And 15 Things I Want You To Know.
Ten years after I was first called to be a senior pastor, I’ve learned a lot and been changed a lot by the journey. Many of you have been alongside me in that, and many of you have been instruments of God’s continuous shaping of my heart; I thank you. Ten Years Later, as I’ve meditated before the Lord on what I should most want you to know about following Christ, this is the list that emerged for the sermon of Aug. 12, 2018. My prayer is that it provokes and strengthens the faith of each of you, the church family that Melody and I cherish so very deeply.
1. Only one thing is needed.
Modern Christianity has many trappings, but it’s all superfluous noise compared to this: Trust and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, your Lord. All other things flow through and from here. Above all, set aside time alone with him every day, and adjust your life according to what you hear. This is faith. This is knowing him rather than knowing of him. This is life in Christ. And you will carry it with you – or not – in your life ministry to others. “Martha, Martha … you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42).”
2. The Bible is only as good as your Interpreter.
The Word of God is sure, but just as sure is the ability to twist it for our own ends; even Satan quoted Scripture to justify his arguments to Jesus. Cultivate that relationship with the Holy Spirit (see No. 1) and weigh each interpretation in prayer.
3. Your soul cannot be for sale at any price.
We cannot trade high character for comfortable character. We cannot trade high biblical ideals for an acceptable level of everyday hypocrisy. Our faith must have such an integrity to it that it confesses openly and readily when it fails. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). For practical application, see No. 1.
4. You have allegiance to only one kingdom.
Your allegiance to country, ethnicity, church tradition, job … even your allegiance to family … and certainly to self … must all run a distant second to your fierce patriotism in the kingdom of God. If the requirements of our other ‘kingdoms’ cause us to compromise the values and priorities of His kingdom, then we’ve got the wrong flag at the top of the flagpole. To be certain you’ve got those priorities right, see No. 1.
5. You have not learned to love until you love sacrificially outside your tribe.
Jesus called us to a truly higher love, one that reaches beyond every worldly border and division, and one that sacrifices resources, safety and reputation to care for others there. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) overlooked nationalistic and safety norms in order to spend himself on an afflicted stranger – all while the church leaders looked the other way, it should be noted. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? (Matt 5:46a,47a). This kind of love can only flow from No. 1.
6. The whole Bible counts.
We can proof-text almost any argument or doctrine. But the over-arching story of the Bible is one of love, mercy, justice, and people in bondage brought to freedom by a loving God who invites us into that same liberation work. Isolating one sin or issue or doctrinal piece, when it is dwarfed by the over-arching message of Scripture, is spiritual blindness. Faithful practice of No. 1 will affirm this.
7. To have the power, and surrender it for those without, is the way of Christ.
Jesus told Peter at Gethsemane that he could summons legions of angels to his defense, but chose not to so that he might complete his sacrificial work on the cross. Philippians reminds us that he made himself nothing, even though he was in very nature God. If you’re wealthy, or educated, or male, or white, or American, etc., then you have some social and historical advantages … and thus the opportunity to lay those down for the benefit of those who do not. (See No. 1 if you want to know how).
8. False gods wear very good disguises.
The golden calf (Exodus 32) was created by people who took God-given gifts and turned them into deities that they were never meant to be. Our own false gods may include not only wealth, comfort and entertainment, but spouses, children, leaders, church families, nation, and a myriad of cherished sacred-cow traditions. In your gratitude for good things, be certain that the good thing does not become the object of worship. (To constantly double-check, see No. 1).
9. You must desire justice for them more than comfort for you.
There are thousands of references in our Bible to caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the alien/foreigner/stranger. To not only care for them in the moment, but to stand up against systems and attitudes that oppress them, will require a devoted departure from our own sofa and convenience. It will require deep prayer, but also costly action. (Employ No. 1 regularly for confirmation).
10. The Pharisees are alive and well. Call them out.
Indignant religious rule-keepers who judge without compassion and heap burdens on others: I’ve got one of these inside me, and I’m guessing you do as well. Jesus bluntly confronted this prideful attitude constantly, and so must we. When in doubt, choose grace and mercy. For discernment, try No 1.
11. Your confession should be as passionate and plentiful as your accusation.
Does your disgust with your own sin match your disgust with how others are behaving? Let’s get serious about first taking the plank out of our own eye. You’ll need regular practice in No. 1 to actually see the planks … and deal with them.
12. Generosity is not a side order. It’s everything.
Jesus looked upon sinners (and still does) with a generous eye, forgave freely, welcomed noisy children, extended fellowship to out-of-bounds women, foreigners, adulteresses, tax collectors, and betrayers. Cynicism and stinginess are not of Christ; neither should it be characteristic of us, in anything. What you’ve been given, you’ve been given in order to give away. See No. 1 for directions in knowing how and where.
13. To presume God’s favor is to endanger it.
Christians can become almost smug about God’s favor on them. But the fact is, the Pharisees thought they had God’s favor dialed in, and Jesus warns in several places (Matthew 7:21-23, all of Matthew 25) about wrongly presuming that you’re on God’s good side. Instead, he “opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” A good place to continually humble yourself is in the practice of No. 1.
14. Evil and blindness are not the same.
On the cross, a dying Jesus spoke these words to those who were murdering him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the midst of his great affliction at their hands, he recognized them as simply blind. Those who oppose you are similarly blind (or, very possibly, you are – and need the same grace). For each of us, there is only one cure – and it can be found in No. 1.
15. God is, mysteriously, big enough.
I know that God is sovereign over all things. I know that He calls me into intimate relationship with Him and that Jesus is the eternal key to that. My soul knows these things because He speaks to me when I’m faithful to seek him. But if you ask me the mechanics of it all, the timing, the reasons that God does some of the things He does and allows what He allows, I will not pretend to have such knowledge. I know that the overwhelming spiritual mystery causes me to be dependent on his grace and revelation day-by-day. And in that hushed mystery, I must return, endlessly and joyfully, confidently and gratefully, to the sweet oasis that is No. 1.