Jesus Calls Us To Serve With Humility

Living a life for Jesus is living contrary to our culture

Jesus often warns his followers to not be hypocrites. As an example of who not to emulate, he usually singles out the religious leaders. This is a sobering thought for anyone on a church staff or who has a following of spiritual seekers. Don’t be a hypocrite!

Apparently Jesus realizes how easy it is for religious leaders to succumb to hypocrisy. In their zeal to pursue God and guide their people, they often give instructions that they themselves cannot or will not follow. Their words don’t align with their actions. They’re hypocritical. This was as real in Jesus’s time as it is for us today.

While it’s easy to see hypocrisy in others, it’s more difficult to see it in ourselves. Surely this warning against being hypocritical applies to others and not us. We would never act like that. Yet as soon as we think this, we should probably receive it as a sign to examine ourselves with great care.

Jesus ends one of his teachings against hypocrisy with two confounding statements:

To Be Great, We Must Serve: When we think of leadership in our world today, we seldom think about service. In fact, our common view of great people is that they expect others to serve them. This is backwards for Jesus. He says when we serve others, then we will become great. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we become great in our world, but we will become great in his. Which is more important?Jesus says when we serve others, then we will become great. Click To Tweet

To Be Exalted, We Must Be Humble: Next Jesus warns that people who try to promote themselves, that is to elevate themselves, will end up being embarrassed. They will be humiliated. Ultimately, the person who takes on true humility will in the end be exalted. Though this sometimes occurs in our world today, it will most certainly happen in our future spiritual reality with Jesus.

In these verses we see a clear call from Jesus to serve with humility. We must grasp this concept. Then we must do it. A failure to do so may be a form of hypocrisy. But when we serve with humility, we point the world to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 23, and today’s post is on Matthew 23:11-12.]

Watch Out For Churches That Behave Like Cults

Some people blindly accept church rhetoric, but they risk going down a dangerous path

We’ve all heard stories of people taken in and indoctrinated by cults. Though some stories end happily after they extricate themselves from the control the cult, too many situations end badly.

There are many common characteristics to help us identify cults and cult-like behavior. Here are some of the key things that reoccur on many of these lists.

  • Utopia: The community seems too good to be true. Everything is wonderful; there are no problems. Peace and harmony abounds. (And when a potential problem surfaces, it’s quickly squelched.)
  • Exclusive Leadership: One person, or a handful of people, exercises excessive control over the group and restricts other people from participating in leadership.
  • Absolute Beliefs: Their group has the only true understanding of truth. All other groups are false.
  • Loyalty: Devotion and submission to the group is expected.
  • Persecution Complex: Everyone else is against them. The group has an us-versus-them mentality.
  • Critical Thinking Opposed: Questions aren’t tolerated and are quickly repressed.
  • Isolation: Members are separated from family and friends.
  • Shunning: People are discouraged from leaving, with excessive penalties for those who try.
  • Dependence: The group creates an emotional dependence by offering excessive love, acceptance, and support.
  • Lack of Transparency: The group’s finances are hidden from members, and inappropriate behavior by its leaders is accepted without question.

When we read this list, we’re quick to agree these characteristics are both wrong and damaging. We would never want to be in a group that behaved this way.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen some churches whose behavior and attitudes parallel many of these characteristics of a cult. While I won’t label them a cult, the way they function fills me with apprehension.The behavior and attitudes at some churches parallel many characteristics of a cult. Click To Tweet

These churches have a dynamic, charismatic minister who people follow without question and accept every word he or she says. The church’s doctrine is presented as the only true understanding, with everyone else being an error. Members are encouraged to separate themselves from those who disagree with the church’s teaching, including their family and friends. The church envelops its members, providing a tight emotional bond and offering support to such an extent that members worry about what they will lose if they leave. Though threats aren’t given, the outcome is clear they risk being cut off from the community.

Am I claiming that some churches are cults? No. But I am suggesting that they’re veering too close. And from the outside it’s sometimes hard to see the difference.

What’s the solution?

Don’t allow one person to control or dominate the group. Share leadership broadly. Be transparent. Be egalitarian. Encourage questions. Seek diversity. Make Jesus the focus, and let the Bible guide.

When I read about the early church in the book of Acts I see this type of positive, open community demonstrated in how they function. We must consider their example carefully.

The challenge in this is to examine our own church’s practices in the light of these characteristics of a cult. Then take whatever steps are needed to avoid even the appearance of cult-like activity.

With so much at stake, we can’t risk even the appearance of impropriety.

Do We Take Ourselves Too Seriously?

Jesus calls us to change and become like little children

Matthew tells the story about Jesus asking his disciples, “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples don’t answer. Either they don’t know or they’re afraid to attempt an answer, for fear they might be wrong.

Jesus takes a child and places this youngster before his followers. Then he tells them, “You won’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you change and become like a kid.”

Change: The first requirement to enter God’s kingdom is to change. Another word for this is repent. Think of this as making a U-turn. To turn our lives around and follow Jesus. This change may involve our attitude, our priorities, or our actions. Maybe all three. We need to change and follow Jesus.

Become Like Children: Once we change, Jesus tells us to become like children. What does this mean? I don’t think Jesus is giving us permission to act childish. That would be an excuse for irresponsibility. Instead it may be a call for a childlike faith. Little children are so trusting. They believe in their parents unconditionally, who they know will take care of them. These parents want the best for their kids and will do anything for them. These kids know that. Jesus wants us to look at him the same way, as children with unwavering trust.

The Outcome: When we change and become like children, following Jesus with a childlike faith, three things occur:

1) Enter the Kingdom of Heaven: Consider the kingdom of heaven as both a present reality and a future hope, an eternal destination. When we repent and follow Jesus like a child, the kingdom of heaven is the inevitable result.When we repent and follow Jesus like a child, the kingdom of heaven is the result. Click To Tweet

2) Become Great: When we assume this lowly position as a child, Jesus says we will become the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

3) Welcome Jesus: Furthermore, if we welcome a child in Jesus’s name, we welcome him. Think of the things we would do for Jesus if he were suddenly standing in front of us. Now we need to go do that for his kids.

As adults we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps we do this most of the time. Jesus’s call to change and become like children may be a call for us to loosen up and love him with unabashed passion, just as small kids love their parents.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 18, and today’s post is on Matthew 18:1-5.]

Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Communion at Church

Though we cite scripture when we take communion, we don’t do it in a biblical way

Most Christian churches have integrated some form of communion into their worship practices. Though they do this in different ways and with varied frequencies, the central process is similar. As a basis for their practice of communion—also called The Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist—they cite biblical explanations of when Jesus instituted this practice.

Three of the four biographies of Jesus give us details about the first communion. These appear in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20. Paul also recaps this in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. These passages are often part of our modern practice of communion, either formally as part of a liturgy or informally in explaining the practice or as the elements are in your introduced.

Because we invoke scripture when we take communion, we assume we’re doing it in a biblical way. Unfortunately we aren’t. Though we crouch the experience in scripture, we have veered far from what it should be, from what Jesus expected us to encounter.

To understand communion we need to look at the occasion when Jesus introduced this to his disciples. It happens as they celebrate the Passover meal. Exploring this situation lets us know the meaning behind communion and informs us how we can rightly experience it today.

The Context of Communion: First we must note that both Passover and the setting when Jesus introduced communion happened during a meal. When is the last time you took communion as part of a meal? I suspect your answer is seldom or never. And that’s the point. By separating the sacrament of communion from a meal diminishes its true meaning and turns a celebration into a ritual.

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to make it part of a meal, not as a separate ceremony.

The Setting of Communion: Next consider the setting of where Passover and the first communion were celebrated. Passover occurred in the family home, with friends gathered and possibly some neighbors invited over. It didn’t happen at a religious service or during some large gathering. Instead it was in a private setting, an intimate gathering with people close to you.

Jesus followed this when he celebrated his final Passover meal with his disciples. They met in the upper room of a home, and Jesus surrounded himself with his closest friends here on Earth. They shared a meal and during that meal he introduced the symbol of the bread to represent his body and the wine to represent his spilt blood.

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it in our homes with our family and friends, not in church.

The Frequency of Communion: Some Churches take communion every week, others once a month, and some quarterly. A few churches do communion at random times without any prescribed schedule. So how often should we take communion? The answer will surprise you. It’s not weekly, monthly, quarterly, or randomly. There are two possible answers, which we can glean from the four accounts in the Bible about the first communion.

In these accounts Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), and Paul adds the phrase, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NKJV). Well how often is that?

If you want to disassociate the phrase “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” from the annual practice of Passover, then the only interpretation indicates every time you have a meal. That means we should practice communion each time we sit down to eat. That’s three times a day. And if we practice communion that often, we run the risk of it becoming a meaningless ritual much like the obligatory prayers we say before we eat.

However, since the setting was Passover and Passover is an annual event, it’s likely that Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year, an annual holiday like Christmas or Easter.

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it once a year as an annual celebration, not more often.Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year. Click To Tweet

This gives us three principles to follow if we are to rightly celebrate communion: It is part of a meal, enjoyed in the intimate setting of our homes surrounded by family and friends, and done as an annual event. Noticed that a church building and a church service are nowhere in this understanding. Instead of celebrating communion at church, church should teach us how to celebrate this with our family in our homes.

When we do this, we will reclaim the celebration of communion as it was originally intended, how Jesus practiced it, and as the Bible describes it.

We Should Live Our Lives to Influence Others

Like yeast in a lump of dough, a little bit makes a big difference

Influence others for Jesus.In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew, we read many parables of Jesus. This includes the parable of the sower, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl, the parable of the net, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of yeast.

The parable of the yeast is the shortest of them all, only one verse long. In comparison it seems insignificant and the point, easy to miss.

Part of the problem is that few people today know much about making bread. To make bread we mix several ingredients together. A key component in the recipe is yeast, sometimes called leaven. Without yeast, the dough wouldn’t rise, the result would be more like a crunchy cracker then a fluffy piece of bread. A little bit of yeast makes all the difference.When we follow Jesus, he lives in us and Holy Spirit power is available to us. Click To Tweet

Jesus wants us to remember this. We may see ourselves as yeast, perhaps small and seemingly insignificant, yet powerful in how we influence the world around us.

When we have Jesus in us, a little bit goes a long way.

Yet does it?

When we follow Jesus, he lives in us and Holy Spirit power is available to us. But do we use that to help others and impact our world? That’s what happens when the yeast of our lives is worked through the dough that surrounds us.

May we remember that we are yeast and our purpose is to affect the world for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 13, and today’s post is on Matthew 13:33.]

Bearing Fruit is Key; Having a Right Theology Isn’t

In matters of faith, it’s not what we believe, it’s what we do

Faith without action is deadOne of the promises during the modern era was that through the Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason) we could pursue truth and it would eventually converge on a single understanding of reality. This didn’t happen.

Instead of converging to reach consensus, we diverged to produce disagreement. Though this is true in all facets of our life, it is perhaps most pronounced in the area of spirituality. Protestantism is a prime example, with our 43,000 denominations disagreeing with one another.

We fight about theology. Then we separate ourselves from those who don’t agree with us.

The sad thing about pursuing a right theology is the inevitable conclusion that everyone who doesn’t agree with us is wrong and headed down a misguided path. Then we separate ourselves and cause more division.

At a most basic level, theology is the study of God. I think about him a great deal. I contemplate my relationship with him. I wonder how that should inform the way I interact with others. Yes, I think a lot about theology (God), not as an intellectual pursuit but as a matter of spiritual imperative.

To be painfully honest, I must admit a sense of pleasure over the results of my spiritual musings. I hope a degree of humility can replace this hint of pride. Although I think my deliberations in spirituality are correct and produce meaningful insights, I hold my views loosely. After all I could be wrong.God doesn’t care about our theology nearly as much as he does our actions. Click To Tweet

The reality is that the details of how we understand God don’t matter as much as how this understanding affects the way we live. God doesn’t care about our theology nearly as much as he does our actions. We need to produce fruit. Jesus says that bearing fruit glorifies God (John 15:8).

This means we need to put our faith in action. The Bible tells us to. James discusses this (James 2:14-26). He ends this passage by saying faith without action is dead (James 2:14, CEB).

What we believe doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we do. May we never forget that.

How Do We Respond to Jesus?

We should show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us

Live for JesusThe Bible records many things Jesus did when he was here on earth. A reoccurring action is Jesus healing people from their physical and spiritual maladies. Matthew 8 records several of these instances, and we will focus on one of them.

Jesus goes to Peter’s house; his mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. (Note the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law. This tells us Peter was married.) Though we may not think too much about a fever today, this illness was bad enough to keep this woman in bed. She wasn’t merely resting, waiting to get better. She was incapacitated and not able to do anything. The situation was serious.

Jesus walks up to the bed and touches her hand. When he does her fever leaves her body. The next phrase is curious. It says she gets up to wait on him.

The cynic might say that Jesus healed her with selfish intentions, that he made her well only so she could take care of him, likely preparing some food for him to eat. Though this is a humorous thought and one many women likely nod their head in agreement with and might make men snicker, this misses the point.

Instead, I see Peter’s mother-in-law taking care of Jesus as a response to show her gratitude to him for what he did to make her better. Her example is one for us to follow.What do we do to show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us? Click To Tweet

Jesus has done so much for us. What do we do to show our gratitude to him?

It’s too easy for us to move from day-to-day and take Jesus’s work in our lives for granted, to not bother to show him our appreciation.

Jesus saved us, forgave us, and restored us to right relationship with his father. Plus, Jesus loves us, teaches us about God, and shows us how to live.

For all Jesus has done, what should our response be? What can we do to show Jesus how much we appreciate him?

Perhaps we should live for him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 8, and today’s post is on Matthew 8:14-15.]

We Need to Stop Interpreting Scripture Through the Lens of Our Practices

The Bible should inform our actions, not justify our habits

Read the Bible with an open mindChristianity has its traditions and religious practices. We often persist in them with unexamined acceptance. And if we do question our behaviors, we can often find a verse in the Bible to justify them. But that doesn’t make them right.

We need to interpret scripture through the lens of scripture and not from the perspective of our own practices. The Bible is the starting point, not the ending. When we begin with what we do today and work backwards, looking to the Bible for support, we will usually find it, but we may be in error.

Consider the following.

Church Attendance: The Bible says to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Most people interpret this as a command to go to church. That’s not what the verse says. This command is a call to Christian community. This may happen at church on a Sunday morning, but it could also happen at a different location the other 167 hours of the week. This meeting together thing happens whenever two or three are gathered in his name. The point of this verse is that we shouldn’t attempt to live our faith in isolation.

Communion: Another area is our practice of communion. We even read the Bible when we partake. This makes us wrongly conclude that our celebration of communion is biblical. It’s not. The context of communion is at home with family, not as part of a church service. We’re doing communion wrong.

Sermon: Why do we have a sermon every Sunday at church? Because it’s in the Bible, right? Yet biblical preaching is to those outside the church.

You’ve heard the phrase, “preaching to the choir,” which is understood as the futility of telling people the things they already know. Yet preaching to the choir is effectively what we do at most churches every Sunday. Preaching is for people outside the church.

Worship Music: Why does a significant portion of our Sunday service include music? While singing to God is prevalent throughout the Bible, it’s interesting to note that nowhere in the New Testament is the use of musical instruments mentioned. Does this mean our singing to God should be a capella? It’s worth considering.

And the idea of having a worship leader is also an anathema to the biblical narrative. When we gather together we should all be prepared to share and to participate, which might include leading the group in a song.

Sunday School: The justification for Sunday School—aside from tradition and “that’s the way we’ve always done it”—often comes from the Old Testament verses to train up a child (Proverbs 22:6) and teach your children (Deuteronomy 11:19 and Deuteronomy 6:6-8). But who’s to do this training? The parents. Delegating this critical job to the church is lazy parenting.

But if we’re going to persist in the practice, let’s at least give Sunday School a meaningful purpose.

Tithing: Giving 10 percent is an Old Testament thing. The New Testament never commands us to tithe. Think about that the next time you hear a minister say we’re supposed to give 10 percent to the local church. That’s wrong. Though tithing might be a spiritual discipline, it’s not a command.

Offerings: Though there is some basis for the Sunday offering, we’ve co-opted it into something it wasn’t meant to be. Paul’s instruction to take up a collection each week was for the express purpose of giving money to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). How much of a church’s weekly offering goes to that?

