Aim Higher

“Get people through the door!”

“Fill seats!”

“Get ‘x’ amount of baptisms by ‘y’ date!”

“Get them started on Bible studies!”

Familiar refrains from struggling churches.

When the sights of a church are set lower than heaven, the church will fail.

The problem lies with a tunnel vision approach to the Great Commission given by Jesus:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Baptizing isn’t a final goal; it’s a result. Obedience to Jesus isn’t a goal; it’s a result. Making disciples of Jesus isn’t a goal; it’s a result. Jesus’ mission on earth was multifaceted, but it all fell under the single umbrella goal: reveal the character of the Father. Jesus wanted to introduce the world, estranged by sin, to its Father. He wanted all people to see heaven in Himself. Only a little earlier in his book does Matthew say something similar. In fact, we might take the following verse as the method for accomplishing Jesus’ Great Commission:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

What a mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting idea! Seek heaven, seek Jesus, and seek the Father through Jesus. Build a relationship, a friendship, an intimacy with your Creator, and whatever is left will, in time, be taken care of.

Want people through your church doors?

Show them Jesus.

Want to fill pews?

Show them Jesus.

Want baptisms?

Show them Jesus.

Want people to have a genuine interest in Bible studies?

Show them Jesus.

Jesus traveled to an area called Decapolis (The Ten Cities) where he encountered a terribly violent man afflicted by demon possession. Jesus commanded the demons out of the man. The demons, with nowhere else to go, fled into a nearby herd of pigs which subsequently rushed into the water and drowned. Infuriated by this sudden loss, the local herdsmen and townspeople begged Jesus to leave despite their fellow countryman sitting there totally healed of demon possession. This same man, finally free of possession, free of sin, free of evil, begged Jesus to let him join Him. Jesus instead responded,

“Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Mark 5:19 (NIV)

This man’s Great Commission was to tell people about how Jesus had saved him from sin and Satan. It was simple. It was easy. He had an encounter with heaven, and he was asked to share the story. Two chapters later, Mark recorded that Jesus went back to Decapolis, but this time a crowd of people brought to him a man both deaf and mute whom Jesus immediately healed. The mentality of the crowd, who previously chased Jesus out, had softened. Mark says,

“People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said.”

Mark 7:37 (NIV)

The healing of the deaf and blind man is incredible, but the miracle of the dramatically altered hearts of the people of Decapolis is the more profound miracle, indeed. They experienced heaven in the healing of the formerly possessed man. These people had not seen Jesus. Nor had they heard His words. They witnessed only the change in someone first broken by sin but saved by Jesus and who longed to follow Him because of it. This man, whose mind, body, and soul had been completely crippled by the possession of thousands of demons, had introduced his countrymen to Jesus. They saw Jesus in this man’s changed life, and they found themselves wanting Him as well.

The following chapter, Mark records Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 4000 people from in and around this particular region. 4000 people in the span of three days. All Jesus did was give one man a story to tell, and that one man told it.

Jesus brought heaven to the people in the kindness of His words and the compassion in His actions. Jesus’ earthly ministerial method was infinitely easier than what many churches today attempt: He loved people. All people. At all times. He healed one guy, and 4000 people came to Jesus wanting more of what He had to share.

Do you want to get people through your church doors?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want to absolutely pack the seats in your church?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want to see people give their lives to Jesus through the symbolic act of baptism?

SHOW them Jesus.

Do you want people to know the truth of Scripture?

SHOW them Jesus.

Jesus’ goal was to introduce people to the Father. The church pews will fill themselves. The baptisms will take care of themselves. The knowledge and understanding of Scripture will come in time. The desire to trust and obey will come in time. A church’s goal should not be results. A church’s goal ought to be simple: introduce people to Jesus. He’ll take care of the rest.

That Great Commission,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”,

Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

can only happen if there is a preexisting relationship. Becoming disciples, being baptized, and learning obedience are the results of only one thing: a personal encounter with our Maker, Jesus.

Aim Higher.

War Within

John, while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos, was given what is arguably the longest and most impressive series of visions regarding human history from theoretically pre-Adam to a thousand years post-Second-Coming. A brief component of this vision describes the origin of sin:

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.”

