Wednesday, August 31, 2011


During high school, I was one of those annoying teens driving down the road making everyone listen to, not only, my music, but the rattle of my car from the 15” sub woofer I had in the trunk. Knowing that I was a white, middle-class kid growing up in western South Dakota, you may find that hard to believe. What probably made it more annoying to innocent bystanders at red lights and stop signs was that I used to be big into gangsta’ rap (I know, I was both original and cool). And to be totally honest and bare my soul to you, I still occasionally need my fix. Among my favorite was Tupac Shakur (you less hip folks probably know him as 2Pac).

'Only God Can Judge Me' is one of his more popular songs. Unless you are a few cards short of a deck, you would probably guess the one line he continually repeats is: 'only God can judge me.' Little did I know that the church considered 2Pac a prophet, or at least a great teacher. If you hang out with one of Jesus' followers today, you will probably hear them recite the same line--'only God can judge me.' More than likely, this is the only instance in which Christians agree with the philosophy of 2Pac. But it is not only Christians that believe 'only God can judge me.' Even secular society (including atheists, which just baffles me) can be heard saying the same thing.

Here is yet another case in which the church, and the rest of the world, is sadly mistaken. Now, before you begin casting stones and labeling me a heretic, hear me out. Yes, God is the only one capable of judgment. You would be entirely accurate to point out that Jesus said "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." One day, we will all be accountable to God (Romans 14:12). But I think we are missing something here. While there may be a lot of truth to 2Pac's statement, the Bible, in some instances, seems to have a contrary teaching. Perhaps we can simply equate it to a misunderstanding of terminology; but the fact remains there are clear Biblical teachings showing we are responsible--to an extent--for the actions of one another.

Paul gives us some guidelines on calling out a brother caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-2). We can find similar guidelines to confronting another in Matthew 18:15-17. Paul also informs us we are to use our spiritual gifts to help cultivate spiritual growth in each other (1 Corinthians 12). We are also told to "spur on one another toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). At least one occasion Jesus himself uttered the words “stop making false judgments and start judging correctly” (John 7:24). In Thessalonians 5, we are advised to "encourage one another and build each other up. If you care to look up more Scripture, be my guest and turn to Hebrews 3:12-13 or James 5:16 just to name a few.

Please understand, in no way am I saying we are given free reign to cast judgment upon one another and the world. That is not what these passages are talking about and that isn't even close to what Jesus was referring to. However, I do think these (and other) passages make a very bold and important statement about how we are to live and our responsibility to one another. And this is a message we all need to hear. The message is this: Yes, only God can judge me, but that doesn't let me off the the hook from being accountable to others for my actions (or inaction).

We will begin by tackling the more difficult discussion on this idea of judging. In the matter of Christians judging other Christians, we often miss the mark. On one hand, there are those who cast judgment on their fellow followers of Christ for anything they do that doesn't align with Scripture. While this takes some gumption to do, it can be some dangerous territory to navigate. But, in just as dangerous territory are those who, on the other hand, agree with 2Pac and shun any discussion on how they ought to live, having no regard for another Christian calling them out. I believe both of these is an incorrect interpretation of Scripture and an incorrect assessment of our responsibility to one another as Christians. It seems to me, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While we are not called to judge one another, I do believe it is our responsibility to do something that looks an awful lot like judgment to some. That something is called accountability.

At this point, I need to throw some warning flags out when it comes to accountability. The first is that, for accountability to work, a relationship is required. True accountability cannot exist outside the confines of a relationship. There must be a two way avenue of communication and trust built; otherwise any attempt at accountability will always fall flat on it's face. The next warning is that, believe it or not, in the Christian life, there are some gray areas. Scripture doesn't clearly lay out each and every behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate (while it clearly lays out some, it is in no way exhaustive). What is acceptable behavior for you may not be acceptable behavior for me--and vice versa--for several reasons. This is why it is important that we have some convictions in place; but more importantly, we need to be sure our convictions are Biblically based. Furthermore, we need to understand that we cannot place our convictions on everyone else. While you are probably hoping I will lay some of these gray areas out for you, I am going to plead the fifth. The reason being, I do not want to make a list that fuels one persons legalism or adds to another's licentiousness. I don't know where you are at in your walk of faith, so I am going to simply refrain.

