Tag Archives: Church

Jesus Wants Nobodies

Sunday I talked about 1 John 2:15-17 which, in my opinion, is the most important passage in 1 John because it speaks to our humanity and the things that drive us. Here’s the passage:

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”


1. We either love our world or we love God. We cannot love both simultaneously.

2. We know we love our world when we define ourselves by it. When we define ourselves by our careers or relationship statuses or children or parents or significant others or style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how we order at Starbucks, we have loved the world and not God.

3. This is dangerous because what will we do when we lose our job or our relationship or our children or our parents or our significant others or our style or our music or our dialect or our nationality or our hair color or our body shape or our athletic ability or our alma mater or how we order at Starbucks? What do we do when those things vanish? What do we do when those things no longer adequately define us as individuals, as humans, as God’s children?

4. When Jesus came to redeem us, it wasn’t just to let us go to heaven, it was to bring heaven here. And in heaven all identity rooted in the world is destroyed. In heaven you are not your career or relationship status or a child or a parent or significant other or a style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how you order at Starbucks. 

In heaven, you are exactly who God made you to be. You are you. Just you. Every worldly way we identify ourselves was crucified with Jesus, and a brand new you came out of the tomb. 

5. This is one way to love God and not the world – to lose your identity. And this is what Jesus came to do. Jesus redeemed the woman caught in adultery

Zacchaeus the tax collector

the blind man

the man with leprosy

the woman who couldn’t stop bleeding

the man with a shriveled hand

the paralyzed guy whose friends lowered him from the roof

Their redemption was not just forgiveness, not just healing, but redemption came by Jesus declaring,

“YOU ARE NO LONGER WHAT THE WORLD THINKS OF YOU! YOU ARE NO LONGER THE SLUT, THE GREEDY JERK WHO STOLE EVERYBODY’S MONEY, THE BLIND GUY, THE UNCLEAN MAN, THE UNCLEAN WOMAN, THE GUY WITH THE WEIRD HAND, THE GUY WHO CAN’T WALK. YOU ARE NOW THE YOU THAT GOD MADE YOU TO BE!”

He even did this with people who, as John warned, took pride in their position and possessions. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were robbed of their control when Jesus knocked them off their self-made pedestals and robbed their pretentious identities. Pilate, the governor of the region, one of the most powerful men in Rome, was just a fella. Just a man. And Jesus treated him as such.

6. So who are you? Are you the sum of your external circumstances. Are you trying to prove yourself to the world by being good enough, cool enough, smart enough, parental enough, creative enough, different enough, rebellious enough, angry enough, nice enough, successful enough, rich enough, poor enough, well-dressed enough?

Stop. Let it go. Because if you do those things the love of God isn’t in you. Not because God is mad so he’s giving you the silent treatment. But because you are trying to get everything God offers through things that are not God. And it doesn’t work.

Stop. Let it go. Quit trying to prove yourself to people who don’t really matter anyway. Stop trying to prove that you’re a Somebody. Because Jesus invites us to be Nobodies. And Nobodies are what heaven is all about.

Sin Revisited

SIN

Yesterday I preached about sin. I was a little anxious because I know a sermon on sin is only slightly better than a sermon on the church budget. But it’s a necessary discussion and one the apostle John tackles unapologetically in his sermon called 1 John. 

We need to acknowledge sin as a very real, very powerful presence in our world. It’s hard to look at the state of our global society and say there is no sin. Look at the greed; look at the violence; look at the hate. Sin is real. John says in chapter 1 of his sermon that if we say we have no sin “we make God a liar.” 

The God of scripture is a God of redemption. Essentially every story – yes, even the violent ones – point toward redemption. And when Jesus arrives, God’s redemption manifests itself in human flesh. And after that human flesh lives his life teaching us to love and share and forgive, he’s nailed to a cross and humanity’s redemption is once and for all accomplished.

So if you tell God there’s no such thing as sin, you tell God his very essence is a lie. If you believe in the God of scripture (which opens up an entirely new conversation) then you believe in sin.

If you do not believe in the God of scripture, I encourage you to open a newspaper, turn on the news, read a blog about poverty or militant dictators or 3rd world suffering. Do this, then say with a straight face there is no sin.

JESUS

Image

Jesus showed us lots of things, and one of the most important is how to handle sinners. The apostle John also wrote a story about Jesus from his perspective. In 8:1-11 of his gospel, he tells a story about a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law drag her to Jesus, who is in the temple teaching a crowd of people. And before the entire crowd they announce that the woman has been caught sleeping with a man who is not her husband, and that the law of Moses demands she be stoned to death.

They turn to Jesus, “hoping to trap him.”

