anything to escape Skid Row. Those in “Depression Row” feel the same way.

There is a way out, and we need to be the guide. However, we are too caught up in our image and our perceptions to be that guide.

What did God do for us? He moved heaven and hell to come into our darkness and physically show us the way out even though it cost him his own life (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) Yet, there are times we find ourselves lost in the fog again. Yet, does God just give us a list of do’s and don’ts to get out? No. He gives us Jesus our mediator who will forgive us and restore us (1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 1:9).

Those who struggle with depression will find themselves back in Skid Row. They will again feel the smog. They will again feel haunted by voices and thoughts. Yet, since Jesus is there with you (and we are called to be like Jesus), then we need to do the same for others (Ephesians 5:1-2). It is not enough to hand them a list of verses (even though that can help). If we are the light of the world, we are also the light for those whose lights are being choked out.

God does make the valley of darkness and trouble into a door of hope; however, we must be ones who help others to that door.

Escaping Skid Row is difficult. I have been there, and have a residency card for when days are spent back. When Christians said I was not reading my Bible enough, or believing enough, I felt slapped in the face. I felt like a Christian who could only be used as a bad example. None of their words spoke hope. Yet, the ones who reached out and said, “There is always a hand reaching toward you. There is always grace available. There is always a chance to begin again,” were the ones who brought me out of the smog of depression. When I was loved on, even when I lashed out, I truly saw God’s love for me and the light began to shine. The light didn’t come through a list to follow or a book – it came through people (the church).

The burden becomes lighter when love bears all things and endures all things. If we are to be like Christ, then we should invite other to share their burdens with us and help them lighten their load.

Depression is a killer. It feels like you are trapped in Skid Row. How are you going to respond? Are you going to be like the priest who walks on the other side; throwing a tract as you do? Or are you like the Good Samaritan who bandages and takes care of another person who is struggling? Luke 10:25-37

How are you going to help people escape the Skid Row of depression?

Shot Through The Heart

“Those in the circle of Christ had no doubt of his love; those in our circles should have no doubt about ours.” – Max Lucado

Have you ever been talking to someone and realized they were faking being your friend?
Have you ever been a part of a group and thought, “These people really do not care if I’m here or not.”?
Have you ever walked into church quickly putting on a smile only to leave wiping it off as you head back home?

Have you ever wondered why people are leaving the church or do not want anything to do with God and Jesus?

We tend to shout, “They can’t handle the truth!” But, is it really because they can’t handle Christians?

Have we given love a bad name?

Promised Me Heaven, But Put Me Through Hell

Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage is one of the classic passages memorized by every Christian. It is as if the words roll off our tongues like praise songs repeatedly sung. We understand that it is grace through faith that saves us. It is not any of our own doing.

However, do we act and treat others like grace is what saves? Aren’t we quick to follow up someone praying for salvation with a list of what to do and not to do? We are quick to say, “Now that you are saved, this is how you need to behave.” They must attend church as much as possible, read the Bible through in a year, wear the proper clothes to church, make sure they do not associate with anything our church would label as evil or world, etc.

How do you think people look at this? It drives them insane. We promise them freedom in Christ and Heaven, but we put them through hell of obeying rules and having the right image. How many of us would confess that when we fall short of one of those rules, we feel looked down on? How many of us have tried to beat ourselves to look right and to come across as “the good christian”? It is a living hell to keep man’s laws in order to be perceived as good enough.

Paul was adamant about his position in Galatians 3:1-9. A group called the Judaizers had infiltrated the church in Galatia. They taught once a person was saved, that person must adopt Jewish laws and traditions. New converts swallowed this hook, line, and sinker. Paul rushed in to stop them. He shouts that it is by grace and not by works or by the law. We are made good before God because of Jesus.

Even Jesus, himself, condemned the pharisees for keeping man’s traditions over clinging to God’s Word (Mark 7:1-8). The pharisees demanded the people to keep rules, standards, and traditions in order to gain blessings and make God smile. The pharisees in this scene remind me of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The opening song “Tradition” gives us an insight into this way of thinking.

“You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

Don’t we have the same attitude in our churches? When someone becomes a Christian, we give our list of traditions – what things Christians can and cannot do. “We must show the world how good of a Christian we are before God. You may ask why we do this. I do not know, but it is a tradition!”

Do we have to be seen as a good Christian before God? Romans 8:1 does not say there is no condemnation for those who live in their rules, standards, and traditions. It says we have no condemnation because of Jesus! If we truly believe this, then why do we promise heaven, but put people through hell in order to get there? Heaven is freedom in Christ, and hell is a prison to tradition.

Play My Part And Play Your Game

We all have done this. We are in the car heading to church. A disagreement erupts, harsh words ashen our speech, and our eyes burn into each other’s souls like lava. However, as soon as we turn in the church parking lot, we quickly grab the fire extinguishers and put on a good look as we stroll in for the service. As we walk in, we look others up and down and begin measuring. The image must be protected at all cost.

We play our parts and we play the game. We force people into a game of pageantry. You want to help in ministry? You want to be a leader? Look good. Prove to us you are a good Christian, and you will receive. So, what do we do? We craft our lives (and our social media) to portray a contestant on “Miss Heaven.”

Jesus detests this attitude. He tells a parable in Luke 18:9-14. Two men went to the temple to pray – a pharisee and a tax collector. The pharisee stood where people could see him and prayed, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people— sexually immoral, a drunkard, a democrat, or even like this ‘Christian’ who stumbles every day, who listens to that music, and dresses like that! Instead, I come to church, I obey without question, I carry my study Bible, and there isn’t a black spot on my record.” (Oh sorry, is that not what it says?)

We treat each people who walk into our churches like this. We force them into a game to paint their lips and wear an angel smile. Jesus did not come for those who had it all together. He came for those who are a mess (Mark 2:17).

If this was Jesus’ attitude towards those around him, then why isn’t it ours? Why do we force others into a game a pageantry; while Jesus invites people into a relationship?

