Thoughts too long for a Facebook status message.

Religion Killed Jesus

One of the most surprising things to me over the past few months has been just how much I didn’t understand who Jesus really was.  Someone who’s been in church religiously for 22 years (even teaching for much of that time) surely ought to have a pretty good grasp of who the Bible says Jesus is, right?  I didn’t, though, not by a long shot, and Anne Rice announcing that she is leaving Christianity tells me that there are lots more like me.  (More on that in a minute.)

Three Different Types of People

One of the main areas where I labored under false assumptions was in how Jesus responded to different types of people he came into contact with.  They largely seem to fall into one of three categories.


These were people who had little or nothing to do with the church, either because of conditions beyond their control (disease, nationality, etc.) or because they had chosen to go their own way.  Jesus never spoke harshly to these people, and only occasionally did he speak to correcting their behavior.  Instead he spent time with them, loved them and met their needs — so much so that those inside the church derisively called him a “friend of sinners“:

“To what can I compare the people of this generation?” Jesus asked.  “How can I describe them?  They are like children playing a game in the public square.  They complain to their friends,

‘We played wedding songs,
and you didn’t dance,
so we played funeral songs,
and you didn’t weep.’

For John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’  The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’  But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

Religious People (Insiders)

Those born into Judaism or who adopted it later in life knew enough of God and the Law to know what was expected of them.  Jesus often spoke to these people like an exasperated father speaks to his children.

Religious Leaders

Jesus saved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders of the day.  Reading through the stories of Jesus describes a person much different than the one I thought I knew.

Opposition to the Religious Leaders

Jesus constantly found himself in conflict with the leaders of the church.


Jesus never shied away from conflict with the religious leaders.  In fact, there were times when he intentionally pursued it:

On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching.  The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely.  If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.”  So the man came forward.  Then Jesus said to his critics, “I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, “Hold out your hand.”  So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!  At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him.


Jesus was very open about how he felt about the religious leaders:

Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law!  For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.  And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.  Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.”


But he never shied away from criticizing them personally, either.  The Bible includes multiple instances:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.  When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping.  Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair.  Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other.  But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said.  Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”  Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”


As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.  His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom.  Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!  Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside?  So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees!  For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God.  You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees!  For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces.  Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field.  People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

“Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.”

“Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law!  For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. …  You remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”


Jesus’ confrontations weren’t just verbal, either.  The Bible records multiple instances of him violently clearing the temple:

It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem.  In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.  Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple.  He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.  Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

This was Jesus “mean and wild,” a Jesus I had never thought much about.

The Result

The religious leaders ultimately got their way, but only because Jesus allowed them to:

Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him.  “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?  Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple?  I was there every day.  But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”

The More Things Change…

The church in that day had been waiting hundreds of years for their Messiah; they rightly expected him to show up any minute.  So why did they kill him when he finally arrived?  They didn’t know it was him:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.

Religion always draws us away from the truth.  We set up rules and traditions and systems to help us be who we should be, but those same rules and traditions and systems gradually become our focus and blind us to true spirituality.  Like the church in Jesus’ day, we end up working for the very side that we think we’re keeping people away from.

Religion always kills Jesus — slowly, subtly, methodically — until eventually what we call Christianity bears little resemblance to the one it is supposed to represent.

Anne Rice says she’s leaving Christianity, but what she describes sounds more like she’s leaving what Christianity has become — not leaving Jesus, but leaving those who call themselves his followers.

seem seem to to
Filed under Spirituality

What Church Should Be

Over the past twenty-two years, I’ve been in a wide array of different churches.  And in the last three years especially, I’ve experienced more different churches than I ever have before.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, though, that I realized my focus over most of that three years had been what church shouldn’t be.  I’ve been very critical.  That isn’t all bad — it’s good to realize what should be done differently — but constantly focusing on the negative doesn’t do much good either.

So the past 14 days has been a time of shifting my focus to the positive — leaving behind what shouldn’t be and thinking about what should.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

What It Does

Last summer, a friend and I worked several days to come up with a mission statement that we felt reflected a healthy, Biblical church:

A community of believers that exists to worship God, make authentic disciples of Jesus, and serve others for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

In our three decades of study collectively, those were the three things we had come to believe were absolutely essential for a church: worship, making disciples, and serving.  We felt like a church that wasn’t actively doing all three couldn’t be truly healthy.

