Archives For Religion

Pastors, how do we keep people close to Jesus when there are so many alternatives in the world? Some people try to build fences made of rules and standards that keep the “good” people in and the “bad” people out. The other option is to dig wells. What will you do?

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Here’s a parable I borrowed from Deb Hirsch,

(It takes place)…between a farmer and a Japanese tourist in the Australian outback. The tourist is taken aback with the sheer vastness of the outback and comments to the farmer that as far as he can see, he can’t see any fences. The tourist asks the farmer how he can possibly keep his sheep in without fences. The farmer replies that they don’t need to build fences, they just dig wells and the sheep don’t wander very far. (Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality)

There’s never been a greater need for followers of Jesus to dig wells with the true Gospel of Jesus.  It’s the only thing that will quench the thirst of the people in our city.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. – Jesus (John 7:37)

…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. – Jesus (John 4:14)

The Gospel of Good Behavior

Pastor Jon —  August 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

In the last generation of Christians in America, on the heels of a time of great hunger and thirst for God, many churches, pastors, and leaders began to give people what I call the “gospel of good behavior”.

If you look back over the last 50 years, you’ll see this arc of messaging growing in popularity. The formula for success that many of these places began to ascribe to, was a focus on a “gospel” of how you need to behave, deriving prescriptive formulas for life like, “if you would behave this way, then your life would go well,” or “here’s three steps to thinking right, three steps to finding your purpose, four steps to having a good marriage, and five habits that’ll make you a happy person.” In general, the world began to watch as this “gospel of good behavior” began to take root. We found ourselves with big name spokesmen, and the Moral Majority, that began to gain popularity and platform to tell people that, you know, “We Christians believe there’s a right and a wrong, and if you don’t get on the right, you’re going to be left behind.”

“We Christians believe there’s a right and a wrong, and if you don’t get on the right, you’re going to be left behind.”

Continue Reading…

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And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the idols from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him – I Samuel 7:3

God is very interested in keeping his promises, and God is also very interested in the disposition of your heart.  When God made promises with the nation of Israel, He said, “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  What God is saying to Israel is, “If you’ll do that – if you’ll put Me first in everything you do – if you’ll put Me first when you bring in crops, and you put Me first when your livestock multiplies.  If you’ll put Me first when you have children, if you’ll put Me first when you go to battle.”  God said, “If you put Me first in just the smallest ways – if you’ll put Me first in your life, I will multiply blessing upon blessing behind you, as long as I’m first.”

All throughout history, God has always called his people to make a decision about who’s going to be first in their life.  One of the problems that we find was happening in the nation of Israel is that they were in no way, shape, or form putting God first in their life.  What they did think was that they could put God in a box and take him out whenever they needed him to benefit their own agenda.  They began this pattern of thinking that, “Well, listen.  God’s in a box in the ark.  I’m gonna go do whatever I wanna do, and then when we need God, we can bring God in a box, and take God out of the box, and then God will do whatever we need Him to do.”  How many of you know you can’t keep God in a box?  We know we can’t do that, but I think maybe sometimes today we still try to put God in a box.

We probably would never articulate it that way.  And we may not even realize we are doing it, but how many of us have made decisions and choices to do life our way, and then when things crash and burn, we say, “God, where are you?”  Without making a conscious choice to do so, we seek to put God in this box of religious activities, then when we need Him to save us, we can pull Him out and ask for His help and blessing.

the Bible makes it really clear that there will always be competing desires in our heart.  The desire isn’t the issue; it’s what you decide to do that makes a difference.  Honor is a decision, not a desire.  A lot of people say that they want to do something, but they never do it.  A lot of people say they want to stop something, but they never stop it.  A lot of people say, “I wish,” but they never do.  The things you choose to honor are the things which will carry the most weight in your life.  The things you honor are the things in your life that you value, or consider important.  Choosing to love God first and highest in your life will inevitably demand that we make other things second.

You may find yourself at a crossroad, faced with a decision on any number of things; family, relationships, money. What you honor first demonstrates what you love the most. If you love God with all of our heart and soul and strength, it will be reflected by the choices that you make.

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And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind.

– 1 Samuel 2:35

God recognized that what was in Eli’s heart was a deviatation from being faithful to God. God was not looking for a superstar. He was not looking for somebody who had great oratory skills, or the highest level of education. He was simply looking for somebody who would be faithful to do what was in God’s heart and in God’s mind. If you question, “Can God do that through me? Can God’s kingdom be established through my life?” The answer is this: will you be faithful to do what’s in God’s heart, and in God’s mind? Continue Reading…

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They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:10-11

You may be in the midst of the painful rather than pleasant, but if you look to Jesus today, point your life in his direction, then you can be assured that there’s a “but later” coming for your life as well. “Later” yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. That is God’s heart for you. Consider Jonah, captive in the belly of the whale, in the depths, in despair. That’s what God was teaching Jonah. He was slowly using this great, big fish to swim Jonah back from his place of rebellion to a place where he can have a second chance at what God called him to do the first time. That’s the heart of God for you. Continue Reading…

The Living Water family saw this yesterday on The City.  I’d love for you to join me for 7 days of fasting to being 2014.

“It’s a dangerous thing to condone tolerance from the pulpit.”

I totally agree… and disagree.  For too long Christians have relied on trite phrases like, “love the sinner and hate the sin”, to create a paradigm that makes them feel “holy” but maintains the illusion that they are loving and non-judgmental to their fellow man. We would never tell Jesus that we love our pagan friend without adding the caveat “although I do not condone their lifestyle,” just to make sure Jesus doesn’t lower my righteousness grade due to association.  These feeble phrases and silly clauses are indicators that somewhere, deep inside, we’ve begun to exchange true grace for something man-made, something we’ve earned, something we don’t need the cross for.

The unmerited grace that Jesus offers to us is something that not even the “best Christian” is qualified to receive.  That’s what makes it grace. We don’t deserve it.  When true grace flows in, good works, motivated by GRATITUDE, flow out.  Grace that I’ve convinced myself I have earned is cheap.  The product of cheap grace is works motivated by MY FLESH and intended to EARN more grace.  But that’s just it, grace can’t be earned.  To sum it up, and package it neatly, true grace produces worship, cheap grace produces works.

Here’s the problem: when I’m living on cheap grace, my Gospel witness is tainted with the poisonous idea that in order for someone else (like that dirty sinner who I love, but don’t condone) to receive God’s grace, they have to earn it, just like I have.  Let’s try losing the pretense that I’m a better person because I sin less and, instead, focus on the miracle that when I met Jesus, my eyes were opened both to the magnitude of my depravity and magnanimous grace.  When I receive God’s immeasurable gift, my behavior will change, but not because I will it to do so.  It will change because my heart is content in Jesus and I reject the old idols that my heart used to love.  Jesus did not “lower the bar of holiness”, but He did elevate mercy over judgment (James 2:13).

Jesus came in to this world to dwell among us and stand in the gap for us.  He put on human flesh, shod his feet with dusty sandals and walked on this earth not to bring judgment on us, but to sit with us in our sin, to reach out to us in our leprous condition and to leave us awe-struck and undone by his astonishing act of restoration through the cross.  You may have had life experiences that once seemed to widen the chasm between you and God.  He has given you a way out of a life that holds you captive through Christ.  And it isn’t as if this were a single moment rending the divide between us and eternity, a one-time free pass at grace.  He promised us a guide on our way to learning how to live a worthy life.  The Holy Spirit comes along side us to indwell and empower, to enable you to overcome the things that once crippled you.  Seek the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Fill up with the love of God, and take that empowering presence of the one who heals and restores, and use your past as an empathetic vehicle to help others find restoration to the Father.

Mind Blowing Mercy

Pastor Jon —  July 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

Religious people are quick to remind us that “Jesus came to ‘thin the heard’ or ‘raise the bar'”. In reality, Jesus came to find sick people and show them the antidote. Here are some insightful comments from Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew:

In short, Jesus moved the emphasis from God’s holiness (exclusive) to God’s mercy (inclusive). Instead of the message “No undesirables allowed,” he proclaimed, “In God’s kingdom there are no undesirables.” By going out of his way to meet with Gentiles, eat with sinners, and touch the sick, he extended the realm of God’s mercy. To Jewish leaders, Jesus’ actions jeopardized the very existence of their religious caste system – no wonder the Gospels mention more than twenty occasions when they conspired again Jesus.

It is important to see the difference between the way the world defines acceptance and how Jesus would define acceptance. In general, the world will accept anyone because there is no standard to which anyone can be held accountable to. Everyone is accepted because no one is wrong. The problem with this way of thinking is that it removes any hope to deal with guilt, regret and the pain others have inflicted. If I am not wrong, why do I feel guilt, shame etc.

Jesus did not lower the bar of righteousness, in fact He did nothing of the sort. What Jesus did was raise the bar of mercy. Jesus demonstrated that His sacrifice was enough for even the most vile sinner. A Christian who rightly understands the New Testament does not have a diminished view of God’s standard for holiness, but we do have an mind blowing view of God’s mercy displayed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not pick the kind of people I would have picked to instigate the most subversive religious reformation the world has ever seen.  Jesus challenged the status quo by choosing some very unlikely candidates to be a part of His inner circle as He changed the world.  Consider these words from Larry Osborne’s “Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith”

The religious elite weren’t opposed to Jesus being a messiah or a king.  They were opposed to the kind of people he included in his kingdom.  They fought with him because he kept ignoring their definition of committed spirituality.  He refused to let them pick and choose who was going to be invited into the kingdom – and on what basis they would be allowed to come in.  So they wrote him off and tried to kill him. (Chapter 8: The Reason Jesus Came)

We’ll be talking about how Jesus challenged the status quo this summer.  Join us, you’ll never see Jesus the same.

What to do you think?  How does this “Contradiction” change the way you see the crowd passing you by? Let me know in the comments and share with a friend. See you next week.

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

Your Best and Worst (Quote)