The Damage Is Done

In our culture, we see many people leaving the church. We see people not wanting anything to with God and Jesus. The statistics are very clear about this. But, why? We may smirk at those individuals and say under our breath, “They just couldn’t handle God’s Word.”

That is far from the truth.

They couldn’t handle the Truth, because they couldn’t handle us.

Just in the two points above, we have caused damage to people. We shot them through the heart. Mark 9:42 gives us a stern warning. We usually say, “Yeah, anyone that goes after children deserves this!” But, this is not what this verse is saying. Jesus is saying if we cause a little one (a baby in the faith) to stumble and to fall away, then we, ourselves, should be thrown into the sea with a millstone around our necks.

Has how we treat people in our churches caused people to stumble and fall away? I am even preaching this to myself. When we force people to have an image and live up to our standards, we only cause damage. We shoot bullet holes in a heart aching for love.

Have our churches become more about living up to a certain image or actually preaching Christ and his love for us? His love is what changes us (II Corinthians 5:14). We can never be changed by keeping rules and playing a game. Then, why do we make people do it?

“Well, the church is full of sinners.” How many more times are we going to use this excuse for our lack of love? It is not because they couldn’t handle the truth that caused them to leave. We damaged them, and they left.

You Give Love A Bad Name

How did Jesus love? He was known as the friend of sinners. He went to people. He healed people. He fed people. He sat with people late into the night. He defended people. He died for people. He rose again to give new life to people. We are included in that group. He doesn’t love us because of rules or an image. He loves us because that is who he is (John 3:16).

How are we doing with our love of others? If we are to be honest, Christians have given love a bad name. Think about how we treat servers at a restaurant, or how we become impatient when we have to wait in line, or when that person texts us the millionth time that day just to say hi. What would Jesus do?

We have lost the love of Christ when we become all about having a good Christian image. Jesus came to love. He said the world would know his disciples by their love. Having a neon sign of what we are for and what we are against is not showing love. Why has Christian love been degraded to matters of politics and a vote? Why have we taken out the action of love? Love isn’t voting to end abortion. Love isn’t picketing an abortion clinic. Love is standing by a scared mother no matter what decision she makes – knowing she is loved. Love is standing by the person who fell for the thousandth time to sin and holding them close just so they have a physical picture of God’s forgiveness. Love is willing to go and be. The incarnation was driven by love to go and be (John 1:14).

Bon Jovi’s song “You Give Love A Bad Name” could be seen as a description of the modern day church. Many people have felt shot through the heart because of churches.

Instead of making more excuses, why don’t we lay those down? How can we actually change a person’s life by showing them a breathing example of the love of Jesus?

We do not have to be a loaded gun full of “scripture bullets.” Instead, we just need to be like Jesus – loving the world so much he came and dwelt among us to show us grace and truth.

When we emphasize the holiness of God over the love of God, we forget his holiness drove him to do the greatest act of love in human history.

Holding the Gun

“I am now a man of despair, rejected, abandoned, shut up in this iron cage from which there is no escape.”
– Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The darkness of night shadows your face…
The house is empty and quiet…
However, there is a cacophony of chaos tearing your mind apart…
You want the thoughts to vanish…
“Worthless. Embarrassment. Burden.” The words become like ghosts…
As you pace your home, your feet find themselves at a box…
You unlock it, lift the lid, and before you lays cold steel…

The pathway isn’t easy to identify. The thoughts can be too chaotic to understand. However, many Christians struggle with thoughts of suicide. They keep it hidden from others so they don’t become a burden or embarrass someone.

What is it like to go through this? What does hope look like to someone who is passing through these dark waters?

Cracking Open the Mind

It is difficult to show the thoughts of the person who struggles with suicide. However, I will share my thoughts as I have been there. I will crack open my mind.

How does it start? The path to suicide isn’t a thought that hits you one time. It is like stepping stones where you feel like you are being pulled to walk on. For me, it started with seeing failures in my life. I saw myself as a failure. As one who could not make it. Others around me pushed an image on me I had to fulfill, but always fell short. I couldn’t measure up, and others judged me for my lack of fulfilling it.

I, then, began to see myself as an embarrassment to others. I saw how I did not fit in, and felt awkward in my skin and in all situations. My quirkiness felt more of an embarrassing trait than a good one. I would be painfully reminded how much I felt like the third wheel or the fifth or seventh or thirteenth. I felt lonely. I felt no real connections. I felt like my whole being was an embarrassment – from the way I walked, to my bathroom issues, to my mannerisms, and my personality.

Then, the two began to combine. I saw my failures and I saw how no one wanted to be around someone who was embarrassing. The weight began to sink in. “I am a freak.” The thought became like a brand seared on my forehead. The weight was too heavy for me. When I would share my thoughts, I would only be told I was wrong. Yet, reality wasn’t the rosy glass others spoke of. It was like a bombed out cathedral – a sore on the eyes, beauty that now lay shattered, and a useless ruin only to be removed so something grander could be erected.

I saw how dark my thoughts were getting. I saw the storm approaching. I ran to what I thought was shelter. Banging on the door, I asked for help. I was given lists of passages to read and memorize. However, instead of helping me stand, the hands that brought me to Scripture brought me back to my spiritual failures. Depression became a smog clouding my path and my thoughts.

That was my path to the thoughts of ending it all. I wanted to end it, because I saw myself as a failure, an embarrassment, and a burden to all who tried to help. I couldn’t poison one more person with the smog of depression.

The pain I felt I stabbed others with drove me to begin to punish myself. Taking a simple blade and wounding myself like I thought I had wounded others. However, I still hurt people. I still pushed people away. I didn’t want them in my life. I couldn’t stop the cycle. So I found myself thinking, “If I wasn’t here, then no one would be hurt; no one would be poisoned by me. They would be better if I was gone.” This became the phantom of my mind; striking fear in me in the dark of night – like a shadowy figure stalking me in my home ready to destroy.

The only way I could relieve my pain and free myself was to stop the story of my life being written. That is how I arrived at my darkest moments. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one story of the path to suicidal thoughts.