What It Looks Like


I have heard 1 Corinthians 13 read in virtually every wedding I’ve ever been to.  As long as I’ve been in church, though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone teach or preach from it.  Because of that, I had always just thought that Paul was writing to instruct couples on love inside marriage.

That’s not what he was doing, though.  Not that the same principles don’t apply, but Paul wasn’t writing to couples at all.  That chapter is 100% about how people in the church should behave toward one another.

Now I do a halfway decent job of living up to those principles in my marriage, but I certainly fail the test when measured against how I have treated people I have gone to church with.  Just read the meat of that passage:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

My church experiences (even the great ones) had always been much more accurately described by this quote from Tennessee Williams:

We have to distrust each other. It’s our only defense against betrayal.

We carry the same attitude within church as we do outside because we’re largely treated exactly the same both places.  That should never be the case.  First and foremost, above everything else, a church should be characterized by love — the kind of true love that Paul described.  The Bible makes that abundantly clear.

Jesus said:

The most important commandment is this: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these.”

John, his disciple and friend, wrote:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Jesus also said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

My sense is that love isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Christians today.


The church should also be characterized by community — not just a group of people with common interests, but a group of people who truly care about and support one another.  We see that throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  We weren’t meant to go this alone.


The other thing we see constantly in the life of the early Christian church was a dedicated commitment to prayer — prayer lasting hours or even days.  It’s the number one way church today is different than it was then.  And the number one reason things look so much different.  I love this quote from Ron Dunn:

In Acts chapter two, they prayed for ten days, Peter preached for ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days and three get saved.


Paul compares the church to a human body, with Jesus as the head:

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

The church should foster and encourage these different roles so that all members have an equal responsibility for the health of the church.

– – –

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, and I’m sure I’d change some things if I thought about it for another 7 days, but there’s also the danger of trying to make it too perfect and never actually publishing it.  I’d rather stop here and revisit it in later post as I continue to think about it.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Filed under Spirituality

KJV: The Only Inerrant Word — Revisited

My regular sarcasm and unhealthy pride frequently result in moments like this where I spout off about topics that I know little about with no regard at all for the targets of the criticism.  I’m trying very hard to be aware of it and do a better job of thinking before I speak (or write) because I understand how hurtful it is.

Thankfully not long after that I did that, I was given the opportunity to spend many hours actually researching the KJV-only discussion, and I found that there were very thoughtful, reasoned cases for it.  So with that basis, I wanted to revisit this topic one more time.

The Case for KJV-Only

As I understand it, there are two cornerstones to the argument for using the King James Version of the Bible exclusively:

  1. The KJV was translated from the manuscripts that are closest to what the authors originally wrote.  (Some believe that those manuscripts are a perfect copy of the originals.)
  2. The KJV is the best translation of those texts that has ever been and ever could be.

The Best Manuscripts

There are several different reasons why those who advocate KJV-only believe that the manuscripts from which the KJV was translated are the most accurate.

Pure Line

They believe that a pure line of manuscripts originated in Antioch and culminated in what is known as the Textus Receptus (TR), Latin for “received text” — first compiled by Erasmus in 1516 and published by him four more times over the next 19 years.  The next 106 years saw several more versions of the TR from two different editors.

The Problem

There is no pure line of manuscripts.  Erasmus himself used at least six different Greek versions to compile his New Testament, and was forced to include at least one verse from manuscripts that appeared after his first version was completed.  He also included at least one verse (Acts 9:6) that only existed in the Latin Vulgate, which they believe to be corrupted by the Roman Catholics.  Some answer this problem by saying that Erasmus’ work was God-breathed in the same way as Scripture, and so his work was as inspired as the originals.

More Copies

Today we have thousands more copies of manuscripts in the Majority Text (or Byzantine) family (which largely matches the TR) than we have in the Minority Text (or Alexandrian) family (thus the names).  This is a compelling argument for the accuracy of the Majority Text.

