On Being A Child of God

teddy bears

I had been gone for a particularly long and exhausting day. When I walked in the door all four of my children and my wife were occupied.

My oldest child was reading a book. One of them was playing on an iPod and another with a toy while my wife was making dinner. All good things.

My youngest daughter, who is only 18 months old, was the only one who acknowledged that I had come in and she did so in a thrilling way.

She squealed. Then she dropped her toy and ran towards me. She wrapped her tiny arms around my legs and refused to let go.

I’ll be honest, I felt like a million bucks.

In that split second I heard in my head, “that is how Jesus wants you to see and enjoy Him.”

 

Jesus said, “…unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew‬ ‭18‬:‭3‬ MEV)

Teenagers and adult children often dislike the company of their parents and willfully avoid them. Little children are thrilled to see their parents.

“become like little children”

Teenagers and adult children will argue with their parents and challenge their beliefs and assertions. Little children believe everything their parents say.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children often want special events or occasions to spend time with their parents. Little children just want to be next to their parents all the time, or on their lap.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children tend to do their own thing, often without regard for their parents wishes. Little children will often do whatever they’re asked to do. All they want is to please their parents.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children want to do things on their own and try to figure out their way to accomplish goals and meet needs. Little children just grab their parents hand and hold on.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children worry and stress over needs, responsibilities and the future. Little children don’t worry about anything. They completely trust their parents to provide everything they need.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children only request reasonable things that wouldn’t seem an imposition of their parents. Little children believe their parents are able to make their wildest dreams come true. As a result, they ask for anything and everything, believing their parents will supply.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children develop personality traits that make it difficult to get along with family members and causes disagreements from time to time. Little children often love everybody and offer a smile to anyone who looks their way.

“become like little children.”

What would our world look like?

What would the church look like?

What would your family look like?

What would your heart look like?

What if we were to trust Him thoroughly, obey Him completely, worship Him singularly and love Him wholeheartedly.

What if we all were to “become like little children” and look at God as the good Father that He is.

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A Good Reason To Humble Yourself

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (‭James‬ ‭4‬:‭10‬ ESV)

Being humble is much like being smart. If you have to tell people you are, you probably aren’t. It’s a quality much more often, and more easily, claimed than actually possessed.

The only one who could have sought glory or honor that would have been rightfully deserved came in humility. Jesus was God, manifest in the flesh, yet He came as a baby, born to young, poor parents, in a rural village, using a manger for a cradle.

Phillipians 2:5-11 says we should have the same mind as Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation and, humbled Himself to die on the cross. But because He humbled Himself, “God exalted Him”.

So often, in trying to lift our status or reputation in the eyes of others, we end up trapped by the sin of pride, which only serves to lower our reputation because of arrogance. Let God exalt you.

The Bible says God “resists the proud” but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). I’m confident I don’t want God resisting me. I want His grace. Therefore, knowing that God responds to humility, it is entirely necessary that I humble myself to receive His grace.

The Problem of Pleasure

pews stained glassIf there is one absolute truth it is that life isn’t fair. I was raised on the South side of Chicago and though I cannot recall a specific moment when it occurred to me that the world was not fair it was something of which I was acutely aware.

My older brother and I were raised by a single mother. She worked hard to give us everything we needed but sometimes it was still not enough. My father left our young family months before I was born. My brother is six years older than me and we have different fathers. Neither of us knew our own father though, ironically, he knew mine.

In our extended family we can find drug abuse, addictions, suicide, bankruptcy, disease, sudden deaths, poverty, homelessness, imprisonment, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Members of my family tree were drunkards, liars, drug abusers, whoremongers, thieves, murders and adulterers. A large percentage of the marriages in our extended family have been visited by divorce.

While my family tree may shock some the reality is that such an inventory is no longer uncommon. The world is an ugly place. It is full of heartbreak, pain and suffering. Life is simply not fair. To be clear, most of us do not mind an imbal- ance in the grand scheme of things as long as that imbalance weighs in our favor. It is when inequities appear that do not favor us that we begin to cry foul.

When we get a large sweet tea at the drive- thru window, though we only paid for a small, we don’t refuse it because it would be unfair, even though it is. We welcome it! If we get more that what we paid for we smile and enjoy our good fortune, but if we get less than what we paid for we demand immediate rectitude, even though both circumstances are, by definition, unfair. We’re not upset when life isn’t fair, as long as it’s not fair in our favor. It’s when life is unfair and it effects us negatively that we object.

So let us dispel with the idea that it is a cosmic imbalance in justice which disturbs us. That’s not it. It is not inequity that we are troubled with but rather inequities that bring us pain and suffering. What makes the suffering of such pain and evil in our lives so troubling is, not so much the pain itself but rather the indiscriminate manner in which it visits us. There is a maddening capriciousness to the pain and suffering that exist in the world. It seems that pain visits the good with the same random abandon that fortune visits the wicked.

We examine all of this while looking through the lens of our families and friends and conclude that life simply is not fair. The fates are not judicious in the dispensing of pain. We judge, in our finite knowledge, that our family and friends are made up of “good people” and they do not deserve this evil treatment from the cosmos. It’s simply not fair.

The problem of evil in the world has plagued thinkers for centuries. They’ve pointed to it as evidence that God must not exist, or at least not in the way many have believed Him to exist. The Epicurean philosophy is that either there is no God or He must be powerless or careless to deal with the evil that plagues what we believe to be His creation. He assuredly cannot be a good God, both of love and of power, else what keeps Him from stopping all the pain and suffering that plague the world?

Philip Yancey describes the problem of pain as “the question mark turned like a fish hook in the human heart.” Life is not fair, but if He indeed exists, it is ultimately God who is not fair and not good.

Yet I cannot help but consider that amidst all the pain and suffering that really does exist in the world there is also much pleasure in life. How else could we know pain, and furthermore learn to despise suffering, if we did not know great joys and pleasures? Could we fully appreciate the sweetness of sugar if we had not tasted the bitterness of the tea?

While I can recall sleepless nights in my childhood of fear and hunger, when we had no home, food or money, I am also able to recall days of great joy, safety and fullness. How can the two exist along side one another?

How does the skeptic, shouting about pain in the human condition, make equity of the fact that humans alone enjoy the great joys and pleasures of this natural world? Some species grow by merely absorbing what is in their environment. Many protozoans, certain algae, bacteria and amoeba all grow by simply assimilating proteins from their environment. How do we account for the fact that humankind gains pleasure from nourishment? Food tastes good! Many species of animals survive on other, smaller animals, dead carcass meat, plant life and water yet we enjoy the likes of Cherry Garcia, Cinnabon’s, and, if you’re lucky enough, an Italian Beef sandwich from Portillo’s in Chicago!

Most of the great beasts on land enjoy a steady diet of hay and grasses yet we, unique in nature, have created great monuments to food and the pleasure we derive from it. We enjoy a rainbow of color and zest in our diets, able to create and enjoy a myriad of pleasant and appetizing flavors and sensations while we are nourishing ourselves.

Our ability to enjoy food has reached such proportions that we will often place the enjoyment of the taste even above it’s ability to nourish us. This can be evidenced quite simply by the popularity of the Hostess and Little Debbie line of products. Mankind takes such pleasure in what we eat that we have become imbalanced in it on a scale represented in no other species.

What purpose is there that humankind should enjoy what nourishes him when we see this reflected nowhere else in nature? The question here is not one of pain but of pleasure.

Some species reproduce by simply splitting into two. Some creatures even kill or are killed following copulation. Other species copulate in a mere function and the two mating partners never engage with one another again in any kind of meaningful or responsible relationship. In the least, when we see fidelity in the act of reproduction in the animal kingdom it is without the profound meaning that human reproduction carries.

Yet, a man and a woman share arguably the greatest physical delight in the human experience in the act of reproduction. So much so that rarely is sex viewed by most moderns as a reproductive act. It is considered foremost to be an act of pleasure between a man and a woman and most would agree it to be the greatest of creational gifts mankind enjoys.

Once again, we enjoy the goodness of this pleasure to such a degree that we have become imbalanced in regard to sex. We have almost entirely divorced its purpose from the act and have pursued sex for the simple end of sex itself.

C.S. Lewis asked the question, “suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?”

How is it that we can, not only enjoy our reproductive act but, enjoy it to such a degree that we can actually become imbalanced in it?

Our other senses, beyond our appetite for food and sex, are equally as unique among the earth’s creatures in their ability to absorb pleasure from their function.

We can view the spectrum of the rainbow and the hues of the color wheel while canines live in a monochrome world. We can stand at the base of the Rocky Mountains in the western United States, drink the heights of the Sierra Nevada’s, or camp at the foot of the Alps in France, and appreciate their beauty and greatness. Yet snakes, birds and scorpions scurry in, over and around Arizona’s Grand Canyon every day without a hint of understanding as to it’s size, significance, and wonder on the planet they share with humans beings.

Allow me to understate the case by saying we enjoy sounds. We are daily inundated with music, singing and instruments. We have radios in our car, our home, our work place and enjoy it as an outlet in our recreation and entertainment. While there are certain species of birds and whales that seem to sing for pleasure there are certainly none that enjoy a song to the degree and extent that we humans have created and enjoy. While the dolphins may enjoy their sonar song they have nothing that compares to Handel’s “Messiah”.

We’ve been able to drink in breathtaking photographs and views from space as well as the depths of the seas. We’ve explored our world and begun to explore worlds beyond and yet amidst all this pleasure, goodness and wonder we still find ourselves shaking our fist at the heavens and demanding, “What doest thou?”

For all of our pain and sufferings, all the injustices and challenges, for all that’s ugly and unwelcome, for all the things in life that we would petition for God to change, we have so very much more to be thankful for.

Like Adam and Eve in the garden we’ve listened to the tempters offer to focus on the one thing we don’t have rather than see all themany pleasures we have been granted access to. We are quite literally missing the forest for the trees.

We’ve found it within us to ignore all the wonderful pleasures we enjoy every day and focus on the things that bring us the most discomfort, calling it proof that an omnipotent God could not and indeed does not exist.

Is not our logic failing us in this regard? If pain and evil, according to Epicurius and his adherents, point to a random, meaningless universe, void of a designer, or at best a handicapped deity, then to what does pleasure point? Where does all this goodness and pleasure in the human condition come from?

How is it that mankind stands alone on this great planet as the sole recipients of its pleasures and joys? Why does mankind deserve to experience the myriad of pleasure that plant and animal will never know? Furthermore, how is it that Earth stands alone in our Solar System, perfectly positioned and chemically balanced to be inhabited with life in such a robust manner?

Stuart Clark, writer for New Scientist magazine, asks the very same question when he says,

“We know that [Earth’s] distance from the sun provides the right amount of heat and light to make the planet habitable, but that alone is not enough. Without the unique mix of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur that makes up living things, and without liquid water on the planet’s surface, life as we know it could not have evolved. Chemically speaking, Earth is simply better set up for life than its neighbors. So how come we got all the good stuff?”

In his view, all the planets in our solar system “formed from the same cloud of gas and dust that surrounded the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago” yet Earth alone is perfectly suited for plant, animal and human life. Are we simply the winners of a cosmic, even galactic lottery, or are we living on a planet, positioned and crafted by a designer for the purpose of life?

If the skeptic believes pain is evidence to God’s non-existence then, following the same logic, doesn’t pleasure and great privilege indicate the existence of a loving and benevolent giver of life?

At the very least the pleasures we enjoy, the gravy of life, the sweet tea, maintain an existential balance of the bitter mixed with the sweet. There is pain and suffering in the world. There is also joy, gladness and great pleasures.

Life is not fair. Sometimes that works in our favor and other times it does not. Neither are reasons to reject God. They are the balanced result of the human condition in a fallen world.

The pleasures in life that we are free to enjoy are one of the many reasons I continue to believe.

Respecting The Paint

yellow stripes roadAccording to the United States Department of Transportation there are almost 247 million registered motor vehicles navigating over 5 million miles of roadway in America. That’s an average of 50 cars per mile.

I willfully try not to think about these numbers, nor the caliber or condition of individuals operating these motor vehicles, while I am on the road. The next time you take a trip across town try not to think about the hundreds of careless, teenaged, distracted, medicated and inebriated drivers piloting tons of high speeding steel all around you and in oncoming lanes!

Considering all this most American drivers wouldn’t dare venture into this potential tumult of vehicular chaos. Amazingly however, we do, every day, and with great confidence.

We’ve come to know, through experience, that driving a car is not as dangerous as it sounds or potentially could be.

The U.S. Department of Transportation confirms that finding by reporting a mere 1.75 million vehicle collisions each year. Though the number itself is large it amounts to less than 1% of all vehicles on the road and fails to fulfill the previously discussed potential for mayhem.

The truly amazing thing, is that all this is made possible by paint. On very few roads in America and on most highways there are little to no barriers preventing vehicles from colliding into each other much less keeping them from erratic and reckless behavior. The only thing maintaining order and preventing chaos on the interstates, highways and Main Streets of The United States are six inch stripes of yellow and white paint.

The rules of the road are among the few remaining absolutes western civilization still respects. We’ve been taught from the beginning of our driving careers to respect the rules of the road and, if all drivers would do so, it will guarantee safety as we travel. Previously cited Department of Transportation statistics demonstrate that the majority of American drivers respect the paint.

Recently the state highway passing through our town was repaved with expected government speed and efficiency. There were a few days, as they were completing the project, when there were no stripes on the fresh asphalt. Yet there were no accidents or collisions during those few days. It wasn’t that the road was less driven or easier to navigate. It was actually more difficult to drive that highway because it was reduced to one lane in many places. In the absence of stripes however, drivers knew where the lines should be and piloted their vehicles accordingly.

There was a time in western thought that the lines and stripes of God’s law and order were the prevalent worldview. Even in their absence we could act accordingly. No longer is this true. We’ve lost the ability to navigate life with even a remembrance of where the lines were and what they meant. We no longer respect God or His order as worthy of our consideration.

We’re expected to take for granted that reason and logic have stepped into the discussion and proven God to be an unreliable theory. The prevailing notion today is that science has laid to rest the naive simplicity of faith in God.
As a result of our cultures rejection of God we’ve become thoroughly secular. We allow no room for the sacred in our culture or families and we reject moral absolutes choosing rather to embrace moral relativism. The only time we allow for moral absolutes is when we perceive an injustice against ourselves and only then will we claim there to be anything morally definite.

We accept the notion that there is no objective moral standard nor a moral lawgiver that any man is required to live by until an athlete or an actor violates his contract, uses narcotics or is caught in a lie and then we are incredulous! There is no such thing as a moral compass until a state governor commits adultery, misappropriates funds, or lies under oath and then we find ourselves asserting once again that there indeed is a moral order to life that we must follow.

We have lived as if there were no stripes on the road and then, when chaos follows, we scratch our heads and wonder aloud, “what’s wrong with the world?”. We are paying a high price for rejecting God.

I believe the analogy of a striped road is a good example of the inequity that exists in popular thought towards God. Our practice betrays our logic.

Why do we obey the rules of the road? Because a book told us we should? What does that book know about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there? It was written by men who are nothing like me and printed years ago by people that don’t understand how I drive and where I need to go.

Times have changed! We have GPS now, backup cameras and parking assist controls. We don’t need to be burdened with our grandfathers’ outdated ideas of how to pilot a vehicle. That may have been what they needed to safely drive their old Studebakers and trucks but we don’t live in that world anymore.

Furthermore, how do I know I can trust the men who striped the roads themselves? Are they not men, capable of mistakes and failures? I don’t think I want to submit myself to some random officials anachronistic idea of how and where I should drive. I’ll drive where ever and how ever I want to drive.

While any clear thinking individual would find these lines of thinking laughable, not to mention reckless, we employ the same faulty logic and vacant objections towards faith in God.

When a drunk driver speeds all over town, running red lights and stop signs and eventually slams into a school bus killing several children we are shocked and horrified. Yet when we ignore the principles God has established to maintain blessing and health in our life we see no connection between our behavior and its result.

Marriage is not held sacred, life is treated cheaply, we abuse our bodies with drugs and alcohol, we maintain carnal and selfish lifestyles, subsidize poverty, avoiding God, His Word and His order and then shake our fist at God when things go wrong and blame Him for all the evil in the world. We’ve ignored the stripes He painted and then claim the disaster that’s come from our reckless behavior proves God can’t be real, good or both.

In short, we’ve asked God to let us do whatever we want and then we blame Him for the consequences or worse, claim the results prove His vacancy. We deny the viability of faith in God based, not upon experience or reason but rather, upon the choices and actions of men.

Those who have faith in God and in His Word have been plagued for centuries by questions meant to erode their faith through reason and logic. Some call themselves atheists, some agnostic others simply adopt the benign term “skeptic”.

Whatever they may be called, their questions have been around as long as faith has been professed. A faith in God and the Holy Bible as His Word does not allow room for indifference or neutrality. The demands and claims of the Bible concerning God and His laws require action and response. It is my belief that most people who deny God do so, not because of some logical or rational exercise, but rather because they are simply not willing not respond to the call of scripture.

Reason does not stand in the way of faith. In fact, now more than ever before, philosophy and the sciences point with increasing uniformity to a world that is complex, orderly and bears the fingerprint of a designer. From the anthropic principle to the fine tuning of the cosmological constants such as gravity, our world resonates with the echoes of a designer. It’s as if every blade of grass and drop of water is preaching, “There is a God!”

It was the Apostle Paul who said, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). He went on to say that once they knew God yet did not honor Him their hearts were darkened and “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Our society mocks faith in Christ and the Holy Bible as God’s divinely inspired Word as illegitimate and unfounded while at the same time expressing blind faith in the world that surrounds us every day.

I learned many interesting things in the two and a half years I worked as a pharmacy technician. One of the most commercially successful pain relievers on the market is acetaminophen, often branded as Tylenol. It was approved for use in 1951 but remarkably, after over 60 years of use the “mechanism of action remains unknown”. We know that acetaminophen works, we simply do not know how. Yet our ignorance of exactly how this drug works has not hindered us from taking it or giving it to our children. We’ve found it works when we use it so we trust our experience more than the argument.

We trust a chemical into our bodies that the people who produce it and regulate it admit they do not know exactly how it works. Yet when asked to trust centuries of experience and reliability in the laws of God we become incredulous.

Our logic is failing and we know it. We have reasoned our way out of God’s order and consequently the benefits it brings.

I believe we have reached a time in history when this is becoming increasingly clear. The way we’ve been living isn’t working. We’re ready for a change. The question is, do we have good reason to believe?

Why is it okay to engage in every imaginable alternative lifestyle and count all belief systems and ideologies valid and acceptable except Christianity? Why is Christianity singled out as the only insufferable faith?

If pain is such a problem in human existence how is there so much goodness in the world? How can we even understand evil without the existence of God?

Why do so many people have a problem with Christianity in specific? How does the atheist account for Christianity’s survival through the centuries?

What about the believer’s personal testimony? Are all people of faith guilty of perjury by default or is there any merit to their testimony? Have we reached a point, intellectually and spiritually, where we must rethink everything we know?

We’ve driven on unstriped roads for too long. I believe these questions, among others, are worthy of our consideration. I believe if we ask enough questions we will eventually find that we do indeed have reason to believe.

Balance or Yes & No

wooden fenceIt’s not that we don’t know right from wrong. We do. We simply all too often make either emotional or reckless decisions in a moment of weakness, hunger or fatigue.

We know right from wrong, we just don’t know how to prioritize right from wrong.

Most of our selfish and reckless decisions are sourced from the fact that our priorities are fluid. We haven’t decided, before we are presented with a decision, what our values and priorities dictate. Your greatest weapon in achieving your goals is deciding before hand what you say yes to and what you say no to and then being intentional about sticking with those principles.

Even if, however, you are able to do that, there is then the difficulty of choosing between good things and better things. As Jim Collins so aptly presented to us, The enemy of great is good enough.

It is those reasons that make balance one of the most important things necessary for a healthy life spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. We are only one person, and our mind and spirit and intellect must do everything they will do in the only physical body we will ever have. An imbalance in any of those areas will affect who you are as a person.

The state of your body affects your mind and the state of your spirit affects your body. There’s only one way to disconnect your mind, body and spirit from each other. It’s called death.

So as long as you are alive, and as long as you intend to pursue physical, spiritual and emotional health, you’re going to have to learn to find balance. That will require you learning when to say, “Yes” and when to say, “No”.

As much as we would like to convince ourselves otherwise, there is no neutrality in life. We make choices every day. Not making a choice is a choice in itself. Everything you say “yes” to also means a thousand other options you said “no” to. Everywhere you are is a myriad of places you aren’t. Everything you receive defines the things you reject and vice versa.

Learning the power of saying “Yes” and “No” to the right things is key to achieving balance.

The great power of Christianity is that, for most of us, If we get God in His rightful place everything else effortlessly lines up. The truth is, it’s not so much us putting God in His rightful place ( He’s already there) as it is us placing ourselves in our proper place under Him. When we realign our will with His will we find ourselves in the peace that is promised in His Spirit.

Sometimes we’re afraid to say no to some people and things because it often feels harsh and severe. We would like to be seen as nice people, as being kind. But sometimes saying no is the kindest, most important thing you can do for yourself, your family or another person.

Often, we can be very cruel in our intents to be kind. It’s not kindness to continue to enable individuals to self destruct. It’s not kindness to fatigue your own mind and body to such a degree that you rob yourself of rest and your family of your complete presence. Often the kindest thing we could do is learn to say, “No”.

Sadly, it is often the little things that end up being our real problems. It turns out, you really should sweat the small stuff because often the big stuff is simply an aggregate of the small stuff that we didn’t properly sweat. Our priorities were fluid, our values unsettled, and, because of that, we didn’t know when to say yes or when to say no. The little stuff aggregates and then we have a big problem.

John Piper says in his book, A Hunger For God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

Airplanes need two wings, and both are necessary to stay in the air. People have two legs, one to remain planted while the other one moves, enabling us to walk forward or backward. Roads have two sets of lanes, each going in opposite directions. The truth is, you need Yes and No to achieve balance in life.

Yes to God. Yes to good things. Yes to rest. Yes to faith.

No to the tyranny of the urgent. No to good things that rob from better things. No to exhaustion.

Learning how to use Yes and No is one of the greatest skills you will refine in your pursuit of balance.

On Motives

wheat skyHere’s what David says in Psalm 24:1-5, ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Clean hands AND a pure heart.

I don’t intend for this to sound judgmental but it might. To put it simply, I’m concerned that many Christians are operating under the assumption that what you do is more important than why you do it. That giving, prayer, fasting, sexual purity, and faithfulness in church attendance are all ends in themselves. They are not. They are things that should be present in the life of every believer but not as the ends themselves but rather as evidence of genuine heart change.

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t lower the bar when He came teaching in The Sermon on The Mount. He raised it.

You could keep your hands clean of your brother’s blood but if you have a heart full of hate Jesus declared you guilty (Matthew 5:21-26). You could keep your hands off the girl next door your entire life but if you fixate on her in your heart Jesus said you’re guilty (Matthew 5:27-30). If you love the people who love you and if you hate the people who hate you also He said you’re no different than unbelievers (Matthew 5:43-48), even they can do that.

No, Jesus didn’t lower the bar. He raised it. He raised it so high that no one could ever reach it without Him. And He established in Matthew 5 that He is equally as concerned with the condition of your heart as He is your hands.

As far as God is concerned, why you do something is equally as important as how you do it. It’s not enough to have clean hands, He wants your heart to be as pure as your actions.

If you give, but give grudgingly and suspiciously, you need to get your heart right. If you pray but it’s only to cross it off your to do list of righteous deeds then you need to be reintroduced to prayer as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you serve the church but do so out of rigor and obligation and not out of joy and seeing it as worship then you need to let your heart be renewed again.

Good deeds done from selfish motives become selfish deeds because they’re not done in pursuit of Christlikeness or a genuine love for others but out of a desire to gain for oneself. Our motives need to be pure too. Jesus doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does. And they need to be sourced, not out of a selfish pursuit of accolades or a righteous reputation but rather, out of a genuine heart of love.

Blessing and righteousness are found in, not just clean hands, but a pure heart as well.

I Am Not A Christian

yellow churchI’m not a Christian. Not in any meaningful sense of the word.

Sure, I believe in Jesus Christ. I attend a church service or two every week and occasionally read my Bible, but I’m still not a Christian.

Sitting on a pew does not make me a Christian any more than standing in a bank makes me wealthy. My relative location to Christian things and spaces does not transfer to me Christ like character. I may go to church, but I am not a Christian.

I pray when I need something and worship only when it’s convenient. I give, yet often grudgingly and sparingly. I forgive, but only when it might benefit me. I serve, but only when called upon to do so and offered acknowledgement and reward. I love, but only when love is offered in return. I bless, but only those who have blessed me. I care, but often only for those who I feel are deserving of care. I sacrifice, but only after I have been shamed, rewarded, or pressured to do so.

The more I read the BIble, and then examine my life in light of how Christ lived, the more I am convinced, I am not a Christian.

He ate with sinners and politicians without one reservation as to how the company he kept would effect His reputation. He touched people He should have never even talked to. He healed people that His culture didn’t even demand He recognize as persons. He went out of His way, and often, to minister a small thing to one individual in a meaningful way. He showed kindness and grace to everyone, except for those who felt they deserved it. It was with the religious that Jesus argued, the hypocrites he rebuked, and it was the self-righteous which He humbled. The people I’m most comfortable with, church people, were the ones Jesus felt most at odds with. The people He invested in were those with failures and sin, the same people I avoid.

He sacrificed all and asked nothing in return. He was a man of “sorrows and acquainted with grief” knowing that millions throughout history would reject His love. He was giving, loving, gracious, virtuous, kind, merciful, long-suffering, faithful and true. I find in myself that I am selfish, ungrateful, hard hearted, impatient, demanding, dishonest, intemperate, corrupt, deceptive and unfaithful. I am not a Christian.

It was John Piper who, when asked what if anything might cause him to disbelieve in God, said,

“If anything might cause me to disbelieve in God it would be how painfully slow and inefficient the sanctification process has been in me.”

I take comfort in the fact that Paul wrestled with the same assessment of himself. He called himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and confessed that he felt as though he had not yet attained Christ-likeness, but he was still trying (Phil. 3). He wrestled with his nature and called himself carnal and sinful (Rom. 7:14-25) acknowledging that “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”.

If being a Christian is defined in generic terms as anything associated with the teachings of Jesus Christ then I suppose I could call myself a Christian. However, if being a Christian means possessing the character and virtue of Christ, then I am not a Christian.

What I am is a believer, a follower of Christ, who all too often falls short of being like my Lord. However, I am still a disciple of His. I am redeemed, justified and still trying. I believe if I remain subject to the Holy Spirit Christ will continue to be formed in me and someday I will be like Him for I will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). The truth, right now, is that I am not a Christian.

Not yet.