Count the Cost

Count the Cost

Writing in the 1940’s during the height of World War II from inside Germany while defending the defenseless, speaking against the tyranny of Hitler and the Nazi regime, and protecting the integrity of the Gospel under threat from the state that eventually led to his arrest and execution, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has earned a rightful position in history. He has joined the ranks of many that have gone before him, and through his writings, those who would desire to identify with Christ today are confronted with a life-changing question, “Am I sure I want to do this?” Continue reading “Count the Cost”

Is Religion for the Weak?

Luke 4_18

It’s often been said that “religion is for the weak”. I remember a time in my teenage years when an older man said this to me as I was sharing about my family and our commitment to attending church. I don’t know if he was trying to be helpful by sharing his perspective on life or intentionally attempting to demoralize me. Either way, it stuck with me as being rude and somehow incompatible with the God I knew.  Continue reading “Is Religion for the Weak?”

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

I’m guilty. Guilty of constantly changing the narrative of the story to put myself in the best light and come out looking better than I actually am. I introduce slight variations and constantly tweak the story. I consciously avoid specifics or other elements of the story that make me look bad or cast a negative light. Or, I simply justify my attitude and behavior based on what I want to hear or believe about myself.

If you were to ask me anything about my life and rate it on a scale of 1-10, even in my best attempt to be honest and vulnerable, it’s highly likely my number would be no less than one number above what it truly is. “How is your personal joy today?” I give it a nine (it’s really a seven). “How is your daily prayer life?” A seven (more like six). “How about your feelings of bitterness and frustration?” Yikes, getting real now … a six, I need some work here (try four — maybe three — this week). I’m a mess.

Adam and Eve had the same problem (recall Genesis 3).

God, “Who told you to eat from the tree?”
Adam, “The woman did!”
Eve, “The talking serpent made me to do it!”

Now I know where I get it from, it’s in my genes.

The natural operations of our heart is to blame-shift, self-protect, avoid, self-justify and falsify authenticity. Even in our best and most honest efforts, we maintain a corrupted, distorted, and prideful sense of self. After all, we’re creatures under the fall and distant from glory. So often, this also is our approach to reading Scripture. We fail to see the real message, identify the real need, and rightly apply the gracious and wonderful hope to which it speaks into our lives today.

So what do we learn from the story of Jesus who heals the paralytic that was lowered through the roof of a first-century Galilean home, and the call of Levi the tax collector? How do these stories from Mark 2:1-17 apply to our discussion here? A simple, profound, and healing message: Jesus restores sinners.

Gospel Slavery or Freedom?

slavery_hands

I’ve been spending time in the book of Philippians lately. I love this letter from Paul and Timothy, self-identified slaves – yes slaves (see Philippians 1:1) – who belong to Jesus Christ, joyfully and boldly sacrificing their lives for Him. In this letter, Paul and Timothy encourage the church at historic Philippi to do the same: willfully give up your hopes, dreams, comfort, social status, citizenship, and your life for the greatest joy – living for Jesus.  Continue reading “Gospel Slavery or Freedom?”

The Matchless Christ

All too often I find Christians believing in and selling a weak and shallow gospel. It goes something like this: “follow Jesus and get the life you always wanted.” There are all sorts of variations to this, but in the end, these superficial gospel messages are rooted in a superficial theology of the person and work of Jesus Christ. A shallow gospel becomes nothing more than fire insurance for the afterlife or pithy inspirational messages that boost one’s emotional morale for the day.

In contrast, a deep theology of Christ is the unshakable foundation to something more than fire insurance or daily inspiration. Intimately knowing the person and work of Christ, His unrivaled supremacy over all creation, and His defeat over sin and death is what brings about total transformation – a fully restored life and world.

Times of Conflict

Conflict is an unfortunate reality of life. We experience conflicts in three primary areas – between others, self and creation. There is no shortage of examples of conflict in the news lately: Hurricane Harvey, Charlottesville, North Korea, violence in Chicago, and the list goes on. This doesn’t even include the personal conflicts that we encounter on an everyday basis with our spouse or significant other, children, our coworkers, or the car that cut you off in traffic yesterday.

Conflicts have this way of  bringing out a whole range of emotions and responses in us. Did you know that our response to conflicts expose the quality of our relationship with God? A right relationship with God, therefore, actually renews our approach to conflict in every sphere of life. Below is a sermon I preached this summer on this very topic from 1 Samuel 24.

The Central Figure

Do you ever feel like your faith as a Christian is one big circle that seems to go nowhere? Or perhaps is it better described as a tug-a-war match between God and Satan with you in the middle of it? More importantly, how is it that many of us can regularly participate in church, read scripture, pray, and attend a community group (what we call small groups or Bible studies at our church), but still feel as if we’re coming up short and unsatisfied in our Christian walk?

I’ve come to realize the answer is simple but deeply rooted within us: We love the Law. I’m not talking about the laws of the land, but the Biblical laws and mandates most commonly found in the Old Testament. Christians are labeled hypocrites because we spend more time learning to be legalists than walking in the freedom and grace of Jesus Christ. This should be of no surprise to us because we live in a hyper-pragmatic culture that loves to-do lists, steps to a better relationship, workout plans, specific diets, and life-hacks. It’s only natural that we would extend these behaviors into our faith, but the problem is they are totally incompatible.

More disturbing is that many Christian churches, preachers, authors, and musicians are unknowingly feeding the beast within us. With the rise in “experiential worship” and “Christian self-help” preaching and books masqueraded under the guise of “practical, life-application”, we’ve been creating a generation of Christians with a faith that places you and me at the center of the biblical story. The result? A neurotic life that is caught between the greatest source of hope and freedom the world has ever known and our pursuit of self-righteousness.

The reality is, we are prone to miss the central figure in the story of salvation – Jesus Christ.