Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

In typical church world, we try to help people grow by providing studies or groups to teach information about God. However, what is needed first is relational growth so we can become vulnerable enough to allow the Holy Spirit to humble us and grow us spiritually! Relationships teach us how to be transparent, selfless, vulnerable and loving. They teach us humility and how to show honor. They show us how to navigate our emotions and offer compassionate ears as well as a loving correction where appropriate. In an authentic relationship, we have the opportunity to invite someone else into the most intimate part of our being to join us on this journey called life! God designed us to be in relationship, not so we can gather every once in a while and act like we have it all together….No! He designed us this way because He knows the best way to thrive in life, while here or beyond our years on earth, is to deeply know others and be known!

Relationships, loving God and others, are the path to all aspects of health and growth – emotional, physical, and spiritual. Without them, we become bitter, hard, unreachable and unteachable – kinda sounds like a lot of people you’ve been exposed to in church facilities, doesn’t it? The thing is, the church was never meant to be an institution where people fake who they are, gather and sing, get a boost or a rebuke, and then go home and hide for another week or two. It wasn’t even meant to be a place where you get in a group or even serve at your local church building on a weekend. Those things are not church…We are The Church! So if every day, walking around human beings are in fact The Church Jesus and Paul spoke so highly of, saying this group will change the world, maybe we have a little relational work to do here! Maybe we need to engage with the people around us and learn how to love and live with one-another as we grow together in our relationship with Jesus! He is the glue that holds everything together – including relationships! I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago with my wife…a story I’d be glad to share over coffee or a beer sometime!

Friends sitting in a cafe

Friends sitting in a cafe

Relationships are the key to everything in this life and in the next! When asked what the most important message He can give to this world, Jesus responded with this:

Mark 12:30-31- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Are relationships easy? No! Yet they are the most valuable investment you can make in this brief life to realize a wealth of knowledge, friendship and spiritual growth! Jesus knew this when He laid that out – love Him and love each other. So let’s stop just doing organizational church and start being The Church that He designed from the very beginning. Only then will we see true change in a world that has become far too institutionalized! Imagine a world where the Kingdom is built through authentic relationships where genuine empathy, compassion and love is the natural reflex! I want that world now, as it will be in heaven! Join me!

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As I have navigated through many stages of life, one thing continually resonates in the lives of people I talk to, and it is such a powerful force that many sacrifice their convictions in hopes of satisfying those deep desires…Relationship!  Relationship comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Our relationship with a spouse looks different than a relationship with our kids.  Relationships with co-workers are different from family members.  Relationships with the clerk at the gas station take a different form than that of our best of friends.  Regardless of which relationship you are considering, it is apparent that we were designed to be in relationship!

When God designed us, He did so by creating us in His image.

Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

In that statement from God, something very profound occurs!  It starts by saying God said (singular) and then He said, Let us (plural) make man…woven into the very core of His creation of man was this idea of God being in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet being one God.  There has been much confusion and controversy over the idea of the Trinity, and many doctrinal statements have been made that have so many people scratching their heads or totally discounting the idea of a three in one God.  But, God didn’t build His word to confuse us!  He gave it to us to liberate us!

I truly believe that this “contradiction” in verse 26 (“God” and then “us”) is really quite uncomplicated.  Simply put, God is relational and He designed us in His image to be relational as well!

His plan is to be in relationship with us as we journey through this life building our relationship with Him as well as with those God has placed in our lives.  Yet, as we develop relationships with those around us, our primary relationship with God has to take first place in our heart and soul!  When we place God in His rightful place in our lives (first place), the other relationships we are engaged in just seem to work themselves out.  Having a Kingdom worldview keeps this life in perspective and focuses our heart on relationships.  Nothing in this world matters more than our relationship with God and our relationships with others!

In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

Who-is-Jesus

Over the past few months I have had several conversations with people who are genuinely seeking a relationship with Jesus; however, they struggle with believing the supernatural to be true.  I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have had similar feelings in our own journeys of faith.  Just as it is impossible to disprove God’s existence, it is equally impossible to prove His existence if you are trying to discredit Him from the start!

You see, when we have a bent toward non-belief, something has to happen in our mind and heart in order to accept and believe God is real!  Some will say they have a hard time believing because they are educated, yet some of the most brilliant people I know have deduced that God is real and He is the only explanation for such an intricate and creative universe in which we live.  In fact, I think believing everything came from nothing takes so much more “faith” than believing in a Creator.

One of the most amazing scientific observations for me is that there has been no evidence that has proven the Bible to not be true.  Instead, archeology has proven over and over the accuracy of the Bible and the existence of those recorded in the Bible.  After visiting Israel in 2014, I have a new understanding of how many archeological digs are going on now, and discoveries confirming the accuracy of the Bible are happening almost every day!  Scholars from the time of Jesus have confirmed Jesus existence as well as many other people recorded in the Bible.

Yet, discovering these site locations and seeing many with my owns eyes only increased my faith because I started with a belief that God exists and Jesus came to earth, died for my sin and was resurrected to live eternally with all of those who believe in Him.  The big question here is this…how do you shift from non-belief to belief?  I believe the answer in part lies in the following verse where Paul is addressing the people of Corinth:

2 Corinthians 3:14 –  But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

While living in this world, focusing on money and things instead of relationships and eternity, it is easy to think that God does not exist and we only live this life and then we die.  This world can be a dark place where it is difficult believing God exists, but in all reality (at least for those of us who do believe) it’s impossible for me to believe that God is not real when I see the amazing transformation in people who have been touched by God’s healing hand!  People cured from cancer; marriages restored after infidelity; drug addicts instantly sober and clean for years now; prisoners set free!

Many have said they don’t believe in miracles or don’t believe in the stories in the Old Testament, which alone I would agree are pretty hard to believe!  But, I truly believe Satan is simply clouding people’s minds with the unbelief of these things so that they will not be awed by who Jesus truly is!  If Satan can keep the veil over our eyes by focusing us on the little things, he doesn’t have to compete with Jesus on the most important thing – His love and Grace!  Again, when our focus is on anything other than Jesus our minds can be swayed to believe that everything came out of nothing, and the intricate balance of the cosmos just happened.

The key comes back to that verse in 2 Corinthians…the veil can only be removed by believing in Christ!  I doubt anyone would read the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding loving God and each other and say that is a load baloney!  I bet no-one would say that Jesus was wrong when He told the religious people of His day (those more focused on keeping the law instead of loving one-another) that they were all hypocrites and did not even know His Father.  The question, however, comes down to this…what will YOU do with Jesus? That’s the only question that really matters!  Let’s think it through a bit!

Starting with unbelief, or more specifically that everything we know of now started from nothing at the big bang.  Believing this means that you do not believe a Creator was involved in the creation of the universe and everything that makes up all matter.  Not even digging deep into the intricacies of life, just looking at that beginning moment, where did that bang originate?  And, what about before that?  You see, everything has to start from something.   Regardless of those beliefs, if you do not believe there is a God, a Creator, then why in the world would you even consider anything in the Bible to be true, especially the supernatural stuff?  When we start with a bias, in this case that there is no God, you can dismiss pretty much anything that you cannot explain and feel pretty good about your stance – except, it leads to nothing.  It’s hard to believe a man could turn water into wine or make a sick man well, let alone that everything was created in seven days.  You get the point!

However, say you start with a belief in Jesus – that He is who He said He is or at the very least that He may be who He said He is – and you seek to investigate His life with a true unbiased opinion.  You research and find that the earliest historians from Biblical times (Josephus and Eusebius to name two) record Jesus as being a real person who did some amazing things, along with the testimonies in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) from eyewitnesses in His life, is it easy to believe the man Jesus existed and that He was a great man.  Believing that He is the Messiah, our Savior, comes as we get to know this man and understand the life He lived on earth as well as the sacrifice He made on our behalf could only have come from a God who loves each and every one of the people in His creation.  Since the penalty for sin is death (sin always leads to death – death of relationships as well as physical death), either we pay with our life and spend eternity away from God, or we accept that Jesus did in fact walk this earth preaching the Good News (this is not disputed) and loved us enough to pay the penalty of death on our behalf…but (and it’s a huge but) He didn’t stop there!  He rose back to life so that we would have someone alive to follow as well as spend eternity!   Belief in Jesus is the catalyst in our life that will catapult our faith into depths of understanding and knowledge that can only come from God – removing the veil that Satan wants to keep over our eyes!  And belief in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God!  See how Jesus explains this to His disciples:

John 14:1-7“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

If you can grasp Jesus as your Savior, do the miracles recorded in the Bible really seem like that big of a deal for a Savior like Jesus and a God big enough to create everything?  My earnest prayer for you is that you would seek Jesus with your heart and investigate His love and Grace.  I pray you discover the joy and peace that only comes from a relationship with Jesus!  When you accept His Grace and mercy, His love will be poured out on you and the veil will be lifted!  Again, all of life boils down to this one simple question: What will you do with Jesus?  Everything in all of eternity hinges on that single question!

Today as I was studying the Scriptures, a passage that is all too familiar struck a new chord with me.  Over the past couple years God has been pressing deeply within my heart an understanding of Grace, deeper than I have ever understood Grace at any point of my life!  I have been amazed at how many times throughout the Scriptures where Grace is extended through faith and faith alone.  You see, many teach that in order to be saved you must repent of all sin and turn from it, which sounds awesome but is completely unattainable in this life!  If it were possible, there would be no need of a Savior in the first place!  Jesus became sin and killed sin’s power in our lives when He died upon that cross.  Do we still sin?  Absolutely!  There is not a single person that has ever lived that has conquered sin’s grip and completely stopped sinning.  Not a single person except Jesus!  Yet, being perfect, He took all the sin of the world onto His shoulders and killed it’s control once and for all.  The only way we can defeat sin in our life is to accept in faith what Jesus did and know that He was raised from the dead, leaving sin in the grave, so that those of us who believe in Him can live eternally with Him.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  How do you think this guy felt:

Luke 23:40-43 – But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him,“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

A criminal whose sin ran so deep it led to him being sentenced to death, yet in one magnificent moment he realized who Jesus really was (believed in Him), admitted that he deserved the punishment being giving for his own sin, and simply asked Jesus to remember him in paradise…to which Jesus remarkably tells this criminal he will be with Jesus upon death in paradise!  Grace given with no strings attached!  Each of us must simply admit we are sinful and lost without a Savior, believe in Jesus, that He is who He said He was, and we will be saved!  Our obedience to His will and plan for our lives can only come after we believe in Him.  There is no amount of cleaning up that we can ever do to be worthy of this free gift of salvation.  It is free for anyone who believes!

So I ask you, what do you believe?  Or better yet, in who are you placing your eternal destiny?  You may not understand or even believe some of the stories you have read about or heard from the Old Testament, and you may have some legitimate questions that you want answered, but Jesus said it best here:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I know that many people try to offer up formulas or ways to be good enough, but Jesus made it so very simple that many will miss it looking for a deeper way, a harder way to live in peace forever with the Savior.  But it really is that easy!  Now, there will still be turmoil in our lives once we accept Jesus as our Savior.  Jesus addresses this as well:

John 16:33 -I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

You see, this time we have on earth is fleeting, a blip on the radar of eternity!  We will have tribulation (trouble or turmoil) while we are in this world, yet that trouble should never define us, it strengthens us as we realize that Jesus has overcome this world of sin and corruption, and we are continually growing in our reliance upon Him as His peace surpasses all understanding in the midst of the trial:

Philippians 4:7 -And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is hard to comprehend, but the peace Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7 and Jesus speaks of in John 16:33 and also extends to the criminal next to Him in Luke 23:43 is available to us as well if we will simply believe in Jesus!  So, what is your next step?  If your next step is to believe, I pray you will simply pray to Jesus something like this:

“Jesus, I know I am a sinner in need of your grace and peace.  I believe that you came to earth from heaven and died for my sin and was raised to life so that we could live eternally with you in heaven, and have peace here on earth as we become your follower.  Thank you for you amazing love for me, in Jesus name, Amen!”

If you just said that simple prayer or something like it, and believe it in your heart, then welcome to the amazing life filled with grace and peace!  Please reach out to me or a local community of believers and let someone know of your decision!  We are not meant to navigate this faith life alone…we need to be in relationship with God and with others!  If you need help with next steps, or just want to share your incredible transformation story with me, click “Contact Rob” at the top of the page and lets start a conversation!  If you know someone who needs to hear this message of grace, please share!  You never know how God will use a few words to alter the course of someone’s life!

I am believing that God is going to do some amazing things in 2015 and God wants you to be part of His family changing the world through grace and peace!  Happy New Year!!!

grace-n-peace

After listening to a sermon from Tullian Tchividjian on Grace, I confirmed what he was saying and took it a bit further in looking through all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  Tullian had taught that in the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he began with a phrase many of us have read countless times, and likely read it as a greeting or a formal way Paul began his letter.

Romans 1:7 – To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found was that in fact Paul began all his letters this way!  Why?  Have we read the opening of his letters wrong all along or was this just a simple greeting?  You know as well as I do that Paul didn’t haphazardly write fluff into his letters, so I tend to believe there was a deep purpose for the words that Paul had chosen.

Grace and Peace are the crux of this simple yet profound greeting, and the point of the entire Gospel message!  This is why I believe Paul wrote them into all of his letters:

Grace and Peace are not a simple greeting in Paul’s letters, but a summary of the Gospel…Grace is the root, Peace is the fruit!

Grace – The only reason we even have the opportunity to spend eternity with God is the amazing gift of Grace!  Grace is something we cannot earn in any way.  Grace was personified in the Lord Jesus Christ when He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died for all the sin of mankind.  But that was not it!  He then beat death, rose from the grave affirming that He was in fact the Son of God and was completely capable of forgiving our sins to allow us access to eternity with God!  The resurrection shows the world that the living Savior came to set the captives free!  That is Good News!

Peace – Receiving the Grace of God, accepting and believing Jesus’ conquering sacrifice on our behalf, allows us to live a life that looks different from the world around us.  Our circumstances do not define who we are any longer.  We are a new creation of amazing value – we are part of God’s family and our eternity is secure!  With that kind of assurance, we can live a life of Peace while working through whatever trials come our way with an understanding that our life here is only a brief blip on the road of eternity!  Living a life of Peace focuses our thoughts on the things that really matter, the stuff that God cares most deeply about – people!  With that kind of focus, we get to join God’s plan of loving people into the Kingdom!  Peace is the fruit of our accepting God’s Grace and living that Grace out in our lives!

And that is the Gospel of Jesus!  The Gospel is summed up in two words – Grace and Peace!  Paul was simply sharing the Gospel in a nutshell while the rest of his letter was written to flow from the simple message of Grace and Peace – the root and the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  The same Gospel that radically changed Saul into Paul saves us to this very moment!

The question on the table is simply this: have you accepted His Grace so that you can live a life full of His Peace?  If not there is no time better than right now!  His followers may not be all that attractive to you (after all, we are all messed up hypocrites being transformed by the Grace of God), but He is the most amazing person you will ever meet!  He loved you so much that He died to set you free from guilt and shame, disgust and pride, addiction and fear, sin and death!  If you were the only person in the entire universe, and this still chokes me up, He would have still come to die for you to satisfy the need for death to cover sin…that’s how much He loves you!  He really is that good!  He fulfills an eternal hole in which every other religion, fame or fortune cannot even come close to fulfilling.  His Grace is enough, and His Peace is so refreshing!  It’s available to you, right now!  Will you accept?

 

 

This post is based on a topic I have briefly written about in the past, at least as a descriptive term, yet God keeps bringing this to my mind as I interact with people in my daily life.  The topic is this: is God’s word a mirror in your life, or do you simply use it as a hammer over the lives of others?

Most of us have witnessed the extremes of the hammer position, whether in person or in the news.  Westboro Baptist Church is just one group with the extreme hammer view…and I will add their method and view is completely unbiblical and from the pit of hell!  They condemn and protest against the military (at the funerals of our fallen heroes no less) and against the LGBT community in ways that are an embarrassment to those of us who are truly trying to follow Jesus, as well as ridiculous and intolerable to those in which the hatred is being spewed.  Apparently the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing doesn’t show up in the translation of scripture they are using!

hammer mirror

Before we get too used to pointing fingers at these extremists we must take a look at ourselves as well.  When we judge others based on their sins, in a small way we are following a similar type of thought that the extreme positions follow.  It may not look like it on the outside, and I am sure the actions do not equate those of Westboro or even the typical street “preacher” (or pharisaical condemner might be a better descriptor), however, when we condemn others based on their sin (either in our thoughts or by what we say) we are doing the same thing.  In Romans 1, Paul lays out a barrage of descriptors of the unrighteous (those not “good enough” to be His children).  But then he throws a twist at the readers in Romans 2 who were likely reading this and pointing the finger at those they deemed unworthy based on their sins:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 

He is showing us that we are all in the same boat!  Without Jesus’ sacrifice none of us can live forever with God!  We cannot be “good enough” no matter how much we try…we all need Jesus!

The thing is, the Bible was never meant to be used as something to morally and spiritually impress upon others…it is meant to be read as a mirror reflecting God into our lives as we grow to be more like Him.  It’s His word to guide us, to help us become more like Jesus in our daily life and in the way we treat those around us.  When we use God’s word as a hammer, beating down people around us because of their behavior, we are acting like the Pharisees…and you remember how Jesus responded to them:

Matthew 23:25-26 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus was not impressed by the amount of knowledge the “religious” people (Pharisees) had, that they memorized much of the scriptures and had many laws trying to make other people follow the rules they deemed proper and biblical.  Actually, Jesus, like many of us are today, was sickened by the religious groups, just like Westboro Baptist, and called them out on it often!  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the religious had already condemned to hell.  And the incredible part to me is that those people who were the furthest from God really enjoyed being around Jesus and spending time with Him…many times taking their first real steps of faith with Him, but even if they chose not to take steps they truly liked spending time with Him.  Relationship always trumps religion!  Jesus knew fully how to build relationships and speak Truth with love and grace!  So, the real question here is this: if we are becoming more like Jesus every day, then do people far from God even want to be around us, let alone like us?  Are we spending time in places where people do not already follow Jesus, or do we stay comfortable in our little self-proclaimed holy huddles?  Are we spending time with our Savior, building a relationship with Him and reading His word as a mirror that reflects who we truly are, or more importantly who He is in us, so that we can extend that same love and grace to those around us?

I’d love to say I sit behind this screen with no judgment of others, but that would be a lie.  However, I do know what is True, as God defines Truth, and to not apply that Truth to my life, and share what God is pressing on my heart with you, would be in direct disobedience to God!  The way we treat others is a direct representation of who we follow…like it or not!  When Westboro spews their hatred in the name of God, it makes me sick to my stomach and angry because that is NOT who my Savior is by any stretch of the imagination and in no way reflects any attribute of His character!  Our actions may not be as vocal or public as theirs, but they are still stemming from the same basic thought…we believe we are more righteous than many around us and we’ve decided it is somehow our job to point it out to them!  As I grow older I continually see glimpses of how God wants me to grow in relationship with Him as well as in relationship with those He places in my path.  Amazingly enough, when I see the reflection of God’s word in my life it brings unspeakable joy to me and extends out to everyone around me!  Oh I wish those moments were more often than they are…however; it is so much easier (at times) to grab my hammer and shatter the mirror that God wants to use to reflect His Son instead of making the right choice by extending His love to those around me  no matter how lost they may seem to be.  Using God’s word as a hammer is simply saying that we are on the same plane as God…and that is a very dangerous place for a believer to think they belong!  How amazing would life on this earth be if those who follow Jesus would simply stop hammering people and start paying attention to His reflection in all of us…loving God and then loving others in His name!

Hammers make great tools when you need to nail something to a wall, but they are not appropriate to use when we want to “fix” or change people!  The only person we can change is ourselves, so we need to stop trying to change others!  The mirror of God’s word is the way to grow (and change) as we reflect the image of the One who created each and every one of us!  So start the habit now and begin to see every passage of scripture as a note written specifically to you and you alone…then and only then can God begin showing you how love really can change the world, one reflection at a time!

#Mirror>Hammer

il_fullxfull-320700222 Check all self-righteousness at the door!

In society today, there are a plethora of social issues that are bombarding our local communities, and are even more directly becoming a big part of our daily conversations with people who may or may not follow Jesus.  Some of these social conversations form around government, abortion, human rights, same-sex marriage, bigotry, profiling, racism, gun control, and the list goes on and on!  As followers of Jesus, we need not exclude ourselves from these conversations; in fact, we have a high standard to uphold and entering the conversations is the only way for us to be a beacon of light to an otherwise darkened world!

Many of you may be reading this and saying something like, “yeah, we need to stand up and fight for what is right and against what is wrong in this world!”  While others are thinking, “great, another article bashing people with differing beliefs and convictions.”  Well, both thoughts couldn’t be further from the Truth…and by Truth I am referring to God’s Truth, not just my opinion or the opinion of some religious group!

When you enter a conversation with someone regarding – let’s pick an easy one to start with (tongue in cheek) – the government, what words flow from your lips?  Do your words build others up or do they pull them down to the negativity you are spewing?  We may not agree with the government, but as believers in Jesus Christ our words and behaviors speak a lot about the One we are following, especially to those who do not know Him!  We may have a legitimate concern, but the way we voice that concern says a lot about Who we follow, or maybe that we don’t follow His example at all!

How about the issues many are dealing with regarding same-sex marriage – an extremely polarizing topic of our day?  Do you shy away from the LGBT community because you are uncomfortable or worse, self-righteous?  Do you think God loves people who are living in the gay lifestyle and seeking marriage with their partner?  He absolutely and emphatically does!  God’s desire is for every one of us to truly know, love and trust Him – His grace and love is sufficient for everyone, and He extends an invitation of relationship to everyone regardless of sexual orientation…and even to the bigoted person spewing hatred toward the LGBT community!

Romans 1:18-32 discusses the fact that we are ALL sinners deserving His righteous judgment; every single one of us from Stephen Hawking to Billy Graham!  But remember, Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the believers in Rome, not chapters to be read out of context or alone!  Romans 2:1-11 continues on to say that we have no excuse in judging others regarding their sin because we are deeply rooted in sin as well…in doing so, we are not only condemning others, we are condemning ourselves!  What Paul is saying is that we are all in this together, and without Jesus’ sacrifice, life would be futile and hell would be in all our futures! When reading the scriptures, remember…when we use them to beat someone else up we are using them wrong!  As followers of Jesus, in which the Holy Spirit resides, our words and behaviors, if coming from God, will exhibit the fruit that Paul speaks of in Galatians:

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

When we read the scriptures properly (as a mirror, not a hammer), we learn to become more like Jesus – loving, compassionate, grace-filled people who are attractive to be around; people who are seeking relationships so that someone who does not know Jesus may be introduced to the only One that really matters!  Relationships are the measuring stick in God’s economy – with Him first, then with others…especially with those who have been deemed unworthy by society or by self-righteous people who take it upon themselves to extend God’s judgment in error.  By passing on His judgment, we ultimately drive the people God loves further away from Him.  I believe this wrecks God’s heart!  I believe we are to love people enough to get into their lives and potentially introduce them to Jesus.  We introduce and He will do whatever convicting He sees fit and proper!

