Christian Decision Making: A Lesson from Disney

Despite the title of this post, I really do try to avoid taking spiritual lessons from Disney movies but I’ll make an exception for this one.

In Disney’s The Lion King, the climactic moment comes as Simba is confronted by a choice: continue to run from his responsibility as the rightful king or return to the Pridelands to lead his people to overthrow his tyrant uncle, Scar. He wallows in indecision and self-focused muttering until an old baboon, Rafiki, shows up. Rafiki, in addition to being crazy as a loon, speaks some pretty profound truth into Simba’s life: if you want to know what to do, you start by knowing who you are.

Image Credit

On the surface, that just sounds like standard, milquetoast, Disney-fied philosophy. But it’s remarkably consistent with biblical teaching on Christian decision-making. Only instead of looking to ourselves, our family, or our desires, we are called to look to our Creator for the self-knowledge that clarifies our decisions.

And we constantly have to decide what we will do. But before we rush off half-cocked in one direction or another, our time is well-spent by first asking,  “Who are we? Who are you? Who am I?”

Those questions will, oftentimes, produce subjective answers. Frankly, if you asked ten different people, you’d probably get eleven different answers. Why? Because everyone is different. We all have different backgrounds, different teachers we’ve learned under, and we all have different hopes and dreams. So a bit of confusion is natural.

But a good deal of that confusion is clarified for those who follow Christ. Because who we are is clarified by Scripture’s witness of who we are: we who claim the name of Christ are those who seek obey what he has said.

At least that’s Jesus’ definition of a disciple: someone who does what he says to do. Look at the passage we commonly call the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

If we’re going to make disciples, we need to know what one looks like. Jesus tells us right there. And he had already simplified the list of commands he expected disciples to be defined by:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40



Who you are governs what you do. And if you are a follower of Jesus, the starting point for your decision-making is in your identity as a disciples, as someone who has committed to obeying Jesus.

It’s simple.

I’m right there with you, though. While it sounds easy to make decisions based on who we are as disciples who seek to obey Jesus, our decisions tend to get confused because we so easily forget that fundamental element of who we are. Feelings, logic, profit, comfort, all of these are considerations we begin to take into account before we even consider our status as disciples when we’re faced with a choice.

But the last thing we need to do is to try to make decisions based on how we feel, what we prefer, what we’ve always done, or what we want to do: we need to submit everything we feel, prefer, used to do, and want to do to the Word of God.

Why? I’ll give you two reasons: 1) I’ve tried living life without doing obeying Jesus teaching in God’s Word and it doesn’t work and, 2) Nothing other than the Word of God is sufficient to guide those of us who follow the Son of God.

In other words, disciples of Jesus base their decision making on who they are in Jesus because only the Word that reveals Jesus is efficient and sufficient.

In other, other words, only God’s Word works and only God’s Word is enough to ground our lives in.

Peter points this out for Jesus’ followers through the centuries:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire…For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:3-21

Did you catch what Peter is saying? He is saying that everything we need for “life and godliness” as Christians is found in the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and in the “prophetic word”. Where do we find the eyewitness testimony of the apostles? In the New Testament. Where do we find the “prophetic word”? In the Old Testament. So where do we find everything we need for “life and godliness”? In the Bible.

We should submit everything in our lives to the Word of God!

Why should we submit everything to the Word of God?

Because it’s all we need to live God-honoring lives.

But that doesn’t mean we always understand how to do it.

What does it mean to submit everything to the Word of God?

It means that our first task when determining who we are or what we ought to do is not to ask what is most efficient, most useful, most traditional, or most comfortable but what is most biblical.

If you are an employee, you do not have to ask yourself if you “feel” like working hard at your job: Scripture says “whatever you do, do as unto the Lord.”

If you are a business owner, you do not have to ask yourself if it is more “profitable” to cheat your workers and customers: Scripture is clear in its condemnation of owners who put their own gain ahead of the well-being of those around them.

If you are a parent, you do not have to raise your kids exactly the same or exactly the opposite of how your parents raised you: you are to “bring your children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.”

To submit everything to the Word of God means that it is the first place we go to make a decision, the only source we trust implicitly, and the only standard we measure ourselves against.

When presented with a decision we who bear the name of Christ should study the Word of God, all the while asking the Spirit of God to guide us to wisdom and truth.

What we do as disciples of Jesus is governed by who we are according to the Gospel revealed in Scripture.

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” Acts 17:1-13

What a difference it makes when the “people of God” go to the Word of God for direction! The text presents these two groups of people and their respective responses to Paul’s message in an intentional contrast:

The Thessalonian Jews heard Paul’s interpretation of scripture (Jesus is the Messiah foretold in the law and the prophets). Some of them were convinced and believed the gospel, but most of them were outraged. Why? Because Paul’s message from the Word didn’t square with their traditions. They were so outraged that Paul would dare question them, that they followed him to the next town and tried to cause problems there too. They filtered the decision Paul’s message called them to through their personal thoughts, traditions, and feelings.

Contrast that response with that of the Berean Jews. They heard Paul’s interpretation of scripture just like the Thessalonians, but Luke (the author of Acts) uses an interesting phrase to describe them in contrast to the Jews of Thessalonica: “more noble”. Why were they more noble? Because when they heard Paul’s message they checked it against the Scripture. They were more noble than those in Thessalonica who just took Paul’s word for it and believed: they checked what he said against the Word. They were more noble than those who rejected Paul’s word because it didn’t square with their tradition: they submitted their tradition to the testimony of Scripture.

When you are called to or faced with a decision, go to the Word! Don’t go to your thoughts, feelings, traditions, wishes, etc. Don’t just believe something because some preacher tells you. Don’t just reject something because it doesn’t square with your tradition. Go to the Word! It reveals Jesus, it reveals who you are in him, and it’s the only sure ground for your “life and godliness.”

When deciding what to do, start with who you are according to the Word of God and go from there.

Matthew 7:1 (“Judge Not”) Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

What is the most quoted Scripture?

John 3:16?

Romans 8:28?


Through a process of entirely unscientific observation, I have concluded that the single most quoted verse is Matthew 7:1.

Or should I say, partially quoted? Maybe misquoted?

Judge not”

You can hear it quoted everywhere, from a hipster coffee shop in Portland to a classroom in Minot to a dive bar in Key West.

It’s the trump card in any moral argument, the nuclear option for any religious conversation.

But when Jesus said it during his Sermon on the Mount, I do not think he meant it to mean what we think it means. His argument is not “Judge not.” It’s more nuanced than that. He continues in Matthew 7:1b-2 –

, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

As a general rule, we shouldn’t put a period where Jesus puts a comma.

“Judge Not. Period.” means that you are never to make a value assessment, never to exercise discernment in relating to others, in fact never to think or say or do anything regarding another person ever, positive or negative, destructive or constructive.

But if we read it in context, Jesus means anything but that. He means don’t judge recklessly. Don’t judge unnecessarily. Don’t judge harshly. Don’t judge finally.

Instead, Jesus says, “judge even as you recognize that doing so opens your own life up to judgment and scrutiny.”

If the second reading is the correct one, we need some context. Jesus gives us that in Matthew 7:3-12. Let’s walk through and see what Jesus tells us about judging others:

Be extremely cautious in judgment

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

This is something that we as Christians, as the church, fail in so often. We, who are citizens of the Kingdom, should know better than to point fingers and condemn others. Why? Because we know that we have sinned too and often in worse ways. We know, as has been said, that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We forget so easily.

We love to condemn those around us. “Those homosexuals, those alcoholics, etc.” I could get more likes and comments on this post than I’ve gotten in twenty others if I would simply rail against societal evils and the downfall of America due to the liberal agenda.

But if I want to cast stones, if I want to condemn those outside the church walls, I’m on shaky ground. Jesus says, “Watch out.” Because when we start judging out of self-focus, we will be judged in return.

I think one of the reasons people have such a hard time accepting Christians in the public square right now is because for years, Christians had a hard time accepting other people there. We threw stones for years. We fought for slavery, defending it with the Bible. We fought for segregation when that failed. We fought women’s right to vote. Now, don’t get me wrong, we fought for a lot of good things too but we were rash in judgment and fought against other good things. We expected perfection from our society and wouldn’t let anyone off the hook if they fell short.

Now it’s us on the hook.

Is it any surprise that an increasingly secular society questions our motives when we try to defend religious liberty? Is it any surprise that many in secular society view a call for traditional marriage as simply one more in the line of harsh and domineering attempts of the Religious Right to legislate morality?


“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

We judged quickly, we judged wrongly, we judged harshly, and now we are being judged quickly, we are being judged wrongly, and we will be judged harshly.

Now, before you start judging me, let me clarify: I am for traditional marriage, I am for religious liberty, but I do believe that in large measure the American church is reaping what it has sown.

But frankly, that doesn’t matter now. We can’t change the past.

What matters now is the gospel being spread and disciples being made.

Do you know the number one reason people give for not becoming Christians? I can guess based on conversations I’ve had: “I don’t want to become a Christian because they’re just a bunch of hypocrites.”

