Prideful Humility

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  Phil 2: 3  

Alphonso flashed his award-winning smile as cameras snapped. “Get a couple more orphans in this shot,” he murmured to his press secretary while resting a manicured hand on a toddler’s fuzzy head. “Alphonso! Alphonso!” journalists shouted. “How much have you donated to this project?” The superstar lowered his gaze in practiced modesty and waved a dismissive hand. “A little over ten million, but really it’s nothing—” Fans cheered from the scarlet-roped viewing area, drowning out the next question. Alphonso exchanged a wink with his accountant. Ten million was a small investment that paid off in publicity. Charity work was rewarding in itself, made him feel like a good person. But it was also tremendously profitable—if you did it right.

“Prideful humility” is a paradoxical term that needs to be added to our dictionaries. Guilted by constant reminders of how blessed we are, we can be tempted to publicly demonstrate our generosity. We’re so used to posting and tweeting every minute detail of our lives that we can forget what true humility looks like. Culture’s attitude is: If you can’t Instagram it, why do it? This verse nails us. We do most things out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That means that we should give, serve, love, and forgive quietly and privately because God sees our inward motivations. He wants to reward us for eternity, but He can’t if we’re already rewarding ourselves. When our greatest desire is to please the Lord, it doesn’t matter who else knows. God does. And that’s enough.

It's NOT Me First?

…not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2: 4

“Yeah, but I like things this way! I can’t believe you’re changing it.” 
“I don’t want our small group to grow. Those people aren’t like us.” 
“I should help support missions and our church, but I like nice things.” 

It would be great if those comments were pure fiction, but they’re not. Every church has its own version of them. Every family does too. Me First! My Wants Should Rule! Of course, we don’t say it like that. We’ve come up with milder ways to express those selfish tendencies. But the motives are still there. The very root of all sin is this: I want what I want when I want it. I’ll do right, as long as it doesn’t infringe on what I want.

What if we let Jesus rule our lives to such an extent that our first reaction to any idea was: “What would Jesus have me do? How can I best represent Him in this situation?” Imagine the transformation in our homes, our churches, and our communities if that was the default response of every Jesus follower. Most divorces would never happen. Families would live in harmony. The church would never need to beg for volunteers because the lists would be filled months in advance. Giving would overflow the buckets, every orphan would have a home, and there would be no needy among us. Is this utopia? No, it’s biblical Christianity.


Thinking Like Jesus

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: (verse 5)

Whoa! Wait a minute. We know we are supposed to try to BE like Jesus, ACT like Jesus, and LOVE like Jesus. But those are all external behaviors, things we can choose to do. Now, we’re told to THINK like Jesus. That sounds about as possible as leaping over Mt. Everest in a single bound. We’d be more likely to win the lottery without buying a ticket than to have the same mindset, the same attitudes, and the same motivations as the Son of God. Yet, there it is. A command we’re expected to follow. 

So when we’re confronted with an impossible-looking command in the Bible, should we: 

A) treat it as a suggestion?

B) pretend we didn’t see it? 
C) pretend we’re doing it but we’re really not? 
D) ask the Holy Spirit to do it through us?
If you guessed A-C, you’re wrong, but probably in the majority. If you guessed D, you’re right, but it might not be the way you think. Asking the Lord to “do this through me” is often spiritual code for “It’s God’s fault if I don’t obey Him.” That’s not what it means. Before the Lord can do the impossible through us, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way. If we are to have the same mindset as Jesus has, that means we cannot hang on to the old mindset that belongs to us. To think like Jesus means Self has to pack its bags. Self no longer gets to vote or veto. We capture those self-centered, prideful, lustful, envious thoughts, call them what they are, and kick them out. We stop excusing our sin, and agree with God. Then answer D will work.

Are you willing to have the same mindset as Jesus has? It means surrendering to His right to change your thinking.

Empty Yourself

…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2: 6-7

Imagine the scene. The Adored One of heaven steps to the portal and looks down. On a faraway planet, the humans He loves are murdering, raping, and stealing from each other, while the religious ones are frantically trying to make themselves righteous enough to impress God. They are all without hope. The Son looks at the Father and hears, “It’s time, Son.” Jesus nods and lifts the ornate crown from His head while a thousand angels gasp in astonishment. The warriors draw their swords. What was happening? The Son removes His royal robes, but when angels rush to serve Him, He holds up a hand. “No, I’m not going there to be served. I’m going to be a servant.” Emptied of His privileges as God, the Son steps through the portal.

When Jesus “emptied Himself,” He willingly set aside everything that kept Him from coming down here and being with us: His rights, His history, His comfort, His own will. He left them in the hands of His Father and would depend upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help Him fulfill His mission. He set the pattern for us. Jesus emptied Himself of everything that kept Him from uniting with us physically, and we must empty ourselves of everything that keeps us from uniting with Him spiritually. We set aside our rights, our history, our comfort, and our own will, leaving them in the hands of the Father, and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help us live for Christ. As Jesus emptied Himself to be one of us, we must also empty ourselves to be one with Him.

Veto Power

...He humbled himself by becoming obedient… even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him... Phil. 2:9

You deserve more! Demand your rights! Flaunt your stuff! So much for the wisdom of our day. It’s all about ME. Nobody can offend or take advantage of ME. “It’s my way or the highway,” we announce proudly, as though God Himself might want to take notes. What if Jesus had that attitude? What if He arrived on earth, grew up to understand Who He really was, and became disgusted with the whole plan. “These people are awful, Father. They don’t appreciate anything I do for them: the miracles, food…and for what? Only a handful even believe in me and I deserve respect! I’m not dying for them. Beam me up.”

That’s how we might feel. But Jesus understood true humility. He knew that to exalt Himself would distract from His message. So He always exalted and obeyed God—even when that obedience cost Him His dignity, His wants, and His life. How far would you go to obey God? We might want to please Him, but we also want to retain the veto power— just in case. Being beaten to a pulp and then nailed to a cross would classify as veto-worthy; yet, Jesus earned future glory by His willingness to fully obey. Jesus knew that His Father would reward Him for all eternity. We can follow His example because we know that too.

Have you retained the veto power in your level of obedience? You’ll never accomplish all God wants for you.

Falling Idols

The next morning the same thing happened--Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD. 
I Sam. 5:4

God’s enemies were cheering. They did it! They captured that magical Ark of the Lord. Now success was guaranteed. They could have Yahweh’s power on command. They set God’s Ark beside their idol, Dagon, and everyone went to bed happy. The next morning, old Dagon had toppled over and lay face down before God’s Ark. They stood him up, but the next morning there he was again. This time his head and his hands broke off. Terror struck the city. Who was this God that no other god could stand up against? They couldn’t get rid of the Ark fast enough. Even God’s enemies had learned: Yahweh topples idols.

He topples our idols too. He greatly prefers that His people acknowledge and get rid of idols on our own. But when we refuse, He has to do it for us: The affair gets exposed. The kids turn out horrible. The casino takes all your money and gives nothing back. The spouse you thought would complete you, betrays you. You’re left with a broken Dagon and no way to fix it. When Self has been the idol, the toppling can be particularly painful. Age steals beauty. Popularity dries up. Success succumbs to the plunging Dow, and your overpriced, designer hiding places go out of style. We can rename, replace, and refuse to admit them, but the Lord knows about those other gods and He won’t tolerate them. He loves us enough to topple our idols.

God will not share His glory with idols (Is. 48:11). 
He will topple them, but it’s much better if we do it first.

What's Molding You?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind… Romans 12:2

Your mission, Jim, if you choose to accept it, is to convince this people that their leader is against them.” In the classic TV show Mission Impossible, no mission was impossible. One of the IMF team’s favorite tricks was to use their incredible mask-making skills to fool their enemies. They made a mold from the face of the bad guy, then poured Rollin’s rubbery mixture into that mold, and Voila! The mixture conformed to the contours of the facial mold, and once hardened, became just like it. The mold created a mask that made the good guy look exactly like the bad guy. Enemy defeated. Mission Accomplished.

Satan does the same thing with our lives. Imagine the Evil Commander issuing an order similar to the one Jim received: “Your mission, Demon, is to convince God’s people that He is against them.” He does it by making a mold of himself, and then seducing us to pour our passions, time, and attention into it. He parades his superstars before us—the-rich-and-famous, and the famous-for-being-rich—and then suggests: “Be like them.” When we focus on his idols, we become like them. His work is so thorough, we can attend church every Sunday and never realize we are wearing the mask of the enemy. But God’s solution is to transform us by His power through His Spirit. He invites us to pour our passion, our will, and our surrender into His word. When we do, we conform to His image and Christ’s character appears in our lives. Enemy defeated. Mission Accomplished.

