Beat Again

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.” – Oswald Chambers

Dead. No pulse. The heart has stopped. No beat. These are the marks of a dead person. The sheet is pulled over the head, and the death certificate filled out. An individual is no longer living among us.

However, there are dead people actually walking among us. No, I am not talking about zombies. They are people who have no heartbeat. They have no emotions. Inside they are cold and dead, yet they live feeling nothing and do not give what the heart should give… trust and love.

There are many of us that remember when our “death certificate” was filled out. We remember when we no longer loved and no longer trusted. We became the walking dead.

However, there is hope that our hearts can beat again.

Sanity Restored

When we live as dead, we feel insane. We feel the darkness close in. We feel the demons of our pasts tear at our flesh, and bind us to the tombs of the events that left us dead.

In fact, a man literally lived this out. He was possessed by demons. He was chained to tombs outside the city. He was tormented beyond belief. All around him was death and darkness. Yet, in Mark 5:1-20, Jesus steps in. Jesus confronts the man. The man says, “What have you to do with me?” He was known as the madman. No one wanted to be around him. Jesus wanted to be around him. He knew this man’s torment. He knew how this man cut himself to get away from the torment of the demons. And, Jesus wanted to be around this man.

The light and life of Jesus cast out the demons and were drowned out of this man’s life. Yet, something is said in Mark 5:15. The man’s sanity was restored. His heart began to beat again, and he could think and be calm because of Jesus. He came to Jesus naked and insane, and Jesus healed and clothed him.

He wants to do that for us. When we have experienced trauma and abuse we are dead inside facing the torments of the past. Yet, Jesus wants to heal us and restore our sanity.

Trust Restored

One of the worst things that happens to us is when trust is broken. We no longer trust people to get close to us. We push them away. If anyone tries to help, we hold them in suspicion waiting for them to hurt us; expecting them to.

A woman placed her trust in doctors. She spent all her money. She was an outcast because her condition. She was unclean. Nothing worked, and she felt hopeless. She couldn’t trust anyone to heal her. Yet, she heard about Jesus. A small spark of trust set a thought in her heart, “What if I could just touch the hem of his garment?” In Mark 5:25-24, we see what happens.

She trusts. She pushes her all to get through the crowd to just touch Jesus. There was something about Jesus she could trust. She touched him, and was immediately healed. When called to Jesus, she came out of the crowd afraid he would hurt her. Would her trust be broken again? Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction.” He called her “daughter.” She was safe to trust him to heal her. Her heart began to beat again.

Our hurt causes us not to trust. We wall off our lives, build the mote, and ready the cannons in case someone gets too close. We won’t make that mistake again. Just like this woman, we have trusted time and time again only to be let down. Yet, with Jesus there is a spark of trust. We can trust and reach for him. He doesn’t reject us. He calls us “my son and my daughter.” He wants us to reach for him, because in that action our hearts begin to beat again, and trust can be restored.

Love Restored

Have you ever been vulnerable with someone and been broken into a million pieces? Have you ever loved someone and gave them your heart only to be used? After those experiences you feel dirty and untouchable. You feel like you have to avoid people, you can’t be apart of the community anymore. You are going to the well alone.

John 4:1-42 tells the story of a heartbroken woman going to the well alone. She had many husbands. She gave her heart into relationships only to be broken. Her value became about her body and how well she could please a man. Her heart wanted to love, but she didn’t allow her heart to beat with love. That is until she was offered living water. Jesus offered her living water that would spring up into a fountain to refresh her heart and let it beat again. She accepted it. She was healed and could love people again. She loved people so much that she didn’t offer her body, she offered to show the mended and beating heart of love that Jesus restored.

In our lives, we have been heartbroken. We have offered ourselves and only been betrayed. We don’t love people. Instead, we buy our friends, we offer pictures of our bodies or sexual experiences, we do anything to fit in and win the affections of people. But, in reality, Jesus sees this and offers us living water. We do not need those things, because we can be mended and our hearts can beat again. Love can be restored. Jesus loved you so much to have his heart beat ceased so your heart could beat again with his love.

Tell Your Heart To Beat Again

I remember when my death certificate was signed. I remember when my heart stopped. I remember when I swore I would not love or trust again. I remember those events too well – the guys who sexually took advantage of me, the jokes and mocking comments over my body, the ridicule of my interests, the degrading of me not being a man. I remember when I died. I lost my sanity, my trust, and my love. I was driven to think suicidal thoughts and actually try. I thought actual death could revive my dead heart.

But, my story follows another story in the Bible: Mark 2:1-12. I was just laying on my mat emotionally and spiritually a wreck. I gave my trust to many people to be betrayed. I gave my vulnerability only to be broken. On my death certificate there are many signatures. Yet, some men saw my state. They knew I couldn’t get to Jesus by myself. They knew my heart would not beat again without Jesus. And just like the paralytic, it is through the people God put in my life to cause my heart to beat again. In fact, I am able to say I forgive those who hurt me, abused me, laughed at me, mocked me, and betrayed me. Jesus did this through people.

Many times we go back to the people who hurt us trying to get what they should have given us, but refused. Instead, we need to turn to the people God has brought in our lives to help our hearts beat again. Who are the Tonys, the Rogers, the Sarahs, the Travis, the Lisas, the Tims, the Rachels, the Peters, the Helgas, the Berthas, the… whatever their name is. Are you willing to let them love you and trust they will carry you straight to the one who can heal you?

We can tell our hearts to beat again. We can breathe in the grace of Jesus, because he wants to heal us. He wants us to love and trust. It is difficult to let go of the past. But, are we willing to reach out to Jesus?

Do you like being dead? Do you like having a cold heart? How many people have you pushed away and lashed out at because of your dead heart?

The only way to tell your heart to beat again is to give it to the one who gives the blood to pump through your heart: Jesus. He gives you life, and he gives new life and a new heart. II Corinthians 5:17 promises all things are made new – including your broken and dead heart.

Jesus loves you so much that he gave his heartbeat to be ceased so your’s could beat with passionate love and trust. In Jesus, we are no longer where we were. We are never defined by are past. We are a new creation.

The past hurts. However, your death certificate can be torn up. You can be all that God wants you to be. You just have to reach out to where he is leading. He only offers healing to your broken heart.

Jesus healed you at the cross, and you can tell your heart to beat again.

Please listen after reading – Tell Your Heart To Beat Again by Danny Gokey

Killing Sin Killing Grace

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

When was the last time you told someone you fell into that one sin you have been trying to overcome?

Didn’t you feel ashamed to admit that? What was their response? “Try harder.” “Do you have enough blocks up?” “Reach out to me if you need help.” “How are you keeping your mind on Christ and his Word?” The list could go on and on.

Isn’t it the worst when you have an amazing time reading God’s Word and praying; only to fall to sin within the next three hours? We struggle all the time and we determine to finally kill that sin in our lives. Our determination is to tattoo on ourselves John Owens’ famous quote: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

However, have we forgotten something? In our mission to kill sin, have we ended up killing grace?

Killing Sin

Colossians 3:5-10 is our battle cry as we march head on into killing the sin in our lives.

When you take aim, what appears in the scope? Lying, pornography, stealing, alcoholism, lust? What is that enemy you wish would bleed out and leave you alone?

We hear God’s Word telling us to put to death sin. Yet, how do we do that? Internet blockers? Accountability partners? Scripture memory? These are all good things.

When thinking of how we look at killing sin I came across this scene from Family Guy (watch here). This is how the world portrays people fighting “vices/evil/sins” in their lives. We may not do this whole musical number, but don’t we hear sermons about the evils of this certain sin or that certain sin? Is it wrong to preach on sins? No. However, what are the applications? Example: when we hear sermons on pornography, isn’t accountability partners and internet filters and Bible memory always mentioned?

