A Dislike Of Deathbed Conversions or A Total Misunderstanding of Grace

Jesus shared the following parable:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last."
This is one of Jesus' more famous parables. In it, Jesus tells about a master who hired workers early in the day to work the whole day. Then the master went out later in the day and hired more to work the rest of the day. Near the end of the day, the master did the same. Those who worked just a short while received the same pay as those who worked the whole day. Jesus described those who worked the whole day as being angry about those who worked just a short while receiving equal pay. A direct parallel at the time of writing would be teaching that kingdom of God is open to the Gentiles, as it always was, along with the people of Israel, who had been the people of God for a longer time. A modern parallel would be the people who have grown up in the church their whole life being frustrated with an elderly person accepting Christ in the last moments of her life. We see jealousy over those who got what they really did not deserve by those who felt they earned it.

A while back I heard a sermon on this parable. The preacher shared his own struggle with being jealous over death bed conversions and admitted that his jealousy was wrong. He will work his whole life for the Lord while the person who comes right at the end receives the same blessing; that's frustrating to my preacher friend, and it's also frustrating to others with a similar mindset. In the frame of worldly reason, that just does not seem fair. The source of this frustration is a misunderstanding of two things: the life God has planned for us and God's amazing grace.

When I look back on my years of wandering, I do not look fondly. I do not think those times were great despite the festiveness of the world being exemplified in the way I lived. I look back and wish that I could have been in love with the Lord the whole time. My life in the Lord is much better than that life ever was. I missed out on a lot by wandering aimlessly.

We find ourselves jealous of people in the world when we feel that the people in the world are living a life better than the one we are living in God. When we do not strive to experience God every moment of every day, we often miss out on what God's intention for our life is. Oftentimes we are not living in the joy and peace that God wants us to live in, and our sad, selfish spiritual life creates in us a secret love for the world. Eventually, this secret love, if left unchecked, could morph into indulging those secret loves. The cost of such an indulgence could be our faith. Whether we indulge in it or not, the secret love for the world is only there because we do not experience the Christlike full life - the life God has desired for us to live.

When we experience God to the fullest throughout our days, we will not be jealous of the people that come late in life and receive the same eternal reward as we receive because we know that the time we spent working for the Lord is also a great reward. We were happy to work because we love the privilege of being a follower of Christ. And we should be overjoyed, like the Lord becomes, to have more workers no matter what stage of life the new worker is in.

After the sermon, I went over and talked to my friend about what I just shared here. An elderly lady was there and she shared, "If you have a giant cup and it is full, you will be just as happy as those who have a small cup and it is full." She was implying that those who are faithful all day will have a giant cup while those who are faithful just a short while will only have a small cup. This idea that she will be rewarded more in heaven for her life of work compared to the reward that a recent convert would receive is a complete misunderstanding of grace. What she fails to see is that her works are not what makes her right with God. Her works are, in themselves, a blessing from God. We are privileged to be involved in His work. She is only right with God because God is infinitely gracious despite our failings. Our misunderstanding of the grace of God and an overestimation of our righteousness is what leads us to think we are more deserving than others. None of us are more deserving. It is only by grace that we spiritually breathe.

If we live in the realization that our life in Christ is a better life than the other lives we could be leading, then we will not be jealous of people who come late in life to the Lord. If we understand that our life in Christ is solely available through the grace of God, then we will not think that we deserve a greater reward than those who come to Jesus later in life. May we live life to the fullest in the grace and love that Christ shares with us.

The Church Made Simple

This is an older article from my time between ministries. Just transferred it over here.

Church should be simple, not this complex machine of committees and programs that it has become. I am pretty "lazy" when it comes to doing traditional church as I do not go to our church's Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services; I only spend four to five hours there every Sunday morning in a leadership meeting, teaching a Sunday School class, attending the "service," and sharing in a fellowship meal. I have friends who keep busy going to the church every time the doors are open.

Church wears them out. Keeping busy going to church takes away time that they could be visiting a neighbor or helping another person by taking up at least one morning and two evenings every week.