Stop Throwing the Life Preserver

So how can one help someone struggling with thoughts of suicide? How can we clear the smog and bring them away from the precipice?

Stop throwing the life preserver. When someone is drowning, the first thing people do is throw something to them. This is the most common thing to do for those drowning in the black sea of depression. We throw out verses like Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13. As they are thrown into the water, they splash water in the face of the drowning. They try to hold on to them, but they slip. They can only see the dark waves crashing over them. Verses thrown like a life preserver do not help. Instead, verses feel like stones dragging them down as more thoughts of failures, burdening, and embarrassment wash over the individual.

Dive in after them. Instead, the church should never just throw verses at people. Christ never did that to the hurting. What did he do? John 9 is a good example. A man born blind, healed, then rejected, and then found. Jesus didn’t give him a verse promising persecution. Instead, he brought the man close. John 8:2-11 depicts Jesus standing in front of a woman’s prosecutors. He didn’t give her a lecture on how to live right. Instead, he came to her rescue and forgave her. He knew what the hurting and dying needed: himself. Why do you think God became flesh – taking on a human body and keeping it (John 1:14)? God saw his creation dying and hurting. He didn’t throw verses for us to hopefully float on. He dived into our situation, took our death, and gave us hope of a new life (II Corinthians 5:17).

Why are we not following Christ’s example? Is it because we see this struggle as not being serious? Only for those seeking attention? Or is it because we, honestly, do not want to get involved where all we will get is lashed at? If we are truly being the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27), then we are supposed to rush to their aid. We are to weep with those who weep. Just like Christ, we can stand in front of their accusing thoughts. We can take the brunt and provide a shield. We will feel the arrows sting us and possibly a knife to the back, but didn’t Christ do the same for us (Romans 5:6-8)?

Are we willing to put our hand over the barrel of the gun, move it down to the ground, and deeply embrace those hurting around us? Are we willing to risk ourselves by holding their gun?

Never Alone

What about to those who are hurting?

It is a very lonely road. We feel like we become more of a burden if we open up. We feel the stinging stigmas of suicide. We don’t want to be pitied. We don’t want people freaking out. Instead, we close up and pretend everyday is Halloween. Except, our costume comes with a weapon that seems to be glued to our hand.

How did I find the start of healing? I had to remove my costume piece by piece. I had to show my real face. I had to become like David screaming to God as he felt forgotten (Psalm 13). Yes, people do care. It may not be who you think. I got burned by opening up. Each time I closed up and built my walls higher. But I cried out, “God, send someone or I’m going to die!” He answered me. His true body came to the rescue.

We need to realize we are not alone. It is so difficult and painful opening up our lives and wounds the past cuts in us. Yet, when we come into the light the body of Christ can weep with us and help us heal.

We have to pull out the gun we are holding behind us, show it to others, and be willing to be hugged. It feels like we will only be burned again. But, God promises he will not forsake us when we search for healing, and he will never put us to shame (Psalm 9:10; Psalm 34:5).

We are never meant to walk alone. We were never meant to save ourselves, and we were never meant to do life alone. Why do you think God made the church? It is to show a testimony of the transforming grace of God through his body living together through joys and sorrows.

We can face any storm. We can face any rainbow. We can face the hurt. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. He gives us a new family. A church that isolates those who are hurting are a disgrace to their savior. We are to be a church that boldly sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Find a place where you can open up. It is there. I promise you. You never have to walk alone again. You need to take off the mask and reveal the gun you hold.

Never Again

I struggle with suicidal thoughts. I can’t remember one year where I didn’t. I know the lonely road that feels like “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” I breathed in searching for that pinch of faith I had and asked God to send someone. He did. Through an interesting chain of acquaintances, God prompted a man to reach out. As he began to reveal his story, I began to feel safe enough to reveal my story. He saw my hurt and pain. He became one I could trust with my pain and thoughts.

I remember after dinner with him, he looked me in the eyes and asked me to promise him, “Never again.” In that moment, I saw compassion. I saw a deep love of someone who would rather take my place than see me go through anymore pain and suffering. It wasn’t until recently after a rough span of time in the smog of depression and dark thoughts I saw how deeply he cared. I saw him cry. He saw what I couldn’t see: someone fearfully and wonderfully made with a purpose. He stood in front of my thoughts feeling the pain as he helped me stand.

God showed me His love through sending me someone who embodies John 15:13. It wasn’t until I quieted my thoughts to experience his thoughts and words that I found how deep God’s love is.

So I keep my promise – Never again. Some days feel like I want to walk across the busy road and let fate decide. But, something stops me: love. When I settle my thoughts to focus on the love of God shown through others I can say to myself, “Never again.”

Moving Forward in the Smog

Smog clouds our eyes and chokes our airways. We feel the pain. I know. I’m there. It is difficult to know how to move forward.

Yet, Jesus is there. He has given us the church. From this comes two challenges:

  1. Christians, wake up! Stop putting on an image. People don’t need a standard to live by. They need people like Jesus living among them. What did Jesus do for you? He didn’t call you to a standard. He came to you in order to save you. You need to do the same for those around you. Yes, it may go against your theology and labels. But, it is what Christ did. This is what it means to be Christ-like. It is not about your theological books and commentaries. It is about loving others like he did. Are you willing to burn your systematic theologies in order to keep someone warm and sit with them by the fire listening to their story?
  2. To those who are hurting… It is difficult. I’m there with you. I have a list of people to call when thoughts get dark. But, we have to open up. A doctor can’t help us unless we are honest. Yes, God knows our thoughts. But, we cannot just memorize Scripture and live isolated in our smog. Instead, we need to call out to others. God will bring the right people. We need to take a risk and open up. Take off the mask. God promises in Isaiah 54:4 we will not live in shame when we trust him. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to live in shame and fear.

The struggle of holding the gun is real. It is not for attention. It is not for a game. To think so is an insult. When we open up we pave the way for others to open up. Let’s stop being Christians handing out masks in our churches, but be Christians telling our broken stories transformed by the grace of God. We need to put down the idea of wanting to always be right in order to be loving.

