Category: Christian Faith


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In: Christian Faith

I’ve been reading Solo: An Uncommon Devotional for quite a while. It puts things succinctly and simply. It gets at the heart of what it might look like to follow Jesus.

In a recent one I read – Walk with Me – there was a phrase that I   spent some time thinking about. It came in the midst of Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is sharing some good stuff about following him and he says it is an easy journey (I have often thought – it’s easy to follow Jesus? I must be doing it wrong). But then there are periods of my life when it is actually easy. And this is where I listened to these words, meditated on these words, Watch how I do it.

How does Jesus do it? I wondered.

In this period of my life, I have come up with this phrase which I use every now and then when I am counseling someone, be it a leader in our church or a client. The phrase is simply Jesus most often leads with grace.

As I was thinking about that phrase, how does Jesus do it – that’s when it came to me. Jesus does it by leading with grace.

More to come next time about that word grace.

In: Christian Faith

Many years ago, a book I least expected made a dramatic impact on my life. Bob George’s book Classic Christianity, while seemingly simple in concept, offered me some truths which I finally “internalized” and made my own when I was in my late twenties. When I read it for the first time, in reading the quotation below–that final line is what caught my attention and began to change who I thought I was and who I thought God was.

But at no time is His acceptance of me ever in question.

This understanding eventually had a tremendous impact on my life and to this day, I come back to these words to remember who I am and who God is. Here is the full excerpt:

“If you are a true Christian, then you are as righteous and acceptable in the sight of God as Jesus Christ.”

What’s your reaction? If you are shocked…, then it may be that you just don’t know who you are in Christ. It may be that you know a great deal of doctrine, but your daily Christian life is still more a burden than a blessing. You may have tried and tried to change your life without success, in spite of all the seminars, books, and tapes you have searched. Whatever your situation, I have great news to share with you.

Most Christians, I find, understand the general idea behind forgiveness: God took our sins and gave them to Jesus. But that’s only half the message. God also took Christ’s perfect righteousness and gave it to us! Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” How could I stand up and declare that in the sight of God I am as righteous and acceptable as Jesus Christ? Because of what I do? No way. It’s because of who I am in Christ.

The Bible goes to great lengths to declare that righteousness is a free gift that a man receives by faith.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

Righteousness (a right standing of total acceptability before God) is a gift. You don’t work for it. You don’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. Like any gift, all you can do is accept it or reject it. And once you have it, it’s yours.

Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Because we are in Him we are totally acceptable to God!

Now realize that I am talking about ourselves being acceptable to God, not necessarily our actions. In my identity I am eternally acceptable to Him, but that doesn’t mean that everything I do is all right. He may put His arm around me, so to speak, and show me the truth about something in my life that is out of line: an attitude, action, or habit. Why? So He can change my attitude that is out of line, resulting in a change of action. But at no time is His acceptance of me ever in question.

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In: Christian Faith
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For those new to this website, here are a handful of facts about yours truly.

  1. While a college student in Chicago, one day I went to go play tennis downtown with a friend. Once we got back, my car, which was a 1977 Chevy Caprice Classic, had been stolen. The police found it 2 weeks later with most everything gone: the tires, rims, seats, all of my belongings, even most of the engine. I loved that car.
  2. In high school, I was an exchange student to Germany. I was the worst student when I left and came back the one who spoke German the best. How? My German teacher had me live with a family that spoke no English.
  3. I’ve seen many concerts in my lifetime: my favorites being U2 (Joshua Tree and No Line on the Horizon tours), Echo and the Bunnymen, Sufan Stevens (three times), Bobby McFerrin, The Smiths, General Public, Broken Social Scene and some unknown  jazz quartet at the Green Mill in Chicago when I was in my early twenties.
  4. Easily my worst job was selling vacuums door-to-door. I was 19 years old. The name of the vacuum was The Pig and my boss was deceptive, manipulative and greedy. Fun times.
  5. I met my wife Julie through a weekend retreat through our church. We were camping in Wisconsin and the name of the park where we camped was called Devil’s Lake State Park. Except for meeting Julie, it was a miserable weekend, because I had to sleep in a wet sleeping bag, because it rained all weekend. I married her 11 months later. Second best decision of my life (see below).
  6. Eerie: When I was in college, a friend and I the night before spring break started were talking late into the night. We were discussing the people, if we lost them, would devastate our lives. She gave one name: her older brother who was her hero and best friend. He was killed in a bicycling accident that week. This taught me for the first time an important lesson: life is fragile.
  7. Also while I was in college, I worked with kids and adults with severe autism and other disabilities. Peter, a young man who had autism, also had a major metabolism problem and would eat anything in his sight and therefore, all food had to be locked up at home. One day, we went for a walk and two high school girls were coming in our direction. One of them was eating a doughnut. In a flash, Peter snatched it out of her hand and gobbled it down. Not quite knowing what to do, we just kept walking.
  8. Some things I love: Smartwool socks, golfing with my sons on a summer evening, sushi and raw oysters, World War II movies, my job, Arts & Craft furniture, many different HBO series, art museums, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and Illinois Fighting Illini basketball. I do not like roller coasters, lima beans, being cold, climbing up on a roof (i.e., heights), wearing contacts, and though this may sound sacrilegious, putting up Christmas stuff (e.g., the tree, ornament, lights, etc.).
  9. I love the ocean. I love standing next to it. I love swimming in it. I love the sounds it makes. I love the smell. The oceans always reminds me that God exists and that he is good.
  10. I began to follow Jesus and became a Christian in my sophomore year of college. I was really into U2 and a friend told me that Bono was a Christian and said that my favorite song, “I Will Follow” was about following Jesus. At this time, I began to investigate my faith from years past (I grew up Catholic) and through the books of C.S. Lewis books (Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and Screwtape Letters) I decided to begin “following” again. At that point, I had made a pretty big mess of my life, e.g., drinking a lot and the other stuff associated with that and was beginning to realize that there was more to life than how I was living it. It was the best decision of my life.

