Words of Power

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1

Jesus ate with the Pharisees, read their minds, and blew them up for their thoughts. Nowadays we talk about the Pharisees and what they did, and how bad they made people feel. But shouldn’t we also look at how we make people feel? Are we doing the same thing as the Pharisees? And when we do, why do we do it? Do we need it to feel better about ourselves?

“I’m a pastor so you have to listen to me.” Have you ever heard a pastor speak some version of that? And when they do that, why do they do it? Is it a power thing?

If you’re called to be a pastor, I believe that means you are given wisdom, and that you are called to share it. And I genuinely believe that most pastors are very sincere about their calling. But I worry when I hear a pastor say, “I was praying the other day, and God told me to talk to you about this.” When he says that, he is basically telling people, “This is what God said.” Now he can say whatever he wants, and most people in his congregation will say, “Amen! I guess I’ve got to do it then.” That isn’t always the case.

The apostles didn’t even do that. You’d think if anyone could tell people, “This is what God says you should do,” it would be the apostles! But they didn’t do that. Think about what happened in Acts, when the church was having a big fight over the question of circumcision. They gathered in council, and when they communicated their decision, they said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that what matters is a circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh.” The meaning here is important. They didn’t say, “Look, God came down and said to us, ‘This is what you need to do.’ No doubt about it.” They just said, “It seems like the Spirit was okay with our thought process on this.” That’s a pure message. That’s the wisdom pastors are given and called to share.

It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Hey, through what I’m seeing, and what I’ve read, and how I’ve been praying, I feel like the Spirit has given me peace by thinking this way. You need to pray about this too.” It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Pray about my message.” Or, “Hey, think about these things and see if it’s good to you with the Spirit.” But you don’t always hear that.

James said teachers will be judged more strictly. I think it’s because of the power they have. Words have power. We should pay more attention to the words in red. You know, Jesus. We should focus on His words, because those are the actual words of God. Not the inspired words of God, but the actual words of the Almighty God. Jesus carried these words. He spoke them into play. They are the most powerful words in the history of words, period. His words. You can read them over and over again, and feel good every time. Because you’re like, “Man! The actual words of God!”

Just the other day, I read Mark 9. It was so good! I read it via the Message Bible, because sometimes I’m struck fresh by the words. The last part of the chapter said that we’re going to be “preservatives” in this world. We are to preserve peace. And that meant so much to me. I’d never read it like that that before. “Preserve peace.”

Are we doing that as believers?

See you Thursday.

They Don’t Like Christianity

I learned about grace from my family by receiving it from them. My oldest son was living in a grace-based mentality even when he was really little. He has been a voice for God in my life, teaching me how to be a dad.

I’m so thankful for this! Now I know what it’s like to lead my family as the head of the home. The head of the home does not say, “I’m the head, you’re the tail, do what I ask.” The head of the home says, “I’m going to serve you. I’m going to love on you. I’m going to take good care of you. I’m going to nurture you into becoming the fullness that you are asked to become.”

I do that for my family because that’s what Jesus does for me. He serves me, loves me, takes care of me, sustains me, and is nurturing me into the fullness that He has called me to become.

Jesus does that for everybody. That’s why we naturally put ourselves under Him. We trust Him so much! We know how much He loves us.

The Bible talks about the sinners around Jesus. Before they met Jesus, they weren’t following God. But as soon as they saw Jesus, they followed Him. They said, “Lord, we’ll follow you.” Why did they do that? Well, Jesus didn’t say, “Look people, I am the Messiah. I am the son of the Almighty God, so if you don’t act a certain way I’ll strike you down.” He didn’t say that. It wasn’t His message!

People followed Jesus because He nurtured them and loved on them.

Now the church wonders why it’s losing people. Why don’t people want to follow Jesus anymore? Why don’t people want to be in church? I’ll tell you why. The church teaches grace, but expects legalism. The church says to people, “Jesus saved us by grace, so let’s live in joy and peace! BUT, you need to do this, and you need to do that, and you have to tithe this, and you have to give that, and by the way, you’re not allowed to drink in public, and if you use certain words…” It goes on and on. Rule, after rule, after rule.

That’s why people don’t like Christianity. Jesus lived in grace and people loved Him, but we are living in legalism and people don’t like us. We’re telling them what to do. We’re telling them what not to do. We’re making them feel bad about everything. We’re judging everybody!

And so we are falling apart.

It’s hard for us to avoid living in legalism, because we feel like we need boundaries. We feel like we need to have laws so that we won’t go off course. But it’s making us miss the whole point! Jesus took that all away! We don’t need to fear law and judgment anymore. Now we can give grace to each other and love on each other, and nurture each other to the fullness that we know we are called to become.