Someone in your life has a mask on and is holding a gun. You may be that person. What are you going to do?

Isn’t it time we be the true body of Christ weep with those who weep. Isn’t it time we wipe the makeup away and show truly who we are.

Let’s hold the gun barrel of the other, and let’s be willing to be embraced.

Super Mario Faith

“Sanctification will be marked by penitence more than perfection.” – Kevin DeYoung

How many of us remember playing Super Mario?

We played through countless levels as the plumber in overalls. We raced through each level hopping on shells, collecting mushrooms, and entering each castle hoping Princess Peach would be there.

For those like me, I struggled with video games. Thumb/eye coordination was a gift I lacked. At school when other kids would brag about what level they got to or how they beat the game and on their third time through, I felt inferior. I wasn’t as good as them. I could not pass the levels like they could.

Did you ever feel frustrated at a video game as you could not beat the levels like others could?

Ever feel frustrated as you see other Christians “zip through the levels” of their Christian life, and you are stuck on level three? Ever feel like you are playing a Super Mario version of the Christian walk?

Seeing Failure in Scripture

Reading the Bible daily and meditating on it is one thing we encourage each other to do.

But..

Ever read a passage and felt like a complete failure? For example, have you read Psalm 15? The passage speaks about those who can approach God’s holy temple. A list is given. Many of us read such a list, and the first thing we see is how much we don’t measure up. For those who feel the call to ministry may read a passage like I Timothy 3:1-7, and will feel all the shame of not being at that level.

Sadly, for many of us we do not see God’s love or grace or forgiveness in Scripture. We only see our failure. We know passages like 1 John 1:9 and stories like Luke 7:36-50, and we see the love, forgiveness, and grace of Jesus. But, as we look at our lives, we feel more like a Romans 1:18-32 Christian. We may be saved, we hope God forgives us, but all we see is our failures. All we see is how we are unlike Christ (well, more like how we are unlike the other Christians around us).

We feel like we conquer things in life, get ahead, only to find out that the princess is not in the castle. We feel like we run out of lives and exhaust the grace of God.

This is a reality for many of us. Yet, we keep silent. We play the level over and over only living in frustration. Is there any way out?

The Leveling Up Myth

In the world of video games, one of the common features is that of characters leveling up. As we play the game, our characters will (or we hope they will) level up and become better. In Super Mario, eating a mushroom will make Mario stronger, and eating a fire flower will allow him to shoot fireballs (my personal favorite).

In the Christian life, we tend to view our sanctification the same way. We want to become more mature Christians (which is not a bad goal). However, for us to get there, we eat as much Scripture as we can consume. We pray and pray. We attend church as frequently as possible. We attend small groups, post verses, give out tracts all in hopes to “level up” our Christian maturity.

There are many reasons why we do this. But, there is one main one – to be seen as perfect. However, what does God say in Philippians 1:6? He was the one who started this glorious work is going to be the one to finish it. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the Spirit. It is not our fruit where we work and work till it appears. No! It is the work of the Spirit. The first part of II Corinthians 5:14 states it is Christ’s love which drives us. It is not us! The goal of wanting to be seen as this mature, perfect Christian is not biblical unless it is driven by Christ’s love.

When we degrade the sanctification process to how much we can do, we liken it unto an addict hoping to get a better life through taking more ecstasy. A work-based Christian life erases Christ’s work on the cross. We make it about us in order to brag about how good we are in comparison to others (II Corinthians 10:12). When all we do is measure each other by ourselves, our “goodness” comes from an image rather than from the righteousness of Christ.

It is by grace we are saved, and it is by grace we are prepared for things God has called us to (Ephesians 2:8-10). Living the Christian life as one “leveling up” spits on the grace and work of Christ.

More than a List

So what should be our Christian life?

It is not a life of “leveling up.” It is not a life fixated on how much we are a failure. It is more than a list. It is more than just put off and put on. We fixate our minds on those lists, because we want it to become about us and our image. However, when we look at the Epistles, we see many chapters leading to those infamous lists.

For example, the book of Ephesians starts off with three chapters dedicated to displaying the love of the Father, the work of Christ, the spiritual blessings we have, and the wondrous mystery of grace (Ephesians 1-3). If we miss who we are, then we will miss how to live. We are a saved, redeemed people by the grace of God through the work of Christ. We do not have to do anything to gain God’s love. He loves us. These lists are an outpouring of grace. When we live a life of relying on God’s grace, we begin to be transformed.

Scripture isn’t about what we can do to please God. It isn’t about how to pass each level. Scripture is about God loving us so much he comes to live among us in order to redeem us (John 1:14). Scripture is about God’s love. He knows our mess. He knows us even before we understand ourselves (Psalm 139:13-16).

When we begin to see this in our Bible reading, we begin to be transformed. When we feel like failures, God reminds us that we cannot do it on our own. Why would Jesus come if we could be the perfect Christian?

Living in Game Over

I have been here. I still struggle with this. I lived in a mindset where my value as a Christian were measured by how much of an image I could obtain. I struggle with so much in my life. I prayed for God to take away these struggles. I memorized verses, I attended church, went for counseling, spent hundreds of dollars on books hoping I could change. All around me I saw Christians “leveling up,” and reaching new heights. I was stuck on a level that seemed unbeatable.

I was frustrated, depressed, and it drove me to a dark place. March 2020 arrived. I was so depressed about how I could not reach where I thought I needed to be that I thought “Game Over” was my only option. Yes, I tried to end the game, but something shouted at me to stop.

God stopped me and he caused me to realize that I was living my faith like Super Mario. I was comparing myself to others. Proverbs 29:25 illustrated how my life was being lived. I wasn’t fearful of the world. I was fearful of other Christians and churches. God created me to be me with my struggles and my ups and downs. He loves me even though I do not look like other Christians around me. It is my faith before him. We are all different body parts of a church showing the love of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27). My Christian life will look different than your’s, and your’s will look different than mine.

