Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Plus, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

The Bible Informs Our Understanding of God

We get to know God better as we read about him in the Bible

The Bible helps us understand God. Read itIs the Bible a book about God or a book about his crazy people? The answer is yes. In combining these two ideas, we can say the Bible is a book that addresses God’s relationship with his creation. Therefore we can better understand God by reading about how he interacts and deals with people.

The Bible mentions God thousands of times. He appears in every one of its books,  (though his presence in the book of Esther is implied). His being permeates every page of the Bible.

To better understand God, we need to set aside the world’s unbiblical view of him. Humanity has a skewed perception of his character. And often they are just plain wrong. Popular culture is not a good source to learn about God. The Bible is.

Love: The prevailing theme I see in the Bible is love. The Bible shows God’s love of us and looks at how people respond to that love.

God loves us and we can love him in return. That’s what he wants. Though he won’t force us to love him, he does desire us to choose to do so. It’s called free will.

In the Old Testament, we see this love for him borne largely out of a healthy fear. In the New Testament, our love comes from the mercy he offers us through Jesus.

Patient: Though the Bible contains a plethora of themes that reveal much about God, I see patience as a key one. God is patient with us. Like a loving parent, he gives us chance after chance. He wants us to learn and to do what is right. Like the father in Jesus’s parable of the wayward son (the Prodigal), God patiently waits for us, scanning the horizon in hopes we will come home to live with him.

Personal: It’s clear God wants to have a relationship with us, so we can be in community with him. He walked with Adam in the garden. He revealed his being to Moses. He affirmed David’s heart toward him. He talked to Paul. He gave visions to many. He guided people to write about him and then compile these writings into the Bible we enjoy today. And, most importantly, he dispatched Jesus to point us to him and provide a means for us to be with God.

Eternal: The Bible shows God as existing outside of the time-space he created. Though beyond comprehension, he is eternal, with no beginning or ending. And he wants us to join him in that.

Though the Bible reveals much more about God, these four traits are a great start: God loves us and patiently waits for us to have a personal connection with him that will last through the rest of eternity. And that’s good news.

Let Us Persevere in Our Faith

The book of Hebrews tells us how to react to what God has done for us

An interesting passage in Hebrews opens with a reminder of who we are in Jesus and through Jesus (Hebrews 10:23-25). With this as our perspective, the author tells us four things we should do in response.

Let Us Pursue God: The NIV says to “draw near to God.” I like this imagery of us steadfastly moving toward God, getting closer and closer, almost as though he gently pulls us to him. Though we can accept or reject his supernatural yearning to pull us close, we consent to his attraction when we pursue him.

May we pursue God as if nothing else matters—because nothing else does. We need to do this with a sincere heart and full of faith.

Let Us Hold Onto Hope: Next we need to grasp the hope we claim to have within us. If we say we have hope but don’t act like it, what good is that? Instead our behavior, both in thought and in action, must align with what we believe.

And if we face temptation to waiver in our hope, Hebrews reminds us that he will faithfully give us what he promised. Cling to our hope.

Let Us Encourage One Another: Third is the reminder to encourage each other. While we can nurture many godly traits in others, this passage specifically mentions two: love and good deeds. It’s as if nothing else matters.

We love others in the same way God loves us. He shows us his perfect love and we strive to follow his example. And we help others. Why? Not to get God’s attention or to achieve some agenda, but because he says so.

The practical extension of love is to do kind things for others. Love connects to good deeds.

Let Us Not Isolate Ourselves: We can’t realize all God desires for us if we separate ourselves from his other followers. Together we stay strong. Apart we falter. As the Bible says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

The oft-quoted text for this is to let us not give up meeting together, which many misapply (read more about this). The point is to hang out with others who follow Jesus. The details of what this looks like is for us to determine.

As followers of Jesus, may we pursue God, cling to hope, offer encouragement, and spend time with each other.

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Who Are We to Judge? We May Have It Backwards

Though the Bible tells us to judge, who we’re supposed to judge may shock you

Don't judge the world. God will do that.When Paul writes to his friends in Corinth, he has much to say because they struggle with many things. He spends a whole chapter in his first letter addressing sin within their assembly: sexual sin, specifically incest.

