Advance the Kingdom!

I’m a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. That’s the title of my website, and I always sign off on anything written here as Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. There is good reason for this. Briefly, let me tell you why, before I jump into my thoughts for today (if you want to read the full post of where Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak came from, you can do that here). I’m crosseyed. No, not in a physical sense. It’s just that I simply try to live my life with my eyes fixed on Jesus and what He did for all of us on the cross (Heb. 12:2). When I can keep that perspective, everything else seems to just fall into place. Life isn’t easy, by any means, but there is purpose and something bigger than me. Jesus Freak is simply a reference to, in my opinion, the greatest Christian rock song of all time…Jesus Freak by dc Talk (read the lyrics here).

That’s the filter I try to live my life through. But I don’t always live up to it. I mess up. I sin. We all do. That doesn’t excuse it, but that’s just the reality of our imperfect human nature. That’s why we needed Jesus to pay our price for us on the cross in the first place. Continue reading “Advance the Kingdom!”

Missing Our Mission?

Are we missing our mission? And by that I mean are we, as Christ followers, forgetting that our primary mission is to introduce others to Jesus? There is more to it than that as we grow, but if we try to make it as simple as we can, we should be living in such a way that we are able to share Jesus with other people.

Their acceptance or rejection of Jesus is then up to them. That’s not on us. But what is on us is sharing His love with all those that we can. As I look around our world today, however, I’m afraid that the answer to my first question is a resounding ‘YES’! We are missing our mission. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at some of Jesus’ last words, both before and after His crucifixion.

After washing His disciples’ feet and commanding them through His own actions to become servants, Jesus added what He called a “new command”. John records it this way in John 13:34-35:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

People will know you are Christ followers by the way you love one another.  That’s basically what Jesus is getting at here. Pretty simple.  William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage added some good information. Jesus is calling His disciples to love each other as Christ has loved them. In other words, for us, it is a call to love those we come in contact with, especially other Christ followers, the way that Christ has loved us.

But how has Christ loved? Barclay added four ways that Christ has loved us; Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly. That’s how we are to love one another if we want to be known as His followers.

Then, on the mountainside after His resurrection, just before ascending to Heaven, Jesus leaves us with His final command.  Matthew records it in chapter 28, and most of us know it as “The Great Commission”. These are His final words to His disciples, and it is a command that is passed to us as Christ followers. Verses 18-20 read:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Sharing Christ with others, making disciples, and baptizing them into Christ. That’s our mission. It’s not complicated, although, I think we make it complicated. One note, baptizing others is something we are commanded, and we get caught up on that, however, we miss another essential part of this command. Making disciples. That means helping others grow in their relationship with Christ. Christ followers make other Christ followers.

But back to my first question. Are we hitting this mission? Maybe to some degree, but I have to admit, my heart aches as I continue to watch Christians rip each other apart because they interpret passages from the Bible differently than one another. I am a part of a few different minister and restoration movement pages on social media. Instead of encouraging one another, what I see more often is attack after attack.

I’m all for a good debate. Debate is healthy. But what I see all too often is the attitude of “I am right and there is no room for anyone to disagree with me. If you disagree with me you are completely WRONG, and therefore are less of a Christ follower than I”. And let me just say this: I am sick of it.

Disciples make other disciples

We are called to make disciples. You can’t make disciples if you are not a disciple yourself. Disciples make other disciples or Christ followers make other Christ followers. Remember what Jesus said in John 13. I’m paraphrasing, “Love one another as I have loved you. By your love they will know you are My disciple”. How did Jesus love us? Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly.


What I am seeing from other Christ followers is anything but loving one another. And I’m talking to both sides of the debate. Most recently it has been over the topic of “women in leadership”. I’m not going to get into the debate. I’ve got friends and respected minds on both sides of the issue. For my purpose today, however, where you land on this topic is not the important part. It’s how you choose to present your interpretation.

We should be better than the world around us!

We focus so much on our differences. We are saturated by that in out culture today. It’s not just in the Church. But we should be better than the world around us! None of us are going to have it all figured out correctly. And we’re never going to agree 100% with anyone. But just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean that you can just completely rip them apart either.

I’ll wrap up with this. Again, I’m talking to both sides of any debate, especially debates among Christ followers.

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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Make It Your Own

*This post originally appeared on my friend Peter’s new blog here.  Check it out and follow his work there.*

CHRCHPeter asked me to write a guest post for his new blog.  It’s been great getting to know him over the last few months since he moved to New Mexico.  We’ve collaborated on a lot of stuff for Guadalupe Christian Camp, and he is the only other person I know with a “Jesus Freak” tattoo.

I’m a lot like Peter in how he described his experience growing up in the church.  My grandparents weren’t in ministry like his, but I grew up basically in the church anytime the doors were open.  And that was great.  I love that I grew up that way, but I came to a point in my life that I walked away from the Church.  Here’s some things I’ve learned from and about my experience of walking away.

I used an excuse of something I was frustrated about to justify walking away.

During my time in youth group, I was all in.  I was a leader in the group, especially in the last two or three years of high school.  It was that youth group that helped me through the death of my father as a fifteen year old.  One of the main things that we fought hard for during my time was a united group.

As we entered the youth group as seventh graders, it became pretty apparent that there were some major cliques in the group.  The students in the class before me and my class fought very hard to dispel the cliques, and try to be as united of a group as we could be.  Not trying to brag, but I feel that we did a pretty good job of that.  We tried to be friends with everyone in the group, and hang out with everyone as much as possible. 

After graduating high school and moving to the college age Sunday school class, however, I found out real quick that those cliques had reformed there.  Instead of trying to get rid of the cliques, I used them as an excuse to start slowly walking away from the Church.  There were other subconscious factors that lead to this as well, so I used it as an excuse.  It started as just missing Sunday school, but slowly and surely it go to the point I would miss a Sunday altogether.  And then the next thing I knew, I was skipping multiple Sundays and using my job as an excuse.

I thought it was possible to be a Christ follower on my own.

I convinced myself through this whole thing that I could maintain my relationship with Christ on my own.  I didn’t need to be going to church every week.  I was planning on going into ministry any way, so I was in a good place.  Pay attention to this section if you don’t pay attention to anything else.  I was dead wrong.  One thing I have figured out in my life is that God created us to be in community with Him…and with fellow Christ followers.  Christianity is not a path that can be easily walked without love, support, and accountability from a community of other believers.  It just can’t happen.

The more I tried to follow Jesus on my own without that community, the more I just started really going through the motions of my belief and faith.  When I ended up going to Bible College a couple of years later, that translated into just having fun and not taking my faith, or my studies seriously.  Here I was, living on campus surrounded by fellow Christ followers, but I was still just pretending and going through the motions.  You cannot follow Christ on your own…at least not very well.

The longer I was away, the harder it was to go back.

I think subconsciously I started realizing this, but I had walked away from a true Christian community for a few years now.  A simple turn back to God was all that was needed.  Think of the story of the Prodigal son.  God is ready to run to us when we finally take a step back toward Him.  But it’s not always easy to get to a place where you are ready to take that step.

Pride in trying to do it all on my own was a huge stumbling block.  Again, I really think I saw what was happening, but I thought that I could fix it on my own.  I had this.  I could come back anytime I wanted to.  But the longer I was away, the more pride got in my way.  It’s hard to stand up and admit, even to God, that you’ve messed up. 

It wasn’t until a relationship ended in a very hurtful way that I truly began to wake up, to realize that I desperately needed God and a strong Christian community to truly live out my faith.  But I also realized something that would really change everything for me…

My faith was not my own…yet.

I realized that the faith that was so strong even through my youth group years wasn’t really my own.  I had been raised to believe in Jesus, to know the Bible stories, to go to Church, and all of those things are great.  There is nothing wrong with any of it.  But at some point, you have to take that faith that your parents instilled in you, and it has to become your own.

I was baptized because all my friends were getting baptized.  It was just the natural thing to do.  I loved God, don’t get me wrong, but I was living on a faith that was given to me by my parents and my friends.  And that’s a good starting place.  You just can’t stay there the rest of your life and truly live the way that God is calling you to.  It has to mean something to YOU…not for someone else, but for you. 

There is a passage in Mark 8 where Jesus is talking to His disciples.  He asks them the question “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They respond, “Some say Elijah, others John the Baptist, still others a prophet.”  And those were good answers.  They were putting Jesus up there with some of the heroes of Hebrew history.  But that’s not who Jesus really was.  He then turned the question from who the crowd thought He was to the disciples.  “Who do you say I am?!”  Peter spoke up and gave the first confession of faith.  He said “You are the Christ!”

When we are living by someone else’s faith, even if they are correct in their understanding, we can be like the crowds.  Jesus is important.  No doubt about it.  But He may not be seen as Lord of our lives.  We have to answer Jesus’ second question.  It’s not one that He just asked the twelve disciples 2,000 years ago.  He is asking us as well.  Who do you say that Jesus is?  Until we view Jesus as the true Lord and Savior of our lives, and therefore put Him in the proper place in our lives, we will not be living our own faith.  If we are not living our own faith yet, then it’s easy to make excuses and not gather with other Christ followers.  That’s why the percentage of people who claim to be Christians and the percentage of people who are actually active in Church is so drastically different.

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Kraig Birchfield is the main author on crosseyedjesusfreak.com.  You can check out more of his articles there.  He is first and foremost a Christ follower.  He is a husband to Kelley, a writer, preacher, and a Crosseyed Jesus Freak.

Keep Your Focus

CleVs.Bos

Last Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics with an embarrassing 40+ point win.  Boston couldn’t do anything, and it looked as if they had just completely given up.  I, along with just about anyone that I heard say anything about the series assumed it was over.  Cleveland, who had won both of the first two games in Boston, was coming home and was going to easily win the next two games to sweep the series and go to the NBA Finals.  There was little doubt, especially since Boston’s star player had been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs due to an injury in the first half of game two.

The problem is that Cleveland seemed to take this for granted as well.  They seemed to just assume they had the series won, and it was going to easily fall to them.  And during the first half of game three on Sunday, that is exactly what seemed to be happening.  The Cavaliers took a commanding 21-pt lead at one point, entering halftime with a 16-point lead.  I actually stopped watching the game at that point, helping out with something else around the house.  I thought the game was over.

That is, until the fourth quarter started and I happened to glance at the game again.  That huge halftime lead had been cut to single digits.  So, I started watching the game again, hoping that the Cavs would hold on and start playing with some purpose again.  But that didn’t happen.  Boston, who looked completely out of the series and ready for the off-season fought back and hit a game-winning three-point shot with .01 seconds left.  LeBron James, who played the entire fourth quarter, went scoreless in it.  If you follow basketball at all, you know that is something that rarely happens. 

So what happened?  How did a team that was dominating the entire playoffs, and especially this series, give up a 21-point lead to allow Boston to steal a game in Cleveland?  It’s a pretty simple explanation, and it is definitely something that we, as Christ followers, can learn a lot from as well.  Continue reading “Keep Your Focus”

Community: Passionately Pursuing Jesus Together

A few days ago, I wrote about passions.  How as Christ followers, we should be passionate about following Him and carrying out our mission.  We can have other things that we are passionate about, but Jesus should be something that we undoubtedly have a passion in our souls for.  Around the same time, I came across an article that stated we should not rely on our passion for ministry, because passion can run out.  After reading the article in disbelief, I discovered that it was written by someone that I have never agreed with on anything that he has written, and his argument against passion is just added to the list.  Let me explain.

I do not mean to make lite of anyone’s profession when I say this.  But ministry and preaching every Sunday is not an easy thing to do.  If you haven’t done it personally, realize that you might just not understand what all goes into it.  And that’s fine.  Again, I’m not arguing that my job is any harder than anyone else.  But it is difficult.  And I don’t think I could do it week in, week out if God had not given me a passion for preaching His word.  That’s why I changed from Youth Ministry to Preaching, because God changed my passion.  I still really enjoy working with and being around teenagers.  But my passion is preaching His word week in and week out.  Without that passion for Jesus and for preaching His word, I don’t think I could handle all the demands that ministry and preaching have.

But that is not what I want to focus on in this post.  It was just something that got me thinking.  You see, in my last article about passion, I stated again that passion for Jesus and learning more and more about Him should be paramount.  I heard about a 12-year old this week that is doing just that, and it gave me a renewed hope.  Our Wednesday night Kid’s ministry lost one of our own a couple weeks ago.  His family moved out of state.  The last week he was here, we cancelled Adult Bible Study, and the Kid’s ministry along with myself threw him a going away party.  The teachers, on their own, got together and bought him a teen study Bible, we played games, and ate pizza.

My wife told me after this past Wednesday night that the Kid’s ministry must have really had an impact on our friend that left.  You see, the week before was spring break, and we don’t do any Kid’s programming that week.  But this past Wednesday, our friend who now lives in Michigan, called one of the teachers and asked if he could participate in the Bible lesson time over the phone.  Even better than that, we know that he was truly listening, as he was apparently answering questions after the lesson time.

Now, it is my heartfelt prayer that our friend can find a group to connect with in MI, not because we don’t want him in our group, but because he needs to be in a group that he can connect with face to face.  But the fact that he has been impacted enough to want to continue learning even over the phone is pretty incredible.  He has a passion building for Jesus in his heart, and it shows.

Passionately Pursuing JesusLet me ask you.  Do you have that kind of passion for Jesus that you would call so that you could be a part of a lesson?  Do you have a group of people that you have connected with so much that you would do anything you could to continue connecting with them?  That’s what the local church is supposed to be.  That’s why I love the idea of small groups, even if you’re in a church that could be classified as a small group itself. 

My wife and I have a group that meets at our house.  Right now, it’s just four of us, but we hope to expand that.  Actually, the prayer is that we can reach our neighbors through this group.  But for now, it’s just the four of us.  And I can tell you this.  I miss it terribly when something happens and we are not able to meet one week.  Sometimes we meet and just talk about life.  Other times we actually do a session of a Bible study.  Sometimes it’s both.  But here’s the thing.  We, as Christ followers, have been built to be in community.  And that community should be together more than just an hour or two on Sundays. 

Following Jesus passionately means finding a community of Christ followers to be connected with.  That’s why I have a passion for the local church as well.  The Church has a lot of flaws.  How could it not, it’s run on earth by flawed human beings.  But it is the Bride of Christ, and a community meant to help each other walk as Christ followers.  If you are in the Carlsbad area and don’t have a church that you gather with regularly, we would love to have you at Central.  If you are not in the Carlsbad area, please find somewhere that you can join a community of fellow Christ followers!

