I’ve noticed a disturbing trend from those who depart from hyper-traditionalism (often an aggravated and borderline cultic form of separatism). As they attempt to escape the rigid and condemning spirit they’ve endured for years they journey down a path that simply changes surface behavior (the very thing they’ve hoped to escape). However, these religious refugees are often deceived into thinking that by merely broadening their lifestyle applications (which Scripture in some cases allows) they’ve been delivered. Sadly, they’ve only stumbled upon a different path in the same dark maze. They now live in an arid and desolate refugee camp that offers little hope of survival. They have not escaped, but continue to suffocate under the same stifling performance-driven religion they’ve desired to flee. Their new path does not offer the freedom they’ve longed for but only a renovated prison cell reinforced by the same iron bars of hate, performance, envy, and caustic criticism. The only change seems to be the direction of their insults as they now cast stones and attack those who are suddenly narrower than them. The freedom they’ve sought and the love that should define a life of grace is still missing. They continue to stumble, discouraged and weary, as they remain tethered to the ball and chain of externals. Minor lifestyle changes can not deliver a person from legalism. Broader fleshly living is impotent to deliver from narrow fleshly living. It’s the Spirit of God alone who can transform a person to love God and others by granting true deliverance and rescue by the gospel of grace through his Son’s cross-work. In my experience the most hateful and slanderous people have been those who find their identity in rigid externals. However, I know many who are narrower than me who love God and others in an exemplary way (more than I do). I have also nurtured relationships with those much broader than me who are teaching me by example what loving God and others really looks like in a community. I’m convicted, humbled, and realize how wrongly I’ve judged these followers of Jesus. I’m preaching through Titus right now where Paul makes an unmistakeable connection between justification and sanctification. Faith must overflow to practice, and belief always affects behavior. Paul expected the transforming power of God’s Spirit through the gospel to produce real godliness in everyday life — even on the godless island of Crete. What should be most evident in a believer’s life is love. This is where our evaluation of self and others should begin. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:7–12 NLT).
Some things just aren’t worth comparing because of their “worth.” People don’t seriously compare the Cullinan diamond (worth 400 million) with a candy diamond ring pop (worth approx. 79 cents). Likewise, people don’t seriously compare a mansion near a coastal boardwalk with a plastic token on a coveted spot of the Monopoly game board. Some things just don’t compare. The glory of that which is greater makes the comparison seem ridiculous, even insulting. So what about our pain, suffering, and heartache? “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This demands faith. Faith in God and His promises. There is a glory not very far away that can’t even be compared (or even comprehended now) to the suffering we experience personally and to the atrocities we observe daily in this world. Don’t even try to compare them! “’Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).
We shield ourselves from suffering, isolate ourselves from pain, and are willfully blind to other’s hardships. It’s too complex, too complicated, too messy, too time-consuming. We content ourselves to read another devotional book, master another classical piece on our instrument of choice, eat out at our fav place, and plan to be at church on time this Sunday for all the “services.” As long as our little world is untouched by evil we consider ourselves blessed. Blessed? We are the ones numbed by materialism, dominated by our First World idols, aimlessly wandering in a wilderness of designer label self-love, and distracted by our cult of formalistic religion. We are the ones who pass on by the other side of the road to avoid the beaten half-dead traveler on the side of the road. We look the other way because we’ve been led to believe busyness is godliness. Fractures are not allowed. Imperfections must be filled with wax and polished over. Weakness is not tolerated. In our law-keeping world we want a clean and quick fix. The beaten man is messy, time-consuming, and costly. How much more the broken little boy and girl? Certainly there are more important things God wants us to accomplish. So under the banner of God’s name and content with our titles we hurriedly pass our neighbor again, and again, ad nauseam. Certainly someone else coming along behind us will help clean up the mess.
O God, break our hearts. Help us to escape our cocoon of stagnant metamorphic sleep. God, let us feel again, hurt again, and cry again. For only then can we truly worship you again. Revive us to display your majestic mercy and the rescuing grace of your Son to a hurting imprisoned world. Help us to move outside of our insecurity, fear, and cult of comfort to walk among those who sit in darkness, danger, and in the shadow of death. Send your church to preach the good news to those who have the least access to it. Break down our personal empires that claim to defend your name, but who in spirit and action deny your very character. Crush our idols until you alone are our God. Help us to have compassion on our neighbors, to bind up their wounds, to care for those in need, and to equip others to help reflect your grace to the hurting (Luke 10:33-37). Lord, forgive us for the hardness of our heart. We confess that our life is a mirror image of the unloving priest and Levite in Luke 10:31-32. We are in the story of Luke 10:29-37, but we’re not the Samaritan hero. God, help us to change the storyline.