See you Thursday.

Confess and Find Grace

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

There is no condemnation! We can go before the throne of God without fear, and receive grace and mercy. We can trust in God’s love and salvation, which frees us to recognize our sins, accept them, and let them go.

But why do we ask God for forgiveness? We don’t do it for Him. We don’t need to ask for forgiveness to be right with God because we are already righteous and holy. When we go to God to ask for forgiveness, we are recognizing and accepting what we have done. It’s a way of admitting, “Okay, that was not the best way to behave.” And it’s a way to tell God, “You know what? That was stupid. I get that.”

Going to God with confession in our hearts is not a way of telling God, “I need forgiveness.” He already gives us grace. So going to God with confession in our hearts is how we say, “Thank you for forgiving me for that.” For example, we might say, “Hey God, you know what? I lived in the flesh right there when that guy cut me off. I yelled at him and I cussed him out. Thank you for forgiving me! And thank you for giving me the grace to move on. Help me to use more wisdom next time so that I won’t act like that. I acted from my flesh, and I would rather act in your Spirit, because that’s what I’m destined to do.”

The Bible also tells us to confess our sins to one another. Why does God want us to do that? He wants us to confess to one another because it is a liberating thing to do. What if you could sit in grace among fellow believers? Try to imagine it. You would sit with people and say, “I’m going to confess my sin to you. I can do this because you will not shame me. And this will free me.”

The Bible says that this is what believers do. We confess our sins to one another because it’s the confession that lets the sin out. But we have to do this in grace. As followers of Jesus Christ, our responsibility is to look at the person making his confession and say, “I just want to let you know that I love you. I’ve been in your situation. I’ve messed up like that. Or maybe I haven’t messed up like that, but here’s how I messed up the other day. Here’s my confession.”

This is how we know and love each other as human beings. When we confess to one another, we look at each other and accept that we all live in the flesh. At the same time, we understand that we live in the Spirit as well.  We choose to live in the flesh sometimes, but that is not who we are. So embrace each other in grace. You are holy, and you are free.

The Hole in Our Gospel

I’m so grateful for all the new visitors to my blog in the last few days! I thought, out of the nearly 500 posts I’ve written, which one would I want new readers to see first? Which one will tell you, in a few short paragraphs, what my blog and my upcoming second book are about? Which one will show you the direction I hope to take in my next phase of life? And I settled on this one. Please give it a read. Please stay connected to me. Please join the movement!

If you went to the Bible and removed all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping the really vulnerable, like orphans, you would leave a gigantic hole in the Christian Gospel. That is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. Stearns also says that this is basically what Christians have done.

We skip reading those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios, and we’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better and how we’re going to excel in life with Jesus. Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

But how does that relate to what Jesus said: that all the law can be summed up in love your neighbor as yourself? In our “best life now” scenarios, we lose that. We’re not loving our neighbor.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. When you read statistics on poverty, you don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars, or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, deceiving, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, and that’s trying to figure out a way to alleviate poverty.

And then he shows how effective we can be. He shows how we can alleviate poverty. We do it as the body of Christ. We do it as His Church.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about the early church, and what Jesus tried to do. This is why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

But in the Western church today, we get into our own little bubbles. We create these mega-churches. They offer yoga classes, Starbucks in the lobby, all these things intended for the comfort of their own people. I understand the importance of discipling, but the impression these mega-churches give is that they only care about themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

We’re supposed to be a church as a whole, a church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to go out into the communities of the world to figure out who needs help. And then we’re supposed to get together and help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage and bring joy where there is none.” And when He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s our fulfillment in Christ. That’s our real “best life now” scenario.

Who is with me?

See you Thursday.

Love Saves. Love Unites!

I don’t believe that it’s wrong that we have denominations. Denominations aren’t an obstacle to church unity. Think about it. Do you go to a church because you agree with its teaching, or do you go because it’s where you were saved, or where you feel loved?

The size of the church shouldn’t be an issue either. I have been to megachurches that have campuses so large that they have gyms for members. But they also have huge hearts for the least among us, and they have built huge humanitarian programs to show their love.

Pastor Matthew Barnett runs the Los Angeles Dream Center. It has five hundred thousand square feet, right by Dodger Stadium. These Christians feed the homeless and take care of the poor. They even paint people’s houses for free, just because they want to serve them. They distribute food and female products in poor communities that don’t have the money they need to make ends meet. They pour a lot of money and effort into the injustices they encounter, in the country and in the world.

Matthew’s father, Pastor Tommy Barnett, runs the Phoenix Dream Center out of the Phoenix First Assembly of God, same deal. And these social justice efforts do not cause division or disunity. The opposite happens. Love creates community!