In Matthew 6, Jesus says “don’t be like the hypocrites sounding trumpets when you give, praying on street corners, begging to be seen as righteous.” He continues the thought here: don’t judge like hypocrites imagining that you are judging from a position of superiority. Judge solemnly, judge carefully, because how you judge when you judge will be the same way you are judged.

In other words…

Exercise humility in your judgment

Recognize that when you judge, you do so as a fellow sinner. Recognize as well, that your sin is usually worse. Recognize also the humor required in judgment. If we step back a bit, this bit from Jesus is funny stuff. The mental image of a dude with a tree trunk stuck in his eye offering to help remove a dust speck from his brother’s eye is meant to be funny even as it illustrates the absurdity of trying to judge righteously while presupposing superiority.

I used to work in an automotive shop and one day, through sheer stupidity, managed to cut my finger pretty good. I drove to the nearest convenient care, registered, and waited to be seen by the doctor. A nurse came in first. She looked at the cut, decided it probably needed stitches, and went out. She returned with the doctor on duty. This was a man who had clearly given many years to the good work of helping heal people. It was equally clear, however, that he was in the twilight of his career. He walked with a cane, squinted through coke-bottle glasses, and his hands were shaking like leaves in the wind as he unwrapped the dirty shop rag I’d pressed over my finger. The nurse asked him as he peered at the cut, “Are you comfortable trying to stitch this cut?” Everything in me wanted to interject, “I’M not comfortable!” I had this mental image of a improbably large threaded needle moving ominously, though shakily, towards my bleeding skin. Thankfully, the doctor said that he was as uncomfortable as I was at the prospect and he referred me to the nearby hospital ER.

When we judge, we need to understand that we are trembling doctors at best. So exercise humility in judgment. Humility in judgment is three-fold:

First, we recognize that we do not judge others from a position of righteous superiority – we are just sinners like everyone else.

Second, humility means actively pursuing holiness in my life so I am in a position to help others. Not through self-righteousness, but through sympathetic example.

Finally, in our judgment we should always direct others to Christ who can judge rightly. Anyone can judge; only Christ can judge rightly. More than that, only Christ can heal.

We should also recognize that humility in judgment doesn’t mean inaction in judgment. Instead…

Pursue healing through your judgment

Christ-like judgment is never designed to destroy or condemn. It is designed to heal.

This is where we go wrong in judgment when we are too self-focused. When judgment is an opportunity to make ourselves feel better at the expense of others, we are not pursuing healing.

This is the problem the biblical prophet Jonah had. He was sent to deliver the message of God’s judgment but got confused and wanted to sit in judgment himself. He needed those sinners in Nineveh to stay sinners so he could continue to measure his own self-righteousness against them. He needed God to punish them harshly in order to justify his own sense of superiority over them. God didn’t do it. Instead, he gently, lovingly, challenged Jonah’s approach to judgment. And in doing so he confronts our’s.

Do we judge in order to condemn or to heal?

When judgment is about me being right, I am wrong. When judgment is about me looking good, I am ugly. But, when judgment is about making someone else right, I am seeking righteousness. When judgment is about helping someone else be good, I am pursuing Christ-likeness.

Jesus coming to earth is God demonstrating this principle. Prior to Christ’s coming people could say when faced with God’s judgment: “you just don’t know what it’s like to be human, God.” “This life makes it too hard for me to keep your commands God.” “If I was God, I’d be perfect too.”

But God’s judgment isn’t God’s attempt to prove himself superior to us: he doesn’t have to prove that. His judgment wasn’t to condemn us: we did that all on our own. God’s judgment is revealed as healing when he becomes a man. When Christ the Son, eternal God of eternal God, becomes a man, he is demonstrating his identification with our circumstances. When this God-man dies on the cross, he is demonstrating the righteous judgment of God. And when the God-man rises from the dead, he is demonstrating the healing that God’s righteous judgment brings to those who submit to him.

But not everyone sees this…

Recognize that healing judgment is wasted on those who will not value it

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” 

This is one way we know that Jesus was not telling us not to judge period in verse one: how do you obey verse 6 if verse 1 means to never make any assessment of another person whatsoever?

Note that Jesus is not saying that the people around us are pigs and dogs. The focus is not on the people, but on the hope of healing judgment. On holiness and pearls, not dogs and pigs. Jesus is saying it’s a waste of time and it ends up hurting you later to try to heal someone through holy judgment if they aren’t in a place to want the help.

This is one place where recovery services (AA, Celebrate Recovery, etc.) get it better than the church. A Christian friend of mine makes no secret about his struggles with substance abuse and had told me to call him if I ever needed help in counseling someone with substance abuse issues. Well, I heard about this young man who was in the hospital because of substance abuse. I called my friend and asked if he’d mind going with me. He said sure. We went. The young man wasn’t really happy to see us. We talked for a bit and then my buddy shared his story and they exchanged numbers. And then he said something like this: “Don’t you dare expect me to call you and check on you – if you want help, you call me. I don’t have time to worry about your problems, I’ve got my own.” It was harsh! After we walked out, I asked him what that was all about. I’ll never forget his answer: “Brandon, I can’t want him to get help more than he wants to get help. I can’t be the one working towards recovery for him. Until he decides to acknowledge the problem and wants to work on it more than he wants to get high, it’s a waste of time and a frustration for both of us if I’m working on it for him.”

We Christians have a tendency to spend most of our effort in judgment on those who least want the healing that comes after it! We race around trying to judge people in order to fix them when they don’t want to be fixed.

That’s not our place. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work.

We have to recognize that valuing healing judgment is a Christian quality and giving healing judgment is a place where we have to exercise wisdom.

Seek God’s wisdom for your judgment

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

These verses have been ripped from their context nearly as much as verse 1. We read this and say,

“Wow, if I ask God for a new Jeep, he’ll give me a new Jeep!”

“Well, how do you know?”

“Matthew 7:7 said so.”

The Greek word for that is “Baloney!”

What Jesus is talking about us asking for, in context, is the wisdom to know when we are dealing with dogs and pigs and to withhold healing judgment. The wisdom to know whether we are the ones in need of judgment rather than the ones supposed to be giving it. The wisdom to know when to speak and when to shut up! The wisdom that isn’t found in any human mind, but in the mind of God.

When it comes to judgment, we are not sufficient for the task. We need the wisdom of God. And, good news, he offers it to us with the assurance of it being ours for the asking.


Judge others how you would like to be judged

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

We misunderstand this verse when we make it the “Golden Rule”. It is and it relates to all of life but here, in context, Jesus applies it to our judgment of others.

If we are wrong, we should want others to tell us. If we offend someone, we need to know. We need others to exercise judgment over us because there are so many blind spots in our lives. We need brothers and sisters in Christ to help us change, to grow more Christ-like. That’s a safe place to practice the Golden Rule from: I will judge you in order to help you in order that you might judge me in order to help me.

Or is your desire to look like you have it all together? To pretend that everything is all right and nothing is wrong?

If that’s you, the Golden Rule says don’t judge.

If you’re not willing to endure healing judgment from others, don’t you dare judge others. Because you will do so as a hypocrite, you will do so to condemn rather than to heal. But if you desire Christ-likeness in your life, give healing judgment to those who will receive it. Do not let brothers and sisters drown in sin, give them the hand of salvation, one that judges (“you’re in a mess there”) for the purpose of healing (“let me help you out of it”).

Everyone who is submitted to Christ wants to grow in Christlikeness; that only happens through healing judgment, both given and received.

“Judge Not” doesn’t mean what you think it means: it means what Jesus said it means.

(An updated version of this post appears in my book, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means. Check it out here:

No, Your Church Doesn’t Need “Visionary Leadership” – Proverbs 29:18

Proverbs 29 18If you’ve read any leadership material in your lifetime, chances are you’ve come across references to a mythical creature:

The Visionary Leader

I say “mythical” because the descriptions of this rare and wonderful being depict a creature that is undoubtedly too magnificent for our plain-Jane reality:

“Visionary leaders are the builders of a new dawn, working with imagination, insight, and boldness…They work with the power of intentionality and alignment with a higher purpose. Their eyes are on the horizon, not just on the near at hand. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the big picture and thinking strategically.” Corinne McLaughlin

These great and glorious creatures are bigger than life. Just being around them causes us to get swept up in the tide of their superhumanity:

“Visionaries are propelled by great dreams. They’re pulled along by the grip of destiny. Invariably, the force of their resolve pulls us along with them.” Patrick Morley

Kinda makes you want to be one, huh? Too bad:

“Vision cannot be delegated.” K. Ferlic

“Visionary leaders are…Inspirational…Imaginative…Bold…Magnetic.” Scott Jeffery

So if you’re not those things…sorry. You can be a peon like the rest of us, but you’ll never be a visionary leader.

“But, wait,” you say! “That doesn’t sound right! Because we are in the church and Jesus makes all things new. And aren’t we told that ‘God didn’t choose the wise, but the foolish, the strong, but the weak?’”

Yeah, but that was then. Apparently, now that we’re in the 21st century, God’s finally got with the program and decided that even in the church, we can’t do without visionary leaders:

“All memorable achievements were brought about by leaders who had vision. God uses visions to excite leaders because excited leaders get the most out of followers. Active followers accomplish much, and Christ’s Body keeps getting bigger thanks to prevailing local churches. Ken Godevenos

Just so we’re clear on the process here:

God Gives a Vision -> Visionary Leader Gets Excited -> Uses Followers More Efficiently -> Builds Bigger Churches

Where’s that in Scripture, you ask? Ken’s going to tell us:

“That is why Proverbs 29:18 clearly states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Let a leader grasp a godly vision, and then watch God work.” Ken Godevenos

But is that what Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states?”

I would argue no.

Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states” something else entirely. Consider the Christian Standard Bible’s translation of this verse:

“Without revelation people run wild, but one who follows divine instruction will be happy.”

We will unpack what this means but, before we go any farther, understand that the vision the church needs is not one that excites a leader to use followers…it’s God’s Word. And while God has given his people pastors who lead, it is ultimately Christ who is the shining hero who builds the church, not any single visionary.

To understand Proverbs 29:18 fully, we have to put it in its context.

What is the Context?

  1. The (Whole) Verse:

When most Christian leadership gurus quote Proverbs 29:18, they only quote half the verse, and they have to pick their translation carefully. Why? Because the context makes it clear that it doesn’t mean what they want it to mean. It is not a defense of the Lone Ranger Leader with the shining white Vision of Justice: it’s stating the general truth that apart from God’s law, mankind falls into the chaos of rebellion.

Let’s look at the translation most people quote from for this verse:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” King James Version

Even in the King James, this verse is clearly not about people dying because they don’t have some visionary leader to tell them what to do! The Hebrew word for vision here is never used to reference an individual leader’s ideas but refers to God’s divine revelation. Without which, the verse goes on, the people perish. Perish is translating a Hebrew word that doesn’t mean “die” but means “cast off restraint” or “rebel.” The Christian Standard Bible renders it pretty colorfully with “run wild.” And that gets at the idea. But the verse doesn’t end there, as many would have us believe. Instead, it goes on with a clear contrast: but if you obey God’s divine revelation, you are not rebellious, but are blessed or happy.

  1. The Chapter

One of the things that makes verses from Proverbs so prone to misuse is that, by nature, proverbs are meant to be “short and pithy.” In other words, they shouldn’t need a lot of explanation or development. So, you might have a proverb about not being greedy right next to one about not being lazy. While both are attempting to steer you away from sin, they are not necessarily related. But there do seem to be themes that nonetheless tie various proverbs together.

A friend pointed out to me that, in Chapter 29, we see a theme of contrast between the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness.

When the righteous flourish, the people rejoice,

but when the wicked rule, people groan.

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,

but one who consorts with prostitutes destroys his wealth.

By justice a king brings stability to a land,

but a person who demands “contributions” demolishes it.

An evil person is caught by sin,

but the righteous one sings and rejoices.

The righteous person knows the rights of the poor,

but the wicked one does not understand these concerns.

Mockers inflame a city,

but the wise turn away anger.


Bloodthirsty men hate an honest person,

but the upright care about him.

A fool gives full vent to his anger,

but a wise person holds it in check.


A rod of correction imparts wisdom,

but a youth left to himself is a disgrace to his mother.

When the wicked increase, rebellion increases,

but the righteous will see their downfall.



Without revelation people run wild,

but one who follows divine instruction will be happy.

Proverbs 29:1-18, CSB

Verse 18 is not contrasting a group of people who have a visionary leader with a group of people who do not but is comparing the result of submitting to the source of righteousness, God, with submitting to the source of rebellion, ourselves. Indeed, some of the visionary leadership the church has seen has been not the kind that brings blessing, but the kind that throws off the restraint of revelation in favor of selfish desire fulfilling “vision.”

  1. It’s a Proverb

Finally, to understand the context of this verse, we have to start by understanding the nature of a proverb.

Google defines a proverb as, “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.”

Why does that matter? Because it’s crucial for us to understand that proverbs are not unequivocal truth statements, but state “a general truth.” In other words, “this is how the world generally works.”

A “general truth” means that you can find specific examples where it doesn’t. So, when a Christian leadership guru says that Proverbs 29:18 “clearly states” the necessity of visionary leadership, he’s stretching the context of the statement as a proverb, let alone its clear reference to vision as the Word of God.

Because it’s a proverb, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see people who reject God’s revealed Word nonetheless living exemplary lives. This proverb isn’t saying that people who do not submit to the God of the Bible will be holy terrors all the time. It’s saying that submitting to God’s Word is the only secure foundation of blessing and happiness, not seeking our own glorification.

So What Does Proverbs 29:18 Mean?

As I was researching this passage, I asked friends on Facebook what they thought this passage meant. The answers were very helpful, but one was particularly so. My friend Clayton Pruett said this:

“(This verse) is not referring to an individual vision for a personal purpose but rather the Word of God that guides his people and society as a whole.”

I love that! Proverbs 29:18 is not a statement of the need for visionary leadership in the church, but a statement of the need for God’s people to be guided by, shaped by, transformed by, the Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need leadership in the church. A local church appointed me to lead it, affirming God’s call on my life. God has gifted that church with other capable leaders as well. Indeed, God spends a significant amount of his revelation in the New Testament talking about how the church is to be led. Leadership is essential, but not in the way the visionary leadership prophets would have us believe: leadership in the church serves to help us all, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to obey Christ.

This is why when I put a vision before the church I lead in January for us to adopt, it wasn’t a vision containing my best ideas for how to grow the church. No! I don’t want to be a visionary leader if that means me using people to accomplish some dream that I’m excited about. Instead, by God’s grace, I asked the church to agree that we would simply try to obey Jesus. I don’t want us to be a church that waits for some “bold, charismatic” leader to tell us how we’re going to do things: I want us to be a church that loves God so much we will run out into this world to love others in the name of Jesus and make disciples who will do the same. I don’t want people to be impressed with the clarity of my vision: I want us all to be humbled by the immensity of God’s vision. I wish we would be a shining example of love and grace and righteousness to everyone who sees us, an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, as a church, agreed together that our peaks and valleys are not going to be tied to any man’s vision or his comings and goings, but will be tied to our obedience of Christ’s commands in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

So we agreed to “Love God” through our worship, through our prayer, and through our study of his Word.

We said we will “Love Others” through fellowship, through serving, and through giving.

And we will seek to “Make Disciples” by intentional discipleship, evangelism, and missions.

I wanted to say to the church, contra the leadership mantras, “Don’t look at me, look at Christ. Don’t listen to me, listen to Christ. Don’t submit to my way, submit to Christ’s way.” Because, ultimately, that’s what everything comes down to.

How Do We Read Proverbs 29:18 In Light of Christ?

Proverbs 29:18 is meant, in God’s providence, to point us to Christ. Whatever else it may be, visionary leadership that is not squarely centered on Christ is not Christian leadership. The Teacher in Proverbs points us to the revelation of God, which is simply what God has revealed to us about himself in his Word. And we know that Christ is the final Word from God. We’re not sitting around waiting for some extra revelation that will get us on track, some vision that will set us straight. God already gave us the vision, God has revealed himself fully in Christ. Everything that we need to know about the blessing of God, we see in submitting ourselves to Christ. Everything that we need to know about the perils of “running wild,” we see in those who reject Christ.

The vision for the church is the same as the vision for all of reality which is the same vision the God has for each of his people: that Christ would be “all in all.”

So don’t wait for some magnetic personality to tell you what to do: Treasure Christ. Seek Christ, Desire Christ. Obey Christ by the Holy Spirit for God’s Glory. Because when you do, you will be blessed.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, your church doesn’t need visionary leadership: it needs Jesus.

Jesus’ Resurrection Changes Everything

520114756_6fca07c5e7_bI love reading through the Gospels because every time I do, I am reminded that Jesus changes everything. He changes our expectations of who God can use by having a family tree that would make most mobsters blush. He changes how we look at power and ethics and responsibility. He heals, he cleanses, he teaches. The people who should love him, the religious people, hate him. The people who should hate him, the sinners, love him. He’s a King who serves, and a servant who rules. He challenges everything and changes everything and promises the restoration of everything. And we killed him for it. Seriously sin-sick, demon-ridden, weak-hearted, foolish humanity killed him. And if that was the end of the story, I wouldn’t enjoy reading it, because there would be nothing ultimately worth reading about. But it’s not the end. Consider Matthew’s gospel: Matthew doesn’t stop writing at chapter 27. He carries on to chapter 28. Jesus’ death is merely a prelude to the greatest miracle of all time: The Resurrection. And the resurrection changes everything!

Jesus’ Resurrection Changes Everything

I cannot overstate the importance of the Resurrection. As theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said:

“If the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then nothing in life really matters.  However, if the resurrection of Jesus is true, then nothing else in life really matters.”

It should be no surprise then that establishing the truth of the resurrection is vital for those who follow Christ. It should also be no surprise that those who wish to deny Christ have focused a significant amount of attention on debunking the resurrection. In fact, in Matthew 28, we see both testimony to the truth of the resurrection and the first attempt by opponents to deny it. But Matthew 28 also reveals to us how we ought to respond to the Resurrection.

The Truth of the Resurrection – Matthew 28:1-10

The Truth of the Resurrection is established not just by Matthew, but by Mark, Luke, and John as well. One of the most amazing evidences for the truth of the account to me is that women are recorded as being the first to see Jesus alive. Women weren’t even allowed to testify in court because they were assumed to be unreliable witnesses. Surely, if the story were being made up, the writers could have had more culturally-acceptable witnesses be the first to see Jesus alive! Nonetheless, here it is. The women see him first and carry the good news to the disciples. And all the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead for the rest of their lives, all of them were transformed by that belief, and everything changed because of the resurrection.

Well, not everything: there were still those who rejected Jesus and thus had to come up with something to explain the evidence that didn’t involve him rising from the dead. Because if Jesus rose from the dead, everything he said and did was vindicated and they couldn’t stand the thought. So they invented a tale, a story to tell everyone:

The Tale of the Opposition – Matthew 28:11-15

They said that the disciples stole the body. Ok. Let’s go with this for a second: the disciples did it. The same disciples who were so afraid on the night of his betrayal that they all abandoned Jesus in front of an amateur Jewish mob, admittedly intimidating, but no Roman soldiers, the most advanced military force the world had ever known. The one disciple who had enough nerve to fight back on the night of betrayal later couldn’t find the courage to admit to a servant girl that he was Jesus’ disciple. But yeah, it’s totally probable that this sniveling bunch of cowards would have been daring enough to risk taking on the first century equivalent of Seal Team Six because it’s totally probable that trained soldiers serving under a strict honor code and penalty of even death would have forgotten to set a guard and instead all fallen asleep at the same time. And then, these same soldiers would have totally probably slept through the disciples moving a multi-ton rock away from the entrance of the tomb because the disciples were totally probably ninjas with crazy, silent, rock-moving skills. And then, when they were threatened with death if they didn’t admit that Jesus wasn’t God’s Resurrected Son, the Savior Messiah, every single one of them stuck with the lie. Ok. Consider this from Chuck Colson:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Chuck Colson gets it and so should we: saying the disciples stole the body doesn’t explain the evidence in the least.

Other opponents of the gospel have realized this throughout history. So, many other theories have been proposed to explain it away. For example:

Jesus wasn’t really dead: Ok. A guy is so apparently dead that the soldiers attending his crucifixion, who had probably done this many times before and had also probably fought in battle many times and seen dead people there, they are convinced he is dead. Convinced enough to report “Mission Accomplished” to their commander. Then, Jesus stays unconscious long enough for himself to be wrapped in grave clothes and barricaded in the tomb. Somehow, the cool air of the tomb revives Jesus, who’d just been brutally beaten, nailed to a cross, suffered intense pain, lost a ton of blood, half-drowned by the effects of crucifixion, and been stabbed in the side for good measure, and he just shimmies out of his grave clothes, rolls the giant boulder away from his tomb from the inside, which makes the earth shake, strolls outside, terrifies the guards who fall down unconscious, and is recognized by these women who throw themselves at his feet and grab them, and Jesus manages to not cry out in pain and tells them to go quickly and tell the disciples he would meet them in Galilee. OK.

The disciples were just hallucinating: In this theory, the disciples didn’t really see Jesus alive. They just wanted him to be back with them so bad they all hallucinated that he was and, being convinced, they proceeded to die for this wish-fulfillment vision that they’d had. Trouble is hallucination is an individual thing. And yet we are introduced to large numbers of eyewitnesses who all saw Jesus in various places, settings, and times. And their reports are all in significant agreement regarding what they say. That’s not how hallucinations work. Then there’s the problem of the empty tomb. The hallucination theory can’t account for the fact that everyone living at the time agreed that the tomb was empty. The Jews, the Romans, and the disciples all said, “The tomb’s empty.” Hallucination is one thing, teleportation is entirely different.

Someone just impersonated Jesus: Because don’t we all rush to impersonate the last guy who was crucified for criminal rebellion? But assume the premise for a moment and we see that this theory falls flat as well. Again, we have the problem of the empty tomb: if someone was just claiming to be the resurrected Jesus, all the Jewish leaders had to do was produce the body of the real Jesus and all the trouble goes away. But beyond that, consider that whoever was acting the part would have had to have matching wounds, wounds realistic enough to fool disciples who were invited to touch them. The guy would have had to have been almost killed to approximate Jesus’ condition. See the problems with the “Jesus didn’t really die” theory above. Then there’s the issue of the locked room appearance. The disciples, still terrified of being identified with Jesus, are hiding in a locked room when, all of a sudden, there’s Jesus! Unless the imposter knew which room to hide in before the disciples got there, he couldn’t just pop through the wall with no trace. But a resurrected Jesus, whose body was no longer bound by the same laws as ours, could have. Finally, the disciples knew Jesus. Yes, they were occasionally prevented from recognizing him after his resurrection, but every time that prevention was lifted, there was no doubt in their minds that this was the guy that they had spent three years with.

The Wrong Tomb: “Where’s the tomb?”

“Which tomb?”

“Jesus’ tomb.”

“Oh, that’s the one with the rock sealed to the outside and a Roman guard standing in front of it, right? See, that’s going to be a problem: there are hundreds of those. Not sure I can point you in the right direction”

No. For the following reasons:

  1. It’s Joseph of Arimathea’s personal tomb, he’s not going to lose it.
  2. The Romans knew where it was, they set a guard up in front of it.
  3. The Jewish leaders knew where it was: Joseph of Arimathea was one of them, and you can bet that since they were concerned about the disciples stealing the body, they were keeping a close eye on the tomb in addition to asking for the Roman guard.
  4. The disciples knew where it was. This was their Messiah, their friend, their teacher. They may have been scared, but they still loved Jesus. They knew where he was buried. Note that the women going to the tomb on Easter morning didn’t need to stop and ask for directions.

Evidence Isn’t Enough.

But all the refutation of the theories against the resurrection, all the evidence, everything I just covered above, isn’t ultimately enough because evidence isn’t enough. Because we can argue until we are blue in the face about did or didn’t. And the evidence points, quite clearly, to the empty tomb being explained by resurrection. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put it:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

All the proposed explanations are impossible to square with the evidence, except for resurrection. But the evidence isn’t ultimate: what matters most is how we respond to it.

If we refuse to believe the evidence for the resurrection, we aren’t just rejecting a set of bare facts: we are rejecting Christ. What he taught, what he did, who he was. And in that rejection we will miss out on the greatest privilege of all time: eternal life alongside the author of life. We will gain autonomy in this life. We will get to call your own shots, chart our own course, be accountable to no one. But we will be called to account when this life ends. Are we willing to stake eternity on a shaky denial of the resurrection in the face of evidence? Are you?

But many people do claim to believe in the resurrection. Maybe you do. But that belief hasn’t changed one thing about your life. Let’s just call that what it is: crazy. The resurrection literally means that, for those who believe and follow Jesus, death is no longer anything but a minor annoyance on the path to immortality. It means that every word Jesus spoke and every deed he did, and every statement in this Bible are true and, more than true, are important for your life today. If you say you believe in the resurrection and you really do believe it, you will be transformed by that belief. You will live to let others know Jesus is alive, you will submit your decisions and desires to him, and you will seek to obey him. Because possibly the greatest evidence for the resurrection is the transformation of those who truly believe it.

The Transformation of Jesus’ Followers – Matthew 28:16-20

This is key. Jesus rises from the dead and he says, “Because I’m alive, here’s how you’re going to live: you’re going to go everywhere you go and tell people about me. Those who believe your message, you’re going to baptize them and teach them to obey everything I commanded just like you are doing. And those who do this, those who don’t just give lip service to my resurrection, my kingdom, my gospel, I’m going to be with those people until my plan for the world is completely finished.”

It’s not enough to acknowledge the intellectual evidence for the resurrection if it doesn’t change anything about how we live. Because Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. Jesus changes everything. Jesus can change us. Jesus can change you. Paul, someone who persecuted those who believed in Jesus until he himself met the resurrected Lord and was transformed by the encounter, he told us how the resurrection can change us in his letter to the Roman Christians:

“If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

And if you are saved, you will be changed. Because the resurrection of Jesus changes everything!

10 Reasons to Attend Church this Easter

10 Reasons to Attend church On Easter Sunday

  1. Jesus rose from the dead.
  2. Jesus’ grave is empty.
  3. Jesus is alive at the right hand of the Father.
  4. Jesus died but didn’t stay that way.
  5. Jesus won the victory over the last enemy.
  6. Jesus’ heart stopped beating but it started again three days later.
  7. Jesus’ body didn’t decay because God raised him up.
  8. Jesus can’t die again because the first time didn’t keep.
  9. Jesus vacated the tomb because he wasn’t using it anymore.
  10. Jesus isn’t dead, he’s alive!

(Yes, all ten reasons are the same because if we recognize the truth of that one reason we don’t need anything else to motivate us to gather with others who believe the same and declare our joy in God’s mighty grace, on Easter Sunday or any Sunday!)

“Ekklesia” or “Kirche” or “Why Words Matter

church-them-it-people-buildingI have been reflecting recently on the nature of the church. I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago asking whether a church should be more properly referenced as an “it” or a “them.” I should probably clarify that I am convinced that it’s primarily the latter. While it is not wrong to refer to church as an it, it is dangerous for that to be only, or even primary, way we think of it. The church is more properly a they.


Because the church is not a thing, it is people. It’s not a place, it’s the people in the place. It’s not a building, it’s the people who use the building. We don’t normally call a gathering of people it – we say they. This understanding is indicated in the original language of the New Testament, Greek.

The word we commonly translate as church in the New Testament is the Greek word ekklesia and it refers to a group of people who are “called” (kaleo) “out” (ek). In classical Greek, it was used to describe a group of people, called out from a particular place or places as a distinct body. It was a political term, typically referencing such a body gathering for political purposes.

The New Testament appropriates this term and uses it to refer to the new expression of the people of God. And it’s a perfect fit. Jesus is not building a building, he’s not sanctifying a physical location: he’s building his ekklesia, his called out followers, people who are no longer conforming to the image of the world, but who are being conformed to the image of Christ. They are called out of the world to look like Christ, to demonstrate Christ, to declare Christ. They gather with other believers to declare a new political reality: Jesus is king and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord! They go out into the world as ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven. The church is a they!

But we miss this understanding so often when we think and speak of “church.” This misunderstanding is partially a result of translation: ekklesia is nearly always translated as church in our English bibles. And that’s fine, so long as we understand it to carry the original mental image intended by the authors. I’m afraid that we don’t more often than not, though. Church is an Englished-up version of the German kirche, which itself seems to have been a transmogrification of the Greek kyriakon. Regardless of precise etymology, the idea is that of “the Lord’s house.” All well and good. The new covenant people of God are called a temple of the Holy Spirit, we are a spiritual building founded on Christ. But the problem is that our minds don’t think spiritual building first and foremost when we hear “the Lord’s house.” We think address. We think carpet. We think bricks and mortar. We become like Israel, thinking of a shining temple on particular mountain in a particular place.

So we end up with church as someplace we go, rather than who we are. We end up with church as somewhere we don’t say certain words, rather than a word that defines how we act at all times. Church, in this sense, leads us to an understanding that is antithetical to the New Testament ideal of ekklesiaChurch, in this sense, leads us to an it.

Now, I’m not saying we should scrap all the English translations and start over. But I am saying that we should rethink our understanding of what the church is. We should overhaul the mental image we associate with the term. Let’s start thinking of the church less as a physical place and start thinking of IT as a THEY. Better yet, let’s think of it as a WE. Because, if we profess the name of Christ as Lord, we’re the church. You and me. Disciples called out and gathered together to the glory of God. Replacing an it understanding of the church with a we/they understanding has far-reaching implications: it requires us to retrain our brains and it challenges our assumptions of what the church is for, about, and to do. But it’s worth doing for the sake of Christ and his kingdom!

I will be thinking and writing more about some of those implications here in the coming days. In the meantime, I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter: shoot me an email. God bless!


Sit and Savor the Word of God

I have spent the past week sitting in a classroom studying the book of Philippians. 

Five days. 

9-5 each day.

Listening to lectures.

Honestly, I didn’t want to take the class.

Not because I hate school or because I hate Philippians or because I’m unaware of what a privilege it is to study, but because I was busy. My blood family is getting ready to close on a house and I am preparing to lead my church family through a season of vision-casting. That’s in addition to the daily, weekly, ongoing process of loving and leading a them both, building relationships in the community, and serving wider, kingdom-focused ministries and purposes as well. 

I didn’t want to take the class because I was busy. I didn’t want to take the time “off” from “real ministry” to go sit in class, struggle to recall Greek parsing and syntax rules, and “waste” a week away from the field. 

But I was wrong. So wrong.

Far from being a waste of time, the class was a time of rejoicing in the Word and being spiritually refreshed. I am exceedingly grateful for the time spent in Philippians, for a congregation that gave me the time to come, fellow leaders who covered my responsibilities, and a family who sacrifices so I can continue my education. To borrow from Paul, I am rejoicing, and even again, I rejoice! 

And to think I didn’t want to go!

Sometimes I think I am too American to be a good Christ-follower. Time and time again, I fall into the trap of equating frenetic activity with kingdom productivity. I measure my worth by the amount of widgets I produce in a given day. I assess ministry by applying measures of productivity borrowed from the heartlessly corporate culture of my country instead of the relationally-focused commands of Christ. 

By my culturally default measures, this class came at the worst time. By productivity assessment, I’ve wasted my week. By leadership principles, I’ve squandered the build-up to an important, culture-setting opportunity. By social standards, I’ve unduly stressed my family during a transitional time. 

And I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong. Wrong about my feelings before the class, wrong in my cultural evaluation, wrong even about my general approach to ministry. 

I have always been a passionate advocate for the centrality of scripture in Christian ministry, but this week I have been reminded of why: because nothing else can ignite the flame of Christian imagination like the fire of God’s Word applied to the Christian mind and heart with joy. I was unaware that in the busyness of life, I had let my fire die down. It wasn’t out, but it was smoldering. I paid lip service to it, structured my sermons with it in mind, but the heat and light were fading. 

But this week I have seen again the fire that burned a bush but didn’t consume it, the fire that fell and did consume, not just the bull but the stones and the water as well,  fire that flashes in the eyes of a King on a white horse. My petty efforts to produce a spark have been revealed for what they are: infinitesimally small and utterly inadequate. 

I didn’t need to be busy: I needed to sit, silently, unproductively, before the Word. I don’t need to be in control: I need to pledge allegiance again and again to Christ, submitting myself to his revelation. I won’t need to worry: I will need to worship the Lord who holds past, present, and future simultaneously.

I didn’t want to come to class before, but afterwards I couldn’t wait to leave. Not because I am ready to get back to being busy, but because now I remember what I should never have forgot: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I am not called to complete tasks, I am called to be completed by the Word. I am not called to perfect disciples, but to point them to the perfect Word. Leaving class, going back to the real world, is not an opportunity for me to get back to doing stuff, but for me to see again that the Word is doing stuff, in me, in my family, in my church. 

I don’t want to ever see time spent digging into the Word as wasted again. 

To sit and savor the Scriptures, to dive into its depths and drink deep, to go with God through this incredible revelation of grace…this is not a waste of time. This is the only means by which the dry twigs of my efforts can be ignited into a flame that welcomes all, family, friend, and enemy, to come and be warmed. My effectiveness in ministry, my productivity, are not tied to time-management, but to this alchemical process by which the base metals of my thoughts and emotions are transformed into wealth immeasurable by the Word of God. Only what is transformed by the Word will be worth anything towards transforming the world.

Fellow pastor, fellow Christian, let us not waste time on busyness! Instead, let us learn to sit and eat and savor the Word of God! 

Sweet Baby Jesus Isn’t Enough: The (Complete) Christmas Story

At Christmas, our vision tends to narrow. We shift our focus from world events to our local community. We shift our focus from the worries of work to our family circle. And, in the church, we tend to shift our focus from the whole, immense Bible to a couple short chapters in Matthew, Luke, and John. We zoom in on a baby in a manger.

Something like this (Image from

This is all well and good. But sometimes, the narrow focus of the holiday season can make us miss the big picture. We get so used to the little bit we can see, that it becomes rote. We come to the manger once a year to ooh and ahh over Sweet Baby Jesus. And that’s good, but only if we don’t stop there. Because Sweet Baby Jesus isn’t enough. We need to zoom out and remind ourselves of why we even have Christmas, remind ourselves of how Christmas fits into the big picture of what God is doing in our world.

Many people start the Christmas story where Linus did in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, in Luke. And that is most definitely part of the Christmas story. But the roots of that passage sink deep through the rich layers and epochs of Scripture, all the way back to creation.

The Christmas story starts with “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It starts there because everything starts there. That’s where we begin to understand why we even need Christmas to begin with.

In Creation, we see God’s original intent for humanity: fellowship with him through submission to his authority. And it was good. Not because we were inherently good, not because creation was intrinsically good, but because God is good and everything in creation, including humanity, was submitted to him. Our popular conceptions of the Christmas Story don’t include the baby in the manger possessing the awe-inspiring authority required to bring the universe into existence and hold all creation under sway. We need to regain that understanding though.

But the story doesn’t stop there. God put a choice before his crowning creation, mankind, to submit to him or to follow their own desires. And we chose poorly. And in choosing to follow our own desires, we rejected the authority of God over them. We rebelled against our king, our sovereign Lord. The consequences of this rebellion were and are catastrophic.

Our rebellion against God secured our autonomy, so we think, but at a great price. Where once we were assured of the provision of our loving God, we now incur the punishment of our righteous God. And that punishment takes both consequential and ultimate forms. The consequences of our sin are a form of punishment: brokenness, laborious toil, and death. But there is an assurance as well of ultimate punishment for rebellion against God in the form of eternal destruction and separation from God. Consequential punishment is steep, ultimate punishment is devastating. And that would be the end of the story if not for the grace and mercy of God. Apart from that, we humans would have no hope beyond desperately scraping some happiness and satisfaction out of our few, meager years on earth, knowing that punishment surrounded and awaited us.

But that still isn’t where the story stops.

Because God didn’t leave us in our rebellion. Even from the beginning, he promised to bring peace and to fix what was broken. These promises centered around a coming king. And that makes sense: if all that was wrong was caused by our rejection of the rightful king, only a rightful king being reestablished over us would fix things. These promises brought hope to those who heard them, hope that the darkness would be conquered by the light. But if we stop with the promises, we have a futile hope.

But then Jesus shows up. Almost everyone misses it at the beginning, but some begin to see: this is the king, this is the one who fulfills the promises.

The King who arrives in a village, not in a royal city

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

                        who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

            from you shall come forth for me

                        one who is to be ruler in Israel,

            whose coming forth is from of old,

                        from ancient days.

The King who rides on a donkey, not on a charger

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

                        Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

            Behold, your king is coming to you;

                        righteous and having salvation is he,

            humble and mounted on a donkey,

                        on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The King of the nations, not a king of a nation

Isaiah 56:6-8And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,

                        to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,

                        and to be his servants,

            everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,

                        and holds fast my covenant—

            these I will bring to my holy mountain,

                        and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

            their burnt offerings and their sacrifices

                        will be accepted on my altar;

            for my house shall be called a house of prayer

                        for all peoples.”

            The Lord GOD,

                        who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

            “I will gather yet others to him

                        besides those already gathered.”

The King of healing, not a king of judgment

Isaiah 35:4-6 Say to those who have an anxious heart,

                        “Be strong; fear not!

            Behold, your God

                        will come with vengeance,

            with the recompense of God.

                        He will come and save you.”

            Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

                        and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

            then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

                        and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

            For waters break forth in the wilderness,

                        and streams in the desert;

The King who dies, not the king who wins


Isaiah 53:3-5 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

This promised King, revealed to be Jesus the Christ, isn’t what kings are supposed to be, doesn’t do what kings are supposed to do, and isn’t who we expected. But because he isn’t those things, he can be exactly who he needed to be: one meek enough identify with us in our weakness, but strong enough to save us.

And he proves it. Because The King who dies is The King who is raised to life on the third day. He’s The King who commissions his followers to complete the task for which he was sent: to declare to the world that the old, painful, destructive way of continual rebellion against God and his authority didn’t have to continue: there was a new King establishing a new Kingdom! One of faith, of hope, of love. One in which we could come back to God and be transformed.

And this message of new life began to spread. And men and women and children accepted the good news of the King with joy! They were redeemed! They were restored! They were enjoying fellowship with God and with one another!

But we can’t even stop there because we need a King who can provide not just salvation for me but justice for all. We need a King who could create a new Kingdom, not just in my heart, but one in which all of creation was being cleansed and reborn so that it once again could display the glory of its creator.

That’s why the Christmas story starts in creation, winds through the promises, rejoices in the resurrection, works for the redemption of the world, and looks forward to the end of time and Jesus coming again.


The King from the Barn is also the King from The Palace

Revelation 5:11-13 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

            “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

            to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

            and honor and glory and blessing!”           

                        And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

            be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

The King on the Donkey is also the King On a White Horse

Revelation 19:11-13 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

The King of the Nations is also the King of a New Nation

Revelation 5:8-10 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

            “Worthy are you to take the scroll

                        and to open its seals,

            for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

                        from every tribe and language and people and nation,

            and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

                        and they shall reign on the earth.”

The King of Peace is also the King of Righteousness

Revelation 19:14-15 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

The King who Dies is also the King who Reigns Forever

Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

See, we like the Christmas Jesus, the meek and mild baby Jesus. But we need to understand that Promised Jesus, Sweet Baby Jesus, Humble Jesus, Dying Jesus, Rising Jesus, and Coming Jesus are all the same Jesus. We need Jesus in his totality, we need the complete Christmas story, from Genesis to Revelation. Because, it’s only when we put it all together: the hope of the promised king, the peace of the king who came, the salvation of the king who dies and rises, and the justice of the king who will come again that we understand the glorious truth of Christmas: There is one Lord and one Savior, Jesus Christ, and he invites us to know him, and in knowing him, to be saved, and in being saved to worship him as the one who will restore all things. Did you worship him this Christmas? The One weak enough to identify with us, but strong enough to save us, the one who was and is and is to come, the Blessed Redeemer, the Glorious King, the Creator and the Sustainer, Our Counselor and Our Friend, The Almighty, The Victorious, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, The Alpha & Omega. He was a baby, but he’s not anymore. He was weak and inconsequential the first time his feet touched this dirt, but he won’t be the next time! No, the earth will shake and the heavens will roar. This Jesus, this Messiah, this King will come in war. But not a war of ultimate destruction, a war of ultimate deliverance! A war against sin, and sickness, and death. A war that cleanses and heals and creates a New Heaven and a New Earth, where peace, and righteousness, and justice will reign forever and ever and ever and ever.

So, whenever you look at the manger, whenever you look at Sweet Baby Jesus, don’t stop to ooh and aah a moment before you get back to Christmas traditions and presents. Stop and look closely. That baby changes everything, but that moment is not enough. See and marvel and rejoice at the miracle of God’s plan through the ages.

That’s the Christmas story.


Matthew 18: Humility, Forgiveness, and the Church

sheep_in_norwegian_mountainJesus spent a lot of his time on earth highlighting the differences between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of the earth. In Matthew 17 & 18, Jesus gives us a foretaste, a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven will look like after he ascends and the Holy Spirit comes. In other words, Jesus tells us what life in the church will look like.

From Jesus, we know that the kingdom of heaven looks nothing like the kingdoms of the earth, we know that ethics in the kingdom are simultaneously simpler and harder than any other code of ethics in the world. We know that it’s not a geographic kingdom, we know that it not just waiting for you to die, we know that it’s not about harps and clouds, but about loving God and loving others.

And, frankly, none of that even raises an eyebrow in Christian circles. Why? Because we are used to assuming that the kingdom of heaven is primarily about us, how we respond to the gospel, how we live out the good news, where we go when we die. Our understanding of the kingdom centers around ourselves.

So did the disciples’.

Jesus has to show them, and us, that’s not how it works…

In earthly kingdoms, having connections means freedom from responsibility. In the kingdom of heaven, having connections means humble submission.

17:24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” [25] He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” [26] And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. [27] However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

This statement isn’t saying the same thing as the “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” passage, although there is a similar premise. In order to understand what Jesus is saying, we need to ask exactly what the two-drachma tax was.

It wasn’t a Roman tax, but a Jewish one. This fact is important. These tax collectors were fellow Jews, like Matthew. They were tax-collectors, like Matthew. But unlike Matthew, they were collecting for the temple, not the enemy Romans. The tax here was for temple maintenance, supplies, etc. Those asking whether or not Jesus paid it are likely testing, not Jesus’ submission to Roman rule, but his support for Jewish religious observance.

Jesus’ answer is instructive. In political kingdoms, the king’s family and close friends could be exempted from taxation. In religious kingdoms, priests and temple servant could be exempted from taxation. So when Jesus says, “the sons are free”, he is implying that true Jews, true sons of Abraham, would be exempt from paying the temple tax. And he is further implying that he and Peter, by that logic, should be exempt from paying.

But this is a Jewish tax! Wouldn’t Jesus’ argument here mean that none of the Jews should be taxed? Not at all! He’s saying that those outside the family should bear the burden of temple support. On one hand, Jesus could be arguing that Gentiles are the only ones who should have to pay this tax. But Jesus knows that this tax is only leveraged against Jews. So he’s saying that even among the Jews, some are true sons of Abraham and some are not.

I believe that Jesus is pointing us towards the same truth that the Old Testament prophets hinted at, that the division of the nation into two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) foreshadowed, that Paul would later address in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 9:6-8

 [6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

What Jesus is saying is good news for us! You don’t have to have impressive ancestry, know the right people, or be a toady to get into the kingdom of heaven. You just have to follow Jesus. Jesus, and what you do with him, provides the identity for those who are truly sons. Faith in him marks the boundaries of the kingdom of heaven. There’s no entrance fee, no special rites, just faith. It’s not like the kingdoms of this earth where privileges are for those who can pay! Everyone is invited into the kingdom. You just have to understand that once you are in, you aren’t freed from responsibility, but freed for selfless service. You are free to submit to Christ by serving others.

And the church should be where that truth is seen and lived out. The church is meant to be a picture of the kingdom, a foretaste of the goodness of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Do we live life together, do we function as a church for selfish reasons or do we gather together to lay aside our ambitions and our pride to serve one another and our community? What kind of kingdom are we bearing witness to?

The disciples got some of what Jesus was saying to Peter, something clicked: ah, Jesus is saying that this community of disciples is the kingdom of heaven, this gathering is where the kingdom is seen.

But they don’t understand everything. They still don’t get that…

In earthly kingdoms, greatness is measured by self-serving power. In the kingdom of heaven, greatness is measured by self-denying obedience.

            [1] At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” [2] And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them [3] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. [4] Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [5] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, [6] but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

The disciples, on their best days, were following Jesus because they thought he would make the world better. On their worst days, they were following Jesus because they thought that he would make their lot in life better.