Living a Super Mario faith just about killed me. Each day I need to remind myself that God loves me as who I am and where I am. The hardest part is accepting myself (with all my quirks) as God intended me to be. This is an ongoing battle. But, I had to put down the gaming system, and turn to the art canvas that God made me to be.

I always thought this line from Beauty and the Beast was the motto of my life – “For whoever could ever learn to love a beast?” But, someone does. His name is Jesus. He tells me I am loved, I am forgiven, and I can rest (John 3:16; Romans 8:1; Matthew 11:28)

I do not have to live with a “game over mindset,” because the Christian life isn’t a game. The Christian life is a life of being an artwork sculpted into the image God wants me to be.

Frankly, My Dear…

Living out our faith like a game of Super Mario will only lead to a life of frustration. Comparing ourselves to others and running after an image will only lead us to a life not following Christ, but following an entrapped pharisaical mindset.

When we emphasize image, we erase the transforming grace of God. Sure, we will not look like how certain religious institutions and churches want us to. But, we will be living as God’s artwork and not as a sweaty and frustrated individual.

There are two movie quotes that stand out to me as we look at a Super Mario faith.

In The Princess Diaries, Joe tells Mia (after her transformation) that, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” How true this is. No one can make you feel inferior without God’s consent. He’s the one who is transforming you. You are never an inferior person when our Creator is the one who is working on you.

However, people will try to make you feel inferior. They will try to shame you and feel guilt over things you are doing and the path you are taking. They will tear you down and manipulate you back on to their way of living. To that, comes my second movie quote. You can turn to them and say the most famous quote in all of cinematic history from Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When we allow others to make us feel shame and inferior to them, we will never fully live as God created us to.

Psalm 9:10 promises us God will never abandon us and never put us to shame. It is not because we fit another Christian’s image. It is because we seek him. Our paths look different. Our stories are different. God loves diversity. It is more than diversity of culture and race. It is a diversity of stories.

I still struggle with a Super Mario faith mindset. Sometimes it can drive me to despair, but I need to remember that it is not based on other’s opinions of me, but God’s opinion. So NEVER AGAIN will I live in “Game Over.” We should never live like that.

John Flavel said, “Did Christ finish his work for us? Then there can be no doubt but he will also finish his work in us.”

Our walk with Christ is not about leveling up. It is about being transformed from the cursed beast into the prince who’s Father is the King of kings.

Dedicated to the one who reached out, continually teaching me this, and who I promised to, “Never Again.” Thank you. I am beyond grateful you are in my life.

A Constitutional Idol

“The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” – Augustine

It is coming…

24 days…

The presidential election is upon us. Signs are up. Debates are happening. Social media posts bombard our newsfeeds. The world watches America as it prepares for the election of the next president.

Politics has become entertainment for the masses. Allies of political parties have become more of a rivalry than fans of Michigan or Ohio State. We cannot go even ten minutes on social media without seeing a meme, a comedic article, a slam, or an opinion about politics.

Even in our churches, politics has probably become one of the leading topics of conversation in Christian fellowship and from the pulpit.

Have we made America, the constitution, and our American politics an idol?

What is an Idol?

The classic definition of an idol is anything we worship. Biblically, it is anything we put above God (Exodus 20:3-4). The Ten Commandments are clear – we are not to have any god, but our Creator. We should not worship anything other than the one who made us, sustains us, and saves us.

Therefore, an idol is anything we cling to as it provides something only God can do, or an idol is anything we find stability in more than God (Colossians 1:15-20).

Based on our definitions of an idol, we can create some criteria for what an idol in our world today would look like –

  1. An idol is something we look to for stability in our lives other than God (Jonah 2:8).
  2. An idol is something we look to for salvation out of troubling times other than God (Jeremiah 11:12).
  3. An idol is something we hold as the greatest thing on earth other than God (Isaiah 46:7).

We can all agree with these three items. An idol holds these three characteristics.

Instability in Politics

Think about the various political events that have taken place since 2018. Do you remember the hearings? Do you remember any of the decisions made? Do you remember the protests? Do you remember your own actions and thoughts?

Every month seems to bring another political decision. When that decision is put into practice, we either jump for joy or we fear our lives will fall apart.

What does Proverbs 21:1 say? The king’s heart and mind are in the hand of the Lord. God directs the decisions politicians make. Is God surprised when a law comes into play that makes our lives uncomfortable? Job confesses at the end of what seems like an unfair life that God is in control and will continue to worship his Creator (Job 42:2).

How are we doing with developing the attitude Job had? Are we able to say,”Democrats in charge or Republicans in charge, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)? Or do we tend to say, “Our economy is good, my rights are intact, and I am comfortable. Blessed be the name of the constitution and the president.”?

It seems we have established our foundation for stability on the constitution or who is office rather than God. Colossians 1:15-20 displays beautifully the sovereignty and sustaining power of Jesus Christ. Not only does he sustain the world and is sovereign over it, but he redeems us. Psalm 19:7-11 describes the beauty and power of God’s Word. Can a political document bring more security and stability than God’s Word? Psalm 1 illustrates the deep roots and stability of one resting, meditating, and focusing on God’s Word.

Are we trying to find stability in our current political situation over finding it in God and his Word? We claim to stand on God’s Word, but are we really standing on our American politics and looking to our government for stability?

Electing Your Savior

With the election coming up, we see signs, apparel, and social media posts boldly declaring who should be in office and who should not. The night of the election, we stay up late with eyes glued to the TV as voting results pour in. We see the map of the states turn blue or red. It is the most suspenseful situation to be in.

When votes are counted, how to we react to the results? Are we happy or are we crying? Matthew 10:28 declares we should fear God over those who can destroy our bodies. Yet, when election results are in and they do not go the way we want, how do we react?

However, how do we view the candidate we want? Is it like Israel’s attitude in 1 Samuel 8? They wanted a king that would lead them, so they went with the man who looked good and stood above the rest (I Samuel 9:1-2). The people thought Saul would be their savior among the nations. Yet, where was his heart?

