Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It seems to me the world has a very skewed view about what living a Christian life looks like. For some reason, people believe that following Jesus is about not doing certain things. I can't help but think this is due in part to our portrayal of God as a grumpy, old man sitting on the porch, enjoying a glass of tea, all the while waiting to pounce on anyone who strays off the sidewalk onto his lush green lawn. We've turned God into a soul reaver--someone that prides themselves on killing the souls of men by sucking every last ounce of joy out of life. Growing up, I used to have a view of God much like this. But I have to tell you, I'm beginning to see him in a much different light.

I wonder if some of this has to do with people who claim to follow the way of Jesus while standing on the corner holding signs reading 'Turn or Burn,'  'God H8ts Gays,' 'Baby Killer,' 'Hell is Hot,' or 'Judgment Day Is Near.' And then there's my personal favorite, 'What Would Jesus Do?' For starters, I'm certain he wouldn't stand on the corner holding a sign for hours on end. If for some odd reason he did, I have a feeling he wouldn't try to convey his message using text lingo or emoticons. Nor do I believe they would have messages like these.

Or perhaps the reason most of us live in fear of God is because we do in fact paint him as a judgemental fun sucker. All of those Sunday morning sermons about everything you should abstain from come to mind. There's the movies and television shows you shouldn't watch. And then there are the stores you should avoid. Of course, you aren't supposed to get tattoos or piercings. Listening to secular music is a no no. Don't forget that you aren't supposed to swear. Don't forget that "you shouldn't drink or smoke or chew, or run with girls who do." Oh yeah, I almost forgot all those things the Ten Commandments forbid us to do.

All of this negativity has resulted in a world that knows more about what God and Christianity are against than what they are for!

I will be the first to admit there are things in my life that have changed--and some that still need to--since I decided to follow Christ. I have had to get rid of certain habits. There were attitudes that definitely needed to go. I had to say goodbye to a few relationships. I even had to do away with certain hobbies. On one hand, following Jesus certainly does require that I refrain from certain things. But what we are to avoid isn't the whole story. The fact that we think Jesus came to take the fun out of life only goes to show his message has been hi-jacked.

As much as it seems that God enjoys telling us no, I don't think that's really the case. God, like a good father, would much rather tell his children "Yes!" Granted, he clearly establishes some boundaries with the Ten Commandments (like any good father would do). And you would be correct in assuming they do in fact discuss things we are to avoid. But they are there for a reason. I have a hunch that if you were to ask God why, he wouldn't flippantly respond with, "Because I said so!" Instead, you would hear some quite sound reasoning as to why he has established these particular guidelines. God would inform you these guidelines are in place to protect you. He might even offer you some reasons--Why can't you live a life of sexual immorality? To protect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually; Why can you not live a life devoted to drunkenness and drugs? To keep you healthy and to protect you from addiction. Why should you tithe? To, among other things, teach you fiscal responsibility. Why can you not simply do everything your heart desires? Because the heart can be deceitful.

You should also notice the timing in which God presents The Ten Commandments. He doesn't lay out these guidelines with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Bible doesn't open with a list of things we should and shouldn't do. Rather, it begins with a story. The story of creation to be exact. Through this story God establishes his infinite wisdom and power. He then spends a great deal of time building rapport with creation. Time and time again God reveals Himself to humanity and proves Himself faithful before attempting to establish these guidelines. In His vast wisdom, God knows that we wouldn't have listened until we realized He was there for us, has our best interest in mind, and wants what is best. After countless years, God finally gives the Ten Commandments to Moses to give to His people.

Maybe it's time we look at Christianity through a different lens. Instead of focusing on all the things God says we are to avoid, how about we focus on everything he says we are to participate in. Perhaps then, we can gain a proper view of what God desires.

Let's start this discussing by taking into account the reality of our free will. We were not created as mechanical things in which our behavior has already been determined. God has not predetermined everything, making our choices irrelevant. Upon close inspection of most of the New Testament, you will notice a lot of "ifs." It seems to me Jesus makes a lot of suggestions, emphasizing the fact that God doesn't force his will upon any of us. The power to choose has, and will, always lie with us.

All of this has lead me to some eye opening conclusions.

First, I realize that God is much more in favor of life than we are. It is his desire that we live life to the fullest by bringing as much of Heaven as we can to Earth. He calls us to participate in redeeming every aspect of creation along with Him. This, again, is why He has given us various guidelines on life. Things like greed, materialism, envy, hatred, idolatry and adultery (just to name a few) only diminish and destroy life. They remove from us the sacredness and value of both life and humanity. Understanding this, I now see that every guideline and boundary He has established validates, promotes and leads to life.

Then we have Jesus informing us that "[He has] come that [we] may have life abundantly." From my understating, there is nothing restraining about abundant life. Abundance is, by definition more than we require or can even handle. This reiterates why God has asked us to refrain from certain things--so that we may live life to its fullest. In following this suggestion, life will truly be more than we could ever hope or imagine.

I have also come to know a God with limitless possibilities. If we focus on what we are not to do, life seems dull and boring. Following a God who is in the business of bringing forth abundant life through redemption, shouldn't be dull and boring.  When we see this, we realize that God has given us, almost, a limitless number of "yeses". Only then will life can life truly be found in abundance. Lucky for us, all that's required to see God in this way is to open our eyes.

Paul tells us, in his letter to the Philippian church, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." It's important to notice this passage doesn't put any focus on things we are to refrain from (granted, those things might be inferred). Rather, Paul opens the door of opportunity for us as followers of Jesus. Instead of focusing on the "can nots" he places the focus on the "cans." We can focus on, pursue, and enjoy whatever is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Whatever is a lot; and that's a lot of whatevers!

Again, in Romans 14 Paul tells us the same thing, "For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God.  And other people will approve of you, too."

This is why I no longer see a God of limitation, but a god of opportunity. Living life from this perspective will be far greater and have a broader impact. Isn't this a much bigger and better view of following God than we tend to have?

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Have you ever found yourself with more questions than answers? Questions like these: What am I supposed to do with this? How did I get here? Where am I going? What is my purpose? What do I want to do with my life?  What’s the point in all of this? You know, the basic questions of life.

Jesus answers all of these questions in just a few simple words. He makes some cryptic claim to his followers, that when understood, sheds light on the basic questions of life.

He says these 7 things:
1.       I am the bread of life
2.       I am the light of the world
3.       I am the door
4.       I am the good shepherd
5.       I am the resurrection and the life
6.       I am the way, the truth, and the life
7.       I am the true vine
Let’s star t with the whole idea of the "I am." This goes all the way back to the Old Testament when Moses asks God who He is and God responds by saying “I am that I am!” In laymen’s terms God says what difference does it make? You are talking to a burning bush that isn’t being consumed, and unless I’m mistaken (which I’m not ‘cause I’m God) this has never happened before and probably won’t happen again. So he says to Moses, unless you’ve been smokin’ a little bush yourself (thanks Jim Gaffigan), I suggest you listen and take note for the simple fact that I’m God which means that you are not.

The biggest realization Jesus wants us to come to about these "I am" claims, if true, is that they put Jesus on a level playing field with God the father. And they therefore validate everything, and I mean everything, Jesus did and taught.

Now we jump ahead. We get to the book of John, one of the four Synoptic Gospels, that tell the story of Jesus. We pick up a story with Jesus kind of clarifying what it means not only that God is the “I am,” but that He is the “I am” revealed in human form. And in this book Jesus gives us the 7 clarifying statements above, or word pictures if you will, as to the essence of God. Jesus tells us that if He is the “I am,” which He is, then here are a few things you should know.

I would like to pick up on the sixth “I am” statement Jesus makes--the one we discussed in church recently. This statement is found at the end of John 14:1-5:

"Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know where I am going and how to get there."

"No, we don’t know Lord," Thomas said, "We haven’t any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Seems pretty simple right? Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We can all stop reading now right? If you’re anything like me, that sounds good; but he may as well be speaking a foreign language. I got it--you have the answers and I don’t; but what am I supposed to do with that? How does this help me?

The first thing we need to understand is that Jesus is making this statement in the midst of his discussion about betrayal and crucifixion. This means these 12 men that have learned from, followed, and lived with Jesus the past several years are discovering He will not be with them soon. They are confused and disappointed and Jesus gives them some cryptic message that is supposed to both offer guidance and comfort them. Just beneath the surface, is the assurance that if they keep their sights set on him, they will know where to go, what to do, and how to do it, in the proper time.
The next thing I want you to notice here is the language Jesus uses. He doesn’t say I know the way or I am a way. He doesn’t claim to know the truth. He doesn’t claim to live a good life. What does he say? He says "I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life." There is a very important differentiation between knowing the way and being the way; between knowing the truth and being the truth; between living the life and being the life. Do you know anyone else that can make a claim like this?
Without further ado, lets dig into this.

Suppose you were in a new town and you were trying to find some place. What would be the logical thing to do (assuming you don’t have GPS)? The logical approach would be to ask for directions (unless you’re a guy of course—then you just use your manly navigational techniques and figure it out yourself, all the while pretending you know exactly where you are; making claims you are just taking the scenic route). So you stop and ask someone how to get to Best Buy. They give you a series of directions, street names, and usually if they are female, some landmarks--across the street from the salon. Which does me no good since I don't go to the salon. You start driving and half way there, realize you have no clue where you are. You are lost. Now what? 
This is where Jesus comes in.  He says, "I’m not gonna be that guy. I’m not just going to give you directions and hope you can find your way. I’m going to physically take you there. I will be with you as you maneuver the traffic, avoid the potholes, and navigate the detours. When you have questions I’ll be there to answer them (maybe—if I so deem necessary). I will warn you of the bumps and dips in the road. No matter how far off course you may get, I will never leave you ‘nor forsake you. I will be right by your side. And when you lose focus, get lost, and make a mess of things, all that is required is you turn to me."


Right now, our culture is often referred to as having a ‘post-modern’ mindset. The term 'post-modern' refers to the fact that culture doesn't readily believe there is truth to be found! But, if you feel there is you should realize it's only relative--what is true for you may or may not be true for me. So, don’t go telling me what I should do or how I should live. And especially don’t tell me that some book written over 2,000 years ago has the answers to life. The only truth I am going to believe is my truth. The only person I am going to answer to is myself. If you look close enough, there were even people in Jesus day who followed this same line of thought. Pilate is a prime example of this, standing face to face with the truth, asking "What is truth?" And then there are the people who claim to have the truth, but it is obvious they must not wholeheartedly believe it to be true themselves. They promote their truth, all the while acting entirely contrary to what they have proclaimed. It's kind of like your parents telling you to "Do as I say, not as I do." How are we supposed to make sense with such a convoluted idea of truth?

The good news is that Jesus has already addressed this with the second part of this "I am" statement. He says "Let me clear some things up. People will try to deceive you. They might even make some reasonable arguments as to why this or that is true. But, if they are not rooted in me, they will more than likely be wrong. Instead of listening to them, look to me. Not only have I told you the truth, but I have actually been living it out. And let me take this whole thing one step further. The only truth will point back to me, because I am the truth. There is nothing more true than me. When you need answers, stop turning to talk show gurus, quit looking in self-help books, don't call your friends and family. Seek me, because that is where the truth you are looking for will ultimately be found. I am who I said I was. I haven't asked you to do anything I haven't done myself. I'm all the truth you need!" That is something not just anyone can say.


There are so many different avenues we can walk down looking for life. There's always relationships   that offer to bring meaning to life. Maybe you're a lone ranger and that isn't your thing. In that case you can pour yourself into a career--looking for fulfillment and meaning in climbing the corporate ladder. Or maybe you go to church and take it to the other extreme. Instead of the pursuit of happiness, you have thrown aside everything in pursuit of life after death. But these all have a common denominator--they are not rooted in Christ.

So, here we have Jesus concluding this "I am" statement with a remarkable truth. In the midst of the life we are all pursuing, Jesus offers something better and far more significant. He says "I'm not calling you to forget the here and now in pursuit of some future, other-world life that awaits. I'm not simply calling you to a life in which your world view is altered. Rather, the ever-reaching life I offer begins today. This life requires that you come to this realization--the very breath of God resides within you. With that in mind, you are to pursue what really matters. Follow my example and you will find a life worth living. Anything else that claims to offer you life is lacking at best--it will lead you to disappointment and let down. Nothing offers life like I do. I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly. You can be sure this isn’t an empty promise."

Somewhere, I read that "You walk the way of Jesus, by knowing the truth of Jesus, which happens through living the life of Jesus." To think, I could have lead with that and saved you all this reading.