Friday, January 25, 2008

What Is A Christ-follower?

You've seen them, and so have I. They're loud; they're in your face, and they're certain they're right. They picket soldier's funerals because they're convinced that God is judging America by letting its young men die in Iraq. They carry signs that say things like "God hates fags," or "God hates..." whatever they hate. It's all so very sad.
I've been teaching a series lately based on the question what is a Christ-follower? The vast majority of people in North America, surprisingly, call themselves Christians. But there are so many different definitions of that word that it's no wonder there's so much confusion. There are certainly no shortage of people who claim to have a hedge on the truth. But I think if you want to answer that question, the best thing to do is to look at what Jesus actually said and what his first disciples actually did and taught.
An obvious thing we see is a person who was more inclined to relationship than religion. He took great issue with the Pharisees (a sect of Jews who took great pride in their ability to keep all of the rules and regulations and who even expanded them). He called them hypocrites who would be concerned about the smallest detail of the law yet would turn their back on someone in need. Jesus, on the other hand, took pains to step across culture barriers to care for people who were often considered outcasts. Mind you, Jesus did not endorse breaking the law either. He, rather, encouraged us to live out the law by boiling it down to its purest form. He said that all of the law was based on two commandments: (1) Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
So let's start with what does not make you a Christ-follower. Obeying the rules does not make you a Christ-follower. Otherwise the Pharisees would have qualified. Neither does going to church make you a Christ-follower, or giving money to charity. Those may be good things, but they don't cut it by themselves.
Neither does praying the right prayer, or saying the right words do it for you. In Matthew 15:8 Jesus said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." He asked a question that anyone calling themself a Christian should look at seriously. He asked, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things that I say?" I believe that to be the question of the day for the North American church. Someone said that the church in North America is growing, yes, it's a mile wide but an inch deep.
Jesus called for surrender. He called his disciples and expected them to leave their nets and follow him - and they did. He also called for obedience. When the rich young ruler came to him and asked what he must do to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus responded that he knew the commandments - do them. The young man was thrilled because, as he said, he had kept them all from his youth. But Jesus looked through his impressive facade into his heart and saw that what ruled his life was money. He told him that for him to enter the kingdom of God he needed to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and come follow him. (Note that he didn't require that of all of his followers). The point was that God will not play second fiddle to anything else in our lives.
So, Jesus also called for obedience - regardless of the cost. The picture we get through the New Testament is that of a community of people who were committed to following Christ, even if it cost them their lives - and for many it did. The world was changed because Jesus' disciples believed with every fiber of their being that Jesus Christ was who said he was and that this world was not their home. They knew that life had meaning because God created each of us for a purpose. And because Christ is with us by his Spirit, there is no challenge too great; no difficulty which can't be overcome.
Society was changed for the good because Christ-followers did just that. They followed Christ. They loved people regardless of who they were or where they were from - or what they'd done. They were a community of sinners saved by grace who lived lives of grateful obedience. Perhaps the greatest leader in the history of the church, apart from Jesus - the Apostle Paul - stated that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Are you a Christ-follower? I don't know. Who's your boss? Who gets to tell you what to do? My boss is a Jewish carpenter who carried his own cross up a hill to his death and who said to us, "Take up your cross and follow me." Any takers?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Advice From Bill Gates

Bill Gates gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. I thought this was something certainly worth sharing. Maybe I'll follow this up with lessons I've learned over the couple of years I've been out of High School.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school and you won’t be a vice-president of a company until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


It's New Years day 2008. Welcome to another new opportunity to make some positive changes in your life. Any New Year's Resolutions this year? You know the drill - quit smoking, be a better person, write a novel, etc... I don't know if you're like me, but I find it's relatively easy to find out what needs to change, it's entirely another matter to make it happen. So, how do we change?
John Maxwell said something like this: "people change when they hurt enough that they have to change, learn enough that they want to change or grow enough that they're able to change." I've found this statement to be true in my own life. Most of the problems that we have in our lives are self-made and must be dealt with by us. So, change starts with a determination that change is necessary.
One of my problems when I first started out in ministry was that I was a chronic avoider. I didn't like to deal with things directly; particularly confrontation. So what I would tend to do was to stay somewhere until the problems got large enough, and then I would find an excuse to move on. After I left a few messes behind me I was convinced that, if I was ever going to reach my potential, I would have to face my problems. It marked a real turning point in my pastoral ministry. I went from having short-term stays with little results to long-term stays and much more impact. But it began with that determination.
Step two is looking for the right tools. Some people need help to change. That help can come in the form of a mentor - someone to walk you through the steps and hold you accountable - or the resources you need. I've found books, CDs, and the internet as great resources to help change. The human mind is like a computer, and a computer is only as good as what is put into it. Too many of us have been feeding our minds garbage for so long that we don't function properly. That's likely why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 that the way to change is to " transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
Another helpful tool to make positive change is to use the power of habit. Someone said that first we form habits, and then our habits form us. So, what I've learned is to take some habit that I'm trying to elliminate and replace it with a habit that will move me in a better direction. I then commit myself to do that thing, whatever it is, for the next four weeks - every day. That's generally how long it takes for something to become a habit.
For example, let's say I've been staying up too late and am unable to get up in the morning. My goal then would be to be in bed by 11 each night and up by 6. The first few nights would be a challenge, but by the end of four weeks I would find that my body will automatically wake up at 6. The circadian rhythm - our biological clock - kicks in and starts to work for us. Once we form that habit, it becomes a part of who we are.
Author Charles Swindoll decided a long time ago that, if he was going to write, the only way that he could have the time was to get up one hour earlier in the morning and write then. For many years now that habit has enabled him to write scores of books. It began with a determination to do something different.
Anyway, there's my two-cents worth to start the New Year. I hope that 2008 is the best year you've ever had. Happy New Year and may all of your changes be positive ones.