In reading between the lines, it seems the people involved think God’s grace gives them the freedom to pursue this lifestyle, to live as they wish, while the rest of the church remains quiet on the issue.

Paul is concerned one bad example will infect others and embolden them to go wild as well. As the saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel,” though Paul’s first-century version says a little bit of yeast affects the whole batch of dough.

He tells them how to deal with this issue and the perpetrators. Though he expects them to assess the situation and take action, he places limits on the scope of their role as judge.

Specifically he says not to worry about those on the outside, that God will deal with them. Instead, they need to worry about the people within their group, that self-policing is in order. Paul reminds them that they should judge folks within the church but they have no business judging people in the world.

Much of today’s church has this backwards. We delight in pointing a condemning finger at the actions of the world, all the while ignoring the behavior within our own community.

It’s no wonder the world thinks the church is comprised of close-minded, judgmental, hypocrites—because it is.

It’s no wonder the world fails to see the love of Jesus, because his followers fail to show the world his love. Instead they show judgement, mean, hateful judgement.

Though we need to judge ourselves, we have no business judging the world in which we live. So stop it.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 5, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.]

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What is Church?

The church of Jesus needs to focus on three things and master them all

We are the church: Working God, Get along, and Help OthersIn our normal usage, church is a building, a place we go to—often on Sunday mornings. I’ll be there later today. Other definitions for church include a religious service, organized religion, and professional clergy.

Yet a more correct understanding is that we are church, both individually and collectively. We, the church, are an organic body, not an institution, religious service, or profession. If we are the church, we can’t go there; we take church with us everywhere we go—or at least we should.

As the people who comprise the church of Jesus—his followers—I see three things we ought to be about, three things that warrant our focus:

Worship: Life isn’t about us; it’s all about him. Or at least it should be. As individuals and as a group we should worship him, our reason for being. Though God doesn’t need our praise and adoration, we should need to give it to him. We worship God by thanking him for who he is and what he does. We worship him by praising him for his omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent greatness. This can happen in word, in attitude, in action—and in song.

Singing to God about him is a common form of worship. Yet at too many church services this musical expression of faith has turned into a concert. While this is not necessarily bad if the concert connects us with God, it is bad if all it seeks to do is entertain us. By the way, when we say we don’t like the music at church, we’ve just turned the focus away from God and back to us, to our desire for entertainment over worship.

Beyond this we can also worship God in silence and through solitude, two pursuits that most people in our culture fail to comprehend. In fact, in our always on, always connected existence, even a few seconds of silence makes most people squirm, whereas solitude drives them crazy. Yet we can worship God in both.

In addition we also worship God by getting along with other believers and serving those outside our group.

Community: The church as a group of people should major on community, on getting along and experiencing life together. Community should happen during our Sunday gatherings, as well as before and after, just hanging out. Community is following all of the Bible’s one another commands, which teach us how to get along in a God-honoring way.

At some church services people scurry in at the exact starting time (or a few minutes late) and flee with intention at the final “amen.” They miss the community part of church; they miss a key reason for going. Remember, it’s not about us.

If we don’t like spending time with the people we see for an hour each Sunday morning, then something’s wrong: not with them, but with us. So, before we point fingers at others, we need to realize that the problem of why we shun spiritual community lies within.

Helping Others: Worship is about God, and community is about our fellow believers. What about others? If we only focus on God and our local faith gathering, we stop too soon and fail to function as the church Jesus intended. Jesus served others, so should we. And we shouldn’t serve with any motives other than the pure intent to show them the love of Jesus. Loving others through our actions may be the most powerful witness we can offer. And history is full of examples where this indeed happened, when the world saw Jesus through the tangible love of his followers.

A church body that looks only to God and at each other is selfish. A church that only gazes heavenward or internally is a church that is dying. We need to let our light shine so that the world can see (Matthew 5:14-16 and Luke 11:33). The world watches us; they hope we’ll come through; they want to see Jesus in us.

That’s what church is. We worship and we build community so we can love others in his name.

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

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What Did Jesus Do?

Move from asking “What Would Jesus Do?” to asking “What Did Jesus Do?”

What did Jesus do?The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized in the 1990s. Often epitomized by colorful bracelets that bore the acronym WWJD, the concept was intended to serve as a constant reminder for followers of Jesus to act as he would act. Therefore, in any given circumstance the goal of WWJD is for us to ask ourselves, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Then we should act accordingly.

I like WWJD as an ongoing nudge to always strive to behave in a manner consistent with Jesus. However, this requires that we presume to know how Jesus would act today. This necessitates interpreting his actions from two thousand years ago and projecting them into our modern culture, which we invariably do through the lens of our personal experience. Some call this contextualizing. The problem in doing so is that we make assumptions and might be in error.

Instead of presuming to know what Jesus would do, it might be better to look at the Bible to see what he actually did.

In reading the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the biographies of Jesus—here are some of the things that Jesus consistently does:

Jesus Loves Everyone: The Bible shows Jesus loving everyone, especially those on the fringes of society, the people who “good” folks avoid. Jesus does the opposite, going out of his way to love those who few people love.

Jesus Questions Spiritual Conventions: A paraphrase of a reoccurring teaching of Jesus is “You have heard it said ____, but I say ____.” It seems Jesus consistently challenges the beliefs people have and the way they act. His teaching delights the common people and frustrates the people who think they have everything figured out about God and what he expects.

Jesus Heals People: Jesus goes around healing people of their physical infirmities, from removing fevers to raising people from the dead. In this spectrum of need are people with odd afflictions that the Bible calls evil spirits. It matters not if these people are really possessed by demons or if their struggle is actually mental illness. The reality is that Jesus heals them; he solves their problems.

And for those who claim that miraculous healing doesn’t apply today, check out Jesus’s future-focused statement in John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

Jesus Feeds People: On two occasions Jesus feeds hungry people, miraculously multiplying a measly amount of food to feed a multitude. Before you assume you can’t do that, go back to read the above verse in John. Of course we don’t always need a miracle to feed people. We can just do it the normal way and feed hungry people from the resources we have.

Jesus Opposes Religiosity: Jesus opposes the religious status quo. Though Jesus clearly loves everyone, one group consistently earns his criticism: the spiritual leaders who follow regimented religious rules. They adhere to a spirit of religiosity. Though they are devote in their righteousness and adherence to their traditions and interpretations of the Bible, Jesus consistently has to correct their errant thinking.

These are the things that Jesus does. May we go out and do the same, to do what Jesus did.

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

A Christian Response to Criticism

Jesus provides a simple solution for us to follow when we face opposition  

A Christian Response to CriticismRecently a friend asked for some assistance at a writers conference, for help in modeling a writer critique process. I and several others were happy to volunteer. We arrived at the session and disbursed ourselves throughout the room, each sitting at a different table, ready to lead our group when the time came.

God drew me to a table at the perimeter, specifically to one man at that table whose body language screamed a warning. When I asked if I could join them he scowled, though his female tablemates welcomed me.

As we waited for the session to begin, my efforts to connect with him met with failure. And each time I interacted with others at the table, he hijacked the conversation and made it about him. He craved attention and wanted to be in charge. In small group lingo we’d call him an EGR person (“extra grace required”). I wished I’d picked a different table.

My friend leading the session called the attendees to order and explained the procedure: how it worked, what we should do, and what not to do. Each table had a leader familiar with the practice, she explained, who would guide the attendees in following the process.

I’ve done this for several years and successfully guided many groups through this critiquing process. The man at our table objected to the prescribed process and wanted to do things a different way. Words were exchanged; heated barbs were thrown at me. He called me a dictator. I hope I responded in a way that would honor Jesus, but I’m not sure – only God knows.

Eventually the man calmed down, but the tension he caused remained, palpable and unrelenting. Though we went through the motions of the critique process, I doubt anyone gained from our efforts. We completed the assignment, and I left as soon as I could.

Hurt by the affliction of his words, I stewed about this for a couple of days. His emotional wounds had inflamed mine. Then God prompted me to consider why this man acted as he did. Writers call this the backstory. A different view of him surfaced; a bit of compassion emerged.

Instead of harboring ill will for this man, God told me to pray. I thought this was a once-and-done deal. But no, it is ongoing. Each time I think of this situation and the actions of this man, I am to pray for him. He has received many of my prayers in the past few days.

Yes, he has issues, but I have issues, too. We all have issues. God loves us despite our issues. We all need Jesus to save us – sometimes from ourselves.

Though this man is not my enemy (not really) and has not wronged me (not really), Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, Matthew 5:44. This, I realize, is how we need to respond to opposition.

Prayer for those who opposed us is Jesus’s solution to deal with conflict.

Are You a Friend of Sinners?

It’s hard to embrace those who are different from us but we should

Jesus is a Friend of Sinners, by Peter DeHaanThe word sin is an unpopular one in today’s culture. Postmodern thinking rejects moral absolutes and advocates that anything goes. Under an ideal of tolerance, society claims that to label an action as sinful is judgmental, closeminded, and unacceptable. Ironically they become intolerant of people who talk about sin.

In reality, everyone sins (Romans 3:23).

It’s just that we downplay or even ignore our own sins, while we recoil from the sins of others, which we deem as more objectionable or even abhorrent.

The Bible says Jesus is a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). This slur comes from his detractors, and he repeats it. They intend it as criticism, but we see it as a badge of honor. We admire Jesus for hanging out with the people that the righteous religious society rejects: prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors, lepers, the sick and unclean, other races and mixed races, and so forth.

It seems Jesus accepts everyone the religious leaders discard. In fact he makes a point to do so, often going out of his way to welcome them. He embraces them; he loves them.

We respect Jesus for doing so. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Shouldn’t we make a point to behave more like Jesus and reach out to those the organized church reviles? Who might this be? The other political party? Muslims? The LGBT community? Pornographers? Those with a criminal record? The list goes on. There is no end.

Hosea writes that God desires mercy not sacrifice, that is, offering mercy trumps following a bunch of rules (Hosea 6:6). Jesus confirms this and adds that these folks are the reason he came (Matthew 9:12-13).

Let’s be more like Jesus and befriend those who the church rejects.

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The Art of Giving to God

By giving to God we demonstrate our love to him

The Art of Giving to GodJesus says to give “to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Luke 20:25, NIV. While the context of this relates to paying taxes, the ramifications go beyond money. The Roman government, in general, and its ruler (Caesar), specifically, have an array of expectations that go beyond tax revenue. Caesar proclaims himself as god, and we see the far-reaching implications. Caesar wants for himself what the Jewish people reserve for God.

Many critics of today’s church claim “the church is only after your money,” and in doing so they imply God only values us for our bank account. While this is sadly true at too many church institutions, it’s not what Jesus intends for us and is far from God’s heart.

Yes, God wants us to give ourselves to him. As we seek to put this into practice, however, giving to God becomes more art than rule. Here are some considerations:

  • Money: When most people think of giving to God, they only think of money. Yet, we can’t actually write a check and hand it to God – and what would he do with it anyway? We give our money to God by using it to bless others and support causes that align with God’s heart, according to his Holy Spirit direction in our hearts. This may or may not be the local church. It could be a parachurch organization, to address a pressing social issue, or to help our neighbor in need. Regardless, when we give cheerfully as God directs us, we in effect give to God.
  • Time: We spend time with people we value: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so forth. The people we ignore must not be important to us. The same applies with God. Again, this may or may not happen at church. We spend time with God when we fast, pray, study the Bible, and practice silence and solitude. We also spend time with him when we sing to him and talk with others about him. And when we invite him to join in our gatherings, we spend time with him, because he is there.
  • Worship: In singing songs at church about God and to God, we give to him. We can worship him in other ways, too, such as prayers of praise, sharing with others our stories of his goodness, and enjoying his creation. I often worship him when I write.
  • Love: Perhaps the most misused, most misunderstood word in English is love: I love my wife, and I love to watch movies. I love nature, and I love the color blue. I love spring, and I love to write. And I love God. If our love of God means anything, we show it by how we use the money he blesses us with, how we invest our time, and how we worship him. Our love for him is a fitting response to his love for us (see 1 John 4:19).
  • Devotion: The act of devotion encompasses the first four items, but our zeal for God also goes beyond them. We set aside other pursuits to focus on God; we put him first, not in word but by our deeds. Devotion involves sacrifice and focused attention, as though nothing else matters, because nothing else truly does.

Giving to God is a lifelong, fulltime pursuit. As our maker, liberator, and friend, he deserves nothing less.

How do you give to God? What other ways are there?