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The Most Loving Thing You Can Do…

There is a growing trend that I’ve been noticing for a while.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably seen it as well.  Some of you maybe have even gotten caught up in it.  I get it.  It’s easy to do, and our human nature wants us to believe it.  But I believe it is a dangerous trend that can end up hurting more people than we could ever help with it.  What is it?  It’s the idea that everything is alright, nothing is as bad as we could make it out to be, and in the end, God’s love wins. 

Let me say one thing before I go any further.  Yes, in the end God’s love wins, but not in the way that many are trying to argue now.  God wins in the end.  But for us that means we have to be in a right relationship with Him.  There are going to be those that, through their decisions, do not end up on the right side of eternity.  Jesus went to the cross for our sins, and it is through His blood that we have a chance at a relationship with God.  But that means making Jesus our Lord and Savior.  That means attempting to live the life that He has laid out for us.  That means loving others as our selves and becoming servants. 

There is a picture of a church sign that has been circulating through social media the past few days.  I’ve seen in pop up a few different times from different connections I have.  At first glance, I was all for it (even though I truly do have a disdain for church signs, because most do more harm than good).  It reads, “Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later. —God”.  While I agree with this on the surface, I think there is a deeper meaning that people are trying to take out of this that, in the end, is just plain wrong. 

Love Everyone

Yes, we are supposed to love everyone.  I agree with that wholeheartedly, even though I understand that some people are just down right hard to love at times.  That’s ok.  God never said it was going to be easy to follow His commands, just worth it.  The deeper part of this, however, is a potential issue.  With society the way it is today, I see people taking this as saying “Never correct anyone, never disagree with someone, live with tolerance, even if they are doing something that is completely opposite of what the Word of God says.”  In other words, there is no right and wrong, so just love each other and God will sort it out in the end.

Here’s the problem with that.  If someone is going against the very Word of God, and you don’t try to help them see where they are wrong because you love them, that is the very opposite of love.  And that is where I am afraid our society is heading.  There are differences in how we need to react to others depending if they are fellow Christ followers or not.  I’ve written here before about how we can never expect a culture that doesn’t claim to follow Jesus to live by the morals that we try to live by.  And that is very much true here as well.  Pointing out to someone that they are not living according to the Bible when they don’t claim to be trying to follow Jesus is not the best way to go about this.

But think about it.  You wouldn’t let someone walk into the path of an oncoming bus that they didn’t see just because they don’t see it would you?  That’s why we need to be building relationships with others and introducing them to Jesus.  If not, they are just walking into the path of destruction. 

PennPenn Jillette is one of the members of the duo better known as Penn and Teller.  They have a very famous show in Las Vegas, where they perform regularly.  Penn is a very outspoken atheist, but I came across a video he posted a few years ago on Youtube that opened my eyes to something profound.  In the video (which you can watch here), Penn describes meeting a man from the audience of one of his shows.  The man gives Penn a Gideons pocket edition New Testament, and tells Penn about Jesus.  In the front of the Bible, the man has written contact info down so that Penn can contact him to ask questions if any arise from reading.

Now Penn states directly that he knows there is no god, a point that I disagree with wholeheartedly.  But he goes on to talk about how much respect he has for the man that approached him.  He says that he has no love for any Christian that doesn’t try to share their faith.  Penn goes on to use the analogy of a bus, saying if you see a bus coming that someone else doesn’t, you do everything in your power to pull them out of the path of the bus.  This is where it gets really interesting.  He says if you believe in God, heaven and hell, how much do you have to hate someone to not try to tell them about it. 

Penn Jillette makes one the best arguments for evangelism that I’ve ever seen.  Not only is it not loving to not share your faith with someone that doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, an atheist claims that you must hate someone not to do so.  Think about that?  Love everyone and God will sort them out later.  How can you love someone and just sit idly and watch them go to hell?  

How much do you have to hate someone to not share your faith with them?

Now, there is another side of this that we need to deal with as well.  What about fellow Christ followers?  Just love them.  Never correct them.  Never call each other out for sinful behavior, right?  It’s not that simple.  In Jesus’ most famous sermons, recording in the early chapters of Matthew, and known to us as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus addresses judging.  I’ve heard this passage used countless times trying to say that we should not judge each other.  And while there is some truth in that, it is not entirely what Jesus is talking about.  In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus is recorded as saying;

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I hear most people talk about how can we judge someone else when we have our own sin.  And that is true.  Jesus asks how can we help our brother get the speck out of his eye with a log in our own.  But most stop there.  Jesus continued.  He said to take the log out of our own eye (get rid of the sin) and then we will see clearly to remove the speck from out brother’s eye.  In other words, we are called to help one another remove sin from our lives.  Not just let each other continue in sin with a log in our eyes. 

So I would say the same thing about our fellow Christ followers.  How much do you have to hate them to not try to help them correct sin in their lives?  It’s not judging them, it is loving them.  God even disciplines us because He loves us.  Sometimes He uses others to point out where we’ve goLove Everyonene wrong.  But make not mistake about it, His discipline comes from a place of love. 

“Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later.—God”  I’m fine with that, as long as you realize this.  Sometimes, the most loving thing you can do for someone is point out that they are sinful and in need of a loving Savior.

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Only God Can Change a Human Heart

We just finished a six-week sermon series at Central Christian today called Life on Mission.  This may have just been my favorite series that we have done to this point, and it has completely given me a new perspective in how we should be striving to live this Christian journey that we are on.

There was a thought that I presented today which is critical in how we live our lives as Christ followers.  It was straight from Tim Harlow’s book, Life on Mission, and it is something that we all need to understand for our own lives.  You see, our human nature gets in the way and we often try to do things on our own, instead of learning to trust and wait on God.  This even creeps into our lives when we are trying to share Jesus with others.  We think that we can save them.  In reality, however, if it depends on us, we’re in trouble.

Only God can change a human heart.

Only God can change a human heart.  In other words, it’s not really up to us in the end.  We are to partner with God on this life on mission, but it is only through His power that we are successful.  So how do we partner with God in this mission?  We pray.  We develop a prayer life where we are consistently praying for individuals that we know of that do not know Jesus yet.  And we don’t give up when we think we aren’t seeing results.

Harlow told a story in the book about a lady that prayed daily for 40 years that her husband would accept Jesus.  It would have been easy to give up after praying daily for someone for that long, but she didn’t.  And after 40 years of prayer, her husband accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and was baptized.  Wow!  But what happens if she had given up after 35 or even 39 years? 

The problem we face today is that we don’t always see God’s timing.  We want things done the way we see fit, and in our timing, but that’s just not reality.  God sees the whole picture, so sometimes He answers those prayers in ways that we don’t see coming.  Maybe, just maybe, when that happens our faith weakens sometimes.

The question was brought up today about strengthening our faith.  How do we strengthen our faith in God?  How do we develop a prayer life that we can honestly say that we “pray continually” like I Thessalonians 5 tells us to?  Without going into a lot of detail, there are a few things that I think we can do to strengthen our prayer lives and our faith at the same time.

First, we just need to pray.  How do we strengthen our prayer lives?  We pray. 

First, we just need to pray.  How do we strengthen our prayer lives?  We pray.  Often.  It needs to get to the point where we we might not even realize that we have started praying over a situation, yet we are.  Prayer needs to become second nature and a habit in our lives.  And the only way that that happens is by doing it more and more.  Trust me, I know that that is much easier said than done, but it is something that we can all attempt to improve.

Second, we need to be grounded in the Word of God.

Second, we need to be grounded in the Word of God.  We need to be studying scripture on our own and with other people.  If we aren’t connected to scripture on a daily basis, then it is going to be hard for our faith to be strong.  You want to strengthen your faith?  Study and meditate on the Bible.  That’s a great place to start.

Finally, don’t try to do all of this on your own.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t try to do all of this on your own.  Get connected to a community of Christ followers that are willing to walk beside of you and help you make prayer and Bible study a bigger part of your life.  Not only do you need to have others in your life that are more mature in their faith to help you grow, you need to be investing in others that haven’t been at it as long as you have.  There is a principle that works here; you never learn more than when you are trying to teach someone else. 

We are made to live in community with each other.  How do we strengthen our faith and our prayer lives?  Getting connected to a group of Christ followers and making sure that we are staying connected to Jesus through prayer and Bible study.  We can live this life on mission, but we have to keep our priorities straight.  We are not going to save anyone.  Only God can change a human heart!

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Treat One Another with Respect (Part 3, Conclusion)

The last couple of days I’ve written about treating each other with respect.  First in general, and then what our response as Christ followers should be when the world doesn’t always treat us with respect (Jesus warned from the beginning that the world would hate us because of Him).  You can read those two posts here and here if you’d like.

Today I’m going to wrap up this three part post about treating one another with respect, and it’s a topic that I feel shouldn’t need to be discussed, but is one that probably needs more attention than the others.  We are going to be looking at how Christ followers should treat other Christ followers.  You would think because we have Jesus in common, then we would be able to at least be civil with each other.  But that is just not the case anymore.  Sure we can disagree over minor issues, but that doesn’t mean that we have to resort to yelling, name calling, and just down right belligerent behavior.  Yet, more and more that is what I see happening between people that share a faith in Jesus Christ in common.

You would think because we have Jesus in common, then we would be able to at least be civil with each other.

I’ve seen it multiple places and involving multiple topics of discussion.  And we fall right into the trap that the rest of the culture does.  We think by yelling and name calling, we make our point come across in a more effective way.  But in reality, all it does is make us look juvenile, and in the process give Christ a bad name.  Let me deal with that first.

If we can agree on one thing, it should be that we have a mission of sharing Jesus with others.  Seriously, if we have this relationship with Jesus, and we see someone who doesn’t, why would we not want to share that with them.  Jesus is the best thing that has happened to us, and we should not want to keep that from other people.  But when we disagree with other Christians in a  belligerent and juvenile way, others see that.  When they see that we aren’t acting any better (and sometimes absolutely worse) than the rest of society, they are going to ask one question; Why would I want to follow this Jesus when His followers don’t even treat other with love and respect?

