Us or Them

Us or Them

Too often in our lives we let our differences define us.  Race, gender, sexuality, political ideology, religious affiliation, and our theological views are more often than not things that separate and divide us.  We do not often look for the things we have in common among our differences, but we divide ourselves further by focusing on what we don’t agree with.  It makes sense that we would be drawn to those who are like us, it’s in our nature.  It’s much easier to build relationships with those who agree with us than those we may struggle to see eye to eye with.

But what if God was actually calling us to lean into the tension that our differences create?  What if it was in the middle of us loving people who didn’t look or think like us that Jesus shows up?

I really like it when things are cut and dry.  When one option is right and the other is wrong.  But the more and more I live life there fewer instances when things are that simple.  There’s so much more gray than black and white.

Maybe the biggest challenge the modern church faces isn’t how to get Millennials into church or what worship style will lead us into the future, maybe its simply learning how to love each other even though we disagree.

On my run the other day I heard these lyrics:

We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them – Gungor “Us Or Them”

More and more our society tells us to dig our feet in and draw even more lines to separate us.  We’ve all heard politicians and TV personalities telling us to be afraid of entire groups of people and to not extend help to those who desperately need it.  Maybe that’s the way some want our country to be run, but as Christians we are called to be different.

Jesus says in Luke 6:27-36, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Jesus hung out with the marginalized and the outcast and we are called to do the same.  Not to be afraid of those who are different but to love them.  To put others before ourselves, no matter what they look like or believe.

“If it’s us or them, it’s us for them.”

God’s love is not segregated to a certain denomination, race, sexuality, or ideology.  God loves us and our biggest enemies just the same.

 

 

 

The World Doesn’t Need Anymore Empty Promises.

IMG_0452Every day we are bombarded with empty promises.  For the most part they are for someone else’s gain veiled cleverly to look like we will be the ones who are better off after we buy their product.  Checking my email this morning I found emails promoting pills for weight loss to make me attractive, dating sites that promise happiness in other people, and clothes that will make me cool and help me fit in.  .

My wife and I were watching football over the Christmas season and during a commercial break one commercial caught my eye.  Everything in the commercial looked elegant and classy; champagne, expensive jewelry, beautiful people, extravagant house, and lots of other fine things.   The funny thing is that this commercial wasn’t for any of those things.  The last frame of the commercial flashed a car – so if we want to be associated with fancy things then we need own this car.

Most of us know by now there’s nothing wrong with trying to be healthy, wanting to look good, have nice things or date, but real happiness or self-worth can not be found in any of these things.

I think the church can get caught up in making empty promises as well.  We promise things and then we, who are supposed to His representatives to the rest the world, forget to be those promises.

We say that He is love, but act like jerks.  We say that He is forgiving, but we hold grudges.  We say that He is inclusive, and we turn churches into cliques where only people who look and act like us are invited into our “club.”  We say that real life is found in Him, but we put on fake smilies and act like everything is ok when it’s not. We say prayer is important, but only pray a couple of times a week when we are in need. I could go on for a while…

It’s not my intention to criticize the church, but to show that if we don’t get real with our faith we will never lead people to a real faith in Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we have it all together, but that we fight to be selfless and to acknowledge Jesus in every aspect of our lives.  The more real we are the more people will want what we have in Jesus.

Always be real.  It’s ok if we don’t understand everything or to admit we don’t have all the answers.  That doesn’t mean that God is not real, because you don’t know everything about Him.  Show people what God is doing in your life and be honest about it.

God is alive and well in and around us today, and we are the example of that.

How do you keep from getting caught up in fake stuff?  How do you stay real in the day in and day out of following Jesus?

Is What I Give Good Enough?

I follow a lot of really creative people on Twitter.  Today a guy named Dan Stevers (@danstevers on Twitter) posted a video he created based around the story of Cain and Abel.  You can watch it here…

After thinking about the things that I offer God I have discovered that I often treat God like a waiter where I’m tipping Him for being good to me, and then leaving him at the curb until I need something again.   I have in no way positioned myself to be fully relying on Him.  I have not given my best.

This doesn’t just apply to money in our lives.  I have put things and people before God over and over. In part, because I’ve fallen victim to wanting life to be easy and safe.  It is much easier to trust something I can see than to trust someone I can’t always see.

Tweet: (Click to tweet)

God is powerful and untamable.  That means that in giving the best parts of my life over to Him I may not get what I want.  I may not be put in positions where I am comfortable or safe.  For me that’s a scary proposition.

I have to continue to remind myself that God is always good and that I’m always safe in His arms.  He has promised to look out for me.  That doesn’t mean I’ll have nice things, I think it may mean quite the opposite as it has meant that for many of the early Christians in the Bible. That in those moments of totally relying on Him that’s often where He shows up big in our lives.

Life isn’t about having things it’s having a relationship with the God who gave us this life, and a life lived like that is fully satisfying. I want to be better at living my life fully reliant on God.   I think it starts with one moment at a time, so that’s where I’ll start.  Right here and now, God you can have it all because I know where it came from and who it ultimately belongs to.

How To Change The World In 2015

In some form or fashion we’d all like to see the world changed, and I’d bet most of us think we lack the ability to do anything about it.  Yes I may be doing a bit of “trolling” with the title of this post, but I do think that changing the world starts with us and it’s simpler than we all think…

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/140/53428467/files/2014/12/img_0022.jpg
When it comes to influencing change there are no truer words than Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  

We do a lot of finger pointing and name calling when it comes to change.  We are often more concerned with what others are doing that what we are doing ourselves, but here’s the truth…

The only way to affect real change in this world is to be that change on a day to day basis.  We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond and what we lead people to.  We can be advocates for hate and violence or we be the radical love that inspires others to imitate that love as well.

For me, that’s how I came to know and follow Jesus.   His selflessness had me asking questions about who he was.  How could I not be attracted to someone who has so much love for me?

For us as Christians that’s where changing the world starts.  Selflessly loving others with so much passion that people can’t help ask why we love so much.  The ripple effect starts with us.  We love others, which inspires others to love others, which starts an unstoppable movement with love at it’s core.  It starts with us.

So in 2015 don’t get caught up with what other people are doing or saying.  Love like Jesus everywhere YOU are.

Easily Distracted.

IMG_2251

I am easily distracted.  I think that’s why my parents had me tested for an attention disorder more than once in elementary school.  I passed though, or failed, depending on which way you look at it.

I have great aspirations of starting my day in prayer or reading the bible, but for some reason I generally end up staring at my phone for 30mins until I have to get up and get ready for the day.    This is just a small example of distraction in my life.  I choose to spend time with something else other than Jesus far more than I’d like to admit.

Often times it seems that we consider a healthy relationship with Jesus to look like doing more good than bad, but I would argue that a healthy relationship is marked by the amount of time we spend with Him.   The amount of time we spend talking with Him,  listening to Him, and reading His heart (the bible) is a better barometer of our relationship with Jesus.

Since I am so easily distracted, and building relationships with anyone takes work, I tend to gravitate down the path of least resistance which usually involves a distraction of the electronic variety.

My TV, iPhone, iPad, and Laptop are not bad things, but they are when they stand between me and Jesus, which they often do.  I am so easily satisfied by a few minutes or hours with each of these things that I often forget how much better it is to be in the presence of the one who created me and knows me better than anyone else.  The one who authored true joy and satisfaction, which we can’t find apart from Him.

Here is Jesus talking about the things we distract ourselves with…

“19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. – Matthew 6:19-24”

When I choose to be distracted by something am I really hating God and loving that treasure that will only fade and break with time?  On the surface I don’ t think of it that way, but when I dig down deeper and look at the ratio of time spent with Jesus versus time spent with other things then maybe I am.

I often brush these moments of distraction off and say I’ll get it right next time, but next time isn’t coming.  My laziness has become a habit which is more serious than I treat it.  We either love Jesus or love the things of this world.  There’s no middle ground.

Jesus has drawn the line.  We can’t serve two masters.  It’s time to fight for our time with Him now and stop letting ourselves be distracted.

Are you easily distracted?  How to do you get back on track?

If you disagree with my thoughts or have some to add please leave them in the comment box below!

3 Negative Christian Stereotypes That Absolutely Need To Change

photo1-4

One bad apple spoils the bunch?  Christianity at its core is all about loving and serving others.  But after years of imperfect people like you and me trying their best to follow Jesus, and others maybe not trying so hard, it’s easy to see the trail of mistakes left in our wake. The world has obviously made assumptions and built stereotypes after we continue to make the same mistakes over and over.

We do, however, represent Jesus as his followers.  We are his living ambassadors to the world.  So it is vitally important that we learn to represent him the best we can.  It’s been said that we as Christians could be the only glimpse of Jesus someone sees.

Here are a few negative stereotypes that we ourselves can begin to change for the sake of representing Jesus well in this life…

1. Treating people with anything less than love and respect.

There is no excuse for hate from those following Jesus.  Everything Jesus did and taught was in love.  He’s the perfect example of being unselfish.  There is never an excuse for hating anyone. Never. Ever. None. No exceptions.

“37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-38

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” -1 John 4:8

You have no excuse for hate when following Jesus, biblically at least.

2. Making excuses for hypocrisy.

The truth is we’re all hypocrites.  There isn’t anyone who is perfect anywhere.  Hypocrisy crops up when we start pointing people any direction but Jesus’.  He is the one who is perfect and the one we are trying to be like.  Christians should make no claim to being perfect, because the world can see that we are not.  The more we own our broken and mistake laden lives the more people will see that Jesus is for them too.  That he can do the same things in their lives that he’s done in ours.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5

So before you go jump on Facebook or Twitter and talk about how horrible someone or someone’s actions are, realize that you are yielding a 2×4 in your own eye and show some grace.   There is no difference between your sin and theirs.

We are not perfect so lets quit pretending to be…

3. Not being able to agree to disagree.

This stereotype is a struggle for our country as a whole, not just one for Christians.

More and more our country is becoming less and less tolerant with people who disagree with us.  We are so close to the things we believe that we can’t accept that anyone would have a different opinion than us.  Especially when it comes to the things that are really important to us personally.

We are allowed to have differing opinions. Seriously.

We are allowed to have differing opinions about politics, sports, how to raise our kids, theology, homosexuality, and even how best to follow Jesus.

But here’s the catch… you have to love and respect those who see things differently than you.  See point 1.

Who’s right and who’s wrong matters very little in this life,  how you treat people does.

The truth is that one bad apple really can spoil the bunch.  Specially to those who have never experienced Jesus before.  You can make a difference when it comes to what people think of Christians.  Go serve others and love like Jesus!

What are your thoughts?  Are there other stereotypes I have missed?  What suggestions do you have to help get rid of these stereotypes and trends?

 

Am I A Christian? (Part 2)

photo2

Most things that are valuable and good in this life are difficult to define.  Defining what a makes a Christian a Christian is no different.  It is a tough venture not only to describe what makes us Christians, but also to live it.  Many smarter and better educated folks have written really good books on this subject.  I will attempt to quickly give a snapshot of how I would answer this question through this post.  But first a few thoughts from part 1, which if you haven’t already, please read before proceeding.

Confusing the fruit.

From the list of responses to the question of “What makes a Christian a Christian” there were some very good and Christ-like attributes mentioned. What’s important here to remember is that individually none of those things make you a Christian (with the exception one of them). They are only the possible fruits of being a Christian. When we confuse the fruit of following Jesus with what it means to actual following Jesus that’s where we begin to head into some really rough waters.

One of the scariest verses in the bible for me is Matthew 7:21-23… ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

What makes this verse so scary is that we can be doing the things God wants us to, and produce these fruits, and still miss the point.  If we are focused solely on the fruit of following Jesus it’s my fear that we will end up like the person described above.  Having done many great things in the name of Jesus we will miss out on Jesus himself.

If I am a Christian then I…

1. Believe in Jesus.

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

It’s easy to read this verse and think of it as a one time thing.   Confess Jesus to be our Lord and believe it at one time or another and you’re good.  You’re now a Christian.   The level of belief that we are talking here is one that permeates every part of our lives.  Not just for a moment, but for the rest of our lives.  We begin to see life differently and therefore begin to live it through the lens of our belief in Jesus and our making him Lord of our lives.  We begin to trust our whole lives to Jesus and live in a way that He comes first.

Everything that follows after this belief is not what makes us a Christian, it is the fruit of being one.

2. Have a relationship with Jesus…

Jumping back to Matthew 7, the second half of verse 23 says, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”  The fact that the people Jesus is addressing in this verse don’t “know” him means that knowing Jesus is crucial to being a Christian.  Having a relationship with him means many different things for our lives and that relationship stems from our belief in him.  Jesus makes it pretty obvious that without a relationship with him we have absolutely nothing.

It’s important for us to remember that it’s not our deeds or what we do that makes us Christian, it’s our relationship with Jesus that defines us.   The fruit of this relationship, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, may help identify a life lived in Jesus, but they are not a list of things we have to be to be a Christian.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Tullian Tchividjian has a book entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything which dives much deeper into this topic than I can.  It’s a fantastic read that is very worth your time.

When we add things to what it means to follow Jesus we essentially are offering something that is no longer rooted in Jesus, a watered down and fake gospel.  Be careful to live a life rooted in the truth of Jesus that we can find in the bible, and not on someone’s opinion.    Don’t be confused by the fruit, but seek to live a fruitful life through your relationship with Jesus.

Are there places you’ve been confusing the fruit of a relationship with Jesus with the real thing in your life?  Comment below with your thoughts.

Am I A Christian? (Part 1)

photo1-2

If you follow as many Christians and church leaders  as I do on Facebook or Twitter, its easy to see two things; We do not agree on everything, and we like to add stuff to what it means to be a Christian.

What makes a Christian a Christian?  There are a lot of good “Christian” folks who would answer that question very differently.  Here are some of the answers my wife and I have heard over the years for that question….

  • Being a good person
  • Loving everyone
  • Being unselfish
  • Believing in Jesus
  • Serving others
  • Reading the bible
  • Being nice
  • Not cussing
  • Praying a lot
  • Never sinning
  • Being a Republican
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Listening Christian music
  • Selling everything you own
  • Tithing
  • Abstaining from Alcohol
  • Wearing a one piece bathing suit
  • Giving money to others
  • Not watching R rated movies
  • Posting bible verses via social media outlets

Some of those responses are pretty comical, but this is a question that needs some serious wrestling with.

Here’s where you come in – What answers have you heard given for this question?  How do you answer this question?  What really matters when it comes to being a Christian?   Please comment below with your answers!

I will write a follow up to this post later in the week.  Look forward to reading your responses!

 

The Power Of Your Story.

3671730951_75b147ceb1_o-2-2 Each of our lives are a powerful witness to the greater story being told throughout humanity.  All of our stories play an integral part in sharing the greater story as well as helping us to find our place in it.

I had the privilege of attending a Sunday School class at my church this past Sunday with some friends.  They were close to the end of their study on the book of Acts (chapters 24-26) where Paul sat in jail for a couple of years for doing nothing wrong, but being willing to allow God to use him in any way God saw fit, he eventually had the opportunity to share his testimony with one of the most powerful people in Rome at the time.

If you are unfamiliar with Paul’s testimony it is nothing short of awesome.   Paul goes from being an incredibly legalistic Christian-killing-Pharisee, to one of the most influential Christians this world will ever see.

Our testimony, or the story of how God has worked in our lives, is the most powerful tool we have to share Jesus with others.  It’s where the rubber meets the road.  If God is who He says He is, then He has to be alive and working still today, and that is evident through our stories.   The fruit of what He is doing in our lives, and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), should be visible in us each day.  That’s the proof that God is still at work today.  We are Jesus’s hands and feet to the world and we are His ambassadors as Christians.  That doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but that even in our shortcomings God is glorified and lifted high.

We are enamored with stories as humans.  Advertisers now-a-days tell stories with their commercials so that we find ourselves wanting to be a part of the product on display.  They tell these stories in a way that make us want to be a part of them.  Advertisers have realized the power that comes with being able to do this and have taken full advantage of this.  Being a part of a story resonates with us because we are a part of a much larger one: God’s.

