Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Through Jeses we are, His servant, called, set apartPaul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling. Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus: I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle: Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51). As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.

Set Apart for the Gospel: While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2). Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of God

Consider the kingdom of God as the ultimate church model

12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of GodLast Sunday we pointed out that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God but we made a church. The Bible records Jesus talking about the kingdom of God (and the comparable phrase, kingdom of heaven) eighty-five times. Jesus only mentions church three times.

To guide how we should function as his followers today, we must consider what Jesus says about the kingdom of God. Here are twelve key truths about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God:

1) Is Close: A dozen times or more Jesus proclaims the present reality of the kingdom of God. He says it is near (Luke 10:11), it is upon you (Luke 11:20), and in your midst (Luke 17:21). It happened in that generation (Luke 21:32), and some saw it before they died (Luke 9:27).

2) Belongs to Us: Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God has been given to them (Mark 4:11). As his followers today, his modern-day disciples, that truth extends to us. Another time Jesus tells the crowd that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Luke 6:20). Here he specifically connects with poor people, but aren’t most all of us poor in this world? (And if we consider ourselves rich, see #3.)

3) Is an Enigma: The kingdom of God is hard to understand (Luke 8:10), happens while we are alive (Luke 9:27), and goes against our sense of order (Luke 13:30). It can’t be seen (Luke 17:20), is hard for the wealthy to grasp (Luke 18:18-24), and is a secret to many (Mark 4:11). Yep, the kingdom of God is very much an enigma, but we need to try to understand it. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can.

4) Has Different Priorities: The kingdom of God is more important than anything else (Luke 9:60-62), which includes church, by the way. In the kingdom of God we will have spiritual greatness (Luke 7:28) and experience the first being last and the last being first (Luke 13:30); see #3 enigma.

5) Provides Great Reward: What we give up for the kingdom of God will be given back many times over in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).

6) Requires Total Commitment: We need to remove anything that holds us back from the kingdom of God (Mark 9:47) and give up things that seem important (Mark 10:29), but when we do there will be a great return.

7) Represents Good News: Jesus says the kingdom of God is good news (Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1), which he shares with others. We should do the same; see #8.

8) Must be Shared: Not only does Jesus share the good news of the kingdom of God, but he wants us to do the same (Luke 8:1) and as we go, he expects us to heal people (Luke 9:2). Yep, the kingdom of God is about supernatural healing; see #9.

9) Includes Miracles: Part of the kingdom of God is healing (Luke 9:11, Luke 9:2, Luke 10:9) and driving out demons (Luke 11:20, Matthew 12:28). Don’t skip this part. The Bible says these supernatural feats are part of the kingdom of God package. And don’t we want the total package?

10) Offers a Huge Impact: The kingdom of God may start out small, but it grows into something significant (Luke 13:18-20), just like a tiny mustard seed and yeast. But the growth part is not our responsibility. God handles that (Mark 4:26-29).

11) Is Open for All and Inclusive: People will flock from all parts of life to be part of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29), especially those on the outside (Luke 14:15-24). Plus it’s open for kids and those with childlike faith (Luke 18:16-17, Mark 10:14); see #12.

12) Is Counterintuitive: The kingdom of God is hard to enter (Matthew 19:24, Luke 13:23-30), especially for those who place their trust in money (Luke 18:25, Mark 10:17-25). Some of the people we most expect to be part of the kingdom of God will miss out (Luke 13:28, Matthew 21:31) as others take their place (Matthew 21:43, Luke 14:15-24). Being part of the kingdom of God requires we experience a new birth (John 3:3-6), a spiritual rebirth, which requires a simple, unwavering child-like faith (Mark 10:15).

There’s more, but this will get us started.

How can these teachings from Jesus inform how we act today as his followers? This should change everything, but will we let it?

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Can You Love God and Hate Theology?

Debates over theology cause needless distractions and actually keep us from God

Can You Love God and Hate Theology?My theology is an enigma to most people. It’s an enigma to me, too, but I’m okay with that because I don’t much care about theology, at least not how most folks pursue it today.

People often want to engage me in theological discussions, but I’m only good for about ten seconds. Though I can talk about God, faith, and the Bible all day, don’t turn the conversation into an intangible abstraction. God is real, the Bible is alive, and faith is active. So let’s not bog down our discussions in theoretical constructs.

The reason people try to figure out my theological stance is understandable; it’s human nature to want to categorize people. They want to place me in a theological box. Once I’m in a box I’m easier to comprehend, and then they can choose to accept me or shun me. But I don’t fit into their neat packages, the ones that carry convenient labels.

As they ask probing questions, I can see their heads about explode because my answers transcend the various theological perspectives they seek to insert me into. They can’t figure me out or how to catalog my beliefs. Do I align with their views? Or am I one of those other people? You see, I don’t fit nicely into any theological camp; I bounce around a lot.

Consider some of their common questions and my impertinent but seriously sincere answers:

Q: What’s your view on baptism?
A: We should probably do it.

Q: Are you pre-trib or post-trib?
A: It doesn’t matter. What happens will happen.

Q: How do you understand the creation account in the Bible?
A: God made us. The details aren’t relevant to the fact that I’m here.

Q: Do we have free will or are we predestined?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you Reformed, Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist…?
A: Isn’t Jesus the point?

Q: Well, are you Mainline, Evangelical, or Charismatic?
A: I’m a little bit of each.

Q: What’s the best translation of the Bible?
A: The one that we actually read.

Q: What are the essential elements of your faith, the non-negotiables?
A: Just one: follow Jesus.

Q: But what about _______ ?
A: It doesn’t matter.

I don’t study theologians. I study God, which is the most basic definition of theology anyway. But I don’t study God to stuff my brain with facts and theories. I seek God so that I can better know him, more fully follow him, and live in community with him. Perhaps that’s my theology.

[This is from the January issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Put Jesus First This Christmas

If we say “Jesus is #1,” our actions should confirm that, not prove us to be a liar

Put Jesus First This ChristmasThe person’s Twitter profile was very telling. In fact, I almost missed what should have been her main point. Her key claim was tacked at the end of her 160-character bio, buried in the last eleven characters. Almost as an afterthought she added: “Jesus is #1.”

Am I the only one who finds this ironic?

If Jesus is truly number one, shouldn’t he be listed first and not tucked at the very end? (Wait, let me go check my Twitter profile…whew! It’s all good. I open with “I follow #Jesus.” Not just Jesus mind you, but #Jesus. Not only do I list him first, but I accord him hashtag status for better discoverability.)

Most Christians would say that they put Jesus first. It’s a great concept, but what does it really mean? How do we go about putting Jesus first in actual practicality?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Do What He Would Do: As a starting point we put Jesus first by following his example, by doing what he would do. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. I’ll talk about this in greater detail in two weeks, so be sure to come back for that.

Spend Time With Him: In theory we spend time with the people who are important to us. (Though that’s another thought deserving serious contemplation.) If Jesus is truly number one, truly important to us, we need to spend time with him. But how? Prayer is one way. Reading the Bible is another. How about engaging in other spiritual disciplines such as fasting, observing the Sabbath, service, community, solitude, stewardship, worship…? You get it.

Have Him Walk With Us Through Life: Yes, Jesus is always with us, and therefore goes wherever we go. But let’s move this from spiritual abstraction to effective experience. What if we imagined a physical Jesus at our side as we walked through life? He would actually go with us where we go, literally watch what we do, and really hear what we say—in everything and everyway. What aspects of where we go, what we do, and the things we say would glare as an embarrassment? If Jesus is truly first, the answer should be nothing. But I suspect we all have some work to do in this area.

Be His Ambassador: As Jesus’s followers, we represent him to the world. We serve the role of ambassadors. Therefore our actions do not reflect us, but ultimately him. We need to carry ourselves in a manner worthy of this high calling that he has given us. The world is watching. They’re watching us, but they’re judging him.

Make a Difference: The four biographies of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—show us a Jesus who made a difference everywhere he went. No effort was wasted. Every action had purpose. He left a wake of changed lives. We should do the same.

If Jesus is to be number one in our lives, we have some work to do. We must move this from sentimentality to actuality. Let’s start today: Make Jesus number one in tangible ways.

As we celebrate Jesus this Christmas, let our first gift be to him: a gift of making him number one.

Merry Christmas!

[This is from the December issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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We Should Be Like Jesus

To discover WWJD (what would Jesus do) we need only look at what the Bible says

We Should Be Like JesusJesus goes to the synagogue in his hometown to worship God with his family and friends. It’s his turn to read scripture and the day’s scheduled passage is from Isaiah; it’s a prophecy – about Jesus. After he reads it, Jesus simply confirms that he fulfills this prophecy (Luke 4:16-21.)

In the section Jesus reads, Isaiah prophetically tells the people that the coming savior will move in Holy Spirit power to:

  • proclaim good news to the poor
  • bind up the brokenhearted
  • proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners
  • proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God
  • comfort all who mourn
  • provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes

This is essentially Jesus’s job description: to speak truth to those who are seeking, provide help to those in need, and give hope to those who hurt. As his followers we should do the same. Though it will take a lifetime to put these things into practice, this is why God leaves us here on earth and what we should do with our time here. It starts with the Holy Spirit.

If we love Jesus we need to do what he would do, starting today.

How can you put these things into practice? In practical terms, how can you implement one of these actions?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 61-63, and today’s post is on Isaiah 61:1-3.]

Are You Spiritually Selfish?

We must concern ourselves with the physical and spiritual wellbeing of others and not focus on ourselves

Are You Spiritually Selfish?In Isaiah 39 we read a prophecy given to King Hezekiah by Isaiah.

This occurs after Hezekiah does something foolish. He graciously receives envoys from the powerful behemoth, Babylon. Not only does he show off his nation’s wealth, he also provides his enemies one more reason to invade his country. God is not pleased.

Though Hezekiah’s actions cause this prophecy, he will not suffer personally; his family will. When Babylon attacks, some of his descendants will be castrated and carted off to serve the king of Babylon.

While the predictions are horrific, Hezekiah’s reaction is pathetic.

Realizing he personally will not suffer, he accepts God’s decree. Hezekiah will enjoy peace; he will encounter no pain. True, others will not experience peace. Other people will undergo the consequences, including his own family. But the king doesn’t care. He thinks only of himself; he will be fine, and that’s all that matters.

Hezekiah is self-absorbed.

While peace and security are physical issues, there is a spiritual component at play here as well. Hezekiah does not confess his wrong actions. He does not ask God to change his mind. He does not intercede for his descendants and the turmoil they will endure because of his folly. He is spiritually selfish.

It’s easy to be spiritually self-centered. We are content with our standing in God and lose sight of the struggles others face, both physically and spiritually. We fail to pray for them; we don’t seek ways to help. Our life is good – or at least good enough – and we dismiss the suffering of others. And, like Hezekiah, we do this to our discredit and to their demise.

Following Jesus is not about our comfort; it’s about loving others in his name and pointing people to him.

Anything less is selfish spirituality.

What do you do to help people with their physical needs? What do you do to help people with their spiritual situation?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 39-41, and today’s post is on Isaiah 39:7-8.]

We Must Choose to Follow Jesus Every Day

Each morning we decide how we will live that day: for ourselves or for a greater purpose

We Must Choose to Follow Jesus Every DayIn highschool a friend caught me off guard when she said with confidence that “once you’re saved you can’t lose your salvation.” I asked her where the Bible said that; she didn’t have an answer.

Instead she just insisted it was true; her minister said so. “Once saved; always saved,” she spouted. She was as sure of that as her own name. She had prayed a prayer asking Jesus into her heart and that was all that mattered. End of discussion.

I worried about her conclusion and her eternal destination. I implored her to not treat something so important with casual indifference. She began acting less and less like someone who followed Jesus. I watched as she turned and walked away from him.

Before long she was talking and acting like someone who didn’t know Jesus at all. She believed she had her eternal get-out-of-jail-card, and nothing else mattered.

People who study such things call “once saved, always saved” the “doctrine of eternal security.” Grabbing a spattering of carefully selected Bible verses they build a case for their conclusion. I’ve spent time with such people who consider eternal security as an unquestionable, absolute truth. I kind of see their point but think the evidence they present is far from conclusive.

I’ve also spent time with people equally convinced that the principle of eternal security is an errant conclusion. They have their own verses to support their contention. I kind of see their point, too, but I think the evidence they present is far from conclusive.

I agree with both camps, though I hold both of their conclusions loosely. By faith I have a certainly of what life after death holds for me, but I will not treat this confidence carelessly. Too much is at stake.

When my wife and I married, we agreed it was for the rest of our lives; divorce would not be an option. However, each day we also make this decision again. We choose to remain committed to each other and love each other. Most days we do this well and other days, not so well. Yet in each of these days we move forward as a married couple.

Only a fool would claim that saying “I do” one time at a wedding ceremony was enough and that actions from that day forth mattered not. So, I choose to say “I do” every day to my wife.

I do the same with Jesus, too. Each day I say “I do” to Jesus again; I choose to follow him anew. I’d be foolish not to.

What are your thoughts on “once saved, always saved?” What do you do to say “I do” to Jesus every day? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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5 Things God Asks of Us

The book of Deuteronomy offers surprising insights into our relationship with God

5 Things God Asks of UsThe book of Deuteronomy is never high on my reading list. The seemingly endless instructions about the form and format of God’s expectations for his people vex me, especially given that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, and today we live under a New Testament arrangement.

Yet there are surprising truths buried in this stodgy book. We can easily miss these amazing insights if we read too hurriedly – or skip the book altogether.

One such passage presents a succinct summary of what God asks of us:

  1. Fear God: Does this mean God wants his people to be afraid of him? No! He wants his people to stand in awe of him, with reverence and respect.
  2. Walk with God: God asks us to move in relationship with him, to go where he goes. The word repent (which is found throughout the Bible) implies this. It basically means to change course and follow God (and Jesus).
  3. Love God: God wants us to love him. That’s a great start. In the New Testament we see God’s love for us. Though it’s evident in the Old Testament, we can’t miss it in the New Testament.
  4. Serve God: If we fear, walk with, and love God, we will spontaneously desire to serve him. Yet to make sure we don’t miss this part of our relationship with God, he spells it out for us.
  5. Obey God: The fifth item also flows from those before it: obedience. Though obeying an authority is often dismissed in today’s culture, God is one authority who never disappoints, never falters, and never makes a mistake.

God is worthy of us doing the things he asks, starting with this passage: fear, walk, love, serve, and obey.

What items on this list surprise you? What other things does God ask of us? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 10-12, and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 10:12-13.]

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?

Should we emulate the man who drove merchants from the temple and denounced hypocrisy?

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?When I blogged about the need for a male role model I wondered if the life of Jesus might stand as an example for men to follow. Is he the perfect blend of godly power and God-intended masculinity?

Indeed the character and actions of Jesus is compelling, more gripping than any other. Here are the lessons we can learn from Jesus:

A Man of Action: Incensed over sacrilegious commerce being conducted in the temple, degrading worship and exploiting people, Jesus makes a whip and drives the merchants away. He scatters their money and overturns their tables; animals flee. He makes a real mess. Jesus takes bold action to confront wrong behavior (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-17).

A Man of Strength: Jesus is physically strong, able to endure the barbaric tortures of crucifixion. Being flogged (Mark 15:15) was enough to kill some people; Jesus survives. He withstands the soldiers as they beat him (Luke 22:63-64) and carries his own cross (John 19:17). In this Jesus stands as our modern view of manly power.

A Man of Faith: Jesus prays (Luke 11:1) and fasts (Matthew 4:1-2). He places priority on his relationship with God.

A Man of Boldness: Not afraid to condemn misguided spiritual practices, Jesus speaks against hypocrisy (Matthew 12:34). His concern is righting spiritual wrongs, and he has no worries over offending religious leaders in error.

A Man of Spiritual Power: With supernatural insight Jesus knows what others are thinking (Luke 5:22), has command over nature (Mark 4:39), heals people (Matthew 4:23), and raises the dead (Luke 8:54-55).

A Man of Love and Compassion: Jesus blesses children (Matthew 19:13-14). He longs to love and protect them (Luke 13:34). He cares about the masses, offering compassion (Matthew 9:36) and loving them (Mark 10:21).

This is an impressive list, one truly worthy of emulation, yet Jesus is not our model for masculinity. Instead Jesus stands as a model for humanity, both men and women. Jesus is the ultimate paragon, our model of excellence and perfection, a peerless example.

Jesus is an example for all to follow, not just the guys.

Which of Jesus’s characteristics do you most identify with? Which ones seem aligned with one gender more than the other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Who Does Jesus Hate?

The self-righteous protester’s sign is etched in my mind. His assertion offends me, and I can’t shake it; I don’t even want to report the words. This person claims: “Jesus hates fags.” The memory of this appalls me; I shudder at the thought.

This is a lie, a brazen lie. Anyone who really knows Jesus would know this isn’t true. Jesus loves everyone, regardless of his or her situation or life status.

Who Does Jesus Hate?If you don’t believe me read about Jesus in the Bible. He never says he hates anyone, and he never tells his followers to hate anyone, either. What Jesus does teach, what he commands us to do, is to love. We should even go so far as to love people who hate us and the people who attack us (Luke 6:27, Matthew 5:44).

Jesus never shows hatred. Instead he models compassion. He demonstrates love to everyone he meets. In fact, he goes out of his way to show love to the people on the fringes of society, the people who “proper” folks dismiss.

Jesus doesn’t hate anyone; he loves everyone, including the homosexual, especially the homosexual. If I were to make a sign, it would tell about Jesus’s unrestrained, universal love: “Jesus Loves Everyone.”

Jesus doesn’t criticize the people who society dismisses and pushes to its edges. Instead he makes a point to spend time with them. He hangs out with them, and when he has anything to say, he merely says – to them and to all – turn your life around and follow me. This could be another sign: “Follow Jesus.”

There is however one group Jesus does criticize, and it’s not who you might think. He reserves his criticism, his sharpest rebukes, for the religious teachers who lead the people astray. He doesn’t hate them, but their actions do frustrate him, just like the protester with his foolish sign.

Who would Jesus make a point to spend time with today? What would you say to the protester with his hate-filled sign? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.