Do you love Jesus, or your theology about Jesus?

It is the deconstructive work that is painful because we have learned to emotionally invest , not in Jesus, but in our theology. A good test to determine whether Jesus or our theology takes precedence is to discern the degree to which we are willing to unlearn something and learn something new about Him. Michael Hardin

Ooh that one hits home. The truth is our theology is never perfect, but are we actually open to having it be changed by God? Are we actually willing to unlearn something, to learn something new? Christ

As I look back on my life as a Christian, pastor, and theology-nerd the amount of stuff that’s changed is dramatic. The question though isn’t how have I changed, but am I willing to continue to be changed by the prompting of God’s Spirit and Truth? Because one thing is for sure, I don’t have it all perfectly together. And I need to invest in Jesus, not in my theological thoughts about Jesus. And the difference between those two things can sometimes be wider than we think.

But what about you? How have you changed and grown in depth with Jesus? How has your theology changed? How is it changing? 

Because one thing is sure, we all need to become more like Jesus and that process involves change and it never ends. May we be open to that process and to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to conform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Following “God” Is Easy, Following Jesus is Difficult

jesus-1233747This quote is just so true:

Jesus is particular, God is generic. It is easy to follow a generic God because you can fill the term “God” with any presupposition you please; it is difficult to follow Jesus because then you have to take seriously his teachings on discipleship, on what exactly following him entails. Michael Hardin

Following “God” is easy, because it is generic. You can be a “spiritual” person, or a person connected to the “energy” of the world or anything like that easily. Because as Michael Hardin points out, you can choose the things that you will follow or connect with. You can create the path you want to follow. Following Jesus though means following his path. The difficulty path of self-denial and other-centred love. The path that values sacrifice for others, and loving at a level that seems ridiculous at times. But that’s the beauty of Christianity; it’s about Christ. It’s about following him, and not giving into the easy things but shooting for the difficult life transforming things. Things that Jesus teaches us to do like:

  • Love your enemies
  • Forgive everyone
  • Judge Not
  • Fear Not
  • Worry Not

Each of those things is simple to understand, and will take a life-time to learn to practice. Which is precisely the point. Following Jesus is a path and a journey that takes a lifetime to learn. Learning to love your enemies and that there is no them, only us is incredibly hard. Learning to not let fear and worry have holds in our hearts isn’t a weekend retreat thing. It’s a lifetime thing.

This is why G.K. Chesterton said something truthful in, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried

But I believe it’s in the trying that life is found. It’s in the striving after following Jesus,  his path, and his way of life that life is found.

And my question in all of this is this: if you’re a follower of Jesus are you following his path? 

Because as Michael Hardin reminds us, it’s easy to follow “God” following but Jesus means following his path. And his path leads to life, it’s not easy, it’s hard but it’s absolutely worthwhile.

So out of those 5 things listed above (judge not, fear not, worry not, forgive everyone, love your enemies) which one do you need to work on today? Which one do you need to focus on and give some attention to? Which one do you need to try to follow today? Because following Jesus means walking his path, and this is the path he laid down. It’s not an easy one, but it is a life-changing one.

A Christian is less about avoiding sin, than actively doing God’s will

1224442_75255610I want to think a little bit about a quote from Bonhoeffer. Its really deep – okay most of what he writes is deep. But this one quote gets me every time. He says this:

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

And I think that is so true. The reason that I don’t think that “sheltering” or “Christian Bubble” thinking or practice works is because the focus is off. In those paradigms the focus is to avoid sin, to stay safe, to be cautious, and only to be involved with things that are “approved” (by whomever has the authority). And please hear me clearly, I’m certainly not against avoiding sin or avoiding dangerous or compromising situations. My issue is with the central focus. 

In the “sheltering” or “Christian Bubble” thinking the central focus is actually sin. Sure the focus is avoiding sin, but the focus is still sin. The entire paradigm is driven by fear (don’t fall into sin) negativity (don’t don’t don’t) and staying “safe”. And this is Bonhoeffer’s point. The central activity of being a Christian isn’t what you are again, staying safe, or of fear of the world.

The central mark of being a Christian is courageously following God.

Focusing on following God needs to be the central defining aspect of a Christians life. And yes that entails avoiding sin, and compromising situations but those are secondary to the primary Christian calling: courageously following Christ.

My point is that Bonhoeffer is right. The focus of Christianity isn’t just about avoiding sin, but courageously doing God’s calling. Christianity isn’t best thought of as a retreat, or evacuation from the world, or a refuge from the world; it is best thought of as an adventure in partnering with God to save the world.

Being Missional Isn’t Just About Acting, but About Seeing

1395871_19682756A lot of discussion about being “missional” focuses on doing. Being missional means partnering in what God is doing all over the world, and in your neighbourhood. Being missional is about remembering that Christians are geared for mission – to serve, love, and change lives. And being missional matters.

Many of the seminars and speakers I’ve heard focus on some great actions to get us out into the community and caring. Things like throwing BBQ’s, being a real-life blessing to those around us, and caring for those who are hurting in our communities. Great stuff.

But I think the real art to being missional isn’t about doing, but about seeing.

The truth is God is already active all around us. God is doing things in our neighbourhoods, families, and communities right now. We follow an active, and dynamic God. A God on the move.

And so while certainly it is important to move and “do mission” with God – the most important practice is to first learn to see where God is moving. We, as Christians, need to become experts at spotting the initial moves of God’s Spirit in our lives, communities, and neighbourhoods. We need to become so in-tune with God’s Spirit that we catch his harmonies in conversations, that we sense his movements in the lives around us.

It’s important to act, but first it’s important to have “eyes to see” where God is already moving.

So how do you do that? Well sometimes the best answer is the simple answer. Start to pray. Pray as you walk around your street. Pray as you talk with neighbours and families. Pray that God will give you eyes to see how he is already moving around you, and how you can join him.

And trust me – this is a prayer God not only will answer, but I think one he wants to answer.

When Fear Comes Calling in the Middle of the Night ~ Fear As the Opposite of Faith

Spooky old photoEarlier this week I was listening to a song that had a line that really caught my attention. It was this:

“In the middle of the night, when fear comes calling / Singin’ it all dies, awfully scared, alone / I’m looking into your eyes and feel your calm / Pretty thing that catches me so strong when I fall”

This lyric just put words, and emotions to something I know I feel deep down: that fear steals life. 

Isn’t that true? Fear steals life, it steals life while it’s happening proclaiming in the middle of the night that all dies, awful, and alone. Fear plays to our worst parts of ourselves, and calls them true. That’s why I really believe fear is the opposite of faith.

Whereas fear tells us that the worst is true, faith tells us that the best is yet to come. Fear tells us that life is over, faith tells us that life can begin again. Fear plays to death, faith plays to life.

The Apostle John after arguing that God is love, says that perfect love casts out fear. Or that God’s perfect presence banishes fear. In God’s presence, captivated by faith, fear is flushed away.

And while that song isn’t singing about God, for me those lines are true in relation to God. That when fear comes in the middle of the night, calling, luring, and lying to me, I look into the eyes of Jesus and feel his calm; his gaze catches me so strongly when I fall and reminds me of one thing: That in his love there is no need for fear.

Contract Christianity

251732_4297I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.

And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:

  • At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
  • It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
  • I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t  it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?

But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.

And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.

Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.

  • How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
  • Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
  • I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?

When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.

This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)

So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.

Why I Still Believe in Church…Even When Its Imperfect

1013561_30930609On Sunday we challenged a pretty close and dear North American myth of Christianity. That all you need is “me and Jesus” to follow him.

This idea that you can follow Jesus without committing to a church, or a community of believers is pretty common. Our culture values autonomy, individualism, and freedom of choice so it’s no surprise its affected religion. The truth though is that you need a community to follow Jesus. Following Jesus isn’t a solo sport, and it’s not healthy Biblically to follow Jesus on your own.

And this is a difficult truth to hear. Richard Rohr once said, “Before the truth sets you free, it makes you miserable.” And this is true.

Because the truth is you need others deeply in your life to follow Jesus well, deeply, and for a lifetime. Faith is passed on in community. Faith is grown in community. And faith is found in community.

So while I know it’s not popular to say: I believe we still need to commit to the church. Yes the imperfect, messy, and occasionally hurtful church. I know it’s not a popular belief, but I believe it is true. God is still using the church, imperfect as she may be.

St. Cyprian once said, “You cannot have God for your Father if You have not the Church for your Mother.” And this is true.

So on Sunday we looked at the last statement in our SevenFold Way of Following Jesus Series.

I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

And I believe that we do actually need to commit, participate, and join in God’s mission through the church.

I’m not saying that you need to join our church, or a church that looks, acts, or is structured like ours. But I do believe we need to join a local body of believers to participate in God’s mission to change the world.

You see, Church is not somewhere you go, it’s a people you participate with. Church isn’t a destination you go to, It’s a calling you live. And it needs to be lived out with others.

So we need the church, and the church needs you. And I hope you might be able to agree with this statement for you and your context:

I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

Because I think the church and community matters, and I hope you do too.

Community is the deepest and most foundational reality that exist. Leonardo Boff

Teaching Notes

Big Idea: I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.

Teaching Points:

  • Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable. Richard Rohr
  • Myth: That you can follow Jesus on your own
  • Following Jesus is not a solo sport
  • You cannot have God for your Father if You have not the Church for your Mother. St. Cyprian
  • Church isn’t a destination you go, It’s a calling you live. And it needs to be lived out with others
  • We need to: Commit, Participate, and Transform the World
  • Church is not somewhere you go, it’s a people you participate with.
  • You are needed
  • God what have you given to me to give to others?
  • This idea that Christianity and consumerism are completely compatible…is the great insanity of our times. Win Butler
  • The church exists to transform lives.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever had a bad experience with church? Have you ever had a beautiful experience with church? Why or why not do you think being a part of a community of believers matters? How might you more deeply commit, and participate in church? What next steps can you take?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to you kids about the importance of community. Ask them who other than you as their parents, are adults that they really respect. Ask them why, and then think about how you might have them invest more in your kids, because raising kids takes a community.

Challenge for the Week: Commit and participate in a church, to transform lives.

Getting Out of Your Seat

1380002_96509223At this year’s Regional Gathering (our denomination’s annual conference) the speaker Caesar Kalinowski made an interesting and very true comment. He said this:

“Very little discipleship happens sitting in seats”

He was referring to Sunday morning primarily. And while as a pastor, clearly Sunday mornings are a large part of my job, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Because here is his point: following Jesus requires movement, practice, and action.

Often on Sunday mornings we learn about Jesus, but discipleship happens when we follow Jesus. Discipleship happens when we get out of our seats and let Jesus start to transform the totality of our lives. And yes, to follow Jesus means you need to learn about Jesus, but it is possible to learn lots about Jesus and not follow him. Caesar’s point is that discipleship breaks down when the learning gets separated from the following.

This doesn’t mean that Sunday morning services don’t matter. They do, and I put a lot of prayer and effort into mine. But what I know is that Sunday mornings aren’t the endpoint of discipleship, but the starting point – the sending point. We gather together to get reminded of what following Jesus looks like, and get sent out to live that in a new way that week.

So Caesar is right, discipleship doesn’t just happen in seats, which is why each week we gather as the church, to be sent out as the church into our communities.

And this is just a reminder that discipleship is a process, a journey, a sending, but most of all a following. So as you live, work, and play this week – remember who you are following and how you are learning to live like him.

Speaking Truth and Getting Rid of Promises

1195548_76079122On Sunday we looked at Jesus’ teaching on oaths, vows, and promises in Matthew 5:33-37.  In this teaching Jesus teaches people not to swear oaths by anything earth, God, Jerusalem, or heaven. He summarizes his teaching with saying, just let your yes be yes and your no be no.

And here is why I think if you have to add an oath, a vow, a provision, or an extra promise to something, it points to the fact that trust is low. Dallas Willard puts it this way, “The essence of swearing or making oaths is to try to use something that, though impressive, is irrelevant to the issues at hand to together to believe you and let you have your way. This is wrong. It is unlike God”. And he is so right. The NLT translates the last few sentences of Jesus’ teaching this way, “Just say a simple Yes I will, or No I won’t. Your word is enough. To strengthen our promise with a vow shows that something is  wrong”

I think Jesus’ teaching comes down to the point that we need to be people of truth. That as his followers we need to be committed to truth – getting rid of all lies, oaths, vows, and half-truths. Just let every word you speak be truthful.

So we ended with the challenge to be people who speak truth this week. And to help that happen I gave three suggestions.

First, we need to confess to God our sin. This seems a bit counterintuitive but the point is that unless we are truthful with God we will not be able to be truthful with others. Bonhoeffer puts it this way, “Complete truthfulness is only possible where sin has be uncovered and forgiven by Jesus. Only those who are in a state of truthfulness through the confession for their sin to Jesus are not ashamed to tell the truth wherever it must be told”.

Secondly, we talked about needing to speak truth all the time. What this means is that everything I say needs to be true, but I don’t have to say everything that is true. I don’t need to reveal everything I think is true, in every situation. I can have tact, and discernment, but everything I do say or reveal needs to be true. This is our calling as Christians.

And lastly, that we need to speak truth softly. Whenever we use our words as a weapon to hurt, injure, or wound we’ve missed the point. Jesus previously in this chapter has already taught us to rid ourselves of anger. So any words that are spoken without compassion, is just veiled aggression and isn’t to be part of the kingdom. Stanley  Hauerwas puts it this way: “Christians are thereby, committed to plain speech. We seek to say no more or no less than what needs to be said. Speech so disciplined is not easily attained. Too often we want to use the gift of speech as a weapon, often a very subtle weapon, to establish our superiority” .

So we ended with a challenge to be people of truth. To confess to God, to speak truth to others, and to speak it softly. This is so important because if we want to have churches, marriages, and communities that are stable, healthy and whole, they need to be built on truth and trust. So go be a person of truth today…

“There is not truth toward Jesus without truth towards other people. Lying destroys community. But truth rends false community and founds genuine fellowship”.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Be a person of Integrity

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Old Testament verses point to being people of truth
  • People swear oaths because of a lack of trust
  • The essence of swearing or making oaths is to try to use something that, though impressive, is irrelevant to the issues at hand to together to believe you and let you have your way. This is wrong. It is unlike God. Dallas Willard
  • “Just say a simple Yes I will, or No I won’t. You’re word is enough. To strength our promise with a vow shows that something is wrong” – Jesus
  • Thus disciples of Jesus should not swear, because there is no such thing as speech not spoken before God. All of their words should be nothing but truth, so that nothing requires verification by oath. An oath consigns all other statements to the darkness of doubt. That is why it is from the evil one. Bonhoeffer
  • Speak with truth
  • Confess your sin, to be able to speak with truth
  • Complete truthfulness is only possible where sin has be uncovered and forgiven by Jesus. Only those who are in a state of truthfulness through the confession for their sin to Jesus are not ashamed to tell the truth wherever it must be told”.
  • Everything I say needs to be true But I don’t have to say everything that is true
  • “Christians are thereby, committed to plain speech. We seek to say no more or no less than what needs to be said. Speech so disciplined is not easily attained. Too often we want to use the gift of speech as a weapon, often a very subtle weapon, to establish our superiority” Hauerwas
  • “There is not truth toward Jesus without truth towards other people. Lying destroys community. But truth rends false community and founds genuine fellowship” Bonhoeffer

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

How do you use your words? Would you say you use them to build up or tear down? How thoughtfully or intentionally do you use your words? How can you this week start to become a person of deeper integrity? Who can help to support you and keep you accountable in being truthful and honest.

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about being a person of truth. Tell them why it matters in your own words. Maybe take a moment and promise to them that you will always speak to them with truth, and ask if they would do the same with you.

Challenge for this Week: Speak with truth

Hudson is a Copying Machine

My little boy Hudson is a copying machine. He copies everything I do. He’s recently started being really interested in coffee (which is great!) and1312_10153003547360643_74897867_n in my morning routine. He now brushes his teeth with me, watches me shave (what little facial hair I have) and talks with me.

Yesterday I found Hudson in our bathroom and told him it was time to go to a friend’s. He said “One minute Daddy”. And then he got out my deodorant and put it on.

He is copying everything I am doing, and in fact I really like it. Knowing that he is watching makes me want to live better. I hope my life is worth imitating.

This is something that Paul gets at. He actually says, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). What I realized is that my life needs to be worth imitating. My life needs to be so Christ-like that when Hudson starts to act like me, he is actually acting like Jesus.

Reading that verse made me reflect on whether or not my life was sufficiently Christ-like. Because it is so easy to tell people to follow Jesus without giving them an example. The much harder path of discipleship is to tell people to imitate ourselves, as we imitate Christ. To say, “If you want to know what following Jesus looks like, watch me.” And while this way of teaching is the hardest, because it requires the most congruence, it is also how people learn best. I know this because I see it in Hudson all the time. He learns best  through watching, and following. I hope that through watching and following me, he is not only learning to shave, but to follow Christ. My hope is that he isn’t just picking up on my quirks but my Lord.

So I want to end with one question. Can you say to your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers like Paul – “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” Is your lifestyle worth following or worth imitating? And if not, what do you need to change so that you can say that? Because people learn best by watching and following, and the world needs to know not only about Jesus but to see the example of Jesus through our lives.

So what are people seeing in your life?

My hope is that when Hudson watches and follows me, he isn’t just following his dad, but also his Savior. That’s my hope for my little boy, and it’s the hope of my life. That my life points people to someone greater than just me, that it points people to Jesus.