One of the recurring debates amongst the disciples was who was the greatest in the kingdom. They were already looking ahead to the time when Jesus was on the throne and they were his trusted assistants, not equal with Jesus, but certainly his right-hand men. They were jockeying for position in every comment and question and action. A couple weeks ago, we looked at them being unable to cast out a demon. They weren’t concerned for the boy but wanted to know what they had missed. They wanted to impress Jesus with their abilities and instead he showed them up.

Why did they want to impress Jesus? For the same reason that employees kiss up to bosses, soldiers flatter CO’s, and students bring presents to their teachers – to gain personal freedom or advancement.

So Jesus interrupts their prideful ambitions. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” Jesus beckons a child to come over. He doesn’t explain anything, he doesn’t give the kid ten reasons why he should come over, he doesn’t have to: the child just obeys. And that’s what Jesus needed his disciples, needs us to see: the kingdom of heaven doesn’t measure greatness in your ability to command respect, or your powerful presence, or your ability to get what you want. No, the kingdom of heaven measures greatness by how willing you are to obey the king.

The disciples aren’t told to become like little children because children are innocent, perfect little angels: if you think that, I’ll let you hang out with mine for a day. They’re great, I love my kids, but let’s just say I didn’t have to teach them how to sin. They figured it out all on their own.

The disciples aren’t told to become like little children because children are weak. Children can be the exceedingly strong-willed.

No, the disciples are told to be like little children because, like the child Jesus called, obedience to the king is the passport of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Remember, Jesus is teaching us about ourselves, but he’s also teaching us about the church. So, how are we doing in this regard? Do we view church as a place to exercise self-serving power or do we view it as a place to practice self-denying service?

Are we willing to obey the king, without question, without demanding a reason, but simply to obey? To say, “Yes, Lord” no matter what Jesus says to do?

That is hard. It requires something of us. It requires us to ignore our natural desires for power and place and submit those desires to an ultimate desire to please our king, Jesus…

In earthly kingdoms, you are expected to satisfy your desires. In the kingdom of heaven, you are expected to submit your desires to Christ’s authority.

            [7] “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! [8] And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. [9] And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

This has to be one of the most-ignored passages in the New Testament. And for good reason – sin, temptation, self-mutilation: this isn’t the kind of stuff that fills buildings and sells books! But this is important.

It’s also important to recognize that Jesus isn’t literally advocating cutting off limbs or gouging out eyes. One of the church fathers, I believe it was Origen, took this literally. His struggle with lust led him to castrate himself in response to these verses.

That’s not what I am advocating this morning!

But let’s not run from what Jesus’ hyperbole is pointing to, though. Too often, we take sin lightly in the American church. Remember, this section of Scripture is Jesus telling us what life in community, what life in the kingdom, what life in the church looks like. If we didn’t know before, we know now that God takes sin seriously.

And we should too.

In our personal life, what desires are we allowing to rule over us and cause us to sin? Jesus says we should submit those desires so fully to him, obeying his commands to purity and wholeness, that we’d be willing to lose a limb rather than offend the Lord who has offered us salvation.

In our corporate life, we need to recognize the imagery of Scripture here. The body is a frequent metaphor for the church. Different gifts, different people, different parts, and yet, unified. Jesus is saying that if a part of the body, the church, is causing the rest of the body to suffer, we should be willing to see that part cut off rather than the whole church go down in flames. The mission of the church is too great for us to allow it to be compromised by a single, selfish, sinning, member.

Personally and corporately, we have to take sin seriously. We have to fight it, we have to hate it, and we have to work together to make sure it has no place among us. Why? So that we can be free to obey the Lord’s commands.

That requires a mindset shift…

In earthly kingdoms, you protect what you have. In the kingdom of heaven, you focus on seeking and saving what is lost.

            [10] “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. [12] What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? [13] And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. [14] So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

I’m not a shepherd, but this seems like terrible advice. If it read, “leaves the 99 in the sheepfold” it’d make sense. “Walls, protection, now I’ll go looking for the lost one.”

But Jesus doesn’t say that. He says the 99 are still on the mountain. The mountain where lions and tigers and bears (oh my) could come and destroy them. The mountain where more could wander off and get lost. The mountain where nights are cold and winds are strong.

Again, I’ve never been a shepherd, but I don’t think Jesus is giving shepherding advice.

He’s giving church advice.

There is a natural tendency for the church, for the Christian for that matter, to turn inward over time. To shift from bolding charging the gates of hell to passively sitting still for another Bible study. To shift from offense to defense. To let the pressures of this world drive us from the public square and into our whitewashed fortresses. To protect and preserve our traditions and expectations of what church should be instead of mobilizing everything that we have and everything that we are to engage a lost and dying world with the gospel.

Jesus says “Quit it.” Stop focusing on protecting what you have and start seeking and saving what is lost. The church doesn’t exist so that we can get together and sing Kumbaya around the warm glow of our smug, self-satisfied, self-serving, Sunday morning traditions. The church exists to glorify God by loving him, loving others, and making disciples.

We do those things inside these walls, undoubtedly, but we dare not stop there. It is too easy for our focus to turn inward. It is too easy for us to focus on what we already have. We need to go in our making of disciples.

Shame on us, church, shame on us, if we are more focused on keeping one another happy than on rescuing others who have wandered. Jesus says our task is to leave the 99, who aren’t wandering, to go seek the one who is wandering, who is lost. That’s our marching orders. It’s terrible advice for shepherding, but radically important advice for the church.

To focus on those who have wandered. To extend forgiveness to those who need it…

In earthly kingdoms, your brother should come to you for forgiveness. In the kingdom of heaven, you go to him offering it.

            [15] “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [18] Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [19] Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This passage has been interpreted for years as a statement on “church discipline.” And while that’s there, we need to back up a little bit and understand that saying this is a passage on church discipline is like saying Moby Dick is a book about a boat: it’s there, but that’s certainly not the focus.

Consider what Jesus is saying. Remember, he just talked about the 99 and 1 sheep. He says seek and save what is lost. He says if your brother sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault.

And that’s where we get it twisted. Because Jesus isn’t just saying “go tell him what a horrible person he is.” No, in context, there’s something else. “Go, tell him his fault” and offer your forgiveness. When you make him aware of his sin, do so with a desire to forgive him for it. Give him the opportunity to repent and then you can forgive.

This would be better called church reconciliation than church discipline. It’s not a witch hunt, it’s an invitation to restored fellowship.

And it mirrors what God did for us. “We all like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, each one, to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” We went astray, we turned, but God saved us by laying our sin on his Son. God sought us, not to punish us, but to offer us forgiveness.

Jesus says, be like God, be like me. Don’t wait for your brother to come to you. He probably doesn’t even know he sinned. Go to him, share with him, offer forgiveness if he will repent. That’s what God does for us.

So let’s walk this out:

Imagine two Christians: Fred and Frank

Frank comes over to Fred’s house to visit. As he’s leaving, he backs over Fred’s prize tulip bed. Fred sees it and yells at Frank that he’s a good-for-nothing so-and-so. When Frank jumps out, apologizes, and offers to do whatever it takes to clean up the mess, Fred tells him just to leave. Frank leaves. But the comments keep burrowing into his brain. So Frank goes to Fred and says, “Fred, I’m so sorry that I backed over your prize tulips and I beg you to forgive me. But, I also need to tell you that the language you used was very hurtful and not in keeping with our shared faith. I want to forgive you as well if you’ll let me.”

If Fred listens to Frank, he’ll say, “Frank, I accept your apology and forgive you for running over my prize tulip bed. And I feel terrible about what I said and for losing my temper like that. Will you forgive me?”

Done. Frank and Fred are reconciled, the gospel is demonstrated in their relationship.

But, Jesus knows this isn’t a perfect world. What if Fred had responded to Frank’s offer of forgiveness by refusing to apologize and cursing him out again?

Then Jesus says you pursue forgiveness again. “take one or two others with you.” This is for accountability to the gospel. Fred can cuss out Frank if he’s still hot enough, but two or three brothers in Christ? He’ll think twice. Hopefully.

Let’s say Frank goes back to Fred, this time with Fabio along too. Frank again says to Fred, “Fred, I’m so sorry that I backed over your prize tulips and I beg you to forgive me. But, I also need to tell you that the language you used was very hurtful and not in keeping with our shared faith. I want to forgive you as well if you’ll let me and I brought Fabio along to remind both of us of how important this is that we be reconciled.”

And Fabio says, “Fred, Frank told me what happened and told me that he has asked for and offered forgiveness to you. As a Christian, you should forgive Frank and the two of you be reconciled.”

If Fred listens, he’ll say, “Frank and Fabio, I am so sorry it’s taken me this long to see my sinful words and temper, but now I repent and ask you to forgive me.”

Done. Reconciliation has been accomplished.

But what if Fred won’t listen and won’t repent?

Jesus says, “take it to the church.” Tell the whole body what happened, the process that had been followed, and ask the church to beg Fred to repent and be reconciled.

And if he does, done deal. Reconciliation has happened!

But if he doesn’t, and this is the hard part, he can’t be a part of the church anymore. Why? Because the church is meant to be a picture of the kingdom of heaven. And citizens in the kingdom of heaven, are those who have repented and asked God for forgiveness. If they won’t repent and ask one another for forgiveness, they never really asked or understood God’s forgiveness. So to let such a person continue representing the church would be to tell a lie about the kingdom, to tell a lie about God.

That’s what the whole binding and loosing conversation is about. The church has authority to say, “This person exhibits the characteristics and is bearing testimony to the truth of the gospel. We accept their profession of faith as genuine.” But they also have the authority to say, “This person claims to know Christ, but by their lack of repentance for clear sin, they are not bearing testimony to the gospel. We reject their profession of faith as counterfeit.”

As harsh as that may sound, Jesus says he’s with us on it. “Wherever two or three are gathered” isn’t about worship, it’s about these hard decisions. It is more important for the body of Christ to bear witness to the truth of the gospel than for individual members to be comfortable. Remember the discussion of cutting off limbs and gouging out eyes? Jesus takes sin in his church seriously. But even if church reconciliation fails and church discipline ensues, there’s always the hope of repentance and reconciliation.

But Jesus isn’t just concerned with your brother’s repentance; he’s concerned with your forgiveness.

In earthly kingdoms, forgiveness has an expiration date. In the kingdom of heaven, forgiveness is always available.

            [21] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Jesus is saying, “forgive others as many times as I forgive you – a whole bunch.” It’s not a tally card here. Jesus isn’t saying “77 times. But feel free to hold a grudge and not forgive the 78th time.”

If your brother sins and repents, even 78 times, forgive him.

People get the idea of forgiveness all wrong. Remember, God’s forgiveness is the model of forgiveness for us. God doesn’t unilaterally forgive all sin, does he? If he did, then everyone goes to heaven, Pol Pot, Mao, Hitler, and Stalin. No, God only forgives sin for those who repent and confess Jesus as Lord. Repentance is essential. I hear people all the time talk about needing to forgive someone who hasn’t repented and I think “how?” Forgiveness is a transactional term. Forgiveness requires repentance. This isn’t to say that you can carry a grudge against someone, you should always be ready to forgive, which means having a merciful heart. But forgiveness requires repentance.

If repentance is made, forgiveness is required.

            [23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Whatever sins your brother has committed against you pale in comparison to what you’ve committed against God. If God can forgive you, after you repent, you must forgive your brother after he repents. If you cannot, Scripture is quite clear.

Forgiveness is not optional in the church: it is essential and the consequences of withholding it are eternal. Why? Because the church bears witness, both to the holiness and the mercy of God. To refuse to repent is to lie about God’s holiness. To refuse to forgive is to lie about God’s mercy. Neither are options for the believer or for the church.

Be quick to repent and quick to forgive.

7 Key Practices of a Sending Church

person-hand-park-adventure-17605The list of those who have left home and hearth to represent Christ away from the land of their birth is long: William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and many others.

The places that they served are etched in the evangelical memory as well: India, Burma, China, and all others.

The tradition is a great one. But we sometimes lose sight of the fact that those who go aren’t alone in the task.

For every one who is sent, there are those who send.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Romans 10:14-15

Indeed! How can they preach unless they are sent?

But sending those who are called is much more than simply patting them on the back and shooing them out the door. We readily acknowledge that the call on the sent is a heavy one, full of joy, but still requiring sacrifice and steadfast obedience. But sometimes we forget that the call on the sent has a corresponding call on the senders, one that is also full of joy but also heavy with responsibility.

We have to regain a sense of this reciprocal, corporate calling if we are going to fully engage the mission to which God has called, not just the “super-spiritual” goers, but also the “everyday” senders (Those are sarcasm “” in case you missed it).

Fulfilling the Great Commission is a whole-church endeavor: some go, some send, but everyone is called.

When a commitment to missions was being rediscovered amongst 18th century British Baptists, a couple guys, William Carey and Andrew Fuller, were right at the center of the revival. They, along with other faithful men and women, formed the core of what would become the Baptist Missionary Society. Fuller recalled an early conversation amongst the society about the task of missions this way:

“Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the important of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us, and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope. But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect, that [we] while we lived, should never let go the ropeYou understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began this business.” 

(from The Life and Death of Andrew Fuller)

“Great responsibility” is attached to both those who “go” and to those who “hold the rope.” We need to regain a sense of the latter while not diminishing the former.

Here are seven ways that a sending church can “hold the rope” well:

1. Faithfully obey Christ in their local context

The Great Commission is not just about “over there.” We are told that Jesus’ followers would be his witnesses in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Taking those specific locales as a universal analogy, we see that the church that is serious about missions will be seriously engaged locally, regionally (amongst those like and unlike themselves), and globally. The church that sends globally without serving locally is setting themselves up for failure. And any missionary worth his or her salt will not be satisfied to be the obedience “token” for a church that has no intention of obeying the commands of Christ where they live, work, and play.

2. Intentionally fight against a natural “out of sight = out of mind” tendency

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is only true if there is a constant fight against the tendency to forget what we cannot see. A faithful sending church will keep the sent ones in mind through practical, intentional efforts. Thankfully, this task is easier than ever before in history. While certainly not true in every missionary context, there are a wealth of resources available to the missionary and the sending church to stay in contact through. Email, Facebook, blogs, Skype: you name it, and technology can pretty much do it. Have the missionary Skype in for a service once a month. Provide a Facebook Live service stream that they can watch the church’s worship service. Email updates to the church regularly. A blog with photos and journal entries for church members to keep up with the work. Whatever works in both contexts, use it! Make sure you stay in contact.

3. Pray continually for them

This isn’t optional. It isn’t Christian boilerplate. John Piper states that “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” True enough. But both worship and missions are dependent on prayer. Until our “faith is made sight,” prayer is the avenue through which every act of worship and obedience flows. The church that sends must be a church that prays. Again, utilize tools to do this. Have a schedule of prayer specifically for sent missionaries where people sign up for slots. Have someone administrate that schedule, sending reminders to those who are signed up. Set aside times in worship services and Bible study meetings to pray specifically for those who have been sent by the church. And let those who are sent know that you are praying. Invite them to join in the schedule so they can know who’s praying and perhaps pray for them in return! Involve the whole body of the church in the essential task of prayer.

4. Continue to provide financially for them

Pastors generally hate talking about money. But if you’re reading this and you’re a pastor, get over it. Sending missionaries takes money. And, frankly, there’s nothing better that your church can give towards than supporting the missionaries they have sent. If you’re a church member, consider what you can give up personally to free up more of your resources to go towards supporting your brothers and sisters in Christ. Corporately, reflect the commitment to financial provision in your budgeting. Many churches set their annual budget with local needs first and allocate whatever’s left to missions. Strike that. Reverse it. Sometimes holding the rope gives you rope burns. Deal with it. Don’t pass the pain on to the missionary if at all possible.

5. Send encouragement to them

Support your missionaries with more than just money. Cards and letters, if contextually appropriate, can be a wonderful blessing. Send them a copy of the book that the men’s group is studying on Friday mornings, send them a copy of the Bible study the women are going through together. Can’t ship books to them? You can still let them know you care by sending an Amazon gift code so they can purchase books on Kindle. Ask them what their favorite candy is and send them a bag. Send a care package with supplies for a family game night. Whatever works for the missionary and their context, find creative ways as a church to encourage them.

6. Send encouragers to them

One area of mission work that is neglected is the idea of sending short-term encouragement teams. We get the concept of career missions, we understand short-term evangelistic missions, construction missions, and orphanage missions, but we woefully neglect the opportunities for encouragement missions. But we see them in Scripture. Paul writes time and again of his gratefulness for some church or another sending so-and-so to visit him, he writes to Timothy to come see him and bring Mark and the cloak and his books, and he sends encouragement teams to churches. A sending church can faithfully hold the rope by coordinating encouragement mission trips: send two or three people to visit a missionary, fill luggage with gifts and necessary items to leave behind, spend time sharing, laughing, working together, and then bring a report back to the sending church. Once a year, twice a year, however often is practical and necessary. This strengthens the bonds between the sent and the senders and can be a great encouragement to those on the field.

7. Raise up and send out more missionaries after them

One of the best ways a sending church can demonstrate their faithfulness to those they’ve sent is to continue raising up and sending out others. The task of the Great Commission isn’t finished when a church sends one missionary. Rather, as the Lord leads, our goal should be a continual cycle of converting, discipling, and sending out workers for the harvest. A missionary who is sent doesn’t want their sending church to rest on their laurels, content to have sent one. Rather, the same heart that God set afire for taking the gospel out is the same heart that burns to see others with the same ignited passion. Keep in touch with the missionaries who have been sent, let them know of others  who are going so that they can join the church in prayer. Arrange conversations between those who are already on the mission field and those who will be. Let both parties see that the church is committed, beyond a single missionary, to the entire mission for which God has entrusted to his church.

When the Lord calls a missionary from a local church, he is not taking them away; he is inviting the entire church to participate in the joyous task of taking the gospel to the nations. Some go, some send, but everyone is called – let us answer well the call, whether we go or whether we hold the ropes!