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”

Forgetting Rambo Embracing Brotherhood

“Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be? Rocky, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Captain America, Iron Man, Rambo? Who comes to mind?

Each of these characters are strong, masculine, and are confident as they trod down their path with their heads held high. And in the cinema seats, men sit there craving to be that kind of man. It seems like every man’s heart beats to that classic song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” “We must be swift as the coursing river/With all the force of a great typhoon/Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” These lyrics have become a mantra for what a man should be.

So what do we, as men, do? We stick out our chest, take hold of courage, and become this bold man. Yet, as we begin to walk down the path God has called us to, we begin to look around. The trees seem to be getting thicker, the path twists, and we feel alone.

Is that what God has intended for men? Are we to be Rambo single-handedly slaying the enemy for our wives and kids to look up to us?

The Lone Wolf Myth

Doesn’t it seem like there are more women’s ministries than men’s ministries? Is it because women are more emotionally fragile and need all the help they can get? No! Is it because women have figured out something, and the church has embraced a myth of the man?

Our culture sculpts the man to be the alpha lion and the lone wolf. We don’t need anyone else. We are independent. Those who rely on others are weak. We see this in gyms, clothing ads, and anything else dedicated to men. We have our “buds,” but we can handle life on our own. We are men, right? So we strike down our path of life as the lone wolf. We can handle the Christian life as the lone wolf we are created to be.

What does Scripture say? I Corinthians 12:12-24 states that we are individuals walking our Christian life, and we need to counsel ourselves, pull ourselves up, and be the lone wolf. NO!! That is not biblical. God never intended for men to be lone wolves (he never intended anyone to be). The church is a body. We all work together. Just because you can bench press so many pounds, own an armory, and have a successful career does not mean you can do life alone.

The lone wolf mentality is not from God. It is a myth. Men cannot do life alone. Look through Scripture – Elijah and Elisha, David and Jonathan, Moses and Aaron, Jesus and the Disciples, Paul and Timothy/Titus, Daniel and his friends, David’s mighty men. The list could go on and on. Some were single and some were married, but the thing that connects them is they had men in their lives. They were not lone wolves.

More Than an Accountability Partner

When we think of men’s ministry, we think of guys getting together and sharing if they have been faithful in reading God’s Word and abstaining from pornography, then they pray, and eat. Are Christian men only accountability partners with each other?

No!

Scripture tells us differently. Titus 2:2-7 teaches us that men are to be in close relationship with each other. The older are to teach the younger. In verse 6, we see that Paul is connecting it back to verse 2. Just as the women are to do, so are the men. These relationships are more than about staying away from porn. It is learning how to live life in all aspects.

Men are to be more than accountability partners. In order to learn how to do life, men are to walk with each other through life. There is only so much you can learn from a book.

More Than a Bromance

When we look at men and their relationships with each other in our culture, we hear the term, “bromance.” A bromance is a close relationship between two men. But, what is it like? Can anyone actually give a full description of what a bromance is? Is it two guys chest bumping and sitting around drinking beer, watching football together each weekend? Is it that group of guys that go hunting with each other? What exactly is it?

Scripture actually does tell us, and it gives us a clue on what relationships are to be like between men. The classic verse used in every men’s group (and its so overdone, but so powerful) is Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpening iron.

This passage reveals what Christian men are to be like. We have this great image of two iron blades sharpening each other. Usually, it only is said, “We need men in our lives to keep us accountable to God.” But, as we just saw men are more than accountability partners.

If a blade needs to be sharpened, it has to physically touch the other one. It must get close enough to be sharpened. Men need to let other men in their lives. Men are to be close to each other. A sword is not going be sharp if it hangs around other swords. It must be close and rubbing against another sword to become sharp. It is the same with men in the church. We need to be so close that we sharpen each other.

This means we need male intimacy in the church.

Clarifying the Forbidden Word

Intimacy.