There are some in my church, and possibly yours, who think if you are not there when the doors are open, then you are not being faithful to Christ. It is presented as if attendance at another educational function is essential to being faithful disciples. If you catch some of these people who do not miss a service when they are in the right mood, they will actually tell you that. I have been present for some of these unity-building moments.

Church is not something that should keep us busy through education and worship; church is the relationships between people living out the call to be disciples of Christ. Instead of becoming a tool to help us follow Christ in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of employment, church has developed into a mammoth assortment of programs that keep us busy from actually loving those around us that are not part of the church. Church has moved from being the relationship between the people of God to being an institution that must be maintained.

For many who desire church to be different, they change the word "church" to words like "fellowship" or "community" and label their buildings as "Christian Centers" or some other name. If changing our vocabulary helps us to be the church, then our vocabulary should be quick to go. But if we change only the vocabulary and leave the practices in place that have actually took the church on a scenic detour from where we need to be, then we are only playing word games. I can hear the argument that we need to call things by their biblical names. We need to note that "church" is just a translated word from the Greek "ekklesia." If "church" has morphed into meaning something in our culture that is not really what the "ekklesia" of the Bible is, then a vocabulary change would be useful. It does nobody any good to keep calling a biblical idea a word that has lost the biblical meaning.

"Church" has become associated in people's minds with singing, sermons, lessons, Sunday morning, programs, and all other various activities. Maybe a vocabulary change is needed because it should be associated with prayer, apostle's teaching, relationships, eating together, loving, and sharing. The essentials of church have been replaced by ancillaries. We can stop singing, having sermons, meeting on Sunday mornings, and creating programs and still be healthy churches.

Nor is it necessary to be a large group to be the church. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 19:20). That section of Scripture is in the midst of a section on the power of believers when they gather together. Being a disciple is not to be done alone but along with others on the journey together, but it does not have to be done with fifty, a thousand, or ten thousand people. The problem is that we have so narrowly defined what that communal journey is to look like that we have made it corporate. A corporate journey is one in which the leaders discover the path through prayer and conversation with one another. The leaders follow that up by passing the direction down from the top. A communal vision is one discovered by the people through conversation and prayer with one another and then shared. This is then lived out in fellowship with one another.

One of the major problems of corporate church is that it financially and time-wise costs much more. Is it possible to have all of the assets, which require maintenance, and the regular expenses of an institutional church, not become distracted by them, and remain focused on the mission of Christ in our community and around the world? It might be possible, but the default seems to be distraction. Most churches spend the majority of their money on the maintenance of the institution of church, on their leaders and on the building they meet in. The institution becomes the goal rather than being disciples. It is a very rare church that spends over 50% of their money helping people rather than on the maintaining the institution. I know some will say that the maintenance of the institution is helping others, especially when it comes to paid ministers. I might have to concede that, but the goal needs to be something other than the maintenance of the institution. What I have found is that megachurches and house churches use a smaller percentage of their budget on the maintenance of the church compared to all of the churches in between.

Jesus said that the world will know his disciples by their love for one another. We somehow have lost the desire to emphasize love. Proper doctrine that does not lead us to be more loving is a waste of a teachable moment. A building that does not cause us to be more loving is a total misuse of God's resources. We have lost site of the goal in the midst of church. Bells, whistles, and all other sorts of distractions are meaningless if they are not tools to equip us to be more loving. We lose focus in maintaining the institution and it becomes a mean in itself rather than the tool it should be. A lot of time with have a lot of time and money invested in tools that have lost their effectiveness.

Let the institution fall. Let the saints rise up and begin to love one another and all who they encounter.

Are We As Loving As We Claim To Be? Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

"He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy" (Proverbs 14:21).

We can commit all kinds of loving acts while not truly loving those we do those acts for. For instance, I could be a politician loving someone for the purely selfish reason of getting their vote. A doctor helping someone because of the money. A family member helping someone out of obligation. Or a rich person giving to the poor to clear my conscience. In cases like these, love can become a legalistic action to either earn our salvation, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us some personal gain.

