stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

take up your assigned cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matthew 16:24-25

What does it mean to take up one’s cross to you?  In this context, it means to accept and bear the burden one has been called upon to bear.  The verse indicates that an intrinsic part of taking up one’s cross is to deny oneself.  That is, we must lose sight of ourselves and our own interests, so that we can focus on the burden we must carry.  We must deny ourselves, or our own will, to take up our cross, which is God’s will for us as His disciples.

We have some common crosses, in that as followers of Christ, we have universal commandments spoken to us in the Bible that we must follow.  Yet not all crosses are universal. God puts specific callings on different people, which come with different challenges.  The Bible is full of examples of this. Some were called to be Nazarites, meaning they could not participate in some things that other Jews did in the Old Testament; some were called to start the church among the Jews, while others were led to start churches among the Gentiles; some were called to kingship, while others were called to poverty; some were called to long lives, others called to die, and others called home without seeing death. And as each followed the call placed on their lives, taking up their cross, they followed God.

I am a pastor at KCC.  I have been called to be a pastor, and I follow that call.  This comes with certain challenges and realities that I must face.  They are part of my cross to bear.  I do not expect you to bear them for me or with me; they are mine.  And I am happy to take that up.  But just because I have some things I must do or cannot do doesn’t mean God expects the same from you.  Some pastors would suppose that everyone within the congregation must do as they do and live as they live and attempt to put that cross on their people.  I don’t agree. If God puts it on my heart to do something, I do not think you necessarily need to do it.  Just the same, some church people think pastors should do this or that, because it’s something they’re convicted about, and they attempt to put that cross on their pastors.  I don’t agree with that, either.  If the Bible says to do it or not to do it, I think we should all be bearing that, but let’s not assume everyone has the same calling as us and should be doing the same as us all of the time.

Don’t take up my cross and follow me.  I will not take up your cross and follow you.  Let us take up our assigned crosses and follow God.

The Quest Men’s Group is currently going through a study called Not a Fan.  It’s about being a committed follower of Christ, not just a fan who admires what He’s doing from the sidelines.  This morning, one of the questions was, “are there any stains from your past that keep you from fully following Christ?”  My initial reaction was, “no, I grew up a Christian and never really wandered far away.”  But that is a pretty lame answer and one that didn’t stick for long.

If I’m honest about it, there is a stain from my past that keeps me from following God.  My previous political affiliations and current political leanings, if unchecked, can keep me from following God’s instructions to love my neighbor as myself, to care for the poor, to welcome the refugee, etc.  My natural reaction is to see these sorts of issues through the lens of a conservative American, as an elephant, instead of seeing them through the lens of a sheep, a devoted follower of Christ.

And if there is one thing social media has taught me – besides teaching me that cat videos never get old – it’s that a lot of, if not most, Christians view people and the world through a politically assigned worldview.  We allow our political affiliation to dictate how we process various issues, often forgetting to engage common sense and a wonder at how Jesus would react.  And then we are quick to make public proclamations regarding our reactions and stances.

This goes both ways, too. Republican and Democrat Christians, the most conservative and the most liberal of Christians, and every leaning in between seems guilty of this.  The extreme of one side does seem quick to judge and discard, and the extreme of the other side seems to want to accept everything -not everyone, but everything – as though God’s position is antiquated.  There’s got to be a balance there.

The Paris bombings and the current refugee situation has amplified it and really put a spotlight on it, but it has been going on for quite some time.  Most Christians in my circles are vehemently against bringing in any Muslim refugees, and there’s been some pretty salty, racist, and even violent language used by sone to express this.  On the other hand, some of my Christian friends poo-poo that and say there’s no threat involved to bringing in refugees, as though why happened last week never really happened.  Both views are extreme and unbecoming in my opinion, because lacking compassion and lacking common sense are both tough pills for me to swallow.

I do think bringing in Syrian refugees presents obvious risks.  You lose some credibility with me when you pretend otherwise.  But you, as a Christian, also lose some credibility with me when allow fear and some evil people to dictate how you view and treat everyone else, as though God had no idea there were risks involved in welcoming refugees and foreigners when He commanded it.  I made the mistake of reading internet comments yesterday, and a great deal of Christians swore by the position that God would want us to protect America first, instead of knowingly exposing ourselves to risk by welcoming the refugees.  That was the common response to being asked what Jesus would do.  But is it true that Jesus would not welcome some in order to avoid being exposed to harm?  Some would say so, but Jesus and Judas would both disagree.

As Christians, we are called to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves, and as dedicated to following as sheep, and we are called to treat people accordingly.  We are not called to be elephants or donkeys.


repent to, not from

The word “repent” is common enough that most Christians have at least some idea of what it means.  We’ve probably all heard it in church at some point.  To repent means to change one’s mind, or change one’s attitude regarding God, which will be reflected in his actions. Because it deals with lifestyle change and turning away from sin, we often use “repent” in a way that calls for us to repent of or from our sins.  But repentance isn’t repentance if the turn from sin isn’t a result of turning towards Christ.  Changes in behavior, particularly the elimination of sinful behavior, is the result of repentance, not the act of repentance itself. We should repent to Christ, not from our sin.

What’s the difference?  Why should that matter?  Well, first of all, if you try to repent from sin without repenting to Christ, you are really just trying not to sin.  That doesn’t implicitly mean you’re following Christ.  People who don’t believe in Christ try to not do “bad things,” too.  Trying to be a good person isn’t exclusively Christian, and that’s all you’re really doing when you repent from sin instead of to Christ.  For the Christian, the turning away from sin is the natural result and evidence of turning towards Christ.

Having a mindset to repent from sins can also lend to trying to quit sinning in your own strength, which is a recipe for failure.  Only the Holy Spirit – Who we will be studying this entire month at KCC –  can truly change us.  We can put up barriers to prevent ourselves from sinning, but only the God can change our heart.  This is why we repent to, not from. We incline our hearts towards God, as the Old Testament says, thus giving Him control and allowing Him to change us.

Lastly, it’s important to understand repentance, because Christ taught that it was required for salvation in Luke 13:3, 5.  If you have the idea that repentance means quitting your sin, then you would have to interpret Jesus’ words as saying, “you need to quit your sin for me to save you.”  But then salvation wouldn’t be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Salvation would hinge on you and your ability to clean yourself up.  Thank God it doesn’t.

Repent to Christ.  In doing so, you will turn from your sin, and you’ll have the Holy Spirit indwelling you, giving you the power to succeed in that.

quality assurance

While I was in Bible college, I had a full time job working for ADT.  I didn’t do anything cool like installing or fixing alarms.  I worked in two of their call centers.  The second one was better in that I was no longer taking phone calls.  I worked in a different department.  But the first one provided me the opportunity to service customers who were angry at me for problems I did not cause.  Which brings up a side note: don’t mistreat customer service workers for problems you experience.  They almost never have anything to do with it.

No matter how rude customers got, I couldn’t be rude back to them.  It wasn’t worth it.  Quality Assurance could be randomly recording my interaction.  Best case, I would lose my monthly bonus if I was caught being rude; worst case, I could be fired.  It depended on the severity.  Quality Assurance was mostly random and secret, so you never knew when they would be listening.  If you cared about your job and your bonus (and I cared about both), you had to always be on your game.

After a while, I became friends with a few of the Quality Assurance people.  I had interviewed for an open position in that department and met several of them, and then we continued talking.  This game me an “in.”  All of a sudden, I started getting the heads up when QA was going to be recording me.  One of my friends would walk by and say something to the effect of, “We started recording your team today. We haven’t recorded you yet, but we will in the next hour.”  And you know what?  That was the most polite, professional hour of taking phone calls I had the entire day.  I knew I was being observed, so I followed every rule in the handbook.  And I would get 100% on my QA results.

I knew I would be held accountable for my phone calls between those moments and the next hour or so.  Knowing I was being held accountable led to a more careful approach, resulting in a higher performance.  Accountability works in this way. If I allow you to hold me accountable to not doing something, and I know you’re going to ask me about it, I’m much more likely to not do that thing.  And I’m more likely to do something if I know someone is counting on me to do it or is expecting me to get it done.  We ought to be in relationships where we are holding each other accountable to living worthy of Christ.  We should be running quality assurance on ourselves and each other as Christians.

Sadly, we’ve moved from accountability and iron sharpening iron to an, “only God can judge me” mentality, which incidentally is absolutely without Biblical merit. It’s one of those cop out lies that is born out of cherry-picking reading without studying the Word. But that’s a topic for another day. In James 5:16, it says to confess your faults one to another. Now, that doesn’t mean to confess for the forgiveness of sins. We go to God for that. But we go to each other for accountability and encouragement. When was the last time you went to someone and said, “hey, I’m really struggling with this. I need to quit. Can you hold me accountable to that?” Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It will include friction. Sparks may fly. Things may heat up. But James is saying, “go to each other. Confess your sins.  Hold each other accountable.”

Demonstrating my faith

Jakob and I spend most mornings together.  I’m mostly a morning person, and he’s required to get up for school, so we end up together a lot.  I get him breakfast, and then we usually sit on my recliner together and watch a show.  There’s a constant debate over whether we should watch ESPN or Disney Channel.  He usually wins, so we usually watch Disney while he eats his breakfast and sits on my lap.  It’s a great routine for us now, though I’m sure he’ll outgrow my lap soon.

This past spring (and coming again shortly), I don’t eat breakfast with him one day every two weeks.  I don’t get him up.  I don’t see him much in the morning before school.  It’s sad, because we enjoy spending our mornings together.  But on that one day every two weeks, I come hurrying home, only see him for a few minutes as I take him to school, and then leave again for work.  It bums us both out a little, but he knows what I’m doing when I’m away, and even at his age, he understands the necessity of it.  See, my normal schedule then –  and starting again in two weeks – includes getting together with guys from church every other Thursday morning to do Bible study.  I have to give up some of my father-son time to accomplish it, and I think I like it that way.

Jakob knows I am a Christian.  He knows that I say reading the Bible is important, but it’s good for him to see me demonstrating that it is important.  Taking him to church is good, but if I never live during the week what I say is important on Sunday, he’ll pick up that it really isn’t that important to me.  If it’s not really important to my everyday life, how important is it?  So I’m glad to demonstrate this for him, to show that God is important more than just on Sunday, even though I do miss him while I’m not seeing him.  And I love that when I walk him to school when I get back, he always asks me what we talked about, giving me another opportunity to discuss God with him.

am I doing okay?

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Jakob wraps up his first football season on Saturday.  It’s been fun and frustrating watching him.  I have fun, because he just a way of making me smile, especially if he’s having a good time.  I’ve been frustrated, because he doesn’t always know what he’s doing.  He gets confused, frustrated, and timid.  Sometimes I’ll call out instruction to him, like “Jakob, pay attention!”  Or, “Jakob, be ready.”  Or sometimes, “Jakob, be in the play!”  Because frankly, paying attention and being ready aren’t his strengths on the field.  Every time I say something to him, he’ll respond.  He’ll put his hands on his knees or do his variation of the 3-point stance, and then he’ll look at me.  This?  Am I doing okay now?  I’ll give him a smile and a thumbs up, and he’ll wait for the play.  After the play, sometimes his coach will say something to him. Maybe he’ll tell him that he did a good job.  But he’ll look to me and Sarah again, with a questioning thumbs up.  He’s not confidently giving us a thumbs up.  He’s asking us, Was that good?  Did I do okay?  He wants our input on his efforts, regardless of what anyone says.  He always looks to us.

Just the same, a Christian should always be looking to Christ, wondering in light of His example, are we doing okay.  We may say something or do something, and it may result in the praise of other people.  And there’s nothing wrong with being complimented.  But when we allow the praise of other people to cause us to act a certain way and satisfy us and keep us from wondering what God thinks of our actions, or words, and the heart out of which we are saying and doing them, we have exchanged an innocent thing and made it an idol.  When we begin to do things in a way that draws attention to us, we have crossed a line.

In Matthew 6:1, Jesus said, ““Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”  Don’t do something and wait for people to affirm if you are doing okay.  Don’t practice public righteousness for credit, attention, or positive public opinion.

In Matthew 6:2, Jesus said, ““Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

In Matthew 6:5, Jesus said, ““And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, ” “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Every single time, He counters His Do not with do this before God and for His approval.  Everything you do, look to Jesus.  Even when other people incidentally see, look to God and make sure you’re doing what He expects, not just what other people admire.

I think too much (sometimes)

I’m a thinking man. You didn’t know that, did you? Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes.  Unfortunately, I don’t think before I speak often enough, though I’m getting better. I usually make up for that by thinking way too much before I sleep. The thinking I do before I go to sleep is often about the things that worry me. When Sarah, Jakob, and Jaxon don’t feel well, I tend to lay awake for a while thinking about what’s wrong with them and worrying about their being okay. Then I sleep very lightly and react to their tossing and turning and noise making.

When I was laid off from my last church, I spent a lot of nights thinking about my severance running out before I found a job, whether I should be a youth pastor, children’s pastor, or lead pastor, whether I should go into the military as a chaplain, wondered why God would bless us with a child and then allow me to lose my job, worrying about the delivery, worrying about losing Sarah and/or Jakob during the pregnancy and delivery, etc. I picked right back up when Sarah was pregnant with Jaxon.  I have thought a lot about a lot of things, and it usually leaves me with a stomach ache.

When I am given to worry, I tend to put a lot of time in thinking and worrying – sometimes 30-60 minutes a night when I should be sleeping. When I come to my senses, I start to pray about the things that have me worried. I usually only prayed for a few minutes, though. I would start out every prayer asking God to relieve me of my worry, to give me peace, and to give me the faith to trust in Him. It didn’t take long. Every time, I would feel Him removing my chains of worry. I used to regret falling asleep while praying, because I felt like a bad Christian.  Now I only regret that I put my chains of worry back on so many nights like a pair of pajamas. Luckily for me, God was waiting there to remind me of my freedom every time. As soon as I would give my worries to Him, He would give me peace, and I would sleep.

Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The formula for not worrying is plain. First,  I rejoice in God and what He has done.  In doing so, I remind myself of His faithfulness and His goodness.  Second, I recognize that He is at hand, or right there in my life.  He’s an involved God.  Third, I choose to pray and ask God to handle the situation instead of worrying about how I will make everything work.  And then the peace of God will envelope my heart.


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