When they (Non-Christians) see that we aren’t acting any better (and sometimes absolutely worse) than the rest of society, they are going to ask one question; Why would I want to follow this Jesus when His followers don’t even treat other with love and respect?

And they have a point.  We damage our ability to share Jesus with others when we can’t even treat our fellow Christ followers with respect.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that most people that have had a bad experience with Christianity or God would say that it was really an issue of how they were treated by other people, and not God.

Social media has just made this phenomenon even worse, because it is so easy to type words and not consider how they will affect the situation.  We can attack without much fear of how it will impact us in the long run.  But others are watching us.  Politics has been one area where Christians on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, have just gone off the rails.  They can’t understand how anyone could support something opposite from what they support, and instead of agreeing to disagree, they attempt to tear the other side down through attack after attack.  I’ve seen it, like I said, from both sides.  I’ve seen it from friends and family, and complete strangers.  And it breaks my heart. 

That is one reason that I try to stay as far away from political posts on social media as I can.  I know what I believe and support, and I vote that way.  But our relationship with Jesus and trying to follow Him should take precedent over any political party or position we could hold.  Neither political party in this country completely lines up with Biblical principles.  I’ve heard it from both sides; You can’t be a Christ follower and support the _________ party. 

It’s not just politics.  I’m in groups on Facebook for members of and ministers of the Independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ.  These groups are set up for similar leaning people in their theology and doctrine.  Yet I learned very quick after joining these groups to not post or comment without being ready to be flat out attacked because someone is going to disagree with your stance on something.  And I mean attacked hard.  I’ve been told that my opinion on something was completely and just flat out wrong.  I’ve seen people just so beaten down that they end up leaving the groups.  And there has been so many discussions that have gotten so nasty with personal attacks that the admins of the groups finally had to take the original post down and actually ban people from the groups.

Friends, this should simply never be the case when we are talking about Christ followers interacting with other Christ followers. 

The only thing that I am thankful for in regards to these Facebook groups is that they are not open to where just anyone can read the junk that sometimes happens, because that would hurt any effort of sharing Jesus with others.

So what should we do?  First, we need to remember the words of Paul that we looked at yesterday.  When possible, as long as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Does that mean we have to agree with everything someone says or does, even fellow believers?  No.  That is just never going to happen.  But we have to be able to still treat each other with love and respect.

When possible, as long as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Most of these disagreements I see between Christians that get this nasty are actually things that would fall under the category of opinion.  In other words there is really no Biblical proof, one way or the other, as to exactly what should be our stance.  But one person thinks one thing, and another disagrees.  Instead of realizing that both parties have a right to their opinion, and deciding to discuss and listen to each other, the yelling and screaming begin.

Here’s the thing.  If what we are disagreeing over as Christians can be considered opinion or that we have freedom in those things, then we have to get to the point that we just agree to disagree.  In other words, if it is not a clear salvation issue, or something that is clearly declared sin in Scripture, why are we wasting our time arguing over it.

That leads me to my final thoughts on this topic though.  What if what the disagreement is over is a potential salvation issue, or and issue of sin?  In other words, one person thinks something is completely fine and not an issue, but another person thinks that it is a sin or that you have to do something to reach salvation.  I believe that Jesus addressed this.  Jesus states in Matthew 18:15-17;

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

You address the issue with them.  If they don’t change, you take a couple of other mature believers with you as witnesses.  If it continues, then you bring it to the church and finally you cut off contact if they still refuse to change.  But no where in these instructions does it say to resort to anger, yelling, or name calling. 

You are to do all of this in a loving way, because you truly care about that person.

Even if it is not a sin or salvation issue, sometimes the most loving and respectful thing we could do with someone that we disagree with is just to stay away from them.  I have found that to be the most useful thing for me.  And it takes a lot of stress and potential anger off of my shoulders.  There are others that I completely disagree with one certain topics, some that I would consider a sin issue.  They know where I stand, I know where they stand.  And instead of locking horns in a never ending debate, I have chosen to walk away.  That doesn’t mean that I ignore them completely.  If I see them, I try to be cordial and say hello.  But we aren’t close friends.

Major in the majors, minor in the minors, but in all things treat one another with love and respect.  Disagree with someone to the point you don’t think you can be kind to them?  Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away.  Let’s make this world a better place by treating one another with respect.  Join me, won’t you?

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Treat One Another With Respect (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea that we have lost the ability to disagree with one another and yet treat one another with respect in this society.  In fact, I put it this way: “Our society has lost the ability to have a civil discussion/debate without becoming belligerent.”  You can read that whole post here.  Today, I want to continue that idea, but focus in on what Christ followers should be doing in this culture of yelling, screaming, and just down right divisive behavior.