Love is what it’s all about. Love saves people. Loving them.

Think of a person who has a mental illness. Probably the best healing resource is just to love on them. They still need other sources of help, but just to love on that person instead of shunning them is going to help them more than anything else.

What’s the response to a person that doesn’t have water? Love on them! Get them water. Show them that you love them. Help provide a resource they should have.

God has showed me a lot of things that are not good. Sex slavery is a terrible thing. It’s the devil’s way of perverting love. Sexuality is showing love in a pure way, a beautiful way. And we’ve created evil with it.

But He’s also showing me ways to help out, and the answer is obvious. How can I help a person trapped in the sex slave industry? Love on them. Rescue them!

God is showing us that He sees what’s wrong, and He’s showing us the answer. How does He show us? Through His people! Look at all the people willing to fight evil! He spoke about it in scripture, and He’s speaking to us about it now.

He’s opened my eyes to a whole new area of humanity, to all these people who are so unselfish. They know that love saves people. Love will bring His church together.

See you Monday.

Bring Jesus Back!

I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
John 17:20-23

Before he was taken away to be crucified, Jesus prayed to His Father, asking that His followers would be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. And this prayer was not only for the disciples that were with Him then, but for everyone who would eventually believe in Jesus because of their witness. In other words, Jesus prayed for you and me. He prayed that we would be unified as one heart and mind in God, just as Jesus was in His Father, and His Father was in Him.

Jesus prayed that everybody would see His heart, and unify in it. He prayed that we would become one because He is in us. “I in them and you in me.” His heart and His love come directly from His Father. “God gave that to me,” He said, “and I’m giving it to you.”

He prayed that we would mature in unity, becoming like-minded. Jesus says, “I need all of you to be like-minded, so that the world will believe that my Father sent me.”

If Christians are going to unify and become like-minded, then we have to key in more on not condemning one another. We have to key in more on loving one another.

Jesus did not say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and judge each other by your sins.” That is not what He said! Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love one another. Love each other as you would love yourselves. Forgive each other as you would forgive yourselves.”

Now that is a huge deal. Imagine what could happen if we got into that place, creating a community of people that are willing to help each other in trials and tribulations. Imagine what could happen if we helped each other make decisions that are good and wise. Imagine what could happen in a community that gives advice and also accepts it, where everyone helps each other avoid the wrong road. Imagine what could happen in a community that shares love and wisdom, not condemnation and judgment. Imagine what could happen! This is the unity of heart and mind that Jesus prayed for! This is the evidence of God’s love for us.

If that happened? I think Jesus would come back.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

The New Country of Grace

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! Romans 6:1-3

I blog a lot about grace, but it’s because I hope that the message will reach your heart. I hope your heart says, “This is it. This is what I need to hear. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is going to help me get out of my issues.”

His grace is going to help you today and every day. You might have messed up, but it’s all going to be okay. Jesus loves you and He smiles on you.

You, me, the Apostle Paul — we all have the same experience. We do not want to sin. It is not our intention to sin. And yet, we still do. We sin. How are we going to get out of it? It’s only by grace!

The church is an agent of grace. It helps to hang out with other people that can honestly say, “I sin just like you.” People who have been where you are can understand what you’re experiencing. They can say, “I know that Jesus walks with me. He’s encouraging me! So I know He’ll walk with you through your issue. You can lean on Him. You’ve got to know that we are righteous and holy, and you’ve also got to know that sometimes, righteous and holy people act out of the flesh.”

Just remember what Paul says: grace abounds over sin. Because of Christ, there is now no condemnation. His grace will always cover our sin. People challenged Paul when they heard that. They said, “Does that mean we can sin whenever we want?” And Paul said, “Of course not! Once you’re of the Spirit, you will do things of the Spirit. You are living a new life now, in the new country of grace!”

You see? Once you’re of the Spirit, you won’t want to sin. You’ll want to do the things of the Spirit, like love unconditionally. You’ll want to! You won’t want to gossip or tell lies. Now at times, you will. You still have flesh on your bone. And that’s not going to change until Christ returns.

So you might mess up. You will mess up. I know. I understand. And you will want to hide in your sin, because that’s what the flesh wants to do.

But when you understand the grace of God, then you will know that you can go boldly before His throne in Heaven, and He will smile at you. He will say, “My child, I don’t see that sin. I see you for who you are. And this is who you are.” And then He’ll point out all the good in your life. He’ll show you all the good of who you are. He’ll say, “This is your heart! Your heart is good! This is how I want you to see yourself – as I see you. And I’ll free you, by exposing your sin. Bring it into the light, and it will die.”

More on this next time. See you Monday.