The Problem

It wasn’t until the ninth century that Byzantine texts outnumbered Alexandrian texts.  For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Alexandrian texts far outnumbered Byzantine.  In fact, there is no evidence that Byzantine texts even existed until the fifth century.

There are other reasons that could just as easily account for why we have far more copies of manuscripts from the Byzantine family today, none of which argue for their accuracy.


In the KJV, Psalm 12:6,7 states, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”  This indicates that God will preserve Scripture 100% intact forever.  Therefore, we must today have the exact words of the originals.

The Problem

There is wide disagreement among scholars over whether “words” here actually indicates Scripture or whether “them” in verse 7 even refers to those words rather than those who verse 5 speaks of the LORD protecting.  If those two things are true, it obviously makes a strong argument for preservation.  However, it’s very questionable that they are.

Corrupt Source

In most cases, the Bible mentions Alexandria unfavorably and Antioch favorably.  Antioch definitely appears to have had a more solid Christian foundation, so manuscripts originating from Antioch are to be trusted more than Alexandrian manuscripts.

The Problem

This would be good support for other arguments, but it alone, in the absence of other evidence, is not enough to prove that the Antioch line is more accurate.  All other things being equal, it would be more likely for a better manuscript to arise from Antioch, but it’s not proof in and of itself.

Corrupt Editors

Those who argue for KJV-only believe that the Alexandrian line was intentionally corrupted, for reasons including the advancement of Roman Catholic theology.

The Problem

People have been attempting to corrupt the Bible from the very beginning.  We have plenty of evidence of that.  However, we do not have any firm evidence that any corruption was preserved in the Alexandrian line or that it was or was not also preserved in the Byzantine line.

Corrupt Words

KJV-only proponents state, “We find that these two texts [the Majority and Minority] disagree consistently concerning the major doctrines of the Bible. They are found to disagree on readings concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the blood atonement, Christ’s second coming, the deity of Christ, and many other fundamental Christian doctrines. It is for this reason that we must examine our witnesses to determine if their testimony is accurate (God’s text) or if they are fraudulently misleading (Satan’s text).

This is one of the major problems that they have with other manuscripts and versions — and rightfully so.  If major doctrines are affected, then this is a very critical issue.

The Problem

The Minority Text doesn’t actually disagree with the Majority on any doctrine like the ones they list.  Where they disagree is on the readings, not on the doctrines.

The real issue is best stated by one of the KJV’s strongest advocates: Any fundamental [doctrine] found in any version is found purer or more frequently in the King James Bible thus making the King James Bible the best of the field (emphasis mine).

Maybe the best way to see this is with an example.  Here is Matthew 1:25 in the KJV and in the NIV:

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

KJV-only advocates claim that removing the word “firstborn” gives room to question the virgin birth.  This would be true if the doctrine of the virgin birth wasn’t attested to in a number of other places, or if it indicated that Jesus wasn’t the firstborn.  Neither of these is the case, though.  The doctrine of the virgin birth is well established by Scripture, with or without the word “firstborn” here, and Matthew himself chose not to include the word.

Most of the cases like this involve words or phrases that have been removed.  Those words or phrases do often enhance the meaning, but removing them never changes a doctrine.  Additionally, a strong argument can be made that those were only added in later manuscripts and don’t actually occur in the originals.

The Best Translation

The second cornerstone of the argument is that the KJV is the best translation that has ever been and that ever could be: “Education has degenerated along with the entire world system and could never produce a scholar equal to those of nearly four hundred years ago.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if you believe this to be true.

Common Misconceptions

It would be easy to study this topic and come away believing we have two different sets of manuscripts that a) are exactly the same within each set and b) disagree with the other set on the majority of readings.

The truth, though, is that we can be absolutely sure of what the originals said in 95% of cases because the manuscripts, across both sets, match exactly at those points.  There is, at most, a 5% disagreement, and some claim it is as low as 1.7%.

Additionally, there isn’t 100% agreement among the manuscripts in either set, and frequently the differences actually cut across the two sets.

In terms of textual criticism, what we’re talking about are differences in a very small minority of readings across thousands of different manuscripts that otherwise agree 95% of the time.


