Get free email updates as I write new articles:

Jesus Is Everything We Really Need

Jesus ReignsOur view of Jesus is usually positive, but also usually limited. We see Him as a good man, maybe even a great man, but perhaps not the Creator, Redeemer, and King that He is.

One of the characteristics of God is His self-sufficiency, which simply means that He exists independently of any of His creation. He doesn’t need anything or anyone in order to continue to be. He is complete and perfect. And Jesus, as God, is all of those things. The Bible gives us a pretty awesome picture of Him.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

– Colossians 1:15-20 (NLT)

In other words, Jesus is perfectly God, supreme over creation, Creator, Sustainer, Eternally existent, Head of the church and Reconciler. He is everything we could possibly need. He offers His love, His wisdom, His life, His call, His gifts, and His kindness to undeserving people like you and me.

Understanding life starts with knowing Jesus. It is in Him that you will find the answers you’re searching for.

Do You Know the Real Jesus?

Popular JesusOur culture is very familiar with Jesus, but often misinterprets Him and His words. Most people who have a problem with organized religion or the church in our culture don’t necessarily have a problem with Jesus because of the image that we have of Him. Typically, we see Jesus as:

  • A holy, religious leader
  • A bit of a rebel
  • Morally good
  • Spiritually wise
  • Friendly, gracious, and kind

The problem with this picture is that it is incomplete. Yes, He was a religious leader. People called Him “Rabbi.” He rebelled against the religious establishment of the times. He was morally good, spiritually wise, friendly, gracious, and kind. But…

Jesus also said some really tough, hard things. He brought…

  • Comfort to the afflicted, and
  • Affliction to the comfortable.

Jesus is mysterious and paradoxical. He’s hard to figure out. But if you want to live life to the fullest, following Him at all costs is the one and only pathway. May we discover the real Jesus more each day, like Peter:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

– Matthew 16:16 (NIV)

photo credit: RubioBuitrago

God Has Great Ambitions For You

RulesGod never peddles Christianity as a spiritual benefits package to be enjoyed without challenges or adversity. He knows we’re going to go through some hard stuff. He remembers that we are made of dust. And He is all too familiar with our sin nature and how incapable we are of achieving perfection in our own power.

But He never softens His challenge. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually lifts up the highest possible standard…

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

– Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

What a standard, right? Perfection. When we face our imperfections, Jesus is our sacrifice. When we face our inability to grow into completeness on our own, Jesus is our source of power.

Jesus came to relieve people of the legalistic burdens of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but He didn’t lower His standards. He actually raised His standard for us, but He did so with grace and with a willingness to receive, save, and empower us.

God knows your weaknesses, and in spite of them, God believes you have huge potential!

photo credit: Gord McKenna

5 Ways to Preach Like a Pharisee

Pharisees and Jesus

Photo by bbaltimore.

Many of the Pharisees were probably great teachers and skilled speakers. I’m sure many were charismatic, skilled communicators. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, on the whole, were killing the culture around them spiritually. Jesus had a lot of work to do just to unwire people from the performance-driven, legalistic trap of pharisaism.

I’ve been guilty of preaching like a Pharisee before, and as I review my sermons from the past, I cringe a bit as I peruse certain periods of my ministry when I placed undue burdens on my listeners in the name of “preaching the Word.” I’m writing out of my own past tendencies (and present tendencies I’m still trying to snuff out) as well as out of what I observe across the landscape of evangelical preaching.

The following tips will work to draw a moderate-sized crowd. A pulpit characterized by negativity and belligerence will draw a moderate-sized crowd of masochists who draw energy to go on another day by being beaten up spiritually. But it won’t make Jesus-like, craveable disciples. So use them at your own risk.

How do you preach like a Pharisee?

Preach Your Opinions Instead of the Absolute Truth of Scripture

Exalting your own opinions about extra-biblical issues as though obedience to them is equivalent to obeying Scripture is dangerous. It creates the very burdens on the backs of people that Jesus came to remove. It also hurts the trust of your hearers. Consider my hero, W. A. Criswell who once promoted segregation as a biblical mandate only to repent and change his policy later. His opinion about a cultural issue caused many to question his credibility. Thankfully, he had such a high respect for the authority of Scripture that he changed course, publicly and with apology. Besides, you’re probably wrong more than you think you are.

Promote Moralism Over Grace-based Living

Your role is to present biblical truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of your hearers with the power of God’s revelation. Your role is not to make people behave. Repentance has to do with changing the mind and belief system so that behaviors follow, but when we promote better behavior, we put the cart before the horse and fail to exalt the grace that enables us to live differently.

Make People Feel Guilty Enough to Make Short-term Commitments

Guilt is a terrible motivator. Yes, we sinners must come to grips with our sin by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring that conviction. I can get people to give more money, sign up to serve in a ministry, or go share the gospel by making them feel guilty about not giving or doing enough. Or I can empower them to give, serve, and share by inspiring them with hope. God dangles rewards in front of us in eternity as motivation for action rather than feelings of guilt over our sinful past. I owe Him everything, but He doesn’t remind me of that. He simply challenges me to go forward in hope and for the pure enjoyment of Him and His grace.

Beat People Into Skepticism

Jesus once told the Pharisees that they had a tendency to make people “twice the child of hell as they were before.” What did He mean? People had come to the Pharisees, as religious leaders, to find the ultimate fulfillment God could offer. What they received was a long list of rules that were impossible to keep. After their repeated failures, they would finally turn away in disgust and it would be a long time before they listened to another religious leader again. Sound familiar? My heart breaks for the victims of spiritually abusive churches that have little understanding or compassion for the hurts and problems of people in pain.

Dress the Part

If you wear a three-piece suit and cuff links because you’re into that sort of thing or because it appeals to the community you’re trying to reach, more power to you. But if you just like to wear the “preacher” uniform and appear lofty and ministerial, repent now. I get a bit nauseated when I see a leader who has that “preacher strut.” I won’t describe it – you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually the result of my desire to impress my peers outweighing my desire to connect with the lost. This is not a rant against “dressing up.” It’s just a warning against trying to “dress the part” of the superior religious leader.

More than ever, a skeptical, broken world needs our authentic, truth-saturated, grace-based, Spirit-filled message of the cross and the resurrection. And they need to see it embodied in our lives as much as they need to hear it proclaimed from the podium.

Let’s Fight FOR Worship!

Old PewsEverybody worships. Not everyone believes in God, or in gods, or in the God of the Bible, but everyone worships. Everybody ascribes worth to something, which is one of the basic definitions of worship.

My favorite book about worship, outside the Bible, is Warren Wiersbe’s Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground?. Wiersbe offers this concise definition of worship…

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, and body—to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.

As my favorite Worship Pastor on the planet likes to say, “worship is both revelation and response.” It’s tuning in to listen to a holy God, and it’s responding to what I hear and see. Genuine worship results in a net increase in my personal awe of God and ultimately changes my life in a way that is contagious. It makes me craveable, as Artie Davis might say.

Jesus once had an argument with a woman about worship. It’s recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter four, but the short version is that when Jesus got personal with her, she brought up an argument about the “right way” to worship as a diversion. Funny how the subject of worship often becomes the source of conflict when we’re trying to avoid the real issues of the heart. This woman’s understanding of worship was pretty normal.

  • Worship is confined to a time a place (hence, a “worship service”).
  • Worship is defined by our rituals and traditions.
  • Worship is the sum total of the goodness I offer up to God.
  • Worship is about receiving or “getting a lot out of” an experience.

Jesus challenged all of her assumptions – not with answers rooted in Jewish tradition, but answers rooted in the eternal fellowship He had enjoyed thus far with the Father. Out of that experience, Jesus revealed a different and better way to approach the subject of worship.

  • Worship should be an everywhere, all-the-time activity.
  • Worship happens in truth (the “real” world), but also in spirit (the “unseen” world).
  • Worship is the response of sinful creatures to a holy God.
  • Worship is about giving or offering up, which is far more blessed than receiving anyway.

When we fight about worship, we’re usually fighting like the woman in the argument. We’re fighting about when, where, and how. We’re arguing about externals, traditions, and preferences. When we fight for worship, we’re fighting with the heart of Jesus, who sought to establish a connection between broken humanity and a healing Creator.

John Piper is credited with saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Right now, on planet earth, there are literally billions of people who are worshipping the creature more than the Creator (see Romans 1). They don’t know the One who showed up at the well that day, and we who do know Him are responsible. The woman at the well that day, out of the overflow of her worshipful spirit, brought an entire town to meet Jesus. Once she “got it,” she fought for worship. I want to fight for it too. He’s worth it.