When laying a foundation for accountability and establishing some convictions, Andy Stanley gives us a great question to ask ourselves: "In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?" I may have a past that doesn't allow me to participate in certain behaviors that Scripture does not condemn. For example, if my past involves addiction, drinking (not condemned by the Bible) would not be a wise thing for me to do. If my present circumstances involve some sort of purity battle, dating (perfectly legitimate way to interact with the opposite sex) may not be a wise thing for me to do. Perhaps my future hopes and dreams hinge on being debt free; buying that brand new vehicle would not be a wise thing for me to do. As I hope you see, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves--until they are put under scrutiny and we ask ourselves, "what is the wise thing to do?"

Now, let's address our (Christianity) judgement of the secular world. One thing is for certain, as disciples of Jesus, we cannot hold everyone to our standard of living. If people don’t claim to know or live in the truth--of Christianity--why would we expect them to follow and obey it? This would be similar to a vegetarian trying to convince me, am omnivore, that eating meat is bad. Even if it's logical and you have sound scientific support that eating meat is bad for me, I'm not going to relegate meat from my diet. I enjoy charred cow off the grill and am more than willing to take the risk that it could shorten my lifespan. No amount of dialogue will make me change my mind. The same is true with faith issues. No matter how much we try to convince people this way of life is the fullest, they won't buy into it by simply hearing us make those statements. For this reason, trying to hold those with varying beliefs accountable to our beliefs will never work. If they do not claim Jesus as Lord, what makes us think they would willingly subject themselves to his teachings? (Another warning: It is absolutely essential that we take a stand for our faith and convictions. It is more than acceptable that we voice our beliefs. However, we need to be careful how we do so. Personally, I don't think standing outside an abortion clinic with signs picturing the process is either acceptable or Christ centered).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have to tell you that I don’t think our current view of salvation is completely wrong; I think it’s just too narrow. There is something we are missing. What many of us have been taught about salvation seems to be incomplete.

If we buy into our current view of salvation, I think the only reasonable conclusion we can take it to is best summed up by N.T. Wright, “As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future, but when we see salvation as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that…then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought.” Essentially, I believe, if we buy into what has been taught about salvation--that it is about saving souls and getting into heaven--then we must conclude that life here on earth is meaningless. And I will not buy into that kind of theology. That is the very reason we must rethink what we believe about salvation.

If our understanding of salvation is wrong, then what should it be? Salvation, we all agree, deals with rescuing creation. But what are we to be rescued from? The obvious answers are sin and death. But, the true meaning of salvation goes beyond that.

Take a minute and read 1 Corinthians 15:19, 58. Once you have done that, we will begin this discussion.

The first thing I see Scripture teaching us is that: salvation is about the present, not simply the future. To say this flies right in the face of many within the evangelical church. But, reality is that life on earth matters; Jesus wasn’t focused on the future, in fact, he didn’t say much at all about the future.Very little of what Christ said and did was about the future and about heaven. Reading through the New Testament I see that he was primarily concerned with the here and now. With preparing to bring heaven to earth.

In Jewish culture heaven was more of an afterthought. They didn’t give much thought to heaven because they viewed it as a temporary stage on the way to the resurrection of the body. In reading much of the Old Testament, you should see that the Jewish people weren’t thinking much about God saving them from this life for something better. The salvation they sought was most engrossed with the here and now. They were concerned with the promises of God’s covenants and how they related to this life, in this world, not the afterlife in heaven. Think of the Exodus (being rescued from Egypt), Shadrach, Meshach and Abendango (being rescued from the fire), Daniel (being rescued from the lion’s den), or David (God, crush my enemies; rescue me now…). As a matter of fact, 90% of the passages in the Old Testament referring to salvation, spoke of temporal salvation. The salvation that takes place here on earth. Furthermore, roughly 50% of the New Testament passages regarding salvation speaks of this same kind of salvation. 

How many of you have ever thought this: the world is such a terrible place, I can’t wait to get to heaven. I have. I’ve thought it many times. It really would be nice if God would just end it all now and make things the way He intended them to be. But He isn’t. Because that is such a cop out. That’s the easy way out. That is what Paul, I believe, is talking about in Philippians 1:20-25.

Unless, you have a proper view of eternity. Eternity doesn’t start way in the future. Eternity starts today.  The day of salvation is here. Salvation has come today. I will argue until I am blue in the face, that salvation has more to do with the present than the future. Salvation is more embodied with the here and now than the then and after. Why is it wrong to view salvation in terms of the future? Because it separates body and spirit, heaven and earth. It assumes they aren’t one and the same. It is our mistake of bifurcation.