What comes to mind when we hear that? Sex. We think of passionate sex. That’s one way the word can be used. Intimacy actually means a close familiarity or friendship; a closeness.

There are different types of intimacy. There is sexual intimacy. But what about emotional and spiritual intimacy? That is the act of being open with each other and knowing deeply the struggles, victories, and lives of others beyond the social media image. There is physical intimacy. This is being physically close to another. It is more than a handshake. It is a hug, a hold, a kiss.

Now, how does this apply to men?

Before the 1960’s we see men quite close and intimate in a non-sexual way with each other. Think about the photographs of World War II of men in the buff jumping off of submarines during R & R. Think about the movie Tolkien (watch the trailer here). J.R.R. Tolkien was apart of a brotherhood. They were a close group of men who did not go hunting, or paintballing. They wanted to change the world through art and language. They hugged each other and held each other. They went through war with each other.

Where has this idea gone? Has it gone with the wind?

Men today have forgotten the rich history of brotherhood. Think about David and Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1, I Samuel 19:1, I Samuel 20:41, I Samuel 23:16 all talk about this intimate relationship between these two men. They were both married. Yet, they were intimate with each other – emotionally, spiritually, physically.

II Samuel 1:26 is a curious verse, “I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother. You were such a friend to me. Your love for me was more wondrous than the love of women.” Is it implying they were having sex with each other? I don’t believe so, because in I Samuel 23:16 Jonathan encourages David in their faith with God. God’s law in Leviticus says that sex between men is wrong. But, these two men were so intimate with each other on all the other levels that it was more wondrous then the love of women.

Men today are so worried about their image that we have forgotten the power of brotherhood. We have forgotten the power of physical touch, of emotional vulnerability, and spiritual openness. Even in the New Testament, four times Paul tells Christians to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; I Thessalonians 5:26). We might push back against that idea, but what is it communicating? It is communicating intimacy. God’s church is to be intimate like a family and like a body working together. Is there a difference between a kiss and making out? Yes. But, how are we as men showing this kind of intimacy in the church?

What are We Men Known For?

So let’s go back to the beginning question: If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be?

There may be good characteristics about the character you chose, but what is that character showing? Is it how to be the lone wolf? Is it how to be independent and strong on your own? If we look at the men in Scripture, we hardly see a man without another man beside him. Now, we don’t go against what God’s word says. But, why would he show us these examples of men in Scripture if they were not for our own lives today (Romans 15:4)?

What are we as Christian men known for? What characterizes our lives? Forget the image culture is pushing on us. Is it wrong to workout, go hunting, like sports? No. But it’s also not wrong to like the arts, languages, and aesthetics. Being Christian men is more than a song from Mulan. It is about being together, walking life together, being intimate with each other as we pursue the path God has given us.

We are more than Rambo or Captain America. We have been called by God out darkness into light in order to love each other, because that is how the world notices Christ in us. I Corinthians 13 is more than a passage to be read at weddings. It is the mantra for the church, and it is the mantra for men in the Church following Jesus who was the ultimate example of this.

Are we as men following a cultural image of manhood or a reaction to men in our culture? Or are we following Jesus’ example and being the men he called us to be?

Beautifully Broken

“God is looking for those with whom He can do the impossible — what a pity that we plan only the things that we can do by ourselves.”
– A.W. Tozer

How many times have you seen an “unpreached message” lived out in your church?

It is a message that may not be said out loud, but we all see it lived out before our eyes. Though there are many of these types of messages, one takes the cake or the gold: Christians are to have an image of perfection.

You probably just slammed on the breaks. “That is false. Christians are not perfect.” Yes, we all know this. But, do we live the opposite? Do we promote this image in our churches?

Think about it.

Is there a problem with being beautifully broken?

The Sting of Truth

Let’s face it. We are broken. We live in a broken world. It all started in Genesis 3. Sin entered the world and, like a bull in a china shop, wrecked everything. All the beauty God created smashed in the wake of sin.