In: Christian Faith
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We live in the age of the individual. Let’s face it, in our culture we are encouraged to be tremendously self-centered. With this self-focus comes competition. When a culture has its only focus as the individual,  community inevitably becomes very difficult to attain. The American church in many ways has bought into this individualistic notion; the American church has been held captive to this aspect by the culture. One can clearly see this by all of our denominations. Just open a telephone book and you will see plainly on those yellow pages the individualism of the American church: Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Full Gospel, Assemblies of God, Reformed, Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Wesleyan, etc. etc etc. The list is nearly endless.

I recall of few years back being at a conference in which the speaker was Mike Pilavachi. He pastors a church in England; he is a very engaging speaker, very light-hearted and was a joy to listen to during those days I was in Nashville (if you have heard of Matt Redman, Mike Pilavachi is the pastor of the church he serves). He said hard things at times, but again with a lightness and humor to them. I had never heard him before and what he said really spoke to me.

When on the final night he came out to speak, his countenance was different; he was not smiling as usual and his step was not as vigorous. I will never forget the words he spoke to us that night. He opened by saying that he really felt like the Lord wanted him to share something with us. Again, his tone was very serious. He acknowledged that he really did not want to give this message—he confided, it would be hard to speak.

Essentially, he said one thing; he said that God hated the denominationalism in the American church. He spoke passionately for a good 10-15 minutes speaking to us on this issue. He was fiery and passionate as any hell and brimstone preacher. As a comparison, he explained that in England there are so few Christians that as believers they just don’t have the time to get enraged about doctrinal disputes or legal ways of living that we typically do. There, Christians from all different denominations often work hand-in-hand in proclaiming the gospel through word and deed, because they are so out-numbered. They typically don’t get bogged down by issues such as baptism, versions of the Bible, sacraments, etc.

That was all he had to say; when he left the stage, you could have heard a pin drop. With our jaws dropped open, I don’t think that there was anyone there that did not hear the seriousness of his words. It was deeply convicting. Since that time, over nine years ago, I have thought of lot about unity and disunity in the church. H. Richard Niebuhr calls the “evil of denominationalism” the true “moral failure of Christianity.” In essence, denominationalism, at its heart, is divisiveness. But the church is called toward unity.

Since that talk nearly ten years ago, I don’t think much has changed in the American church with regards to reconciling our differences. The question then becomes, how can we as the American church be more unified? What are the ways that we need to change?

In: Christian Faith
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For those new to this blog, it is inspired by the infamous words of T.S. Eliot’s poem Little Gidding. The poem ends beautifully by stating:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Eliot became a Christian in his late thirties and his poetry and plays were infused with his beliefs about faith and how that faith should impact a person. This poem which I quote above is obviously about a person finding a relationship with Jesus, and therefore, “in the end,” finding themselves for the first time.

For me, Eliot’s poetry has a haunting feature about it, because every now and then he states something in a sublime and thoughtful manner, which makes you…well…think about what he said. As Johan Bergstrom-Allen wrote, “Christian artists and writers have often had much to teach Christians about the world around them. They express the mysteries of faith in a more concise and beautiful way than many traditional theologians.” For me, this defines T.S. Eliot as a writer and as a Christian.

Here are some selections from “The Choruses from the Rock” (you can google the title if you would like to read the entire poem); read some of these verses that speak in a proverbial and profound way. In some ways, this selection might remind you of the book of Ecclesiastes–verses that you need to read a couple of times through to understand what he is attempting to say. In this sense, you can also think of Jesus speaking in parables. He wants you to really listen and not just quickly read over the words. He wants you to hear the message he is trying to speak. As the poem ends, a good question to ask yourself: Who do you think Eliot was referring to as “the Stranger?” Who is this person who knows how to ask the best questions?

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to God.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

What life have you, if you have not life together?

There is not life that is not in community,

And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,

And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor

Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,

But all dash to and fro in motor cars,

Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.

Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

There is one who remembers the way to your door:

Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.

You shall not deny the Stranger.

In: Christian Faith
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