Genuine love starts in the heart. It overflows from a life of love. If we do not have a heart that wants to love our neighbor, then any discussion that we might have on how to use our possessions and love others will just be an exercise in legalism. It is tough to find authentic love in a world of selfishness, but let's look at the way we love ourselves. That seems pretty authentic.

If we are hungry, we get ourselves a meal to eat. Most often, we feed ourselves something that we really love. If we are cold, we buy a nice coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf to keep ourselves warm. If we are adventurous, we take a nice vacation to a place that we have never been before. If we like routine, we take a nice vacation to a place we have been many times before. Whatever the case, we spend a lot of money to spend a week or two away from our normal life. If we are bored, we buy new video games, books, music, or whatever our entertainment of choice is. If we need a place to sleep, we usually spend as much money as we can possibly spare on the nicest house available for our budget. Sometimes we even go over our budget and get ourselves in trouble. The same goes for if we need to get from one place to another; we usually do it in the most expensive car that we can possibly afford. If we want a fun evening, we buy tickets for a concert, a play, a movie, a nice restaurant, and an overpriced coffee as we sit and talk about helping the world. If we have kids, we decorate a room in expectation of their arrival, buy them plenty of clothes, toys and other sorts of unnecessities.

We really pamper ourselves.

Jesus taught, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

It would take a lot of time, energy, and resources to love others as much as we love ourselves because we really do love ourselves. We spend most of our time focused on how to love ourselves better. How can we get that new car, that new house, that next trip, or even smaller things like my next meal, more stylish clothes, or the coolest gadget. We describe our selfishness as personality and style. Our selfishness becomes who we are. Sometimes it broadens from just being selfish about ourselves to being selfish about our family, but it is still focused on how do we make ourselves feel good. I have failed to mentioned the most twisted form of selfishness, which is wallowing on how unhappy we are.

All of this selfishness hardly leaves us with any time or resources to actually be loving to those in need, whether they are next door, across town, or around the world. To reach the point where we are willing to sacrificially to do that, we have to start with a transformed heart. This comes from  surrendering our life to God. Giving our will over to God isn't a one time event and we're done with it. We will have to do it over and over again, every day. Selfishness is like a snake that will keep creeping up and slowly take our life away until we are wrapped up in meaningless busyness.

Jesus is great example of what it means to be selfless. He was focused on getting humanity out of the predicament they were in rather than being focused on finding another moment of pleasure for himself. He did not answer our situation by saying, "They got themselves in that situation; they should get themselves out of it." He saw our need, loved us like he would love himself, and brought us out of our need. We need to do the same for others. Shane Claiborne, in his book Irresistible Revolution, wrote, "Redistribution is what happens when people fall in love with each other across class lines."

Let us be like Christ and fall in love with the rest of humanity.


"If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:14-17).

Reaching Men Through House Churches

This is an old article I wrote at another site that I am removing from there. If you know me, you know that I am now in a "sanctuary church" and not a "house church"


The question has been asked in recent years how men can be brought into the church community. Having planted a church in Lansing, Michigan, in which we met in houses, remained intentionally small by dividing, focused on active love, and did not have a paid minister, was very difficult for some people, mostly women, to get involved in. They just did not view it as church. There were a couple of guys that wanted to become part of our house church but their wives just did not want to. I also experienced this recently with a man who was discouraged with church and excited about the opportunity to be a simple, serving church; his wife was not as hip on the idea and they remained where they were while the man wished he could do more. Some people do not like the idea of a church without all of the bells and whistles while others, and it seems this is typically men, hate the bells and whistles and just want to get dirty serving. Maybe there is a happy middle ground.

When I planted the church in Lansing, I focused on, through prayer and seeking God's will, to plant a church for those who did not like church. It was not to reach men although it became surprisingly effective at doing that. I was/am a man frustrated with the way church is typically done, as if church can be done. I want/wanted a group of people to be the church rather than do church.