We can still see the image of God. But, it is marred and broken. Like a plate that smashes to pieces on the floor. We can tell it was a plate, but in order to get back to its original form something must be done.

The truth is we are God’s smashed artwork. We can tell we are created in God’s image, but something is off. We are not whole. Our desires are wired to something God did not intend. Think about it, is it wrong to long for intimacy with another? No. However, can’t that be taken too far? Yes. See a godly and beautiful desire is there, but it is a smashed desire as it goes after sin.

When something breaks, we feel an emotional sting. That inherited vase that lays in pieces on the floor causes our hearts pain. This is the sting of brokenness. We feel it everyday – death, disease, disability, divorce, etc. Romans 8:22-23 states how we groan for a time for our brokenness to end (even creation groans with us).

This is who we are. We are broken, and our brokenness causes us pain.

The Incarnation and The Broken

We are not the only ones who feel the pain of brokenness. God does. He sees the world falling apart and wasting away like a fresco being eroded by time.

In the garden, God went searching for Adam and Eve. He already knew what happened. He called to them. Yes, he kicked them out of the garden. But, he gave them something to stand firm on – a promise (Genesis 3:15).

God fulfilled his word. He became flesh. He took on a human body. Jesus made his dwelling, rested his head, and lived in the broken world. He didn’t live above the brokenness. He was hungry, he wept tears, he experienced the pain of death, he endured shame, he was abandoned, and he died. Jesus, the King of kings, lived in our brokenness. (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11)

He did this to heal our brokenness. He did this for you. He saw how much of a mess we are. He knew how twisted and repulsive our thoughts can be. He knew the imperfections we hide in the dark. Yet, what does Jesus do? He fulfills his word (Luke 4:16-21). He comes to the broken, the outcast, the condemned, and the lonely to heal their brokenness. How many times do we read the Gospels but we miss the healing of the broken?

Jesus took on a broken human body to heal the broken. But that is not the end of it. He kept his body to show the scars of what brokenness does: trying to destroy the Creator who loves us.

He lifts those scarred hands to us, and he says, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Go in peace, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has made you whole.” (Matthew 11:28; Matthew 9:22; Luke 5:20)

Living Broken

When we run into his arms and are touched by those scarred hands, we are healed. We experience the freedom of forgiveness from the Father.

Yet, we still live with the fact that the world is broken and we are broken. We still sin and mess up our lives (Romans 7:14-25). Paul, the apostle that is put on a pedestal, said he is a mess inside. He messed up and sinned. He claims it in this passage. Yet, do we believe that Paul sinned? We would say, “Yes!” But, we do not live like he did. We live like he was perfect. We live like the people we see in the Bible somehow had the silver bullet for defeating the werewolf inside.

Yet, time and time again we are reminded how broken Paul, Peter, and the others were. They did not have it all together. Therefore, it is ok for us not to have it all together. We can live as broken people just like Paul did. We do not need more self-discipline to be perfect. Otherwise, we do not need Jesus. Instead, we spread our broken shards before our savior and say, “I need you. Only your grace is enough for me.” (II Corinthians 12:9)

You may have fallen to porn this week, you may have lied, you may have exploded in anger, you may have been prideful. God knows this! He doesn’t call you to more self-discipline to cut sin out of your life. He calls you to walk by faith and not by sight, to be a broken vessel he can use. He calls you to live in the freedom of no condemnation, and come to the throne of grace to find forgiveness. (II Corinthians 5:7; II Corinthians 4:7-9; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:15; Hebrews 4:16)

You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me

Feeling broken? Barely holding on?

Have you ever been shamed by another Christian for your struggles and your brokenness? Yes, many of us have.

Many Christians today put down other Christians for “not being perfect.” We even do that to ourselves. Our churches are full of the message of perfection. Yet, from Scripture that is not what God wants. Yes, he wants us to live for him. But does he expect us to live perfect? No. We are to be perfect as the Father is perfect – perfect to love, perfect to forgive, perfect to show mercy. Perfection of a standard is what Christ pronounced a woe over the religious leaders.