When we look at the candidate of our choice, we may not say he or she is our savior, but from how much we emulate that person could we say we view him like our savior? When we talk about the destruction of America and our way of life unless (put name here) is elected, then we have made a political candidate a savior. When we fear for our rights unless a certain person is elected, then we have made a politician into a savior.

Even if a presidential candidate is a Christian, is he greater than the one who freed you from sin? Or are we more concerned about our rights here in America that we have forgotten the freedom we have in Christ? If our right to have firearms is taken away, does that take away Christ? If our churches are shut down, does that erase our salvation?

If our rights not being upheld is the perseverating thought, then our constitution is our savior. If the thought of having our guns, free speech, and any other freedom we have being taken away freaks us out and we desperately need someone in office to keep that form happening, then our savior is not Jesus Christ.

We may not say a politician is our savior, but when we honestly look at our thoughts and actions regarding our rights, is Jesus really our savior and in control?

This the Greatest Nation

Ever seen The Greatest Showman? The opening song is exciting – Watch Here.
The opening line, “Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.”
This song is all about how you haven’t seen anything yet, until you’ve seen this show.

Don’t we have the same attitude towards America? Ladies and gents, this is the country you’ve waited for. Since its founding, America has been seen as “the lighthouse to the nations” or even “the new Promised Land.” The pilgrims and the puritans saw America as the greatest nation on earth. Today, many of us do as well. We flaunt our flags on clothing items, we put down other nations and people groups for not being like us. We see America as the greatest nation.

However, is America the greatest nation?

Hebrews 11:8-10 states Abraham, even though he was led to the land that would be called the Promised Land, looked for a better country. He saw off in the distance a better country. He did not see America. He saw what is described in Revelation 21. He saw the greatest country in the world. He saw our home. He saw the country and city built by God for his people. America is not this city. It does not even come close to it.

Yet, why do we see our country better than any other country? Are we not filled with sin or do we have some special blessing? Sure, we may have more freedoms than another country, but is America really the greatest country?

Think about the place where we have true freedom: no pain, no tears, seeing Jesus face to face. Our freedoms in America do not even compare to what is to come.

Since this is true, why do we flaunt our country as the greatest? Have we put our country above our true home with God?

Tearing Down our Constitutional Idol

When we look at the biblical criteria of an idol, and we look at our attitudes towards our country and politics…

Have we made America and its government our constitutional idol?

We are quick to say no. But answer these questions?

Can you be content with the “other party” in control?
Can you be content if your guns are taken away?
Can you be content if America turns to socialism?
Or are you only content if your candidate and your rights are upheld?

Can you really say with Paul that we are learning to be content in all situations (Philippians 4:11)

If we truly look at our thoughts, words, and actions regarding our politics, we can conclude that we have a constitutional idol.

It is not wrong to vote, voice an opinion, or even be concerned about our country. However, how do we view America in our churches? How many times a year do we sing about the greatness of our country, praise God for our freedoms, and then pray that our candidate is elected? Does that show trust in God or in an idol formed with our hands?

Romans 13:1-7 says to submit to the governing authorities, because God is the one who puts rulers on the throne (or presidents in the White House). God knows the outcome of every election. He knows our fears, and he tells us, “Cast your worries on me, because I will care for you (I Peter 5:7).” Our vote does matter, but can we trust God’s voice to carry us through? If we can’t, then we have an idol.

Which country do we glory in? Which country are we more concerned about? Are we concerned about America or our home with God? Which ruler/president drives our actions? God or Trump or the next president? Is Jesus truly the one we can rely on for salvation, or do we see our president as our savior?

There are two cities: America and the New Earth. Which one truly excites you to be apart of? Which one brings stability, redemption, and true worship to your soul? It is only in the King of the New Earth we will find these things. It is time then to tear down our constitutional idol, and to refocus our allegiance to the sovereignty of God (because he promises to always be in control).

If we truly believe this, then how will our thoughts and actions change towards America? How will America change its view of Christians when we find our stability, our salvation, and our greatest joy in Jesus and his country that is to come?

The Christian and Conspiracies

“To the one who delights in the sovereignty of God the clouds not only have a ‘silver lining,’ but they are silver all through; the darkness only serving to offset the light!”
– Arthur W. Pink

Have you heard?

“The One-World Government created COVID-19 in order to cleanse the population!”

What would you do if you saw that headline or statement on social media? What would your reaction be? Would it be to share the post making some comment?

What would you do about this headline?

“Government Uses Pandemic to Close Churches.”

How would that strike you? Would you be quick to share that one? Quick to create a following to protest? Would you post about being fearful? Would you post something like, “These are the end of times! Jesus is coming back any day.” Or in regards to government, “This isn’t Trump vs. Biden. It is Trump vs. Satan!”

If you laughed at these, go on social media. They are everywhere.

Conspiracy theories are all around us. Whether based in facts or not, we all have to admit there is a growing number of these theories today. With that, we have seen an increase in anxiety and worry about the world around us and who we can trust.

When we are faced with an onslaught of conspiracy theories or headlines that cause us to worry, what are we to do? What does the Bible say about Christians and conspiracy theories?

A Problem Defined

As defined by Mariam-Webster, a conspiracy theory is, “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”

Area 51, the JFK assassination, the moon landing, UFO sightings, the Illuminati and the One-World Government, secret societies, under the table government dealings, and many more things can be considered conspiracy theories.

They usually make great novel ideas, but they most often fill us with fear. That is the main effect of conspiracy theories – fear. When fear clings to us as we read and investigate these theories, we begin to lose trust, isolate ourselves, and try to find snakes under every rock.

Is it healthy for us to live this way? Do we truly enjoy waking up each day thinking about these things? It only robs us of our peace of mind which God has given us (Philippians 4:7).

The problem is not “out there” like we want to think. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they affect us deeply by robbing our peace and stability, and ultimately, our focus on God.

Stop Running for the Hills

When conspiracy theories strike fear in our hearts, what is the first thing we do? We tend to run for the hills, shut our doors, warn others, and bring up the drawbridge.

