Following Jesus. It‘s so confusing. We don‘t even really know what it means. We could sit down and make
out a bulleted list of what following Jesus means, but that really won‘t do it, will it? I think this is because
following Jesus isn‘t a business plan, a logistical graph, a mathematical equation, or a step-by-step, rung-
by-rung ascent to successful Christian living. If anything, it is a tumultuous, wild, nerve-wracking,
bewildering and unable-to-grasp storm where you don‘t know up from down. One moment you‘re here, the
next moment you‘re there. How can we really follow Jesus when it‘s not so simple as it really sounds?
How can we really follow Jesus when it‘s not as ‗neat and tidy‘ as the world makes it out to be? Can we
grasp the idea that maybe, just maybe, following Jesus is – messy?
I think of following Jesus as a journey. We can try to make a list of what it means to follow Jesus, but it
will never be complete. It will always be changing. It will be organic. Culture is changing. The world is
changing. Our psychology and sociology is changing. So following Jesus must change, too. Come up with
a list, and you‘ll be back at it a week later, deleting, adding, re:modifying. Some days we will think we
have the perfect route, and hours, days, months and even years later, we will look back and say, ―What was
I thinking?‖ And so we start over again. But isn‘t that part of the journey?
Following Jesus is a journey because it is a discovery. Sometimes we‘ll be strolling through the prairie,
under the sunshine. Other times we‘ll be hiding under a rock, trying to hide from the rain. We will grunt
and grind as we climb the mountains, our hearts will flutter as we hang one-handed from a cliff. We will
taste the sweetness of honey and berries, and also the bitterness of dust in our mouths and sand in our
shoes. Sometimes we will feel like the most blessed people on earth, sometimes like the most cursed.
Sometimes we will want to keep pushing ‗til the end. Sometimes we will want to give up.
More than once we‘ll just sit down for a day or two to relax, gather our thoughts, our strength, and then we
will continue the journey. Unexpected things come up: forks in the road, dead-end trails. Half the time we
really won‘t know where we‘re going, or if we think we know, we won‘t know if we‘re really heading in
the right direction. We will take short-cuts that end up being long-cuts; we will go down dark alleys with
thugs in the shadows; we will spend countless hours on paths that dwindle to nothing. We will find
ourselves backtracking, retracing our steps, imagining new ideas for the journey.
Following Jesus is a journey. It is a process. One day you don‘t just wake up and look at your life and say,
―Finally, I‘m a Jesus-follower!‖ The journey isn‘t the destination. The journey is what happens on your
way to your destination. The journey begins the moment you say, ―I‘m going to follow Jesus.‖ At that
moment we scan the horizon, wondering what lies beyond the mountains, we step forward, and as Sam says
in the Lord of the Rings, so we mutter to ourselves: ―I wonder what sort of tale we‘ve fallen into?‖
We‘ll never have following Jesus completely figured out. And I imagine tomorrow I will be adding,
deleting, and re:modifying. That‘s the journey, too.
THE WAY OF JESUS:
A NEW COMMUNITY AND A NEW LIFE
―The work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing
society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing, and
self-sacrificing love in rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church is not to be the bearer of
Christ‘s message, but to be the message.‖
- Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder
We sat in my living room. Three of us sat on the couch, another in the rocking chair, one on the coffee
table and another in the oversized leather chair. I sat on the brick fireplace, and my butt was starting to
hurt. Seven of us gathered together on a windswept summer day. Most of us had been together since
the morning, meeting up at the park down the street, fishing for crayfish at the creek, laughing as we
were chopped with their little pincers. We took the crayfish back to my place, pulled out a fish tank
from the attic, filled it with water, and dropped them in. We filled it to the brim and they collected on
fake rocks at the bottom of the tank. The next morning we would find them all dead; they needed to
climb on top of rocks to breathe at the surface, but we thought of them as lobsters, and so they
drowned. That startling realization waited for us as we sat down and started talking about God.
My friends are amazing. We hang out all the time, doing goofy stuff all over town, having a ball, living
life. Carpe diem is the unspoken motto for our day-to-day existence. We get out of school and try to
discover some new adventure to live, some new crook to explore, someone to prank. Doorbell ditching
friends from our community of faith is a favorite past-time. Just the other day a group of us tried to
doorbell ditch one of the leaders at the church, but he was awake; he had been sitting in his den, just
contemplating, when they came up. My friends didn‘t see him, and he watched from the darkness.
When they reached the doorway, he flipped on the light and they saw his Hulk figure glaring at them
from the room. They jumped into the car and shrieked away, petrified.
You might be wondering why I am just telling you stories. It is because life itself is a story. Every life
lived is a magnificent story, with twists and turns, plots and surprises, tragedy and comedy. The years
run like chapters in a good book, or Acts in a play. Maybe one year it‘s a comedy; the other, it‘s a
tragedy. More often than not, our stories are stories of drama. I tell stories because everyone likes
stories. We are bred in a culture that has sunk its teeth into story-telling. Story-telling is refreshing,
invigorating, revealing. I also tell stories for another reason.
Jesus was a master story-teller. Read through the Gospels. Hardly ever does he just give curt one-
sentence answers, or theological equations, or step-by-step guides to a better spirituality. Instead he
answers questions with stories, he dives into theological truths with parables. Through story-telling he
brings light to ancient and new subjects; he captures our interest and weaves in eternal and mystical
truths. Jesus knew how deep stories resonated with us. So I tell stories.
As my friends and I sat together that Thursday afternoon, a mix of guys and girls, we started with some
prayer and then led ourselves to discussion about why in the world Jesus came. At the time I didn‘t
know this particular lesson would help me grasp the eternal truths of Jesus‘ message. We asked each
other, ―Why did Jesus have to come? Really? All religious jargon aside, why did Jesus have to come;
why couldn‘t God just say the magic word and land the New Testament in our car glove boxes?‖ None
of us could answer why Jesus had to come. It is a relief to know that Jesus didn‘t even know that
(remembering his aches and groans in the Garden of Gethsemane?). But as we sat there with the sun
lowering against the woodlands down the street, we did begin to dive into why he came.
We talked about two reasons Jesus came, and I explored these two reasons in detail following the
gathering. Jesus didn‘t come to bring about a new religion. A lot of the words from his mouth and the
actions from his intent are littered with a stubborn frustration with religion. He didn‘t come to
revolutionize our world, either. If that were so, he would‘ve come loudly and obnoxiously, screaming a
message of anarchy and betrayal. His 12 Disciples would‘ve been made up of all militant Jews, not just
one (good ol‘ Simon the Zealot). Instead he came quietly and unobtrusively, more than once trying to
hide himself from the multitudes. Jesus did come to create something, something beautiful and
wonderful and inspired by the Creator – he came to create a new community.
The second reason? Ask someone on the street, ―Why did Jesus come to earth?‖ The answer you‘ll get
nine out of ten times is, ―To forgive us of our sins.‖ Guess what? Jesus never flat-out says, ―I‘ve come
to forgive you of your sins and teach you to avoid sin from now on.‖ Neither does he ever say, ―I‘ve
come to threaten you into line,‖ or ―I‘ve come to drain you with a long list of demands.‖ In John 10:10
Jesus is speaking when he bluntly says, ―I have come to bring you life, an everlasting life whose like
you‘ve never imagined!‖
A NEW COMMUNITY
We find ourselves in Acts 2. Jesus has ascended back to his Father, telling us to go out to the world in
the name of love and comfort to the lost and missing souls of God. Pentecost – a Jewish feasting
festival – has come to Jerusalem, and the 12 Disciples (Judas, who betrayed Jesus, has hung himself, to
be replaced with Matthias) find themselves eating and drinking together. They are confused and
stressed, wondering what they‘re going to do now. Obviously Jesus is God‘s Son, but he‘s not there to
guide them. In a whirlwind, the place is turned upside-down as a fierce wind blew through the room.
The candle flames bent backward, fluttered violently; some sputtered. Everything goes crazy as those
inside the room begin to speak in their native tongues! This weird phenomenon spread through the
ranks of people in Jerusalem. There were lots of foreigners in Jerusalem at the time, and when they
heard their native tongues being spoken, they were knocked over in shock; Galileans speaking the
languages from all over, speaking of God‘s mighty works. All this was happening because God had
sent the Spirit down, and the Spirit was entering the followers of God.
Some skeptics jumped the boat and said, ―This isn‘t from God! These guys are faking it! They‘re just
drunk on too much wine!‖ How a drunk person turns bilingual in seconds surprises me, but I guess it
might have been common back then. One of the apostles, our friend Peter, jumps up in Jesus‘ defense
and talks about God for a long while. He gives a long speech on how Jesus is the Son of God and all,
and when he‘s about done, lots of the people in the room asks Peter and his companions, ―So what do
we do now?‖ Peter answers, ―Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name
of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.‖ He knows what‘s going
on. ―Get out while you can, get out of this sick and stupid culture!‖
Peter says, ―Get out of this sick and stupid culture!‖ We are called to a new community. A community
where greed, lust, selfishness and getting-your-own-way are not run-of-the-mill. A community built on
love, sharing, grace, forgiveness, acceptance. A community where hope and peace aren‘t just ideals,
but ways of life.
What happens next is amazing. A church would have a heart attack if it were to happen today. 3000
people took Peter at his word, were baptized, and entered into this new community. They dedicated
themselves to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the
prayers. Now, everyone who saw this was in awe at the results of this new community. All the
believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they
owned and pooled their resources so that each person‘s need was met. In addition, they followed a
daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration,
exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. Every day this community grew larger and larger because
people on the outside liked what was going on in the inside.
Just today a friend of mine and I sat in Government class and talked about how boring church was. He
was kind of surprised, I think, that I was not too thrilled with the Sunday and Wednesday model of
church that is so prevalent. He likes to look at all the books I read (Matthew Paul Turner, John
Eldredge, Dallas Willard, Relevant YS) and we talk about spiritual stuff off-and-on here-and-there. I
told him about the New Testament model of living in community cells, of having no real ‗church,‘ but
living together, meeting together, and hanging out throughout the week. He said, ―I think I‘d like that.‖
That‘s what the people of Acts 2 were saying as the number of saved grew daily.
This is the first glimpse of the new community we get. Acts records the events and happenings of the
early, expanding community as it reached its arms all over the Middle East, into Asia, Africa, and even
into Europe and the far reaches of Britannia. Acts is to be viewed, then, as a historical record of the
first birth of a community that continues to this day. The letters of the New Testament are not written
to churches as we know them today, but to groups of believers – community cells – spread throughout
the Roman world. These letters were written to advise on the daily day-to-day life of the communities
themselves. Are you beginning to see how much community there is to Jesus‘ message, to the
Christian message? The New Testament is saturated with a call to a new community.
As I sit here at my computer listening to a U2 tribute album I‘m borrowing from a friend, I ponder,
What would real community look like in our modern world? We explore Acts 2 to get some ideas of
this pretty open-ended question. The life and breath of the community cannot be confined to black-
and-white lists of do‘s-and-don‘t‘s, so it is difficult to envision an answer. A few things stand out to
me; maybe they stand out to you.
The believers live in perfect harmony with one another. I have been in churches for a long time, and I
know this isn‘t really the case. There are some people we dislike, sometimes for no reason at all. There
are people we criticize and jump on. We are conscientious, conditional in our love, and half the time
neglectful of the needs of others in our communities. This wasn‘t as it was in the New Testament. The
believers were united in strength, in purpose, in vision. The Message of Jesus led their lives, and they
lived peacefully together. Why don‘t we find this today? I think it is because we‘ve lost the importance
of what it means to follow Jesus; I know many people who are genuine followers of Jesus, and they
love and accept everyone without hostilities. I think as we grow closer to God and become disciples of
Jesus, the community we are meant to live in develops and we discover it; one day we wake and
discover it‘s at our front door. It is because God has been wrapping the present slowly, and he sticks it
on our doorstep as we sleep. I long for a day when we are all bound without conditional love, without
favoritism, without judgment. I long for a day when we are all excited and invigorated and entrenched
in the love of God. I long for a day when we aren‘t so selfish with our money, but are more willing to
give to the needs of others, to give to those leading us in our journeys, and all are willing to take
second seat to see the Kingdom grow.
But what strikes me most about this new community is that nowhere is church mentioned. Where is
Sunday morning service talked about? Where did those 3000 people fit? The synagogue would be too
small, wouldn‘t it? They‘d have to build a big church! Certainly that would be newsworthy enough to
find a verse or two – perhaps even a passage – in the book of Acts. All through the Old Testament the
prophets and people of God are laboring to bring about the completion of the church building – but in
the New Testament this stops! That‘s because life was lived together in the mundane. Life was lived in
the workplace, the schoolyard, the kitchen tables and the front porches. Life was lived on the street,
and everyone lived together. There was no Sunday church: that didn‘t come until about 500 years after
Christians in the new community met in homes, in public places – shopping malls? – and even Paul the
Apostle, who wrote the majority of the New Testament, at one time taught in a rented-out Greek or
Roman college classroom! They met before work, after school, at meals, whenever they could. They
shared their food, their resources, their lives. They liked unselfishly, openly, living in a giving spirit.
The faith was as social as it was individual and personal.
Christians didn‘t even have a name for their community at the time. The word Christian didn‘t come
till many, many years after Acts 2, and then it was invented by a non-believer to give a name to those
who claimed to follow the Risen God-Man Jesus. Their world, their community, was much different
than the Sunday-morning and Wednesday-night church services we have all around America today. I
am an advocate of the idea that that needs to change; later I will explain what I mean. The question,
How can we live in this new community now? will be explored in the coming chapters.
Why is such community so hard to find? One of two reasons. Either a community hasn‘t discovered
the new life to be found in Jesus (and many Christians haven‘t), or sin tears it up the moment it begins
THE PROBLEM OF SIN
Sin is a touchy topic. It seems a lot of time we either like the topic too much or we try to ignore it
altogether. Both approaches are unhealthy. Sin is very real, it is very present, but it is a dead and dying
philosophy – Jesus has conquered it. Yet sin still preys on civilization, tears apart relationships, sows
seeds of distrust and discord, and hurts people over and over in more inventive and creative ways each
time. It‘s as if sin has a personality.
Sin is no black-and-white list of do‘s-and-don‘t‘s. Sometimes Christians make it out to be. ―Don‘t
dance. Don‘t smoke. Don‘t watch R-rated movies. Don‘t drink. Don‘t play cards. Don‘t have sex.‖
You know what I‘m talking about. Solomon danced; King David danced naked. How come smoking is
such a sin is overeating is not? How come we‘re allowed to watch the nightly news but R-rated movies
are deemed evil? Jesus drank all the time: why then is he not a sinner? Don‘t play cards, instead play
board games? Sex is a wonderful gift from God to be explored and discovered in marriage.
Sin is motives/actions that go against God‘s character (as shown in the life of Jesus) or hurt others
emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially or psychologically. They are motives/actions breaking the
greatest commandments, the commandments everything revolves around: love God and love others.
I heard the story of two kids who helped lead a church youth group. They started going out, and since
they were both on the praise team, they would stay later than usual to help tear-down. Since the youth
minister lived far away, he would have to leave early to go to his wife, and they would be left alone. It
wasn‘t long before they were fooling around, and eventually one night they had sex in the back of the
girl‘s car. The girl got pregnant. Their relationship broke apart. Her good relationship with Mom and
Dad crumbled; Mom was silent and Dad was cold. The youth group, shocked, were kind of turned off.
Those kids were our leaders? The boyfriend left the church in shame and didn‘t return. Lots of the kids
who had looked up to the two leaders were torn apart inside and issued with trials of faith. The youth
minister had a hard time getting everything control, and was unable to do it. Kids just stopped coming,
wondering, What’s all this about, anyway? They’re all a bunch of hypocrites. That community
snapped because of two kids‘ choice to give in to their lustful passions.
I know we all mess up. We‘re not perfect. God knows I screw up all the time. But sin is so largely
talked about throughout the Bible because of the horrible effects it has on the community. Our day-to-
day actions in our communities will either repel or attract those who are not in an intimate love affair
with God. One sin or a collection of sins can cause a communities‘ bonds to stretch and break; people
turn against people; lovers against lovers; the strength and unity and purpose crumble under the effects
of sin. Crises of faith ensue. Sin is dangerous not so much because of the effect it has on the individual
– though that is a very real danger – but because of the effect it has on the community.
We can easily see in Galatians 5:19-21 how the ‗fruits of the flesh‘ are detrimental to a community of
faith (any community at all, really): ―It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your
own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional
garbage, frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness, trinket gods, magic-show religion, paranoid
loneliness, cutthroat competition, all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants, a brutal temper, an
impotence to love or be loved, divided homes and divided lives, small-minded and lopsided pursuits,
the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival, uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions,
ugly parodies of community. I could go on.‖
We shouldn‘t spend all our time ranting on and on about sin, but we can‘t ignore it, either. Sin is
deadly because it betrays the greatest commandment: love God and love others. Sin is deadly, also,
because it destroys one of the key reasons Jesus came: the new community.
Sin also leads to destroy the second thing Jesus came after: our new life.
A NEW LIFE
We stood outside in my friend‘s garage after getting together to watch movies and eat cookies. It was
late in spring, and the sun was slow in going down. Although it was eight o‘clock, the birds still sang
and the air was still warm and sunlight filtered through the trees. The garage door was open and we
stood watching a basketball game ensuing on the driveway blacktop. My friend had been morose and
depressed all evening. I asked him why, if anything was bothering him. He told me, ―Life, man. Life
sucks. It‘s just the same thing over and over again. There‘s nothing new under the sun. What‘s the
point of going on? I know the secret of life.‖ I asked him what. ―There‘s no meaning. There‘s no
hope.‖ My friend is a follower of Jesus. It hurt me as he said this, but he is not alone. So many of us
are burdened under false ideas of what Jesus is all about. I told him, ―Life is Jesus, man. You know
that.‖ He laughed. ―It‘s all a lie, Anth. It‘s all a lie.‖
His attitude is not surprising. He isn‘t guilty of anything. Most of us are taught that life is Jesus, but we
aren‘t really taught about what that really means. Think about it. What do most people see the Gospel
as being? A sermon on how we are all horrible sinners, saved by God‘s mercy or we‘ll burn in his
wrath, and the rest is how to avoid sin. As Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy, the Gospel
has become a false gospel: a gospel of sin management. ―Sin is the problem. Jesus is the cure.‖ This
outlook is wrong.
What is the most common view of why Jesus came? A bunch of us sat outside next to a fire on the last
day of school after spring Exams. We burned all our school papers and books like To Kill a
Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. We were talking about why Jesus came. The most common idea
was, ―Jesus came so that we could be forgiven.‖ Jesus‘ sole reason for coming was to dig us out of our
own holes, give us our own shovel, and say, ―Don‘t fall in. Avoid sin the rest of your life.‖ That view
is half-right – and so it is also half-wrong.
Take a few moments and really think. What is the Good News all about? What simple message
saturates everything Jesus says and does? The message is easy to see once we remove the veil of
human doctrine and denominational interpretation: there is a better way to live. There is a better life
waiting for us if we only take it. The Sermon on the Mount all by itself is Jesus‘ exposition on what this
better life looks like (we‘ll explore this part of the Gospel of Matthew in a coming chapter…).
So why does Jesus come? Look at John 10:10 (the Message): Jesus says, ―I came so that they can have
real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.‖ One of Jesus‘ reasons for coming
was to return life to us. His own death erased our sins so that we have the chance to experience this
life. Jesus‘ death was a stepping-stone to an even better change in the human stature: we weren‘t just
fallen, pitiful human beings saved by grace, but by the resurrection, we are new creations, given new
names, a new life, and second chances. Suddenly we can live life how it was meant to be lived – full of
love and hope and peace. This life Jesus offers is absolutely wonderful, and can never be taken from us
– not matter what.
Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, ―Jesus offers himself as God‘s doorway into the life
that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in
eternal living. ‗Those who come through me will be safe,‘ he said. ‗They will go in and out and find all
they need. I have come into their world that they might have life, and life to the limit.‖
John 1:4: ―What came into existence [Jesus] was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.‖
Psalm 16:11: ―Now you‘ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face.‖
1 John 5:12: ―This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So,
whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.‖
Eternal life doesn‘t just mean life that lasts forever. It means life in all its fullness – all its greatness
and grandeur – lived forever. And we can experience this life here and now.
Let‘s jump back in time for a moment. We are somewhere else, quite where we don‘t know, except
God is there, and so is the Spirit, and so is Jesus. They are talking. We look down and see the earth
spinning about in the solar system. There are tears in God‘s eyes as he says, ―I wish they really loved
me. I wish it wasn‘t all about duty and obligation. I wish they didn‘t give sacrifices to fulfill the law
code, but out of reverent love and respect and honor.‖ The Holy Spirit and Jesus exchange glances, and
Jesus says, ―Let me go down there.‖ God eyes him: ―What? Go down there?‖ ―Let me go down there,
let me live among them. They‘ll listen if they see me. They‘ll obey out of love if they see that we
haven‘t abandoned them, that we still love them.‖ ―Sacrifices are still needed.‖ Jesus swallows. ―I can
step in. A sacrifice is needed for the forgiveness of sins; let me be the eternal sacrifice. Declare it and it
will be so! Let me go down there, love them, teach them how to live, and when I take on their sins, let
me die – and the sin die with me.‖ ―You want to forgive their sins?‖ ―Yes. But that‘s not all. Let me
die – but raise me up! You can do it! You‘re God! Raise me up! We won‘t just forgive their sins, we‘ll
give them life! We‘ll return to them! We‘ll be with them! Holy Spirit over here will flood into all who
accept me. We can give them life – a real and more better life than they ever dreamed of!‖ The Holy
Spirit is smiling. He likes the sound of that. He loves all the people so much; he‘d like to be inside
them. A smile creeps over God‘s mouth. He is seeing it now, too. ―We‘ll show them it‘s about love.
We‘ll show them it‘s about life. We‘ll show them there‘s more than the run-of-the-mill existences they
suffer through day in and day out.‖ So Jesus came.
What does this new life really look like? How is it any different from the life of those without God? A
very popular misconception is that all those who don‘t ‗have Jesus‘ are hard-hearted, lustful, vengeful,
bigoted and hateful people, depressed and sad and suffering every bend of life because they aren‘t
living with God. That‘s not true. I know of good-hearted atheists, but I know of a lot more bad-hearted
Christians. So what separates us? What brings us apart? When we refer to being separated from the rest
of the world, we imagine something bad and sinful is taken from us. Not really. Instead, something is
added. We become new creations as we cover our naked, shivering bodies with the coat of the Holy
All of Nazareth is a little wary. Mary is a little disheveled. The brothers and sisters are wondering what
he‘s up to. Jesus has been gone for forty days. James, his brother, says he saw him just walking off into
the mountains. One of his sisters says, ―He was always a little weird.‖ Another touts, ―Cousin John
eats locusts and wild honey.‖ Whisperers are going around, ―The bastard child has run off.‖ 1 People in
the village are in agreement: ―That family is messed up.‖
That evening Mary gets a telegram. Jesus is back in some towns down the road, teaching and talking
up a storm like never before. She remembers the time he debated the religious leaders in the Temple
and she shakes her head. He returns to Nazareth on the Sabbath, and joins everyone in the meeting
place for a time of worship, prayer, and reading the ancient Scriptures. It was his turn to read; one of
the leaders hands him a parchment with the prophet Isaiah‘s words on it. Jesus unrolls it. His eyes look
Don‘t forget that it was assumed Mary had been in an affair to be impregnated with Jesus. It was really
the Holy Spirit who put Jesus in her womb, but only Joseph knew this. The rest of the people thought of
Jesus as the adulterer‘s offspring, a fatherless kid, someone looked down upon.
over the crowd. Some people are sleeping. Others are staring into space. Little children laugh and play
in the background. He smiles at that. A few people wonder why he isn‘t talking. So he talks, quoting
Isaiah: ―God‘s Spirit is on me; he‘s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent
me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the battered and burdened
free, and to announce, ‗This is God‘s year to act!‘‖ It‘s not really shocking, although there‘s a little
more passion and zeal in his voice today. He rolls up the scroll, hands it to the assistant, and every eye
is on him. He locks with all those eyes, and says, ―You‘ve just heard Scripture make history. It came
true just now in this place.‖
The people, in an outrage because of the blasphemy of the commoner, drag him outside, through the
village of Nazareth, and are ready to throw him off the cliff to his death below on the rocks, but he
evades their trap and races to Capernaum, and so his first day of a three-year ministry to the lost and
missing people of God begins.
Jesus announces why he‘s come. To pardon the prisoners. Recover sight for the blind. Set the battered
and burdened free. Announce, ―This is God‘s year to act!‖ What does this mean?
He is pardoning the prisoners. We are free from duty, obligation, legalism, and the power of doctrine
and sin over our lives (freedom from sin is not freedom of sin – we will still screw up and mess up).
He is recovering sight for the blind. We see ourselves, others, God, our world, the past and future in a
He is setting the battered and burdened free. We can now freely experience love, joy, peace in our
ordinary lives. We experience our lives from the sublime to the extraordinary in a new and wonderful
Eugene Peterson captures glimpses of this new life in Galatians 5:22-25: ―But what happens when we
live God‘s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard –
things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with
things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that basic holiness permeates things and
people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to
marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about, it only gets in the
way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and
mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good – crucified.‖
Jesus is announcing that this is God‘s year to act. A new community and a new life has dawned. Jesus
is the center of the community, and the source of the life. He is the All of All and Everything. Jesus is
our Hero. He is the warrior poet bringing freedom to the slaves, sight to the blind, hope to the lost, a
life worth living. He is wonderful. He makes me smile.
Why are Christians living this life so hard to find? It is often because we have a skewed idea of what
this life really is. We‘ve turned this ‗wonderful life‘ into something not-so-exciting, something dull
and boring. We have replaced it with Bible studies and four-point sermons, making knowledge about
God the supreme dictation of our existence with God. The Pharisees of Jesus‘ time did the same thing.
Jesus is talking – well, yelling, really – with the Pharisees in John chapter 5 when he says, in verses 39
and 40, ―You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you‘ll find eternal life
there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing
right before you, and you aren‘t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.‖
The Pharisees entirely missed Jesus‘ offer of life. Their hearts were hardened by the very law designed
to bring them life. They put their hopes in rules and regulations, in knowing and doing things perfectly.
This is the root of legalism. Having squandered and ignored their souls‘ desire for a better, having
killed it off and put a mummy of duty in its place, they went on to kill their only Hope, and they did
this all in the name of doing their religious duty! Sadly, many of us are still in this mindset of duty over
desire, of rules and regulations over life. Is it ironic that Jesus – from God – didn‘t go with the rules
and regulations, but with the desire for a more meaningful and enjoyable life?
Jesus says it is possible for us to desire this new life so strongly, but at the same time be unwilling to
receive it from him. So let‘s break down everything we‘ve learned and return to the Scriptures in a new
light. The light of a God allowing his Son to come so that the Trinity can live in, live with, and interact
with us day in and day out. Let us understand that Jesus isn‘t about duty, but life; he didn‘t come just
to forgive, but to give life.
In Matthew 11:29 and 30, Jesus says, ―Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you‘ll recover your life. I‘ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and
work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won‘t la anything heavy or
ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you‘ll learn to live freely and lightly.‖ Jesus says to
come to him if we feel burned out on religion.
One of my journals sits before me now. I open it up, search through the worn pages, and discover an
entry written not too long ago: ―I experienced at Grandma and Grandpa Barnhart‘s. The world – the
laughter, the conversations, spinning irregularities of gone mad – was tightening around my throat like
an Arabian noose. My heart was choking. I felt empty, so I slipped away for ten minutes, slithered into
the woods, followed an overgrown path to a grassy clearing strewn with charcoal, burnt logs, chicken-
wire and cinder-blocks. Birds put on a show for me in the vast pine trees, and the squirrels danced in
the thorns and bristles. Pacing the clearing, I set my battered heart before God. There was no
politically-correct prayer, just an emotion of the caliber I cannot put into words. I finally cried, ―What
can I do? Help me!‖ Spiritual exhaustion sat me down on a carbonized log, and picking up a stick, I
drew it through the grass and watched squirrels jumping in the trees. It wasn‘t too long before I found
myself, whispering, ―I feel like I‘m on the edge of a lake, an ocean, and I want to jump in, but I don‘t
know how.‖ I am so weary of spiritual fix-its, how-to‘s, Increase Your Spiritual Stamina books. So
tired of three-point sermons and interactive lessons. I don‘t want to know about God; I want to know
God beautifully, intimately, adventurously. I desire to have a spiritual affair with God – divorce all
traces of legalism and modern Christianity and embrace the mystical and ancient romance of a sacred
King. I experienced God in that clearing as I walked away. Intense peace and love and adoration, the
first fringes of holy intimacy, briefly caressed my face, and a tear watered in my eye. I want to
experience God everyday. Right now, that is all I care for – have [spiritual self-help] books poisoned
I don‘t really have it all figured out. I can‘t say that I‘ve felt that communion with God full swing since
that day. Life is still hard at times, but I‘m finding my way, and it is beautiful. I am drawn closer to
closer God each day, and I feel him and see him in everything I do and everyone I see. It is a beautiful
and wonderful romance. What I write on these pages is what I have discovered at the heart of ancient
Christianity – and, I believe, at the heart of God – and it is my intense desire to share them with you.
God longs especially for those who are tired of religion, exhausted by the rigors of legalism. Jesus
spent most of his time with those who didn‘t want any part of the modern religion of the day – with the
prostitutes and foreigners and corrupt tax collectors working for foreign invaders. He spent most of his
time yelling at the spiritual giants of the day. Jesus‘ agenda is not religion, it is spiritual. His agenda
isn‘t rules and regulations – it is life. I can‘t say that enough. It‘s so important.
Jesus invites us to explore and immerse ourselves within a new community and a new life. Exploration
and discovery is needed – we develop and live life over time. We will explore what this new
community and new life looks like – and learn how to live it and love it. As I finish off this chapter,
listening to Telecast, the rain outside, and feeling my eyes burning from the smoke of cone incense, my
heart shakes with the words of Paul in his letter to the communities in Galatia (5:26): ―Since this is the
kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea
in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.‖
I‘m a fan of letting Scripture speaking for itself. God knows what he guides his followers to write. We
don‘t need thick sauces of interpretation for every minute detail of Scripture. Let the Spirit speak
through it. So that‘s what I‘m going to do. Let Paul‘s words sink into you, saturate you, and inspire
―Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just
hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail
of our lives.‖
IN A POSTMODERN WORLD
vin·tage adj. of high quality, especially from a past time period n. the date or time period when
something was originally produced or existed
faith n. reliance and trust in a person or thing
WHAT IS POST-MODERNISM?
With the offset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, the world was overcome with economics.
Businesses flourished and became the highlight of the day. This same attention to economics infiltrated the
church: the church took on the outline of a business, with the pastor being the CEO, the Board of Elders
being a committee to make all the decisions, and the members being clients to whom the church staff was
trying to sell their product, that product, obviously, being the Gospel. The rule-of-the-day became success
in your spiritual life, your marriage, your friendships; the Gospel became a do-the-right-thing, say-the-
right-thing; holy mysteries were reduced to slogans and doctrinal plans and three-point formulas. While
there isn‘t anything wrong with this modernistic style, the culture that had been birthed with the Industrial
Revolution has slowly changed into a postmodern culture. Suddenly, the modern church can‘t relate to the
new growing culture.
The postmodern culture is a culture that believes there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong; do what
you think is right, follow your feelings. Postmodern Christianity is a reaction to postmodern culture. Post-
modernism, when referred to throughout the book, refers to postmodern Christianity (or vintage-faith). The
methods, practices and aesthetics of the early church are integrated into our technologically-advanced and
changing world; we admit there is truth, but it is not a set of abstract principles or mathematical formulas,
but it – or, rather, he – is a person: Jesus, and we‘re going to explore this truth together. Post-modernism is
living life together, pursuing righteousness and life change together, living for God and living for others.
THE REEMERGENCE OF THE EARLY CHURCH
The idea of New Testament churches has become a huge hit all over the United States, flowing a lot out of
the recent burst of the postmodern movement. Some friends and I crawled into a van, started the engine,
and drove twenty minutes down the highway, singing along to 1960‘s music found on a Remember the
We really didn‘t know what to expect. I had heard so many great things about it: the pastor is an amazing
speaker, passionate about God; the worship leader is not a consumer of worship, but is consumed by
worship; the church quakes with the energy of worship every Saturday night. So in my mind I envisioned a
huge church with lots of technology and the flashiest electrical equipment and state-of-the-art stereo
systems. We pulled up, and I said, ―We‘re here early.‖ There were only fifteen or sixteen cars in the
parking lot! We got out, feeling a little awkward, and ambled our way inside.
The light was dim. No fancy PowerPoint or media shout presentations. No strobe lights. Just some
flickering candles. And there weren‘t many people. I counted only about twenty filling the seats. My friend
led worship there, and by the time we actually got seated, he was already on stage with his acoustic. My
friend and I exchanged glances, feeling more than a bit awkward, and I thought, ―What has everyone been
talking about?‖ Then it started.
There wasn‘t really anything fancy about the gathering. There weren‘t any dizzying special effects, or cozy
electric guitar solos. But I walked out of there changed, looking on things new. That night as I lay in bed, I
stared at the ceiling, the whole thing just playing over and over in my mind. The entire gathering was
different than what I was used to, because it wasn‘t staged. It wasn‘t a performance. The worship was real,
hardcore, uncut, raw and uncensored. My friend on stage poured his heart out, to the point of knee-shaking
exhaustion, just consumed by God. The speaker spoke not with eloquence, but truth and simplicity and
passion. This was different because there were no props, no fog-and-lights. It all flowed out of love and
devotion to the King.
INGREDIENTS OF CHRISTIAN GATHERINGS
The set-up for the New Testament churches popping up all over is found in the letters of the New
Testament and the book of Acts. To explore what it is really like, we have to look into the scriptures and
see it for ourselves. We can catch the first glimpses of what Christian community looks like through taking
a snapshot of their gatherings.
As we look at what early Christians said and did, I think this would be a good time for me to say me spiel
on the early church. Mom, Dad, Amanda and I were at Applebee‘s in the corner booth, and as I was eating
my delicious chicken quesadillas, somehow we got into the topic of the end of the world, and I said, ―I
don‘t think it‘s anytime soon. Actually, I think we‘re still in the age of what will be known as the early
church. I think Christianity is going to go on for a long time, even millions of years. The scriptures say that
when Jesus returns, people will be totally turned against God; we keep saying that this is the age, but the
number of people coming to put their faith in Jesus is on the upswing so much. We‘re certainly not there.
Jesus‘ message is still heard, still loved, and still listened to. People are still spiritually hungry. I don‘t think
God is coming back anytime soon.‖ That is my own opinion.
In the age of the New Testament, there were no mega-franchise churches like we see today. There was no
TBN (wow, a world without TBN), and no giant Jesus statues in front of church buildings (not that that‘s
necessarily a bad thing). The Church was not a building or an institution of man as it is understood today,
but was seen as an organic, living, pulsating and changing organism – the body of Christ. The believers met
in homes, in groups usually less than fifty people.
When the early believers gathered in homes, they read from the scriptures, sang songs, prayed, had
communion, and everybody participated. Everyone had a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a
tongue or an interpretation. All of this was done for the strengthening of the church – not strengthening in
the build-up of finances or popularity amongst the culture, but the strengthening of the street-bound
individuals making up the body of Christ.
As I read the scriptures, I find myself involved with them as I never have before. I imagine standing in
cryptic Roman buildings surrounded by draperies and flowering plants as a weather-beaten and much-
reminiscent Matthew recounts his story of Jesus to the scribes. I imagine sitting around a fire, in the middle
of the woods to avoid the Roman militia, as someone reads from a crumbling piece of parchment, a letter
from our dear friend Paul. I imagine listening to Paul‘s words in 1 Corinthians, bowing down in the
catacombs, and weeping for friends and family who have been persecuted for their love for Christ. It is in
these times that the scriptures come alive to me; it is then they mean something; it is then the living Spirit
speaks through the ancient words. I sometimes participate in what is known as Lectio divia – ―Divine
reading,‖ or ―sacred reading,‖ where I read scripture passages slowly out loud, meditate on the passage, and
pray. Reading it in these ways reminds me that Christianity is in no way a modern faith, but is ancient and
vintage to its core.
The anonymous writer of Hebrew puts it beautifully in 4:12,13: ―God means what he says. What he says
goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon‘s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or
defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God‘s Word. We can‘t get
away from it – no matter what.‖
The scriptures are the very breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16); God exalts them even beyond his own name
(Psalm 138:2)! We are to meditate on the Word of God day and night (Psalm 1:2). Why? Because it has the
ability to change lives (Romans 12:1-2), and it is living, active, powerful and piercing (Hebrews 4:12). It is
a shield, a hiding place, a light revealing direction; it brings hope, builds faith, breaks down addictions, and
is the harbinger of healing, guiding, teaching, life-giving, and truth.
We don‘t need some fresh truth or brighter understanding. Please, no more ‗big‘ or ‗revolutionary‘ ideas.
Do we really need more conventions of heretical spiritual gurus seeking out the latest trendy fashion? No,
we need to return to the old, the simple, the vintage truths of the scriptures that have been there since the
beginning. We need a biblical Christianity, not just a cultural one. Only when biblical Christianity is lived,
will cultural Christianity make the most sense.
Jesus says we are to be in the world but not of it. One extreme we all know is being isolated from the world
– cute little Christian communities isolated from everyone and everything else. There is another extreme.
So often the American church is of the world and not in it. The Church, in her desirable to be relevant, has
become popular to the masses through concession and compromise. Her cry has been, ―Away with the
songs of the blood of Jesus and the resurrection! Who cares about repentance and sin and self-sacrifice?
Why quote Jesus when we can quote Bernie Mac? And the Word of God? That‘s archaic and boring. Let‘s
replace it with nothing but feel-good stories, some fancy media and movie clips, and then we can make
cool analogies that will draw in all those crowds that don‘t usually find themselves inside a church.‖ We
dress up God to make him attractive and lovely, because we think He‘s not that way on His own. This is a
sad state of much of the church; we lock ourselves in with the culture we want to reach, and Jesus is
outside, banging on the door. I think we make him sick with our selfishness, our self-sufficiency, our
worldly ideas of how to be relevant while ignoring those ideas he set down. God‘s cause is simple, not
complex; it is beautiful in its own merit, not ours. Maybe we need to step back from trying to control
peoples‘ souls and let God and the Spirit do the wheeling-and-dealing?
It is tempting to add spins and doctrine and ideas to scripture, but let‘s just admit that scripture on its own is
relevant, not our words about God‘s Word. It is God‘s Spirit that transforms the heart of a person, and the
scriptures declare that God‘s Spirit is fully active and alive in the Message of the Bible. As the scriptures
are taught, change will happen for one reason – God‘s Word does not return void and empty-handed. By
living out what is taught and told in the scriptures, a believer can really make a difference. The scriptures
need no gimmick or pretense – just let them be as they are, simple and true.
Prayer is essential to a disciple of Jesus, even more I‘d wager than meditating on scripture and even
worship. Prayer if the lifeblood of faith. We see this more in Jesus‘ life than we do any other spiritual
discipline or practice. He was constantly speaking to God, for hours at a time; numerous times the writers
of the gospels felt compelled to record Jesus‘ wandering away from society to pray. Jesus would rise early
to pray in solitude, and spoke to God publicly many times.
So many people pray in their lifetimes, many of whom do not claim any particular religion or faith. There is
comfort in speaking to the One who created all we see and all we don‘t.
A misconception shared by many people is that prayer is a one-way thing; in reality, God desires a
conversational relationship with us. As we grow closer to God, we will hear his voice. This often happens
in solitude, where his voice is almost audible in the back of our heads; he speaks in our minds, quite unlike
our conscience, and it sends shivers down our spines. He speaks to his loved ones in many ways – through
music, books, movies, magazines, those around us, conversations, nature, even our own thought processes.
He doesn‘t just speak through faith practices (such as prayer, worship, the scriptures, etc.), and the list of
possible ways is endless.
Last summer I was going through a very rough and complex time and was searching for answers to many
of the problems hemming around me. Taking a walk through my neighborhood, in the dead of night, I just
prayed to God, and suddenly the answers came to me in my own voice, rolling off my tongue. God can
speak to us, even through our own lips. He is incredible.
What if we took prayer more seriously? What if, when we banded together, we spent time before God in
prayer? What if each of us took some time out of our day to pray, not out of routine, but passionate love?
What if, instead of praying for ourselves and our circumstances, we prayed for others and other‘s
circumstances? What if we pray others will have more influence, more talent, more than us – what might
happen? Might God see this sacrifice – we are able to go before the Creator and say anything, but instead of
looking at ourselves, we look outward to others – and answer more surely, more powerfully, more
genuinely than if it were a selfish, self-centered prayer? What if we took ten minutes a day and prayed not
for us, but for others – what would change?
Having contemplated a lot on prayer a few months ago, our gathering met and I challenged them to walk a
mile and just pray to God. It didn‘t really work out all that well. Lots of people were screwing around,
making jokes, and even bothering those who were really making an effort to speak to God and listen for
God‘s response. A friend and I were talking about it, and she said, ―I‘m going to have to say something.‖ I
said, ―Me, too.‖ What I said is written below in something I call, we need to take God seriously.
WE NEED TO TAKE GOD SERIOUSLY
We need to take God seriously.
Distant prayers, failed bouts against sin, empty and hollow spirituality all stem, I believe, from us refusing
to take God seriously. God says He will punish sin. We sin anyways. He gives us commands to follow, but
we don‘t follow them. We aren‘t thankful for what God has given us. We decide not to open our Bibles,
even though God says He will reveal Himself to us through His word. We don‘t tell our friends about the
awesome God we serve because we don‘t take God seriously. All this comes from us refusing to take God
We go to church, we say, ―When is this over?‖ We don‘t take God seriously. We sing praises to God‘s
name, but we just want to the worship songs to end, we want to sit down, our legs hurt. We don‘t take God
seriously. We hear a sermon and we think about Sunday night football and the girl in the next pew. We
don‘t take God seriously. We think about God only on Sundays and Wednesdays. We don‘t take God
seriously. We hear fear of God, and we laugh. We don‘t take God seriously.
If we really understood the Holiness, the Glory, the Might, the Love, the Wrath, the Sufficiency, the
Sovereignty of God, we would fall down in sheer terror. If we caught just a single glimpse of God, we
would cry out, ―Woe is me! I am cursed!‖ We would shake if we took God seriously. We would weep at
sin if we took God seriously; it wouldn‘t be a laughing joke.
We need to make the goal of everything we do to get closer to Jesus. Our goal in all must be to know Jesus
better, or to lead others to know Jesus better. There is no room for pride, for selfishness in the court of God.
If we give messages, write devotionals, lead small groups for any reason other than to get to know God
better or lead others to know God better, then they will be burnt up on Judgment Day. If we pray, read our
Bibles, fast, or sing praises to God for any reason other than to know Christ better, then they will be burnt
up. Our goal in everything must be to know Jesus better, and to lead others to know Jesus better. Spiritual
disciplines absent from this goal are worth dirt.
What would change if we really began to take God seriously? What would happen if we made our one and
only goal to know God better? How might God work through us? I believe God is searching for hearts who
will run passionately after Him no matter the cost – hearts whose goals are set only at knowing Him. If we
took God seriously, what would change?
If we took God more seriously, what would change in our individual lives? If our church took God more
seriously, what would change? If we took God more seriously in our youth group, what would change? If
we took God seriously, what would change in our community? In our world?
If we took God seriously, what would change?
Many times the early believers would meet and eat together. Sometimes they did meet in the Temple,
though this was usually done on special occasions – such as during feasts and festivals – and more often
done during the original ‗spreading‘ of the Message outside the Judean area. It is an interesting side-note,
too, that the speaker at the gatherings didn‘t stand at a podium, but sat in the middle of everyone, a practice
of the day found most often in the synagogue – this threw off humility and respect to those sitting around
The gatherings were flat-out, unapologetic, Christ-focused events. People have forever been spiritually
hungry – no wonder these small community cells were so popular. It gave a chance for the hungry to come,
to experience the taste of Jesus, and decide to partake in the four-course meal. Our gatherings today, too,
ought to be a place and time to connect with God, to breathe, to slow down and experience some peace as
we focus on God and lift up the name of Jesus. They need to be Christ-centered through and through. It
needs to be less about being cutting-edge and more about moving back into our spiritual center, with Jesus
as the supreme focus. This is where souls are changed and lives are altered. It is where life is found, and
real community begins to flourish. Our gatherings need to be less about mission statements and formulas
and self-help spiritual voodoo, and more bout God – the mystical, transcendent, truly spiritual God we love.
So often we leave our gatherings saying, ―I enjoyed that,‖ or ―That was a good message,‖ when we should
really be saying, ―I encountered God today,‖ or ―I became more of a disciple of Jesus today.‖ Leonard
Sweet had a very good point when he said, ―It is one thing to talk about God. It is quite another thing to
experience God.‖ We get tired of book knowledge, we get tired of spiritual clichés – ―walk the walk, talk
the talk… WWJD!‖ – and we get tired of statements and boring doctrine.
We can also far too easily fall into the trap of turning a worship gathering into a worship service. Instead of
going to give to God and give to others, we go to receive from God and receive from others. We go in to
get fed spiritual fodder, and unless we leave completely changed or smiling, we think it‘s a waste. We think
that because we didn‘t experience God during corporate worship, it was a failure. Every year we hear
stories of pastors in this service mindset going off the deep end, and we have to think, Is this why Moses
split the Red Sea and Jesus died on the cross, that we can have a tidy religion of doctrine and theology and
six-point programs and dry boring studies – I mean, Bible studies?
There are four ancient biblical words describing worship.
o Proskuneo, ―to kiss toward.‖ Primary act of worship. ―kissing toward‖ God.
o Hishahawa, ―bowing down.‖ Worship is also bowing down before God in humility, love
o Worthship, ―to attribute worth.‖ Worship is attributing worth to God.
o Latreau, ―to serve or minister.‖ Worship is a participatory action of service and
Worship is falling in love with God. It‘s getting to know Him more intimately. Worship is kissing His face.
It is bowing down, distributing worth, and serving our master. Worshipping is abandonment. It is running
to the cross and laying down our lives to die. Worship is the greatest form of communication of love
towards God. It is giving all that you are before the cross.
Our culture which thrives on the blood of consumers, often doesn‘t see a worship gathering but rather a
worship service as if they were an automobile and they were coming into the service station for their
weekly refueling and service maintenance. They go into that moment looking for what they will get or
come away with from the service. Instead we should go into a worship gathering with two thoughts in our
head: How we can bless and worship God, and how we can strengthen and encourage the body of Christ.
Worship isn‘t a program, by the way, but a holy event. It must be 100% about worshipping God when we
gather; no matter what creative for it takes, worship cannot be merely a meeting, a presentation, or a
program. We must worship, or we cheat God, and cheat those who come to our gatherings.
Dan Kimball writes, ―We cannot shortchange the reason we are gathering in worship; we also need to get
serious about God. We are seeking his presence, and we had better not take that lightly. We do need to
encounter God, to take communion, to sit in the quiet, to hear his voice.‖
Rick Warren says, ―Worship is a witness. Unbelievers can observe the joy that we feel. They can see how
we value God‘s Word and how we respond to it. They can hear how the Bible answers the problems and
questions to life. They can notice how worship encourage, strengthens, and changes us. They can sense
when God is supernaturally moving in a service, although they won‘t be able to explain it.‖
For so long we have been consumers of worship while all along we were supposed to be consumed by
worship. Worship needs to be INFECTIOUS in our lives and it needs to course through our veins to the
point where there‘s nothing we can do about it to rid it from us.
―We should be returning to a no-holds-barred approach to worship and teaching so that when we gather,
there is no doubt we are in the presence of a Holy God. I believe both believers and non-believers in this
emerging culture are hungry for this. It isn‘t about clever apologetics or careful exegetical and expository
preaching or great worship bands. It is about believers in Jesus falling to their knees in worship, truly
taking their faith seriously, and even repenting publicly in prayer. It is about the Spirit of God as an evident
participant in our midst as the Holy Scriptures are read.‖ – Dan Kimball
We need to be fixated, driven and enamored by worship. We ought to be so fatigued for worship. We
should thirst for it everyday and it ought to consume us to the point where we can‘t think about anything
else, cant sleep well, or at all. Our worship needs to be so extreme that we are physically incapable of
processing any thoughts that don‘t center around God.
Worship isn‘t just music. Its not about music. Worship is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual
outpouring of our love for God.
Worship ought not to leave us happy, but leave us emotionally, physically and spiritually drained.
Because God consumes us.
―The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience, rather than
seeking God. They look for a feelings, and if it happens, they conclude that they have worshiped. Wrong.
In fact, God often removes our feelings so we won‘t depend on them. Seeking a feeling, even the feeling of
closeness to Christ, is not worship.‖ – Rick Warren
Worship is a 2-way process. You give to God and God pours into you. Ultimate worship is lived
throughout our daily life. We talk, we relate, we sing, we write, we compose, we draw, we instruct, we
give, we encourage, we bless, we love, we live a life of worship. Authentic worship isn‘t doing it by the
book but is unquenchable, undone, undignified, unpredictable, unveiled, unstoppable, unnoticed,
unsatisfied, undivided, and unending.
I am surprised to wonder if God feels like He‘s watching re-runs of a cheesy drama or sitcom each week as
congregations gather to worship around the world. I wonder if He thinks: I am the master artist and creator
and the best that my greatest creation(man)can come up with to worship me is a few songs and a sermon.
During work, I had my eyes opened to something that had been staring me down for months. One of my
coworkers and a customer were arguing about different denominations of Christianity, arguing about which
one is right and which ones are wrong, and eventually my coworker told the customer, "If you believe that,
then you've missed the boat." Something clicked in my head, and I wanted to say, "Both of you have
missed the boat. It isn't about Lutheran, Messianic, Pentecostal; it isn't about philosophy or theology! It's
about Jesus, it's about God!"
I have always been partial to just going off the Bible, but I have come to realize that most of the Christian
denominations are just that--Christian. We are all one body, and there are real, authentic followers of Jesus
in every denomination. The difference between denominations is that they show, express their love for God
in different--not wrong--ways.
Black Gospel congregations express their love for God through intense, shouting, clapping music; snake-
handlers do it through their daring risk-taking; country churches through their simplicity; Catholics through
rituals and ceremonies; others through wearing nice clothes, pounding the Scriptures, singing loud or soft,
fast or slow.
All beautiful in God's eyes. Real expression of love--a.k.a. worship--isn't bound by a book, but is simply
true, authentic, thoughtful, and everyday--not just on Sundays or Wednesdays.
Naturalists worship God through the outdoors, nature; Sensates through all five senses; Traditionalists
through rituals, ceremonies; ascetics through practicality and simplicity; activists through helping others,
battling evil; caregivers through helping/caring for others; enthusiasts through celebration; contemplatives
through adoration; intellectuals through studying with their minds, and more. None of these ways are
wrong, and none are by-the-book; this isn't the set-in-stone list. There is no set-in-stone list.
In our gatherings – and in communities – we need to enter community, explore truth, express our faith, and
experience God. Yet in all of this we need to keep Jesus as the center. He is the Center: ―God raised [Jesus]
from the dead and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from
galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but
forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the
church.‖ – Ephesians 1:20-22
INGREDIENTS OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES
―[The first Christians] committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common
meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe – all those wonders and signs done through the
apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold
whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person‘s need was met. They followed a daily
discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and
joyful, as they praised God.‖ – Acts 2:42-47
This is one of the most brilliant snapshots we have of the original Christian community. It may seem
archaic, but it‘s the way Jesus‘ community works. This is what authentic, radical, and life-changing
community looks like.
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles – the early Christians dedicated themselves to
remembering Jesus, learning about Jesus from those closest to him, and taking to heart Jesus‘ words and
actions. Prostitutes and tax collectors were no doubt found in this bunch, craving the One who loved them,
cared for them, paid attention to them – and actually enjoyed their company and liked them. All the while
the Pharisees were working hard to spread rumors that Jesus was still dead and buried. Jesus‘ words ring in
my ears: ―Prostitutes and tax collectors are entering Heaven before the religious leaders…‖
They committed themselves to the life together – one of the main tenants of modern Christianity is that
salvation is mostly a personal thing. That‘s half right. It is very personal. But it‘s also social as well. Jesus
spent a lot of time alone, or just with his closest friends. But he spent even more time out amongst the
people he loved – the you-and-me, the common guy, the bartender and grocery worker and government
official. The newfound disciples of Jesus didn‘t just hold Jesus in their hearts – they loved Jesus with one
another, lived together in their faith, from the smallest details of life to the biggest, from the mundane to the
They committed themselves to the common meal – this goes much deeper than just eating. A lot of us
today only experience Christian community on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. In other words,
during ‗church‘ activities. The early Christians didn‘t do this. They lived their lives together 24/7. They
shared in the mundane of life – the work, the school, the playtime, the common meal. They didn‘t just hang
out when called together. They hung out even when God wasn‘t the topic of the day.
They committed themselves to prayer – the early Christians didn‘t shirk their newfound intimacy with God.
They cultivated it through prayer and spiritual disciplines (those that have helped me are found in yet
another chapter). It is easy to undermine our companionship with God, especially when time and stress, or
weariness bear down on us; business can pull us away from that intimacy, as can apathy. The early
Christians had no part of this. They were dedicated to God all the way. We need to be, too. We will look at
some of the spiritual disciplines they participated in later on in the book.
All the believers lived in a wonderful harmony – this is hard to find nowadays, let‘s just admit it. I have
seen so many rivalries between fellow Christians, so much hatred and strife. I have been a part of it must of
the time, so I know it‘s not easy to overcome. This small verse hints at something HUGE – the early
Christians experienced genuine community because they were experiencing genuine life. Only when we
really live the life Jesus came to restore to us, are we able to happily and willingly and effortlessly love
others and live in harmony with others. This verse is a testament to the fact that the early Christians
understood that Jesus‘ message wasn‘t about rules and regulations, but a new and better life.
They held everything in common – this goes along with sharing in the common meal. They lived life in the
mundane and the extraordinary; in the every-day and the special occasions. They were as connected during
those monotonous weeks following Pentecost as they were during Pentecost.
They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person‘s need was met – the needs
of those in the community were taken seriously. James, an early Christian and believer, also the brother of
Jesus, knew this very well. He writes in his letter to Christian communities, ―Anyone who sets himself up
as ‗religious‘ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real
religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless
in their plight, and guard against corruption against the godless world.‖
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple – public demonstration of their love for God was
key. When we meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, we meet for public demonstration as well, through
worship and prayer and messages, through the sharing of stories, the passing of the offering basket, and the
taking of the communion bread and juice. It shouldn‘t stop there, though. It needs to infiltrate the rest of
their meals. The early Christians believed this, as after the Temple services they didn‘t disband, but
remained together – they ate!
Every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God – the early Christians understood that
being thankful, experiencing God, and praising God doesn‘t just happen in the confines of ‗church.‘ It
doesn‘t just happen at religious festival and parties and celebrations. Thanksgiving, praise, experiencing
God is a daily thing found in the mundane. The sharing of a meal, the laughter with friends, a walk through
the woods, watching the sunrise on your way to work or school.
Early Christians lived their lives together, at school, at work, in their free time. They lived it in the
mundane, the normal, the average. They didn‘t just keep their faith to themselves, but shared it with others;
and they lived a life of love and sharing and hospitality. They shared deep conversations as well as those
littered with jokes and laughter and every-day talk. While they weren‘t absent of issues and problems,
harmony was found through working out those conflicts. And most of all, they got together, lived with each
other, lived with God, and enjoyed life.
THE CORE OF THE NEW COMMUNITY
Perhaps you‘ve just finished reading the chapter and are thinking, ―He‘s saying vintage faith is the only
way to ‗do church‘!‖ That‘s not what I am saying at all. Vintage faith simply pounces upon the ways our
early church fathers ‗did church,‘ and it reveals to us the core of the authentic, new community. The core of
the new community can be found in snake-handling churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches,
Methodist churches, seeker-sensitive, modern, post-modern churches… I hope you‘re catching my drift.
The core of the new community is love, acceptance, generosity, forgiveness, grace, and enjoying the
common life together. It is a community founded in the generosity, love, and friendship of the Creator of
A NEW WAY OF LIVING LIFE
Jesus is not someone who preaches a lot. As the tide goes, many of us, upon hearing the name of Jesus,
imagine a styled-out preacher in dust rags standing on a mountaintop, preaching a doctrine of
obedience and sound doctrine. This is not the case. Jesus actually didn‘t give a whole lot of sermons.
Instead he took his message to the streets, living it in daily actions, interchanging with people, living
life with the people he was desperately in love with. The message of Jesus doesn‘t primarily come out
of what he said, but what he did. This is why the people were completely amazed with him – unlike the
religious leaders and spiritual scholars, Jesus lived what he taught. That‘s how his message has been
handed down to us – through his daily life.
In Matthew, chapter five, Jesus begins what is known as the Beatitudes, a poetic verse Jesus created to
express the inner nature of those whose hearts are turned towards God, those who are apprenticed
disciples in the Way of the Messiah.
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who
were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he
sat down and taught his companions.
– from Matthew 5
Jesus wasn‘t speaking to the multitudes; he left the multitudes, gathered the committed disciples, and
gave this message to them alone (perhaps that is why its emphasis is in the Gospels: the disciples
remembered it vividly)2. It wasn‘t so much a sermon or lecture, but a talk Jesus had with those close
disciples; the sermon on the mount only lasts five to seven minutes, nothing like the hour-long sermons
you hear in most churches and on religious TV. And it wasn‘t a message on how to live a godly life.
This is where most people stop. The sermon on the mount is obviously about how to live in the world,
right? Guidelines to moral behavior, correct? Not really. Instead it is a revelation. Jesus is telling his
closest followers how to spot a true disciple. He continues to outline what a real follower of Jesus
looks like. There are many aspects of behavior in the sermon that can‘t be attained through simply
saying, ―I‘ll do that.‖ Most of the behaviors and thought processes included in the sermon cannot be
grasped simply by saying, ―That‘s how I‘m going to be from now on;‖ rather, these are behaviors and
thought processes that evolve over time as one grows closer to God.
No matter how many times I tried to love that high school, stereotypical jock, it never really worked
for me. I was constantly pushed around, made fun of and stuck in corners. They would gang up on me.
Really. In Junior High, one of the athletic stars out our school ran circles around me with a basketball
and everyone laughed. He just kept going. Anger broiled inside me. Jesus says to love him. How could
I? My face was burning red with a bottled mix of rage and humiliation. I didn‘t feel like offering a nice
plate of love and forgiveness. The same reaction came in freshman high school gym class. A kid hit me
with a basketball because I couldn‘t run fast enough. He was running past me and I wanted to trip him
so bad, the heat was flaring. How could I love him and forgive him at the same time? I couldn‘t just
say, ―That‘s okay.‖ It really bothered me. I fumed for days before I finally just said, ―Screw it.‖
It is not unreasonable to assume that the 12 Disciples were present at this time. The 12 Disciples were
probably hanging around Jesus long before they were officially ‗dubbed‘ – see Matthew chapter 10
Love your enemies and wish them well is an action that someone can‘t just start doing after skimming
Matthew 5. Jesus says that those who lust after a woman are no better than those sleeping in her bed. I
can‘t just turn off my hormone signals and expect to never lust again. I‘ve always had trouble with
judging others. It still haunts me today. I‘ve never been able to say, ―I‘ll stop judging.‖ It doesn‘t work
like that, although we‘d all like it to. Wouldn‘t that be so much easier?
This is how we know it isn‘t a sermon on right moral decisions, but on how to spot a true disciple. This
is a needed message, for the disciples would soon be going out to make more disciples (the Great
Commission), and they would need to know how to spot one as they traversed dangerous, uncharted
In this day and age, nothing is more confusing that what it means to really follow Jesus. We can know
what a disciple of Jesus looks like, but without God‘s help, we cannot reach that point in our lives. So
as we dive into the sermon on the mount, ask God to fan the refining fires in your life. If you see
somewhere where you don‘t match up, don‘t despair. None of this comes overnight. None of these life
changes can come overnight. It happens over time through our developing relationship with God. As
we develop in the womb, so we develop in our lives with God – when the baby is born, so we will step
into Heaven. The learning process never ends. Even the most decrepit-looking and skeletal pastors are
still learning day-by-day, still messing up and exploring open waters.
I hope you are somewhere quiet where you can lend me an ear. Imagine your feet hurt, your body
aches, your stomach is crying out in hunger. Imagine the wind against your face, the rocky earth
pressing against your sandals, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with your best friends. A small fire glows;
one man tends it with a stick, knocking about the coals and wisps of fire. It is silent. The tension is
growing. Down below, vast crowds of people are waiting to hear your friend speak. You wonder why
he isn‘t going down there. That‘s why he‘s here, isn‘t it? Your thoughts are interrupted. As he plays
with the fire, your friend begins to speak. 3
THE BEATITUDES: MATTHEW 5:3-12
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God
and his rule. – from Matthew 54
It‘s no wonder this is the first two sentences out of Jesus‘ mouth. The disciples had life pretty easy
when Jesus was still around. Sure, the guy caused some pretty rough currents with the religious
leaders, but it was really nice. They were the sidekicks of the most popular, most revered, most loved
guy in the land. It‘s like being best friends with the greatest musicians, artists and political leaders of
our day. Because he was cool, they were cool. Because he was loved, they were loved. Jesus might
have said, ―Don‘t get puffed up with the love people have for you.‖ That would‘ve been good right
then and there. It‘s something we all deal with. But Jesus instead says, ―You‘re blessed when you‘re at
the end of your rope…‖
This is a prophetic foreshadowing. Three years later, the disciples would be on a journey that would
cost most of them their lives. All of them would be persecuted. Imagine looking around the fire, at the
faces. There‘s Peter. He would be crucified upside down years after Jesus‘ own crucifixion. Philip, his
destiny was being tied to a pillar and stoned to death. Matthew – the one who wrote the Gospel of
Matthew – was arrested inside his own church, dragged outside, nailed to the ground with short spears,
and beheaded. This happened only a year after he finished writing his Gospel. Jude, a lesser-known
disciple, was attacked with sticks and clubs, beaten to death. Simon the Zealot was painfully tortured
Matthew 5:3-12 is simply Jesus forewarning his disciples before they head out on their own missionary
journeys in less than three years from the time Jesus gives this talk. The references of what a disciple of
Jesus looks like are not found until verse 13 and on, although we can catch glimpses of what a true disciple
looks like through verses 3-12 as well. Oh, by the way, this is the Beatitudes. I hope they sound familiar.
All scripture in this chapter, unless otherwise marked, is taken from Eugene Peterson‘s the Message
and crucified in either Syria or Great Britain. James was beheaded, James the Less was pushed off a
building roof and as he knelt praying on broken legs, a man ran up and killed him, swinging a stick
into his head. Andrew is stirring the dirt with his sandals; he finds himself crucified by the Romans,
and Bartholomew was beaten, crucified, and flayed; somehow he was still conscious after all of this,
and as he continued urging people to believe in Jesus and worship the true God, an axe came down and
chopped off his head. Thomas, the infamous doubter, was killed by a thrown javelin piercing his side.
John – the disciple Jesus loved the most – went through many years of suffering before finally dying in
peace. Judas hung himself in guilt after betraying Jesus and discovering Jesus would die (he didn‘t
know Jesus would be killed); when Jews cut the rope around his neck, he fell onto the rocks and his
guts splashed out. Life wasn‘t looking golden for these guys; a rough bend in the road was only a few
One of the most beloved and charmed Christian missionaries, called Paul the Apostle, didn‘t meet
Jesus while Jesus was alive. He did witness the first martyrdom, when Stephen was killed by stoning.
Paul held the stoners‘ coats as Stephen was bludgeoned to death (as I say stoners here, I don‘t mean
pot-smokers, but those who picked up rocks to kill). Later Paul would decide to follow Jesus when
Jesus came to him on the Damascus road; Paul spent three years in the wilderness learning directly
from God before going out and teaching others to follow Jesus. With God by his side, one might
expect him to have an easy life. Being the big-shot of his time, we might expect him to model the most
influential and famous preachers of our day – beautiful cars, thousand-dollar watches, million-dollar
suits, churches of gold and ivory and satin drapery. Not at all. (Paul didn‘t really have a church; for a
while he taught in a Greek or Roman college, renting out a classroom) In fact, Paul might as well have
been the most unlucky guy in the world. In the letter of 2 Corinthians, he says, speaking of himself and
the most dedicated Jesus-followers he knew:
We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not
sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually
terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.
What they did to Jesus, they do to us – trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus
did among them, he does in us – he lives!
Our work as God’s servants gets validated – or not – in the details. People are watching
us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times;
when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without
eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love;
when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our
best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and
honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by
God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but
refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet
enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
―Great,‖ you might say. ―That‘s then. This is now. We‘re not beaten or jailed anymore.‖ Maybe not
here in America, but elsewhere, the condition isn‘t better, it‘s just worse. Americans spend so much
time patronizing the government for all sorts of social problems, all kinds of inept policies, but how
many times are we thankful for the freedom to worship God, and not be fearful because of it? All
across the world, especially in 3rd world countries, Christians are continually beaten, raped, murdered,
left to die, tortured. In Communist countries, the situation is very bad. Often a father or mother is told
to either recant their faith in Jesus, or watch their children be tortured and killed. ―Great. That‘s then,
this is now,‖ is a poor excuse of an argument. That father and mother, between their tears, probably
won‘t be too energized and encouraged by such a sly excuse.
But being at the end of your rope doesn‘t just mean persecution. Jesus will address persecution later, as
you‘ll see, in greater detail. So many people are at the end of their rope in your own town, your own
neighborhood – and undoubtedly, in your own church. Perhaps you‘ve been there, or are there.
Everyone will, eventually, taste those bitter waters. Don‘t have money to pay off your debts; house
going to be mortgaged? Your friends have betrayed you? Your spouse has been unfaithful? Your
rewards and accomplishments are ignored, or worse yet, the praise is given to someone else? Are you
depressed and alone, with no one to comfort you? Do you feel abandoned by God, abandoned by
friends, abandoned by family? Are your nights spent tossing and turning, pillows wet with tears? Does
depression seem to be the rule of your life? So many of us are locked in being at the end of our rope.
We expect Jesus to come along with a bright sword and cut us free from this bondage. We expect a
card in the mail with money to pay off the debts, we expect our spouse to romantically return to us, we
expect to be surrounded by loving friends and family, we expect to be successful and without the day-
to-day problems of normal day-to-day life. We expect Jesus to say, ―Problems come only when you
turn your back on God. Follow God, and life will be peachy.‖
That‘s not what he says.
He says, ―When life sucks, when life is hard, when you don‘t want to go on, when you don‘t seem able
to go on, you‘re in the best place you could be, because this is when you turn to God, this is when you
fall in his arms. This is when he comforts you. This is when you feel his touch, see his hand, and know
– you are not alone. You are so loved.‖ Disciples don‘t enjoy troubles; but they persevere and stay
close to God, knowing that all things work out for the good of those who love Him.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be
embraced by the One most dear to you..
– from Matthew 5
Joseph – Jesus‘ father – isn‘t mentioned after Jesus‘ age around twelve or thirteen. His mother Mary is
mentioned. She is present at his own crucifixion and resurrection. His brothers and sisters are
mentioned, and one of his brothers, James, writes one of the letters found in the New Testament. But
Joseph is missing. Where has he gone? Most scholars believe Joseph probably died shortly after Jesus‘
twelve or thirteenth birthday. Jesus was not one removed from emotion; he was not a stoic creature. He
cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, he wept when one of his close friends died, and I can‘t believe
tears didn‘t crawl down his face as his father was lowered into the ground. Being the oldest son, he
would‘ve been the one to take over the masonry shop5. I can‘t believe he just walked in there, grabbed
the tools his father had worn to his grip, and began to work. I can‘t believe that he really accomplished
much that first day. I imagine he spent most of the day holed up, crying, closing shop, unable to handle
Jesus is no foreigner to losing what is dear. When Jesus said this, perhaps those friends with him
tensed, knowing Jesus‘ family history. Losing a loved one is extremely and horribly painful. But what
else can we lose what is most dear to us? We can lose jobs. If you‘re a runner and you lose your legs,
it‘s the end of your world. I love to read; if I lost my vision, I believe the rest of my life would be
miserable. How is it possible to be blessed when you lose what is so close to your heart?
The disciples and Jesus would lose a friend named Judas Iscariot. Judas is always portrayed in a bad
light, but we probably fall into temptation just as much as he did. There‘s no doubt in my mind that
many of the disciples – and even Jesus – were close friends with Judas Iscariot. We‘ve all been
betrayed by close friends at one time or another. Jesus and the disciples would suffer at Judas‘ turning,
and they would lose someone dear to them. Paul the Apostle presumably suffered a divorce from his
wife after he started following Jesus; this is seen in some of the things he‘s written, his social status,
and his age. Paul lost someone dear to him. At their moments of trial, when the disciples were about to
become martyrs, no doubt they, too, remembered these words, and felt God‘s embrace, before they lost
what was most dear to them: their own lives.
When carpentry is mentioned in relation to Jesus, the actual original language can also be read as
masonry. Jesus‘ occupation was basically one where he worked with his hands, be it carpentry or masonry.
Masonry was a big thing in Jesus‘ day, around where Jesus grew up, especially as the foreign Romans were
hiring laborers to build fancy Roman buildings.
A few years ago, a close friend betrayed me. We used to hang out and laugh and just enjoy each
others‘ company. When I learned she betrayed me, I couldn‘t handle it. I spent a week holed up in my
room, trying to understand, working to make sense of it all. She is a very good person, and she was at
the time, too, but we all make mistakes, we all say things we don‘t mean, and this time it cut through
me. I imagine she doesn‘t even remember it (we are, by the way, good friends now). I couldn‘t
understand. Some things just don‘t make sense, and they never will. On my way to school, I was
praying, praying, praying. Tears crawled down my face. That was nothing new. But this time, they
were tears of joy. I remember it vividly. The sorrow melted away and an impassable joy, a happiness, a
lightweight, carefree ecstasy came over me, and I know God‘s presence was swallowing me in his
A disciple of Jesus isn‘t deterred when pain and troubles come. He isn‘t stoic, either. He embraces the
emotions of sadness, the emotions that come when a loved one dies or when life seems to be caving in
all around him. To believe that a disciple of Jesus feels no pain, no remorse, no emotions other than
happiness and joy is a failed belief. It is, ultimately, wrong. A disciple does feel all the pain. He does
feel sadness. He feels happiness and joy, too. He just doesn‘t let the bad times swing him away from
his true passion – running after Jesus.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the
moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
– from Matthew 5
One of the deadliest poisons that can be a minister‘s downfall is pride. When you stand in front of all
those people, revered and given authority, it is quite tempting to become someone you‘re not. It is
quite tempting to smack your lips on religious lace, to throw out a fake smile and a lukewarm heart,
acting as spiritual as you can to befriend the people. Maybe your intentions are good. We can‘t look
into other peoples‘ hearts. But the result, whether the intention is for other peoples‘ good or your own
personal agenda, a downfall waits through the perilous journey of pride.
As the disciples would be embarking into a world of ministry, no doubt they, too, would be tempted to
put on a religious fashion show with their words, attitudes, smiles and actions. No doubt they would be
tempted to squander their heart, their desires, their own selves to try and convince people of the
Message of Jesus Christ. No doubt they would be tempted to look good in the name of their message
and Savior. Remember that a true disciple does not color himself to look good – he lets Jesus show
through him or her, even through the pitfalls, the mistakes, the errors and sweeps past better judgment.
All and all is our witness. Their intentions would be golden, but Jesus warns against this. If we try to
do ourselves up to look good, then we are just doing ourselves up for a fall. The entrapment of our
souls may lead to some people being receptive to the Good News, but what happens when we take a
blunder? More often than not newcomers will drift, and even the mature will deal with spiritual
burdens and breakage.
Jesus says, ―Just be yourself. Wherever you are, that‘s where your mission field is at. Whatever you‘re
like (your interests, desires, wants, personality, dreams and fears, hopes and depressions), that‘s who
you are, and that‘s who you need to be.‖ Why? Because then we discover we are proud owners of
everything that can‘t be bought. We find we are proud owners of happiness, comfort, joy and
acceptance. When we are truly ourselves, God‘s light can radiate off our faces so much better, as if our
own selves were a mirror and God was looking right at us. But if we try to ‗wear‘ our spirituality, then
the mirror is fogged and stained with dirt and mud. ―Just be who you are,‖ Jesus says.
To think that following Jesus means forsaking desire, forsaking enjoyment, and becoming a monk in a
hole, reading dusty manuscripts and reflecting on passages of Leviticus (how exciting is that?), is a
very bad misconception (or would it be a good misconception? Hmmm…). As Jesus‘ disciples, we live
out who we are. We don‘t forsake our desires, we live through them. We don‘t forsake enjoyment – we
enjoy life even more!
A disciple of Jesus doesn‘t wear spiritual clothes to make himself better heard. He doesn‘t stand on a
street corner yelling about condemnation and hell and sexuality and pornography. None of that is
Jesus. It may sound spiritual, but it‘s not at all. A disciple of Jesus doesn‘t wear a mask of piety,
doesn‘t infatuate his words with spiritual jargon for effect. A disciple of Jesus is simply himself or
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in
the best meal you’ll ever eat.
– Matthew 5
To those who haven‘t experienced God, the idea of ‗experiencing God‘ seems boring and dull. But to
those who have experienced God, in them develops a craving, a hunger, an unfathomable appetite to
hear and feel and touch the King just one more time.
One of the most amazing moments of my experiencing God came upon my second baptism. I had been
baptized as a kid, but I had backslid from the faith. While I believe baptism isn‘t essential for
salvation, I still felt the Spirit prodding me on to be baptized again. I didn‘t go to the church for
permission; I didn‘t even tell many people at once. I pulled two of my friends aside during lunch and
told them that I had to be baptized that very day; the Spirit was pressing me hard. Take a peek into my
journal that day I was baptized:
―I experienced God today down at North Park. Dylan and I wore sandals and old clothes. The water
was arctic cold, and mud caked between our toes. Leaves floated on the surface of the water; a rock fell
into the water beside a tangle of roots, and a fish darted between my toes. The water was so cold;
Dylan said, ‗You go first.‘ Tyler paced on the bank, stepping in piles of cracked autumn leaves. When
I went under, the world was gray, bleak, a blur of cracked emotions. Water rushed in my ears; Dylan
dropped me, and I fought for the surface. I broke free, water running down my face. Every nerve in my
body quivered in an electric shock, goose bumps crawled up my arms. Sunlight came through the Fall
trees, spreading a gold-orange glow in the air. The light reflected off the water as if it were a million
mirrors. The sounds of the creek roared in my ears, a heavenly chorus, and the woods came alive with
color and majesty. Hope! Peace! Joy! My Jesus, I know thou art mine… So on this day I was baptized
for the second time, and God touched me with His Spirit. Today I experienced God!‖
There are times in my life when I have really simply felt the touch of God. Even the simplest touch
leaves me breathless and craving for more. I remember a worship gathering with my church family. It
was a special worship gathering, with a few chairs here and there, a couple guitars, some bongo drums
and a drum set. Nothing really special. God swept over us like never before. No one was left
unchanged. We all just collapsed to our knees, bent over, some crying, others weeping. The air
quivered with the touch and taste of the Spirit. I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced anything like it. My
appetite strengthened that day, as I‘d tasted something even better than China Cottage (Chinese food is
This ‗good appetite‘ for God runs our lives. It ekes itself out in our studies, our jobs, with our friends
and families. We shake as we approach the Throne, but not with fear, but ecstatic joy, because we
know we are about to embrace the Lover; the Lover is reaching to the Beloved. Blessed are those with
a good appetite for God, because experiencing God has not its equal. There‘s no parallel. Nothing
comes close. Shhh. Not even sex. Did you hear that? Not even sex is better than supreme and
wonderful interaction with God. That‘s to be expected, though – loving on the one who created sex is
going to be more enjoyable than sex itself!
Discover that appetite for God, and pulsate in the presence of His being. Discover that hidden life in
God, and find your world come to life in color. The food and drink of experiencing God is
incomparable. And the dessert? Joy, happiness, peace, love, tranquility, contentment. Oh, and did we
mention being in a love affair with the Creator of the Heavens?
This appetite for God is essential nowadays, as it was essential in the very first roots of the expansion
of Jesus‘ message. What happens when we become bored and dull to God? What happens we fall into
the route of empty ritual and hollow tradition? What happens where our heart, our passion, our
enigma, zeal and energy for God dissipate? It can happen. Most of the time it happens through spiritual
apathy – ―I could pray right now, I could worship, I could enjoy life in the name of God, but instead
I‘m not going to…‖ However it happens, it can happen. And what follows? We backslide. We lose our
faith. When the appetite for God diminishes, so does the faith. We become one of those who abandons
the faith, who avoids church and spiritual talk, who looks with disdain on Christianity. We become one
of the lost, one of the missing, whom Jesus cries for and pleads to return.
An appetite for God is essential in any ministry, or it will become route tradition, route ritual, and
eventually, if given the time, it will die out – and faith will follow with it. Disciples of Jesus resent
apathy, to the point that even if the body isn‘t willing, they will still live for God, they will still run
after God – and that appetite will burn in their guts. An appetite to be completely filled in Paradise.
We‘ll share in many indescribable, delicious meals in heaven.
I really hope God and the angels serve Chinese. My stomach is growling.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Matthew 5:7, NLT
One of the most pinpointing marks of a disciple of Jesus is their forgiveness. As Jesus has forgiven
them, so they forgive others. Disciples of Jesus display mercy through their forgiveness. Jesus said, ―If
you don‘t forgive people, I won‘t forgive you.‖ He said it really well in his parable about the servants
Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him. ―Seven times?‖ he asks.
Jesus returns, ―No! Seventy times seven!‖ He meant that there is no limit to how many times we
should dole out personal forgiveness. Jesus does his usual and backs up his answer with a story: ―The
Kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way,
one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn‘t
pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children and goods, to be auctioned off at the
slave market.‖ That stinks. The story continues. ―The poor wretch threw himself at the king‘s feet and
begged, ‗Give me a chance and I‘ll pay it all back.‘ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing
the debt.‖6 It‘s okay – breathe a sigh of relief. The servant is very relieved, too. But no sooner was he
out of the throne room than he threw a fellow servant up against the wall; this servant owed him ten
dollars, and the pardoned servant screeched, ―Give me my money!‖ The servant throws himself down
and begs to be let off the hook if he‘d just be given a chance to pay it all back. ―No way!‖ So he throws
him in prison until he can pay off the debt. The other servants see this, are outraged, and tell the king.
The king orders the servant back into the throne room and hollers, ―You evil servant! I forgave your
entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn‘t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow
servant who asked for mercy?‖ The king was outraged and put the screws on the man until he could
pay back his debt.
Finishing the story, Jesus says, ―And that‘s exactly what God will do to each one of you who doesn‘t
unconditionally forgive anyone who asks for mercy.‖
We are to forgive not just because Jesus orders us to, but because it is the life Jesus models. It is in the
character and fiber of God. As our intimacy with God develops and grows stronger, we will become
more united with God, our habits will change, our personalities will become refined and sharp –
though we won‘t be robots; all genuine! – and we will begin to have a deep compassion on others; we
will be eager to show forgiveness and mercy.
This story is found in Matthew 18
But remember, mercy is not grace. A friend shows mercy when he doesn‘t hold something against his
friend. A father shows mercy when he does not punish his child for stealing the car for a night. Grace
is when the friend doesn‘t just show mercy, but also gives the friend gifts and treasures and love. The
father shows grace when he gives his child the car for his next date. It is hard for us to show mercy,
and so much harder to show grace. Yet when we do show mercy, we are blessed, for God will show us
mercy when we screw up, make mistakes, and fall short. If we don‘t show mercy, we will not be
shown mercy. God is loving, but he is also a just God.
Disciples of Jesus model Jesus as they show love, grace, and forgiveness.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then
you can see God in the outside world.
- from Matthew 5
I had returned from a youth convention where the title had been KINGDOM. The week‘s prayers, quiet
times, activities and messages had all revolved on living in God‘s kingdom in the here-and-now. As I
sat in my room, looking over all the posters on my walls, I remembered something one of the speakers
had said. He had told of how he had prayed for God to really open the eyes of his heart (remember the
song?), because he wanted to see God. God opened his eyes, but what he saw wasn‘t the beautiful sea
of angels and paradise he‘d been expecting. He broke down weeping because he suddenly saw the
confusion, the pain, the hurt and bewilderment of all those missing people wandering through the
earth, without aim or purpose. His heart broke down and he ached so bad for all those people. I, too,
wanted that, and I prayed.
Not until a few weeks later did I experience the same thing. I was upstairs in my own bedroom
worshipping when suddenly a heart-wrenching agony came over me. I thought of all the people I knew
and my eyes watered; my throat knotted. All I could see before me was them: their faces, their smiles,
their laughter. My heart burst apart in pain, because they were lost without knowing it. For a brief
moment in time I felt the sorrow and pain God goes through as he looks down on humanity.
I used to think He looked down at us with anger; now I realize He looks down with love. He wants us
so bad, but so often we refuse to come. Or we only give a fraction of ourselves. What would you think
if the girl or guy you‘re deeply in love with said, ―You can only have my upper lip?‖ I don‘t think
we‘d feel satisfied.
My heart was right that day. I saw God through those people before me. I saw his tender love and
compelling mercy. I saw – well, felt, really – the incredible heart-gutting pain he goes through every
moment in drawing others to him. For a moment my heart was right, right then and there.
Another time I was worshipping, and when I opened my eyes, the world exploded into color. It had
seemed so drab and dull before. Now it lit up like fireworks. The laughter, the smiles, the eyes of the
people. The wind through the trees, the breeze sighing and making the grass dance. Joy rippled through
me. I could see the Holy Spirit in everything, in everyone. In people. In nature. In the stars that circled
the moon. And I could feel him in my heart.
I haven‘t really looked at people the same since then; I see them as glorious, wonderful, and beautiful.
I see them as worthwhile and I want to get to know them. Every one of them, because my heart was
right, and I saw the Spirit moving in them. I‘m not so ignorant of nature anymore. Every rain, every
snow, every morning and evening, every cricket chirp and dog bark, every flutter of hummingbird
wings and the waves against the beach – the Spirit is there.
We see the world differently when our hearts and minds are put right with God. It is then that reality
shines forth. A deception is revealed; a veil is pulled off our eyes. Suddenly people are worth
something. It hurts to be mean, even if you don‘t know the person. You enjoy talking to others, you
enjoy hearing their stories. You enjoy sacrificing your time and energy for them. You enjoy quiet
walks in the rain, you enjoy the birds in spring, you appreciate the snow a little more. Even the
simplest thing as a tree invigorates beauty and creativity. This is because suddenly the Spirit is present
in our heart and minds, and is guiding us in the right direction. Over time, more things will come into
focus. It is always a learning process.
The world isn‘t the same after God gets to us. It‘s… beautiful.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
- from Matthew 5
Every church has seen it. A break-up or division in ministry because of an argument. Hot debates at the
meetings. Backstabbing and nail-biting through the pews. It‘s really terrible. It all stems from the fact
that we have a tendency to argue. We have a tendency to push our own political agenda. We have a
tendency to try to prove ourselves right. More often than not, this blows up into a heated argument.
Suddenly two or more individuals are competing or fighting. Sometimes it can start humorous but turn
The conversation was nice around the table. The ham and turkey were being passed. Smiles beaming.
Life was enjoyable. No school. No work. Then someone says something jokingly. Someone else
throws their two cents into the mix. The first person returns with humor, but the second person is a
little more stern. Now the humor is vaporizing. A few moments later and they are yelling at each other
across the table. That‘s when I walked up into the room, put my dishes in the sink, and just watched.
Someone at the table stood and stormed away, crying, all because of a simple joke blown out of the
water. All because of a futile argument.
Maybe I should‘ve stepped in there. Maybe I should‘ve been the peacemaker. Told them to settle down
and enjoy the meal. I don‘t know. Nothing is really ever black-and-white when things happen. You
always have to make up a plan and go with the flow. But I don‘t think I should‘ve just stood there and
watched it all unfold. I don‘t think I should‘ve remained silent when my own family members were
opening old wounds, breaking new ones, and causing pain and division.
I‘m not going to talk about how it‘s easy to avoid getting involved in stuff, especially when you‘re just
a bystander. We all know it‘s easy to go on our way. Sometimes it‘s even the safe thing. Yet Jesus
never called us to a safe life. If he did, the early church wouldn‘t have spread so far so fast. If he had,
then the 12 disciples would‘ve died in their beds at a ripe old age instead of experiencing their shares
of disheartening martyrdom. Jesus doesn‘t model this backing-down approach at all. Sometimes he
will walk away, but only after his point has been made. He doesn‘t rub his agenda in peoples‘ faces. In
following his example, maybe we shouldn‘t join in the argument, but make a peaceful attempt to stop
the fighting. If they don‘t listen, we can‘t help that. It‘s not our problem if they refuse to listen. But I
don‘t think staying quiet is the right way to go.
I think I should‘ve said something, very politely and peacefully. It would probably have quieted them
up. And if it didn‘t, I shouldn‘t join in with the yelling and cajoling. They would already know my
point, and I will walk away. If someone‘s about to get hurt, then that‘s another story. Step in. Lend
your hand. Don‘t take sides, just don‘t let anyone get hurt. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begged
Peter to drop his sword and end the fighting – and then He healed the wounded man‘s ear. Let‘s follow
his example. Let‘s live like he did. Living like Jesus. That‘s the foundation of following Him.
One of the core components of Christian community is harmony. Without harmony, community will
easily fall apart.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution
drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom… Count yourselves blessed every time people
throw you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means
is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable… Though they don’t
like it, I do!… All heaven applauds.
- from Matthew 5
The disciples sit upright. Life has been going pretty easy. Jesus has gone through the first several
Beatitudes and has come to the last one, and Jesus is telling them to count persecution as nothing bad,
but something good. A few chills run up the spines. The prophecy in his voice drips like venom. What
was in store? Perhaps the disciples mused on what he had said that day, contemplated it over and over,
and it came back to them more real than ever as they faced their last moments here on earth.
A disciple will be persecuted. Not in the way the 12 Disciples were persecuted, probably, at least not in
America. Persecution isn‘t just physical abuse (beatings, murder, family being killed, torture), but
that‘s what sticks in our minds. Jesus mentions several other types of persecution that will become real
to those who are really honest-to-God eager about following Jesus. He talks about people being thrown
down (physical abuse), thrown out (rejection), or lied about (a very famous one).
Not all of us have been persecuted physically for following Jesus. I never have. Thank God. I‘ve seen
some people who have been, though. Men and women without limbs, without teeth. Men and women
covered in scars, lacerations, casts and bruises from nightly beatings. I‘ve seen a child burned black as
charcoal for refusing to deny Christ – and he was still alive.
There‘s that popular story about two gunmen who enter a church. They order everyone not willing to
die for Jesus to leave the church building. Most of the church leaders remain, and a few stay in the
pews, but the rest evacuate in a frenzy. When the church hall is empty, the survivors are pale-faced and
their hearts are beating. The gunmen speak: ―Proceed with the gathering. All the hypocrites are gone.‖
Then they walk out and don‘t return. It‘s a powerful story, moving even, and I‘ve thought about it
often. But it gives off the idea that persecution is only bodily; we church-going Christians like the
phrase, ―They can harm the body, but they can‘t harm the soul.‖
Persecution in America takes on the last two types of persecution Jesus mentions: rejection and
reputation-smearing. A friend of mine was booted off her lunch table because she was a Christian. She
had to sit alone at lunch for half the year because she suffered rejection. This is persecution. One time
some friends of mine were upset because I was a Christian – they were New Age kids, I was a Jesus-
follower – so they spread rumors that I said a Jewish kid in our school was going to Hell. The school
was suffering the recent death of a beloved schoolmate – a friend of mine – and they told a bunch of
kids at school that I said he‘d gone to Hell. Reputation-smearing is a favorite. One time I was attacked
by a girl with the line, ―You think you‘re a Christian – but you‘re really not.‖ That drove deep inside
me, laid out seeds of discontent with my Christian walk that still stumble me here and there today,
even though she said it out of emotional response rather than factual evidence.
Isn‘t it funny that you don‘t ever see someone who goes to church get made fun of? It doesn‘t really
happen, at least not around me. It‘s no big deal. But people go up in arms when you‘re serious about
Jesus, when your message is life and hope and peace and love. For some reason you become public
enemy #1, and everyone is doing all they can to discredit and humiliate you. Why does this happen?
Because the truth is too close for comfort – and they are uncomfortable. Though we may not like it,
though those who persecute us don‘t like us, God likes us and blesses us through the persecution.
A true disciple of Jesus will encounter persecution, whether it be physical, rejecting, or reputation-
SALT AND LIGHT: MATTHEW 5:13-16
Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the
God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?
You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it:
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to
be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-
bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a
light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open
house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to
open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Salt and light isn‘t something you do; it‘s someone you are. Disciples of Jesus don‘t have to make
themselves salt and light. It just happens naturally. As salt, we bring flavor into the world. I think of it
this way: the world is tasteless, dry, void; we come along, and as salt, we turn the tasteless into an
explosion of flavor, the dry becomes tasty to our lips, and the void is filled with a thirst. Salt makes us
thirsty, right? We make people thirsty for what we have – real life, real community, the King of the
We are also light. The world is darkness, masked in shades of white and gray. We show up on the
scene and suddenly color erupts. It‘s Pleasantville on a spiritual scale. Suddenly people become
overjoyed, radiant, and are reflecting this color themselves. Disciples of Jesus are salt and light – we
turn this world upside-down and bring it a myriad of tastes and a rainbow of colors.
But how are we salt and light? One man once said something along the lines of, ―Share Jesus with the
world, and if you need to, use words.‖ We aren‘t salt and light through the words that come out of our
mouths, but through our actions. It is easier to say, Look after the orphans and widows, but if we don‘t
do it, we are cymbals and gongs ringing noisily in the streets. But if we do look after the orphans and
widows, and say nothing, it‘s going to have an even greater effect. The Message puts it, ―Be generous
with your lives.‖ It is the things we do that make us salt and light. But even more so, it is who we are
that makes us salt and light; another way to think about this was summed up very nicely by a close
friend of mine: ―Salt and light isn‘t so much what we do, but who we are.‖ What we do will be
determined by who we are.
Disciples of Jesus, living in the light of God and love, are salt and light through their daily actions,
from the extreme to the mundane.
I wish to speak of what the new life looks like. I wish to tell you, in poetic and riveting words, how the
new life is fashioned. Yet I cannot do this in my own words any better than God moving through the
writer of the Gospel of Matthew. In chapters 5 through 7, the Gospel of Matthew captures this new life
accurately for us. If you are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, you may skip over, but if you are
not, I would encourage you to read the powerful words. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is now a
how-to description of how to live your life, but is a revelation of what life looks like when it is founded
and revitalized in our triune God.
"Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures--either God's Law or the
Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together
in a vast panorama. 18God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at
your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working.
"Trivialize even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take
it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. 20Unless you do far
better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the
"You're familiar with the command to the ancients, "Do not murder.' 22I'm telling you that anyone
who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother "idiot!'
and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell "stupid!' at a sister and you are
on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
"This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and,
about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, 24abandon your
offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back
and work things out with God.
"Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first
move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track
record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. 26If that happens, you won't get out without a
"You know the next commandment pretty well, too: "Don't go to bed with another's spouse.' 28But
don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by
lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices--they also corrupt.
"Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here's what
you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to
choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. 30And you have to chop off your right
hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being
discarded for good in the dump.
"Remember the Scripture that says, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her
divorce papers and her legal rights'? 32Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and
whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are "legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you
divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself
that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an
adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure.
"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. 34 -36You
only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, "I'll pray for you,'
and never doing it, or saying, "God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true
by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less
true. 37Just say "yes' and "no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' 39Is that going
to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: "Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there
and take it. 40If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best
coat and make a present of it. 41And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to
practice the servant life. 42No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
"You're familiar with the old written law, "Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, "Hate
your enemy.' 44I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in
you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45for
then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He
gives his best--the sun to warm and the rain to nourish--to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the
nice and nasty. 46If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47If
you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does
"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your
God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it.
It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.
"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in
action, I'm sure--"playactors' I call them--treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage,
acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true,
but that's all they get. 3When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. 4Just do it--quietly
and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes,
helps you out.
"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people
making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play
before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to
God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and
programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8Don't fall for that
nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. 9With
a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best--
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness
from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. 15If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself
off from God's part.
"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a
production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. 17If you
"go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth,
wash your face. 18God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing;
he'll reward you well.
"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or--worse!-stolen
by burglars. 20Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. 21It's
obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up
"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body
fills up with light. 23If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you
pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!
"You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of
one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both.
"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the
table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life
than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on
your body. 26Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the
care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? 28All this time
and money wasted on fashion--do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the
fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, 29but have
you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best--dressed men and women in the country look
shabby alongside them.
"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers--most of which are never even seen--
don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 31What I'm trying to do here
is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving.
People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God
and how he works. 33Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about
missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may
or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the
"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults--unless, of course, you want the
same treatment. 2That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. 3It's easy to see a smudge on your
neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. 4Do you have the nerve to say, "Let me
wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? 5It's this whole traveling road-
show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that
ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries
to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.
"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. 8This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek
game we're in. 9If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? 10If he asks for fish, do
you scare him with a live snake on his plate? 11As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing.
You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will
be even better?
"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for
you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you
"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a
successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of
people do. 14The way to life--to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention.
"Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are
out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character.
"Knowing the correct password--saying "Master, Master,' for instance--isn't going to get you
anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience--doing what my Father wills. 22I can see it
now--at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, "Master, we preached the
Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' 23And do you
know what I am going to say? "You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves
important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'
"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to
your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words
into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. 25Rain poured down, the
river flooded, a tornado hit--but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a
stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. 27When a storm rolled in and the waves came
up, it collapsed like a house of cards."
When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like
this. 29It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying--quite a contrast to their religion
teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
As I personally explore the Beatitudes, and even the Sermon on the Mount, I do not see a list of do‘s
and don‘t‘s, but a way Jesus is telling us how life is supposed to be lived. I see examples of a life
founded in love and joy and peace and harmony; a life fashioned in generosity and thankfulness and
celebration. I see a life that is saturated with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness. This is the core of the new life: not a set of actions, but
a transformed being. So often we think we are living this new life when we go through the motions,
but that thinking is flawed. Instead we have to be thoroughly washed, cleaned, and renovated. Ezekiel
captures this perfectly:
―Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed
away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new
and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin
and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my
laws and do whatever I command.‖ – Ezekiel 35:25, 26, NLT
If you wish to know what spiritual transformation is all about, continue on to the next chapter…
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps,
you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks
in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not
surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts
abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The
explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--
throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making
courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is
building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
a desire for change
There was a time in my life when I would open the Bible and read passages where, for instance, Jesus
commands life change, and instead of feeling compelled, my spirit found itself assuaged with grief, shame,
depression, and mostly helplessness. Helplessness because I so desired to change, I really wanted to depart
from the way I was judgmental, mean and self-serving, but I didn‘t know how. I‘d read all the self-help
books, and their formula just didn‘t work: read your Bible every morning, pray for ten minutes each day,
fast on Wednesdays, attend church, and your life will fall into shape. It didn‘t. I never doubted the radical,
spiritual transformation Jesus called for was possible. Jesus wouldn‘t lie, wouldn‘t feed us crocks to make
us lose sleep after good sermons that made us weep over our own problems. Jesus isn‘t like that. So I never
imagined spiritual transformation to be impossible; it was a reality, but I felt like I was stumbling in the
darkness, groping at walls, blind to everything. In my journal I wrote, ―I feel like I am at the edge of the
ocean, just dipping my toes in the cold water, wanting to jump in, but not knowing how to move my legs.‖
A few weeks ago, several of my friends and I sat down together and were talking about how followers of
Christ are called to live their lives like Christ. One of the passages happened to be Galatians 5:19-21, where
Paul is giving the tell-tale signs of those who don‘t have any link with Christ:
―If your dark side‘s in charge, this is you: you‘re a twisted, filthy old leech, with only sex
on the brain. You waste hours on the latest craze to have seduced you, sometimes just
worthless, sometimes full-on demonic. You‘re hateful, argumentative, jealous, angry.
You‘re a drunk, a pervert, all ‗me, me, me‘. You‘re an ultra-competitive backstabber, a
stirrer, a divide-and-conquer control freak who dies inside every time someone else
makes it. Enough? I told you before, people like this aren‘t part of God‘s set-up.‖7
An indescribable silence overcame the room, and we all just kind of looked at each other with mopey
stares. Finally one of us voiced the millions of broken thoughts running through disjointed minds: ―That‘s
everyone in this room.‖ Needless to say, the situation became extremely awkward, and much time passed
before we were able to diffuse the discomfort.
Word on the Street
While his words weren‘t the most charming, my friend hit on something with those piercing words:
statistics show the majority of Christians‘ lives are no different than the lives of those who do not cling to
the Christian faith. We have been called judgmental, bigoted and brain-washing for good reason: most of us
are. Some well-meaning Christians go out, trying with all their might to fix this ‗sick, twisted view‘ of
Christianity, but their efforts only dig themselves a deeper, watery grave. Someone I know remarked off-
the-cuff, ―Christians are mean.‖ We are accused of being the world‘s class-A hypocrites, because many of
us attach our names to the King of love, joy, peace and kindness, and live lives of hatred, judgment,
condemnation, and flat-out meanness.
There is a story of a girl who would always approach a Christian class-mate when given the chance, and the
two would sit down and talk about life during free time in class. Eventually, the Christian asked her, ―I
really like you and all, and we‘re good friends, but I just want to know: how come you always made a point
to talk to me?‖
The girl, whose nicknames included slut and whore, said, ―Because you‘re the only Christian I‘ve known
who hasn‘t told me that I‘m going to hell because I get around.‖
He asked, ―Christians told you that you‘re going to hell because of what you‘re doing?‖
She said, ―How could I ever let myself get into their stuff when they treat me like this? But I heard you
were a Christian, and you didn‘t flat-out condemn me when I told you about my choice lifestyle, and I
wanted to get to know you.‖
The Christian‘s eyes flared and he said, ―I‘m so sorry for how people have treated you. It‘s horrible. They
probably think they‘re doing something great for God, something great for Jesus, but they‘re only showing
how much they don‘t know about Jesus. Why do I follow Jesus? Because I love him. Why do I love him?
Because he‘s God? That‘s the theological answer, but it doesn‘t work for me. I love him because of
something so much more. I love him because he stands for love, and compassion, and grace and forgive-
ness. I love him because he is beautiful in every aspect. He would never just tell you that you‘re going to
hell. That‘s not Jesus at all.‖
He saw the girl‘s ears tuning in, seriously interested, and he continued: ―The disciple John tells a story of a
woman who was caught sleeping around, and the religious people brought her to Jesus and said, ‗Here she
is. You know the law. We have to stone her. You okay with that?‘ Jesus isn‘t okay with it. He looks them
all in the eye and says, ‗Fine. Stone her… But let he who hasn‘t sinned throw the first stone.‘ And he knelt
down in the dirt, writing in it with his finger. I wonder what he wrote. Maybe he wrote, It’s okay, to the
woman. Or he wrote out all the different sins of the religious leaders. Or maybe he was just scribbling,
showing how nonchalant he was about it all. Who knows? But what I do know is that the religious people
left the scene. Jesus looks up to the woman and asks, ‗Where are your accusers?‘ She answers him,
‗They‘re gone.‘ Jesus didn‘t accuse her, didn‘t judge her, didn‘t condemn her. He gently tells her, perhaps
touching her face, stroking beaten cheeks, ‗They didn‘t condemn you, and neither do I. I forgive you. Now
go, and sin no more.‘‖8
The girl was smiling at the story. He said, ―You see, Jesus is loving and gracious and forgiving. It‘s really
sad how so many Christians think they‘re God‘s greatest gift to mankind, when, really, they‘re living in a
way that isn‘t even in the shadow of Christ‘s life. Gandhi said, ‗I like your Christ, but I don‘t like your
Christians. Your Christians are nothing like your Christ.‘ He‘s right.‖
This story shows how an ‗outsider‘ might look on the inside and see nothing but garbage. How an
‗outsider‘ will seek the love of Christ, and find the condemnation of Christians. Look around in most
churches and you will find modern-day Pharisees filling the pews, laughing it up, singing the songs and
drinking their coffee, oblivious to the dark path they‘re walking:
―‗You‘re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your
cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony.
Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.‘‖ 9
Having been met with the fall-out of discipleship, a consensus rings the stadium: we want to change. The
desire to really change, to become people who are radiant with God‘s love, who really mean something –
mean something that will bring difference – to this world, is deep inside us, in the core of our beings, for
those who eagerly pursue God. A friend told me as we sipped coffee in a local bookstore, ―I want to be a
good Christian. I really do. But it‘s really hard. I just don‘t know what to do.‖
Yet when asked, ―How do you want to change?‖, most of us simply don‘t know the answer. We don‘t
know how to really change, to change on the inside of the cup, so that the outside will naturally sparkle. We
don‘t really know what happens in spiritual transformation, and we don‘t even know what is being
transformed. This is the first bridge we must cross on our way to a full understanding of (and living out of)
true spiritual change.
what is changing?
It is one thing to nod your head when a preacher says, ―God calls us to change our lives!‖ It is quite another
thing to really know what that means. Some people, upon hearing the proclamation to go out and change
the way they live, imagine stamping a W.W.J.D.10 bracelet on their wrists, and trying to live life how God
would: in essence, changing the way they do things. God calls us to something so much more. He calls us
not to change what we do, but who we are. The W.W.J.D. fad has greatly diminished. Why do you think?
Because the thinking there is flawed. Changing the outside won‘t change the inside. First who we are has to
change; only then will what we do follow suit.
A few years ago I was stuck between a rock and a hard place; a career in ministry or a career in science? I
grabbed a hold of a friend on Instant Messenger, and we were chatting back and forth, and I told him, ―I
just don‘t know what to do. I don‘t really know what God wants me to do!‖ Then he said something I will
never forget: ―God doesn‘t really want you to do anything. He wants you to be somebody.‖ Those few
words can inspire countless hours of spiritual debate and dogma, but look at what my friend hit on so well:
we need to get away from the do, do, do mindset and realize that God calls us to be, be, be. Be whom? Be
ourselves; and we truly find ourselves only in taking on the character of Christ. Taking on Christ‘s
character not primarily on the outside, but on the inside. This is spiritual transformation.
So when we talk about spiritual transformation, we are not talking about doing life differently, but being
somebody different. How will we be different? When spiritual transformation takes place, there are six
realms of the human self that are revamped. These are, in brief, our body, our soul, our thoughts and
feelings, our will (our spirit and heart) and our social relations.
I could give technical explanations of those parts of the human self experiencing change, but instead we
will look at what a person with such changes actually looks like. The following expositions are composed
following the guidance of an eclectic lot of scriptures; a few of the major ones are 1 Corinthians 13,
Romans 12:1-21, Galatians 5:22-6:10, and Colossians 3:1-4:6. I encourage you to read through these if you
have the time. Now let‘s take a detailed look at what the life of a spiritually changed – a spiritually trans-
formed – person looks like:
Thought Life: those who are spiritually transformed naturally think about God – he is never out of the
mind!; they love to dwell upon God and his attributes – his power, his love, his mercy, his grace, his
wonder, etc.; they adore God in nature, in history, in his Son and in the saints; they are ―God-intoxicated‖
(Acts 2:13, Ephesians 5:18); no one has a stronger sense of reality and practicality than they do; their minds
are filled with biblical expressions of God‘s nature, his actions, and his plans for them in his world; they do
not dwell on evil – it‘s not a big thing in their thoughts – and are sure of its defeat; because their minds are
from Matthew 23, MSG
What Would Jesus Do?
transformed by God, they easily embody Philippians 4:8; they are positive, realistically so, based upon the
nature of God as they know it.
―Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on
things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious--the best, not the worst; the
beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.‖11
Feelings: these people are full of insanely deep love; they love lots of good thing and they love people,
love their life and who they are, and are thankful for their life –even though it may contain many
difficulties, persecution, even martyrdom; they receive life and all it entails as God‘s gift, or at least as his
allowance, where they will know his goodness and greatness and go on to live with him forever in paradise;
joy and peace ride shotgun even in the hardest of times – even when suffering unjustly; they are confident
and hopeful and do not indulge thoughts of rejection, failure, and hopelessness because, simply, they know
Will (spirit, heart): they really are devoted to doing what is good and right; their spirit and heart are
habitually attuned to doing good, just as the mind and emotions are honed in to God; they are attentive to
rightness, to kindness, to helpfulness, and they are purposefully knowledgeable about life, about what
people need, about how to do what is right and good in appropriate ways; wisdom sleeps in their bed; they
do not think of themselves first, do not focus on what they want, and actually they care very little about
getting their own way (Philippians 2:3,4); these are easy and good works to them; abandoned to God‘s will
and do not struggle and deliberate as to whether they will do what they know to be wrong; do not hesitate
to do what they know is right.
―Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself
aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage.
Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.‖ 12
Body: they are poised to do good without thinking; they do not automatically move into what is wrong,
even if doing good is contrary to resolves and intentions, before they can think to not do it; it is no longer
true that their ―spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak‖ (Matthew 26:41); they know this statement of Jesus is
not an irreversible condition of humanity, but a sickness to be healed, are not trapped by their past actions,
avoid paths of temptation; the bodies of these people even look differently; there is a freshness about them,
a kind of quiet strength, a transparency; rested and playful in a bodily strength that is from God; the Spirit
has brought them to life.
Social relations: they are socially transparent; because they walk in goodness, they have no use for
darkness, and achieve real contact or fellowship with others – especially other apprentices of Jesus; they do
not conceal their thoughts and feelings (nor do they impose them on everyone), and do not try to
manipulate and manage others; they do not go on the attack or on the hunt, intending to use or hurt others;
they are completely noncondemning, while at the same time they do not participate in evil – patient and
joyful nonparticipation – and do not reject or distance themselves from the people who may be involved in
evil situations; they know how to ―love the sinner and hate the sin‖ gracefully and effectively
Soul: as you come to know these people – though those who know only the human powers of the flesh will
never be able to understand them (1 Corinthians 2:14) – you see that all of the above is not just at the
surface: it is deep and it is effortless, it flows; they do not try to have a renovated being, they are a
renovated being. This is the outcome of spiritual formation in Christlikeness – not perfect, but a person
whose soul is whole: a person who, through the integrity of the law of God and the administration of the
Gospel and the Spirit, has a restored soul; every aspect of the self will function as God originally intended.
That is the keynote of spiritual transformation. Here it is once more: every aspect of the self will function as
God originally intended.
Philippians 4:8, MSG
Philippians 2:3,4, MSG
the process of spiritual transformation
We have seen the call – and the desire – for change; and we have seen what needs to change. The issue at
this point and time is, how? Really, that‘s what this entire paper is written for: so you will know how to go
about a true and rewarding life change, the kind of transformation the Creator calls for. Yet, as I have said
before, groundwork needs to be laid; a basis needs to be constructed; a foundation needs to be built. We
have seen many of the pillars of this great monument: the call, desire, and specs on what needs to change.
Finally comes the fourth pillar, on which we can build the great temple of spiritual life transformation. This
pillar is the process of spiritual transformation.
Our insides must change before our outsides change. It does not work the other way. Those who believe
that the outside must change before the inside changes are those who are always stumbling, falling, and
who harp on only two aspects of God: love and forgiveness. Thankfully, their own misunderstanding is not
costing them their very salvation. When we try to change the inside by changing the outside first, we
unknowingly drift into deadly legalism: do the right thing, say the right thing, everything will be golden
and delicious. That‘s not the way it works.
Spiritual transformation is about changing the inside. As we‘ve said before, only by changing the inside can
the outside really conform to God. Only by changing those parts of our beings found not in fingers and toes
can we discover the kind of change that reveals itself through our fingers and toes. The process of spiritual
transformation is one where we rely on God to change the inside and patiently allow the outside to mold
into God‘s own designs.
Let me ask you this: what is the most widely-believed self-help quick-jump to spiritual stamina and
success? The answers include Bible studies, going to church, Sunday morning worship, etc. I can look on
my shelf and find plenty of books telling me that if I have a thirty-minute prayer sessions before breakfast
and a little bit of the Gospel with a bagel, then my spiritual life will be on the roll. The only thing is, at least
for me, it‘s never worked that way. I have spent inexhaustible hours pouring through biblical texts, and
many times the conclusion is a weighted brain and a weary heart. I go to church all the time; admittedly,
sometimes I don‘t want to go; I‘d rather just stay in bed, watch movies, and sleep; sometimes I go home
from church emptier than when I went in. Sunday morning worship is a biggie in my life, but the times are
numerous when the words have come out of my mouth, but my heart has been simmering in a coma just
below the skin. I‘ve fallen asleep during thirty-minute morning prayers, and the bagel holds my attention
more than Leviticus.
Perhaps you are wondering where this is going. I am going to be your friendly pen heretic and say: ―Bible
studies are worthless. Going to church is worthless. Sunday morning worship is worthless… All of it is
worthless… except when seen as avenues to fellowship with God.
Friends, the core of spiritual transformation does not culminate in more Bible studies and longer prayer
times. It is all about immersing ourselves in God, bathing in his presence, and letting the soap and shampoo
of his Spirit wash over us, clean us from our filth and add a little spit-and-shine to our homely skin. True
spiritual transformation, true spiritual change – the kind that God calls for, the kind Jesus advocated – is a
change that is deeper than changing what we do, it is a change where we allow God to change who we are.
There‘s the core of it: bathe in the Spirit. This is why those ‗fruits‘ of change are called ‗fruits of the
Spirit‘: they came through being watered and nourished by the Spirit, not by our own frail human efforts
(those frail human efforts, by the way, have a nice name: legalism).
―Wow,‖ you say. ―This is cool. I let God do the transforming. Sounds easy. Okay, God, lay it on me…‖
Moments pass, and you cross your arms. ―Hmm. Nothing‘s happening…‖ Is it true that God can change us
through any way he pleases? Yes! Is it true that he can speak to us through any circumstance? Yes! Is it
true that he can invade us with his Spirit and bring about spiritual transformation in any way he desires?
Yes! Is it also possible that, while he can do all of this in any way he pleases, he has set down specific ways
in which we can approach him and experience him? Is it possible that, while all avenues can be used to
bathe in God‘s Spirit, God has designated a handful strictly for this purpose? Yes, it is possible, and I
believe with all my heart that there are avenues into the very heart of God, highways into the world of
spiritual transformation, and God has laid them out before us and said, ―Here you go. Now come!‖
These avenues have been coined through the ages as spiritual disciplines. There isn‘t a shred of validity to
any of these disciplines when they stand alone; only when approached and lived out as a means to bathe in
God‘s Spirit does God really begin to work through them and transform us. So we have seen the call,
desire, and what is being changed, not to mention the process of spiritual transformation (God is at the
helm!). So now we move on to the bulk of our exploration: what are these spiritual disciplines, and how can
we integrate them into our 21st Century lives?
the spiritual disciplines
The point of spiritual disciplines is to bring us into the throne room of God, where he can actively and
realistically mold us, shape us, conform us to his will and give us the divine power to cooperatively interact
with him inside and outside church building doors. We must keep it at the forefront of our minds that if we
use the disciplines as a quick-fix tool for spiritual stamina, they won’t help us at all. We must approach
them with the mindset of meeting God in them, and then letting him change us, not us changing ourselves.
Through spiritual disciplines we can come to really understand and experience what Jesus is talking about
when he says, ―Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will
find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.‖ 13 As God transforms
us and we are drawn more and more into his Story, we will find that Jesus‘ words are not poetic hopefuls,
but realities that can only become realized through the mysterious workings of God.
When you or I are saved for the first time 14, at that first moment we are closer to God than we have ever
been before. But after a few days, the excitement and inertia wears off. Doubt sets in. One wonders, ―What
happened? Am I not saved?‖ Meeting someone can be great. But if you just exchange names, how exciting
will it be in three days? ―Hi, Bob.‖ ―Hi, George.‖ Over and over and over. That‘s how some of us are with
God, and we complain that it isn‘t getting deeper. Of course not. George really wants to talk, but he‘s going
to let us start the first conversation. It‘s his nature. In the same way, God will meet us, but we must make a
move to get to know him more.
Salvation isn‘t a one-time thing, it‘s a day-by-day experience. It doesn‘t culminate in baptism or prayer; it
never culminates, not even when we‘re running through the golden fields of paradise.
Building a relationship takes work; we can‘t expect our relationship with God to blossom with no effort on
our part, nor can we expect it to take flight when we‘re simply content to be spoon-fed spirituality in
church or house groups. We need, first of all, to take time to get to know God better. God is a person, not a
machine – we need to treat him for who he is. A lot of us do this through devotionals or prayers or morning
But what most of us don‘t realize is that when you want to get to know someone really well, you don‘t just
have them over to your house, you go over to their house also. In this same way, we need to take up the
habits of God – we need to step into Jesus‘ house – so that our relationship can become so loving, so
intimate, so real and foundational that it surprise us how many people live in dullness and think it normal
and are content to remain that way. We will become like Jesus, if we run after him from our heart, mind
and soul, and we will experience the spiritual transformation many of us find so lacking.
Matthew 11:29,30, NLT
Salvation isn‘t a once-in-a-lifetime thing; salvation is constant, continuing, never-ending. God‘s mercy
and salvation doesn‘t ever dry up. With every breath and every heart beat, God‘s salvation becomes more
and more real to us, always present and always working. There is a moment of being saved for the first
time, but for those whose hearts are focused on God, there‘s never a moment of being saved for the last
We will now explore the ‗habits‘ of God, the spiritual disciplines, that God has laid out before us and said,
―I will meet you through these, you just have to come.‖ Most people don‘t practice all of them (I don‘t),
because it isn‘t a formula. Some will practice one or two, and experience God more and experience that life
change more than those who run the entire gauntlet. We must contemplate where God is leading us with
these spiritual disciplines and take the initiative to heed his call and meet him there.
The disciplines are:
Solitude & Meditation
Silence & Fasting
Frugality & Simplicity
Secrecy & Sacrifice
Fellowship & Confession
Submission & Study
Worship & Celebration
Service & Prayer
Quiet your mind, open your heart, and take the journey with me. I recommend not reading through all these
disciplines in one sitting, but taking time to read, contemplate, meditate, and pray.
Solitude isn‘t just about being alone. It is purposefully abstaining from interaction with other people. We
close ourselves away; we got to the ocean, the desert, the wilderness, or to the anonymity of the urban
crowd. Solitude is choosing to be completely alone, and dwelling on our experience of isolation from other
Why is this a spiritual discipline? The normal course of our day-to-day busy lives and interactions with
other people locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world set against God.
We‘ve all experienced it: spend too much time with people, and we become cranky, irritable, tired and, at
times, downright mean. Nothing but solitude can allow the development of a freedom from the ingrained
behaviors that hinder our intimacy with God. It is true: we will submerge and die with culture if we don‘t
find time for solitude.
Solitude enables us to see the things that trap, oppress and worry us. God can use this time to show us our
faults and tell us, ―Here is where you need to change…‖ When our interactions with other people are
severed, our hardwired soul cries out for companionship, and so we turn to God – and draw closer to God.
And very importantly, we really can be still, alone, and really know that Jehovah is God15. In aloneness our
focus draws to be completely transfixed on the Trinity.
―That is the only reason why I desire solitude – to be lost to all created things, to die to them and to
the knowledge of them, for they remind me of my distance from [God]: that [God is] far from them,
even though [He is] in them. [He has] made them and [His presence] sustains their being and they hide
[Him] from me. And I would live alone, and out of them.‖ - Thomas Merton
―The great holy men, where they might, fled men‘s fellowship and chose to live to God in secret
places. One said: As ofttimes as I was among men I came back less a man, that is to say less holy… If
in the beginning of thy conversation thou keep thy cell and dwell well therein it shall be to thee
afterwards as a dear and well beloved friend and most pleasant solace. In silence and quiet the devout
soul profiteth and learneth the secrets of the scriptures… Leave vain things to the vain… Shut thy door
upon thee and call to thee Jesu thy love: dwell with him in they cell for thou shalt not find elsewhere so
great peace.‖ - Thomas a Kempis
―We go more constantly and desperately to the post office, [but] the poor fellow who
walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence,
has not heard from himself this long while… read not the Times, read the Eternities!‖
- Henry David Thoreau
Thomas Watson wrote long ago:
The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts
are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the
contemplation of God. ―When I awake, I am still with thee‖ (Ps. 139:18). The thoughts
are as travelers in the mind. David‘s thoughts kept heaven-road, ―I am still with Thee.‖
God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our
love to God. What are our thoughts upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when
we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate
Chris and glory? Oh, how far are they from being lovers of God, who scarcely ever think
of God! ―God is not in all his thoughts: (Ps. 10:4). A sinner crowds God out of his
thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the
Meditation is bringing the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word, and this
will have the effect of God bathing us in his Spirit, and we will come to love God more passionately; this
love, in turn, will bring us to think of God steadily.
There are two different kinds of meditation: I call them ‗full-time‘ and ‗part-time.‘ Full-time is dwelling on
God throughout the day, thinking on him, relishing him, examining and exploring and discovering him as
we eat, sleep, play, work and learn. Part-time is setting aside a specific time for deeper, more intimate
meditation: focusing intently on God, ridding the mind of all other thoughts; often the one meditating will
focus on an idea or object, or on their breathing; in this spirit of meditation and contemplation, God will
reach into us and speak to us.
Meditation can also take the form of memorizing scripture, or memorizing biblical concepts (often,
memorizing individual verses is not as sustaining as understanding the biblical concepts, such as faith, love,
wisdom and suffering). In Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1 we are shown the precious blessing of knowing God‘s
Word. We will come to know peace, and when deflections in life come, our minds will automatically
re:center on God just as the needle of a compass returns north.
In the revelation, we are given a glimpse at the inner workings of a heart fully renovated by God, a heart
that is transformed through spiritual disciplines, including meditation:
The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing…
To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age. 17
The one who meditates on God will come to know in a very real and unique way the worth, the power, the
wisdom, strength, glory and blessing of God, and his or her heart will sing out in a loud voice, wherever
and whenever they are, a hymn and psalm: ―All glory, all honor, all strength to you, O Lord!‖
All Things for Good, 1663
Revelation 5:12,13, MSG
―Be still, and know that I am God…‖ - Psalm 46:10, NKJV
―For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: "In returning and rest you shall be
saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.‘‖ - Isaiah 30:15
How few of us live with a quiet, inner peace. The world weighs down all around us, and we feel it choking
us, suffocating us to the point of fatal exhaustion. When we wake in the morning, demands are shoved
down our throat. We toss and turn at night, heads filled with knowledge that tomorrow‘s harvest is no
better; minds laden with the mistakes of the day, the problems and circumstances to be fixed and avoided.
So little of us have this quiet, inner peace; peace is a foreign word with vague meaning. Yet we know we
desire it. This peace, this comfort, this calmness is in our grasp; it can be touched; the grace of God sustains
us, fills us with joy and peace, and the door is often the discipline of silence. The harvest will turn colors
once we step through that door, and we will be able to direct others to the entryway. We can find
confidence, reassurance, approval, peace.
Silence is when we close off our souls, our very being, from the ‗noise‘ that surrounds us on a constant
day-to-day basis – the noise of music, words, sounds, the street, friends and even family. Today this is very
hard – true silence is extremely rare. There are people who have never ‗heard‘ true silence, and don‘t even
really know what true silence is!
Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the grim realities of our
life. A great fear is that in this so-called quiet time, what happens if there seems to be very little of ―just us
and God‖? What does it say about the inward emptiness of our lives if we must always turn on the tape
player or radio or must always ‗feel‘ or ‗experience‘ God to make sure something is happening in our
Sound has an interesting trademark – it always strikes deep and brooding in our souls. So for the sake of
our souls, we must seek times to leave our television, radio, tape players, and telephones turned off. We
need to seek time to close off street noises as much as possible, try to find how quiet we can make our
world by our own hands.
Silence is no different from all the other disciplines in one aspect – it must be approached prayerfully and
experimentally. Have confidence: God has its right uses for you! Silence is a powerful and essential
discipline, because it is silence alone that will allow us life-transforming concentration on the Creator of the
Cosmos. It is in the silence where we can hear his voice.
―The more I practice this discipline, the more I appreciate the strength of silence. The less
I become skeptical and judgmental, the more I learn to accept the things I don‘t like about
others, the more I accept them as uniquely created in the image of God. The less I talk,
the fuller are words spoken at an appropriate time. The more I value others, the more I
serve them in small ways, the more I enjoy and celebrate my life. The more I celebrate,
the more I realize that God has been giving me wonderful things in my life, the less I
worry about my future. I will accept and enjoy what God is continuously giving to me. I
think I am beginning to really enjoy God.‖
Another aspect of silence that is hardly considered is speaking up when you selfishly want to be quiet, and
not saying anything when you selfishly want to speak up.
―It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of
the mouth of God.‖ - Jesus, Matthew 4:4, KJV
Fasting is no more than abstaining from food and maybe drink, too. It teaches us a lot about ourselves
pretty quickly, and can prove humiliating to us, as it reveals to us how much our peace depends upon the
pleasures of eating. It will show us how we use eating to assuage the discomforts in our bodies and minds
often caused by unwise and faithless living and attitudes – attitudes of lacking self-worth, meaningless
work, purposeless exercise, a lack of rest or exercise. Fasting brings out our true colors – our despairs,
hurts, angers and heartaches, fears and sin; it will break idolatry. Fasting teaches temperance and self-
control, therefore also throwing at us moderation and restraint with regard to all our fundamental drives.
Fasting is a practice of self-denial that ought to be practiced by all Christians; for those who take this bull
by the horns, theirs is a clear and present source of the love and resourcefulness of God.
How does one go about fasting? After all, there isn‘t one dead-set way. The desert fathers such as St.
Antony often went long periods of time on just bread and water. Daniel and his friends would not eat the
King‘s meat or drink his wine; they had vegetables and water only. So we see that fasting can take on many
forms. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, fasting till the day temptation came at dawn.
Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food.
This is the bottom line of fasting: we taste the real Bread of Life and drink the Living Water. Through
fasting we come to terms with the fact that God‘s word to us is a life sustenance that is not food alone that
gives life, but also the words that proceed from the mouth of God. We discover this real meat we have, this
meat the world doesn‘t know about – fasting becomes a feast; a feast on Jesus and doing Jesus‘ will!
For so long I thought that Jesus‘ reference to outside appearances in the following Scripture, Matthew 6:16-
18, meant that fasting was a horrible and painful thing, and to reap the glory and rewards, we had to keep it
a secret. What do you think it really means?
"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and
disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only
reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then
no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in
secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.‖ - Matthew 6:16-18,
No, he is not telling us to mislead those around us while we fast. He is instead explaining how we will feel
– we won‘t be sad! After all, aren‘t we discovering that life is so much better than meat? Our belly is not
our god, as others find it to be; we are not enslaved by our appetites and insatiable passion, but are reigned
to the cross of Christ. Our belly becomes a joyful servant of us and of God:
―You say, ‗Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.‘ This is true, though
someday God will do away with both of them. But our bodies were not made for sexual
immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.‖ - 1
Corinthians 6:13, NLT
The Christian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay writes:
―I drank every vine.
The last was like the first.
I came upon no wine
So wonderful as thirst.
I gnawed at every root.
I ate of every plant.
I came upon no fruit
So wonderful as want.
Feed the grape and the beam
To the vintner and the monger;
I will lie down lead
With my thirst and my hunger.‖
Frugality just means abstaining from using money or goods at our disposal in ways that merely gratify our
desires or our hunger for status, glamour, or luxury. We stay within the bounds of what general good
judgment would designate as necessary for the kind of life to which God has led us. So how does one go
―And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You'll need buckets for the
tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy
luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up
wealth. What you've piled up is judgment. All the workers you've exploited and cheated cry out for
judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger.
You've looted the earth and lived it up. But all you'll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse.‖
- James 5:1-5, the Message
―I say it again--it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich
person to enter the Kingdom of God!" - Matthew 19:24, NLT
These warnings against the rich aren‘t stereotypical; if you‘re rich, you‘re not automatically condemned
to Hell. If you‘re wealthy because of the lottery, or a successful business partner who‘s moved up in the
cash flow, you‘re not cut off from God. The warning is against the rich who have hoarded their money,
neglecting those in need, being selfish and conceited, frivolous to the point of their own destruction.
Frivolous consumption corrupts the soul away from trusting, worshipping, and service to God, and affects
our ‗neighbors‘ – humans throughout the world – as well.
―It is an injury to society as well as an offense against God when men pamper their
bodies with rich and dainty foods and seriously diminish their physical and mental
powers by excessive use of intoxicants… Luxury in every form is economically bad, it is
provocative to the poor who see it flaunted before them, and it is morally degrading to
those who indulge in it. The Christian who has the ability to live luxuriously, but fasts
from all extravagance, and practices simplicity in his dress, his home, and his whole
manner of life, is, therefore, rendering good service to society.‖ - O. Hardman
Frugality frees us from concern and involvement with a multitude of desires that would make it impossible
for us ―to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.‖ (Micah 6:8). It makes it
possible for us to concentrate only one that ‗one thing worth being concerned about‘, and that is Jesus
―As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village
where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the
Lord's feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she
was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my
sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me." But the Lord
said to her, "My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only
one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it--and I won't take it away
from her." ‖ - Luke 10:38-42, NLT
Martha was too worried about dinner – about life! – that she missed who life revolved around! Mary forgot
everything and fell down before Jesus and was just consumed by Him. Frugality opens up a narrow avenue
that leads us to experience and know God better and more fully than we ever have before.
Frugality is also freedom from the spiritual burden of financial debt! How many of us so often buy things
that are not necessary? The effect of doing this is a diminishing of our apparent self-worth, dims our hope
for the future, and most of all eliminates our sensitivity to the needs of others. Frugality gives us freedom
from this spiritual bondage, as it frees up our finances and our costs of living and opens windows to mercy
and compassion on those in need. When all is said and done, there is only debt we have to pay, and that is a
debt of love:
―Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…‖ - Romans 13:8, NASB
John Joseph Surin was once asked why, when so many people seem to wish to be great in God‘s eyes, there
are so few who are truly great. ―The chief reason,‖ he replied, ―is that they give too big a place in life to
indifferent things.‖ The bottom line is this: we need to stop wasting money on drugs and alcohol and food
and toys, and start tithing, start giving back to God by giving to others. We need to live generously.
―Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money,
which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us
all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be
rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to
share with others whatever God has given them.‖ - 1 Timothy 6:17,18, NLT
―You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don't give
reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully.
And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything
you need and plenty left over to share with others.‖ - 2 Corinthians 9:7,8, NLT
Frugality as a settled style of life frees us from indifferent things. Simplicity (the arrangement of life around
a few consistent purposes, explicitly excluding what is unnecessary to life), and poverty (the rejection of all
possessions) are all branches off frugality, and are in turn part of frugality. The monks of the Middle Ages
took simplicity to the next level, living only with a bed, desk and Bible at times. Yet these were some of the
happiest men and women on the planet – why? Because they discovered what life was all about – Jesus –
and didn‘t worry about the foggy details that will be wisped away with the morning sun.
Simplicity is a movement against our consumerist culture. Americans work hard to make lots of money to
buy lots of stuff to experience happiness, peace and contentment. It is not surprising that only very few
succeed. The answer lies in the fundamental, biblical truth that Jesus expounded on when he said, ―What
good is it a man to gain the whole world, but to forfeit his soul?‖
In simplicity we understand that the real treasures in this life – happiness, joy, peace and contentment – are
not to be found in wealth, money, or ‗things.‘ Simplicity acknowledges that this ‗real life‘ is found in the
essential: God. God is the center of simplicity. How so? Because simplicity is simply focusing on the
essentials: those essentials being God, family, friends, others, nature and ourselves.
Simplicity itself contains two dimensions: inner simplicity and outer simplicity.
Inner simplicity is submitting to Christ rather than to our own inclinations (we fool ourselves if we think
this kind of communion with God will simply fall into our laps; we must desire it and work for it, and we
will gradually grow closer to God). The transformation of the entire person through the breath of God will
reap a harvest of wonderful inner simplicity: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness,
faithfulness, and self-control (sound familiar?).
Outer simplicity will not come through the spiritual disciplines; it involves changing our lifestyles. There
are varying degrees of simplicity and different kinds of simplicity. There is the Amish or Quaker simplicity
– going to the very elemental. There is the ‗cabin in the woods‘ simplicity of Walden. Or you can look at
the simplicity of the monks – sometimes only owning a bed, desk and a Bible. There is the simplicity of not
eating many foods and not eating exotic foods in respect to the people of foreign countries who are
starving; this simplicity banks of Gandhi‘s words, ―Live simply so that others may simply live.‖
However deep we wish to take our outer simplicity is up to us. It is important to note, though, that our outer
simplicity can have an effect on our inner simplicity. Whichever way you go with outward simplicity, there
are a few ‗ground rules‘ that run through almost all the different types of simplicity. Here are just a few
trademarks of simplicity, the very basics:
I. Enjoying the rhythms of nature, the turning of the seasons, the world outside
II. Enjoying life, from the company of our friends to the laughter of children, to good meals
III. Being careful with your money; budgeting; sometimes frugality
IV. Taking care of our bodies physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally…
V. A concern for nature
VI. Not filling life with ‗things,‘ but aiming for ‗experiences‘ and helping others
VII. Let your affairs be as one, two or three…
Undue luxury often creates a false sense of superiority, causes unnecessary burdens on ourselves and
others, and leads to the neglect of the spiritual life. By observing and encouraging simple tastes in apparel,
furniture, buildings, and manner of living, we can help do away with unwholesome rivalry. Remember: true
simplicity consists not in the use of particular forms, but not caving in to over-indulgence, in maintaining
humility and respect of spirit, and in keeping our material surroundings pointed to a necessary ends, even
though these surroundings may have grace, symmetry and beauty.
―Thou are not the holier though thou be praised nor the more vile though thou be blamed
or dispraised. What thou art, that thou art; that God knoweth thee to be and thou canst be
said to be no greater… For a man ever to do well and to think little of himself is token of
a meek soul. For a man not to wish to be comforted by any creature is a token of great
purity and inward trust. He that seeketh no outward witness for himself, is appeareth
openly that he hath committed himself all wholly to God.‖ - Thomas a Kempis
One of the greatest fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief, is the thought that
our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to be known. We see the frantic and hot-hearted efforts
of religious organizations and spiritual groups advertising and certifying themselves, all the while
foregoing true, God-fearing, rich spirituality.
Secrecy isn‘t keeping secrets from other people (though who is to say that is wrong?). The secrecy
mentioned here is keeping from causing our good deeds and good qualities to be known. We may even take
steps to prevent them from being known, though to go into the realm of deceit is never a good idea. Secrecy
helps us to lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, attention of others. This discipline more-so than
others will often require a greater need for grace. But as we practice this discipline, we find that we adore
being unknown and we love the misunderstanding about us and our deeds, and love it with peace, joy and
purpose. In secrecy we experience a continuing relationship with God independent of the opinions of
―Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep
them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.‖ - Psalm 31:20, KJV
Secrecy forces us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our
candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel:
―Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors
of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness
and will end up in the garbage. Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the
God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city
on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm
putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand--shine! Keep
open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up
with God, this generous Father in heaven.‖ - Matthew 5:13-16, the Message
Some might argue that Jesus is telling us to show our good works to everyone. No! We must allow God
to decide when our deeds will be known, and when our light will be noticed. We must not force or shove
our good deeds down other peoples‘ throats. We must let God decide where people will taste the salt that
we are; the saltshaker is in His hands, as well as the button of the flashlight that is our lives. We must allow
him to decide; we will find that when we live in secrecy, God will expound our influence, bless us, and let
our deeds have greater affects on those around us, because He is in charge of deciding who notices and who
Secrecy teaches us to have love and humility before God and others. In turn, that love and humility
encourages us to see our neighbors in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do
better and appear better than us! Via secrecy we find that it is possible for us to ―do nothing out of selfish
ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves,‖ as Philippians 2:3 says.
And if you want to experience the flow of love as never before, the next time you are in a competitive
situation, pray that the others around you will be more outstanding, more praised, and more used of God
than yourself. Really pull for them and rejoice for their successes. What do you think would happen if
Christians would universally pray this for each other? The earth, I believe, would be filled with the
knowledge of God‘s beauty! Secrecy can lead us into this kind of wonderful experience.
Also, the needs that arise in our efforts to serve God can often be handled by looking to God only, not
telling others that there is a need, but counting on God to tell them. This is another aspect of the realm of
secrecy. When we ask God alone for help instead of asking others, it reveals to God a deeper trust. And
when we see our needs met because we have asked God alone, our faith in God‘s presence and care will be
greatly increased. But if we always tell others of the need, we will have little faith in God, and our entire
spiritual life will suffer because of it.
And in all we do in the arena of secrecy, let‘s never forget the words of Jesus:
―God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward
you well.‖ - Matthew 6:18, the Message
God sees our works – our good deeds and prayers and acts of charity – in secret; and when we keep it
secret, we say to God, ―Okay, here you go. This is done for you and only you. No one else knows, and it
will stay that way.‖ And God, from whom we can hide nothing, who sees and knows all things, will reward
us openly. That‘s a promise straight from Jesus‘ mouth.
Sacrifice is where we abstain from the possession or enjoyment of what is necessary for our living – not, as
in frugality, where we abstain from those things that are unnecessary. We forsake the security of meeting
our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in
the faith and hope that God will hold us up. Such a move would be disastrous if our faith were nothing but
a lie, but because it is founded in the truth of God, because God is not only loving, but also all-powerful
and able to meet our needs, sacrifice is a clear message to God: I trust You.
―And [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw
a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you,
this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the
offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on." - Luke 21:1-4,
The poor widow gave all she had, abandoned herself to God‘s care, as she gave sacrificially. Ironically,
in some strange mathematical equation that would make an accountant shiver, she gave more with her two
pennies than all the rich gentlemen writing out their large, tax deductible checks around her.
How nourishing to our faith are the tokens of God‘s care in response to our sacrifice! The cautious faith
that never saws off the limb on which it is sitting never learns that unattached limbs may find strange,
unaccountable ways of not falling.
A couple years ago I went to a Sr. High youth convention in Milligan, Tennessee. During the conference,
God filled me with compassion for the youth in depraved continents such as Africa, Asia and South
America; I emptied out all my money for the cause as they passed around the charity plates, and I knew I‘d
be starving on the way home. I prayed, ―God, please provide me a meal.‖ The group I was with entered a
restaurant, and I was broke with no money for food and nothing to put in my stomach. Yet I left stuffed
with food, lots of leftovers, and $1.50 in my pocket. My story is just one of thousands you could hear from
those who abandon themselves for God. It is still difficult for me to abandon, but this just means that I
ought to do it more often. With the discipline of sacrifice, we practice a different dimension of faith, and
often we are surprised at the outcome!
It is in fellowship that we engage in common activities of worship, study, prayer, celebration, and service
with other disciples. In doing this we may assemble in large groups, or with only a few. Personalities united
can contain more of God and sustain the force of his grater presence much better than scattered individuals.
Fellowship is simply the believers coming together to practice the disciplines.
We individually are the bride of Christ, yes; but so is the Church. Not the man-made church, but the God-
indwelt and God-worshipping and God-fearing and God-loving Church – the ―Big C‖! The real Church –
the one we‘re talking about – is made up of flesh and blood, its arms and legs and eyes and ears comprised
of the men and women and children who are passionate and zealous for God, saved by God‘s redeeming
Son! It is in fellowship that the Church unites and makes a presence in the world. The Church functions
much better as a whole than Christians do running around independently. Why is this so? Because it is
designed this way. We are relational creatures to the core. Also, each of us, in fellowship, has a spiritual
gift that we bestow on other believers. The Phillips translation of 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 puts it well:
―Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may use it for the common good. One man‘s gift by
the Spirit is to speak with wisdom, another‘s to speak with knowledge. The same Spirit gives to
another man faith, to another the ability to heal, to another the power to do great deeds. The same
Spirit gives to another man the gift of preaching the word of God, to another the ability to discriminate
in spiritual matters, to another speech in different tongues and to yet another the power to interpret the
tongues. Behind all these gifts is the operation of the same Spirit, who distributes to each individual as
Fellowship leads us into the last two disciplines of engagement: confession and submission.
Confession is an attribute of fellowship; it functions only within true fellowship. In confession we let
trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This nourishes our faith in God‘s provision for
our needs through his people, increases our sense of being loved, and brings out our humility before our
brothers and sisters. We let close friends know who we really are, not holding back anything important, but,
ideally, allowing complete transparency. We lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, the burden of
throwing up ‗fake masks‘ that hide the real who-we-are. Pretending, too, takes up a lot more energy than
just being real. We engage in and are engaged by others in the great discipline of confession.
(James 5:16 NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another,
that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
We must accept the fact that unconfessed sin is a special kind of burden or obstruction in the
psychological as well as the physical realities of the believer‘s life. The discipline of confession removes
that heavy burden.
Confession also helps us to avoid sin:
(Prov 28:13 NASB) He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who
confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
Persisting in sin within a close community – not to mention the fellowship of a transparent Body of
Christ – is unsupportable unless it is hidden. It is said that confession is good for the soul but bad for the
reputation, and a bad reputation makes life more difficult in relation to those close to us. But closeness and
confession force out evildoing. Nothing is more supportive of right behavior than open truth.
Confession enables friends to pray for specific problems and to do those things that may be most helpful
and redemptive to the one confessing. Confession alone makes deep fellowship possible, and the lack of it
explains much of the superficial and shallow quality of relationships so commonly found in our churches
We could skip on to the next discipline, but we‘d be skipping a crucial element to confession: restitution.
Restitution – or amends or reimbursement – can be thought of as a discipline all on its own! It is difficult
not to remedy wrongdoing once it is confessed and known widely. Now we know not all sin calls for
repayment, but it is unthinkable that one would confess to stealing clothes from J.C. Penny, and never
return them! It is unthinkable that someone would confess to harming another person‘s reputation, and then
not do anything to help that person‘s reputation. Our in-borne integrity, a force within our God-given
personality, requires restitution. It‘s not a pleasant experience, but it strengthens our will to do what is
right, and can be a very powerful discipline.
Careful: confession can be easily abused, and for its effective use it requires considerable experience and
maturity. How many stale, watered-down, immature confessions have turned to gossip and back-stabbing
and black-mailing? From my personal experience, far too many.
This is the highest level of fellowship – involving humility, complete honesty, transparency, at times
confession and restitution. In submission we engage the experience of those in our fellowship who are
qualified to direct our efforts in growth and who then add the weight of their wise authority on the side of
our willing spirit to help us do the things we should and not do the things we ought not do. They oversee
the godly order in our souls as well as in our fellowship and in the surrounding body of the body of Christ.
Those wise ones we look to ought not see themselves as ‗leaders‘. Their being examples we submit to is
just one aspect of their own submission to servant hood, as we will see in the section on service. Theirs
must be the genuine case of true leadership, not the driver-ship that so often prevails in our modern and
(Heb 13:7 NKJV) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of
God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
In 1 Peter those older in The Way are told to take the oversight of the flock of God, not by being forced
to do so and not as lords over God‘s heritage, but as examples to the flock (5:2,3). The younger are then
told to submit themselves to this gentle oversight by the elders; all are caught up together as a community
of mutual servants in mutual submission.
(1 Pet 5:5 NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes,
all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the
proud, But gives grace to the humble."
This submission is not a matter of an iron hierarchy in which unwilling souls are crushed and driven.
Instead, it functions in the power of truth and mercy inhabiting mature personalities, being the expression
of a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36) – but a kingdom that is real and powerful! It is sad how some
churches have fallen from this correct view of submission into a hierarchal government, resembling human
monarchies and American businesses, where the CEO is made pastor and the elders are the Board of
Review: such a tragedy. We see this all the time happening in misguided attempts at Christian community.
―I will delight in your principles and not forget your word. Be good to your servant, that I
may live and obey your word. Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your law.‖
- Psalm 119:16-18, NLT
Study is when we engage ourselves, above all, with the written and spoken Word of God. Our early
experience of falling into the grace of God may be so full that we neglect study. But relationship with God,
as with any person, soon requires a contribution from us, which will largely consist of study. Calvin Miller
remarks, ―Mystics without study are spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.‖
―As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the
Bible, so my faith in the living God grew stronger and held me safe in his hands. God‘s
word to us, especially his word spoken by his Spirit through the Bible, is the very
ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God‘s word, several
times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food
several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than
hearing and obeying the word of God.‖ - David Watson
We must strive to see the Word of God at work in the lives of others, in the church, in history, and in
nature. We not only read and hear and inquire, but we meditate on what comes before us: that is, we
withdraw into silence where we prayerfully and steadily focus upon it. We must see the Bible for what it
really is – not a list of do‘s and don‘ts, but a cosmic, unfolding story, a story of creation, calamity, heroism
and sacrifice, a war and revolution: and we have a role to play! The Bible is not just a book of
commandments: while there are commandments throughout, it is more-so a message to dethroned
monarchs (for that is what we are, dethroned because of sin, to be placed on thrones in the Kingdom of
Heaven); it is also a song, a poem of love; and a revelation – this is how the world works! This is how God
moves! This is truth: can you stomach it? We must not forget that the Bible, in being the Word of God, is
not just ink-on-paper, but it is alive and breathing and organic with the Spirit of God indwelling within it:
―For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into
our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.‖ - Hebrews 4:12, NLT
God works in the depths of our heart, mind, and soul. We devote long periods of time to this. Reading
and studying the Word of God must not be an off-hand project or a slap-on-the-wrist discipline: it needs to
be bedrock, foundation to our spirituality! We must study the Word of God, we must meditate and pray that
God will meet with us when we listen and read his Word, and pray that he will speak specifically to us, for
ultimately the Word of God is God speaking! When we read the Bible, we are reading the Word of God
spoken to us!
We should also make every effort to sit regularly under the ministry of gifted teachers who can lead us
deeply into the Word and make us increasingly capable of fruitful study on our own. This discipline is one
that must be touched and honed each and every day if we wish our intimacy with God to expand like we‘ve
never been capable to imagine!
Study can also take place outside the Bible, in the texts of those who are well-experienced in The Way.
Really, the Scriptures are often memoirs of those who have gone before us in ancient times; in the same
way, God will pull us closer to him as we wade through the waters of genuinely trustworthy Christian
literature, whether it be from ancient Rome or Medieval Europe or the campuses of modern universities.
My own spiritual life has been greatly enriched by the wonderful works of deceased Thomas a` Kempis,
romantic John Eldredge, and theologian Dallas Willard. These writings, when coupled with the Bible (yet,
let us always keep the Bible at the forefront, the most supreme text and Word of them all!) can offer us a
smorgasbord of spiritual cuisine.
―Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned;
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind;
While blessed with a sense of his love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prison would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.‖
- John Newton, converted slave trader
In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty, and goodness of God
through thought and the use of words, rituals, music and symbols. We do this alone as well as in union with
God‘s people. To worship is to see God as worthy, to ascribe great worth to him.
If in worship we are met by God himself, our thoughts and words turn to perception and experience of
God, who is then really present to us in some degree of his greatness, beauty, and goodness. This will make
for an immediate, dramatic change in our lives. However, this direct divine encounter is not essential to
true worship, as so many believe. This direct encounter may happen outside worship, as it did with Elijah,
Ezekiel, and Paul. Worship is our part, even though it is divinely assisted, and therefore it can be a
discipline for the spiritual life. How can a Christian who seeks to live like Jesus lived ever do it without
worship? Simply, it can‘t be done.
Worship must be centered upon Jesus Christ, going through him to God. We fill our minds and hearts
with wonder at him – the detailed actions and words of his earthly life, his trial and death on the cross, his
resurrection reality, and his work as ascended intercessor, and his work as he has given us life back.
Worship does not just happen through song and dance, but through living our lives in full devotion and
obedience to God.18
Here we find one of the most important disciplines of engagement, yet it is so often overlooked and
misunderstood. When I first heard of celebration, the only thought I had was of church, where we celebrate
God and all he has done. Yet while this can certainly be a part of celebration, it falls more under worship;
engagement, then, is enjoying ourselves. Some would scoff and balk; some believe to enjoy ourselves is
wickedness. As we‘ll see, that is not true at all. We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our
life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God‘s greatness, beauty, and goodness. We
concentrate on our life and world as God‘s work and as God‘s gift to us.
We can celebrate together with other believers, eating and drinking, singing and dancing, relating stories.
Yet we can also celebrate alone. Take a walk in the park. Eat out at a nice restaurant. Go see a movie. Play
with the dog. Enjoy ice cream. Enjoy life. Find a hobby. Hang out with a friend. Enjoy life with your
spouse – a romantic dinner and sex. The list never ends. Holy delight and joy is the great antidote to despair
and is a wellspring of genuine gratitude.
The unabashedly sensual and earthly character of celebration or jubilee is nowhere more clearly portrayed
than in the instructions contained in Deuteronomy 14:24-26:
See Chapter 2: Vintage Faith in a Postmodern World for a more detailed look at worship
―But if the place God, your God, designates for worship is too far away and you can‘t
carry your tithe that far, God, your God, will still bless you: exchange your tithe for
money and take the money to the place God, your God, has chosen to be worshipped. Use
the money to buy anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, or beer – anything that looks
good to you. You and your family can then feast in the Presence of God, your God, and
have a good time.‖ - The Message
God says, ―Buy what you want,‖ and feast in the Presence of God. We are called by God to enjoy
ourselves, and when we do this, we enjoy ourselves in the Presence of God. In celebration we don‘t just
enjoy ourselves, we enjoy ourselves in God’s presence! Why does God throw out this command?
―…You will learn to live in deep reverence before God, your God, as long as you live.‖ -
Deuteronomy 14:23, The Message
That‘s just amazing! Look at these other Scriptures from Ecclesiastes:
―Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat well, drink a
good glass of wine, and enjoy their work--whatever they do under the sun--for however long God lets
them live. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy
your work and accept your lot in life--that is indeed a gift from God. People who do this rarely look
with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy.‖ - Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, NLT
―So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work.
Then I realized that this pleasure is from the hand of God.‖ - Ecclesiastes 2:24, NLT
―So I concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as
long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts
from God.‖ - Ecclesiastes 3:12,13, NLT
―So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why they are
here! No one will bring them back from death to enjoy life in the future.‖ - Ecclesiastes 3:22, NLT
The idea of celebration will seem far too hedonistic to many of us. But we dishonor God as much by
fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it. How do you feel when you
spend time and effort on a wonderful gift, give it to someone, and they don‘t even touch it, but just say,
―Thank you, thank you…‖ without enjoying it? We want them to enjoy the gift! We want to say, ―Go
play!‖ When God gives us these gifts of pleasure, He says, ―Go play,‖ and we worship Him as we enjoy
life! Let‘s not forget that pleasure is God’s invention, not Satan‘s! Satan has nothing to do with happiness
and joy and fun! The idea that we can have real enjoyment and happiness through sin is a great trick Satan
is pulling the world over.
Celebration can become a delirious joy coursing through our bodily being, when we really begin to see
how great and lovely God is and how good he has been to us. Feasting, dancing, singing, oration become
insuppressible. We can‘t put a lid on our excitement and happiness, our exuberance and play-fulness. Even
the hills must sing and the trees break out in applause for God (Isaiah 55:12), and every created thing must
praise the Lord (Psalms 148-150).
Celebration, when done from the heart, makes our deprivations and troubles and problems and pains and
sorrows seem small and insignificant, and we find in it great strength to do the will of our God because his
goodness becomes so real to us.
―Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the
olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields and the
cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The
Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the
- Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT
―Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on
you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,
since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the
Lord Christ you are serving.‖ - Colossians 3:22-24, NIV
In service we engage our goods and strength in the active promotion of the good of others and the causes of
God in our world. We serve one another to train ourselves away from arrogance, possessiveness, greed,
resentment, materialism. Service is very useful for the Christians who find themselves – as most of us be
necessity must – in the ―lower‖ positions in society, at work, and in the church. Service can train us in
habits of loving service to others and free us from bitterness, enabling us in faith to enjoy our position and
work because of its exalted meaning before God. In God‘s eyes, the work we do for friends, our church,
even at work and for our family, is done to and for Him, and the way God sees the world, that is how it is!
We do our work for our Lover and Father and King!
Can this be applied by the mother of six who must leave her little children uncared for in a derelict
neighborhood to support them by scrubbing office floors at night? Can it be applied to the refugee from
Central America who pushes his ice cream cart around the neighborhood, ringing his bell as he goes? Yes,
it can, if they have heard and received from the heart the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Yet this command is far more important for those in positions of leadership. It is far more important to
those in positions of influence and power and prestige.
―But Jesus called them together and said, "You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and
officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever
wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your
slave. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as
a ransom for many." ‖
- Matthew 20:25-28, NLT
It is easy to misunderstand these as instructions on how to be great. Instead Jesus is giving a statement on
what those who are great look like! To be ―great‖ and to live as a servant is one of the most difficult of
spiritual achievements. Nevertheless, it is also the pattern of life for which this bruised and aching world
waits and without which it will never manage even a decent existence. It is so difficult to be powerful
without corrupting the soul – but it is what Jesus calls us to; it is the example the King of the Earth has lain
down for us!
(John 13:14 KJV) If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought
to wash one another's feet.
(Mat 26:41 KJV) Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is
willing, but the flesh is weak.
Prayer is one of God‘s most precious gifts to us. Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. We talk to
God, aloud or within our thoughts, and allow God to speak back to us (sometimes we may be so busy
praying that we start praying past God, not to him, not stopping to listen for his own voice). Prayer
involves other disciplines and spiritual activities if it is to go well, especially study, mediation, worship,
and often solitude and fasting as well. It would be a low-voltage spiritual life in which prayer was chiefly
undertaken as a discipline, rather than as a way of co-laboring with God to accomplish good things and
advance his Kingdom. Yet prayer can be a discipline.
A lot of times the direct and indirect effects of prayer are taken as the point of prayer. But the effect of
conversing with God cannot fail to have a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of
our personality. Just think about it: we are talking to the King of the Universe, conversing with the Creator
of the Cosmos! Conversation with God, when it is truly a conversation (talk to God and listen to God!)
makes a tremendous impact on our minds, and our consciousness of him remains vivid as we go our way.
―Continuing instant in prayer after the conclusion of each period of definite communion with God,
[the one immersed in prayer] will set himself to undertake every legitimate risk, to do the right without
fear of consequences, and to embrace in loving purpose those who are opposed to him no less than
those who are in agreement with him, n the attempt to realize the vision and to exercise the sympathy
with which prayer has endowed him. The many groups into which his fellows are divided will be seen
by him in the light of the whole, and he will ever strive to bridge gulfs and so assist in the realization
of that living unity which is experienced by hum in anticipation when, in his moments of intensest
prayer, he is caught up to God and filled with the sense of union. Economic, social, political, national,
and racial antagonisms are waiting for this sole solution of the deadlock which they present. There is
no other way.‖ - O. Hardman
Prayer is an avenue of union with God, and ties into all aspects of our lives: economic, social, political,
national, racial; as O. Hardman mentioned. And the more we pray, the more we think to pray, and as we see
the results of prayer – the responses of our Father to grant our requests – our confidence in God‘s power
spills over into other areas of our life.
(Phil 4:6,7 NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(1 Th 5:17 NIV) pray continually;
We can train ourselves to invoke God‘s presence in every action we perform. It is an experiential fact
that has been proven in the lives of many disciples of Jesus, ancient and modern. God will meet us in love,
and love will keep our minds directed toward him. Habit will be confirmed in gracious interaction, and our
entire lives will be bathed in the intoxicating presence of God. Constant prayer will only ―burden‖ us as
wings burden a bird in flight.
In many Protestant churches prayer and Bible study are held up as the activities that will make us
spiritually rich. But very few people actually succeed in attaining spiritual richness through them and
indeed often find them to be intolerably burdensome. The ―open secret‖ of many ―Bible-believing‖
churches is that a vanishing small percentage of those talking about prayer and Bible reading are actually
doing what they are talking about. They have not been shown how to change their life as a whole,
permeating it with appropriate disciplines, so that prayer and Bible reading will be spiritually successful.
―If we take… no times to be apart and listen for the Voice, [only] give God some
directives and pointers and call it prayer, and do none of the things that the faithful who
traveled this road before us would remind us to do, then we are likely to talk to God and
never hear a response.‖ – Robert Benson
are these disciplines adequate?
There are many other activities that could, for the right person and upon the right occasion, be counted
as spiritual disciplines. The above is not a complete ‗authorized‘ list. It is just a guide – a guide that
will hopefully not only inspire you to act, but inspire you to think. God is a very creative being – just
look outside! The first Scriptures of the Gospel of John reveal to us that Jesus is the very word that
breathed the cosmos into existence; to become like Christ, we, too, must be creative. A relationship
with Jesus is a relationship that not only leaves room for creativity, but calls it, beckons it, is thrilled
with it. We must be creative and experiential and find new ways to challenge ourselves to grow more
intimate with God, and to become more like Jesus of Nazareth.
Which disciplines must be central to our lives will be determined by the chief sins and struggles of
our life. Arrogance, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lasciviousness – the ―seven deadly sins‖
of theological and literary history – along with many other real sins and struggles are not phantoms or
jokes, but hard-bitten realities whose dreadful effects can be seen by looking out your bay window.
They call for an incomparably hard-nosed, tough response on our part, supported by infinite grace.
To answer the question above, the activities mentioned – when we engage in them conscientiously
and creatively and adapt them to our individual needs, times, and place – will be more than adequate to
help us receive the full Christ-life and become the kind of person that should emerge in following him.
Once more, these disciplines are not set-in-stone, but are foundational; if we take discipline in our life
seriously, the disciplines will help guide us right no matter what disciplines we may add.
―Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you
will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is
light." – Jesus, Matthew 11:29,30, NLT
Yet we are fooling ourselves if we think the disciplines in and of themselves will change us. God is the
one who reaches inside the disciplines and transforms us. We must enter the disciplines not with change as
the primary intent, but making the primary focus simply meeting with God and loving on God. It is then
that God will reach in and change us – and the effects of the change will begin to take shape in our lives.
the gallery of holy portraits
If you have the time, I invite you on a journey through the Scriptures, where we will explore what a heart
truly renovated, truly molded, truly fashioned in and by God‘s hands really looks like. I ask that you pray
on what you read, meditate on the words before you, and if these descriptions are not a parallel to your own
life (as they are not fully parallel to my own!) that your thirst for change will explode, and you will find
yourself more deeply and insanely drawn to the loving arms of our Father, God. And may this passion lead
you to the sane waters of spiritual disciplines, where you can take a vibrant swim with our Creator,
throwing off your worries and cares, and letting him completely transform you – and me – in the process.
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating,
going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does
for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into
it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily
recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always
dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed
maturity in you.
I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have
responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that
you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to
you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by
what we are and what we do for him.
In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a
whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of
us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we
wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently
formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to
be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we
If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach,
stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in
charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick
to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by
them. Keep a smile on your face. Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from
evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy;
share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies;
don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist
on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it. Our Scriptures
tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your
generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing
Romans 12:1-21, the Message
If I can tell of God‘s greatness in a way that makes people fall to their knees in obedience and heart-
wrenching worship, if I can preach the news of Kingdom-come and have the crowds cheering, but I don‘t
love, then, really, I‘m nothing but the sound of a rusty gate creaking back and forth in a stale breeze. If I
open the Bible and teach God‘s word in such a way that people thirst for more and beg to know Jesus, if I
reveal all the mysteries of the scriptures and make everything as plain as day, and even if I have such
awesome faith that when I say to a mountain, ―Jump,‖ and it jumps, but I don‘t love – what am I? A
microscopic slime; no, even smaller: nothing! If I opened my doors and cleaned out the closets, pantries
and rooms, handing all the furniture and food to the poor, and even if I am the first to kiss the chain and fall
by the gladiator‘s sword, but I don‘t love, I might as well have just turned my back on the whole thing. It‘s
obvious, isn‘t it? No matter what I say, no matter what I believe, no matter what I do, without love, I‘m just
a tiny peon to be blown away in a fragrant dust storm.
Love never turns in the cards. Love never turns its back to tough times, doesn‘t give up
on friends and family when things get rough and uncalled-for.
Love doesn‘t just look at itself in the mirror. It looks at others and asks, energetically,
―What can I do for you?‖
Love doesn‘t go window-shopping, lusting and desiring things it doesn‘t have. Love
doesn‘t make friends just to take advantage of them.
Love doesn‘t stand in the spotlight, waving its hands arms, singing at the top of its lungs.
Love actually takes a backseat, takes a spin in humility.
Love will never grab you by the collar, rip you around, and shove its own agenda down
your throat. So if you love someone with an agenda, are you really loving them? No.
You‘re a hypocrite, a farce, a poser.
Love doesn‘t bicker and cry when it doesn‘t get its own way. ―Me first‖ isn‘t in love‘s
You‘ll never find love blowing up at the tiniest things. Love doesn‘t fly off the handle.
Love won‘t remember your mistakes. Love won‘t reminisce on your sins. Actually, love
is forgiving and tender. You can search as far and wide as you like, but you‘ll never find
love‘s little black book of wrongs done to it.
Love will never smile when it sees another frowning. Love doesn‘t laugh at someone
else‘s downfall. Love won‘t mock those who suffer. Love bends down, on hands and
knees, takes the hand of the wounded, even if it is the hand of the enemy, and kisses it,
saying, ―I‘ll be here for you if you need some help.‖
Love won‘t ever be walking in the graveyard of lies. It strolls in the sunny pastures of
Love puts up with all the crap thrown at it. All the backstabbing, back-biting, all the strife and
hatred, it puts up with it. All the disrespect, all the mockery, all the name-calling and hotheadedness:
love puts up with it. Love does, because nothing else can.
Love doesn‘t trust in its own schemes, but relies on the King of the Universe and his
Love doesn‘t just focus on its own interests. It seeks the horizon for opportunities to share
in the work of the Kingdom. It is always asking, ―How can I help out today?‖ A strange
passion flows through the soul of love: a hunger for the best for others, not the best for
itself. A hunger for other peoples‘ enjoyment, ease, and relaxation – not its own. Others
first. Love last (and yet somehow, love shows up first!).
Love never looks back at what was, never focuses on the ‗good ol‘ days‘ but instead
leans forward, eagerly anticipating the future, pushing harder and harder to reach the
goal, the finale, the thunderous applause of a God singing, ―Well done! Well done!‖
You won‘t ever find love in an unmarked grave – any grave, really. Even though innovative and soul-
inspiring speech will end one day, even though praying in tongues will end, and even though understanding
will reach the roof – love won‘t ever fade, won‘t ever die. Right now we know only a small sliver of the
truth; a mere kernel of corn in an entire field of corn to be harvested. Everything we say about God is
incomplete; our own ignorance tells us we have all the details. But when the Complete arrives, the harvest
will come, and we will be stuffing corn down our throats – our incompletes will be canceled by the
When I was a baby, I drank from my mother‘s breast. I gurgled and cooed like any other infant. What
happened as I got older? I didn‘t gurgle and coo anymore, and I certainly didn‘t feed off my mother‘s
breast! When I grew up, I left those infantile ways all behind, choking in the dust. Right now we don‘t see
things clearly; we can squint, wear glasses and contacts, even mess with binoculars and telescopes, but it‘s
still like trying to see through a thick mist, a murky fog. Don‘t worry: it won‘t be long before the weather
clears, the fog lifts, and the sun shines! Our eyes will look around and we‘ll realize how truly blind we
were! We‘ll see it all so clearly, as clearly as God sees our deepest innate selves; we‘ll see as richly and
deeply as God knows us!
Right now, though, until that completeness comes, we have three things to do to keep us pulling along the
string of time, to keep us moving until the Complete hurls himself down and we worship him in paradise.
Until that glorious consummation, we are to trust God without swerving off the road, no matter how many
semis and utility vans come plowing down the wrong side of the road; we are to hope for a better world, a
better time, where we don‘t shiver, we don‘t starve, we don‘t cry and we don‘t ache; and we are to love like
we‘ve never loved before – love the created world and all it entails: people, animals, creation, everyone!
Trust; Hope; Love. Don‘t you know the greatest of these is, without exception, love? One day our trust for
God will pay off; one day our hopes will fade because what we hoped for will be in our hands; but love
never ends. It is the all-and-all, the very essence of divination.
Expose on 1 Corinthians 13
With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide.
Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn't notice that the glory
was fading away-- and they didn't notice. They didn't notice it then and they don't notice it now, don't
notice that there's nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt
government are read out, they can't see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for
themselves that there's nothing there.
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are--face to
face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And
when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete.
We're free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face.
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more
beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk
off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We
don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather,
we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to
can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
If our Message is obscure to anyone, it's not because we're holding back in any way. No, it's because these
other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes
for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won't
have to bother believing a Truth they can't see. They're stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the
Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we'll ever get.
Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is
messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our
lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the
unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable
power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to
look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to
do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side;
we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us--trial and torture,
mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us--he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for
Jesus' sake, which makes Jesus' life all the more evident in us. While we're going through the worst, you're
getting in on the best!
We're not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, "I believed it, so I said it,"
we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as
certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and
more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling
apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for
us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But
the things we can't see now will last forever.
For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will
be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven--God-made, not handmade -and we'll never have to relocate
our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move--and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to
what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired
of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of
God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that
we'll never settle for less.
That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet!
Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead.
It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in
the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for
But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's
what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. Sooner or later we'll all have to face God, regardless of our
conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what's coming to us as a result of our actions, either good
That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It's no light thing to know that we'll all one day stand in that place
of Judgment. That's why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God
alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We're not saying
this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that
we're on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I
acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ's love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first
and last word in everything we do.
Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in
the same boat.
He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a
far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the
Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore.
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created
new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the
relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the
world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of
sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God
uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things
right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend
How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put
right with God.
Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous
life God has given us. God reminds us,
I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.
Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by
showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. Our work as God's servants gets
validated--or not--in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in
hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late,
working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love;
when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things
right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though
distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead;
beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy;
living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
Dear, dear Corinthians, I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We
didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're
living them in a small way. I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives.
Live openly and expansively! Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a
partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? Does
Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? Who would think of setting up pagan
idols in God's holy Temple? But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God
himself put it this way:
"I'll live in them, move into them;
I'll be their God and they'll be my people.
So leave the corruption and compromise;
leave it for good," says God.
"Don't link up with those who will pollute you.
I want you all for myself.
I'll be a Father to you;
you'll be sons and daughters to me."
The Word of the Master, God.
With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let's make a clean break with everything that defiles or
distracts us, both within and without. Let's make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of
2 Corinthians 3:12-7:1, the Message
But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit
appears in an orchard--things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a
willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness
permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our
way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ,
everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls
necessities is killed off for good--crucified.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold
it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our
lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another
worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments
for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those
who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for
that, you are badly deceived.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into
that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take
responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous
common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants
selfishness, ignoring the needs of others--ignoring God!- harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show
for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in
him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we
don't give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all,
starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Galatians 5:22-6:10, the Message
No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an
easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love--like Christ in
everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with
each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in
God, robust in love.
And so I insist--and God backs me up on this--that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-
headed, mindless crowd. They've refused for so long to deal with God that they've lost touch not only with
God but with reality itself. They can't think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in
sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.
But that's no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him,
been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of
ignorance, everything--and I do mean everything--connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten
through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life--a God-fashioned life, a
life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his
character in you.
What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's
body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry--but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't
stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
Did you used to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others
who can't work.
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word
Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate
part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.
Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. 32Be gentle with one another, sensitive.
Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.
Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ
loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to
give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Don't allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or
bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, Christians have better uses for language
than that. Don't talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn't fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.
You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them--the usual
variations on idolatry--will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the
kingdom of God.
Don't let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of
religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don't even hang around people like that.
You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You're out in the open now. The bright light
of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true-
-these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.
Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these
things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the
darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light
Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!
So watch your step. Use your head. 16Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!
Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing
hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any
excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband
provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So
just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church--a love marked by
giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does
and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.
And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor--since they're
already "one" in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church,
since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No
longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What
is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband
is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.
Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. "Honor your father and mother" is the first
commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, "so you will live well and have a long life."
Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead
them in the way of the Master.
Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ.
Don't just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ's servants doing what God wants
you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be
giving the orders, you're really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless
of whether you are slave or free.
Masters, it's the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the
same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them.
And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set
out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up
to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from
and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil
and all his angels.
Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get,
every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth,
righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them
throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this
ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each
other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
And don't forget to pray for me. Pray that I'll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right
time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for
Ephesians 4:14-6:20, the Message
Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others
get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think
so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the
time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having
become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death--and the worst kind of
death at that: a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so
that all created beings in heaven and on earth--even those long ago dead and buried--will bow in worship
before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the
What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning.
When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it
up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before
God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what
will give him the most pleasure.
Do everything readily and cheerfully--no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world
uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of
good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to
be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for
Philippians 2:3-16, the Message
Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that
you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to
arrive. He could show up any minute!
Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers,
letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming
together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry
at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble,
reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious--the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to
praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and
realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent
Philippians 4:4-9, the Message
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over
which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of
you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life--even though invisible to spectators--is with
Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll
show up, too--the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust,
doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a
life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to
explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you
know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty
Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've
stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life
is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like
Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and
free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion,
kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to
forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what
else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and
doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ--the Message--have the run of
the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.
And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives--words, actions, whatever--be done in
the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Wives, understand and
support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.
Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them.
Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end.
Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits.
Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by.
Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when
you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The
sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn't cover up bad work.
And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too,
serve a Master--God in heaven.
Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don't forget to pray for us, that God will
open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I'm locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I
open my mouth I'll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every
opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not
put them down, not cut them out.
Colossians 3:1-4:6, the Message
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. Now, like infants at the
breast, drink deep of God's pure kindness. Then you'll grow up mature and whole in God.
You've had a taste of God.
Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in
the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with
life, in which you'll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God. The Scriptures provide
Look! I'm setting a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone in the place of honor.
Whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation
will never have cause to regret it.
To you who trust him, he's a Stone to be proud of, but to those who refuse to trust him,
The stone the workmen threw out
is now the chief foundation stone.
For the untrusting it's
. . . a stone to trip over,
a boulder blocking the way.
They trip and fall because they refuse to obey, just as predicted.
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy
people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day
difference he made for you-- from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. Friends, this world is
not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.
Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be
won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.
Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they
are God's emissaries for keeping order. It is God's will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of
the fools who think you're a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the
rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the
You who are servants, be good servants to your masters--not just to good masters, but also to bad ones.
What counts is that you put up with it for God's sake when you're treated badly for no good reason. There's
no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you're treated badly for good
behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.
This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that
came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let
God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free
to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or
where you were going. Now you're named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are
husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy
beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance--the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of
your clothes-- but your inner disposition.
Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were
beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking
care of Abraham, would address him as "my dear husband." You'll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the
same, unanxious and unintimidated.
The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As
women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God's grace, you're equals. Treat your
wives, then, as equals so your prayers don't run aground.
Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of
you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless--that's your job, to bless.
You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
Whoever wants to embrace life
and see the day fill up with good,
Here's what you do:
Say nothing evil or hurtful;
Snub evil and cultivate good;
run after peace for all you're worth.
God looks on all this with approval,
listening and responding well to what he's asked;
But he turns his back
on those who do evil things.
If with heart and soul you're doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you're
still better off. Don't give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at
attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why
you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so
that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They'll end up realizing that they're the ones who
need a bath.
1 Peter 2:1-3:16, the Message
Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master.
Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know,
personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were
also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you--your tickets to participation in the life of God
after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.
So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good
character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness,
and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and
growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you
mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before
you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
So, friends, confirm God's invitation to you, his choice of you. Don't put it off; do it now. Do this, and
you'll have your life on a firm footing.
2 Peter 1:2-10, the Message
My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is
born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first
thing about God, because God is love--so you can't know him if you don't love. This is how God showed
his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love
we are talking about--not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a
sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God.
My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen
God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us--
This is how we know we're living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He's given us life from his life,
from his very own Spirit. Also, we've seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent
his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God's Son participates continuously in
an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we've embraced it heart and soul, this love that
comes from God.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.
This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on
Judgment Day--our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-
formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life--fear of death, fear of judgment--is one not
yet fully formed in love.
We, though, are going to love--love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a
liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have
from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both.
1 John 4:7-21, the Message
No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is
right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8, NLT
So now Israel, what do you think GOD expects from you? Just this: Live in his presence in holy reverence,
follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve GOD, your God, with everything you have in you, obey
the commandments and regulations of GOD that I'm commanding you today--live a good life.
Look around you: Everything you see is GOD's--the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything
on it. But it was your ancestors that GOD fell in love with; he picked their children--that's you!-out of all
the other peoples. That's where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop
being so willfully hardheaded. GOD, your God, is the God of all gods, he's the Master of all masters, a God
immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn't play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and
widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.
You must treat foreigners with the same loving care--
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.
Reverently respect GOD, your God, serve him, hold tight to him,
back up your promises with the authority of his name.
He's your praise! He's your God!
He did all these tremendous, these staggering things
that you saw with your own eyes.
Deuteronomy 10:12-21, the Message
children of the darkness
In exploring those scriptures, we have seen what children of the light (those who have been transformed
and renovated by God) look like; now we complete the tour of this artful museum with a stroll down
darkness lane. Here is what those who are not children of the light look like:
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the
compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit,
just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you
cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why
don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated
existence? It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive,
loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs
for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-
consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and
divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; 1the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a
rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit
Galatians 5:19-21, the Message
Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these
things for the sham they are.
Ephesians 5:11, the Message
But God's angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as
people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there
it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see
what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So
nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't
treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that
there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate
regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines
you can buy at any roadside stand.
So God said, in effect, "If that's what you want, that's what you get." It wasn't long before they were living
in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a
fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them--the God we bless, the God
who blesses us. Oh, yes!
Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either--women didn't
know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one
another, women with women, men with men--all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid
for it--emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all
hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth
with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-
tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of
wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And
it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't
care--worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!
Romans 1:18-32, the Message
As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up,
profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild,
savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They'll make
a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals. Stay clear of these people.
2 Timothy 3:2-5, the Message
wow! what a chapter!
We‘re nearly forty pages into a chapter dedicated completely to the ideas of spiritual transformation; how
we not only desire to change, but are called to change; we‘ve looked at exactly what changes in spiritual
transformation; we have explored the core of transformation (God!) and habits God has lain out for us,
habits where he will meet with us and transform us (spiritual disciplines). And if you felt so obliged, you
may have taken an adventure through the scriptures, perhaps making notes in the margins, on what a person
truly transformed does and does not look like. There is simply too much information here for me to leave a
closing statement summing everything up. So I leave you with this:
Spiritual transformation is more than reading your Bible over a cup of coffee and calling it a day &
spiritual transformation is more than just being a nice person.
ENTER THE CORE:
LOVING GOD & LOVING OTHERS
―I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.‖ –
Interviews were conducted at secular campuses across the nation. Throwing questions at students, hoping
for honest and sincere answers, the interviewers discovered something that was shocking and profound.
When asked, ―What comes to your mind when you hear the name Jesus?‖ students lit up with smiles.
―Jesus was beautiful.‖
―I want to be like Jesus.‖
―Jesus was a liberator of women.‖
―I‘m all about Jesus.‖
―I want to be a follower of Jesus.‖
―Jesus was enlightened and had higher truth.‖ 19
Students, more than ever, are eager to talk about Jesus. Students love Jesus. Even those who know nothing
about him are filled with joy at his very name! Students on secular campuses beam at the name of Jesus,
maybe even more-so than students at college universities. This is wonderful and shocking. Now the story
takes a twist.
The interviewers asked, ―What comes to your mind when you hear the word Christian?‖
Faces fell. Scowls burnt sores. Eyes narrowed and enflamed.
―Christians have taken the teachings of Jesus and really messed them up.‖
―I would want to be a Christian, but I have never met one.‖
―Christians are dogmatic and close-minded.‖
―Christians are supposed to be loving, but I‘ve never met any who are.‖
―Christians should be taken outside and shot.‖ 20
What‘s going on here! Teenagers are excited and pumped about Jesus, but are completely turned off by
those who claim to follow him! Don‘t let us forget what one person said, ―Christians are supposed to be
loving, but I’ve never met any who are.‖ No wonder someone suggested Christians be taken outside and
shot! Let‘s face the rugged truth. Most Christians are fakes, hypocrites, condemners, devoid of the real and
authentic love of Jesus our Christ! We can criticize and point fingers all we want, but won‘t the criticism
come around full-circle? Look at the media! On TV or in the movies, Christians appear to be idiotic, un-
learned, foolish clowns parading against this and that and screaming louder and louder for everyone to
convert to their point-of-view. Where is the love in that? Howard Stern said, ―We are under siege from
religious zealots and nuts… mostly Christians, so-called Christians. I‘m talking about those hell-bent, holy
rollers that sit around and try to control the country, the ones that are against abortion… Those nuts. Those
Sometimes I am ashamed to call myself a Christian.
The Emerging Church, Dan Kimball, pp. 79
The Emerging Church, Dan Kimball, pp. 79, 80
Stern on his detractors‘ efforts to influence advertisers against sponsoring his radio program
What have we done with this gift of grace from God? We have patented it, marketed it, and offered it up for
sale. We have turned what is sacred into a petty slogan. Not through cheap labor or dimmed wits, but
simply because we have forgotten—no, ignored—a plea from the Son of Man. A plea for us to love.
When the Pharisees had heard how [Jesus] had bested the Pharisees, they gathered their
forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they
hoped would show him up: ―Teacher, which command in God‘s Law is the most
important?‖ Jesus said, ―‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and
intelligence.‘ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set
alongside it: ‗Love others as well as you love yourself.‘ These two commands are pegs;
everything in God‘s Law and the Prophets hang from them.‖ – Matthew 22:34-40, The
What does it mean to love God? Make God the center of your life. Live in worship to God. Worship, in the
essence of the word, is ―kissing toward‖ God. Worship is not just music and dance and art. Worship is Life.
Worship forgets itself. Worship is daily living in the presence of God, running after God, living your life
for God. Worship is loving God. Loving God is an intimate and close relationship.
What does it mean to love others? Humility. Servant-hood. Care. Compassion. Giving help when needed. If
you see a brother in need, help them. Give money to the poor. Feed the hungry. Fight for the oppressed. A
love that is not feeling, but action. A love that doesn‘t find its home in our words, but in our lives played
out in the ages that we live. This love is not necessarily an ―intimate‖ love. Not everyone clicks with
everyone else. We don‘t make friends with everyone we meet. We all have enemies. But we are called to
love everyone, even our worst enemies. This is godly love. Love that is Right, True, Godly, Just, Pure and
Merciful. A love we show towards others.
―Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I [Jesus] loved
you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my
disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.‖ – John 13:34, 35, The
How do you tell an authentic Christian from a fake one? In the words of Jesus, ―the love you have for each
other.‖ The mark of a real Christian is their love for those they meet in day-to-day life, especially those
brothers and sisters they have in Jesus Christ. People notice something when you love everyone no matter
what—it makes their minds spin, and they try to figure out just what in the world is going on. Are you
‗marked‘? Are you marked by your love towards others? This is hardcore. Jesus commands us to love
others. Are you loving?
If anyone boasts, ―I love God,‖ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking
nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won‘t love the person he can see, how can he love the God
he can‘t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving
people. You‘ve got to love both. – 1 John 4:20, 21, The Message
Walk into any Christian gathering, and you hear the gossip. You hear the backstabbing. It makes you want
to vomit. When I gave this message to a small band of twenty people, right beforehand a pair of them were
ranting on and on about how they hate someone they know. I saw their jaws drop and their Adam‘s apples
bob when they heard this verse. It hits hard. How can we claim to love and follow God if we don‘t love
others? How can you go against the grain and with the grain at the same time? It is impossible! In the same
way, you are a liar if you say you love God, but go on hating others. Jesus says we have to love both. It‘s
just the way it is. Love doesn‘t mean we have to get along with everyone. It doesn‘t mean we have to like
everyone. Everyone has a person or two they dislike. But it doesn‘t mean we deny them the love that Jesus
didn‘t deny us. Love on them. Care for them. This is what Jesus calls us to do. If you hate a brother or sister
in Jesus, then you are a liar, and the love of God is not in you. Maybe it‘s time to shoot down the hatred
you have for another, and instead show them the love of Jesus? Maybe it is time to get stamped by your
love for others?
If someone claims, ―I know him well!‖ but doesn‘t keep his commandments, he‘s
obviously a liar. His life doesn‘t match his words. But the one who keeps God‘s word is
the person in whom we see God‘s mature love. This is the only way to be sure we‘re in
God. Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life
Jesus lived. – 1 John 2:4-6, The Message
Anyone can claim to be a follower of God. Anyone can form together words and spit them out. But the
truth in our words isn‘t found in words, but actions. If we claim that we know God well, but don‘t keep his
commandments, once again, we are liars. Our life doesn‘t match our words! A genuine follower not only
says he follows a leader, but actually follows that leader. So it is with God, in all aspects, including the
greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. We can all claim intimacy with God. But if we do,
watch out. Are we marked by our love towards others? This is the only way to be sure we‘re in God. John
adds, ―we ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.‖ What kind of life did Jesus live? A life of love.
What kind of love does Jesus show us on the cross? Sacrificial love. Lying down his life for his friends.
The Last Supper. Low candles. Open windows. Maybe it is raining outside. The disciples shiver. Jesus
looks into their eyes, one-by-one, going around the low table.
―This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way
to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the
things I command you. I‘m no longer calling you servants because servants don‘t
understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I‘ve named you friends
because I‘ve let you in on everything I‘ve heard from the Father.
―You didn‘t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit,
fruit that won‘t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he
―But remember the root command: Love one another.‖
- John 15:11-17, The Message
This is how we‘ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for
us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out
for ourselves. – 1 John 3:16, The Message
Jesus is adamant: Love one another! Just as Christ sacrificed his life for us, so are we to sacrifice ourselves
for our brothers and sisters in God. In America, not many are killed for their faith in Jesus. Not many have
the chance to take a bullet for a friend. This doesn‘t mean we ignore this Scripture and jump to the next. So
much is to be said.
This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves.
Because of what Jesus did for us, we are given the task of sacrificing ourselves for others. Sacrifice our
time. Sacrifice our comfort. Sacrifice our desires. Sacrifice our bed. Sacrifice our advantages. Sacrifice our
careers. Sacrifice our money. Sacrifice everything we hold sacred and close. And, if we must, sacrifice our
lives, just as Jesus sacrificed his life—his All and Everything—for us upon the cross.
Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus
lived. – 1 John 2:6, The Message
We are to live like Christ. Christian literally means ―Christ like,‖ or ―to be like Christ.‖ The early
Christians didn‘t hold it as just a title. They held it as a noble right. A right to live like their Savior. Not an
opportunity, but a privilege. A privilege to be taken into the arms of God and given the right to live in the
footsteps of God incarnate. How did Jesus show love not only on the cross, but in his day-to-day life?
Forgive others—―Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!‖
Care for those in need, and help—Jesus feeding the hungry, healing the sick and demon-possessed
Accept the untouchables—Jesus went to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, rejected ethnic groups
Listen to others—Jesus listened to and cared for the woman at the well (John 4)
Care not for reputation—Jesus set his reputation to the slaughter with the unruly crowds he hung out with
Speak truth no matter what—―Are you the Christ?‖ Life or death? ―It is as you say.‖
Serve others—―For the Son of Man came to serve, not to be served.‖
Jesus‘ life is the extreme and unbelievable offering of love. Jesus went where love hadn‘t gone. He touched
those only love would touch. His heart broke for those whom only love could love. He reached out and
accepted those the world rejected. As a Church—big ―C‖, the Body of Christ, not the institution of man, we
are called to love and accept others. We are called to reach out to the lost. How can we claim we are doing
this—how can we claim this and not be hypocrites—if we don‘t reach out to the sleazy businessmen, the
smelly construction workers, the terrorists, the homosexuals and lesbians and whores? How can we say this
if we don‘t reach out the preps and jocks and nerds and ditzes in our schools, even if we don‘t get along all
that well? How can we say this if we judge others based on sexual preference, whether they are baptized,
whether they are Catholic or Protestant, in the wrong ethnic group, or look and act different?
We need to love those who look so lost that they can never find Jesus—because we were in their position
once, and just as God called us, He calls them.
How can we love those we have made fun of or have held grudges against?
How can we change the way we ‗look‘ at those untouchables in our own lives?
Turn from judgment and criticism to compassion and love.
What are some ways we, as individuals, can love those in our homes? In our workplace? In our schools? In
our communities? In our churches?
What are ways we, as an assembly of believers in Jesus, can love others?
My dear children, let‘s not just talk about love; let‘s practice real love. This is the only
way we‘ll know we‘re living truly, living in God‘s reality. – 1 John 3:18, The Message
Let‘s really love. The worst thing that could happen is we live here today, hear the truth, but not act on it.
Continue hating. Continue despising. Continue walking in a path of darkness devoid of the light of love that
Jesus has shown us. Let‘s stop talking now. Let‘s start really loving. Let‘s end the hypocrisy.
The love we‘re called to lavish on others is not a ―fall-into‖ love. It is not a love that flows with our
emotions. It is a love that is willpower. A love that is not so much a gut feeling, but an action that exists in
our day-to-day life.
Are you ready as an individual to reach out and love others, no matter what?
Are we ready as the Body of Christ, as the Bride of the Messiah, to stop being hypocrites and to reach out
and really love others?
Remember: how you love others is how you love God!
During a worship gathering last week, the minister threw an 'open mic' at us where we could stand up, say
something on our hearts, and express ourselves as worship. The minister looked over at me and said, "Anth,
what's on your heart?" It was ironic he said something because a moment before I told God I would say
something if the band played the song, Make a Joyful Noise/I Will Not Be Silent by D.C.B. So he called me
out, I stood, walked up to the mic, stumbled through words, and said something to the extent of this:
In the Shawshank Redemption, it's said that the Pacific Ocean has no memories. David
Crowder writes in one of his songs, "Running through the forest, dive into the lake, bare
feet on beaches white; standing in the canyon, painted hills around, the wind against my
skin..." I used to think those were just pretty words for a pretty song, but I came to realize
that they're something so much more than that. David Crowder is painting a picture, an
image of heaven, an image of paradise. When I am beaten and bloodied and bludgeoned
by all the crap the world throws at me, when I am hit with depression, I keep these lines
at the forefront of my mind, so I do not forget. So I don't forget that one day I really will
stand bare feet on beaches white and wind against my skin, looking out at a beautiful and
untainted ocean, where the memories of all the bad crap in this life are gone.
The background image on my desktop is of palm trees overhanging a beach as the sun sets in the
distance. These pictures always fill me with peace, and it makes me smile to think that one day, when
all is said and done, I will lean against a palm tree, close my eyes, feel the sand between my toes, the
warm breeze tingling my cheeks, and let the scent of the salty ocean and the laughter of the gulls
sweep over me; and I will not worry about school, or work, or paying gas and insurance. I will kneel
down, let the sand run through my fingers, and joining my friends, we will run into that surf, laughing
with no worries. That day we will swim with dolphins.
And God shall smile over it all.22
WHY FOCUS ON HEAVEN? ISN’T THAT A BAD THING TO DO, EVEN UNGODLY?
―This life ought to be spent by us only as a journey towards heaven.‖
- Jonathan Edwards
To understand what Heaven is, we have to understand where we came from. We are meant for
Paradise. Our souls – the who we are – are designed for Paradise. Since we got kicked out of that
Paradise, however, we walk around carrying holes in our souls, gaps that cannot be filled with
anything of this world. We also carry unique desires that sometimes get made fun of, or longings that
seem ‗other-worldly.‘ These desires, these longings, these holes sprout from the world we are made for
– they make up who we are, but we‘re not home, and so they are currently unfulfilled. Jesus came to
bring us home; in confessing that He is Lord, and believing in our heart that God raised Jesus from the
dead, we are saved. But being saved is not just being delivered of the punishment for sin; it is not just
forgiveness. Being saved is a fancy two-word duo that means getting the life back. Jesus said,
http://darkerthansilence.blogspot.com, March 20, 2005
―The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,
and have it to the full.‖ – John 10:10, NIV
Jesus came to give us tastes of this life here and now. So many people make the mistake of thinking
that Jesus means we‘re getting all the life we lost back now. No – we‘re just getting glimpses. Jesus
doesn‘t want to spoil it (though, as we‘ll see, how can you spoil something so good?). Jesus says,
―Live by faith.‖ Live by faith that the life Jesus came for is the life we will receive.23 In all our
hardships and pains and troubles, we are often tempted to give up: ―This isn‘t the life Jesus meant – is
it?‖ No. It‘s not. We do find life in this world, more life than those who don‘t have Jesus, and our holes
are filled semi-deep, but we won‘t be made complete until we return home – to the Paradise we lost, to
communion with God, to the beauty and adventure and intimacy we thirst for. This is the Message of
Jesus – life is coming! You‘re going home! Evangelism is not doctoring the sick – it is sending poor,
hungry, lost travelers home.
The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the believers in Corinth, speaks of a man who actually got to see
Heaven with his own eyes.24 ―For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by
Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don't know if this took place in the body
or out of it; only God knows. 3 -4I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise--again, whether
in or out of the body, I don't know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was
forbidden to tell what he heard.‖25 This ‗man‘ (read verse 1) is actually Paul; Paul adds to the depth of
this statement in another letter when he pens, ―The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is
powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. 26‖ Why do you think Paul was so eager to go and be
with Christ in paradise? I‘ve no doubt that after the vision of paradise, he looked about and the world
was cold, boring, dry, and just spiritually painful. What he‘d thought was fun had been revealed for the
grimy monotone it really was, when it was bathed in Heaven‘s light. What he‘d thought were brilliant
colors were revealed as black-and-white in Heaven‘s rainbow. So he ached so hard to return to
―[God] has planted eternity in the human heart.‖ – Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT
We are all dying to know what heaven will be like. It is written in all of us. A sad truth is that ‗heaven‘
has been turned into an oxymoron – we are told we will be worshipping God by singing hymn after
hymn, one after the other, forever and ever, amen. We are told heaven is a place of baby angels with
halos and harps, sitting on white clouds. We are told it will be a never-ending church service. That‘s
what most of us imagine it as being. We say, ―Yay! Heaven! I can‘t wait!‖ but deep down we‘re
saying, ―That doesn‘t sound so exciting. That sounds boring.‖ It doesn‘t just sound boring – it sounds
like Hell. No wonder, in the words of Thoreau, we live lives of quiet desperation, void of hope – we
are in the mindset that this fallen, crooked world is all there is. If for all practical purposes we believe
that this life is our best shot at happiness, if this is as good as it gets, we will live as desperate,
demanding, and eventually despairing men and women. And most people are stuck in this mindset, and
so Thoreau‘s remark – sadly – hits the bulls-eye.
We speak of Heaven so seldom and when we do, the images are sickly: fat babies fluttering around
with tiny wings, bored saints lazing on shapeless clouds, strumming harps and wondering what‘s
happening back on earth where all the action is. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes:
It is tempting to think that salvation is going to Heaven; certainly, in the way salvation is spoken of here,
it seems to be the all and end all. Actually, salvation is about being made right with God; salvation is an
ongoing process of redemption (being given back life with God) and sanctification (getting closer to God).
Heaven, then, is what‘s at the end of the tunnel; but it‘s not the prize itself. The prize is an intimate
communion with the Creator and Lover God, and it‘s one we don‘t have to wait for, unlike Heaven!
2 Corinthians 12:1-4
Philippians 1:23, MSG
―Our pictures of Heaven simply do not move us; they are not moving pictures. It is this
aesthetic failure rather than intellectual or moral failures in our pictures of Heaven and of
God that threatens faith most potently today. Our pictures of Heaven are dull,
platitudinous and syrupy; therefore, so is our faith, our hope, and our love for Heaven. It
doesn‘t matter whether it‘s a dull lie or a dull truth. Dullness, not doubt, is the strongest
enemy of faith, just as indifference, not hate, is the strongest enemy of love.‖ (Everything
you wanted to know about Heaven)
Are we to believe that an eternal church service is better than going swimming at the beach, white-
water rafting, hanging out with friends, hiking across the Appalachian Trail, even stepping on the
moon? Have we dreamed better dreams than God can dream? Have we written better endings to stories
than even God can write? Here‘s some good news – an eternal church service is not Heaven.
Yet most Christians do not have the faintest notion of what Heaven will be like. One of the ―grand
essentials‖ of human happiness is having something to do, and most of us think that we‘ll just be
sitting or standing around in Heaven; it an unspoken fear, one that we don‘t let out too much, and
because we don‘t seem as excited as Paul does, or as excited as all the others in our church (who, by
the way, might just be throwing on the show of excitement as many do) we feel dirty and cheap and
spiritually unclean. After all, the never-ending sing-along in the sky isn‘t exactly breath-taking!
The Message says, ―God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living. To him all are alive."27 Jesus
meant that those who love and are loved by God are not allowed to cease to exist, because they are
God‘s treasures. He delights in them and intends to hold onto them. He has even prepared for them an
individualized work in His vast universe. God will not allow us to ever cease from existence; the
moment we die, we are standing before God, at the gates of the new heavens and the new earth. We
will see the semi slide into our lane – and then, though last we know it were a cold and dreary winter,
we will hear song birds, and laughter, and a warm sun, gentle breeze, and smell brilliant flowers
blooming upon the mountainsides!28 No wonder it is written, ―Death, where is your sting?‖ 29 No
wonder Paul said, ―To live is Christ, and to die is gain.‖30 Paul knew what Heaven is like! And when
you finish reading this, you will, too.
Did you know Jesus referred to Heaven as Paradise only once? In all the Gospels of his life, he is
recorded calling Heaven paradise only once.
―Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we‘re in. Study how he
did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in
and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.
And now he‘s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find
yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany
of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!‖ 31 – Hebrews
12:2,3, The Message
Luke 20:38, MSG
WHAT ABOUT SOUL SLEEP? When the Bible says a person is “sleeping” in relation to death (Luke 8:52;
1Cor 15:6), it does not mean literal “sleep”. Sleeping is just a way to describe death because a dead body
appears to be sleeping. The Bible tells us that the instant you die, you are taken to heaven or Hell based on
whether you had received Christ as your Savior or not. For believers, to be absent from the body is to be in
paradise (2Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:23). For unbelievers, death means everlasting punishment in Hell (Luke
16:22-23). The concept of “soul sleep” is not a Biblical doctrine. The moment we die, we face the
judgment of God (Heb 9:27). Heaven and Hell - these are the final, eternal destinations of all people – is
based entirely on whether a person had trusted Jesus Christ alone in being made right with God.
1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV
Philippians 1:21, NIV
Hebrews 12:2,3, MSG
When the time came for him to be betrayed by a friend, to be abandoned by those he loved; when the
time came when he stood naked before the world, mocked and ashamed; when the time came when the
clothes were torn off his back and he was punished for innocence; when he was so tired and so worn
that he couldn‘t even carry a piece of limber; when the nails were driven into his hands and feet, and
when he was raised up, naked (people were crucified naked in Roman times) before the earth, beaten
and bloodied, laughed at by those whom he loved, he remembered. He‘d been to Heaven before; that‘s
where he came from. He hadn‘t called Heaven Paradise yet, but now, as he is about to die, when all
strength left him, when the temptation to jump off that cross and heal his body that instant came on, he
held off by remembering. A guilty criminal said, ―Remember me in your Kingdom.‖ 32 I imagine Jesus‘
eyes lit up, and the pain seemed to falter a bit, and he knew where he was going; his own words went
through his soul, and he hung on a bit longer, and he told the criminal, tears crawling down his face,
―Today, you will be with me in Paradise.‖33 When life gets tough for us, when we‘re tired and worn
out and the road doesn‘t seem to end; when we‘re sick and want to vomit because of how bad we have
it – don‘t let people tell you we Christians have it good, we don‘t – then we need to remember. Jesus
remembered, and he ached for it with all his heart. We must remember.
We are called to remember Heaven. Jesus stressed it so much because we need to keep an eye on it.
We need to know where we‘re going. To say, ―If you think about Heaven all the time, you‘re
ungodly,‖ is an oxymoron. In 1 John chapter 2, John – who is known as the disciple Jesus loved most
intimately – says, ―If we claim communion with God, we need to live like Jesus.‖ Jesus kept Heaven at
the front of his mind all the time. When the criminal spoke, Jesus didn‘t say, ―Today you will find the
love of God,‖ or ―today you will receive mercy and grace.‖ He didn‘t even say, ―Today your sins will
be forgiven.‖ Sure, all that happened, but here‘s the question: what was on Jesus’ mind?
―Today you will be with me in Paradise!‖
If you want to know what a painting is like, look at the painter. To get a glimpse of what Heaven will
look like, without reaching into the Bible, we need to look at the painter God. How do we begin to
describe Him? Artistic. Powerful. Awesome. Majestic. Intricate. Delicate. Whimsical. Creative. The
universe is beautiful, and deep inside every one of us, we long to find our place in it, we long to care
and develop it; it is for this that we were made. The only story worth living in is the story of us
returning Home; the road goes out before us, and our destination awaits.
WHAT WILL HEAVEN BE LIKE?
While heaven cannot be fathomed, imagined, or touched to the extremity of how amazing it will really
be, God has given us some clues, some foretastes, that when you dig into them, make you think – and
make you smile. Jesus speaks of the ‗new creation,‘ a great wedding feast, paradise. Jesus told the
criminal on the cross, ―Today you will be with me in paradise.‖ In Heaven, we will find intimate
communion with the Trinity – but as heretical as it sounds, that in itself is not enough for the human
soul. Some think the human souls‘ passion for beauty and adventure is something dirty and unclean,
and that when we get to Heaven, these ‗corrupt‘ passions will be stripped away. No! They will be even
more intense, because the passion for beauty and adventure is from God! We are designed that way!34
We will find such beauty all around us in a new restored creation – a new heavens and a new earth.
Here we will be able to live out the beauty and the adventure.
"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.‖ – Isaiah 65:17, NIV
Luke 23:42, PAR
Luke 23:43, PAR
The idea that our passions and desires are sinful is not biblical. It flows out of the beliefs of stoicism,
which state that the ―pure‖ way of life is one of indifference to pleasure or pain; children of God are not
called to indifference to pleasure, nor indifference to pain!
A desire for beauty is within us all. The things that attract us the most are things – or persons – of
beauty. One man said that his wife was so beautiful, so mesmerizing, it was just beyond
comprehension to imagine how beautiful the creator of such beauty is! All beauty stems from the hand
of God. Yellowstone Park, the rainbows after a spring rain, the turning colors of leaves, dew on the
grass, the Grand Canyon – all this beauty comes from God. And so, when we float down the Amazon,
travel through the deserts of Australia, marvel at the waves against the shore, sometimes we feel aches
– aches because we know the beauty we see now will not last; aches because we were meant for
eternal beauty. Heaven is a place of eternal beauty. All the beautiful spots you‘ve ever known – for
me, the green-backed Tennessee mountains, the ocean, and sunlight coming through the trees – are just
foretastes of what is to come. The Himalayas, Congo jungle, all the luxurious vacationing spots you
can imagine – all are shadows of the realities to come. Maui and the Florida Keys and Cancun will
look like garbage dumps compared to what the new creation will look like!
However, we just don‘t want to see beauty. We want to be part of beauty. We thirst to be beautiful. In
Heaven, we will be immersed in beauty, and will be beautiful ourselves. This longing for beauty
beyond the eyes cannot be put into words – we want to be united with the beauty we see, we want to
pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it. In the Kingdom of
Heaven, we shall. We shall all find this beauty in the restoration, and part of the adventure will be
discovering and enjoying the wonder of a new creation.
Restoration means that what is old will be made new. What is dark will be made light. What is dirty
will be made clean. Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:11-13:
―Since everything here might be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a
holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up
and the elements will melt that day – but we’ll hardly notice. We‘ll be looking the other
way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped
Think of how beautiful the Germanic Forest and the Alaskan glaciers and the Caribbean are now,
corrupted and ruined by sin; imagine how they will be fully restored, brought back to how they were
before sin entered the picture! Our world is in a state of winter – cold, dry, bleak, the trees are bare, the
air is cold, the sky is gray. Heaven is spring – warmth, cool rains, bright sun, leaves on the trees,
flowers budding, life! All the beauties and glory of the original creation will return.
The universe and all in it will be restored – oceans free from oil, skies empty of pollution, sharks that
cuddle, and lions that play with children. Look at how the prophet Isaiah put it in Isaiah 11:6-9 –
―The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard will sleep with the kind.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
And a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eats straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
The toddler sticks his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill…‖ 36
Animals will not be able to hurt us! Sin and fear will not keep us revolted at spiders or snakes or
scorpions! All of God‘s creation will be radiating from His glory. We will be able to lay down with the
tigers, swim with the sharks, play with the spiders, roam with the rhinoceros. All the extinct animals
from the Message
from the Message
will be there, too. A friend and I agreed that when we get to heaven, we‘re both going to ride a
dinosaur. It will happen.
Not only will we be able to enjoy this new creation – swimming with dolphins, running with elephants,
flying with eagles, reunion parties on Pluto – but we will be made Lords and Masters over it. The new
heavens and new earth are our inheritance 37. Those who love God and run after Him, really living for
Him, will be put in charge over God‘s possessions – possessions of a new heavens and a new earth 38..
In Revelation 22:5, the point is made ever clearer when it says, ―And they will reign for ever and
ever.‖39 (Emphasis added). The minister‘s wife at my current church is obsessed with giraffes; perhaps
she will be one in a league watching over them in Heaven? Maybe God-followers of the same make-up
of Stephen Hawking will be plotting with physics all day long. Fascinated by astronomy? Maybe you
will rule over the stars in the Kingdom. A friend said, ―Heaven is not tailor-made for us individually.‖
I say, Why not? Scripture seems to say so!
The One who created you and set all those loves and gifts in your heart, the One who has shaped all
your life experiences (including the ones that seem to make no sense), this God has prepared a place
for you that is more than a perfect fit for all your gifts and quirks and personality traits – even those
you didn‘t know you had. Jesus Christ is not joking when he says that we will inherit the Kingdom and
take up positions of control, to reign creatively and with power. We will not sit around looking at one
another or at God for eternity but will join the eternal Logos, ―reign with him,‖ in the endlessly
ongoing creative work of God. It is for this that we were each individually intended, as both kings and
priests40. A place in God‘s creative order has been reserved for each one of us from since before the
beginnings of cosmic existence. His plan is for us to develop, as apprentices to Jesus (the One who
brought all creation into existence 41), to the point where we can take our place in the ongoing creativity
of the universe. While our desires and our gifts aren‘t being used to the fullest in this life, while our
talents are ignored and some of our dreams mocked, Christ promises that we shall be actively fulfilling
our total design in the adventures of the new kingdom. Right now, in this life we live, we are being
shaped, molded, groomed for a part in the grand drama that is coming. C.S. Lewis said:
―If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical
explanation is that I was made for another world.‖
Each of our souls have a unique shape to fit God. We are not all the same, but unique creations each
one of us. Often our ‗calling‘ calls us to things that we can‘t touch in this life. We are lost, fatigued,
weary. We think, ―Why has God put this on my heart if I cannot live it out?‖ How many of us have
considered that this is how we were meant to be, but because we got kicked out of Eden, we aren‘t?
How many of us have thought that when we enter the second Eden – the Kingdom of Heaven – we will
be living it out more than we could ever have imagined? How wonderful it will be to have our souls
released to their true destiny, in a world no longer stained by sin or under the curse? To throw
ourselves into some wonderful enterprise, unhindered by our own weaknesses or the frustrations
typical of a broken world? Gardeners dream of a spot of ground with rich soil and not a weed or sow
bug to be found. They shall have it. Architects dream of the day when they shall build their own
designs and not just carry out the plans of others. They shall. Those who desire to cultivate, nourish,
watch over and study ancient creatures will. Like little children eager to show off precious creations,
we shall bring them to our Father in Jerusalem, for glory and praise.
The ―glorious freedom‖ of the children of God is not just freedom from sin. It is freedom to live. It‘s a
freedom of being all we are meant to be. We won‘t be held back by anything anymore; no, we will
have finally hit our stride. We can pursue our passions without the hindrances of lack of time, or
money, or whatever it may be. Those who always wanted to start a rock band will be able to build one
Exodus 19:6, Revelation 5:10
greater than ever, and play any style of music they want – jazz, hardcore, Scream-O, classical. Those
who always dreamt of sailing across the ocean in a sailboat will be able to; there will be no danger of
death, no danger of failure! The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as the Scripture
often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so
we shall rise. St. Peter for a few seconds walked on the water, and the day will come when there will
be a remade universe, infinitely obedient to the will of glorified and obedient men, when we can do all
things, when we shall be those gods that we are described as being in Scripture.
Throughout our lives, each one of us lives with a constant nagging that we never quite fit in, we never
truly belong. We‘ve all had enough experiences to teach us that we will never be allowed into the
―sacred circle,‖ the place of intimacy. We desire so strongly for that intimacy, that belonging – this is
why it feels good when you are popular, when people talk good about you, when you‘re at the top of
the best friendships lists. However, in this world, most of us never find that intimacy, and those who
do, usually can never keep it. In the fourteenth chapter of John, chapter 2, Jesus says, ―I am going… to
prepare a place for you.‖42 We‘ll be welcomed into Heaven by our Lover Himself, the King of the
Universe. He will give us a home in Heaven. What will this home be like? One translation says that we
will have ―mansions in Heaven.‖ Perhaps you will live in Alaska, against the ocean; or in Florida, or
Maui, or the Serengeti? That dream house you never could afford? It is a cardboard shack compared to
the amazing mansion prepared for us in the new heavens and new earth! 43 The deepest longing of our
heart – our longing to be part of the sacred circle, to be on the inside – reveals to us the greatest of the
treasures heaven has in store. For we were made in and for the most sacred circle of all. It will no
longer just be Father, Son, Holy Spirit – but Father, Son, Holy Spirit, fellow Christians, and you!
We will have a place in Heaven, and we will be in communion with God – we will finally find that
intimacy we ache for, and we will be given our real names, the names of our souls, who we are, on
white tablets of stone given to us personally by God 44. Of this name, George MacDonald writes:
―It is the man‘s own symbol – his soul‘s picture, in a word – the sign which belongs to
him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone… Such a
name cannot be given until the man is the name [we will be our true selves finally in
Heaven]… that being whom He had in His thought when He began to make the child,
and whom He kept His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize
the idea. To tell the name is to seal the success – to say, ―In thee also I am well pleased.‖
We will enter this unbelievable new creation not how we are now. We will keep our gender; we will
keep our personality; we will keep our memories of earth, and of friendships. We will remember when
I spoke to you about this place, and we‘ll laugh and say, ―We had no idea!‖ We may carry
personalities and memories to heaven with us, but what we won‘t carry is our current physical form.
See what Paul says in Philippians 3:20,21-
―But there‘s far more to life for us. We‘re citizens of high heaven! We‘re waiting the
arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into
glorious bodies like his own. He‘ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful
skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.‖ 45
Those who were blind will be able to see the beauty of the universe. The deaf will hear the laughter of
friends and family, and hear the surf and the wind of the new creation. The lame will jump and dance
and run around the new heavens and new earth. Those whose brains were tempered with disabilities
will understand, and see, and be full and alive. Those who wished to be brave, will be brave. Those
who always longed to be beautiful, will be beautiful. Those who wished to be leaders, will be leaders.
Perhaps you dreaming architects will have a field-day here!
What we once yearned to be, we will be! We will be beautiful and whole! The elderly will be young
again, and the babies will be mature through the power of God.
Of course, we won‘t have physical bodies in Heaven. We‘re just going to be mystical spirits fluttering
around. We have yet another Heaven folklore. We will keep our gender; we will keep our
personalities; we will keep our memories of earth and memories of friendship and memories of our
troubles. We will carry personalities and memories with us, and we‘ll also have new physical bodies.
We will have bodies like Jesus – remember, won‘t you, that he was able to get from one place to
another without walking46? Yes, we will be able to eat47! Jesus was able to pass through walls, and yet
he was not just a spirit, he had a physical body48. We, too, will have a physical body, and we, too, will
be able to walk through walls49. We will not be restricted by gravity and friction and everything you
learn about in physics class. Jesus was able to walk on water 50, and we will be able to, too. Look at
what Isaiah prophesies:
―But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like
eagles, they run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.‖ 51
We will be able to fly like eagles, run through the canyons and not get tired, walk with our friends and
reminisce without our legs cramping up. We will be able to discover new cosmos in the greatest
reaches of a new universe, and swim in the deep with marvelous fish without the fear of drowning.
In Revelation 9:7-9 a command spreads through Heaven, the kick-off when all those who trusted in
Jesus finally gather together, complete, in the new Kingdom: ―Let us celebrate, let us rejoice, let us
give [Christ] the glory! The Marriage of the Lamb has come; his Wife has made herself ready. She was
given a bridal gown of bring and shining linen. The linen is the righteousness of the saints. The Angel
said to me, ‗Write this: ―Blessed are those invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.‖‘ He added,
‗These are the true words of God!‘‖
This wedding party is going to be something else. We will meet up with friends and family who
decided to put their faith in God. We will see once more our brothers and sisters, our parents and
grandparents, sons and daughters, friends. Everyone who ever decided to live for God will meet back
together – reunions with tears of joy, happiness that bubbles over, screams of excitement! And God
smiling over it all! Some say that we will not be able to remember one another in the Kingdom; this is
blasphemy! The universe is based off of a relationship between the Trinity; we are creations designed
for community. The question is not if we‘ll know each other‘s names or recognize each other, but when
will that day come? In Heaven we will be fully exposed, but it will not be embarrassing or shameful –
it will be for our total delight. We will be perfect; each of us will be the individual soul God had in
mind all along. Whatever memory of the past we will have in Heaven, this way know – in one way or
another, it will contribute to our joy.
A fear some people have is of getting to the ―gates of Heaven‖ and having God throw up all your sins
on the big screen for the entire earth to see. We‘re afraid that our loved ones, our friends, our family
will see all the terrible, secret things we‘ve done, and we‘ll be put to shame. It‘s no joke. Our lives will
be put before the world52. Yet a lot of us forget one thing – when we take on the salvation work
completed in Jesus, Jesus erases all the bad things we‘ve done – he wipes them out of history! In some
mythical way we cannot understand, all those horrible things we‘ve done never happened! We still
have the effects, but this is just a God-thing. So when the person before us has all his shameful acts –
John 20:19-20, 26
Isaiah 40:31, MSG
every lie and lust, every slander and hate – is put on display, and people are like, ―Oh my gosh!‖ you
won‘t have to worry – because when you‘re there, people will just be seeing all the great and
wonderful things you did, and God will say, ―Check into paradise, don‘t check out!‖
We will worship God, but not only through music. My friend asked, ―What kind of worship music
would Jesus play?‖ After a few moments of thought, he said, ―I guess whatever kind that sounded
good to His ears!‖ The variation in worship is amazing, and the variation isn‘t just found in styles of
music. Creation worships God, and we worship God when we enjoy creation! When we enjoy the new
creation, we will be worshipping God – don‘t you know how you feel when you give someone a gift
and they love it so much they cry and won‘t ever let go? This worship will be like nothing we‘ve ever
experienced or ever will till the day we stand in the restoration. We will adore Him. Heaven is the
return of the beauty, the intimacy, the adventure we were created to enjoy, and have yearned for every
day of our lives. And it is immortal.
Some might say that I‘m off the mark here, that it is all just vocal and musical worship. That is
unbiblical, but instead of touting some Scriptures, let‘s look at an analogy: if you give someone a gift,
you don‘t give it to them so they can just say, ―Thank you, thank you, thank you!‖ all night long. You
get a bigger smile from seeing them rip open the box and playing with the toy than you do just hearing
their polite little, ―Thank yous.‖ It will be the same in creation – some of us will choose to enjoy the
new creation through vocal/musical worship, of course, but most of us, I imagine, will take a look,
gasp, and run and have fun! And God will be smiling over it all!
Jesus says we will inherit the Kingdom – this isn‘t metaphorical! All the cosmos will be before us! No
longer will we be bound by our bodies and physical limitations – we will be given the task of ruling
over, with power and creativity, the kingdom of God!
Imagine the greatest days of your life, combine them into one, multiply it by an eternity, and repeat it
over and over for eternity. There is Heaven! It cannot be lost; it cannot be taken. As we were created to
reign over the earth – to explore and discover and create and do all those things we long to do – that is
our destiny. Those deep desires God has planted in us – maybe desires to be musicians, or
paleontologists, or teachers, or desires to go places, see things, experience things – all will become
reality in Heaven.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with
men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be
with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and
there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more
pain: for the former things are passed away. 53
There will be no more death. No more sorrow, no more pain. No more depression or anxiety or worry
or fear. No more stress. No more dashed hopes. No more being grumpy about having to go to work.
No more having to wake early for school. No more having to deal with rude bosses or funerals. All of
that will be gone – it is all the waste of a sinful, corrupted world. But now we will be spending eternity
laughing, loving, playing, having fun! Death, crying, pain – symptoms of homesickness.
Jesus says, ―There are many rooms in my Father‘s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If
this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that
you will always be with me where I am.‖ 54 At this very moment, as you hear this, Jesus is alive and
working: he is ruling, he is drawing others near him, and he is wearing a carpenter‘s belt with hammer
and nails: he is building homes for us! Jesus says, When everything is ready, I will come and get you,
so that you will always be with me where I am. Here we have another way to look at physical death:
going home. When that semi slams into your little Buick, guess what? It might sound sickening, but
Revelation 21:3,4 KJV
Luke 14:2-3, NLT
God‘s celebrating; don‘t worry, you‘ll be in the celebrating mood shortly: it‘s homecoming! What is
one reason death exists? It‘s a window that allows us to step into our true homes: paradise.
What is the greatest day of your life, real or imaginary? Throw all your greatest days together,
combining them into one, multiply it by an eternity, and repeat it over and over for eternity. There is
Heaven! How long is an eternity? Empty the Pacific Ocean completely of water and pile it with sand.
Train a bird to pick up a grain of sand once every million years. When that bird has picked up the last
grain of sand, you have just spent your first second in eternity.
WHAT ABOUT HELL?
―The man wakes from the final struggle of death, in absolute loneliness – such a
loneliness as in the most miserable moment of deserted childhood he never knew. Not a
hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him. All is dark, dark
and dumb; no motion – not the breath of a wind! Never a dream of change! Not a scent
from a far-off field! No sign of God anywhere. God has so far withdrawn from the man…
he is in God‘s prison, his own separated self.‖
- George MacDonald, The Last Farthing
Hell is not a popular subject. We‘d prefer it not be part of God‘s creation (yes, God created it!), but
we‘re not calling the shots – and God has said there is a place where those who reject Him will be
housed forever. But Hell needs to be talked about – it is no small wonder John the Baptist warned,
―Flee from the wrath to come.‖
In Hell there is no death, no time when the conscience is at ease. Hell is a place of desolation and great
pain. It is a place where those who choose to be separate from God will get their eternal wish –
separation from God forever.
Hell was not created for man – it was created for Satan and his angels; if we refuse to follow God, we
are rebels with Satan, whether we know it or not, and will join him there. Hell is for those who betray
God – not vice versa. As real life is only found in God, so they will suffer the most extreme and real of
deaths – a death that never ends!
Revelation says that those in Hell will be ―tormented day and night forever and ever,‖ in the ―Lake of
Fire.‖ Some people don‘t like the idea of Hell, so they say, ―I don‘t believe that.‖ What does that
change? Hell is paying a bill for your rejection of God – a bill that can never be paid; since it can never
be paid, the bill just keeps coming around – the payments never stop. But do you know what the worst
part of Hell is? The eternal torment of remembering that on such-and-such a day, that person sat in
church, heard the news of Hell, and didn‘t do anything about it. Hell is knowing that you could have
but never did address the issue of your eternal destiny. You didn‘t take seriously the wrath of God.
People in Hell remain fully conscious, have memories, conscience, and all physical senses intact – but
it‘s all agony! The memories are painful, your body is racked in pain, and you are all alone, in the
darkness; think of the worst depression, and multiply it by a million. That‘s Hell. The moment you step
in, you‘ll want to commit suicide – but you won‘t be able to. Jesus was on the ball when He said,
―There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.‖
Some think Hell will be a big party – but Hell is solitary confinement. We were created as social
creatures; we will be banished from one another, lost in our thoughts, our pain, our memories for
eternity-upon-eternity-upon-eternity. There is no fellowship in Hell; no get-togethers, to parties, no
reunions, no buffets. Hell does have varying degrees of punishment – those who knew more but
rejected it will be punished far more than those who knew less and made the same decision. Yet even
the slightest degree is beyond comprehension.
No matter what you read, we‘ll never be able to really understand – even catch a glimpse of – the
tortures of Hell. And it will go on for eternity; how long is eternity? God doesn‘t just come out of
nowhere and boom on unsuspecting people who had no chance to do anything about their eternal
destiny – God endures us with ―much patience,‖ and is eager for us to turn from our sin and turn to
Him for real life. God is patient, giving everyone space and time to change – but the decision is still
theirs to make!
Every one of us is a heartbeat from eternity – believers are a heartbeat from Heaven, and unbelievers a
heartbeat from Hell. One heartbeat, one act of violence, one accident away from the judgment of God.
God‘s fury could blow the universe apart at any moment; the End could come at any second. Hell is
not a place of jokes, because no one will be laughing. Hell is not a place for partying, because there
will be no one to part with – just you and your pain. The Nile-infested slums of Africa become
paradise when compared to what is to be experienced in Hell.
WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK?
The world, the minions of darkness, and your own double-mindedness are all set against you. Just try
coming alive, try living from your heart for the Kingdom to come, and watch how the world responds.
They will say you are an idealist, they will condemn you, say you‘re off from the truth. They will call
you obsessed and immature and even ungodly. You will be branded a heretic and a liar. They will hate
you and will do everything in their power to get you to fall back into the comfort of the way things
were. Your passion will disrupt them, because it sides with what they want, and what they‘ve tried so
hard to extinguish. If they can‘t convince you to abandon your ‗heretical‘ ideas, to betray your inner
heart, if they can‘t convince you to live life the way they want you to, to live from the safer havens
they‘ve chosen, they will try intimidation: ―If you believe that, then you‘re distorting the Truth.‖ ―If
you try to spread your lies, you will go to Hell.‖ ―You‘re backstabbing God when you say Heaven is
like that!‖ Remember, everything we‘ve said about Heaven is biblical. If this fails, they will try to kill
you (didn‘t they kill Jesus???). If they can‘t kill you literally, they will try to kill you in the most sacred
place: your heart, the real you.
Bearing this reality of a world we are going Home to can be tough. God revealed this to me through
several different instances, circumstances and people. Only a few have really accepted it, and they are
living wildly for God like never before. Satan‘s attack is to get us to betray what we believe – that
there is something better out there, something worth living – fighting! – for! I have been called
‗confused,‘ ‗idealistic,‘ and a friend even told me, ‗That‘s the stupidest and dumbest thing I‘ve ever
heard,‘ and he‘s a highly-respected member in our local church. Don‘t let them fool you – see the
evidence for yourself. If we were so wrong, then how come those who know and believe this Truth are
moving through the world, ablaze with God, for God, and drawing a wake of miracles?
It is tough. Sometimes we‘ll just scream to God, ―Why did you let me know this? Why did you put this
knowledge of what is coming – this beauty, intimacy, adventure – in my heart? And since I‘ve seen,
how can I choose but to follow? All it‘s brought me is the fury of friends, family, the community, the
church! This is even worse – I can‘t get away from it! This desire, this passion is so welded into me
that I can‘t walk away from it! I can‘t ignore it! I‘m trapped by this desire! It hurts me and makes me
alive at the same time!‖ The prophet Jeremiah echoed the very same words to God:
―O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived ; you overpowered me and prevailed. I
am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming
violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach
all day long. But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his
word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.‖55
Perhaps we feel ashamed of wanting. Aren‘t we to be content? St. Augustine said, ―The whole life of
the good Christian is a holy longing.‖ We aren‘t supposed to long! We aren‘t supposed to desire! We
are supposed to be content. That‘s what most Christians say. No! We are hardwired for desire! We are
Jeremiah 20:7-9, NIV
called to long! Jesus longed for his Father, longed for the world to find life, longed for Paradise. So
should we! A lot of us have made the mistake of being led to feel that if we are really godly, then we
should want less, not more. We have a sense that we should beg forgiveness for our longings, kill our
desires – all for the sake of contentment. Contentment is never wanting less; that‘s the wacky way out.
Anybody can look holy if they‘ve killed their heart; the real test is to have your heart burning within
you and have the patience to enjoy what there is to enjoy now, while waiting with eager anticipation
for the feast to come.
Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have
something, you don't need to hope for it… But if we look forward to something we don't
have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently.56
We are saved and we eagerly look forward to the freedom of Paradise. We don‘t have it now. If we
did, we wouldn‘t need to Hope – long, desire – for it. We only look forward to something we don‘t
have. We are supposed to want! We are supposed to long! St. Augustine knew what he was talking
about! Those who hate pleasure are not godly; the redeemed are the ones who hunger and thirst the
most for the Paradise on the brink. Yet we have to wait patiently and confidently for what is coming. It
will come. Don‘t kill your soul, your desires, what you know to be truth just because the road is hard
and people will hate you for it. Jesus didn‘t stop. Now where is he? Ruling from Paradise! And we will
be in Paradise, too!
There are those, unfortunately, who have murdered their true selves by eliminating desire from their
hearts. They have taken contentment to a low never intended. Some people just make it so where they
don‘t want so much; isn‘t it safer that way, more comfortable? Sure, you‘re a walking shell, but you
won‘t experience the painful longing and rejection from others! Guess what? Walking that way is not
righteousness, it‘s godlessness. That‘s stoicism, not Christianity. That‘s paganism, not Jesus.
Sanctification is an awakening, the rousing of our souls from the dead sleep of sin into the fullness of
their capacity for life. Killing the desires of the heart is not sanctification, it‘s wickedness.
This world is tough. We who long, we who desire, are closest to God. And for that reason, we suffer
the most. God will never be welcome in this fallen world. Jesus was crucified, not given a banquet and
a hallelujah feast. So we, who are closer to God, will suffer as we walk and live with God. We can be
sullen, bitter, grave, harsh, angry because of the mental, physical, emotional and sometimes spiritual
pain – or we can let it be a reminder. A reminder that a day is coming when we will all live in perfect
love. We can let the ache draw us deeper into our souls, closer to God, and serve as a painful reminder
of a wonderful Paradise God has in store for all who love him!
How did Jesus sustain his passionate heart in the face of brutal opposition? He never lost sight of
where he was headed. He had a vision for the future that he knew was real, knew was true, and knew
he would experience again. In the story of the Last Supper, we are told that Jesus knew ―he had come
from God and was returning to God,‖ and lived his life of selfless love to the end. He remembered both
where he had come from and where he was going. So should we.
THE ROAD IS LONG AND TOUGH
Sometimes we wonder if we will make it. The road is tough. The road is hard. But the day will come –
the first day in eternity, a day so good we‘ll wish it never to End, and know that it never will! Laugh
much. Play hard. Live for God. Jesus tells us, ―I‘m going to Heaven, and I‘m preparing a place for you.
And I‘ll come back for you.‖ He‘s coming back for us. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe
seventy years from now. Did you know we will never taste death? The transition from life here on
earth to forever-life in Heaven will be instantaneous. We see the semi sliding into our lane – and then
we‘re standing deep in the Serengeti of a restored creation, with the elephants and zebras, and giraffes
and lazy crocodiles. The death for a believer shouldn‘t be a day of mourning – because there‘s no way
they‘re mourning where they are! They‘re probably pulling strings with God to get you there sooner!
Romans 8:24,25, NLT
That’s how amazing it will be! Our journey today brings us one step closer to being home – really
home with God. All that has hurt us so deeply will be swept away.
And since this is what we can imagine, we know it will be far, far better!
No wonder Jesus spoke of Heaven so much (Paradise!). He didn‘t want us to miss out on this truth! No
wonder Paul said, ―I just want to die and go join Jesus in Heaven.‖ It is sad we have white-washed,
tamed and doctrinated Heaven – it will be wild, wonderful, an adventure of excitement and thrills that
never ends! And best of all, this is no fairy tale – it is real.
So my question to you is this: what will you do? We think about amusement parks – what will we do
first? Which ride? Which restaurant? In Heaven, what will you do first? Paddle a canoe down the
Amazon? Soar above the earth with the eagles? Dive into the greatest depths with the sea creatures that
coming from God‘s hand? Will you learn to play an instrument? Eat out with those you were separated
from here on earth? Or will you dare to explore the Universe – from the planets to the sun to the stars
and distant galaxies? Will you hurl through space with asteroids? You‘ll have plenty of time for all of
that – an eternity! The cosmos will be ours! And best of all, this is no fairy tale – it‘s real.
They found themselves walking together – and a great, bright procession it was – up
towards mountains higher than you could see in this world even if they were there to be
seen. But there was no snow on those mountains. There were forests and green slopes and
sweet orchards and flashing waterfalls, one above the other, going up forever.
The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored
cliffs led up in front of them like a giant‘s staircase. And then she forgot everything else,
because Aslan himself was coming, leaping from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of
power and beauty.
Aslan turned to them and said:
―You do not look so happy as I mean you to be.‖
Lucy said, ―We‘re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan… You have sent us back to our
own world so often.‖
―No fear of that,‖ said Aslan. ―Have you not guessed?‖
Their hearts leapt and a wild hope rose within them.
―There was a real railway accident,‖ said Aslan softly. ―Your father and mother and all
of you are – as you used to say – died. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The
dream has ended: this is the morning.‖…
And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to
happen after that were so great and so beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this
is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever
after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world
and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they
were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which
goes on for ever and ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. 57
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis