Being a disciple of Jesus, is it radical?

Image result for take up your cross daily

There are two words that are rattling around my head today: discipleship and radical. We are called by Jesus to follow Him. Followers of Jesus are called disciples. What type of disciple does Jesus call us to be?

Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” I think about those descriptions of a disciple, and each one challenges me. Denying self asks me to consciously and consistently make Jesus king. He is king of my actions. He gets to call the shots on how I respond when I feel strong emotions. I am called to deny my own rights and privileges and let Him decide when I avail myself of those rights and when I let them go to serve a higher good.

Wow. Taking up my cross daily hits me twice. First, I think of the cross. The cross is a burden. The cross is a sacrifice. Jesus calls us to embrace both. He calls us to embrace a consistent burden. He calls us to embrace sacrifice. The second thing that hits me about our Lord’s statement is that He calls us to embrace both daily. It is a lifestyle of sacrifice and burden.

It is after we have embraced these two descriptions of a disciple that Jesus then says that we can follow Him. This is where the radical part comes in. No, I am not talking about the type of radical that we hear used on TV. I am talking about the original meaning of the word. The word refers to a change (or a characteristic) that happens at the root or essence of something. In that way, Jesus’ call is supposed to be radical. It is supposed to change the root of who we are as people. In other words, disciples are people who are completely open to Jesus changing and challenging them from the inside out.

That is what I want. I don’t just want to be the old person I was. I don’t just want to join the “Jesus club.” I want to be changed. I want to be challenged. As Peter said to Jesus after a truly challenging teaching – Who else has the words of eternal life? Who else indeed? It is only Jesus. So if he wants to change me, I welcome that change. I don’t want to just watch Jesus. I want to follow Him!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember this – People are People

I just came back from an eye opening mission trip. We didn’t go far, but the trip got me Image result for let no debt remain outstandingthinking about how I see the people in the world and in my community.

I am wondering if we see too many as the “enemy.” We have enemies of America. We have enemies of the cross. We have enemies in our communities. I really think that we need to reevaluate thinking of others as our enemies. Why? Because when we do, people become enemies instead of people.

When we treat those who believe differently than us as enemies, we create two roadblocks to reaching them. First, we create fear. Enemies want to curse us. Enemies want to hurt us. Enemies deserve fear. People might hurt us. However, when we see others as people there is just as much the possibility that they will welcome us. People may make mistakes, but they also can show great kindness. The second roadblock is we see things instead of people. Things can be mocked and mistreated without guilt. Things can be ignored without consequences. People can’t be mistreated or ignored. People tug our heartstrings. We want to reach and touch people.

So, how do we treat those who believe differently that we do? How do we see them as people rather than our enemies? How can we reach them for Jesus? I have a few thoughts:

  1. Never assume that the ideas of a vocal leader are fully shared by their followers. I am a preacher. Those in my congregation do not walk lock-step with me. They are learning and growing just as I am. One on one, we all are that way.
  2. Never assume that what a person believes today will never change or fluctuate. Very few people never change what they think. Sure, there may be some foundational things that would require a transformation of thinking to change. We are all like that. However, there are many things that shift in us based upon who is talking to us and the argument they make. Those things change in us. They will change in others too.
  3. Stop pretending that sin, incorrect beliefs, or inconsistencies don’t plague you just like the person you disagree with. It is easy to think that “enemies” are worse than us. We all make mistakes. We all are inconsistent at times. Forgiveness and kindness are better answers than bitterness or judgment. We all need forgiveness. We all need kindness. Those we disagree with need them too.
  4. Acknowledge that everyone is capable of acting on feelings of love, devotion, fear, or hate. In other words, both the person I disagree with and I have the same emotions. I suppose if we could honestly say that our emotions never get the best of us, then we could come down hard when someone acts out of anger or fear. That’s not reality, is it? So, when someone says words that they later regret, do we give them the ability to make it right? Do we leave the door open for change, remorse, and repentance?
  5. Make ministering about loving on people in the name of Jesus and not about getting your way or winning a spiritual argument. When it feels like someone just wants to win spiritual or emotional points, our defenses go up. When love is genuine, barriers come down. We listen to each other. We learn. We grow.

Too many times we read Jesus’ words to be wise as serpents, and we forget the part about being harmless as doves. We read that people are, “enemies of the cross of Christ,” but forget that the same apostle said that we, “wrestle not against flesh and blood.” It is time for everyone to see in God’s people a lived out love that has no enemy but evil. People are loved. People are helped. People are always treated as people. When we do, we will reach out to those around us. When we do, others will see Jesus in us.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do All Things… Through Christ

Who doesn’t love hearing a secret? I am not talking about gossip. Gossip is gross. But, there is something about secrets. Book writers use that in their titles all the time: “The Secret to a Happy Life” “The Secret to Successful Investing” “The Secret Life of Pets”. Paul said that he had learned a secret. It was a secret that I need everyday. I’m glad he shared it with us!

Paul says, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

There’s a weird type of procrastination that happens with this verse. It isn’t the delaying of a task. It is the delay of responding to the invitation to be empowered. What do I mean? I mean Paul says that we can be strengthened by Him, yet we consistently say, “I’ll do that with the next big thing that God asks me to do.” We always think about future grace. Have we considered how this empowerment is supposed to be today’s grace?

When I listen to Christians talk about this verse I usually hear them say something about their next mission trip or the next time they are asked to lead in church. The idea is that when that “future time” comes they will be empowered to follow. However, I don’t hear people use this verse the way Paul used it. The context of this verse is Paul is comforting the Philippian church that their struggle to give to his ministry in the past somehow hurt Paul. He is happy that they can give now, but he wants them to know that their lack of giving did not prevent him from following God’s leading in the past. Why? Because he had learned the secret of living the Christian life in plenty and in want. How? Because he learned that he could do all things through Him who strengthens! This was not a future empowerment that Paul was living in. It was his present reality. To paraphrase the verse, he had learned, “I can do all things that I presently face through Christ who strengthens me today.” Paul did not use this truth to face the future. He used this truth to face today.

What does this mean for us? It means that we can face the doctor today through Christ who strengthens us. It means that we can be patient with our strong-willed child through Christ who strengthens us. It means that we can respond with grace to that irritable coworker through Christ who strengthens us. It means that

Image result for lifting 1000 pounds

Christians never have to say, “I just couldn’t take it any more, so I lost control.”

Let me pause here – let no one hear me say that I do this perfectly. As the New Testament declares clearly in both the writings of Paul and the writings of James, all of us mess up in this Christian life. So, no condemnation here. This isn’t about judgment… this is about hope. There is hope in these words. Although I may have failed in past in finding my strength to endure and overcome in Christ, it isn’t hopeless. I may have lost my cool yesterday, but I am not destined to forever lose my cool. I may have forgot to pray and worry took over yesterday, but I am not doomed to forever forget my faith. No… and this is the wonderful promise and power of grace — I can do all things that I face today through Christ who strengthens me!

So, who will join me in learning the secret that Paul learned? Who will join me in depending on Christ for today and not just that faith adventure of tomorrow? I want to learn the secret. I suspect that in learning it, I will discover how much power Jesus truly gives. Everyday.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Security (Part 2)

Image result for praying handsA profound phenomenon accompanies our problems and struggles – worry. When problems break through our ineffective strategies to be safe, worry is usually our companion. I had written a couple of weeks ago that we would talk about trust in our everyday life. How we worry is the everyday living out of our trust.

“Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

Worry is the second half of our seeking of security on our own. We may not always see it that way, but that is how it plays out. It is either (a) the symptom of trying to seek our own security, or (b) the solution we have chosen to find our own security.

What do I mean? Sometimes we worry because we have a problem that doesn’t have an easy answer. We live in fear that the answer won’t come. We have anxiety because we believe that we are stuck. For the one who has trusted in Jesus, our verses for the day ask a pointed question, “Aren’t you worth more than the birds of the air that God takes care of everyday?”

You see, this type of worry is a symptom. It is a symptom of our desire to have a security that we are in control of. We want to be able to stop the storms at our command. That is why we worry. What is the answer? The answer is to believe in the love of God for you. Our culture says that you should take care of yourself and look out for number one because no one else will. I think that even Christians have absorbed this. This is why our trust of God’s love for us is so shaky. The everyday problems of life reinforce the lie that God does not love us as much as He says He does. We overlook the everyday blessings. Wouldn’t it be great if we did the opposite? Let’s notice the everyday blessings that tell us how much God loves us and overlook the everyday problems! What a change we would experience!

For some, worry is their solution to their problems. They worry because (as one mother put it to me recently), “No one else is!” This type of worry is an attempt to solve the security problem. It says, “If I worry enough, I can anticipate problems and find solutions for them.” I am a problem solver. I like finding solutions to problems. However, I must admit that I cannot solve the problems that I would worry about. I can’t protect my adult children from making poor choices. I can’t stop the unforeseeable from happening. I can’t make my political and religious leaders do the right thing. My worrying will not force any of those things that are out of my control to do what I want them to do.

So then, why do I do it? The answer is simple: pride. I want to have that super power. I want to force my children to make wise choices. I want to see the future so I can mold it to my will. I want to force leaders to do what I want them to do. The passage above that encourages us to cast all our cares upon Him is a response to another encouragement: “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.” (emphasis mine) God knew this other reason we worry. We don’t just worry because we doubt that God will work in our life. We also worry because we believe we can solve our problems on our own.

So, what’s the answer? Stop believing in your own power. Stop believing in your own plans for those you love. Let God be God by bringing Him your concerns and leave them in His hands. I know, the common response is – shouldn’t I do something? The answer is – sure – if it is your thing to do. However, if you have to sacrifice your trust in God or living by His Word to “fix” the problems in your life… think again. Living by our own strength is neither worth it nor is it effective.

Both of these types of worry are dealt with through prayer. The first is a prayer of longing to understand the depths of God’s love. The second is a prayer of repentance for attempting to take God’s rightful place as the King of our life. We will find ourselves praying both types of prayer over the course of our lives. Sometimes we doubt God’s love. Sometimes we start believing in our own power to save. For both, we need to come back to God and find His love and power again. They are always sufficient. They are always there.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Security (Part 1)

Image result for iowa storms indianolaStorms. Here in central Iowa we have had plenty of them lately. It doesn’t matter if it is wind, rain, hail, or flood waters, they all surprise us with their power. It doesn’t even really matter how often it happens, we are consistently taken aback by how powerful nature can be. It reminds me that we live in a myth of security. We like to think that we have got everything under control. We do… until we don’t. We just aren’t strong enough to make our lives secure on our own.

Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

I have to admit, the storms last week rattled me a bit. No, I wasn’t in any real physical danger. But my teen age girls were home when the tree fell on my house. My first thought was, “I should have been there!” My next thought was, “What could I have done, caught the tree?” Sure, I could have comforted them and taken charge, but there is one thing that I could not do. I could not stop the wind or the tree.

There’s the challenge, isn’t it? We want to stop things. We want to stop the disasters. We want to stop the problems. We want to prevent tragedy. Yet, most things that truly stop us in our tracks can’t be stopped or prevented by us. We can’t stop natural disasters. We can’t stop the doctor’s diagnosis. If we can’t stop these things, where is the hope?

This is the truth that God’s people have discovered – my hope cannot be in my own strength or in my good circumstances. Some people may trust in those things like some used to trust in chariots or horses. God’s people learn to trust in the powerful name of their God.

What’s in a name? Why is trusting in the name of God the answer? Names in the Bible reveal character. God’s first descriptive name in the Bible is Elohim. This is the name we see in Genesis 1:1. It reminds us that God is the Creator. He has the power to create out of nothing! As we look at the other names and titles of God, we see similar declarations. He is the Provider. He is the Redeemer. He is the Healer.

What do we learn from these names of God? God can be trusted. He can be trusted with our greatest needs. He can be trusted with our today. He is worth our trust. He is not surprised or thwarted by those things that catch us off guard.

So, I don’t want to live in a myth of security. I don’t want to believe that I have everything under control when I don’t. Instead, I want to trust the One who does have everything under control. Then, when the storms of life are all around me, I can know that no matter what the outcome may be, there is One who is bigger than the storm that I can trust. This doesn’t mean that the storms won’t come, but it does mean that I am not alone nor powerless.

We’ll think more together about how this plays out in everyday life in future posts. For today, I am just working through how I have been lulled into expecting that I am in control. That is a myth. I am not in control. However, I know the One who is. I should trust Him instead of me.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Secret of Humility

I hImage result for humilityate just listing a group of verses, but I think that this time it’s necessary. Why? I believe I need to list them because we struggle with actually believing what God has said. Sure, we nod our head and say, “Amen!” However, when it comes to doing this… I just don’t think we really understand why God asks us to do this. What is this difficult call of God? Simple humility.

Matthew 5:5 5 “Blessed are the gentle [meek, humble], for they shall inherit the earth.

James 4:6 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:10 10  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

1 Peter 5:5-7 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

Do we really struggle with humility? You bet we do. In our culture, we honor humble people, but our titans of industry and leaders of culture rarely copy them. Instead, those leaders use power and force to accomplish their goals. What do we, the rank and file, do with those leaders? We honor them by buying their products and voting them into office! It’s little wonder that our young adults and children are confused. Out of one side of our mouth we extol the virtue of humility, but out of the other side of our mouth we reward the opposite. Do you see what I mean about struggling with humility?!

I would compare it to being a shepherd in Israel during the time of David or even Jesus. People during those days would extol the virtues of hard work and simple living that being a shepherd brings to mind. However, much of the work of a shepherd would exclude them from public life and public worship! Who wants to do that?!

This is our struggle with humility. Because we have cut humility off from why we should be humble, it has become a bit of a mystery to us. Our Bible tells us to embrace it. Our world tells us it is good but optional. Which is it?

Perhaps we can understand why we should embrace humility when we look at the verses I have highlighted above. Notice the common thread in each one. That thread is dependence upon God. Even Matthew 5 points us there because how does one inherit anything? It is a gift bestowed by someone else! Have you ever asked, “From whom will I inherit the earth if I am meek?”

You see, we embrace humility because in humility we point our world to God. Humility is the lever that turns self-praise in to God-praise. Humility is the attitude that turns selfishness into generosity. Humility is the action that turns focus on me into focus on Him. This is why Christians should embrace it! Not because humility gives us rewards or gets our way faster or forces people to listen to us. No, we embrace humility because we truly want others to see Jesus instead of us.

Now the hard question… Do we truly want others to see Jesus instead of us?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Count the Cost of the Life You are Living

Image result for count the costWe have been talking a lot about the freedom we have in Christ. Sometimes I think that we start believing that living in this freedom has no cost to us. So, we are surprised when God asks something of us. It is true that Jesus has paid our way to God. But, living in His way does cost us. The glory is that is costs so much less than living our own way.

Luke 14:27-33 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’… 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

What does it mean to count the cost? It means we consider what pains, hardships, blessings, and opportunities the path we are on truly give us. As we were talking last Sunday through Galatians 5:1-16, I thought of the 3 paths that Paul set before us. He set grace, legalism, and the flesh before us. Each path suggests a type of blessing to us. The path of grace declares that we have eternal life through Christ’s righteousness. The path of legalism promises self obtained righteousness if we follow every rule before us. The path of the flesh promises pleasure and self-determination.

Each path also has a cost. The path of grace encourages us to give up being the boss of our own life and let Jesus lead our every moral and significant decision. This may lead to sacrifice or persecution as we go against the desires of culture or friends and family. The path of legalism requires us to keep every rule without fail. If we fail, we pay a high price (the same price as the flesh); and we constantly live under the weight of that possible failure. The path of the flesh leads to pain as the flesh puts us under bondage and guilt as we hurt ourselves and others. Ultimately, it leads to hell.

I don’t know about you, but when I count the cost I understand what Jesus meant when He said that His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) The “freedom” of the flesh leads to an even worse bondage. The “righteousness” of the law I just can’t achieve. It is only through grace that real life is found. There may be sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that is worth it.

What about you? Have you counted the cost of the way you are living now? Is it really worth it?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment