Tag: discipleship

When We Do More Harm

Trigger warning: This is directed to people who fall under the “Christian” label.

  • “Do you know Jesus in your life?”
  • “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
  • “Who is Jesus to you?”

At some point in our lives, we are asked a variation of those questions. Often, they are meant to initiate conversations between nonbelievers and Christ-followers. Sometimes, they are conversations between fellow Christ-followers. These dialogues can prove quite fruitful and to be sure, the conversation must start somewhere. We’ll touch on the positive interactions another time. For now, let’s talk about when Christians do more harm than good, though they mean well. It is a hard pill to swallow, but often, peoples’ issues with Christianity is not Jesus, but the people professing faith in Him.

But first, who does Jesus say He is?

  • Luke 22:70 – Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
  • John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
  • John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus didn’t- and still doesn’t- need help to tell who He is. We know he came to our mortal earth to not only take the burden of our sin by dying on the cross, but to defeat the grave three wonderful days later. Jesus is the blameless Son of the Most High God, part of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Jesus knows who He is. 

But do we? Moreover, are we confident in our knowledge of who He is? That is the personal question each person must answer for themselves. Let’s make certain assumptions about mindsets to provide a general baseline to proceed upon. To us- us being the average Christian- acceptance of the following is necessary.

  • Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Jesus is God.
  • Jesus came to die for us, to take on the mantle of sin, as payment for our sins.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.
  • Jesus rose from the grave, thereby defeating it.
  • Jesus is blameless.

Now that we have this baseline, let’s talk about a few items where many of us indicate room for improvement.

Item 1: No one’s relationship with God is more exalted than another’s.

Pride is sinful. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 16:18 also says, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” James 4:16 states, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” We Christ-followers don’t always get it right. But we all fall short of the Glory of God. All of us. If we were perfect, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down to us, endure the crucifixion, and then return from the grave. So, we all have testimonies and none of them are the same. In fiction, it’s said that there are around 7 storylines or themes that exist, and that all stories are variations of one of at least one of the 7. How many human beings are on this planet? A lot. Each of us has a story. That story transforms into testimony when we take up the battle garb that is Christ. In that each is unique, it is also the same. It is a convergence on the single doorway: Jesus.

Even after we choose to follow Him, we’re still plagued by this sinful world. We still stumble. We still doubt from time to time. We’re imperfect creatures. But within the Christian community, there are some who exalt their stories, who make their walk with God seem much more profound than those around them. They call the doubts and another person’s walk with Him immature or foolish. Have you heard or experienced something like this? Let’s look at an example.

A young woman, single mother, survivor of spousal and familial abuse, has seen her life turn around in the last year. She grew up in church, but fell away for about 5 years. A year ago, she felt God speaking in her life again. She started going to church, has gotten involved, and interacts with people about her faith with increasing frequency. One night, she has a conversation with a longtime, Conservative, female churchgoer. The older woman asks her, “Who is Jesus to you?” The younger woman answers, using her past suffering and her recommitment to reinforce that Jesus is her salvation. She does not delve as deeply into scripture, does not have verse and passage to reinforce what she’s saying. The other does not like this answer. The longtime churchgoer, thinking she is meaning well, over-saturates the conversation with items to make the younger woman’s story seem childish, not as profound as the long-time churchgoer’s because she has more questions.

Sometimes, we forget that God wants all of us in His corner. We do more damage and honor Him less by making our walk seem more righteous than someone else’s. Look, we all misinterpret the Word sometimes. And we’re all at different points on our walk. We can never learn enough from God. There will always be more He can teach us. But, some of the specifics of what each of us needs to learn aren’t the same as the next person.

Item 2: Humans are not perfect. No Christian is perfect.

Think on your experiences with church. How many of us have seen those perfect people, who always seem to serve God the best way, who never seem to struggle with their faith, who always are on their p’s and q’s? Their perfection is an illusion. And if we’re focusing on this, then our focus is on the wrong things. God is the focal point. Not the people in his congregation. Sure, we want examples of how to live a holy life.  That’s natural. But, we’re disregarding a rather important fact. If we acknowledge that no one is perfect- Jesus has been identified as the only perfect being- then, by extension, no Christian can be perfect.

Side note: In Christ, we are made perfect. I am referring to the impossibility of worldly perfection.

We can make our faith look good. Sure, we’ve seen too many television shows about makeovers to not believe this. Following God is not about making any part of ourselves look good. It’s about revering and adhering to our Lord. When we fixate on the aesthetics of our faith, we risk replacing the importance of truly humbling ourselves to Him. We also do damage to the Church because we’re magnifying our hypocrisy. What if I told you that every single one of us is a hypocrite? We want to be as like Jesus as we possibly can; yet, we constantly fall short. If we didn’t fall short, we wouldn’t need Him. We get it wrong. We say the wrong thing. We make ourselves ugly, in appearance and soul, at times.  I could go on about how this does damage to our task of seeking disciples for Jesus, but what about to those who are already part of the flock?

There are two sides to the problem. Let’s start with those who are fixating on those who seem like they’re perfect Christians. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Everyone’s backgrounds are unique to them. Sure, there are a myriad of similarities, but there are also just as many differences. That’s good. God uses all of us. He uses our unique skillsets to serve His purpose. When we fixate on those who seem to do it better, we are shifting focus from serving God and worshipping Him, to creating a sort of idol in our fellow Christian. We do not know what goes on in their head. We do not know if they are truly following Him or wearing a mask. The second side of the problem is the people who attempt the illusion of perfection. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone to not attempt to be the best version of themselves as possible. I’m merely pointing out that the illusion of perfection is not sustainable. Thousands of years later, Jesus’s perfection is still sustainable. Know why? Because it is not an illusion of perfection. It is absolute perfection. When we are more focused on how we present ourselves, we lose sight of Him. It undermines our walk with God. It undermines our ability to guide others to the flock, because we become less human and more hypocritical monsters.

So, how do we fix this? I could share verse after verse with you. Instead, just look back at who Jesus said He is. Because when it comes down to it, when we put too much of ourselves in it, to the point where others leave the Church or don’t come to Jesus, as byproducts of our own actions, we’re doing more harm to His Church.

Let’s change that. Let’s encourage each other’s walk, offering guidance where it is truly needed, and put a lot less of who we want God to be and lot more of who He tells us He is.

On Ruth: Our blessings

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Ruth 2:11

Haven’t we all asked this question- in some manner- at various points in our lives? Haven’t we regarded our circumstances with unease and skepticism? Who am I Lord? What have I done? Even, is this a trick? How about, what’s the catch? Human beings tear themselves and each other down. Accepting God’s blessings is not always easy.

Let’s look at some scripture about blessings:

  • Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it
  • Exodus 23:25 – And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water, and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.
  • Luke 6:22 – Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the son of man’s sake.

As children, we are taught that what we have is what we earn. We earn good grades by studying and investing energy in our education. We earn paychecks by showing up and completing the job we were hired to do. We earn extra credit or bonuses. But can we earn God’s blessings? The answer we came up with depends on our understandings of God.

Point 1: We do not deserve God’s blessings.

In Ruth 3:10-11, Boaz told Ruth, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.” Ruth toiled in the fields to help feed Naomi and herself. Now, if you’ll remember, Ruth was a widow from Moab who really did not have any perceived value. Even her mother-in-law had wanted Ruth to return home. Quite plainly, there was no way she could have earned the blessings she received through her own merits.

God does not create a value system for us to earn His grace. Rather, it is absolute submission and obedience to Him or we are set apart from Him (i.e. the separation of the Nonbeliever). God does not bless us because we have proven faithful. He does not reward us because we go through the Son to get to Him. Those are expectations placed on us. If we are to follow Him, the only reward- if you will- that we can expect is that our sins are no longer weighed against us because we have turned the bill over to Jesus. We do not deserve this, but have been given it all the same.

All things are meant for the glory of God. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬). We are called to love Him, to accept what He sends us, whether they be- to our estimation- trials or benefits.

Point 2: We must change our perceptions of glory.

Since we cannot earn the Lord’s blessings, why do we receive them? Surely not because of our service to Him. Surely, not because we have gifts intrinsic to ourselves. God takes care of His flock. His blessings are sometimes hard to bear. His blessings are meant to forge us into what best serves His glory. We are on this earth to make disciples, to bring more souls to His flock.

When we look at our blessings, we must alter our perception. When we think about it, we envision happy things: a raise, an unexpected bonus, a book deal… so much. These are happy things. What about the times we lose? What about the times we lose our jobs? Where we go through the suffering? When events just do not go according to how we are expecting? All things to the glory of God.

God’s blessings are more than good or bad. Let’s look back at Ruth. She toiled in the fields, going behind the reapers to pick over the leftovers. Bare scraps. She tried to take care of Naomi. She struggled to take care of a woman who would have abandoned her. But God blessed her. Ruth’s is the bloodline that lead to David. Remember whose bloodline involves David? Jesus. God blessed her. He blesses us too.

By accepting our circumstances, whether good or bad, we start to see that God works through everything. He guides our circumstances to work towards His own designs. So, it does not matter. It is not a trick. There is no catch.

The Word and Glory

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness, he called Night. And the evening and the morning was the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

There is a beginning. We are provided the story in Genesis, starting with the very first verse. There is a beginning to the world, when God spoke His creations into existence. He spoke the light into existence. He spoke plant and animal life into existence. God spoke and, suddenly, humans existed. Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he Him, male and female created he them.” Fast-forward a few thousand years to the point mankind, whom the Lord formed in His image, needed Jesus to die on the cross as payment for the terrible price of our sins. We sinful creatures that we are, murdered His son to become the greatest gift we have never- and will never- deserved. And yet, he did it willingly.

Two thousand years have passed since the death and resurrection. The Christian faith has flourished, but has it kept the Lord and His son at the forefront of our hearts and minds? As much as I’d love to say yes, I’m not so sure the modern church has. To the average nonbeliever, the larger issue seems to be that many Christians exude hypocrisy as if it were an expensive cologne. Churches preach a sanitized faith and have transformed into a comfortable social organization where people can come to get their feel-goods and hallelujahs before returning to their regular weekly programming. But didn’t Jesus die for us? And didn’t He command us to get off our butts and make disciples of all nations?

Point 1: God’s word is power.

See, John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Have we stopped listening so completely that we think it’s okay to dilute what we, as members of His flock, are called to do? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Where is the passive God who thinks His word a whimsical thing to ignore? The Lord is all-powerful. So when we are commanded to obey, why do we modify Him to suit our needs?

Because human nature is inherently sinful, natural inclination is to use our God-given gifts for our own purposes. A writer, without God at His rightful place, will often seek the elevation of his own personal status. Same for the musician. Same for the politician. Same for everyone and everything. God didn’t say we can’t- or won’t- do great things. Psalm 37:3 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” Matthew 6:1 cautions “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Point 2: Our glory is not God’s glory.

It’s easy to focus on what we contribute to the situation. We want to believe what we are good at is seen and given value by those in the world. The nonbeliever has heard Satan’s offer on the mount and foolishly taken what was offered. We build ourselves up, seeking higher station in life. Personal glory is not God’s glory. Nor is it lasting glory.

Our Lord allows for free will. We can choose to use our gifts and abilities to progress our own place. To be sure, God wants us to take care of our obligations. But we are commanded to “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9). “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). So, using our God-given free will. Who do we serve? It began with the Word, which came from and is God. Does it not make sense that it ends with Him too? Our gifts- who we are when everything falls into place- are meant to exalt his glory. We pale in the face of His majesty.

Point 3: God’s word commands obedience.

Obedience is commanded of us. There is no justifiable excuse for not serving God’s kingdom. We can do great works- we should do them!- as long as we do them in His name. Not only that, but for His name. Human beings fall horribly short of deserving God’s grace. We do. And yet, has He not offered it anyway? Has the Father not granted us forgiveness as long as we come to Him through His son Jesus Christ? How could our own choices matter in the face of that kind of love? Serving ourselves only serves to separate us from the gift that is the suffering we endure because we follow Jesus.

If God deigned to place His perfect son on a cross, how can we justify anything less than absolute faith? How can we condone anything short of total submission? How can we believe He requires less than all we have to give? How can we believe He won’t hold us accountable for seeking our own fame? We can’t. I’ll say again. We cannot.