However, are these things found in Ephesians 6:10-18? Are we really fighting against Jack Daniels, Porn Hub, crack dealers, and others? Our battle is with powers unseen. Therefore, since our battle is with the evil powers unseen, then we need weapons to fight with. An internet filter can help block inappropriate content, but can it truly defeat the sin in our lives? We cannot use the armor of man’s inventions. We need God’s armor. God’s armor does not originate from us or in things we can create. Instead, it is from him. We need to put on his way to fight sin in our lives. Our fight begins with realizing where the battle really lies – in the spiritual realm.

Killing sin is commanded in Scripture, but when taken too far we end up relying on our own methods and ultimately killing God’s greatest gift to us…

Killing Grace

Why did Jesus come to earth, die a horrific death, and rise again from the grave?

Was it to give you a certificate of authentic heavenly real estate?

Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us Jesus became one of us to destroy the power of sin and Satan for us to be set free from the fear and punishment of death. He set us free from the oppressive slavery of sin.

Mark 2:17 demonstrates Jesus’ own words claiming he came to bring repentance and healing to sinners. John 12:46 gives Jesus’s purpose of coming to bring people out of darkness into his marvelous light.

When we look at our own salvation, we need to start here. Jesus did not come for you to obtain a heavenly mansion just over the hilltop. Jesus came to set you free and to be with him forever. He came to give you grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 calmly teaches us grace is how we are saved. It is not of our own doing. Salvation is of grace. Amen? But, how do we live finishing out the context of Ephesians 2:8-9 as seen in verse 10? It is not only God’s grace that saves us, but God’s grace prepares the good for us to do.

God knows our hearts are more wicked and sinful than we could ever know. There is not one medical scan that could reveal all of it. He saw you for the thousandth time falling into sin, and he provided a way for you to be free: Jesus. He promised this in 1 John 2:1-2. Jesus is our advocate. This is why we can freely confess sins and come boldly to the throne of grace – not the throne of trying harder (I John 1:9; Hebrews 4:16)

When we try to kill sin without relying on the grace of God, we end up killing his work in our lives. Our sanctification becomes our boasting; not boasting in the grace of Jesus. If we can, honestly, kill sin in our lives by ourselves, then why did Jesus come?

Fighting Sin Through Grace

Fighting sin is never easy. It is a struggle everyday. We are tempted to use our own methods to fight. Yet, God tells us in Titus 2:11-12 his grace is what teaches us to resist sin. If we want to truly fight sin, then we need to learn God’s grace. It is not a grace of standards, rules, and trying harder. God’s grace is lovingly dying in our place so we can be truly forgiven. When we understand that the hold of sin on our lives begins to slip.

It’s easy to beat ourselves up when we fall into sin. But, that isn’t living in God’s grace. Living each day in God’s grace is learning to think what God thinks about you, seeing his redeeming riches in your life, and fully seeing that he has set you free. When we truly learn that, we live in a way that does not abuse grace, but honors the grace bestowed on us through Christ.

Yes, we are commanded to kill sin in our lives. We need to put sin to death. Yet, we cannot do it in our own determination. We need Jesus and we need his grace each step of the way. We will not stop sinning till we see Jesus face to face.

This is why John Newton wrote in “Amazing Grace”:

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Living On A Prayer

“Heartache forces us to embrace God out of desperate, urgent need. God is never closer than when your heart is aching.”
– Joni Eareckson Tada

What makes you cry yourself to sleep? What struggle do you have deep within you hidden by a smiling mask?

Loss of a child? A sin struggle? Depression? Unable to conceive a child? The haunting of your past? What makes you shed a tear when no one else is around?

We all have our tearful moments. We all have those times when a topic is mentioned, and we turn our face or leave the room so no one can see how the dam is about to break. We feel alone. We feel like an outsider as we remember what pricks our hearts and causes the tears to trickle down.

“Just keep trusting God.” Good advice given, but feels more like a homeless man being rejected shelter from the bitter storm. What do we as those in pain and those trying to help. We need to understand how to truly help and how to receive help.

Hold on to What We’ve Got

The pain hurts. Our silence is given as people joke about what we go through even if they have no idea. We look at the happiness of others (genuinely wanting to celebrate), but we feel that stab of pain.

Then, all alone we fall on our bed crying grasping at the blankets finding nothing to hold onto. But, there is something we can grasp to – Hebrews 10:23.

We have a God who says he does everything for our good (Romans 8:28). We have a God who says his grace is enough (II Corinthians 12:9). We have a God who knows the fallen world, knows our tears are a result of a world slaughtered by sin, and yet he is going to create a new heaven and a new earth where tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:1-4).

It is difficult to grasp on to these things (and many others) when all we want to do is flip-off God and yell at him. It is difficult when we want to take our Bibles and rip out the pages, because they seem like trite Hallmark cards.

Guess what? It’s ok. God does not condemn questioning. He does not condemn us being frustrated. Habakkuk questioned God about all the evil in the world (Habakkuk 1:1-3). Hannah wailed to God and was mocked by a priest for her behavior as she cried out for a child (I Samuel 1:9-18).

It is ok to question God. But when words on a page are all we have to cling to, we need to hold so tight that our hands wrinkle those pages and our tears smear the ink.

Take my Hand and We’ll Make it I Swear

There is another thing we can do when we want to just fall down and cry. We need to reach out. We need to reach for the hands of our brothers and sisters. The church is called to be the body and to weep with those who weep (II Corinthians 12:26). This means we are to actually hurt with those who hurt. It is ok to cry in front of our community of believers.

However, when we do it seems all we get is, “Trust God.” Please stop saying this. James 2:15-16 tells us to stop. Telling someone to “Trust God” is the same as saying, “be well off and best wishes,” but not doing a thing. We can all do something to help. What about a listening ear? What about actually holding someone close to you and letting them cry? What about showing affection? What about simply getting them something you know will make them smile? What about just spending time with them doing some random activity?

The church is not made of individuals working on their individual lives. The church is made up of many people living together as a community. You do not have to have all the answers in order to offer your hand and walk side by side with them.

It Doesn’t Make a Difference if We Make it or Not

However, as we deal with our pain and our tears we need to stop one mindset: Image is Everything.

Image is not everything for the Christian. Making it or not is not the goal of the Christian. The goal of the Christian is to be like Christ (Romans 8:29). Our churches should not treat people who are suffering as poor, helpless people in need of pity. Instead, we need to realize that it is not the image, but the end result that matters. Our love for each other helps us fight to that end; not our pushing each other to have an image or be as good as they can be.

Also, if our prayers and suffering and pain is not relieved, we need to continue on. It should not make a difference to the church. If a couple is never able to have children, then the church needs to stop treating them as “having done something wrong.” If a person has been crying out for freedom from an addiction, then the church should not just give them the boot because they do not fit the image the church wants. Christ is the one who we trust, and he is the one who we give our lives to, and he is the one who will present us spotless before the Father (II Timothy 1:12; Jude 24-25).

It does not make a difference if we make it or not. It is not about our success or image. Christ is doing the work. We just need to stand with each other as that work is being accomplished.

Together Living on a Prayer

Bon Jovi’s song Livin’ on a Prayer does have truth to it. When life is falling apart, we need to live on a prayer. We need to hold on to what we got. We need to keep on going; even if we make it or not. We need to take each other’s hands and walk through it together.

Jesus came to be with people; not sit in a pew and be a “5-star Christian.” Jesus was there for the worst times of people’s lives and for the best. But, he continually escaped away to pray and to live on his prayers before the Father. If he is the image we are to be conformed to, then we need to do the same.

Let’s hold on to God’s Word. Let’s give each other our hands and walk with them. Let’s be willing to live on a prayer that engages our whole church.

Our pain and tears cry out for an embrace of God. He’s given that through the church.

If a rock song can perfectly sum up the image of the church, then why are we not living it out? Our hurt is real. Our tears are real. But, we can live on a prayer.

Returning to the Porch

“Where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.” – Augustine

Secondhand Lions

Ever seen it? It is the story of Walter. He is a young man who has been dropped off by his mother on the porch of an old house. Here, he was to be raised by his great uncles till his mother returned.

Throughout the movie, Walter has many adventures (including a lion, a cornfield jungle, and a life story like none other). Walter learns many things from his great uncles. However, the words his mother left him with rang in his ears. His uncles, as the story goes, were loaded with millions stashed away in cash. She wanted Walter to find it while she was gone.

When his mother returns, he is taken away to live with her and her new man. Yet, he never revealed the location of the money. However, the money isn’t the climax of the movie. Walter makes a decision. He jumps out of the car, and he confront his mother. Watch the decision here.

In our lives, we follow various people: on social media, on the news, in politics, and even in church. We follow many people, but are they all good for us?

The One with the Words of Life

John 6:1-69

Remember what happens? Most of know the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and he feeds them using only five loaves of bread and two fish.

Do you remember what happens next? What happens after the felt-board characters are placed away? Jesus walks on the water, but after that? Jesus tells the people what it means to truly follow him. He looks at the crowd who followed him after his miracle with the food seeking more. However, he knows that seeking more food won’t satisfy, and through his words many people leave.

John 6:60-69 reveals how many followers left Jesus that day. When he turned to the twelve asking them why they hadn’t abandoned him. Peter (Yes, Peter who sticks his foot into his mouth) says, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter knew where the truth was. He knew who held the words of life. He saw Jesus as the Word (John 1:1). Peter saw Jesus as the Word in flesh (John 1:14). Though Peter fell, he knew Jesus was the one with the words of life. Even after denying Jesus, Peter knew who had the words of life (John 21:1-7). He dove into the water, and swam to Jesus.

The Ones who Bear the Words of Life

Once Jesus went to heaven, the apostles (including Paul) now had the words of life. They went out into all the world giving people this word. Paul (in particular) wrote two letters to Timothy and Titus. Paul was a torch bearer for Jesus. He continued giving the words of life. His two “sons in the faith” (specifically Timothy) did not stray, but kept the faith by returning to Paul to receive more of the words of life. Paul himself was not the word of life, but gave what Jesus told him (1 Corinthians 1:10-31).

He did not give his own rendition of the words of life. He preached Jesus. This is what Timothy and Titus looked to and clinged to.

The Ones who Change the Words of Life

However, we are warned in Scripture that not everyone will hold up the words of life as taught by Jesus. The whole book of Jude (only 25 verses) warns us that false teachers will arise. These teachers change the words of life and lead others astray. Romans 16:17-18 warns us these teachers will use smooth words to change us and lead us to a different “word of life.”

Just like in Secondhand Lions, Walter is promised a new life with his mom, whom he wants to be with the entire movie. However, he realizes where her path is leading. Her path was leading him into a life he did not want.

Even in our lives, there are those who want to lead us down a wrong road. They change the words of life in the Bible. They emphasize things Scripture does not emphasize. They feed us a culture of fear and image; while Jesus did not.

Teachers of the Word who put their own traditions and cultures above God’s life giving Words are false teachers. They would rather see their movement and their image live on rather than see people walking in the freedom Jesus offers.

Who in our lives is doing this to us? And do we see it?

Returning to the Porch

At the end of Secondhand Lions, Walter returns to the old house of his great uncles. He rests on their porch to continue hearing their life lessons. Walter knew he found where he belonged, and who really knew how to live (including flying through a barn upside down).

We are the same way. Many people pull at us. Many people try to force us down a road claiming to have the words of life. Instead, we need to jump out of the car, and return to the porch of those we know really do have the words of life as Jesus taught (and as the apostles taught). How do we know who to follow? The answer is found in II Timothy 2:15. We need to personally study out the Bible and test what is being said and taught. Everyone around us claims to know what is best for our lives, and we follow. This is not a good strategy when we disregard II Timothy 2:15.

In my own life I had to realize this. Many people were telling me which way to go with my life and how to live and walk with Jesus. I was given theologies and books and sermons. Yet, had I taken everything back to God’s Word? Once I did, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see the truth, because I went to where truth was found. Then, I realized I had to jump out of the car, and return to the porch of those who really gave me the words of life and by their actions showed me they really did have them. They were the ones who showed me what Jesus was all about – a relationship; not a label. I have to sit on their porch and learn from them. I thank God for showing me this lesson.

Each of us have people influencing our lives. Who is the person you need to sit down on their porch with a root beer and listen to? Who is really giving you the words of life?

Are you willing to jump out of the car, and return to their porch? When we do, we will be able to learn how to live out the words of life and really live.

Ending Scene to Secondhand Lions

In Whose Image?

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . . It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” – C.S. Lewis

Have you ever looked at a picture of you and your family? Ever noticed which parent you look more like? Have you ever seen a picture of a friend’s family and exclaimed, “You can clearly see you are related to your mother.” Those moments are fascinating to observe. But, it does not stop there. There are more things that a child can pick up from their parents: catch phrases, handwriting style, home decorating style, interests, career choices, etc. It is where we get the phrase, “Like father like son.”

In my own family, my sister and I closely resemble my father. When you put the three of us together, you can clearly tell we are related. Some things, besides looks, have passed down. I have found myself saying some things or doing some things, and I realize it is just how my dad did it or said it. In fact there were times (while I was growing up), when my voice over the phone almost sounded identical to my dad’s and his coworkers did not realize it was me when they called.

Being in the “same image” as various members of your family isn’t just one way we have an image. As Christians, we are made after the image of Christ.

However, are we really living in the image of Christ or someone else’s image?

Called to an Unique Image

Once we are justified, the journey of sanctification begins. Sanctification has been defined by many things: “becoming more holy,” “being more submissive to God,” etc. I am sure we all have heard some varied definitions of sanctification throughout our lives.

However, how does the Bible define what happens after the moment of salvation? Romans 8:29 holds a key phrase: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” According to this verse, sanctification is the process or journey we embark on to be conformed/molded/sculpted into the image of Jesus. II Corinthians 3:18 states it similarly. We are being sculpted step by step into the image of our Lord; who is Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought about how unique of a calling this is? The man who is considered one of history’s most influential teachers. The God who took a human body, kept it, and lived among us (John 1:14). The person who was known as a friend of sinners (Luke 5:27-32). The risen savior at whose name every person will bow t0 (Philippians 2:10-11). This is the image we are being conformed after.

Examining the Original Image

Since we are purposed to be conformed into the image of Jesus, we need to know what he is like. It is the same for an artist. As an artist begins to learn her craft, she tends to look at original masterpieces, and carefully tries to copy the details.

It is the same for us. We have the perfect representation of Jesus done by four artists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We have four different sculpture of Jesus, but all showing the same person.

So, what is Jesus like? What is the image of Jesus? We need to look at the four Gospels.

Jesus was a servant. Even though he was respected by his disciples, he washed their feet (John 13:1-20). Jesus had compassion on children, and invited them to be close (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus met the needs of people who came to him (John 6:1-15). Jesus searched out people who needed the new life he offered (John 4:1-42; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 19:1-10) Jesus taught people how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and modeled it (Matthew 5-7).

There are plenty more passages we could look at. This is just a glimpse of who Jesus is. Yet, remember Romans 8:29? This is the image we are being sculpted into. This is what sanctification is all about. These characteristics are what our image should, through our walk with Jesus, begin to look like. The world around us should hold up these things, and begin to see them as defining us as well.

Renditions of the Image

Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book, and was reminded of another story? For example, did you know The Lion King is a rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? A rendition is defined as, “a performance or interpretation of something.” Usually a rendition is a creative interpretation of an original work. It may have similarities to the original, but it is not a copy of the original. It is not sculpted after the original; only inspired from and interpreted off of. Hamlet does not involve a love story that ends with a new king and queen (that wish is drowned out). However, in The Lion King Simba and Nala fall in love and become the new royals of the pride. The endings of the two stories are quite different. Similar in places with regards to plot, but The Lion King is a rendition.

Similarly, there are renditions of the image of Christ. We see this attitude in Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 3. Many people in the church at Corinth were claiming to follow Paul, Apollos, or other people. They began rendering themselves after a teacher. In fact, arguments broke out and division began splitting the church over which teacher should they be following. Paul quickly puts a stop to it. He says that our lives belong to Christ and should model our lives after Christ. The church in Corinth needed to boast in being sculpted into the image of Christ; not after Paul or Apollos.

Don’t we do the same today? Don’t we listen to teachers, pastors, Christian authors, and Christian speakers and their standards become ours? We tend to think that being conformed to the image of Christ means rendering ourselves after another person. Usually this means following a set of standards rather than developing characteristics. We think being in the image of Christ means abstaining from things, wearing certain clothing, doing one activity or avoiding another. I’m not talking about things that the Bible clearly says are sins. However, where does it say that being conformed in the image of Christ means wearing a suit and tie to church? Where does it say that Christ prefers one music style over another? Where does it say that Christ was more concerned about how we looked out the outside than what we looked like on the inside?

We may have fallen into the trap of being a rendition of someone’s interpretation or standards rather than focusing on the original image. We make standards more important than living out the characteristics of Jesus. In fact, Paul goes on in I Corinthians 12:1-27 to tell the Corinthians there will be diversity in the church. The image of Christ is not a cookie cutter that shapes the outside. It is a transforming work on the inside which blooms into the fruit and actions of our lives. We can physically look different from each other and still be faithfully following God’s Word.

There is one characteristic of Jesus I chose not to mention until now: Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-17.

Jesus got upset. However, he did not get upset with the world. He was upset and drove out of the temple those who were making a rendition of God’s image. These people took the image of God (not an actual physical image, but the worship of God) in the temple and interpreted it in their own rendition. He was upset at these people: the religious leaders. Jesus wanted them to know his house was a house of prayer to the nations; meaning it wouldn’t follow their rendition, but his.

The mark of being sculpted into the image of Christ is not by how well you follow standards, but how well you follow God’s Spirit as he guides you by his Word. This is what makes us into the image of Christ.

More Than WWJD

As we live our lives, following the Spirit as he guides us through the Word, we will begin to live as pieces of art sculpted after the original image: Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:21-32 states we are to put on our new life which is created in the likeness of God (or Jesus). We are to be walking each step of our journey looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

WWJD or What Would Jesus Do is a great saying. However, it lends itself to be easily swayed by a rendering of the image of Christ. Our lives are more than WWJD. Our lives are to be painted with, sculpted with, and written with the characteristics of Christ. The outside will change; that is why it is called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). When we follow the Spirit, the outside will change and our boasting can only be in the transforming power of Christ.

Whose image are we following? Are we following someone’s rendering of Christ’s image? Are we more concerned about our outside appearance than cultivating the characteristics of Christ? Following standards does not produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Are we truly seeking to live in the image of Christ? Are we willing to do what he did? Are we willing to interact with people the way he did?

In whose image are we being transformed into?

Overdosing on the Bible

“No man understands the Scriptures, unless he be acquainted with the Cross.”
– Martin Luther

Elvis, Judy Garland, Edgar Allan Poe, Prince, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe – names every American are familiar with. They were musicians, actors, authors, and celebrated Americans. However, each one died due to an overdose.

An overdose is taking too much of a substance which results in serious health issues; usually resulting in death. There are many reasons one may overdose on a drug. Yet, sometimes it can be to fix pain, depression, or other issues one wants to be rid of.

We all struggle with something we want rid of: a besetting sin, a thought pattern, a traumatic past, etc. It is connected to us and follows us like our shadow. We want to do anything to be rid of it. As Christians, we desire to live for God and to fulfill our purpose he has called us to, but we feel anchored to the chains of our past or struggle. With envy, we yearn to walk in freedom as others do around us.

Frantically, we plead, “How do I get rid of this struggle? How do I let go of my past?” A fellow Christian gives us a Bible and says, “Begin memorizing Scripture and you will be free.”

So we pop the lid off the Bible and begin to administer the dosage. However, this is a dangerous mindset and can lead to an overdose of the Bible killing our spiritual walk with God.

The “Mis-Prescibing” of the Sufficiency of Scripture

II Peter 1:3 states that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of God. This knowledge comes from the Word of God. We would all stand up and shout, “Amen!” It is true that what we need to live our lives for God and to follow him closely are found in Scripture. This is called the sufficiency of Scripture.

Sufficiency of Scripture is a foundational doctrine that all Christians should practice as we have questions, struggles, and hurts. We can find what need to do to glorify God in Scripture. However, the wonderful fact of this teaching can be prescribed in a wrong way.

It has been said that if you are struggling with sin, you need more Scripture. If you want to heal, then memorize and study Scripture more. We are given a Bible and prescribed, “Read and memorize as much as you can, and you will see a change.” Maybe it is not stated that way, but we are told this and we treat others like this.

In so doing, we pop the Bible verses like an antidepressant hoping that if we take enough Bible our struggles will go away. Yet, we have “Mis-Prescribed” this verse. We take this verse along side Psalm 119:11 and we begin to overdose on Scripture without realizing we are killing our spiritual life by missing the true healing found in these verses.

God, Is This Enough?

We are told to take as much Bible as possible to cure our struggles and other issues. We begin memorizing and studying the Bible with highlighters, pencils, and journals. We create a system to get as much of the Scripture in us. We may even spend hundreds of dollars just to make sure we have the “right study Bible” and “right Bible software.”

Then, after some time has passed and our Bible is colorfully underline and we have acquired stacks of verses on index cards, we fall back into our struggle. The shame washes over us. The guilt guillotines our heart from our body. We cry out to God, “But, I studied and memorized! Is this enough?” But, after a dark dive into depression, we determine to go further than we did before. We buy more Bibles, memorize more verses, and begin to plaster verses around our homes like prized art in a museum. Yet again, we fall. Our work seems never good enough so we give up and let fate over take us like the ocean overtaking the Titanic.

In Luke 10:38-42, a woman has a similar story. It is not a story of a cycle of struggle, but it is a struggle of working and frustration. Jesus had come to the home of Martha and Mary. They both knew (factually) who Jesus was. Yet, Martha did not quite have the right relational knowledge of Jesus. She busied herself with many tasks in order to impress Jesus. It may have been for a blessing or for an answered request. Whatever the reason, Martha worked to get Jesus to notice her. She worked herself into a frustration and the gasket blew.

Relationship with God over the Words of God

Jesus calms Martha down after she demands she gets help from Mary. She was frustrated that none of her chores and doings got the attention of Jesus. Yet, Jesus gives her the right way to relate to him in Luke 10:41-42. It is found at the feet of Jesus.

The right relationship with Jesus is not found in impressing him. It is found sitting down at the feet of Jesus.

The teaching of the sufficiency of Scripture is true, but it needs to be in relationship with the God of the Word; not with the Words of God. We find healing at the feet of Jesus by knowing him on a personal level through his Word. Look at II Peter 1:3 and Psalm 119:11 again. It is through the knowledge of HIM that we have everything we need. We will not sin when we treasure HIS word.