“To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:25).
Jesus gave the picture of a long time of waiting, a long period of normal life, and then sudden destruction (Matthew 24:37-39). Jesus compared his return to “the days of Noah.” He highlighted the stuff of normal life – the ordinary kinds of stuff we’ll participate in this year (eating, drinking, marriage). It’s the ordinary stuff that dulls our senses. But then a sudden change. “Noah entered the ark.” Most people were probably relieved the ark-maker finally took up residence inside his awkward box. The preacher was finally silenced! What started as a normal day was actually the day “the flood came and swept them all away.” Jesus said, “they were unaware.” Why did Jesus call his disciple’s attention to this Old Testament account a few days before his death? Here’s why, “so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Wait faithfully, work diligently, and watch expectantly because Jesus will return.
Matthew 24:36-39 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
- Resolved to remain willing to be sent to the backside of the ministerial desert in obscurity if that is how God chooses to receive glory from His servant. Anywhere. Anything. Anytime. Even if that means death. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
- Resolved to deliberately place myself in situations that demand I exercise faith in God’s presence, power, and promises. Willing to allow the materialistic and man-centered view of ministry, the lust for success and notoriety, and the cult of privacy to be graciously crushed by my savior’s loving hand. “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:22-25). “If you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
- Resolved never to comfortably settle in to maintenance mode or just comfortably plateau, but to passionately push the front lines of gospel advance as far forward as God enables by His Spirit. This will demand I submit to the when, where, and how of God’s leading regardless of what spectators may think.
- Resolved to resign all present privilege and position if God so chooses to lead His servant to a seeming less desirable and more difficult post.
- Resolved to be a friend of sinners and those despised in the community in which I minister. “A disciple is not above his teacher, not a servant above his master” (Mark 10:24). “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19 ).
- Resolved to train “faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2) at whatever personal cost to me, my resources, and my expectations.
- Resolved to encourage my children to go forward to the unreached, the overlooked, and the underprivileged. Resolved to do this knowing full well my children, and my grandchildren by default, may not be at my side (or even stateside).
Jesus said, “Go therefore, and make disciples – even to the remotest parts of the earth” (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
For many people the long-anticipated holiday season is magical. Family, decorations, gifts, festive music, time off from work, school vacation, food, and friends all add to the excitement of December. But these are not the greatest gifts. Continue reading
I’ve often heard the argument that a person should dress for church like they’re meeting with the president. Perhaps you’ve heard a similar argument — that a pastor ought to wear a coat and tie on Sunday because NFL commentators still wear classy suits on Sunday (they wear them on Monday and Thursday too). This argument is used by well-intentioned people, many of whom are rightfully sensitive to a drastically changing culture. However, as I consider this particular argument I come up short when trying to connect the logical and cultural leaps with theological bridges. Continue reading
There is a generation emerging that has decided to follow Jesus but without human additives or artificial substitutes. They read the Scriptures, understand biblical interpretation, make careful application, and desire true community. They have realized that when it comes to biblical applications within changing cultural contexts there is no one-size-fits-all template, no detailed blueprint that fits every generation, and no static lifestyle checklist that comfortably applies to every culture. Much to our surprise, and in contradiction to our grim tales, this generation has neither abandoned core doctrine nor have they refused to follow Jesus as Lord. Continue reading
We have failed the next generation by not creating a Christian culture where our children can ask the difficult questions. We have tolerated empty form and lifeless devotion so long as their music stayed the same and their fashion didn’t change. We’ve expected them to be comfortable walking through the museum of early 19th century Christian antiquity. We don’t take time to understand the disconnect they experience every Sunday. In part, we don’t understand, because in our pride we don’t really care. Continue reading
Our choices hold the capacity to define us. This truth is pressed home as two choices are contrasted in Mark 14. Each choice defined the individual who made it (we’re still reading, teaching, and writing about both people). One choice was ridiculed by religious leaders while another choice was accepted by them. It’s another liberating reminder that the strong opinions of external religionists don’t matter. Only God’s opinion and approval matter. Continue reading