Don’t we treat each others like the religious leader did? We define perfection by a standard. That is condemned by Christ. Our standard is the grace of God which transforms us from the inside out.

When other put us down for not “being perfect,” look at them and say, “You haven’t seen the last of me.” They can say that you will not make it, and you will fail. They clearly do not know you or your God and savior. God makes us stand tall. Our fulfillment of a standard does not. You are far from over. We haven’t seen the last of God’s work in your life.

Beautifully Broken

Have you ever realized what stained glass is? It is broken pieces of colored glass made into a gorgeous work of art. Think of the beautiful cathedrals in Europe. They are stunning. Ever seen a beautiful mosaic. What is it? It is broken pottery arranged to create beauty.

God is not our Creator who sees sin and runs away from the darkness. He pierced the darkness as we pierced his hands. He’s the artist who arranges our broken shards with his bleeding hands into a work of art that stuns the world.

A perfect image does not show beauty. Brokenness changed into art shouts beauty. It shows a message of an artist who does not give up in a world broken. He takes it and transforms it.

Jesus does that with our lives. We are broken. We mess up. We fall. Yet, what does Jesus do? Does he demand more self-discipline? No. He asks us to give our brokenness and marvel at the touch of the artist’s hands.

You are broken. Yet, to Jesus you are beautiful. You need to look at your life from Heaven’s eyes. You don’t need to try harder. You need an artist to show what is possible.

You are beautifully broken, and to Jesus you are a work of art. He uses you broken to tell his story of grace.

Will you allow him to?

When the Wind Changes

“Winds in the east, mist coming in, like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”
Mary Poppins

Ever felt the change in the air when a storm is approaching? There is something in you that says something is going to happen. It is not a normal day. Your plans change, and the path you thought you would take when you awoke changes direction. You do all this, because the wind changed.

In our lives, we sense when the winds change. The wind changes directions and our path takes a different course. Where we thought we were going now changes to a direction we never thought we would dare to tread.

Most often we can’t see the end of the path. We can only see there is a curve that will take us in a direction we thought might be wrong because it isn’t following what others are doing.

How are we to think and live when the wind changes?

The Infamous Road

The road to Damascus

It is one of the most infamous roads in all of Scripture. Acts 9:1-9 describes the events that make this road a twist in an individual’s life. Saul desired nothing more than to arrest those who followed the way of Jesus, and to imprison them. However, the wind changed. Saul started a blinded journey on a path he never would have tread.

We see this change in direction as positive, and we romanticize this picture. But, stop for a moment. What did this do to Saul (now Paul)? He abandoned his whole belief system and actions in order to follow a different path. II Corinthians 11:24-27 lists a majority of things Paul endured while following this new path. This all happened because of that infamous road.

Do you remember where you were when the wind changed in your life? We look at that place almost as Paul sees the Damascus Road. This new path might be right before us, and we are fearful. Life will change. Where we stood will now be a road leading us towards somewhere we do not know. However, the wind has changed, and we follow the Spirit where he leads.

Stepping Away from the Crowd

When we feel the wind change in our lives, and we see a new path before us, there is a fear of us losing something. Sure, when someone is saved they step away from the wrong crowd towards the right crowd.

But, when the wind changes will we have to step away from the crowd we have been comfortable with?

In many houses you see, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This is taken from Joshua 24:15. We love to claim sides, but what if this side meant separating from a church, a Christian movement, or a Christian institution? What if it meant leaving the group of Christians who are familiar to you?

When we personally take II Timothy 2:15 to heart, and study the Bible personally, there will be times we will need to step away from other Christians. We may see something in the Scripture that does not match what is going on in the group we associate with, and we see their path going down a place we feel the Spirit leading us away from. Are we still able to claim, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”?

If we look at the context of that phrase in Joshua 24:14-15, we find Joshua telling the people to choose which side they are on. This meant they may had to step away from the crowd, and follow God.