It is not through the memorizing and careful study of Scripture that heals us. It is being at the feet of Jesus through the Word that brings the healing we seek.

Coming to the Healer

Our struggles are deep. Our struggles strangle us in the stillness of our day. When we have fallen, we look at our Bible and think it is not enough anymore. So we give up hope. We want to smack the next person who tells us to read the Bible or to memorize a certain passage. We have done that.

We have spent all our money and time on Bible studies. We feel like the woman suffering from continual bleeding as told in Mark 5:25-34. Just like her, we have spent everything to stop the bleeding wound of our struggle from killing us. Yet, we need to have the same belief: “If I just touch his clothes, I’ll be made well.” She believed healing came from Jesus himself; not from the works she did. Our healing comes from the same source. It is Jesus who heals us; not our Bible studies. We can touch Jesus through the Bible. The power of healing comes from the relationship we have with Jesus through the Bible. I cannot have a relationship with my wife only by meticulously studying her letters. I need to have a relationship with her through those letters and by spending time with her personally.

If we want healing, we must begin to tear away the roofing of memorizing and studying in order to get to the personal relationship with Jesus. A list of verses we have memorized will not have any power to heal us unless it is first put at the feet of Jesus. We will not be healed unless we get to Jesus. We will not help others unless we show them Jesus over a prescription of Bible memory. We need to take them to Jesus like the men did with their paralyzed friend in Mark 2:1-12.

A Relationship Over an Overdose

Individuals who overdose are trying to get rid of pain, depression, or other things. An overdose is dangerous to our physical health. Our spiritual life can resemble the same as we want to get rid of struggles. A Bible overdose is dangerous, because it focuses on how much we can memorize and study in an attempt to be healed from our struggles. Our healing becomes about our works. We become frustrated and discouraged, and we give up to the waves of fate tossing us back and forth till our struggles eventually drown us.

However, that is not the message of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t demand the individuals he healed prove themselves worthy by their works. He doesn’t demand the same of you. Jesus wants you to come to him in faith. He wants a relationship with you over seeing the stacks of index cards containing the verses you have memorized. He wants to heal you because he loves you.

Healing does not come from the conquest of Scripture, but in surrendering into a relationship with the Lord of the Scriptures.

So, let’s stop memorizing verses like popping antidepressants. Instead, let’s come to Scripture as coming to the feet of Jesus. We do have everything we need in the Bible, but it is not found in overdosing on the Bible. It is found in the relationship with Jesus Christ through his Word.

Commercialized Conversion

“The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet.”
– Oswald Chambers

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Miracle on 34th Street. It tells the story of a girl meeting a man who claims to be Santa Claus. However, her mother is quite concerned over this belief. With the tension of who this man is, a trial commences to determine once and for all if this man is really Santa Claus.

One scene from this movie sticks out as pertinent to the discussion ahead. This man has been hired to play Santa Claus at Macy’s department store. While getting ready for work, he and a coworker have an interesting conversation.
(View scene here)

“Don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck make a buck.” When we think about that line, it is a sad reality. The truth is we see this playing out in our culture’s view of Christmas.

But, let’s apply it to giving the Gospel: “Don’t care what the Gospel stands for, just make a convert make a convert.”

Does that phrase shock you? We may not have heard a pastor say that while preaching, but does it describe the way we give the Gospel? Have we commercialized conversion?

Product or Relationship?

Have you ever walked into a store and immediately was barraged with their sales? Buy 1 get 2nd 50% off! Buy 2 get 3rd free! Free gift with purchase!
In working retail, I remember having to know each sale we were having. I had to know the products on sale, and I had to know how to sell it.

Anytime we give the Gospel to an individual, we are asking them to accept what we are saying. It can be like selling something due to using persuasion. But, the question comes down to, “What are you offering?”

Think about it. When giving the Gospel, what are you offering to the other person? Is it a free home in Heaven? A get out of Hell free card? Or are you showing Jesus?

The majority of time, we tend to offer Heaven over Hell: “Jesus saves you from Hell,” “Turn or burn,” “Road to Heaven” etc. These are phrases used in tracts and evangelistic methodologies today. Doesn’t it sound like we are just selling a product or eternal real estate?

For example, if a person called you saying, “Would you rather spend the rest of your life in the desert or in a tropical resort?” Wouldn’t you pick the resort over the desert? Usually after that initial question comes the task you must do in order to get to the resort.

No one would want to spend the rest of their life in the desert. We would want the resort, and we would probably do anything to get there if this was especially our eternal destination.

Sound familiar?

In I Corinthians 1:22-23, Paul states his preaching is centered on one person: Jesus Christ. His evangelistic concern was to preach where Christ had not been preached yet (Romans 15:20). Was Paul’s message concerned about whether a person chose Heaven or Hell? His concern was for the individual to know Jesus Christ. Even when we look at Paul’s sermon in Acts 17:22-31. h=He isn’t giving a choice of burning in Hell or living in a golden mansion in Heaven. Acts 16:25-34 provides a one on one witnessing opportunity Paul had with the Philippian jailer. Do you see the phrase, “Let me show you how to know for sure you are going to Heaven”? Do you see the phrase, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”? Paul was more concerned about showing how to have a relationship with the risen Savior than selling real estate for our eternal destination.

Salesmen or Witnesses?

A product cannot be sold without a salesman. He must know the product, the customers, and the strategy to get his product sold.

Now turn your thoughts to giving the Gospel. What is the current mindset in giving the Gospel?

Usually, people think of giving or leaving tracts. We see this done at restaurants, in stores, and observing people handing out tracts on the street corner. Think about how people might begin a conversation to give the Gospel: “Would you like to know for sure you are going to Heaven when you die?” “May I give you something to read?” These are just two examples. But, isn’t this a sales strategy?

We see ourselves as a Christian salesmen wanting to win a convert in order to gain Gospel Salesman of the month when we get to Heaven. But, is that the right mindset?

In Acts 1:8, Jesus calls his disciples to be witnesses. The greek word used for “witnesses” is “μάρτυρες” or “martyrs.” A witness is someone who tells of an experience that has personally affected them. It could be a victim of a crime or someone relaying the success they experienced through a certain program. A martyr is someone who is killed over what they believe and speaking it in order to prove it is true. None of these terms indicate “one who sells a product.” In fact, Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to make disciples and to teach. There is no sales pitch involved.

A witness is honestly a passive person. They saw something happen or something happened to them. It is then their job to tell their story; and in the case of a court room, persuade the jury the story is true. But, in our case, a witness is telling of Jesus. None of us have actually seen Heaven or Hell. But, we have experienced Jesus. Therefore, we are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives; not witnesses of what Heaven will be like.

Convert or Disciple?

The final component to a sale transaction is the customer. If you want to be good at sales, you need to know your audience: demographics, feelings towards your product, and how it could benefit your specific audience. Basically, you need to know your audience’s knowledge, interest, and opinion of your product in order to be a successful salesman.

We do have an audience when giving the Gospel. It is perfectly normal to want to know about your audience before giving the Gospel (there are plenty of examples in the Bible of this). But, the question is: how do you view your audience?

How do you view those who need the Gospel? Usually, people talk about converts. A convert in this context is, “a person who has been persuaded to change their religious faith or other beliefs.” Giving the Gospel becomes about how many people we can get on our side. We see those who are unbelievers, and we want to win their souls, or be a soul winner. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to give the Gospel. However, are we just giving the Gospel in order to keep track of how many souls we have won? Is it a competition? Therefore, the unbeliever becomes nothing more than someone to use for our own glory as we parade around the numbers we saw saved.