When Jesus said to love God and love others, He meant it!  That old familiar song states, “they will know we are Christians by our love”; however, by extending judgment we forfeit the opportunity God has given us to not only love others by extending grace (the same grace God has extended to us) but also to build a relationship with them built on love and trust as well as grace and Truth.  This is one of the main reasons why the label “Christian” has taken on a negative tone in society – you know, judging others in the Name of God.  How repulsive!  However, as followers of Jesus, we take on His nature and extend the grace that He first showed us…that is a love worth following!  Grace is something Jesus offers us all, and if we are following Jesus’ example, extending grace to those around us is not an option, it’s a requirement and it’s the best way to build relationships!  So, are you representing Jesus well to those around you?

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God has led me to Romans 12 a lot lately and it never ceases to amaze me how much He can squeeze into a passage of His divinely inspired Word.

Romans 12:6-8 – 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

In this section of scripture, Paul is explaining to us the reason God has given us His gifts by His grace.  He gives us these gifts to share generously with others!  These are the gifts described above, but are just a sampling of the gifts that God gives to us:

Gift of Prophecy (foreshadowing something to come) – Share only as much as your faith allows.

Gift of Service – Get out and serve others!

Teaching Gift – Be ready to teach, and do it!

Gift of Exhortation (encouraging someone to take action) – Encourage others to do something for the glory of God!

Gift of Giving – Give generously!

Leadership – Lead well and with boldness!

Gift of Mercy – Show mercy to those you come into contact and do it with joy and kindness!

God never gives us a gift or blessing to hoard for ourselves.  When we keep His blessing for our own desires, our minds tend to run with a self-centered vigor that will creep into every area of our lives.  One of the biggest lies Satan uses to sidetrack followers of Jesus is the lie that “you deserve it.”  You know what I am talking about:

God has blessed you with a great income, so you buy yourself a nice, new truck; after all, you deserve it for all your hard work!  Then a friend calls and needs help moving…what do you do?  You can offer your help, and drive that new truck to his house and help a friend in need.  Or you can ignore your friend because you don’t want to scratch your new truck.

Or,

A single mom from across the street comes home with 2 little ones wrapped around her ankles, unloading several bags of groceries, all while your favorite TV show or sporting event is at its climax.  You can say that you have had an exhausting day and need this down time; you deserve this downtime due to your pressing schedule!  Or, you can take a few minutes and help this young mom, who more than likely had a much more stressful day than you could ever imagine!

Or,

Say you are out to eat with your spouse, and your server is having a bad day…you can tell she or he is struggling with keeping up or just keeping it together.  The service may not be real good…how do you respond?  Do you give them a small tip because their service wasn’t what you expected?  You might think, “They don’t deserve a good tip!” or do you bless them generously because they are human, make mistakes, and could really use a little encouragement – maybe the first encouragement they have received in a very long time!

You see what I mean?  God gives each one of us opportunities every day to be generous with the gifts and abilities He gives so that we will love others.  You cannot love God and hate (or ignore) those who were created in His image!  It is impossible to fully love God and seek His will yet not care deeply about those around us…it is not in His nature and cannot be in ours if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus!  Remember, He died for all of us, not just you!  As God’s Image Bearers, we must extend His love to those who are in need, whether they follow the One we follow or not!  This can be the beginning of an amazing relationship that has eternal consequences!

#ImageBearers

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 Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a while, this verse may roll right off your tongue. If you are a new believer, it may be something you are just now learning.  And if you are simply investigating this whole Jesus thing, this verse can potentially change your life!

Romans 5:8 is an amazing verse!  In regards to relational discipleship, it levels the playing field.  If you are a follower of Jesus, understanding that making disciples is not an option for the believer, this verse gives you common ground with anyone in which you will ever make contact.  And similarly, for the person who has not placed their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, everyone you will come in contact, whether they are a follower or not, has the same common ground.  That common ground is simply that we are all sinners in the eyes of God…and yet, He still sent His Son to pay the price for our sins because He loves us!  With that common ground, we never need to fall back on the excuse that we cannot related to someone else that may appear different from us, when in reality, they are sinners just like us!

You see, with every sin there is a consequence. It is prevalent in our lives every day!  You lie, and trust is broken.  Get caught speeding and you will likely be paying a fine.  Your kid hits another kid and gets put in time out. Isn’t it interesting how you don’t have to teach a kid how to sin?  It’s in their very nature to sin, and it’s in ours as well!

In the same way, as God has said, the consequence of sin is death!  Only death can eradicate sin!  And in typical God fashion, that’s precisely the reason for the amazing gift that God gave us!   If you will place your trust (faith) in Jesus, believing that He died for your sin (paid the price of death), took your sin to the grave where it could be eradicated, and rose again to life three days later, claiming victory over the very sin that you (and I) deal with every day, YOU WILL BE SAVED!  Saved to spend eternity with God in paradise!