Jesus stoops down and draws in the dirt. He stands up and says, “All right, but the first stone must be thrown by the person who has no sin.” And he drew in the dirt again.

One by one the Pharisees and teachers of the law dropped their stones and walked away.

A few things:

1. The Pharisees are right. 

And Jesus acknowledges this. The law clearly says she must be stoned. To say otherwise is a misrepresentation of scripture. However, the Pharisees are operating in the realm of analysis, while Jesus operates in awareness. Rob Bell describes the difference in this blog post titled ‘how about a short sermon.’ Analysis asks “What?” while awareness asks “Who?” Analysis leads to certainty while awareness leads to exploration. Analysis breeds judgment while awareness invites grace. 

The Pharisees chose analysis; Jesus chose awareness.

2. The Pharisees chose the wrong battle

They often picked analytical fights with Jesus, and they always lost. In this story Jesus turns their analysis against them by permitting the stoning but only if it’s instigated by someone who is flawless. Of course, declaring oneself flawless is heresy. So the Pharisees found themselves trapped between upholding the Law or breaking it.

Jesus did this because his fight was on another battlefield. And that battlefield was in the heart of the humiliated woman lying in the middle of the crowd. Jesus saw someone hurting. Someone broken. Someone whose humanity had been robbed. And his fight was one of redemption and grace, not judgment and punishment.

3. We have a choice

You and I are often somewhere in that crowd. We are somewhere between the Pharisees holding their stones and Jesus drawing in the dirt. We are capable of showing grace, but not always willing. And, at least in the Christian world, we are far too often the stone holders ready to inflict punishment on wrongdoers. After all, scripture is clear.

But what happens when we find ourselves in the middle of the crowd? What happens when we become the woman. What happens when our sin is exposed and the people begin gathering their stones and we desperately scan the crowd for a messiah drawing in the dirt. 

What then? Are we okay with sin analysis or would we prefer grace awareness?

US

It’s time for the Church to stop condemning. 

It’s time we took our appropriate place in the center of the crowd with our sin exposed, waiting for the final word from Jesus. 

It’s time we start looking more like Jesus and less like Pharisees.

It’s time we stop analyzing sin and start exposing grace.

It’s time we join God in his pursuit of redeeming the world.

A Note and a Prayer

Andy found this note on the floor just inside our front doors last week:

“Dear Crosswalk,

My name is [Name, phone number]. Thank you for the food. I’ve been having trouble attending my local church for reasons such as, Alcolhol, Drugs, and Mental Illness. I’m on my meds now doing better. Also, I have troble ansering the Phone, so keep calling if you try. Please keep me in your prayers. I have a college education but my writing not good now :). When can I purcush food. Thank you.

God bless,

NAME

P.S. I feel bad so I dont go to church PLEASE PRAY.”

Sunday we talked about being generous, living open-handed instead of tight-fisted. I called our note writer a few times today with no answer and left a message each time. I hope he comes back, or at least calls. If there’s anything he’ll find at CrossWalk, it’s a generous,  open-handed people who love to pray.

If you come across this post, say a prayer for our note writer.

Obligatory Political Blog

This election season I’ve mostly kept quiet about politics (which, as some of you may know, is a miracle). So this morning I thought I’d share some thoughts from a discussion we had recently at CrossWalk concerning Christians’ role in politics.

1. There are more than two ways

In my opinion, much of our division stems from the idea that there are only two ways to see one issue. For instance, a common theme on my Facebook feed has been that half the country wants to quit working and force the other half to support their lavish lifestyle. If you lean to the Right, this makes sense because your idea of government probably tells you that individual responsibility outweighs all else. So the only reason someone would vote against you is if they think individual responsibility doesn’t matter, or that it’s acceptable to mooch off the hard-working.

That’s not true.

I cannot speak for everyone, but every person I know who voted for Obama is very hard-working, believes in personal responsibility, and carries a different view of government than their Republican friends. Just because they opposed the Republican platform, it doesn’t mean they believe the opposite. Their views are independent of Republican views.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is equally destructive to say those who voted for Romney care nothing for the poor.

That’s not true, either.

If you lean to the Left, you probably believe in a big government that helps its citizens, especially the poor. I do not know everyone who voted Republican, but most Republicans that I know care about the poor and they do their part to help. Just because they opposed the Democratic platform, it doesn’t mean they believe the opposite. Their views are independent of Democrat views.

We have to stop looking at the opposition’s views through our own lens. Doing so is like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription: it won’t look right. It will only lead to name-calling and extreme, untrue labeling.