Jesus uses a different word: disciple. Matthew 28:19-20 is the classical passage where Jesus commands us to go make disciples. A disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” It is a human in a relationship with someone over them. A Christian disciple is someone who is in a relationship with Jesus as His follower.

Mark 1:16-20 is an excellent story illustrating what a disciple is. Jesus didn’t call Simon, Andrew, and John to the shore to sell them something or to change their beliefs. Instead, he calls them to follow him. He calls them to step into a disciple-Lord relationship with him. It is more than just changing a belief system. A disciple is in a relationship. Is the church just a place with people with similar beliefs? No. It is referred to as the body or a community working together (I Corinthians 12:12-27).

“Uncommericializing” the Gospel

It is a sad reality that most of the efforts today of giving the Gospel reflect a sales mentality. We, the salesmen, try to sell a product to our customers.

Did Jesus have the same mentality? John 4:1-42 gives us the answer. Jesus, the Savior of the world, offers himself as living water to heal sinners and be in a relationship with them.

Do we see the difference between the two?

Let’s make it practical: Dinner at a restaurant

You are sitting at your table, and your server approaches. You order drinks and food. When the food arrives, something is wrong with your order. You tell the server to take it back and get it right. After the server leaves, you whisper to your spouse, “There goes her tip.” The conversation, then, gets enthralling at your table. The server asks, “How is everything?” You quickly respond, “Great!” Then, you go back to your conversation. Before you realize it, there is a slip of paper in front of you: the bill. You quickly pay the amount, then before you leave (in order to fulfill your Christian duty) you place a tract on the table with a meager tip or even no tip.

Did you know this is a common occurrence: Christians eating out, leaving a tract, and not tipping their server? In fact, I have talked to many servers who have confessed to me because of this action, they want nothing to do with Jesus.

How would Jesus interact with others while eating out? Would he care about the server? Would he be up in arms if his food wasn’t exactly how he wanted it? Would he complain at a long wait time? Would he leave a tract? Would he tip?

Jesus wants a relationship with people more than knowing how many tracts we passed out. Jesus cares about the server who may be living an immoral life. He would make sure she left with a smile. He would make sure she knew she was appreciated by the tip given. Jesus cares about the homeless, the orphan, and even those who blatantly live in sin.

Jesus is known as the friend of sinners. In the way we give the Gospel, are we highlighting that? Are we willing to wash feet over giving a tract? Are we willing to be witnesses of the relationship we have with Jesus in order to invite others into that relationship as disciples?

Commercials usually get ignored or turned off when they become annoying.

Is our Gospel a real estate commercial? Or is our Gospel about the redeeming relationship found in Jesus?

The Greatest of These Being?

The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” – D.L. Moody

1517 – The start of the one of the greatest years in Church History: the Reformation. Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses in Wittenberg. The whole course of history changed.

1526 – The year the New Testament was printed in English. It was one of the greatest years for the English speaking world.

These two years alone are considered greatest among other years in church history. Sure, there are some others we could include, but these two especially stand out.

What makes something great? It isn’t the year itself. 1517 is a cool number. 17 is a prime number. But, by itself it isn’t the greatest. What makes something great is what happens or what characterizes that year.

So what makes a Christian great? What out of all the characteristics of being a Christian is the greatest?

“Greatest” in the Bible

There are many places in the Bible that mention the term “Greatest”. From a quick search using the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), I found 31 uses of the word “greatest.” We see arguments on who is the greatest (Luke 9:46). We find “greatest” being used in context of looking at a crowd of people (Acts 8:10). We also discover the questioning of which law is the greatest (Matthew 22:36-38).

But, is there a passage describing what is the greatest characteristic that should be found in a Christian? Yes! It is the passage that we hear at weddings and dating couples memorize as they pursue each other. It is the passage we sometimes make a list of in order to fulfill this one characteristic. It is 1 Corinthians 13.

You probably even guess this passage before I revealed it. In fact we could go through each aspect of what love is. However, I want to skip over that. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:13. Faith, hope, and love are the three Christian characteristics we see listed. But, which one is the greatest one? You know the verse. However, do we practice it? Or have other things usurped its throne?

The Greatest Being… Theological Debate?

As one who has been through seminary, theological debating is a key component in seminary. I remember many debates (some I was involved in) over theological or ministerial issues: dispensational vs. covenant theology, issues in calvinism, Bible translation debates, church music debates, church practice debates, Christian involvement in social issues debates, etc. This list could go on and on and on.

There are so many books written about these debates. We pick a side and spend hours studying up and filling our holsters with our “silver bullets.” When we come across another Christian not from our camp, we take that opportunity to engage in “theological interrogation.” It isn’t about who the person is or what they enjoy doing. Usually we go straight for the jugular, “What do you believe about (fill in the blank)?” Then if that person disagrees with us, we hold them in suspicion and keep “those Christians” at an arm’s distance.

However, is this attitude and debating the greatest characteristic of a Christian? Did Jesus say the world would know us as His disciples by how well we can study theology, debate theology, and hold “the right position”? John 13:35 does not read that way. Even though studying theology and understanding doctrine is a good thing (II Timothy 2:15), it isn’t the greatest characteristic of a Christian.

The Greatest Being… Our Political Fight?

When you turn on the news and check your feed on social media, politics tend to be one of the most trending topics (or could be the most trending topic of today). We get involved in our country’s politics. We get behind a candidate or political party. We have issues we fight to see changed or kept in our country. We protest, write Facebook posts, tweet, wear MAGA hats or other attire of one party or another, and we associate with people depending on political views.

However, is this the greatest characteristic of being a Christian? Understandably, there are good causes to fight for and injustices to right, but is this the defining characteristic of a Christian?

In Romans 13:1-7 we are called to submit to governing authorities and respect them. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we are urged to pray for our governing authorities. However, Titus 3:9 hold an interesting command. We are commanded to avoid disputes about the law; which in this case is referring to political law due to the context being about Christians relating to those outside the church. Paul tells Titus such disputes are worthless and unprofitable. We may think about Acts 5:29 in regards to Christians and politics. However, that is a much longer discussion and you can read my article on it: Playing the Card.

1 Corinthians 13:13 does not read, “And these three things remain: faith, hope, and politics. The greatest of these being politics.” That would be adding to Scripture.

The Greatest Being… Our Separation?

Could the greatest characteristic of a Christian be our separation? Separation, here, is referring to how Christians distance themselves from the lifestyles and practices of the world. The key verse for this being I John 2:15-17. We are told to not love the world or things in the world. We are to be living sacrifices to God and not conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

Again, is this the defining and greatest characteristic of a Christian? Does Jesus say the world will know us as His disciples by what we are separated from? Recheck John 13:35. That is not found in there. In fact, in John 17:15-18 Jesus requests the Father not to take the disciples out of the world, but instead send them into the world. As it comes to our generation of believers, Christ prays we would be known to the world by the love the Father has shown us in Christ (John 17:23). Even in our various practices of living for Christ, according to Romans 14:13-23, we are to live by a law of love.

Forgetting to Love: The Greatest Characteristic

A rose thrown to the ground. It is a symbol of rejection. A man gives his girlfriend a rose. She throws it onto the ground and runs after the man on the motorcycle. This image is common in our romantic genres of books and movies.

A rose given is a symbol of love. When we see it, our hearts melt and we may begin to tear up. Did you know God has given us a rose? He gave us a symbol of love: Jesus – the crimson red of his blood, the nail-pierced hands reaching out to us, the incarnate God living among us to redeem us.

Yet, how have many of us responded? We have cast God’s rose to the ground and ran after theological debates, rule keeping, political agendas, and diligently keeping a separation from the world. This is not a definitive list. Many more things could be added.

It is sad to see many Christians leave the church due to the hurt caused by other Christians. “But don’t leave the church because of some hypocrites,” say many. But, why are we using this statement as an excuse to allow the nasty interactions that happen in churches and Christian institutions?

When will Christians stop body shaming each other? When will Christians stop being suspicious of each other? When will Christians stop making fun of those with disabilities? When will Christians stop grading each other by their own standards? When will Christians stop “one-upping” each other? When will Christians stop… (you fill in the blank)?

When will Christians begin to come along side each other and love each other? When will Christians befriend and support? When will Christians be willing to pick up God’s rose from the ground and give it to another?

There are many of us who secretly guard instances of Christians hurting us. We want to leave because Christians have become known for other things rather than love. The constant stabbing of brothers and sisters in Christ creates compassion-closed calluses. In order to open these calluses, we need to be willing to help the hurt learn to love again.

The greatest characteristic of a Christian is love. It is not just telling the truth in love. It is a love to help the hurting, to hug the crying, to befriend the other, to reach out. It means we do these things without a Gospel tract in the other hand. Our love is showing Christ to others, and letting the Holy Spirit do the convicting and the transforming. Wait for the time to give the Gospel. One act of kindness doesn’t mean they are ready to hear.

The greatest of these is love. Pick up God’s rose. Who do you need to give it to? Who needs that text, call, hug, or gift? Who needs you to love them? Hurt Christians are callused. The lost world is watching. What do we do first? Is it love? Or is it another?

The Offensive Gospel?

“The gospel is open to all; the most respectable sinner has no more claim on it than the worst.”
– Martin Lloyd-Jones

“I’m offended” has become a joke in conversations today. Whether we are speaking about race, religion, or civil rights, we tend to start our dialogue with, “I don’t want this to sound offensive, but…” It is like the word “offensive” has become the buzzword of our culture and social media.

However, there has been a phrase that Christians have been using in our current culture, “the gospel is offensive” or “people will be offended by the Gospel.”

Are these phrases good to use? Is the Gospel supposed to be offensive?

What would Jesus think about calling his work “offensive”?

A Defining Starting Block

Before we jump into this discussion, we need to have a definition of “offensive.” What does this word actually mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Offensive” is defined as:
1.) a. Making attack: aggresive; b. Of, relating to, or designed for attack; c. Of, or relating to, an attempt to score in a game or contest
2.) Giving painful or unpleasant sensation: nauseous; obnoxious
3.) Causing displeasure or resentment
(As a noun it is defined as, “an act of attacking a party.”)

This definition gives a good word picture of something that is offensive. It is something that is meant to attack someone, to give them resentment, or a distaste towards something. Something that is offensive are words or actions meant to cause the displeasure of another.

What is the Gospel?

“The Gospel is offensive.” That is what we hear or say. However, looking at the definition of “offensive,” is the Gospel offensive? First, what is the Gospel?

Has someone ever asked you, “What is the Gospel?”

The Gospel starts with one person: Jesus. The Gospel begins and ends with Jesus. We are the recipients of the Gospel.

In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, and through their actions sin is brought into the world. They are kicked out of the garden. But, God speaks this incredible verse. He saw that sin is tantalizing to our fallen mind. He knew what sin would do to us. So, God promised Adam and Eve a savior. He promised the crushing of the serpent.

The Gospel is the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus taking our sin on him, crushing the snake, and justifying us before God by clothing us in his righteousness.

The Gospel is how we, who are lost in dark sin, can be made clean from sin. It is the promise of not being under the wrath of God, but being brought into the family of God as sons, daughters, and heirs. It is centered around Jesus. He is the one who works our salvation. He died for us, he rose for us, he justified us, he is sanctifying us, and he will glorify us (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The Gospel is Jesus.

“Offensive” in the Life of Jesus

Since Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, then we need to look at his life to see if the Gospel is offensive. Let’s turn our attention to the Gospels and look into the interactions Jesus had.

Jesus was known as many things: teacher, rabbi, Lord, Son of Man, etc. But one phrase is used of Jesus to describe his interactions: a friend of sinners. He was known to eat and fellowship with sinners. In fact, in many situations, he either put himself in the way of sinners (John 4:1-42) or sinners were drawn to him (Luke 7:36-50). There was something that drew sinners to Jesus. There was something in Jesus that urged him to place himself in the way of sinners. Love was this something (John 3:16; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). Ones who came to Jesus longed to hear the phrase, “Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5).”

However, there was a group of people Jesus did offend. In fact he called them many unkind things: Fools, neglecters, unmarked graves, hypocrites, oppressive, approvers of evil (Luke 11:37-54). These people were the religious leaders. This group did not like Jesus. He disrupt their power over people. He disrupted their manipulation of the Law. He disrupted the treatment of people. The religious leaders were offended so much that they falsely accused Jesus and executed him. Ones who knew the Scripture and were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people, killed the Messiah.

Look at Luke 7:36-54. This story beautifully displays the heart of Jesus. While dining at the home of a pharisee (a religious leader), a woman known as a sinner (someone who is an outcast) comes and stands at the feet of Jesus. Her only possession with her is an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus looks her in the eyes, and she begins to weep. She anoints his feet with the perfume and wipes them with her hair. She is literally giving herself to Jesus, not in a sexual manner, but in one pleading for mercy.

Look at the reaction of Jesus and the pharisee. The pharisee was shocked. He couldn’t believe that a man of God would allow a woman like that to come even near him. She is a sinner. He stiffed arm her. Jesus, on the other hand, responded (after a quick parable) with, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

By the reactions of the two, who would this woman be more offended by? The pharisee. There was something about Jesus that drew this woman to him. She was not offended by him or his message.

The Offensive Gospel in our Culture

It is interesting to see who was offended by the message of Jesus. Yet, do we follow in Jesus’ example in our interactions as we give the gospel?

When we talk about the “Gospel is offensive,” who or what is being offended? What is being attacked? Is it the person? Or the sinful and fallen nature of the person?

We stand on the street corner yelling at people, we leave tracks at restaurants with no tip, we shove Scripture at people. Does that attract people to the Gospel?

Look at the life of Jesus. He was approached by sinners because of his message. The religious leaders were the ones that chased people away with their rules, traditions, and other actions. They were the ones offended by Jesus.

Sinners should never be offended by the person giving the Gospel. The message should never change, but should never be given in an offensive manner. How did Jesus and the apostles give the Gospel? Did they start with “give up this sin”? Or “you are a sinner”? In certain contexts, yes. The majority of the time they started with God. It is only towards the end of their messages they mention repentance.

How do we present the Gospel? Is the crux of the Gospel Heaven or Hell or the giving up of sin? Or is the heart of the Gospel Jesus? People do not need to “clean themselves up” before coming to Jesus. People should see us as ones who want to know their lives, be their friends, and share with them the living-giving Gospel of Jesus.

Stop Being Offensive

The Gospel should never be offensive. In our definition above, the Gospel should never fall into any of those categories. Yes, we are fighting against sin and Satan in this world. But, it is not by the weapons of the world: sarcasm, yelling, screaming, etc. It is how Jesus did it: one relationship at a time.

The Gospel is about new life. What is offensive about that? Is the reason we think the Gospel is offensive is actually because of the way we have been giving it? Have we traded relational ministry for quick conversions? Have we only wanted people to give us a reaction to our presentation of the Gospel so we can claim persecution?

The Gospel is an affront to our sinful nature. But, how is it packaged? Is it through harsh comments, Bible verse shotgun pellets, and picket signs? No, it is seen the incarnation of Jesus Christ: God born in a manger, the friend of sinners, the Innocent One executed, and the Divine One risen conquering sin and death.

If our Gospel is all about turning from sin, then we have missed its heart: Jesus. He forgave, and people changed. We do not change people in order for Jesus to forgive. In fact the forsaking of sin and walking in repentance is found in discipleship and sanctification.

When we look at giving the Gospel, are we proud of being offensive? Or are we proud we are following the example of Jesus?

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

– “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

Playing the Card

“I am or would be of no sect or party, civil or religious, but a lover of mankind. It is my part to mourn over sin, and the misery which sin causes, to be humbled for my own sins especially, to pray for peace, and to preach the gospel. Other things I leave to those who have more leisure and ability, and I leave the whole to Him who does all things well.”
– John Newton

Have you ever gotten a good hand while playing Uno? You have many good cards (skip, draw 4, draw 2, wild, etc). In your mind you strategize when to play each card. As you place each card down, your opponents groan and sigh as they slowly lose their chance at winning. Sometimes in card games we may not have many good cards, but we may have one. We do not play it at any time, but we wait and strategize the perfect timing to put that card into play.

We have seen in life people use various “playing cards” or accusing people of “playing certain cards.” Even as Christians, we have cards that we like to play.

However, there is one card that Christians tend to play a lot in society. It isn’t a “draw 4” or “skip” card. Instead, it has another label: “We obey God rather than man.” This card is taken from Acts 5:29. This card takes on many forms, but it is mainly played in our relationship with government and politics.

But, are we using this card as it is meant to be played? Do we use it as an excuse to not obey government, or is there something else behind this card?

The Card in the Context of the Deck

When considering the phrase found in Acts 5:29 and our use of it, we need to remember that every verse has a context in Scripture.

This particular verse falls into a context of events leading to that statement. These events are found in Acts 3-5. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a lame man and preach Jesus is the Messiah, He was crucified, raised from the dead, and the people should turn from their sins. However, this message gets Peter and John arrested in Acts 4. The religious leaders are not happy with this message, they command the two to cease preaching this message about Jesus. Once released, the apostles pray for boldness as they share Christ with all around them. Now we come to Acts 5 (where our phrase is contained). Skipping over the graves Ananias and Sapphira, we see the apostles are out sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet again, they are arrested and thrown into prison. But, God is a chain breaker (in this case physically), and miraculously opens the prison doors for the apostles to walk out. When the religious leaders discover the missing prisoners (and how they are back to preaching), they arrest them again. After scolding them and commanding them to stop, cease, and desist preaching, the apostles respond with, “We must obey God rather than people. (Acts 5:29).”

Were the apostles resisting a government order? Were the disciples protesting? Was there any political motivation to their message? Was politics even involved in this situation? No. In fact, politics is not found in the context. The message of the apostles was all about Jesus and who He is. Those who opposed their message were the religious leaders of the community. Yes, they did have power in the community, but could the religious leaders be compared to our government leaders?

When the apostles played the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card, it was in relation with the message they were speaking. In fact, throughout the book of Acts when the apostles are imprisoned, it is over their message of the Gospel and the effect it was having on people.. We do not see Paul singing in prison “This little light of mine I’ll burn down the pagan temples.” We do not see Timothy running through the streets with a petition from Paul asking for signatures to ban immoral behavior. We do see Paul, Peter, and the other apostles speaking out against immoral behavior, but it is addressed to Christians in how to live as Christians. We do not see unbelievers being told to turn from their sins before they are told about Christ.

Babies in the Nile and Standing in the Face of Fire

However, we do see two instances that clearly show God’s people in defiance over government orders (Exodus 1:8-22; Daniel 3:1-30)

In these instances, those who feared God rather than man were rewarded, and they are seen as heroes in our Bible stories. But, again, we need to look at the context. In the case of the Fiery Furnace, the three men are having to choose between who to worship: the king or God. There was a government law in who to choose, but they chose to obey God rather than men. Were they protesting about this law? No, in fact they were respectful to the King why they were not obeying the law (Daniel 3:16:-18). They gave their reason and left their fate in God’s hands, because they knew God is sovereign. They did not have signs or write angry opinions on the wall. They peacefully stated their reason, and resigned the rest to their sovereign God.

In the instance of Exodus, the pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew male babies. The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the law. But, what kind of law was it? Was it one about freedom of speech? This law was about murdering children. In this instance, the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played in a proper way. The midwives, when summoned by the pharaoh, answered the king and let God take care of the rest. The midwives did not paint “Throwing babies into the nile is vile” across the sphinx. They were peaceful about it. (Now the issue of if the midwives lied and was that condoned is a whole other issue for another discussion).

When we consider these two scenarios where the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played, we see two things:
1.) The laws being broken were only broken in their individual lives; they did not require the law to be changed for the entire land. They saw the command went against God’s Word, but they did not protest for it to be changed. They left that in God’s hands, because He is sovereign (Proverbs 21:1).
2.) When questioned about their civil disobedience, they answered peacefully. They did not get into a debate, design turbans and robes with political sayings, or hold marches. The answer given was better stated in a peaceful way and seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).

Christian Testimony and Constitutional Rights

But, what about my freedom of speech and my right to protest? Now, we need to turn our attention to 21st Century American society. According to our constitution, we have rights to freedom of speech and freedom to protest.

Yet, according to God’s Word our main goal as Christians is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). There is nothing in Scripture about forcing governments to hold Christian values. In fact, there is nothing in Scripture where we have to make sure culture is redeemed and living exactly how the Bible states. Instead, we are to make disciples one person at a time. Can God use our obedience to the great commission as a way to change a government or nation? Yes, but it is not our goal. We should take jobs where we can be lights for the Gospel (including in government). But, according to Romans 13:1-7, we should be willing to submit to the government. We should strive to live at peace with all men, and to pray for our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Yes, we have constitutional rights in our country. We are very grateful for them. But, is our goal to create a Christian nation or make disciples? Are we willing to give up our rights to using free speech and freedom to protest in order to live out a Christian testimony?

Jesus has every freedom imaginable. He has the right to say whatever he wants and to do whatever he wants; he is God. Yet, God chose a different path in the incarnation. He chose to lay aside his “divine constitutional rights” in order to bring redemption to humanity (Philippians 2:5-11). He could have played the “God card” at any moment he chose. Yet, he strategized when he would use it. He knew the best times to play that card were when it would lead people to him. If we are to have the same mind as Christ, are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and freedoms in order to be a Christian witness as we make disciples of all people? Are we willing to play the “we out to obey God rather than man” card only when it leads others to Christ?

Strategizing our Card Playing

The New Testament church lived in a world similar to ours. There were laws they did not like, there was behavior condemned by Scripture being lived out in public, there was oppression, there were rulers and emperors the New Testament believers would rather see off the throne than ruling. Yet, we do not see them attempting to make the Roman Empire a “Christian Empire.” We do not see the New Testament church forcing laws to be changed to fit the teachings of Jesus. We do see them actively obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all people. We do see them sharing the Gospel before teaching others how to live as new creatures made in the image of Christ. We do see them striving to live peaceably with all men as shining stars in order to give the Gospel.

We can do the same. Instead of seeing government decisions, supreme court decisions, and political agendas as an opportunities to demand our rights, can we take a different approach? Can we see these things as opportunities to lay aside our constitutional rights in order to peaceably give the Gospel?

How is boycotting stores or throwing away items that may or may not be associated with a movement or political agenda help us make disciples of all nations? How does becoming a poster child for our political party give us opportunities to share Christ? How does picketing and protesting share the light God has given us?

Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20 he wanted to use his imprisonment as an opportunity to give the Gospel. How can we use our current situation and our current political situation to make disciples of all people? Are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and stop playing the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card at every chance in order to have opportunities to share the light of God? Are we willing to strategize when we play that card?

The noise of demanding our freedoms can drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit, and the image of our political t-shirts, signs, and hats can blind people to the image of Christ in us.