If you’ve been taught something all your life, and had it backed up with facts that sounded both true and reasonable, why would you not believe it?  I’ve believed countless things like that (and I’m sure there are some I still do), so if anyone should have been slow to speak on this topic it should have been me.  There is no excuse for saying the things I said or the way I said them.

The series of translations that led to the KJV was one of the most monumental events in all of Christian history.  So much of what we have today was built on the work of those selfless men, some of whom literally died to get a readable Bible into the hands of regular people.  Having spent hours and hours researching this, though, I’m confident that scholarship continues to increase and that we can be more sure now about what the original authors wrote than at virtually any other time in history.

Filed under Spirituality

Swallowing Camels

After the healthcare legislation passed, Christian satirist @Xianity commented:

Then Thursday, CNN.com reported on Sam Harris’ criticism of religion:

Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife.

And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century.

Both reminded me of Jesus’ own words:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

And this more extreme version a little later:

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.

Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?”

And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.

His brother James summed it this way:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It’s easy to get so caught up in rules and regulations to help us do the latter that we completely forget to do the former.  We strain out gnats while we’re swallowing camels.

Filed under Spirituality

God is Working Outside the Church

Ed posed a few very thought-provoking questions yesterday.  Jeff responded with an amazing, easy-to-read post to which I have absolutely nothing to add.  I just wanted to link to it and say, “Wow.”

Filed under Spirituality

Jesus is Not the Light of the World

I didn’t get very far in my Bible reading this morning before this verse stopped me.  Jesus says, “But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.

The part that stopped me was the “while I am here” — the obvious implication being that he’s no longer the light of the world.

Then who is?

Anyone who believes in him and follows him: You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14).

That wasn’t what caused me to come write for the first time in almost a year, though (and have to look up my password, upgrade the blog, go through several plugin updates, etc.).  What caused me to write was the realization of what a poor job of this I do — not so much in everyday life in the obvious opportunities I get to “shine,” but in all those other opportunities that aren’t so obvious.  Those situations where I know I’ll never interact with this person again or where they’ll never know who I am.  I’m not as careful in those situations.

And the truth is, there’s almost always no harm done.  I’m (usually) not acting in a way that has a negative effect.

But what would happen if we all started trying to have a positive effect in every one of those opportunities, though?  I’m not talking about signing our emails with a Bible verse or an empty exhortation to “Have a Blessed Day!” but really being a true light in that person’s day.

That’s what stopped me today and made me write: the realization of just how many opportunities like that I throw away every day and what an amazing difference it would make if we all took advantage of them.  A few every day from a handful of people probably wouldn’t make much difference, but millions of them every day…

It’s almost like he planned it that way.

Filed under Spirituality

The Atheist Who Came to Dinner

This past Sunday, John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA, shared his preaching time with his good friend Lauren Sandler.  Lauren is the author of Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, so she would seem to be a perfect fit.

What would seem to make her a very imperfect fit for the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church residing solidly in the Bible Belt, though, is that she’s a Jewish Atheist from New York City.  (New York City?)

It was exactly what church should be, though.

The only reason I’m posting this instead of linking to it directly is because First West doesn’t currently have a link to let you listen to the interview online, and I think it’s too great for anyone to miss.  If you can subscribe to podcasts, definitely subscribe to their podcast either directly or with iTunes — not only for this interview but for the great series they have going right now.

Otherwise, you can listen here.

Filed under Spirituality

KJV: The Only Inerrant Word

As my wife said, “I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am”:

A lot of these points of contention would have been clarified if the author would have used only one version of the Bible, instead of using several (per)versions to make the Bible say what she wanted. Her points are well-taken, even in this modern world, but if DeMoss is going to have us living according to God’s standards for women, she needs to stick with the KJV and not “wrest scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Wow.  Really?  More interested in what the KJV has to say than what the Bible has to say?

The publishing of the KJV was an awesome landmark in Christianity, and the scholars whose work led to it are sobering, motivating studies in true Christian commitment.  But we’ve had 500 years to develop translations that are not only more accurate reflections of the original Word, but are immeasurably easier to understand.