What is bifurcation? It is basically separating two things that are inseparable. Let me give you an example.  How many times in your youth did you find yourself saying "this doesn’t matter, I’m not even 18." Been there, done that, and trust me that wasn't the case. I found out the hard way that my actions did matter and had consequences well beyond turning 18. I still live with many of the consequences for some of the stupid mistakes I have made.

As Christians, we think so much about the future that we lose sight of the here and now. We forget that God offers salvation today. This goes into an age-old debate about temporal vs. eternal salvation. I do not for one minute believe it is one or the other. I believe a true, Biblical view of salvation must include both.  Although temporal is a poor word--giving the impression that it is only temporary--it is still fitting when in reference to the salvation God provides while we are here on earth. And when it is combined with eternal salvation, it makes it that much sweeter. 

God is about providing salvation for some of the things we’re dealing with right now. When God speaks of offering salvation and deliverance, it isn’t just from sin or death. It extends well beyond those two aspects.

Secondly, I see Scripture teaching us that: salvation is about the entire person, not just their soul. We all believe, I hope, that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily one, not just a spiritual one. If we believe that, then how is it that we believe our resurrection will be a spiritual one? And how is it that we believe God cares only about our souls. What we believe about salvation and its relation to eternity, not only denies the physical resurrection of ourselves, but the physical resurrection of Christ as well. How can we believe that heaven exists as a place beyond this world that is inhabited by disembodied souls, when the Bible clearly states the resurrection is a physical one. It is simple. We cannot believe this and be a disciple of Christ. We must believe that salvation involves much more than just saving our souls and getting them into heaven.

If salvation is just about getting our souls into heaven, why then did Jesus waste most of his life on this earth performing miracles most of which dealt with the very physical and real aspects of life. Let me give you one example. John 9 records a miracle in which Jesus heals a man born blind. Why would he heal a man born blind, unless he cared about the physical stuff of life? I believe the answer to that question is simple. Jesus didn’t come just to get people into heaven. Jesus came to bring a little bit of heaven to earth, and since heaven is a place for the physical body, he came to take care of some of the physical stuff. As a matter of fact, what most Christians believe about salvation and heaven was written off by the early church as Gnosticism. We need not worry about the physical or the flesh aspect of life because it is bad and will be done away with one day; all we need to worry about is the spiritual aspect of life because it is good and will last for eternity.

We were knit together in our mothers womb, physically and spiritually. God knows the exact number of hairs on our head. For some of us that is a little easier to keep track of than others, but that fact alone leads me to believe that if God cares about how many hairs are on our head, he must care a lot more about our physical body that we lead on. In fact when Scripture speaks about salvation some of it refers to a physical salvation and some refers to a spiritual salvation.

Another idea I see Scripture teaching us is that: salvation is about all of creation, not just humanity. In Genesis we read that everything God created he called "good." Nothing was bad. Nothing was scrapped. Sure, down the road we find that God was so upset that he caused a flood to wipe out his creation; however, it was man that upset him, not the rest of creation. Jumping way ahead, Jesus informs us that he makes ALL things new, not just humanity, but ALL things--plants and animals. God is about all of creation. He is about redeeming every last bit of it. All of creation speaks of the grandeur of God, one author wrote. In the Psalms, we find that if we cease to praise God, surely the rocks will cry out.

Salvation isn’t just about making humanity the way it was intended to be; although that is a huge part. It is about redeeming all of creation. Salvation is about extracting all the beauty and grandeur of everything he created. As much as I hate to say it, I think there is a lot of truth to some of these hippie tree huggers. Granted, they may take it a little overboard, but hear them out. We can’t keep treating creation the way we have been--exploiting it, using it for our advantage. We were called to care for it. We are to be good stewards of all that God has given us--and that includes creation. I don’t think that God had Adam give names to each of the animals for lack of something better to do. I believe He had Adam do this in order to give him ownership. I hope you are seeing where I am going with this. We are to be agents of salvation to humanity, yes (1 Corinthians 6 tells us that), but more importantly, we are to be agents of salvation to all of creation. It annoys me that we think we can continue to treat creation with the disrespect we do and think there will be no eternal consequences.

A guy I know, who happens to be a smoker, was talking to me about creation, eternity, and how we treat what God has entrusted us with. During this discussion, he asked a somewhat outrageous question. He said, "What if I spend the first part of eternity picking up all the cigarette butts I just threw on the ground?" My answer to him, "That would suck!" While it may be a bit absurd (and doesn't take into consideration the grace of God), I think he poses a question we need to ask. What if all of us have to spend the first part of eternity righting a lot of the wrongs we did to creation? Would that make us better stewards of the creation God has given to us to care for?

Salvation isn’t this great plan that God had while Jesus was here. It isn’t something that came when Jesus died on the cross and is basically to be forgotten until we die. To view salvation in this way does such a disservice to reality. N.T Wright, speaking on our current view of salvation put it best. He says this: “Life before death is what is threatened by the idea that salvation is merely life after death.”  

Salvation is meant to be lived out in our everyday lives. Perhaps this is taking the Scripture out of context, but I believe that is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He wants us to enjoy life (not necessarily this health, wealth, and prosperity gospel; but you don’t have to be any of those to truly enjoy life). Sure you may suffer, things may happen, but those are only a chance for God to teach you and show you how He wants you to live life. Back to the man born blind in John 9. They thought he was born blind because of his sin or his parents sin; but Jesus said it was only that God’s power and grace might be displayed--get this--in this life!

I believe if Jesus were standing here today, discussing with the church how it has missed the point regarding salvation, he would probably bring us back to “The Lord’s Prayer.” He would point out the part that says: “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus would inform us that when he came down here 2000 years ago, he brought a little piece of heaven with him and gave it all to us. I believe he would then ask us what we did with that little piece of heaven? Did we forget about it since, as we believe, heaven is a thing of the future, or did we try to expand that and truly make the two become one?

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Switchfoot poses a great question for all of us, "This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be?" The sad reality is that for many of us, the answer to that question would be a no. Why? Why is life not what we had dreamed it would be? What is keeping our dream (or better yet, God's dream) for our life from becoming reality? The answer to each of these questions is the same. Far too many of us have settled. We have ceased to take risks. We have settled for the easy and the ordinary. Our fear of failure and rejection has become the overarching factor determining the shape and form of our dreams. The problem is that deep within our souls we long for something more. We long to find purpose. There is a war between the way we have chosen to live life and the way life should be. I fear we have not dreamed big enough. For this reason, so many of us find our lives mundane, monotonous and unfulfilled.

Statistics prove time and time again that a majority of us are simply "eeking our way through life" (yes, that was a Dumb & Dumber reference). We wake up every morning and head off to the same routine only to wind up tired and unfulfilled at the end of the day. For this very reason, we are constantly seeking greener pastures. I guess we have this belief that if only we could change our circumstances life would be better.

Ask just about anyone how they feel about their job and they would likely tell you they are not happy for a plethora of reasons. We think that if only we got paid more, had the corner office, worked with different people, things would be different. Then there are those of us who put ourselves into financial disaster trying to keep up with the Jones'. Constantly on the lookout for the new and improved, the bigger and better, thinking these things will make life what it is supposed to be. The first and biggest problem with this is that the Jones' aren't even fulfilled. The second issue with this idea is that keeping up is dang near impossible; there is always something "better" on the horizon. Of course, we have to bring relationships into this discussion. Over half of all married couples will experience divorce because of their supposed "boredom" with their spouse. They make up excuses like: we just weren't compatible; we fell out of love; the romance died; someone else gives me more attention. But that's all they are--excuses. To be blunt and to quote my father, "Excuses are like butt holes (I opted for the PG version here); everyone has one and they usually stink." I could spend a few hours and waste your time and mine discussing the arenas in life our hopes and dreams do not match with reality, but I think you are wise enough to get the picture.

The sad reality is that we can always find something to complain about. Someone else will always seem to have it better (but, this also means someone will always have it worse). There are many seasons in life that downright suck. Problems will always arise. Circumstances will always be less than ideal. But that doesn't mean life can't be the way we dreamed it to be. We just need to make a choice to rise above the negative, shallow thinking. We need to have a paradigm shift and choose to look beyond the temporal.

Just the other day I was having a discussion with a good friend about some big life decisions I have been pondering in hopes to make life less mundane and more fulfilling. I will spare the details, but it was this conversation that lead me to the answer I have been looking for all along. Who would have guessed the answer was always right there, sitting on my nightstand in the holy Scriptures (sarcasm is difficult to convey in writing, so take note this statement is dripping with sarcasm)? As a follower of Christ, you think I would have been skewering the Bible for the answer, but this was another instance I failed miserably. Unfortunately, I was looking somewhere else and came up empty. My friend and I were discussing the life of David (he seems to keep popping up) and how his life was far from mundane and unfulfilled. It seemed inevitable he bring up Psalm 37:4. The reason this verse was inevitable is that the premise of this verse is finding your heart's desires. Psalm 37:4 was exactly what I needed to hear; "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires."

Do you notice it doesn't say he MIGHT; rather, it says he WILL? God will give you your heart's desires. This isn't something David just spouted off. This truth was a reality for him. This particular Psalm was written later in David's life (or so I read). Reflecting on his life, it became clear to David that when he delighted himself in the LORD, he was given his heart's desires. When he didn't, he often found himself in a state of bitterness, loneliness, agony and even depression. (Please understand I am not saying, nor is this passage saying, that God is a genie and life will be rainbows and butterflies. There are limits and guardrails here. And we don't always get what we want.)

 I can't seem to get away from how simple this seems. Delight yourself in the LORD and you will find your heart's desire? Can I really believe finding my heart's desire is that simple? If it is that simple, why do so many of us (especially those who call ourselves Christians) find life unfulfilling? Why does finding our heart's desire seem to be improbable or even impossible, especially when the answer is right there in plain sight? Perhaps it is because we think everything has to be so difficult. Either that or we don't believe what Scripture tells us.

To find the answer, I had to turn to my dictionary and see what exactly it means to delight myself in something. According to the dictionary, to delight is "to find great pleasure or enjoyment." Again, it seems too simple. If we really find great pleasure in God, will we find our heart's desires? Yes! Reality is, the answer is that simple. When we find our pleasure and enjoyment in God (not what he does or how he responds, but in who he is), the desires of our heart will soon align themselves with his desires for our life. It is then we will see how futile and insignificant some of our hopes and dreams are. It then becomes obvious why life has been so unfulfilling. We will often find that we have been chasing after these temporal things (I even include relationships in this) which have (and will) always result in frustration and unfulfillment. The moment we, like David, delight ourselves in the LORD we will find something fulfilling to live for and pursue. And it is only then will we realize God has big things for us; and only with his help can we make whatever that is become reality.

I'm not sure about you, but I think I have already wasted enough time delighting myself in things other than the LORD!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


It is a deeply rooted somewhere within my being to fix things. I am, by nature, a fixer. I am driven to fix. Perhaps you have heard the statement, "If women don't find ya' handsome, they should at least find ya' handy." That definitely does not apply to me. The type of fixing I am talking about has nothing to do with saws and hammers. I am about as handy with tools as a gorilla would be delicate with flowers. For any LOST fans, think of me as more like Jack Shephard than Home Improvement's Tim Allen. What I'm talking about is fixing problems. I am a fixer of problems...or at least I try to be.

Whether this is a curse or a blessing, I am not sure yet. Right now, I tend to see it as both. This need to fix things has several implications. To begin with, it drives me to the core of the problems I encounter. That means I am very inquisitive. If something isn't working, I will do anything in my power to find out why. While that may be a good thing, it does mean that I can tend to push a little too much on occasion. This also means that I am very dedicated and driven. I keep plugging away until I find a resolution. Again, not always a bad thing; however, truth be told, there are some things we really don't want to resolve or perhaps shouldn't resolve. In life, sometimes tension is necessary. The fact that there isn't always a solution to every problem can be a tough pill to swallow, especially for a fixer.

That I am a fixer must be somewhat obvious to those around me. That is likely why friends and family come to me with their issues. They know I will listen and try to give objective answers to help alleviate the pressure. Relationship issues seem to be the most common ones they bring to me. The ironic part is that I haven't had very many relationships. In all reality, with relationships, I make a lot of it up as I go. What is even more baffling to me is the fact that I have failed at marriage once, and yet they still seek my guidance and counsel. As I think about it more, I guess I can tell them how NOT to do things.

For a fixer, the big red flag here is control. My need to fix things puts me in and keeps me in control until I have exhausted every avenue. It is then, and only then I am able to release my grip and begin to turn things over to the one in control of everything. In case you can't read between the lines, the one I'm talking about is God. Reality is, I am not in control...even when I think I am. Control really is just an illusion. What that means for me is that some things will always be broken until I hand them over to the one who can truly fix everything. God is in the business of saving the lost, righting wrongs, and redeeming what seems unredeemable. At the end of the day, things will play out the way they need long as I relinquish my need to fix things and let God work. Don't be fooled, it doesn't come naturally or easy for fixers, but there is no other choice.