Part of the beauty of the bible is that we can find ourselves in it.  Often times when I’m reading the bible it’s like I’m looking in a mirror.  I can easily see all my blemishes and how much my heart doesn’t often match up what it’s called to be.  I can also see the great sacrifice that was paid so that those blemishes are forgiven and I am made whole only through and in Jesus.  Now my life has real meaning and significance because of the fact that my story intersects with the God’s story, and then begins to reflect Him. 

Our stories can help connect the biblical stories of the past with the present day.  As our culture continues to change it can be more and more difficult to understand how these stories from a vastly different culture have any modern-day implications for us as a society, however, our stories can play a part in helping to bridge this seemingly vast chasm.  God is the same today as he was yesterday and as He will be forever.  He has been weaving the same themes of redemption, love, and hope into our lives just as He did in the lives of Paul and other people throughout the Bible.   So those same biblical stories and principles are being played out in our lives as well, they just might look a little different.

All of our stories matter.  Inside the body of Christ we are all organs.  We are all vital pieces.  There are no spare parts.  In the  same way each of our stories are tied together.  There is no one who plays a lesser role than another.  It’s important that we don’t forget the larger story we are a part of and wander off on our own, we are a part of the greatest story ever to be told and we are entrusted with it being spread.

Your story is a beautiful one.  Share it with someone today. Tell of the great things God has done and is doing in your life.

 

 

“Trusting God Over Freaking Out”

photo1-3

My wife and I spent a good deal of time talking and praying through some big life decisions this week. I asked myself a lot of those “what if” questions as we sorted through our options and the different paths presented to us. It’s tough sometimes to discern what God is calling each of us to, though both of us desperately want to be where ever He wants us.

It’s so easy to stress out about life decisions no matter how big or small.   There’s a rumor going around that life is easy, but the more and more I live this life I find that to be very not correct. I am learning that following this Jesus guy and putting my life totally in his hands goes entirely against every one of my internal instincts.  I am all about looking out for myself when Jesus is all about serving others. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

I get anxious when those two opposites meet.  When I am struggling with letting go of the way I want to see things go down and the fact God is in control of how those things actually happen.   We can play the “what if” game all I want, but in the long run there is much more enriched, fulfilling, and hopeful when we trust God with everything we have instead of wasting moments we will never get back by worrying.

“28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:28-34

There are so many things we all want in life, but what of those things really and truly matter?  A full and joyous life is lived through Jesus and not through ourselves, so shouldn’t we be excited about the thought of having God at the head and leader of our lives?

Putting God in control of our lives does not mean sitting back with our arms crossed.  Since God doesn’t often give us audible directions for all of the decisions we face each day how do we make the decisions God would be honored and glorified by?  Here’s how I approach life’s tough decisions…

1. Give your bible some lovin’.

The more and more we spend time in the bible the more we learn about who God is and what He desires for us.  There are so many stories of people just like us in situations like ours contained within those pages.  The more we read and learn the more it becomes second nature to live a life wholly trusting in Jesus.

2. Pray.

Easily said, but how often do we really do this?  God has given us his Holy Spirit as our helper which dwells in all of us, so help is really close by no matter where we are.  Include God in the decision process. Be real and honest with Him.  Make sure you give time to listen, and listen through the lens of the bible.  God speaks bible, so if it doesn’t match up with that then it probably didn’t come for God.  Pray with a heart that is open to whatever God would have for you.

3. Sit with a decision for a couple of days.

If you have the time before your decision deadline, make your decision and live it out for a few days.  If you can’t find peace after sitting with things for a few days then really seek to find out where that unsettled feeling is coming from.  It’s important to be careful here, because it’s easy to confuse that unsettled feeling of God calling us to take a risk with our own predisposition to take the safe route.

4. Bounce your thoughts off someone.

Seek out a fellow follower of Jesus whom you trust and ask them what they think.  They may not ultimately be influential in your decision, but often times they can help us gain a different perceptive that may be just what we need.

5. Jesus first.

When you do reach your decision go after it with a heart that is only seeking to make Jesus more and more famous. When we approach something with that attitude there aren’t many situations that God can’t or won’t work in.

This may not be full-proof but for me it has helped in those moments that there seems to be no “right” answer for.   Know that God is with us always no matter what decision we make.

How do you handle life’s tough decisions?  What do you turn to for help?