It doesn’t end there though.  We are saved to make a difference in this life as well!  That’s the beauty of Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus commissions us (all of us) to go make disciples.  We are all in the same boat, sinners deserving death (by God’s standards of perfection), yet by His grace we have been saved because we place our faith and trust in Him!  Those around us are sinners as well, so that is where the common ground is formed!  Are we willing to let our comfort level hold us back from sharing this incredibly Good News with the people around us?  May it never be!  Our mission is to go and build relationships with those in our everyday lives – building trust and friendship – and then loving them enough to share with them the only Good News that has the power to save them from an eternity separated from the Creator of everything!  That is what relational discipleship looks like when played out in our lives!  Relationships are not something we have to do, they are something we get to participate in because our relationship with God extends out to everyone we come in contact with daily!  Relationships (with God and with others) are the key to everything!

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Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Gossip, can be, and is, a sin that most completely kills a community, interferes in our communion with God, and stunts the growth of those involved in it and those witnessing that sinful behavior.  Gossip is really defined by motive; is the conversation edifying (building up) the person you are speaking to about?  If not, it is gossip!  I have recently been hearing rumblings of this sort within the local church community as well as our own community of believers…believers talking about other believers…not going directly to the person as the Scriptures direct.  It’s self-centered and arrogant!  Can it really make a person feel good about themselves knowing they are talking down about someone else instead of gently walking alongside them and loving them and God enough to take the plank out of their own eyes (sin) and help a sister or brother in their walk with God?  In a twisted answer, yes…but it’s a false feeling based on corruption and arrogant pride!  Satan always gives us a false sense of joy when we belittle another person in conversation.  Gossip, plain and simple, is from Satan and should never be uttered from the lips of a believer. Period!

Why is my statement above so harsh?  There are many reasons, but the one that is percolating within me lately, and is really the reason for this post, is this – the quickest way to kill community is to gossip!  And the quickest way for non-believers or people early in their faith to run away from church is for believers to engage in gossip…this is one of the main reasons the Church has been labeled hypocritical for so long.  Satan uses believers all the time to destroy intimacy and community within the Church, but we have a higher power in charge of our lives…The Holy Spirit!  We cannot give Satan free reign to rule our lives and behaviors!

Bottom line is that we, as a community, cannot live in a sinful and gossiping environment and expect God to bless us individually or as a community.  God will not work within the context or outpouring of sin!  Remember those caught up in that self-righteous behavior in the New Testament?  Jesus continually condemned and rebuked the Pharisees for the some of this unwholesome talk and behavior.  He always holds seasoned believers to a high standard, especially when conversing to or about someone else younger in their faith.  How in the world can a younger believer (or a casual believer) ever become mature (committed) if those who should be mature are behaving in sinful ways?  How can one become mature if others won’t come along side them and walk with them as they become more mature in their faith and beliefs?  Relational Discipleship really does encompass every area of our lives as we become mature and then begin making disciples of all those around us!

God’s greatest gift to mankind was grace extended through Jesus Christ.  In accepting His grace He then asks us to extend that grace to one another.  So next time someone comes up to you and wants to talk about someone else’s behaviors, do not be a listening ear that allows the sin to fester.  Simply say to that person, “have you spoken directly with the person you are referring to?”…and when they say no, and they will, direct them to that person and simply let God convict their hearts.  Being on the listening end of gossip is as bad as being the one who is speaking!

If you want to be a mature follower of Christ, gossip must not be part of your life.  Your life and relationships matter more to the Kingdom than any sinful desires that Satan throws at you.  Seek God’s path and flee from sin!  Remember, our large group (Sunday morning) gatherings, Small Groups and one-on-one times are meant for building each other up, not tearing others down!

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

I know this is a somewhat large passage from the Scriptures that has many different teaching points; however, a young friend of mine shared a post recently that really stirred my spirit and God has pressed upon me to share a portion of the Scripture she shared as well as what He is placing in my heart and calling.

The first part of 2 Timothy 2 shares a passage that is readily on the tongue of many who follow Christ – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV).  Taking that verse and applying it to your life can be a really good thing, but without taking it into context of the end of the chapter (verses 22-26) can and has created many who condemn people far from God and worse drive them away from the only One who can truly make them happy and can save them from an eternity of torment, separated from Him.  God desires that we correctly handle the word of truth AND expects us to extend grace and love to those in whom we interact.

That’s the fire that God keeps pressing in my heart.  That is the reason I am so passionate about Relational Discipleship!  Spending time with lots of people from every walk of life – from committed to casual believers, from seekers to those not even considering a relationship with God.  You know, the way Jesus did relationship!  I think He was the best model for how we are to relate to those around us on a daily basis!  Here is a small list of those in whom Jesus made contact and how He addressed them:

The religious people of His day (Pharisees and Sadducees) –  He rebuked them for their self-righteous behavior.  Prideful believers fall into this category.  As a mature believer, we must not step back from rebuking a fellow believer in their sin…we do so in love, but not doing so does not show love at all…in fact, it is exactly the opposite!

Sinners and Tax Collectors – He spent time with them and showed them grace, mercy and love.  He came to save the lost, the sinners and those far from Him…He did not come for the self-righteous, but for the sinners in need of His grace and love!  This is the model in which we utilize when interacting with those who do not know Jesus, those in whom we have a relationship with daily and are pointing to the Savior.

The Apostles – He spent lots of time with them, teaching, rebuking, doing life with them as He discipled them to go and change the world.  This is the model as believers we should hold to when discipling other believers.

Children – He enjoyed them and placed a high value on their innocence and pure undefiled faith.  Something we all can learn from in our faith lives!

Jesus meets people where they are and responds according to their belief and understanding.  We should do the same.  Correctly handling (or dividing) the word of truth can never be a point of emphasis unless it is presented to the non-believer, seeker, or new believer in the realm of grace.  We can never be Jesus hands and feet if we are treating everyone we come in contact with as He did the Pharisees.  Yes, we call out a mature believer in that way when they are acting self-righteous, but to those in the other categories, you extend love and grace as you develop a relationship and represent Jesus well to those around you.

I have said this before and will again…Jesus wants our love and devotion, not our begrudging submission out of fear.  He also does not want us to beat non-believers, seekers and new believers over the head with the law (the things we do), He desires our hearts and a transformation of our true selves (who we are) as we follow Him out of our love for Him, not our fear of Him.  Relationships can only be based on love, trust and respect, never fear and undesired submission.  He wants relationship with us at the heart level, the same way He wants us to extend His love to those in our circles of influence.

Simply put, Love God and love others…become a disciple who makes disciples, ones who love God with all their heart! Disciples, making disciples who will make disciples!  And remember…people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, and Jesus liked people who were nothing like Him!  That’s our marching orders…go make disciples and be like Jesus!

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Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you.

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This verse is a representation of our response to the new life Christ offers us when He comes in and takes up residence in our lives.  Once we have accepted the amazing gift that God offers us, salvation through the sacrificial work of Jesus, we have new life.  We are no longer subject to the sinful and malicious desires of our human nature.  We are new…created by God and saved through Christ to be free from the sinful nature in which we were born.

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Don’t you wish it were as easy as it sounds all the time?  I know we have glimpses of this nature – kindness, compassion and forgiveness – we see this sometimes in ourselves as well as those around us…the person who stops to help someone in their time of need; someone offering up words of encouragement when others are dealing with hard times; someone seeking forgiveness when they may not even feel at fault.

Yet, we all struggle!  Why is that?  Why can’t we just take on the new self and never struggle with our sinful nature again?  You know what I am talking about, right? Road rage; yelling at our kids when they don’t comply; snapping to judgment when we see someone else’s sin playing out in destructive ways; stretching the truth to make ourselves look better in a given situation; putting others down to imply we are better than them; etc.

You see, this life in Christ we share is not a one-decision thing.  We don’t accept that amazing gift and simply go about our lives the way we once did.  We are a new creation, which means we are growing in a new direction – closer to God, becoming more like His Son.  Jesus doesn’t just want to be our Savior, saving us from hell; He wants to be in relationship with us.  And that relationship requires each of us to spend time with Him…in prayer, learning more about Him through His word, seeking out community with like-minded believers, and practicing the things He calls each of us to do.  We do not earn salvation by doing the things He expects of us – be kind, compassionate and forgive.  By responding to His love and grace in our lives and obeying the things He calls each of us to do, we are showing our love for the only One who could save us from our own sin.

Again, we cannot earn salvation!  None of us are good enough to get a free pass to be with God eternally.  We receive salvation by the grace and love of Jesus, and all we need to do is accept that gift and respond by loving Him in return and applying what He says to our daily lives.  We will stumble and struggle at times, but that is why He expects us to be in community.  He designed us to be in relationship – first with Him, and then with others.  Relational Discipleship at its very core is simply having a relationship with Jesus, having relationships with others, and continually seeking to become more like Him as well as helping others begin a relationship with Him and begin their journey in becoming more like Him.  Disciples making disciples – that’s relational discipleship at its best and how Jesus calls each and every believer to live their lives while here on this earth.

Accept His gift, and get to know Him.  As you do, He will place passions in your heart for those lost without The Savior.  You can then build those relationships with kindness, compassion and forgiveness as you introduce others to this amazing Jesus; always seeking to be a disciple who makes disciples!  This is how we reach the world for the sake of Christ!