The longer we try to make the Bible of 1611, with its Queen’s English, apply to our lives, the closer we get to the situation that made the KJV so important in the first place: the vast majority of the people simply weren’t able to read or understand the Latin texts.  How many can read the KJV today and truly get the meaning that God wanted to convey?  If that wasn’t God’s desire 500 years ago, how could it be his desire now?

Filed under Spirituality

Barney Baptist

Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

As Southern Baptists, we absolutely live for that first part.  Everything we do is focused on getting people baptized, and without rest we preach that we are sent by God to make that happen.  It’s seemingly all we do, and yet we continue to fall farther and farther behind.

Because of that, we’re constantly analyzing why that is and what we can do about it.  The two solutions I hear most often is that we need to teach people “strategies for sharing their faith” and that we need to “work harder.”  I don’t think those are wrong — they absolutely produce results — but, at least in my life, I’ve realized that they only address surface-level symptoms of a fundamental problem.

For me, the real answer is the second part of that very same sentence: teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  I see so much emphasis on “getting them saved” and motivating us to “go and tell,” but so little on making us the kind of people for whom exhortations like that would be completely unnecessary.  If we were living our lives as God wanted us to live them, those things would be a very natural result, not something we had to beg and plead for.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Instead, this is the impression I have of how we commission our people to go and tell:

That’s definitely not what we think we’re doing, but I think it’s how many of us feel.  Our only qualifications are that we love Andy God and we want to do something for him.  Other than that, we’re being forced into a role that we accept very begrudgingly (if at all) because we don’t feel at all adequate for it.

That’s not how God planned it.  We’ve all been given gifts by the Spirit for use in his ministry, so we’re completely equipped for what he wants us to do.  But we have to remember that it’s his ministry that we’re carrying out, not our own.

Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Paul said, “Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve totally missed all of that.  In my own life, the talk of needing to work harder and of my own personal responsibility to help people connect to God has led to me trying to do this not in the power of the Spirit, but in my own power.  That’s a death spiral.  The harder I work, the worse results I have.  The worse results I have, the harder I work.  The harder I work, the worse results I have…

I need to completely change my focus.  Rather than focusing on what I’ve been called to do, I need to focus on who has called me to do it.  As I do that, everything else begins to fall into place.  “Shazam,” as Gomer would say.

I also have to remember that making disciples is much more than just “getting them saved.”  The more we can help people become completely devoted followers of Christ, the more the “getting them saved” begins to take care of itself.  I need to focus on discipleship at least as much as I focus on going and telling — if not much more.

Filed under Spirituality

I’m no Ferarri, but even if I were…

Ferrari Scaglietti 612

From the beginning, God has always been able to do things in and with my life.  Either by his design or by his desire, though, the magnitude of those things has always correlated very closely with my willingness to change myself to be more like who he wants me to be.  And not surprisingly, those changes become harder and harder to make as they cut closer and closer to the very foundation of who I am.

What is surprising to me, though, is how unwilling I can be to make those changes.  Not that I outright refuse to do what he wants me to, but rather I am one of the world’s great rationalizers — finding “good” reasons to do something just a little differently than he wants me to do it.

It’s surprising to me because I have for years acknowledged that the success that I have had was not based on my performance at all — so much so that I took the name of my consulting company from Ephesians 3:20:

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think

However, it’s not surprising to me because I have had a very difficult time translating that from something I know to be true intellectually to something I know to be true deep in my soul — moving it from head knowledge to heart knowledge.  I can tell by the way I act that — while it is definitely becoming more of a truth to me every day — it’s still largely something I think rather than something I believe, and there’s a huge difference between the two.

The picture at the top of this post is a Ferrari Scaglietti 612. I have it on my desktop to try to remind me constantly that my ability to accomplish things that have an eternal value has very little to do with me.

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson called it one of the most astonishing cars made the year he tested it, but as amazing as it is, it won’t even start without gas in it.  Even the Bugatti Veyron, the world’s fastest street-legal car, won’t do much for you without fuel.

To think that I can accomplish the things that I want to accomplish without the one who makes it happen is as inane as the guy who buys a Veyron thinking that the 6 MPG in city driving is a non-issue because gas is really optional anyway.

Filed under Spirituality