As I’ve written in other posts recently, we cannot expect a society that doesn’t know Jesus to live by our morals, because our morals are developed by following Jesus.  I think treating each other with respect is something that we should expect from everyone though.  That is just descent human behavior that we seem to have lost the ability to demonstrate.  But Christ followers should be better than society.  Unfortunately, in my experience, we are just as bad, if not worse than others in this behavior at times.

We cannot expect a society that doesn’t know Jesus to live by our morals, because our morals are developed by following Jesus.

You know as well as I do; we will never be perfect (not this side of heaven anyway).  But we should be striving to be the best we can be, and not through our own power.  The more we follow Christ, the more we should be transformed into His image.  And when we take a step back someway, we just dust ourselves off and try to continue to move forward in our walk.  One of the best ways we do this is being connected to a community of believers.  We cannot become like Christ on our own.  The author of Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 10:24, 25

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Christ followers, first and foremost, you need to be connected to a community of fellow believers.  That is the first step in treating others with respect.  But it goes much further than that.  Why should we treat others with respect?  Why should we live in peace with those around us, even when they don’t show any signs of living at peace with us?  Paul addresses this exact topic in one of my favorite chapters of one of my favorite letters of Paul.  In Romans 12 (you can read the whole chapter here), Paul pens some very frustrating, scary, yet important words for us.  In Romans 12:14-21, Paul challenges our normal human behavior, and asks us to turn from it.  He writes;

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s tough.  When someone hurts us, our first thought is usually about how we can get back at them.  But Paul tells us to walk away from that.  He says to not repay evil for evil.  Even tougher, in my opinion, he says that when possible, as long as it is up to us, live at peace with everyone.  Everyone.  Not just those you agree with.  Not just those that are nice to you.  Not just those that show you respect.  EVERYONE!  Come on.  Why should we do that?  Well, if you’re a Christ follower, then your ultimate mission is to share Jesus with as many people as you can.  If you’re yelling and arguing with someone that doesn’t know Jesus, that’s going to make it very hard for the gospel to ever get through.  And it’s not just about sharing Jesus with them.  It’s because we are to be imitating Christ, and He would live at peace with everyone.

Christ followers, first and foremost, you need to be connected to a community of fellow believers. 

Does that mean He agrees and approves of everyone’s lifestyle and choices?  Absolutely not.  Doe that mean that everyone will treat Him with respect?  Nope.  But how someone treats Him (and you, if you are trying to imitate Him) should bare no impact on how you treat them.  Believe me, I know that seems so hard.  Almost like an impossible task.  And if we were trying to do it on our own, it would be an impossible task.  We have to rely on God’s power to help us accomplish living at peace.

This is not going to be easy in the world that we live in.  We are so divided in this country that it is almost unbelievable at this point.  We might fail at times in living peaceably, but we can commit to growing through the process of becoming more and more like Him. 

I have one thing that I think I can guarantee.  And I want you to be aware of it before you start this process.  I think it is important to know what you are getting into.  If you are truly a Christ follower, becoming more and more like Jesus as you get to know Him better, people are not going to make it easy for you to live at peace.  They are going to treat you poorly.  Because of Jesus, people will hate you.  But no matter how they treat you, you are to live at peace with them.  Jesus said in Mark 13:12, 13;

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

The key in all of this is simple.  One, we can only do this through the power of Christ living in us.  Two, from Paul’s thoughts on the subject, “as far as it depends on you…”.  You see, we are responsible for how we react.  How someone else treats us does not give us the right to become belligerent with them.  So if someone is treating you like a king, or beating you down on a daily basis, we are called to live at peace with them.

When possible, as long as it is up to us, live at peace with everyone.  Everyone.  Not just those you agree with.  Not just those that are nice to you.  Not just those that show you respect.  EVERYONE! 

Tomorrow, I am going to look at part three of this idea.  We’ve discussed so far the idea that whether we are Christ followers or not, we should treat everyone with respect, and if we could do that, this world would be a much better place.  Today, we looked at the idea that if we are Christ followers, no matter how someone treats us, we need to live at peace with them and treat them with respect.  Tomorrow, and I need to give my wife credit for the idea, I am going to explore what we should do when Christ followers attack other Christ followers.  Unfortunately we are seeing that more and more, so we need to discuss that to wrap up our 3-part series of treating one another with respect.  Until then…

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Tattoos, Rock Music, and Relationships: Are You On Mission?

I’ve written about it a few times in the last couple of weeks because it is something that is completely changing the way I look at the world.  It’s something that I’ve actually known for a long time, but my perspective is changing.  In other words, it is becoming more real to me than ever before.  Instead of just “head knowledge”, I am starting to see real world application for my own life…and it’s a game changer.

I’m talking about our current sermon series that we are going through at Central Christian Church.  I wrote yesterday in part about the idea that you never learn more than when you are actively trying to teach something to someone (read that here).  And that is what is happening to me right now.  We are going through this series that I pray will be a game changer in the lives of our faith family, but it is definitely changing me.  It’s called Life on Mission (based off of the book Life on Mission by Tim Harlow) and you can check out recordings of this series here if you’d like.

The basics of the series up to this point is this; if you are a Christ follower, you have a mission of sharing Jesus with others, that should be done by building relationships with new people (having a meal with someone new is a great start), finding a way to serve those people (because you truly care about them and they are not just a project to you), and then, once you’ve built that relationship, start sharing your story of how Jesus has impacted your life.  That’s where we’ve gone so far with two more sermons to wrap it up.

I want to try to live out what I have been teaching/preaching, and am actively trying to figure out ways to start getting to know people in my neighborhood that might not know Jesus yet.  As a preacher, I am generally around Christians for the most part, so I have to put effort into finding non-Christians to interact with. 

I did something yesterday that reminded me that I already have the beginnings of friendships/relationships with people outside of my normal sphere of influence that I didn’t even think about.  I got a tattoo to help represent what I am all about and what I call myself.  You realize my nickname on here; Crosseyed Jesus Freak.  Well, I finally got “Jesus Freak” tattooed on me.  Actually, I am surprised that I didn’t get this one earlier.  “Jesus Freak” by dc Talk has had a huge impact on my life and how I want to show my faith to the world, so it is a natural idea to me to have it in my tattoo collection. 

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Here is the chorus of the song, and why it means so much to me:

What will people think

When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak

What will people do when they find that it’s true

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak

There ain’t no disguising the truth

The truth for me is that I love God with all of my heart.  There may be days that I don’t live up to that, but Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened in my life.  And because of that, you can label me whatever you would like.  I don’t care what other people think of me in the sense that I try to follow Jesus.  Now what that doesn’t mean is that I am just going out there trying to ram Jesus down other people’s throats.  That isn’t what Jesus would want.  Again it is about building relationships and then presenting how Jesus has changed your life, not standing on the street corner yelling at people.

So why the color scheme that you see in the picture?  That’s another reference to the song itself.  Here’s another part of the song:

I saw a man with tat on his big fat belly

It wiggled around like marmalade jelly

It took me a while to catch what it said

‘Cause I had to match the rhythm

Of his belly with my head

“Jesus Saves” is what it raved in a typical tattoo green

He stood on a box in the middle of the city

And claimed he had a dream

The reference of the “typical tattoo green” led me to want the green color scheme.  When I told the tattoo artist about it, he came up with the idea to do the black outline and then start with the dark green (typical, old-school tattoo color) and fade it into the bright green on top.  That sounded awesome to me, and we went with it.

Enough about the actual tattoo.  And if you don’t agree with getting tattoos, that’s great.  We don’t have to agree on it because it is a personal decision in my opinion.  But the reason I am writing about this experience is it ties in with Life on Mission.  You see, this isn’t the first one I’ve gotten from Robby.  He did my 1-1-Six tattoo that I got a little over a year ago, and a former apprentice of his did an ichthus (Jesus fish) and cross for me a few months ago as well.

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In other words, I have started building a relationship with Robby.  He grew up with a Catholic background, but I think he would tell you straight up that he is not a Christian.  There is always loud rock, hip hop, or a combination of both pumping through his shop.  It’s filled with profanity.  In fact, when I sat down in the chair yesterday, he looked at me and apologized for the music and I reminded him that it wasn’t an issue for me.

Do I like the music?  Not particularly.  Does the profanity match what I consider to be good language?  Absolutely not.  But like I explained to Robby the first time, and reminded him last night, I don’t expect him to follow Christian morals when he doesn’t claim to be a Christ follower.  If I did that, and caused tension as a result, I would never get the chance to meaningfully present Jesus to Robby at some point.  He knows what my life is all about, but we aren’t to the point where I can really present Jesus in that meaningful way yet.  I don’t want to do anything at this point to cause that to never be an option. 

So we talked music, movies, and other general entertainment as he worked, just continuing to get to know each other a little bit.  Do we have a lot of the same interests?  I wouldn’t say a lot, but we have some bands in common (he actually knows of Skillet and some other Christian groups).  We’ve gotten to the point that he values me as a repeat customer (in fact, he gave me a great deal on this piece), and we respect each other. 

Through all of this, I’ve been able to just get to know someone that is very different than I am, and different than most people that I get to interact with on a regular basis.  I pray that one day I am able to share my complete story with Robby, showing him what Jesus has done in my life, and that he sees what a life with Jesus could actually be in his own.

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My point, however, is this.  Do you know people that are a lot different than you?  I’m sure we all can think of someone.  Do you just immediately write them off (judge them because they are different), or do you look for ways to get to know them, build a relationship with them?  There is a lot of arguing and tension in the world today.  If you are a Christ follower, how can you live on mission and share Christ if you are constantly arguing with those that don’t know Him yet?  Like I said to Robby last night, just because I don’t agree with or like something that someone else does doesn’t mean that I can’t be civil with them.  In fact, it doesn’t even mean that I can’t build a friendship with them. 

Paul writes in Romans 12 that if possible, when it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone.  You can read the full text here.  What are you doing to actively live on mission? 

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