We don’t need Jesus

3 02 2015

They say catchy titles will draw people to read your post.  Did it work?

Can I be honest?  I see some truth in the title.

“Give us our daily bread”  Honestly, I look for that in my paycheck that comes faithfully twice a month.

“Your will be done” is great as long as it can be accomplished on the weekends and preferably not during football season.

When a crisis hits, the need for Jesus shines brightly.  As a Chaplain I am in awe when I bring the power of the Gospel into a situation.  I am always amazed and humbled when God moves me out of the way and touches hearts.  Then, I go home where I have a good marriage and, while my kids frustrate me from time to time, they have normal middle class American problems.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done.  On the night he was handed over to be crucified he has a desperate time of prayer and says “not my will but your will be done.”

Wow!  Jesus lives out the very thing he taught.  I am convicted.

If you can relate to me, I challenge you as I challenge myself to re-engage our world.  I don’t believe we have to wait for a crisis.  We just need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

My conviction was helped by a NPR story on my drive home.  The reporter was being honest that the stories of Jesus seemed distant but a priest who stood up for the poor and was killed for his stand made the stories of Jesus real.  No, I do not want us go out and get shot.  However, when we engage our world, we bring hope and make Jesus real in lives of the people around us.  Then, we have the privilege of watching our Savior change lives.

After listening to the story I went into the store to pick up a couple of items.  As I looked around, the Holy Spirit pointed out that each person I saw had a story and God loved them.  It was an invitation to join him as he looks for his “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I want that. I need that.  I need Jesus.





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





#GodsNotDead

29 03 2014

Yes I have joined the world of Twitter. You can follow me at @DevosByChaps.

This last weekend I had the opportunity to watch the new movie “God’s not dead.” It was a great movie. It captured the reality that belief in God is not an intellectual debate but a personal one. I wanted to offer my thoughts on why people reject God and how to respond.

Pain and suffering. Many have begged God to cure a family member or friend from cancer or have asked for God to intervene in a horrific situation only to experience silence. They may have experienced abuse and begged God for protection only to face more abuse. Tragically some have been hurt by those claiming to be Jesus’ followers.

I don’t think there is an easy answer because they did not face an easy situation. Grace, love and prayer are the best things we can offer. We also need strong healthy churches. A healthy church creates a safe place for people who are hurting and in the middle of pain. When done well, the church offers real hope and true peace to those who suffer from the harsh realities of this world.

Avoidance of accountability. Let’s be honest, there are some things we do that we know deep down are wrong. We either justify it or remove the standard that says it is wrong. If there is no higher law ordained and established by God we can live how we want. We end up living by collective relativism. In other words, we agree as a group what is right and wrong which can and will shift depending on what we think or more often feel in the moment. God forces us to be accountable ultimately to him but also to each other.

To respond I would offer the church has to be a standard bearer of what it means to live a life of submission and obedience. That does not mean we are perfect. It does mean we role model a life of honor and integrity that is transparent. We seek forgiveness when we mess up. We also influence those around us to a higher good. We can’t live by legalism and the world has seen plenty of hypocrisy. This is a hard challenge that can really only be done if we seek to follow Jesus and submit to his leading in our life…wait! That is what we are suppose to do. I love it when a plan comes together.

Experience. We also have to be honest that you don’t need God to live a good life or even make a great impact on the world. Many people experience life apart from God and are happy and content. Then, they hear talking points explaining why God is an antiquated idea and it matches with their experiences. Therefore, those talking points become theirs.

Jesus does not promise an easy life or even a good life. He does offer a meaningful life filled with purpose. He helps us focus beyond the here and now and enables us to have broader perspective. Once again I find myself calling for churches to be healthy places that send out healthy Christians into the world. Our lives and our experiences can present an alternative to their talking points. It can create a space where faith is a possibility. Combined with prayer and an understanding that ultimately it is between God and that person, I believe we can offer a compelling case.

Here is the great part. Our faith has incredible depth. I am thankful for people like Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller who do a phenomenal job of explaining why we can have confidence in our faith. I am also thankful for a movie like “God’s not Dead” that demonstrates we do not need to shrink back from a debate about our faith. We just have to recognize that at the end of the day it is a personal relationship. If all it took to win someone to Jesus Christ was a really good argument it would have been done a long time ago.

So what can you do? Step back and pray about the people in your life who have rejected Christianity. Let God lead and guide you. Trust me God cares about having a relationship with that person way more than you do. If there is an opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation don’t seek to win the argument instead seek to understand the person. If there are questions, know that there are great resources out there. Look at those resources together. Second, be authentic. If you struggle with something admit that you struggle with it. Role model being genuine. Next, pray, pray and pray some more. It will remind you only God changes hearts. Finally, make sure your church is a healthy place for people to come. We need healthy faith communities where we can encourage one another and be a beacon to the world.

It is amazing that God invites us to be his ambassadors to the world. He desires to work through you and me to touch lives and make an impact. It is a great privilege. Oh and in case you were wondering…God is definitely not dead, he is ALIVE!





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Unfairness

1 05 2013

I love that the Bible is willing to say what we are thinking. The book of Ecclesiastes does a great job of capturing a common frustration.
Chapter 9 verse11:
“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

This verse is a stinging reality. A great person loses their job while an incompetent person is promoted. A phenomenal singer never gets their big break while a mediocre singer becomes a star. As I was thinking of a third example, it was humbling because many of the struggles I could mention would be painful to others.

Life is not fair. I struggle in those moments and try to figure out what I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or there something I should have done differently. Of course, I know I am reading too much into it but sometimes there was something I could have done differently making the waters muddy. It can be very frustrating and can drive me crazy if I let it.

Here is the interesting part. The Bible does not try to answer why these things happen. Instead it just lays out the picture and lets us see reality. Acts 12 captures this. The beginning of the chapter starts with the Apostle James being killed and Peter being arrested with it being clear he would face the same fate. The church prays and Peter is miraculously released from prison. Did the church not pray for James? Were they suppose to do more? Could James have been saved? The Bible is silent. It just tells us that James was killed and Peter was saved.

This is when our faith is stretched to its limits. Those of us who have been around the block can quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The question is, when we are alone and truly honest with ourselves, do we believe it?

I keep coming back to yes.

It is not because things always work out for me. It is because when I look at the world without God, there is harshness and a lack of depth that I reject. When I look to God, I find a depth of love and peace that grounds me and a hope that sustains me. The result of an unfair world is my focus is sharpened, my relationships become deeper and I become stronger. In other words, God and I get the last laugh.

We all know someone who is facing a frustrating and unfair situation. Would you take some time to pray for them? Yes, we should always pray for a miraculous intervention like Peter received. We should also pray for God’s love and peace to shine through and for the person to grow and mature remembering “time and chance” will be overcome by love and eternity.





Friend or Flow

15 03 2012

Do you obey the speed limit? We see speed limits more like guidelines. We prefer to just follow the flow of traffic. If someone goes faster than us they are dangerous and if someone actually obeys the speed limit they are crazy (of course this is after we look to see if a police officer is nearby). We all agree speed limits are important. They set boundaries. While we are frustrated when we get a speeding ticket, we assumed the risk when we decided to violate the law.

Think about obeying the speed limit and apply it to other areas of your life. At work if there is a rule or regulation but it is not strongly enforced what happens? People will go with the flow and get frustrated at the person who goes overboard or the person who actually obeys the rule. If binge drinking is glamorized in your circle of friends the laws on drinking age or drinking and driving become fuzzy. When there are black and white laws and rules but I don’t follow them I am making a statement. I am demonstrating how much I actually respect the law and ultimately the one who made the law.

We see this when we look at times we are willing to submit. If we have a personal connection or passion about a certain area it is easy for us to follow the rules. For example, if I have been personally affected by drunk driving, I will submit to the law and look for the people around me to submit. If we have a passion for equal rights we willingly submit to the laws and regulations ensuring them.

We also follow the rules when there is a personal relationship. If we know the person responsible for the rule or regulation we follow it out of respect for the person. This makes sense. Not too many of us know who drafted the speed limit law. Therefore, we are casual about it.

This gives us insight into what we really think about God. If God is distant and abstract then we will go with the flow. If God is personal then I am more willing to submit. There is an interesting dynamic. God has established boundaries. People tend to live within those boundaries because of one of two reasons. First, they have a personal connection or passion because they have been hurt by someone going outside of God’s boundaries. Second, they have a personal relationship with God that is growing. (I am ignoring the legalist because they are not following God. They have created their own rules and boundaries apart from God.)

Please take a look at this statement by Jesus: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15)

There is an expectation of mutual respect. Jesus sets a standard for his followers. It is the same standard he sets for himself. He also offers transparency. There are no secrets in the relationship. What you see is what you get. He invites us to be friends with an understanding that we would honor that friendship by respecting him and following his commands.

Imagine if the President of the United States was your friend. He (or, one day, she) would hang out with you. He would share the struggles of the office and talk about his family. If you were truly his friend you would honor that friendship. You would also have a deeper appreciation for your country and the role your friend played in the world.

I encourage you to really look at your relationship with God as a friendship. The natural consequence will be a desire to obey his commands. Why? As you get to know him your respect will grow. As you begin to grasp the depth of his love you will want to honor him by living within the boundaries he set. You won’t just go with the flow of traffic. You will be a good friend.





When the Church gets it right

9 02 2012

Have you ever been reading and something leaps out at you?  It is like biting into what you think is a regular brownie and finding out it has a dark chocolate filling.  (Feel free to substitute your favorite filling…and you can also change the brownie to your favorite sweet.  I promise it is all zero calories.)  This happened to me when I read the final sentence in a story at the beginning of Act 6.  It is the story about selecting leaders in the church.  It is a great story at a lot of levels.  What I love is shows just how amazing the church can be when we get it right.  It invites all of us to consider the possibility of the church living up to its fullest potential.

The story begins in Acts 6:1 with the church experiencing conflict.  It is a great reminder that anytime people are involved there will be conflict.  I love the sign one of my professors hung outside his church.  It said, “No perfect people allowed.”  God was not naïve when he established the church.  Conflict and misunderstanding do not surprise God.  Instead of saying we should ignore problems or run away from them, God expects us to face them and deal with them in a gracious and respectful manner.  That is what we see in this story.  To be honest, I have seen what I call “nice disease” in too many of our churches.  This is where we are all really “nice” to each other and ignore problems.  (The other extreme is where we pick on everyone else because we are the ones who “have it right” which gives us an excuse to walk away from the church.)    Bottom line: the church is full of humans.  The story in Acts shows us how to be human and be the community God calls us to be.

The last line of the story says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

I want to focus on the “large number of priests.”  This is a very significant statement and what leaped out at me.  We have to take a step back and remember the early church saw Jesus as the promised Messiah for the Nation of Israel.  There would have been an expectation that the things established in the Old Testament would continue only they would continue through Jesus.  This is why you see the early church going to the Temple and worshiping there.

One of the Old Testament requirements was the expectation of the community to take care of widows.  God was both direct and specific about making sure those in need were supported.  What was the conflict in Acts 6?  They ran into a problem caring for the widows.  They managed the problem well and those in need were provided for.  For the priest this would have been inspiring.  They saw a community doing what they were suppose to be doing; taking care of each other.  Because the larger Jewish community was made up of humans, they would have experienced firsthand the frustrations of selfishness and a lack of concern for those in need.  All communities have people in need and because communities are made up of humans there are various degrees of success in dealing with the problem.  The church stood out.  They got it right.  The priests were naturally drawn to them.  They wanted to be a part of a community that really “got it” and took care of each other.

Once again it looks like Jesus was right.  He said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).  The priests saw the love they had for one another.  It was a love that did not ignore problems and try to be “nice” or blame everyone else.  It was a love that let them deal with conflict with a focus on the best interests of the community.

How do we apply this?  We have to accept that churches are made up of imperfect humans and that there will be problems and issues.  We need to deal with those problems effectively and in a healthy manner.  When we do, the church is able to live up to its full potential.  Jesus established the church to be a tangible presence of his love on earth.  When the church gets it right, we make a phenomenal impact.  We care for those in need.  We are voice to those who need a voice.  We are not limited by geographic boarders or political parties.  We are motivated by the best interest of the people around us.  Everything flows from loving God and loving the people around us.  When we get it right, it is pretty amazing.

Please get plugged into a healthy church.  I will warn you now that it will not be perfect.  (That is a good thing otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend.)  You will have to deal with conflict from time to time.  However, if it is a healthy church, it will deal with those issues and turn around and meet the needs of the people around it.  You will be a part of a community living up to its fullest potential.  Trust me, it will be worth it.