Which leads me to point 2…

2. Assume people have good intentions

It helps when we stop saying things like, “That person wants to destroy our country,” or “That politician hates women!” I don’t know any politicians personally, but I would be very surprised if these were true. I genuinely believe people want to see our country – and everyone in it – succeed, but have different ways of going about it. They are not disingenuous simply because their way is not my way. When we find ourselves in disagreement with someone, we should start with the assumption that they have the country’s best interest in mind and go from there.

Which leads me to point 3…

3. If you must talk politics, do so face-to-face.

This does a couple things:

1) Most people are much kinder in person than on the screen. You will save yourself from sounding like an angry, egotistical hag by speaking directly to people rather than online (Sadly, I say this from experience. I’ve been rather haggish in the past).

2) Speaking face-to-face allows both parties to communicate more effectively without irrelevant words being twisted or taken to extremes. Typically when engaged in online debate, both sides scrutinize their opponents words and latch onto the language that best opens the door for a counter-attack. Much of the time, that language wasn’t the original person’s point at all.

3) You will see your opponent as a person who is not terribly different from  yourself. (i.e. If you have strong political convictions, it’s reasonable to believe that others do as well).

Which leads me to my fourth and final point…

4. The rules don’t change just because it’s politics

Here are a few scriptures we tend to neglect during election season:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This doesn’t disappear in the political arena. It still applies. If you want to be respected for your beliefs, show some respect. If you don’t want to be called names like “ignorant,” “stupid,” “racist,” “unpatriotic,” or “sexist,” then don’t use those words to describe anyone else. Ever.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up...” This verse doesn’t get set aside during election season. As followers of Jesus we still hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially when the whole world is watching. We have a great opportunity to be the light of Jesus during election time, and I’m afraid we squander it with our “unwholesome talk.”

“Do not consider yourself more highly than you ought, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves,” You guessed it, this isn’t a principle for non-political life; it covers politics too. We should be fully convinced of our beliefs and vote accordingly. We should also, like Jesus, allow people the freedom to choose for themselves without humiliating, name-calling, or ostracizing. We should be sympathetic to the fact that people will vote based on their convictions, especially religious convictions. To belittle someone because they didn’t vote like you is essentially saying you are right and they are wrong. But, as Paul says in Romans 14, “who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” It is arrogance.

Stop it.

So…

As Tony Campolo said in our video Sunday morning, you must earn the right to be heard. Owning a Facebook account does not give you the right to spew hate, twist words, or set your friends against your enemies. It gives you an opportunity to choose how your friends see you. Sadly many of us – myself included – haven’t always handled this properly. But we have at least three years to prepare ourselves for 2016.

We have three years to prepare ourselves to influence, to encourage, and to show love.

We have three years to earn the right to speak.

We have three years to learn to accept those who think differently without posting hate-filled garbage.

We have three years to forgive and be forgiven.

We have three years to figure out how to do it right next time.

Let’s not squander it. Let’s set the tone for next election right now, this second, with words of love and celebration of diversity.

And if you have a really snarky comment, save it.

Prayer: Some Honest Questions

I am a pray-er. Like everyone else I need to do it more. Sometimes, though, prayer can feel like a waste of time.

What follows are some thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and doubts I’ve heard over the years regarding prayer. I find these to be important questions worth asking, worth wrestling with, and worth discussing.

So why pray?

Sometimes it feels like we say some words into the air and wait for something to happen. Or not happen. There’s not a formula or an incantation to summon God’s attention. No signal he’s listening. No light or WiFi bars showing a connection has taken place. For all we know our prayer fades somewhere between here and some layer of the stratosphere. And we only know he answers it because something happens. Or doesn’t happen. If something (or nothing) happens after we prayed for the opposite, we say “Well, it was God’s will.” And no matter what, God’s will is done. Not ours.

God gets his way whether we pray or not.

So why are we praying, exactly?

And he knows what we want before we ask. So why ask?

And he knows what’s best, even when we think we’ve got it figured out. So, not to be redundant here, but what is the point asking?

And, I’ve always been taught that sometimes God answers our prayers, and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he says “not now.” So when a prayer goes up it either:

A) Gets answered because it was God’s will anyway

B) Doesn’t get answered because it wasn’t God’s will, or

C) Gets put in the Inbox for later, at which point God’s will will occur.

One can see why prayer might feel like a complete waste of time.

I think this is why a lot of people give up on prayer – it sounds like a complete waste of time. And, if we’re honest about how we pray, there’s probably some truth to that.

Prayer is not just a time to unload on God. Prayer is not just a time to give God our to-do list. Prayer is not just about asking God to bless our project or our food or our day. In short, prayer is not just about us. At all. Yet a lot of the time we make it that way. As someone pointed out in a Bible class last week, we sometimes decide if prayers are “answered” or not answered based on whether we like the outcome. And in that case, prayer has become about me and what I want, not about God and his purposes.

So in my experience one reason people give up on prayer is because they rarely get their way. Prayers go up for a new job and a job never comes. Prayers go up for healing and it doesn’t happen. Prayers go up for restored relationships and the chasm remains. When prayer becomes about us – about getting our way – it becomes a huge waste of time in a hurry.

Please don’t hear me say praying for any of these things is bad or wrong. As our Father, I believe God wants to be needed. I believe God wants to hear from us. I believe God smiles when we run to him with a request.

An example: our house in Houston has been on the market for over a month now. We have been joined by some wonderfully Godly people in praying for it to sell. I can’t speak for everyone praying, but when we pray about our house we say, “God, we trust you.” This dampens our stress and relieves our concern. It puts me behind God, and God before me.

In my opinion, prayer is a daily reminder that God is all we need.

Look at the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:

“Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.”

I don’t think this is a prayer to be scrutinized, parsed, and squeezed for every possible hidden meaning. I think the spirit of the prayer is what’s important. And in this prayer I see three things:

1. Take action.

“For we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” In this prayer we ask God to do the things we cannot do for ourselves, but we also commit to doing our part. Don’t ask for forgiveness unless you are a forgiving person.

Don’t ask God to help the homeless if you drive past them when they’re standing on the corner.

Don’t ask God to win the game for you if you’re just going to stand on the sidelines.

In college several of us played paintball behind an off-campus dorm. None of us had money for actual guns, so we bought cheap slingshots and huge boxes of paintballs. None of us wore masks or protective eyewear of any kind. Our slingshots weren’t regulated for speed or velocity, and we played in some thick brush with barbwire fencing splitting the middle. Yet each time we played we would gather up and pray for God to keep us safe.

Don’t pray for safety if you’re going to be a reckless moron.

We all have a part to play.

2. Trust God for today

But what about the daily bread? Aren’t I capable of feeding myself?

Are you? Couldn’t God cut off our food supply if he wanted? Couldn’t God hit the brakes on the rotation of the earth or snuff out the sun or dry up the rain? Couldn’t God send disease or famine or floods or fires? We are a very advanced society and we have ways of producing food even if all the crops fail (but not for long – who knew corn was so important?). But what Jesus teaches us to do is rely on God for today. Trust his provision for now. Don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t fret over the future, trust him now. This minute. And then the next, and the next, and the next…

As the poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

“And you learn to build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.”

3. God is in control. He is all I need.

Calling God’s name “hallowed” and inviting his kingdom is serious business. It gives him all authority and all control. It means, as Jesus so bluntly stated, dying to ourselves and participating in the kingdom on earth. So when we pray we acknowledge God’s authority and control, and we recognize he is all we need.

If you’re a person who desires to pray more yet grows frustrated from a lack of clear response, let me suggest a different approach. A good way to begin a prayer life is to spend some time every day reminding yourself of this fact.

God is in control.

He is all I need.

It might happen tucked away in a corner with your head bowed and your eyes closed. It might happen in your car on the way to work. It might happen at the dinner table while you talk with your kids. It might happen at Starbucks or on the lake or at the doctor’s office.

God is in control.

He is all I need.

In the gospel stories of Jesus we read that he frequently went off alone to pray, but only a couple of his prayers are actually recorded. When he raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, he tells God he’s not actually praying to him but is simply talking for the benefit of those standing nearby. He’s going through the charade so “that they may believe that you sent me.”

God is in control.

In Luke 22 Jesus goes to a mountain to pray before he is crucified. He says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

He is all we need.

All of Jesus’ prayers recorded in the gospels are reminders that Jesus is surrendering completely to the authority and control of God. Jesus lived for the purpose of glorifying God.

God could give you everything you ask for. He could never say no. He could be your personal genie in a bottle. But that would never transform your life the way praying, believing, and living this prayer will. Acknowledging that God is in control and that he is all you need will humble your circumstances and bring about a peace no amount of “answered prayer” can deliver. Perhaps if you’re waiting on God to come through on your requests, he might be waiting on you to trust him. Completely.

I can’t imagine giving my boys everything they ask for. I can’t imagine what kind of men they would turn out to be: selfish, spoiled, believing the world revolves around them. Imagine if God gave us everything we wanted. What a terrible life.

If you’ve always wished you had a deeper, richer prayer life, find some ways to remind yourself that God is in control and he is all you need. You will never feel like you’re wasting another second in prayer.