However, is that biblical?

Psalm 11 reveals a lot of how we should view conspiracy theories.

Read Psalm 11:1-3. We can reword it like this, “Flee to your safe house. The evil in this world is ready to take away your life and your rights. They have their snipers set on you. Don’t you see the world around us? Rule of law and order is falling apart and they sit back and laugh as the world burns for their gain. What can we do?”

Sound familiar? This is generally every reaction to every conspiracy theory. We see evil and we feel a target on our backs. We panic and run for the hills.

What does David say in verse 1? “I trust in the Lord for protection. So why do you say to me…” He knew the news of the day. He was aware of what was happening in the world around him. Yet, he questioned the sanity of those who told him to run to the hills. “Why in the world are you telling me this when I trust God for protection?”

Why did he say this? Psalm 11:4-7 answers that question. God is on the the throne. He is ruling. God sees everything that is going on. This is called God’s sovereignty. David founded his whole life on the sovereignty of God. Without it, I believe David would’ve had a hair-raising giant each step of the way. Read each of David’s psalms. Sure, he had his emotions. But, he went back to the point we need to be at: God is in control, and he will take care of the evil in the world.

The Chicken Little Christian

David isn’t the only person who dealt with this. The disciples also had a similar attitude we have when it comes to conspiracy theories.

Acts 1:6-11 tells us the account we tend to miss. Jesus and the disciples have been reunited after his resurrection. Right before he is about to ascend to Heaven, the disciples ask, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Basically, they were asking about the end of the world or end times matters. Jesus corrects their thinking. He did not want them being concerned with future events; except to know it is going to happen.

Instead, Jesus speaks one of the most famous verses in Scripture: Acts 1:8. But, the context starts in verse 7 (Acts 1:7-8). God only knows when the world is going to end. He is sovereign, and he knows exactly when and what will happen. Our job is to focus on living in the power of the Spirit while being his witness of how God has transformed our lives through his love and grace.

So many Christians today look like this today – Watch this clip

“Run for cover! The sky is falling!” When any whiff of an event or conspiracy theory tickles our inner prophetic mind, we tend to say the world is ending and Jesus is coming back soon. Guess what? This attitude has been around since the French Revolution in 1789, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, World War I and World War II. This is not to say Jesus is not coming back. He is coming back. However, it is not for us to worry when. We need to be more concerned about being his witnesses. How are we focusing on that when we post about conspiracy theories and end times rumors? Is posting online about the coming of Christ based on COVID-19 really being a witness to how Jesus’ resurrection freed you?

For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite songs by Elvis is “Devil in Disguise.” He sings, “You look like an angel/ Walk like an angel/ Talk like an angel/ But I got wise/ You’re the devil in disguise/ Oh, yes, you are/ The devil in disguise.”

This song perfectly sums up the mindset we have when we focus on conspiracy theories – we begin to see devils in disguise wherever we go. But it doesn’t end there. Once we have “Devil in Disguise” attitude we tend to develop “Suspicious Minds.” (And Christians say we can’t learn anything from Elvis.)

We do not have to have suspicious minds. We can trust God like David illustrates for us in Psalm 11. God is in control. We no longer have to act like Chicken Little and run for the hills. We can rest in his sovereign control. We can truly have a peace that surpasses all understanding, because we have a God who is in control (Philippians 4:7).

Instead of fearing for our lives, we can do what Esther did. She legitimately faced a conspiracy theory: the destruction of her people. Did she go writing on the wall? Did she write to the gossip column? No, she was reminded that God put her in that position for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Daniel was in the same situation. He was going to be killed for praying (even with a mask on). Yet, what did he do? Did he form a fiery protest? He prayed like he did before (Daniel 6:10). He rested in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. He did not lose sleep with those lions (even if they had a pizza party).

These true-life accounts were written for our encouragement (Romans 15:14). Is God’s purpose for our lives to live in fear of conspiracy theories? Or are we placed on this earth for such a time as this to be his witnesses? How are we fulfilling that calling?

Instead of listening to Elvis and his “Devil in Disguise,” we should listen to Gloria Gayner singing “I Will Survive,” because we know who our God is.

Who controls your life? A conspiracy theory? The rise and fall of our government or constitution? Who really holds your life stable?

God is not the author of fear. His love casts out fear and gives us soul-stabilizing peace. Conspiracy theories work the opposite in our lives.

We can let those headlines and theories go, because we can rest in the hands of a sovereign God. He is our shepherd. He will guide us through the darkness, and he will prepare a table to eat a peaceful meal in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23).

How are we living to show the world our God is truly our shepherd?

Which Jesus

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
– C.S. Lewis

Spot The Difference

I loved playing this game as a kid (and still do). Some can be quite easy, and some can be very difficult. Some people can identify the differences right away, but others may need hours to do so.

However, there is a Spot The Difference in our spiritual lives that can be more difficult than discovering a forgery from the original. This one is even deeper than discovering counterfeit money.

The question is: Which Jesus? Which Jesus is the correct Jesus to follow?

Did you realize there are two portraits of Jesus in our churches?

And the question is… Which Jesus are you following?

Portrait #1 of Jesus

The first portrait of Jesus at first is what you expect: born in a manger, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Nothing off at all about that, right?

However, the main structure may be the same in both portraits, but the devil is always in the details.

In this portrait you see Jesus giving keys to a heavenly mansion. He points to a door and mailbox with your name on it. He gives you a certificate reading: “Joe prayed to accept Jesus as his savior on June 14, 1987.” We see this image in churches, right? In fact, many of us may have that written in the front of our Bibles.

But the details do not end there…

You see a path behind Jesus leading to heaven. You see signs as you walk this path. One says, “Read your Bible everyday.” Another reads, “Attend church every Sunday.” One in bright lights says, “Do not be worldly!” Another with a picture of an offering plate states, “Make sure you give to God’s work.”

But, then you notice something else. At each sign is a gate. To unlock each gate, you must obey the sign.