Whose mold are you conforming to? 
Use the mirror of God’s word to study your reflection.

Is God Jealous?

“…for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD…is a jealous God.”  Exodus 34:14

One celebrity has famously stated that she could never worship a God who is jealous; therefore, the God of the Bible must be rejected or reinvented. The confusion comes because of our misunderstanding of the nature of jealousy. We instantly categorize the word “jealous” with other negative words, like greed, hatred, or envy. But consider it this way:

John paused at the door of his home, fumbling with his house key while juggling the bouquet of roses he’d brought to surprise his wife. He smiled as he pictured her squeal of delight. He’d worked two jobs for the past ten years to pay the bills while she pursued her degree and an internship she loved. He’d stayed home with the kids on his days off so she could enjoy time with her friends, but he didn’t mind at all. He adored her. The love of his life. What a treasure she was to him!

The door opened and he lurched into the silent hallway, trying not to drop the flowers. He wandered into the kitchen, wondering at the stillness, and saw a note on the table: “Dear John, I’m sorry, but I must pursue my own happiness. I’m in love with that prisoner I’ve been writing to, and I’ve left you to be with him when he is released. The kids are at my mom’s. You’re a nice man, you’ll find someone else. Thanks for everything.” He stared unseeing at the note, trying to understand. That prisoner? The convicted rapist? Con man? Married 4 times? What was she thinking? Now consider this—Did John have a righteous reason to be jealous? Outraged? Heartbroken? That’s the way our loving Creator feels when we love ourselves instead of Him.

Do your choices, desires, and affections provoke jealousy 
in the heavenly Father who adores you?

Which God Is Yours?

“You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:3

2:00 am. The house was quiet. Nothing moved except the figures on the screen before him. He needed this. It filled him, met his need like nothing else could. Regardless of how crazy the day or how cranky the wife, he knew where he could go to feel better. Here, before this flickering throne, he could be anyone he wanted to be. His online servants cavorted before him, performing for his pleasure and satisfaction. He was well-respected, a leader, considered a godly man by everyone. But this was where he found comfort, value, and identity. Only he and God knew his dark secret: this was where he really worshiped.

When the Lord commanded humanity to have no other gods before Him, he was not referring to placement, as in first, second, third. He meant that He wants to see nothing in our lives that meets our deep heart needs except Him alone. Whatever we run to in order to have those needs met is our functional god. But we defend our idols: “My wife isn’t meeting my needs, so porn is OK.” “My kids are my life, so God understands if I don’t trust Him with them.” “My reputation is everything, so lying on social media helps me keep it.” Idols don’t have to be sin habits. They can be God’s gifts that have become more important to us than He is. In order to identify our idols, we can ask ourselves this: WHAT DO I PURSUE, SACRIFICE FOR, AND RUN TO FOR COMFORT?

Whatever we cannot lay on the altar before God, IS our god. What idols reign in your life?

Idol Reflections

You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind…  Exodus 20:4

“I’ve gotta get home,” Bekah murmured. Her mother raised a brow as she backed out of the school parking lot. “What’s so urgent?” Bekah shrugged one shoulder and faced the passenger window. “I posted a few selfies with that hot new guy, Brad, then my phone died. I wanna see who liked it.” Her mother sighed. “Oh. I was hoping you were excited about drama practice at church tonight.” Bekah rolled her eyes at the window. “Puh-leeze, Mom. I’m not gonna be in that. They gave Jenna Ray the lead, and everybody knows I’m better than her.” She tossed her hair. “I deserve a bigger role. I will not be just an extra.”

Self-worship. We are supposed to outgrow it, like we outgrow taping rock star posters to our bedroom walls. Unfortunately, many don’t, and social media gives us plenty of platforms upon which to build our shrines. Even those of us who profess to follow Jesus can get turned around and start following ourselves. We subconsciously gauge our worth by the number of “likes” or comments on our posts. Duck-face selfies replace genuine smiles, and if we can’t Instagram it, why do it? American culture has seduced us into becoming our own gods, and this god is insatiable. We must feed, pamper, and console it continually, or it plunges us into depression. We may never bow to a wood and stone idol, but we bow every day to the one in the mirror. 

New Identity

He became sin for us, who knew no sin, 
that we might become the righteousness of God. 
2 Corinthians 5:21

Roy’s knees trembled as he stood with head bowed before the throne. He had dreaded this day since childhood, and now, here he was. It had happened so fast: the speeding semi, the crash. One minute he was reaching for the radio and the next, standing before the Lord God Almighty. It was too late to change anything. He couldn’t undo all he’d done. No way to stack up good deeds or apologize for the mess-ups. He’d only known Jesus for three weeks. Still didn’t have it all figured out. How could he explain— “Next!” The Voice was like the sound of a thousand waterfalls, and Roy forced himself to look up.

Smiles. All he saw were smiles. Everywhere. “Roy!” Jesus was coming toward him. Dark holes marred the hands held out in welcome. “I—I don’t—I’m sorry…” Roy blurted, but Jesus placed a hand on Roy’s shoulder. “Father, Roy’s one of ours. He’s wearing my righteousness.” Roy gaped at his spotless clothing. Where’d he get that? All he remembered was dirt and blood and broken glass. Before that, nothing but sin and selfishness. He’d done nothing to deserve this robe or those smiles, but there they were. “Welcome, Righteous One,” came the Voice again. Righteous one? Roy wanted to object, but the Voice went on. “Because your sin debt has been cancelled by my Son’s sacrifice, you are welcome here. Enter the joy of your Lord!”

If you have accepted Jesus as Lord of your life, 
then God has given you a new identity: Righteous One.

Gender Wars

He created them male and female, 
and he blessed them and called them "human."  

Genesis 5:2

Facebook has decided there are 51. New York City offers only 31 choices, but that number will increase soon because humanity is giddy with excitement over its new toy: gender selection. We have decided that we can choose our gender the way we choose a flavor of ice cream. However, gender is no more our choice than whether or not we breath oxygen. God has declared that there are only two: male and female. Our gender is assigned to us at conception, through our DNA, just like race, height, and eye color. No amount of body mutilation or mental confusion can change what God has declared.

Our value is not up for a vote either. God established the value of human beings in two distinct ways: when He breathed His own life into Adam (Gen. 2:7), and when He took on flesh to became one of us (John 3:16). God did not become a puppy or a dolphin. He took on human flesh because humans were most like Him, with a spirit like He has. No sane person lays down his life for a goldfish, a rabbit, or evolved pond scum. When God sent His Son to rescue us, He declared the value of human life. No matter what we’ve done, our value can’t change because God already set it. Your gender is His choice; your value is His choice. Every human being, male or female, is created in God’s image, useful for God’s purposes, and worth God’s Son.

Just as you cannot change your gender, you cannot change your value. God has already set them both.

Who Told You That?

"Who told you that you were naked?” the LORD God asked.  Genesis 3:11

“I never went to college,” Marsha said. “My dad always told me I was too stupid.” Brent nodded. “I know what you mean. I’ve always been too scared to ask a girl out, ‘cause my grandma always told me I was too ugly.” He looked at his friend Andi. “You had a great family. You probably can’t understand what we’re talking about.” Andi gave a short laugh. “Yeah, my childhood was great, but I hate myself anyway. I’ve always wanted to play soccer or take gymnastics, but people made fun of me one time for being a clutz. So I sit on the sidelines and save everyone the misery of watching me fail.”

When Adam sinned, he allowed Satan to tell him who he was. Did Satan know? Did Satan create Adam in his own image? We make the same mistake Adam made when we allow hurtful words or experiences to tell us who we are: “You’re a failure.” “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’re too ugly/stupid/poor/low class to ever have a successful life.” Sometimes we even let the mistakes we’ve made tell us who we are: “You’ve messed up too bad.” “Even God couldn’t fix you.” “Forget living purely after all you’ve done.” Do other people know our value? Did they create us in their own image? Just as Satan did not have the power to define the man that God made, neither does he—nor anyone else—have the power to define you. Your experiences are not YOU. Hurtful words from childhood are not YOU. Only God knows who you really are. Let Him define you.

Does the BUT Define You?

...and such were some of you. But 
you have been washed, you have been cleansed… 
1 Corinthians 6:11

It was the bottom of the 10th inning of the 6th game of 1986 World Series. The Boston Red Socks were about to take their first title in 68 years, BUT…with two outs, first baseman Bill Buckner let a routine ground ball roll between his legs and the Mets won instead. That little word—BUT—changed everything. When Moses and a million Israelites stood on the banks of the Red Sea with a furious army in hot pursuit, they saw no hope, BUT…God parted the sea and they escaped. BUT is a little word with a lot of power to change our stories, both good and bad. No matter how things may appear, BUT can change everything.

Paul made a Top Ten List of evildoers who would never see God’s kingdom and then wrote, “and such were some of you.” In other words, most of us have worn labels from that list: Drunkard. Sexually immoral. Greedy. Those identities kept us under God’s judgement. BUT when Jesus saved us, He peeled off the old labels and gave us new ones: Child of God. Righteous. Accepted. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, He changes our identity and direction. We don’t continue living the Top Ten List while wearing the new labels He bought with His blood. BUT has power to change the World Series, to rescue the Israelites, and to change our identities. No matter what labels you wore in the past, BUT can change everything.

Find yourself on the list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. 
Do the labels still fit, or have you let the BUT define you? 

Compared With...

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12

Glamour and Vogue speak loudly. So do the Emmy’s, the Grammy’s, and whoever votes for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. We scroll through endless channels hearing messages such as: “I used to be ugly, boring, and fat like you, but then I discovered Wonder Machine/pill/activity/toilet bowl cleaner! Now look how happy I am!”  We don’t realize how much we’ve internalized those messages until we analyze our self-talk. It sounds something like this: “Look at their new car/RV/house/kid. Sure beats my car/house/plants/spouse.” Or: “Why aren’t I gorgeous/rich/educated like that person?” And after scrolling through 50 Instagram selfies of our friend’s Tahiti highlights, our Branson vacation looks pretty lame. Comparison destroys contentment.

However, the flip-side of comparison is self-promotion. Our culture has elevated bragging to an art form. We have enough sense to cloak it in pretend humility, but in an effort to convince ourselves that we’re worthy of being admired, we post things like: “Humbled that my art/song/talent/looks beat out hundreds of other contestants to win this great prize! #greattobeawinner. We don’t mention that the competition was in kindergarten. When we compare our real lives to the highlights of others, we take our eyes off Jesus. We compete with them instead of loving them. Since we become like those we study, comparing our lives with Jesus keeps us humble and content. When we’re keeping up with the Kardashians, we stop keeping up with Jesus. 

Let Love Cover It

Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

That’s it! They really did it this time, and you’re just D.O.N.E. He was supposed to be your best friend. She was supposed to keep your secrets. Then, when you needed them most, they betrayed you. That group at church excluded you. You lost the election to a jerk. Your cousin posted that horrible comment on Facebook and everyone liked it. When you commented, you got shot down. You may have told yourself that you didn’t have any options. Their behavior forced you to retaliate. To hate. To cross them off your list forever. Change churches, drop out of the group, or become bitter. The truth is, you have a choice.

Let’s look at what Jesus did. One friend double-crossed him. Another denied he even knew Him. His closest buddies vanished and left Him alone with the bullies. After all He had done for them, all He had taught them, they evaporated at the first sign of trouble. They abandoned Him when He needed them most. We might say He had every right to retaliate. To hate. To cross them off His list forever. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” He was talking about His executioners, but what if He also meant His back-stabbing friends? The first thing He did on Resurrection morning was to go looking for them. He forgave them, and showed us what it looks like when love covers over a multitude of sins.

Bitter Roots

Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness 
grows up to trouble you, 
corrupting many. 
Hebrews 12:15

When we live with a root of bitterness, it shows up in every disagreement. Little slights or mistakes become World War III. Making it worse, bitter people ignite bitterness in others. They gravitate toward people having a disagreement and add fuel to the fire, pretending to help, but gaining converts to their cause. Bitter people often take their hurts to the internet. Their not-so-subtle posts flood our newsfeeds: “Marriage means getting your heart broken.” “I need a church that accepts people.” “If you don’t repost this, you’re not my friend.” Their bitter hearts are salved for a while if they get enough “likes” or comments, but attacking an enemy via social media is like firing a sawed-off shotgun at your entire Friends List. It misses the real target, but creates a lot of casualties. Bitterness poisons every relationship, including the one with ourselves.

Proverbs 20:3 has an even stronger name for people who create conflict. Make sure it’s not describing you.

About or To

 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you...” Matthew 18:15-17

 “Wow, I heard about what happened with Eric,” Kym said. “I guess he’s pretty mad.” Luke gave her a puzzled look. “What? He’s never said anything to me.” Kym raised a brow. “It’s all over Facebook and at church. Can’t believe you haven’t heard. I was surprised you were like that. Guess you never know about people.” She shrugged as she walked away. Luke gripped the desk as the room spun. Why hadn’t Eric come to him if he was mad? What had he done? What was all over church? And Facebook? What did people think of him? He’d just started at that church, but he would never step foot in their building again.

What is your first response when someone sins against you? 
Do you talk TO them or ABOUT them?

Who's Right? Who's Wrong? Who Cares?

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, 
and quarreling is like the bars of a castle. Prov. 18:19

Image result for photo of barred castle

The scent of flowers was overpowering, and combined with the organ dirge, made Julie feel like throwing up. Why couldn’t funeral music be lively? Maybe the Beatles or at least a Polka. She shook her head against the crazy thoughts that were trying to distract her from the pain. Oh, Lindsey. Baby sister, shadow, best friend until the stupid fight. So stupid! Scenes from childhood danced through her head: matching dresses, laughter, Christmas morning. She squeezed her eyelids against the burning tears. Who cared who was right? Three years without speaking. What were they thinking? But it was too late now.

How many significant relationships have ended over something as silly as who said what to whom? Who’s right; who’s wrong? Who cares? At the root of most cold wars is Pride. Pride is a destroyer of relationships, putting up walls between two people and keeping score. Pride convinces us that we’re on the “high road” when we’re really on our “high horse.” Pride would rather die than humble itself, and many times it takes a death before we realize how foolish we were. By then, it’s too late. When we offend someone, or someone offends us, pride won’t let us ask forgiveness or extend it to another. It waits for the other one to move first, and the cold war begins. 

You may be in the right, but Pride is a poor substitute for a brother, a sister, 
or peace.  

Make It Right

Image result for photo of nervous man

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice… and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice…and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”  Matthew 5:23-24

“I didn’t do anything,” Dave muttered to himself. He glared at the floor as the worship band charged into another chorus.
“I just told it like it was. I was being honest. It was her fault she took it personally.” He gripped the chair back in front of him a little tighter and strengthened his resolve as worshipers around him sang their praises. “Pastor shouldn’t be insisting that I make this right. She’s the one who’s being overly sensitive. I liked her post on Facebook, what more does she want?” His internal justifications weren’t doing much to stop the pounding of his heart and this strange inability to feel close to God. They were playing his favorite song, too. Why couldn’t he enjoy it this morning? Must be that new worship leader.

Jesus offers Dave a way to stop the self-righteous grumbling in his heart and enjoy worship once more. But it requires humility, and humility is the one trait that we resist the hardest. Humility takes full responsibility for the pain we created in another. We don’t get to decide whether or not they should feel that way. Dave had been insensitive. It had been pointed out to him, and it was now up to him to make it right. If he walked across the aisle and apologized to the person he offended, he may have found that he liked the new worship leader after all. On Jesus’ list of priorities, reconciliation with those we hurt gets a top slot.

Have you hurt someone, even unintentionally? Have you made it right with them? Worship depends upon it. 

Created for Community

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Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”  Genesis 2:18 

“I can worship God better out here in the woods. I love God, but I can’t stand people. So, church is not for me.” Maybe you’ve heard that. Maybe you’ve said that. It sounds logical; but it’s not scriptural. It’s also not true. First John 4:20 is clear that we cannot fully love God until we learn how to love our Christian brothers and sisters. The God who created us told us that it is not good for us to be alone. That means He designed us with an internal growth chip that is only activated in fellowship with other believers. When we isolate ourselves from our Christian family, we forfeit that area of growth. Here’s why:

When God created Eve for Adam, He already knew she would lead him into trouble. God could have wadded her up into a ball of clay and started over. But He didn’t. He let her stay, because He knew that she would challenge Adam to grow in ways that would be impossible if it was only Adam and God. Because of Eve, Adam learned some things about himself that forced him to depend upon God. And in our relationships, it is often the frustrating aspects that become the tools God uses to shape our character. Relationships challenge us to grow in ways that we cannot when it is just us and God. Our relationships reveal selfish motives, prideful attitudes, or errors in thinking that we would never address without our equally-flawed brothers and sisters bumping into those places. Communing with God in nature is wonderful, but we need each other to become like Jesus.

On This Rock...

Image result for photo of little white church

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…”  Matthew 16:18

“All churches want is your money.” 
“I’m not good enough for those church people.” 
“Church is for women and sissies.” 

Misconceptions about the word “church” are everywhere. Unfortunately, many people have reasons to think the way they do. They had a bad experience. They saw something on TV. They heard something at the beauty shop. They read it on the internet (so it must be true!). When we let experiences or culture define “church” for us, we get a distorted image—like wearing someone else’s prescription glasses. But when Jesus defines “church,” it looks a lot different.

According to Jesus, the church is made up of every human being who has repented of sin and confessed Him as Lord and Savior. The rock that this church is built upon is the truth that Jesus is who He says He is. And if He is God, then He has the right to lead us, command us, discipline us, and make us more like Him. Every person who chooses to follow His way is adopted into His family. So that means that the real church is filled with imperfect human beings in various stages of spiritual growth—just like any family is. That dynamic leads to disagreements, frustrations, and hurt feelings—just like with other families. But even radically different people can march in the same direction when they choose to follow the same Leader.


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When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority…  
Luke 9:1 

Coach whistled for the team and the 10-year-old Chargers gathered around. “OK guys,” he said, then, “Where’s Wilson?” Colby Wilson, Number 11, slouched by the dugout watching a plane in the sky. “Wilson!” shouted the coach. “Get over here!” Colby shrugged. “You can give me my instructions when you’re done there,” he called back. The coach’s face reddened and he marched to his third baseman. “You get over there! You’re part of this team. We learn together, we play together, we win or lose together. I’m coaching a team, not a bunch of Lone Rangers. Get over there, or you’re hurting the team!”

When Jesus was ready to spread His message to the world, He created a team. He handpicked twelve rough-around-the-edges men and poured His life into them—as a team. He taught them, coached them, and then He called them together as a team to give instructions. He expected this team to carry on His work, even after He was gone. He still expects that of us. Lone Rangers are fooling themselves. Some stay away from Christian community because they expect special treatment, others because their teammates are imperfect. But when we do, we hurt the team. We hurt Jesus. It’s hard to be other-focused in a selfie-world, but that is the heart of Christianity. When we gather as a team, Jesus gives us power and authority to do His work. 

Encourage Each Other

 So encourage each other with these words
1 Thessalonians 4:18

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By the time the two Dorley brothers were finally rescued by the Coast Guard, they had been floating in the Atlantic Ocean for 6 days. Their family’s boat had capsized during a sudden storm, and both parents were lost. The boys managed to crawl onto a life raft and bailed out rainwater with their caps until the storm subsided. Making the situation even more treacherous, Colt, the younger brother, was blind. “How did you keep going?” one reporter asked. With a protective arm around his little brother, Calvin, age 12, answered, “When I felt like giving up, I would look at him. I couldn’t let him give up, so I told him I could see a boat coming. I described it so well I really could almost see it myself. I just kept saying it until it came true.”

That’s what this verse is talking about. The believers in Thessalonica were growing weary of daily persecution, trouble, and loss, so Paul wrote to them in glorious detail about the second coming of Jesus. They’d adopted some erroneous teaching about death and were in danger of losing sight of their purpose. Rather than rebuke them, the letter encouraged them to refocus on the promise that would soon come true. Jesus was coming back! It would all be worth it. They were to encourage each other with those words, and in doing so, encourage themselves. Our minds start to believe what our ears hear and when we speak truth in love, our thinking changes. Like Calvin, when we encourage our weary brothers, we encourage ourselves.

A Case of Neglect

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And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…  Hebrews 10:25

“My wife and I have a great marriage,” Dave said as he lined up his next golf shot. “She does her thing and I do mine. We text occasionally and I Facetimed her on her birthday. I don’t like her ongoing affairs, and she doesn’t know about my spending habits, but other than that, we’re great.” Jeff whistled and shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “Those sound like red flags to me. Maybe those affairs are your wife’s way of crying out for attention. And maybe your overspending is a clue that you need her financial wisdom. In my family, I’ve found that neglect can do more damage than abuse. Just a suggestion.”

It was a good suggestion, because when we neglect significant relationships, everyone suffers. A church is a group of believers who meet together. But when we abandon the “meeting” part in favor of Youtube sermons in our jammies, we lose sight of its purpose. Jesus did not create His church for the sermons. He also never intended “church” to mean the Sunday morning version of “America’s Got Talent.” 

Jesus created His church as a fellowship of people from all backgrounds joined by a common bond: His transforming work in our lives. He molds us into a family, and family members need time, accountability, encouragement, and the opportunity to know and be known. We can’t get that through a computer screen or a phone app. Real church cannot be accessed with a click of the mouse. We experience real church when we do it together.

Following Jesus

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“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Mark 8:34

“Who wants go to heaven some day?” asked Miss Wilson of her preschoolers. Every hand went up and she beamed with joy at her class of 30 “converts.” Bill got the same results at the county jail when he asked if any of the incarcerated men were “Christians.” Nine out of ten nodded. Likewise, teenagers smoking pot behind the gym laughed through a smoky haze about the times they “got saved” at youth camp, VBS, or when a friend forced them down the aisle at church. We’ve come to accept such claims as valid, but do those situations sound anything like Jesus’ definition of following Him?

Nowhere in scripture do we find commands to “ask Jesus into your heart,” “pray this prayer after me,” or “accept Christ.” Those phrases are attempts to explain the spiritual transaction that must take place in order to begin a relationship with God. Jesus called it being “born again” (John 3:3). But we have substituted the idea that “Christian” means checking the right boxes on a heavenly survey. However, Jesus was startlingly clear about what it means to know Him. He doesn’t take the back seat. He doesn’t offer to be “part” of our lives. Unless He is first in our lives, we are not His followers. If we won’t choose Him over everyone and everything, we are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37-38). Taking up our cross means we are willing to die to everything that displeases Him. When we do, we find more than an escape from Hell. We find that He is all we were looking for.

Watch This!

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 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12

“Looks good to me!” shouted Tex. “No way I won’t land in the water. This roof ain’t that high.” He turned to his buddies with a confident grin. “Watch this!” Those words were engraved on Tex's tombstone a few days later. It’s easy to see the foolishness of some people’s choices, but not so easy to see our own. We may not be jumping off four-story buildings, but we may be jumping into toxic relationships, dangerous financial debt, or sexual sin with that same confident grin. And like Tex’s fatal jump, it all leads away from the plan of God and eventually to death: spiritual, emotional, or physical.

The Bible warns us that there are always two roads before us. Always. With every breath, every choice, we have the option of stepping off the path God designed for us because there is another one that looks so inviting. We stop to gaze at its smooth stones, shady trees, and beautiful flowers. We weigh its seduction against the red flags in our conscience, then decide with Tex: “Looks good to me! No way I won't end up where I want to be.” What we don’t realize is that Satan has laid camouflaged traps all along this pathway. We won’t see them unless we study the Map. The Bible is a road map that shows the location of most of Satan’s traps, but if we don't bother to check, we don’t see them until it’s too late.  Whenever we choose our paths based upon what looks and feels right, we often forfeit the good plan God has for our lives. But His word leads us to it.

 How do you know you're on the right path? Compare your life choices to God's word.

Good Fruit, Bad Fruit

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A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.”  Luke 6:43-44

Jill wiped the sweat from her face and slapped the bark on an apple tree. “This one needs to come down,” she said. Her assistant gazed upward into the thick green foliage with a bewildered expression. “Why?” he asked. “Bad tree,” Jill answered. “Haven’t had any decent apples in two seasons. Those little ones up there? Half rotten. Tree’s no good to me now.” Her assistant still looked confused. “But…but all those leaves…it looks so healthy.” Jill shook her head and moved to the next tree. “It’s faking you out,” she laughed. “Pretending to be productive, but it’s all leaf. A tree is healthy if it produces good fruit.”

When a gardener plants and nurtures a fruit tree, he expects good fruit from it. If the tree is rotten inside, the fruit won’t be any good either. The same is true for us. The fruit of our lives is seen in the decisions we make, the attitudes we adopt, and the words we speak. If our hearts are self-centered, our fruit will be too. You can’t turn an oak tree into a peach tree by taping a peach to it. And going through churchy motions does not change our identities. Jesus offers to do that for us when we give our lives to Him. He changes us from the inside so that our fruit lasts for eternity. Unless our fruit is obedience to Christ, it’s all leaf.