In Hebrews 11, we see many examples of faith in God leading people away from the crowd. This crowd may be the world, or it may be that church, that movement, or that belief system. Following God by studying his Word forces us to make that decision. What will you choose?

All Happened Before

I love the end of the quote from Mary Poppins found at the beginning of this post. The last part hints to us what is about to play out has happened before. The wind has changed, and another family has been healed.

The wind changes in our lives, and we feel like this has never happened before. We fear what will happen. Actually, we do not fear what will happen. We fear what others will say about us, and how they will treat us.

But, this has all happened before. Watch this

Moses had the winds change in his life. Exodus 3-4 records the amazing windstorm that changed Moses’ life. It came from a small voice from a burning bush calling Moses to free God’s people from slavery. But, have you ever noticed what his fear was? It was not a fear of the unknown. He was fearful of Pharaoh. He was fearful of what people people would say.

But, this was not the only instance of wind changing in Scripture.

Esther was chosen to be queen. The wind changed. Then she discovered a plot to kill her people. Fearful of what the king would do if she went to him, Mordecai reminded her that, “Perhaps you came to your position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Samuel felt the wind change twice in his life (1 Samuel 3; 1 Samuel 16:1-13).

The wind has changed before, and God led them down a different path than others. Yet, these individuals were blessed. What is happening to you has all happened before. God is the same today as he was in the burning bush (Hebrews 13:8).

Our First Step

The wind changes in our lives. We cannot deny it. We are fearful of what will happen. But, deep inside we are fearful of those around us and what will they think.

I have personally gone through this recently. I was comfortable where I was at. I had a great job, and to those around me said I had a good future if I stayed the course. However, in my personal Bible study I saw things did not match to what I was reading in Scripture. I was weighed down by fear of people. I was under pressure to pretend to be someone I am not. I had to pretend to be perfect; all while saying I wasn’t perfect. But, no one could know how I struggled. I saw people wearing masks as inside they fell apart. Spiritual I was choking on who was Jesus. Was he all about a standard, an image? Or was he really about love and grace and forgiveness and new beginnings? I had to side with Scripture. The wind changed. It led me down a path away from a crowd I knew for years. It led me away from friends. However, it led me to things I didn’t ever see coming. It led me to a church to grow in. It led me to swap life stories with a guy over burgers, and to develop deep friendships I am beyond grateful for. It led me to healing from my past. It led me to a deeper understanding of God’s grace. I was terrified when the wind changed. I did not know what people would think, but when I followed God’s Spirit he smiled. Following God’s path away from the culture of Fundamentalism was difficult, but I wouldn’t go back. The blessings outweigh the chains of the oppression I felt. Following God’s Spirit has led me to be me, and to be free to live in the grace of Jesus.

The change in the wind is not some mystical feeling. It is the Spirit moving in our lives. John 3:5-8 illustrates the Spirit like the wind. In fact, the Greek word used for “Spirit” is the same used for wind. When we are in tuned to God’s Word, the Spirit will lead us. We will have a change in the winds of our lives. We just need to take that first step. It is difficult, but we walk by faith, and not by sight, when we walk down the path where the Spirit is leading us (II Corinthians 5:7).

When we follow God’s path and we hear people say, “Wow, you have changed so much.” It usually means we are not following their plans for our lives (advice from a good friend).

“Everything is possible; even the impossible,” states Mary Poppins. Doesn’t that seem familiar? Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

When the winds change in our lives, we should not fear of what people think. We are following God on the greatest journey ever. He personally placed this path in front of you to run after him (Hebrews 12:1).

Fear of people paralyzes us to follow the Spirit. Yet, instead of fearing people and their images they want of us, can we do something else? Have you ever thought about the possibilities of what the Creator of the world can do in your life? Think about Abraham, Moses, Esther, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. God can do the possible; even the impossible.

What, then, can God do in your life when the winds change?

Can you imagine that?

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

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.

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.

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