We might find that to be an interesting way to describe faith in Jesus. But, isn’t that how we present it in our churches? We accept Jesus as our savior, but then we are handed a Bible reading plan, a list of things to do and not do. We wake up the next day focused on accomplishing each thing as we make our way to our mansion in heaven.

Portrait #2 of Jesus

The second portrait of Jesus still contains the same structure as the first: the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

Both have the basic message.

However, the details in this portrait differ. We do not see Jesus point to Heaven. We do not see signs.

Instead, we see Jesus reaching towards us. His eyes aren’t looking to Heaven, but directly at you. He reaches to grab your hand. He holds nothing but the scars of the crucifixion. You do see a path behind him leading to somewhere over the landscape which we cannot see. The path has no signs. Jesus isn’t even holding a certificate with a name or date on it. Instead, you realize he is at the start of the path and he is wanting you to take his hand and follow him. No instructions or guide, there is only Jesus.

This portrait is quickly glanced over, and most of us return to the first.

The Forgery Exposed

When we look at the two portraits, which one is the forgery? Thinking about each portrait, we can see that the first one is the false one. We would say, “Yeah, that is works based salvation.”

But, isn’t that what we are preaching in our churches today?

Our churches have fallen into the thinking the pharisees had and the thinking Jesus condemned.

Matthew 23:1-7 states that the pharisees tied burdens on people that weighed the people down. Then the pharisees wouldn’t even do everything they would say. Instead, they would parade around with their religious actions to shout how good they are, and to illustrate how close they are to God while on their spiritual journey.

Jesus gives a woe to the pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26. Here, Jesus condemns an attitude of being focused on external actions. They made sure everything looked right. Aren’t we doing the same when we get saved: clothing must be like this, music and movie choices must be this, make sure you read your Bible everyday, make sure you attend this kind of church, and the list goes on and on. While these things may be good, they are only externals. They do not clean the inside. Sure, we may be saved. But, did Jesus call us to focus on cleaning our externals?

Jesus answers that in Matthew 23:23-24. He condemns the pharisees for perseverating over their externals while they forgot the things that matter to God: justice, mercy, faithfulness. Aren’t we doing the same?

The first portrait of Jesus is how we explain Jesus to others. We have them say a prayer to get their certificate and keys to a mansion, but each step of the way is burdened with a new task, and a new standard to set. It becomes our job to do and do. If we truly want that mansion, then we must take hold of the certificate of praying the prayer and do what we are told.

This is a lie. This is not Jesus.

The Christian’s roadmap to hell is belief that a date in your Bible saves you.

We are promoting this. We are just like Jesus described the pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.”
(Matthew 23:13)

Take Another Look

The first portrait is tempting to focus on. That portrait is all about us. We get to show off how good of a Christian we are.

However, take another look at the second. It is so simple. This is the true Jesus.

What was the phrase Jesus spoke to the disciples? “Follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Did he require the disciples to do anything else besides follow him?

Jesus never said, “Come to me, and I will give you a list to get you to Heaven.” No. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Jesus reaches out to each of us. He looks at us in love wanting us to draw us close, and to lead us home. He says, “My grace is enough to lead you home (II Corinthians 12:9). He whispers to us not to worry about striving to bear fruit, because as we follow him the fruit of the Spirit will blossom (Psalm 1:3; Galatians 5:22-25). All we have to do is follow.

Jesus doesn’t want us to do a thing except follow. He doesn’t need us to look perfect. He wants us to look at him as we follow. He loved us to free us from sin and from the law. Why are we loading ourselves up with rules and standards when Jesus says just follow me?

A Change in Mindset; A Change in Heart

I once stared at and studied the first portrait in detail. I knew I was on my way to Heaven, but passing of the gates was difficult. Each day I woke up striving to do my best to live for God – do not sin, read my Bible, attend the right church, listen to the correct music, have the right friends, look a certain way, make sure I have a good testimony. Are these things wrong? No. They became wrong when they became more important than Jesus. Each day was a frustration as I focused on trying to get rid of sins and temptations out of my life. I had to become the image I saw, but it was the wrong image. I wasn’t trying to be like Jesus. I was trying to be a good Christian.

Then, God stepped in and showed me his love and how he draws me close like a father cradling his child close to his chest. I didn’t have to do anything. He loves me no matter what I do. All I had to do was rest in his lap. All I had to do was trust, grabbing his hand, and follow him. No list. No more frustration. Once I learned that, I rejected my former mindset. I wasn’t in love with Jesus. I was in love with myself being seen as a good Christian, and I was in love with an image.

After experiencing the love of God, all I could do was surrender my life to the Jesus who only wanted me to follow him as his grace changes me. The next day I woke up not worrying about pleasing God with my actions. Instead, I woke up knowing I was loved and all I had to do was follow. It was a change in mindset and heart.

Who Are You Following?

When we look at the two portraits, which Jesus are you following?

In reality, when we are following the first portrait we are only following ourselves. We trust in a date in our Bible, a list of tasks, and an image that is not what God wanted. Jesus condemned this thinking, yet we still preach it like it is gospel truth. It is not the Gospel.

Would you rather rest on the ink on a page that can burn or rest in the arms of a loving savior?

The Gospel has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with Jesus.

Which Jesus?

The Jesus who took on a human body, the Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the grave for us, the Jesus who calls us to follow him, the Jesus who says his grace will transform us and be enough for each step of the way.

Our task? Take his outreached hand and follow him.

Romans 12:1-2 is the classic passage on how to live the Christian life. However, we tend to put verse 2 before verse 1. We cannot do the things in verse 2 unless we are being verse 1. A living sacrifice is following Jesus. A living sacrifice lays down his image for the person who is in control. Jesus is in control, and he is the one we give up our image for. When we do that, he will change us.

We are not loved because we are good or following standards. We are good, because God love us. His love constrains us and guides us. We only have to follow the outstretched hand.

Can you spot the difference? When you do, are you willing to give up your way and follow him?

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace hath brought
Us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

– John Newton “Amazing Grace”