Church Buildings: Though the Old Testament had their Temple and the Jewish people added synagogues, the New Testament followers of Jesus met in homes and sought to connect with others in public spaces. The idea of building churches didn’t occur until a few centuries later. Church facilities cost a lot of money and take a lot of time, distracting us from what is more important.Peter says we are all priests, and Paul says we should minister to each other. Click To Tweet

Paid Staff: The concept of professional, paid clergy also didn’t occur until a couple centuries after the early church started. Peter tells us that we are all priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and Paul tells us that we should minister to each other (1 Corinthians 14:26). When we pay staff to do what we’re supposed to be doing ourselves, we’re subjugating our responsibility and acting with laziness. Paul set a great example, often paying his own way on his missionary journeys. Today’s ministers should consider this. Seriously.

Prior posts have touched on these subjects in greater detail. They might be worth considering as you contemplate the above items. We persist in these practices out of habit and under the assumption that the Bible commands us to do so. We conclude this because we read the Bible wearing blinders, focusing our attention on our practices and seeking to find them supported in the Bible.

It’s time we reexamine everything we do and make needed changes. And if we do, it will be a game-changer.

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Two Kinds of Baptism

John baptizes with water and Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit

Jesus’s baptism is with the Holy Spirit and fire.The third chapter in the book of Matthew focuses on John the Baptist and makes the transition to Jesus, the star of the rest of the book. This chapter also contains some teaching from John. He quotes Isaiah and calls for the Jewish people to repent.

Then he tells us some information about himself in contrast to Jesus. He says Jesus is more powerful than he, and that he’s not even worthy to carry Jesus’s shoes (Matthew 3:11). Later on Matthew quotes Jesus as he talks about John. Jesus says no man has ever lived who is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). When we combine these two verses, we see John the Baptist as the most important man ever, yet he is nothing compared to Jesus.

Reading that John isn’t worthy to carry Jesus’s shoes has always grabbed my attention. However, this causes me to miss something more significant in this verse.

John says he is baptizing people with water to signify the repentance, that is, their sorrow for the wrongs they have done and their commitment to turn things around and make a fresh start. Many churches treat baptism this way. This isn’t bad, but they could do better.John the Baptist says Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Click To Tweet

This is because John talks about a second type of baptism, the baptism from Jesus. John says Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. We later see the Holy Spirit connected with fire, tongues of fire, in Acts 2:3–4, the baptism from Jesus.

Jesus’s baptism is a Holy Spirit baptism. Too many churches miss this in their sacrament of baptism. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s easier and less confronting to focus on the baptism of John the Baptist instead of the more confusing, risky, and powerful Holy Spirit baptism from Jesus.

It’s time we give more attention to Jesus’s Holy Spirit baptism and consider what it means to the way we understand our faith and apply it to our lives.

When we baptize people, we must baptize them with Holy Spirit fire.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 3, and today’s post is on Matthew 3:11.]

The Role Faith Plays in the Creation Versus Evolution Debate

For all their differences, both creation and the theory of evolution require an element of faith

In school I learned about evolution. In church I learned about creation. Creation marks the beginning of the Bible and forms the foundation of my worldview, which started as a child from my parents and became an informed decision as an adult.

I’m not sure if creation versus evolution is an either/or consideration, or if there’s a way for them to peaceably coexist. It could happen. But I do know is that either perspective requires an element of faith.

Obviously, it requires faith to believe in an unseen God who created the universe and has an interest in us as his creation.

However, when I look at the theory of evolution in follow its path back to the beginning, I reach a point where something had to come out of nothing. That requires a great deal of faith, too, even more then is needed to accept that God made us and the world we live in.

To me it’s easier to, by faith, except a superior entity who exists outside our time-space reality. In fact, since time and space exist on a continuum, if you perceive God as the creator of space, then he’s also the creator of time. That means he exists outside our time-space reality, which he created as our playground. On a simple scale, it’s much like you or I constructing an ant farm. We would exist outside our creation, and the ants would live inside it. The ant farm would be the ant’s world, their reality. We would be an entity external to them and beyond their comprehension.

The issue of creation versus evolution boils down to faith. Which is easier to accept in faith? At its basic core evolution requires we accept that something came out of nothing. Conversely, creation requires we have faith of an entity who lives outside our time-space reality. Given this, I need less faith to believe in creation than I do to accept the theory of evolution.

Yes, there’s a middle ground, that God created our reality using the process of evolution. To me it doesn’t matter how God created us and our world. I see myself as a created being and desire to worship the God who made me.I see myself as a created being and desire to worship the God who made me. Click To Tweet