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

Related image

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.


Image result for photo of little league and coach

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

Image result for photo of coast guard rescue

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

Image result for photo of guys golfing

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.