Revelation 12:7-8

Further along John explains what or who this dragon is:

“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan…”

Revelations 20:2

Much earlier in scripture (about 8-9 centuries earlier, actually) Isaiah is shown the exact same event in Heavenly history, but with the added detail of what sparked the war in the first place that John would later build on. The dragon, Satan, had grand ambitions before he ever tempted Adam and Eve:

“I will climb up to the sky. Above the stars of El I will set up my throne. I will rule on the mountain of assembly on the remote slopes of Zaphon. I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!”

Isaiah 14:14-15

Essentially, Satan wanted to stage a coup. 

A few centuries after Isaiah, Ezekiel had a similar vision from God who used the King of Tyre as a metaphor for Satan. The details provided in Ezekiel’s vision, however, reveal just how wonderful and cherished Satan was prior to his sin, his heart-wrenching fall, and his banishment from Heaven:

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes [his voice] was prepared for you on the day you were created. You were the anointed cherub who covers; 
I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; Therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground.”

Ezekiel 28 12-17

(It would seem the bigger they are, the harder they fall.)

Thus unable to wrench Heaven from God, Satan resorted to establishing a kingdom here. (And he did so with embarrassingly minimal effort). His method: corrupt the image of God in the minds of men. First, he cast doubt in the mind of Eve by implying God is a liar:

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.””

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.

Genesis 3:2-4

Secondly, he convinced Eve that God was holding out on her, that something was being withheld from her–perhaps God didn’t trust her:

“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it.”

Genesis 3:5

Finally he convinced Eve that God was afraid she would become like Him–perhaps a threat to Him:

“You will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

Genesis 5:5

The sad reality is that God never lied to her: Eve died spiritually that day, her body died another day, and many souls will permanently die because of the sin her and Adam allowed into this world. Secondly, God gave Adam and Eve absolute dominion of the entire planet: trust was not the issue. Finally, knowing evil is not knowing a thing: knowing evil is only knowing the absence of a thing, namely the absence of God.

Thus duped, humanity has continued to struggle with two starkly contrasting personality types initially made manifest during the war in Heaven: one of absolute selflessness, and the other of absolute selfishness. Self-sacrifice and self-aggrandizement.

John later explains in a short letter that,

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

1 John 3:8

The work of misrepresenting the character of God. Jesus did this work through total submission and self-abandonment. That is, Jesus,

“who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

And now you and I are presented with two personality types and their supreme Incarnations and Representatives: that of Satan,

“The father of lies;”

John 8:44

and that of Christ,

[He] who knew no sin [who became] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

It is an internal struggle: a lifelong battle for our souls, for our hearts, for our minds. But we have nothing to fear, for Paul states that,

“neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:28-29

The War Within is won.

Through Jeremiah, God tells us,

“I know the thoughts I think toward you…thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Through John, nearing the end of his spectacular visions, God promises that after the destruction of sin and death,

“the tabernacle [living quarters] of God [will be] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelations 21:3-4

There is only good news for the heart leaning on the everlasting arms of God!

I Do.

My marital vows were all lovey-dovey and just a little fancy, but they boiled down to five basic words: “I will always love you.” But how I demonstrate and express that love is something we’re both learning every day. Sometimes it takes a conversation with each other for us both to figure out what we each need to feel loved and respected. Sometimes it’s something as simple as, “Please keep the cupboard doors closed,” or “Please stop wearing those awful pants in public!”

The list is ever growing, but it’s also increasingly easier to fulfill the more we understand, love, and respect each other. We do the things naturally and gladly. We want to do the things that make each other happy. My wife’s needs and desires are practically written on my heart. They’re now a part of me, and likewise with her. It’s getting to the point where it’s easy as breathing. However, if I were to summarize our relationship into a basic set of reciprocal rules or steps to help the marriage work, I’d list them as the following:

  1. She, as my wife, takes precedence over everyone and everything else in this world. She takes precedence over my own parents, my career, and even any future children (our children’s most influential lesson on relationships will come from their parents’ marriage).
  2. It is my responsibly to protect rule number 1. I am to be diligent in protecting our relationship. I must not allow work to wrestle priority away from my marriage. I must not allow my extended family’s issues eclipse my marriage. We selflessly seek each other’s interests.
  3. It is my responsibility to protect her name and public image. My actions, words, and even thoughts about my wife ought to uplift her as a woman and also make it evident that I take our marriage seriously. If I claim to be happily married, but my behaviour (public or private) suggests otherwise, our marriage will only suffer.
  4. Specific significant dates are important to her and thus ought to be important to me. I show respect and love towards her by remembering and celebrating dates like our anniversary, her birthday, and even holidays. It’s also important to make time to be with each other. Time to sit and simply enjoy each other’s company. It’s those moments that we grow with each other.
  5. It is critical that I respect her family, that she respects my family, that I respect my own family, and that she respects her own family. This strengthens our familial community and will also demonstrate to our future children how to respect us and all others.
  6. Her life is to be protected, but so is her mental and emotional health. If my words and actions are injurious, cause her to feel as though her life is unimportant, or, worse yet, cause her to wish she were not alive, it is as though I have killed her!
  7. There is no other woman for me. My mind is loyal to her, my eyes are loyal to her, and my body is loyal to her. I must not even look at a woman lustfully.
  8. I will work hard for her and our family we build. Everything we possess will be gained honestly and with hard work. I will also respect the property (and that includes the body) of my wife.
  9. We are honest with each other in all things and at all times. Even withholding truth but not technically telling a lie is a lie.
  10. We strive to humble ourselves to be content with our life. We are a family. We have each other. There is nothing in this world that can provide happiness and fulfillment other than each other. We are grateful.

None of the above guarantees a perfect marriage. You can work hard to accomplish the list in its entirety and still have an unsuccessful marriage. In fact, we both sometimes fall short on several points in that list, but we approach each other with humility, apologize, and work together to improve each other–she doesn’t want to hurt me, and I certainly don’t want to hurt her. We’re not perfect, so we work together to get better.

God often compares his relationship with us to a marriage:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:31-32, 35

Also Israel as a faithless wife, the entire book of the Song of Solomon, and Christ referring to himself as a groom are only a handful of the times where marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ and his followers.

So just as my wife and I are learning how to best demonstrate our respect and love for each other, you and I are learning how to best demonstrate our respect and love for God. It takes time. It takes learning. It takes saying sorry and the effort to grow when you fall short. God’s top 10 ways (Ex. 20) to demonstrate our respect and love for him are actually pretty similar:

  1. Just one God. Me.
  2. Protect that. Don’t allow other things to become a “god” in your life. Not people, not work, not religion. Nothing comes between you and I.
  3. Don’t claim to believe in me and that you follow me but allow your thoughts, behaviour, and speech to demonstrate otherwise.
  4. You’ve got six days to do your thing, but the seventh day is our anniversary where we celebrate the fact that I created this world just for you and I that I also created you (Ex 20:11), and because I saved you from sin and death by my death on the cross (De 5:15). This day is important to me because it represents everything I have done and continue to do for you.
  5. Respect your parents. Your entire family depends on that. Your children depend on that.
  6. Respect life and respect the hearts of people. (Mat 5:21-22)
  7. Don’t hurt people by cheating on them or causing others to cheat on their partners. Be careful where your thoughts go when you see someone whom you find attractive (Mat 5:27-28).
  8. Work for all that you have. Take nothing that isn’t yours. Respect people–their person and their property.
  9. Be honest. Be truthful. If you see a wrong being done, step up to defend the falsely accused. Defend those who cannot defend themselves. Defend those who do not have a voice in society.
  10. Be grateful. Even if what you have is little, be grateful for what you have.

Jesus summarized the first four of these laws when he said,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Luke 10:27

Paul summarized those two laws further when he said,

“whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

Romans 13:8

Jesus’ 10 Commandments are love. Love is the law. God is love. The law is God.

I don’t have to follow my 10 steps to a successful marriage. I want to. They’re not a burden. They’re a joy. I don’t keep our Marital 10 Commandments in a bid to persuade my wife to love me or to prove that I love her. I keep them because I already love my wife. They’re a natural response to something preexisting. It’s bright outside because the sun is already up.

Jesus said something similar:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15

By saying, “If you love me,” he’s implying that your love for him is already there. It’s preexisting.

Following His 10 steps to a successful relationship–a successful marriage–with Him isn’t a burden; it’s a joy. It’s not because I have to but because I want to. In fact, God even promised that He would help us want to respect and love Him by actually writing His Law directly on our hearts:

“For this is the agreement that I will make with my children, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Hebrews 8:10

He promises our relationship with Him is easy:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 3For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’ “marital” vows to us are the same as my marital vows to my wife: “I will always love you.” I want to continually grow and learn how to show my respect and love for Him because He showed His love and respect for me by dying for me. My obedience or observance of the law is the natural response of a heart grateful for what He has done.

We Are Weak, But He Is Strong

(Throwback to June 2018 devotion I wrote for my church. Updated a bit for this post.)

Let’s perform a personal reflection exercise. I’m going to post a text, and you’re going to see how many points pertain to you and you alone. Keep this focused on you and nobody else because it’s more of a challenge when its reflective rather than projected.

It’s Matthew 23. In this chapter, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish spiritual leaders, but since we’re all called to a priesthood of believers, this also pertains to us.

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

Verse 4

Do I have a double standard on Christian behavior and expectations? Perhaps I have standards based in family or cultural traditions rather than the Bible. Perhaps my standards are really a reflection of my own struggles and personal demons that I’ve buried in my heart rather than laying at the cross.

“Everything they do is done for people to see.”

Verse 5

Do I merely act the part for approval by my peers or acceptance in God’s eyes? Do I do good in hopes of recognition or reward rather than doing good because that is what Christ would have me do because it’s right?

“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Verse 13

Do my words and actions, as well-intentioned as they may be, really just drive people away from God? Am I causing more harm than good? Before anything passes through my lips, it must first pass through the Philippians 4:8 filter: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

“You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

Verse 15

Do I stretch far and wide in an attempt to convert people to my personal philosophy of religion rather than to bring them to the religion of the heart of Christ? Am I more concerned about people whom, with any luck, I may never have to see again rather than the people within my own church family who may be seeking, struggling, hurting, or perhaps even already totally absent? Do my aforementioned absurd expectations convert people to my own dark heart rather than the heart of Christ?

“You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Verse 18

Is my idea of, for example, Sabbath keeping, taking precedence over He who made the Sabbath? Is the appearance, order, and style of worship service at my church more important to me than the actual act of worship itself?

“You give a tenth of your spices…But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Verse 23

Does my obedience and adherence to Biblical truths and doctrine eclipse my submission to Christ and mercy and humility toward others?

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Verse 24

Am I more concerned about the small and insignificant details of my religion that I am oblivious to the enormous character flaws within myself?

And now to the part that really stings:

“Woe to you…You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Verse 27

Let’s all be honest with ourselves and with each other. There’s no way around it: truthfully, yes, these often apply. And not only that, you probably thought of some names you think this especially applies to. Me too. Guilty as charged. But my reading applies to me alone. Your reading applies to you alone. We are all guilty of all of the above.

Fortunately, this isn’t the end, and this situation in my heart doesn’t leave me hopeless.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

2 Peter 3:9

I know if I repent today, and again when I mess up tomorrow, and again next week, and again next month…my God is faithfully patient with me and is always changing me into HIS likeness.

I love Him all the more for that!

Agent For Salvation

Probably the heaviest article I’ve ever written.

When someone wishes to purchase a home, they typically look for a real estate agent to assist and act on their behalf. Often reviews are read and websites are browsed to determine what agency or agent will do the best job. A real estate agent’s job is to introduce home-seeking individuals to the home they need. The agent is the middleman connecting home-seeker to new home.

In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were hand-crafted by Jesus to be exactly like Jesus (Genesis 1:27-28; John 1:3). They had developed such an intimate relationship with Jesus that, when he came into the garden to investigate after they ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve actually recognized the sound he made as he walked, and they fled (Genesis 3:8). Adam and Eve’s rebellious act in eating a fruit they were explicitly told not to permanently severed their relationship with God. It was a public proclamation that they neither believed nor trusted God and preferred to go about things their own way. The fruit had nothing to do with it; the motivation behind the action was everything. However, God didn’t turn his back on humanity (he came looking for them, after all); instead, humanity–collectively through Adam and Eve–turned its back on God. This single act of sinful rebellion created an eternal divide between man and God. The infinite God, in whose image finite Adam and Eve were made, became infinitely out of reach. Humanity required an agent to bridge the infinite gap between them. Who else but the Son who made man with His own hands could accomplish this task? Who else but the eternal Son of God, born both human and divine, could die to permanently eradicate sin?

And Jesus must die because sin must die permanently. Through Adam and Eve, sin became hereditary and permanent (Romans 5:12). Sin cannot exist in God’s presence as sin itself is contrary to His very nature–it is darkness to His light, cold to His heat, rebellion to His law. God abhors sin. If sin is in us and is a part of us, the only way to get rid of sin is to get rid of us. But if I die and am resurrected, my inherent sin is so much a part of me that it will be resurrected with me! Scripture clearly gives us only two options: absolute and irreversible destruction of myself to get rid of my sin, or Jesus does something spectacular to get rid of my sin (John 3:16). I know I will eventually die, but I don’t want to die permanently (even if that gets rid of my sin). Temporary death doesn’t seem to phase God at all (John 11:11-14), but a permanent death is a little more serious (Matthew 10:28). God’s solution? Make sin suffer this permanent death outside of me (This is where things get a little SCI-FI and ironically involves Adam in a way).

Jesus, who

“knew no sin”

(that is, lived a human life perfectly within the law of God),

“became sin.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

This is massive. Jesus didn’t die for the sake of dying. He, God–Jesus, the only Son of the Father, actually became sin itself–my sin, your sin, all sin–and laid down His own life permanently (that “perish” death mentioned in John 3:16. The kind you don’t come back from) so as to permanently destroy sin as well. Jesus did not die a sinner: He died as sin itself. Perhaps akin to the “is water wet?” debate. “Wet” is a descriptor for a thing that has water applied to it; “wet” in and of itself is not water, but water, once applied to a thing, can make that thing wet. Jesus died as sin but not as a sinner. He was the thing rather than affected by the thing.

Adam was made very nearly a carbon copy of Christ (Genesis 1:26-27) and was made owner of all the earth (28). Upon eating the fruit in the garden of Eden, Adam surrendered what was rightfully his, as given by God, to Satan (but God still retains absolute sovereignty of all creation (Psalm 24:1)). Essentially, you and I are born into a world owned by God but managed by Satan (Ephesians 6:12), thus we have no choice to be born with sin. Adam surrendered humanity to an eternity of sin in Satan; Christ reversed this by offering Himself as a trade. Jesus surrendered Himself to Satan by becoming sin itself, thus releasing humanity from slavery to both sin and Satan. Jesus, His human self and as sin itself, died permanently. Jesus, however, was more than human. This is how He was able to both die permanently and be resurrected. His human self died permanently, but His divine self lives permanently, albeit with the scars he earned from the cross event. My sin, upon repentance, is permanently killed with Christ on the cross, buried with Him, and left there forever. The new me, in the risen Christ, lives continually.

Jesus, in the form of man,

“…humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Philippians 2:8

Thus the wrath of God, kindled against the sin inherent in man, was satisfied. The darkness to His light is destroyed. The cold to His heat is destroyed. The rebellion to His law is destroyed. Jesus, both God and the Son of God, died on our behalf, building an infinite bridge over the infinite gap we made between us and the eternal God. Christ, by surrendering His heavenly glory and descending to the world and state of man, by laying His life down for us on the cross, acted, and now acts, as our real estate agent connecting man to the God they seek, need, and want.

Jesus, only Jesus, is our greatest real estate agent–our agent of salvation. 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13

“You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

Psalm 86:5

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

Will Jesus be your agent?

Christ and Him Crucified

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Paul planted this church in the city of Corinth. He just got the ball rolling and left to start new churches in other cities. He is here writing to the church to remind them of his original simple message.

He came to them showing no knowledge of anything else at all except

“Jesus Christ and him crucified.”


Paul did know a whole lot more, though–he wrote more than half the books in the New Testament! So why did he not bother teaching them anything else?

Two reasons.

Reason 1: No message is greater than that of Christ and him crucified, and

Reason 2: any other message begins with and ends at Christ and him crucified.

The entirety of the Old Testament pointed toward the event of Christ on the cross. The Jewish ceremonies, festivals, and the sanctuary service all pointed to this event. The prophets spoke about this moment thousands of years prior. Adam and Eve were promised it.  Abraham demonstrated it when asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Moses pointed toward this event when told to strike (kill) the rock (Jesus) in the wilderness to bring forth water (life) for the Israelites to drink, but marred the message when he struck the rock the second time (Christ died once for all) rather than speaking to it. The Israelites witnessed a metaphor for it when looking to the serpent on the cross (Christ became our sin when on the cross) when in the wilderness. There is no greater treasure than the event of Christ on the cross, and no greater message than this ultimate sacrifice!

The message of Jesus,

“who knew no sin to be sin for us,”

2 Corinthians 5:21


“[suffer] for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,”

1 Peter 3:18

is the beginning, middle, and end of any message Paul could possibly deliver. It is the only theological topic to discuss because all other topics start with Christ on the cross, involve Christ on the cross, and culminate with Christ on the cross.

Jesus said,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

Jesus is the pathway to the Father, he is the true revelator of the character and eternal law of the Father, and he is the only reason you and I have life and can continue to

“have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

Later in the same letter, Paul tells the people of Corinth that

“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 do not have love, I am nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13:2

The apostle John, the guy who was shown a massive, mind-blowing vision about the second-coming of Christ as recorded in the book of Revelation, exhorts us to love one another because

“love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Here John says God is love; in John 1:1 he says that Jesus is God; and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that if he does anything without love (can we now, therefore, assume “without Jesus”?) he is nothing. Without love–without the message of Christ and him crucified–our message is nothing.

Put simply: Christ must be the source, the direction, and the final destination of our message because he is the

“author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2

Jesus says,

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

John 12:32

When Christ is lifted up in our conversations, our discussions, our debates, our sermons, and in our actions, he will draw people to him.

Preach Christ and him crucified. There is nothing else.

Surveyors and Prospectors

The rate of growth in your church is based upon, I believe, primarily one thing: are the current members of your church surveyors or prospectors?

The Israelites had a King: God. He spoke through his prophets and priests to the people. However, peer pressure won the day, and the Israelites requested the prophet Samuel to

“appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”

1 Samuel 8:5

If you know the story, you know it didn’t work out too well for Saul or the Israelites. During Saul’s reign, God rejected him and sent Samuel to find his eventual replacement. Samuel was led to the home of a man named Jesse. Jesse brought all his sons out one after the other. These weren’t mere boys; these were strong, hardy men. Despite their kingly appearances convincing Samuel one of these guys had to be the future king, God said to Samuel,

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7.

Samuel was surveying. He was evaluating the quality of these men by their surface–by their appearance. If God had allowed Samuel to pick his own future king, he would have chosen poorly and Israel would have continued in their downward trajectory as they had been with Saul.

Finally David was brought in from shepherding, and God informed Samuel that this was to be the future king of Israel.

Jonah was another prophet like Samuel. He was sent to the city of Nineveh to pronounce their doom in forty days for their many sins:

“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”

Jonah 3:4-5

“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”


God prospected. He saw the hearts of the Ninevites and the sincerity of their repentance. He looked below the surface for something of value, for the real treasure, for even the faintest glimmer of refined gold. Jonah, however, was a surveyor and saw only their imperfections. He surmised that because the Ninevites were unworthy in his eyes on the surface, they must also be unworthy within.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”


Jonah was such a surveyor, he actually thought it a travesty that God deigned to offer mercy to…well…anyone who failed to meet his personal standards. How dare God be so merciful. If Jonah had his way, an entire city would have been wiped out. Many of those in Nineveh will be in Heaven without a clue that the prophet who came with a warning actually looked forward to their destruction.

How close am I to causing the destruction of someone else’s soul simply because I choose to be a surveyor rather than a prospector? God told Samuel that He, like a prospector, looks below the surface–at the heart–for something of value. What is it God is looking for? What is it within men that God prospects for but I miss entirely because I survey the surface only?

“Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?”

2 Corinthians 13:5

“I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Galatians 2:20

“That Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith.”

Ephesians 3:17

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Colossians 1:27

“And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”

Romans 8:10-11

David was selected by God because He saw the character of His Only Begotten Son within David.

Nineveh was spared upon repentance because God recognized the qualities of His Son alive and well within their hearts.

Yet I stand ready to condemn someone because of their unimportant surface details.

He dresses inappropriately for church.

I saw her New Years Eve Facebook photos.

I heard his foul language.

She’s had an affair.

He’s had a divorce.

She wants drums in church.

He doesn’t tithe.

She smokes.

He believes women should be pastors too.

She has an addiction.

This list is probably endless. At the end of the day, someone’s life, someone’s soul, someone’s walk with God is none of my business. Nowhere in Scripture am I called to convert, convince, or condemn. I am called to do one thing only:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”

Mark 16:15

The Gospel is the story of this same prospector God who died eternally but rose nonetheless so I could live eternally with Him if I want. It’s about love. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about mercy.

It’s a new year. I challenge you to

“act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

Be a prospector rather than a surveyor.

When Our Accuser is Actually Right…But So What?

I heard a sermon today about Mary washing Jesus’ feet and how Judas and Simon were disgusted by the waste of her perfume and by the proximity of this sinful woman to Christ, respectively. The sermon basically called us all out for our gossiping, judging, and belittling.

A part that particularly struck me, though, was that neither Judas nor Simon were wrong in their condemnation of Mary. She did spend a year’s wages on a single bottle of ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet (John 12:5). The next verse we learn that Judas really only said this because he handled the expenses and often helped himself to the coin purse whenever he wanted. But, despite his motive, Judas isn’t wrong in his accusation. A year’s wages could have helped a lot of people.

Simon also wasn’t wrong in his accusation. Many assume Mary was a prostitute (or at least a former prostitute), but there’s actually no text that states this. We can, however, assume that whatever her sin was, it was public. Otherwise, how else would Simon know she was a sinner? Likewise, though, Simon was a sinner, for Romans 3:23 says all have sinned.

So Mary could have used that money to help the poor as Judas was quick to point out, and she definitely was a sinner since we are all sinners but hers was particularly public.

Jesus’ response to Judas was simple:

“Leave her alone” (John 12:7).

She was worshiping (and actually symbolically preparing His body for burial) as best as she knew how, and Jesus honoured that. She worshiped Him from her heart as she cried (Luke 7:38) and wiped the tears and oil with her own hair. This was a true worship experience.

Jesus’ response to Simon was to tell a parable about a man with a massive debt and a man with a small debt, but both debts were fully waived. He asked Simon which man would be more grateful. Simon replied,

“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven” (Luke 7:43).

Mary had already been forgiven as she symbolically repented at Christ’s feet. Simon, however, condemned a woman in his heart, thought himself more important and holier than Mary, and even smarter than Jesus because he doubted Jesus had any idea who this woman was. His debt was bigger. Had he repented, he would have been forgiven.

In the book of Zechariah, Joshua is accused before God in a vision:

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zechariah 3:1-3).

Satan isn’t wrong! He is prepared to accuse Joshua before the Creator of the Universe, and his accusations are not wrong!

Isaiah refers to our self-righteousness as filthy rags,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6),

and here we see Joshua dressed in “filthy clothes”! His righteousness is not right. It’s a mess. He’s in shambles. He’s unclean and detestable, but God calls him a burning stick snatched from the fire. He’s burnt. He’s damaged. He’s nearly past the point of no return, but God rebukes Satan and claims Joshua as his own.

Jesus claims YOU as His own. You might be burnt. You might be damaged. You might be dangerously close to that point of no return. Like Mary, you might be a social pariah and just trying to do this whole “God thing” as best as you know how. You might have your own Judas criticizing every little thing you do. You might have your own Simon who only knows your mistakes, never lets you forget them, and likes to keep others informed.

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:33-34).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

In Christ, He will not accuse. Even though Joshua was a mess, he stood uncondemned before God. You can too.

Like Mary, come to Jesus as best as you know how.

A Helpless Argument

(Throwback to the Jan. 2015 devotion)

A common skeptical argument goes something like, “How could a so-called ‘just’ and ‘loving’ god create this terrible world?” Coincidentally (perhaps even ironically), it is often those who suffer the most in this terrible world who cling to God the firmest. I, and maybe you too, live like a god in this 21st century Western world of indoor plumbing, electricity, Wi-Fi, and Costco toilet paper. Who needs a god when I’ve got online shopping and same-day delivery? Almost feels like I could walk on water.

Peter actually tried that once. He even managed it for a while. However, once he took his eyes off the Creator, he sank. He could have blamed an unjust god for creating a cruel world in which man cannot breathe under water. He could have swum away from Jesus, crawled back into the boat, and blamed Him for letting such a travesty happen to him. A just god? My eye! In stark contrast to what the modern man would do, Peter instead looked up through the murky water with lungs, nose, and eyes burning and accepted the fact that he will die without his Maker. Acknowledging that he, in this moment, is totally and irreversibly helpless without his Saviour.

Jesus didn’t grab Peter before he sank. Nor did He grab him before he had the opportunity to be afraid. Instead, Jesus waited for Peter to come to the same realization you and I must come to: that he was helpless without Jesus. Jesus waited for Peter to cry out the same words He waits for you and I to cry out: “Lord, save me!”

Your convictions are not an argument–they’re a declaration. But a soul so helplessly buried in the arms of a risen savior is a baffling argument, indeed.

Just Care

I came across a Bob Goff quote today (if, like me, you don’t recognize the name, you can google it. Seems like a pretty decent fella). It resonated with me because it’s something I’ve been thinking for the last few years but had never managed to phrase quite so elequently.

“Loving people means caring without an agenda. As soon as we have an agenda, it’s not love anymore.”

As a church-going Christian, I believe it’s important to reach out to people who don’t know the Jesus I know. HOWEVER, the method I utilize to accomplish this, and the reason for which I do this, is something I believe needs to be heavily scrutinized and evaluated.

To accomplish this, it makes sense for me to look to the greatest Evangelist of all time as my frame of reference.

Who did Jesus hope to reach out to, to touch, to inspire, to move? Literally everybody. The woman by the well who had had several husbands and was currently with another man not her husband (John 4:1-44). The non-Jewish woman whose daughter was demon possessed (Matthew 15:21-28). The tax collector (everybody hated these guys because they would typically over-tax and pocket the excess) (Luke 19:1-10). Peter who denied even knowing Him (Luke 22:54-62). Judas who sold Jesus to be killed (Luke 22:1-6). A woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Children (Matthew 19:14). A man justly crucified alongside Jesus (Himself wrongly crucified and nearing death at this point) (Luke 23:39-43). Political leaders (John 18:28-40). Those responsible for his crucifixion (Luke 23:34).

Nobody was left off the table.

Why did Jesus reach out to these people? What was His agenda? What could He possibly gain from all this?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus got nothing out of it. There were no points He earned. No respect or admiration. No financial reward. No eternal life guarantee (in fact, as He neared His death, He feared He might never recover from it, but He still went through with it anyway (Luke 22:42). His agenda was simple: give people the chance to have their connection with the Father repaired.

So I know who He evangelized, and I know why He evangelized, but how did He conduct His evangelism?

He offered His services and abilities to those who needed it, and He built relationships. He healed. He fed. He visited. He attended their weddings and their funerals. He hung out with them, all of them, all the time. He actually rarely preached until near the end. He answered their questions and offered thought-provoking insights to encourage conversation and debate. He even met with them secretly if they were unable or unwilling to do so publicly. Once relationships were developed, crowds came to Him looking for something more. They came to Him.

In conclusion, Jesus’ target audience for his missionary evangelism was everybody. His reason for doing it was just to let people see through His own actions and hear through His speech the true, unadulterated, character of the Father. He accomplished this through lifting other people up. He lifted others that they might see God. And He just cared.

No agenda. No brownie points for Jesus. He wasn’t interested in church membership numbers, baptism count, or tithe amount collected. No figures. No records. He just wanted to SHOW people what God was really like.

So, to paraphrase Bob Goss’ statement: demonstrate true love by caring without an agenda.

Just care.