Some people, typically men, are interested in doing. Tangible loving actions, otherwise called service projects, would be a better way of reaching these doers (through them participating, not being loved on) and showing them what it means to be a Christian.

Most people desire authenticity, being real and not being fake wherever they are. The problem with authenticity in church is that some people, especially men, are active beings and cannot be all that authentic sitting in a pew. He must be active. He must participate in the conversation rather than listen to a monologue. And many people, again typically men, just do not like to sing songs, yet he is expected to do this in church. Authenticity is not usually celebrated in church - silence and conformity is. Try to be authentic and you might just be kicked out.

It has been expressed to me that "this willingness to just abandon those who are more comfortable with old thinking so you can do it your own way comes across as incredibly arrogant."

I actually view house church as the opposite of arrogant. Arrogant to me would be believing I am right and trying to lead, manipulate, or force people to be church in a way they don't need to. I don't view house church so much as I am "right" but as a valid expression of Christ's body here and now. I do apologize that I might come across as arrogant in defense of it being a legitimate example of Christ's body, a defense I wish I never had to make. Likewise, the view that house churches are viewed as illegitimate comes across as arrogant to me. There should be enough room in the kingdom for "house" and "sanctuary" churches.

A good leader would make the congregation want a proposed change by showing or creating a vision of what that change would create. I find that I am somewhat lazy and would rather start a church rather than try to change a church because I enjoy being in a group of like-minded people serving together without the struggle (although planting a church is a struggle of a different sort) of getting there. To me, changing a church is so much more difficult than planting a church. To others, I have heard the opposite. I would not confuse these character flaws of laziness and selfishness as arrogance.

Planting a church that does things differently to reach those, whether men or women, that are turned off by the current system while allowing those who participate in the current system to continue to do so seems very loving to me. There is enough room for everyone to worship and be the church the way they feel led to. My personal experience has shown that house church is an answer to asking how men can find a love for being the church. When someone asks how the collective whole can reach more men, I consider house churches part of that collective whole and a good answer to that question. If house churches reach more men, the Church as a collective whole has reached more men. I don't see that divide between "house" church and "sanctuary" church; both are part of the Church, just different expressions of Christ's body.

There might be other ways to reach more men. I just propose the one I know but that does not mean it is the only one; it is just the only one I know because I have had the experience of more women and less men in all of the "sanctuary" churches I have been part of. House churches should not need to be defended as being a legitimate way of being a church or as part of the collective community of Christ.

Figuring out how to reach more men is a tough and important question for all churches. I am struggling with transforming a church right now. I am not really focused on reaching men but on how we can reach anyone. My not-so-novel conclusion is that it all has to start with prayer, but some times the cliches are right. There is no answer of practice that would be universal; there is no universal "men's ministry" that can be plugged into every church that would work. What might work in one church would probably not work in another. So if you are struggling with how the local church you are part of can reach more men, I would suggest starting a prayer group for discovering that ministry.

I hate the phrase "house church" because I do not typically refer to the other church as "sanctuary church." Both are just church, but for clarity's sake, I used the phrases throughout this post. I am also not currently part of a house church but think they are very effective at being the body of Christ.

Our Zeal Tempered With Loving Those We Disagree With

In the Protestant world (or Reformed if you prefer), each viewpoint eventually becomes an issue worth dividing over. Time and time again, churches splinter and people leave churches over the silliest of issues. Each denomination and religious group has a heritage of splintering because each Protestant group divided from another group at their origin. This fragmentation is exacerbated by our desire to be right on the truth and stand up for what we believe in. During the whole process, we have the tendency to demonize the people sharing another viewpoint. Forget sharing the "truth in love;" we share the truth and leave no room for dissenters.

We turn every stance into a reason for separation. Even on the essentials, we need to make sure that they are always expressed in love. Not having a clearly defined statement on what the essentials are, we find ourselves in a world of confusion. What issues are worth standing up for? The trinity, the structure of the church, the role of women, spiritual gifts, the Lord's Supper, loving our neighbor. We are left with every point, including the minutest points that we understand differently from everyone else, becoming an essential because it is essential for us to live out the truth, even to the minutest details, as we understand it.

I was recently stuck with looking in the mirror when I read through Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. Encountering someone that follows Christ in a way somewhat different from myself, I realized how I must sound to those that follow Christ differently than me. Being so excited and zealous for the way I am called to live out the gospel, I confuse my personal calling for a universal calling. I have the tendency to try and shoehorn everyone into my way of following Christ.

The blessing, and frustration at times, of the Bible is that it is vague on the specifics of how we are to live out the life of Christ here and now. We are given broad principles - love your neighbor, glorify God, make disciples - but we are left without many specifics on the lesser details. I should always view that as a blessing. Being a Christian is not about some legalistic checklist that we can complete and be done with; it is about knowing God and bringing about his will in our specific circumstances. Every person alive has a different situation that they find themselves in, yet there is a best course for that situation. We need to be close enough to God that we can discern his leading and the path we are supposed to go down. Being a Christian is not about knowing a book but about living the life God would have us live here and now. The Book should be a tool to help us do that.

We need to find a way to let our passion be kindled while at the same time always exemplifying love to those we disagree with.

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

Our Temporary Life of Originality

"Movies suck these days," was the idea recently expressed to me by a friend.  I would wager that it is less the quality of the movies and more the station we are in life. At one point in life, every idea seemed fresh and original even though they weren't. We look back longingly at those days as the days of creativity when they were actually also viewed as creative regurgitation by others older than us.

Hollywood is doing what it has always done. They make a few good movies along with a bunch of crap. At earlier points in our life we were bamboozled into thinking the crap was creative. Whether the source material is comic books, a novel, a video game, or an original screenplay is pretty irrelevant. None of it is original. Nothing can be original; it can only be done well.

Its just disappointing getting old and realizing that there is no such thing as originality, although there are people out there who are like we were when we thought regurgitated material was original. Oh, the humanity.

Now we do the same thing with ideas although none of them are original. They are just new to us.

Don't Delete All Forwards

I don't know how much you know about how we got the Bible that we have today. Most of the New Testament is letters weren't all written at one time. These letters were sent out to specific churches dealing with specific problems that the early church found so useful that they circulated the letters between each other. I assume that a letter received wider circulation because it dealt with an issue that more churches were dealing with.

These letters are like forwards. They weren't written to us, but someone felt that they were so important that they forwarded them on to us. Okay, let's be honest. Most of the things we get forwarded to us these days aren't really important enough to be forwarded. And  if you're like me, I typically just ignore most forwards. And I think we mentally do that with a lot of the Bible. We ignore it like we do forwards. We think,"Oh, there is the Bible." And we ignore it.

As of the time of writing this, my inbox has 47,243 unread messages. I figure someday that Yahoo will actually limit my space, but they haven't yet. These are messages that I have received and never done anything with. Not deleting my messages was some crazy New Years' resolution that I made way back in 2008. Since then, like you, I have been inundated with message after message. Many of them forwards. And I ignore them. Never open them. Never delete them.  They just sit there. Untouched. Somewhere in the great nether. I just did some simple math and figured out that I have saved over 13 hours by not even wasting one second on each of these 47,000 emails.

You may not be psychotic like me with your emails and trying to save time. But I share this, not to just give you a glimpse of my psychosis, but to show you that we ignore messages. We must. We are bombarded with message after message, day after day.  

In his book Data Smog, David Shenk states, “The average American is targeted by 3000 messages per day. That includes phone calls, e-mail, meetings, conversations."

In the AMAHandbook for Managing Business to Business Marketing Communications, it notes, "The average American adult is exposed to over 600 advertising messages in a single 24-hour period."

Direct Marketing News reveals, "Each of us sees more ads alone in one year than people of 50 years ago saw in an entire lifetime."

So, in our attempt to exist in our message inundated society without going crazy, we train ourselves to ignore or just delete messages that we receive.  

But we are shaped and transformed by many messages that we are exposed to. And Paul's letters sent out to some of the early churches have been forwarded to us today. We have collected these letters in what we know as the Bible; letters that the early church felt were so important that they circulated them among themselves. Letters that we have come to recognize as inspired by God. These letters are battling for our attention in this world that is trying to distract us. It is my hope that we won't just ignore these forwards. Our lives will be better if we give Paul's letters the attention they deserve.

Grace Shared or Grace Abused

A friend and I were having this conversation. He's a pastor and refused to baptize an individual because of sin in their life that they wouldn't repent from.

I said:
We have this massive sin of materialism in our lives. And for some reason, we are comfortable saying that we are better than some other person who struggles with a different sin. We deceive ourselves and think that we are worthy to be baptized because our sin is an accepted sin in American Christian culture.

We are so far from Jesus. We need grace. Grace that I receive. Grace that I also have to be willing to dispense. If Jesus doesn't want to accept the unrepentant sinner wanting to be baptized, that is between Him and them. But I am not going to refuse baptism to someone that is a sinner just like me.

If I will only be perfect on the other side of eternity, and I know that. If I know that my imperfection is covered by His undeserved grace. I know that if people could peer into my heart and told me to change the sins in my life right now, I wouldn't be able to. After all this, if I encounter a person who struggles with a different sin than I struggle with, a person who isn't willing to change that part of their life, yet they want the same grace that I revel in, should I deny that grace to them?

I share this here because I want other perspectives. I don't want to get the conversation bogged down in one specific sin, so I don't share what the sin was. But I was looking for input.

Faith In Jesus

When we hear the phrase "faith in Jesus," what does that mean?

It means that when his teaching is difficult, we will do it.
It means that when we don't want to do what he teaches, we will do it.
It means that when it is countercultural, we will still do it.
It means that when it will make us unpopular, we will do it.
It means that when it requires sacrifice, we will do it.

Faith is all about trusting in something.

The first Saturday in May is always Free Comic Book Day. How are you all enjoying your free comics?

What? You're saying you didn't go and get your free comics?

That's the thing. Free doesn't mean forced. There were free comics given away on Saturday, May 4th, at comic shops around the nation. Yet if you didn't go get them, you don't have them.

Grace is free. Faith is free. You just have to take it. You just have to express it.

However, when we talk about faith and grace being free, we can ignore the fact that when you take the free grace and acknowledge faith in Jesus, your life will change.

This was tough for the Christians in Rome to understand when Paul wrote them his letter. A lot of them were Jews. And they had placed their faith in the Old Testament law. Paul was saying, "Place your faith in Jesus." The Gentiles also wrongly placed their faith. Instead of the law, they placed it in freedom, and Paul was saying, "Place your faith in Jesus."

This is also tough for us. Our world, even the Christian culture, tells us to place our faith in so many things that are not Jesus.

If you believe that there is nothing greater in life than being high or enjoying pleasure, then you will spend your life chasing the next high or temporary pleasure. If you believe that there is nothing greater in life than spending time with your biological family, then you will spend time investing in your biological family. If you believe there is nothing more important than sports, then you will spend your time training yourself or training your child.

However, if you believe there is nothing more important than following Jesus, then you will spend your life looking for ways to serve Him. If you believe that there is nothing greater in life than being part of the family of God, then you will align your biological family time with family of God time. If you believe there is nothing more important than spiritually training yourself, then you will invest your life in loving others, studying together, and praying.

What you believe in matters. Your true beliefs influence every action of your life.

When we have a problem serving God, setting aside time for God's family, loving others, studying together, and praying, it doesn't mean that we don't have time for those things. We always find time for the things we really believe in. It doesn't mean that those things are impossible in our life. We always make possible the things that we really want. It means that we have a belief in Jesus problem. We have either created a fictional, pseudo-Jesus that doesn't make those radical calls on our life, or we have just justified away the radical call of Jesus on our life.

So Jesus is saying, you can spend your time having faith in Him and live the life you were created to live. Or you can have faith in one of the many idols of this world. The choice is yours. Faith in something temporary that will not get you where you are supposed to go. Or faith in something beyond our greatest imagining.

You do have faith in something. The question is whether that faith is in the right thing and will get you living the life you were made to life. The good news is that life with Jesus is like a free gift. You just have to take it. It would be like a motorcycle giveaway. Even if you won, you would still have to put the key in and take it home.

The big point that faith heads toward:  Jesus' sacrifice covers our sins - if we have faith - to empower us to live like He lived, as a sacrifice for others. Faith is the key that unleashes God's work in our lives and in the lives around us. We have faith, and we bring that faith forward. From just something written about in a letter from Paul to the Christians in Rome nearly 2000 years ago to real life in your houses, in your churches, and in your community.

I Am A Sinner

I am a sinner.

Those seem like difficult words to say in our society. It doesn't fit in with our artificial self-esteem building, the "I can do anything" spiel, or the "I am perfect the way God made me" talk.

They say that the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is the most difficult step: admitting that you are an alcoholic. But you can't progress through the other steps until you admit that first one.

Prior to having GPS, most ladies could relate to being driven around in a car in which the driver was lost, wouldn't admit it, nor would he stop to ask for directions. The first step to finding your way is to admit that you are lost.

But we have trouble admitting our faults. For some reason, we like to pretend that we are Superman. Never wrong. Never weak. Never mistaken.  Except, unlike Superman, we have no kryptonite. Or at least we like to pretend that. We might not dress up in a Superman outfit anymore. We have grown out that. But we like to dress up in pride and arrogance and pretend we're perfect.

The word "sinner" has such a bad connotation attached to it that we don't want to take that label on ourselves. But taking that bad connotation and applying it to ourselves is exactly how spiritual growth begins. Like the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous and finding your way when you are lost, the most difficult step in growing spiritually is also that first step: "I am a sinner."

This inability to acknowledge sin has permeated our culture too. We can't call anything a sin because that would be intolerant to people living in sin. We can't instruct what right living should look like because we might offend those who have chosen a different path. We are labeled as being hypocrites and judgmental when we call something a sin; attacks that discourage us from teaching the right course of action that brings freedom because that would be intolerant to those that may have chosen a different way to live.

Now, we have a few exceptions. We can call rapists or pedophiles sinners. There may be a few more actions that our society easily labels "sin." But these things that we can call sin have to be the loftiest of sins. Never mind the contradiction in the crowd that teaches tolerance turning around and being intolerant toward the things they believe are significant enough to call sin.

This shows that the real issue isn't whether we can be intolerant toward sin; it's what we think is sin. All people are intolerant toward the things that they view as sin. Some are even intolerant toward sinners. The real issue is whether we believe there is or what we believe is sin.

There is the popular saying among Christians, "Hate the sin. Love the sinner." It's origin is unknown, but its meaning has roots in Scripture. Jude wrote, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:20-23 ESV).

Keep yourself in God's love, but hate the garment stained by sin. Hate the sin. Love the sinner.

Our  natural instincts tell us to hate the sinner. We want to hate the pedophile, the rapist, and the Boston bomber. But then we are reminded, "Hate the sin. Love the sinner." And those who aren't wrestling with this don't understand hating the sin and loving the sinner. They think we hate people because we think that something is a sin, or they think we are too loving when we choose to love those who are, from our perspective, the most disgusting.

Which leads to me. I am a sinner. I can still be loved despite my sin. For while I was a sinner, Jesus died for me. He didn't die for me because I was perfect. Actually, His death is meaningless to me if I live pretending that I am perfect. He died for me because He loved me. And He didn't just die for me; He died for all of us. So that in Him, we can move beyond the mistakes (sin) we have made into the life that He has called us to.

On the other side of that first step, when we stop to ask for directions, is the destination we were made to head toward. Don't believe in a lie that keeps you remaining lost. You aren't perfect. You aren't the best person in the world. You aren't God's gift to humanity. You are a sinner, like me and everyone else, in need of grace and a change in direction toward the path that God designed us for.