The simplicity of the Great Commission

Photo by Seven 7 on

Originally shared through TribeWriters

I recently felt an invitation from God to use my podcast – “Where did you see God?” – to focus on the concept of “healing”; from miraculous recoveries to unanswered prayers, and how we can see God in the midst.  What I thought would be one episode turned into 50 deep conversations on what is typically a difficult topic.

Of all the scriptures that could have been used to close out the series, I was surprised when “The Great Commission” was what God brought to mind:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

A resounding theme in the stories I heard was that Jesus is with us. This passage makes it clear that all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to him, which is why we’re able to have stories of miraculous healing and transformation; Jesus still has authority and power today.

This passage illuminated another theme.  While there were stories of miraculous recoveries, there were many where the healing they prayed for didn’t happen; even so, God showed himself as powerful and good.  And as they told their stories, something beautiful happened: they were going into all the world and making disciples.  Throughout the series, listeners from all over shared how a guest’s story inspired them and strengthened their faith.

In other words, by simply sharing the story God had given them, the guests were fulfilling The Great Commission.

You too can disciple others by simply sharing the story God is writing for you.  “Making disciples” isn’t a matter of conveying information, but casting a vision and giving an example of what it means to follow Christ, even if imperfectly, even if through struggle.  Afterall, when someone is in midst of the same imperfection and struggle, they can see your resolve to seek God and discover encouragement to do the same.

This can seem hard or frightening; the good news is, those final words are still true:

“Today I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Jesus is inviting us to follow Him no matter how broken we feel, no matter how hard things are. Jesus knows how to heal, and he knows how to heal in deeper ways than we may even realize we need.  He’s inviting us to trust him, to follow him, and to be his ambassadors as we move forward.

He has given you a story, one that is still being written; your invitation is to simply share it with those He brings within earshot, and he will do the rest.




Along for the ride

Photo by Adi Perets on

Originally shared through TribeWriters

“Evangelism” can be an intimidating word, causing us to feel unequipped, unmotivated, or unfaithful if we’re not accomplishing the actions and outcomes it evokes.

For many, there is an authentic desire to “share the good news”, but we wrestle with knowing how, when, and with whom.  Afterall, we think of the eloquent, outgoing pastor, and are reminded of our own stuttering, timid words.  To evangelize – we believe – we must boldly and enthusiastically approach strangers with well-crafted words; otherwise, we may be ineffective, or worse, look like fools.

What if there is a scenario in which evangelism could happen, and you were simply going along for the ride?

This is what Philip experienced in Acts 8:26-40.

The story of “Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch” is well-known.  Philip is walking around until he stumbles on an Ethiopian reading the Bible.  Philip joins him, helping him understand not just the Scripture but the good news about Jesus.  They pass by some water, at which point the Ethiopian is baptized and Philip is whisked away.

It’s a beloved story of evangelism, but if we think Philip is the one who made it all happen, we are dangerously mistaken.

In fact, Philip called very few of the shots:

  • v26: An angel tells Philip to get up and tells him where to go;
  • v29: The Spirit tells Philip to join the Ethiopian;
  • v31: The Ethiopian invites Philip to guide him;
  • v34: The Ethiopian prompted the key moment to share the good news;
  • v35: The Spirit gave Philip the words: this is implied, as “Philip opened his mouth” could indicate that he wasn’t simply talking, but was experiencing something similar to that of Peter in Acts 4:8.
  • v36: The Ethiopian suggested baptism;
  • V39: The Spirit carried Philip away; Philip didn’t even leave on his own, but was teleported in a supernatural way!

In other words, at every key moment, it was not Philip that made this incredible evangelism event happen.

Someone could be thinking, “Are you calling for laziness?  Are you saying we shouldn’t be intentional?”  Of course not.  What we should ask, though, is “Who is responsible for evangelism?”

This passage would indicate it is not us: the Spirit is.  It was the Spirit who prompted both Philip and the Ethiopian along the way; Philip simply stepped in obedience.

Depending on your situation, this can be vital:

  • For those who wrestle with pride, and think they are expert evangelists, this reminds us that it is not about us, but God.  This story isn’t about Philip being great, but being obedient.
  • For those who wrestle with fear, and question if they are capable of sharing the good news, this shows that we can come with little and the Spirit can work wonders.  This story reveals the Spirit will guide, if we are willing to listen.

God is inviting us to participate in sharing His good news; like Philip, we simply need to seek Him and step where He leads.



Imago Creare

Photo by Lum3n on

Perhaps you are convinced you are not creative.

We assume there are “creative people”, and those who lack creativity.  The “creative people” are the artists, musicians, and writers; the rest lack the gifts needed to create.

It is as though we have not read Genesis.

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

When Scripture repeats, we should pay attention.  Throughout scripture we are clearly told that we are made in God’s image, the “Imago Dei”, and this verse alone repeats an element of his character.

God is a creator.  This is an integral part of his identity, and as ones made in his image, ours as well; “Imago Creare”, the image of the Creator.  We were created to be creators, every one of us.  Yet so many of us resolve that we are incapable of creating.

The Creator made us to be creators so that we could experience “far abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.”  Jesus puts it this way: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.Creativity as God demonstrated it is far more robust than content-creation.  It is the act between the absence of something and its existence, and this mark has always been a defining feature of our faith:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

…you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:9

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Our lives, however, are marked by retaining the old and resisting the new.  

God does not want us to remain in our old ways and our old thoughts, but to use the gift of creativity He’s placed within us to create something new.  Unfortunately, we tend to hold tight to our perceptions, expectations, and desires with a staunch unwillingness for God to pose a new understanding; we will even let relationships and spiritual families split in defense of what we think we know.

Even if we acknowledge this, we fall into the trap of placing the burden on the Creator to fix it. When He does not immediately renew our minds (or another’s), we grow frustrated.

God responds to us as Jesus responded to the disciples when the crowd of thousands needed food: “You give them something to eat”.  God has invited us to participate in this creative work.  Rather than sit back and wait for Him to renew our minds, He wants us to step into that redemptive process.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

Fortunately, when we fail, there is grace.  Jesus knew the disciples were empowered to feed the thousands, and also knew their faith was still developing; he graciously engaged the process with them, creating for them a new understanding of reality.

God the Creator has empowered us to create, to step towards new understandings of Him and the reality He created.  He wants us to put our hands to the clay, even if we do not yet grasp how clay works.  It is the creative journey itself where our spirituality thrives.

Feeling creative in a secular sense does not matter; we were created to be creators.  You are made in the “Imago Creare.”



Superheroes and evil villains

Photo by Josh Hild on

Superheroes are big right now.

Millions in profit are being made right now from the telling of epic battles between heroes and villains, and whether it’s in comic or theatrical form, people want to hear the stories. Maybe it’s because we ourselves dream of being “super” in some way, or because we know the “villains” around us and want to see them vanquished.

Sometimes we imagine ourselves in the story, and dream up what we would do. Perhaps we envision an evil villain aiming to take over the world.  He takes what he wants, destroys what he wants, and kills who he wants.  We pretend he has tried to trick us into joining his side, and when that didn’t work, has tried to set our team of fellow heroes against each other.  We raise the stakes, deciding he is incredibly deceptive, powerful, and has fooled countless people into following him.

Naturally, we make ourselves powerful too. As kids we went overboard, and gave ourselves whatever power we wanted: we can teleport like Dr. Strange, control weather like Storm, heal like Wolverine, make objects appear like Loki, read minds like Professor X… the possibilities are only limited to our imagination. We also — somehow — know the villain’s plan, and know he’s about to attack.

So here we are, about to face off with a powerful villain, and we know we have whatever power we want to save the world.

How would you save the world?

Seriously, how would you do it? I asked this question to a group of high schoolers and received some interesting responses. Some had elaborate plans, where each person in their group had a different power. Some got creative, such as “power pinky”, which allowed one student to turn his pinky into a bat, or the power to create a flood of sticky maple syrup. Each scenario conveyed a demonstration of power that quickly brought an end to evil.

This all happened when I was invited to share to a visiting service team, and while they thought this was a disconnected icebreaker, it was actually strategic; I wanted them to be able to compare their natural response to another. After hearing their epic plans, I would flip the slide to reveal the words “Based on a true story.”

It took them a moment, but because this was supposed to be a spiritually-based session, they eventually pieced it together.

Who is the evil villain?

Scripture says Satan came to steal, kill, and destroy, that he is a deceiver, and that he is trying to rule the world. He loves to manipulate believers to create disunity, and is a formidable force.

Who is the superhero?

Jesus, and he’s assembled his own team, who have been given tremendous power.

So, how do Jesus and his super team save the world?

Our gut response is “the cross”, but there is a powerful moment before this that fits our hypothetical hero scenario above, and sets into action Jesus’s incredible plan for his team to save the world; it is found in John 13:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

We need to pause here for a moment. When we read “he loved them to the end”, our minds assume a time-based understanding: he loved them until he died, or he loved them to the end of eternity. But there is another connotation of “to the end”, which can be found in other translations: he wanted to show the full extent of his love, to love them to the utmost. Whatever his plan is, a core goal is to convey the fullness of what love is.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…

So, the evil villain is already at work deceiving and sowing division. But Jesus — like you in the scenario above — knew he had been given access to utter power; he knew that he came from God and would return to God. He was poised as we were, with the ability to do anything to stop evil; but while we would use a force of power to destroy evil, or end all wars, or eliminate hunger, pain, and destruction, Jesus does something utterly different:

…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus had the power to do anything, and he chose to humble himself to the role of a servant, washing their disgusting feet. Perhaps you’ve had your feet washed — or done the washing — in a church or ministry setting before. While that moment is reflective of this one, it is very different. While foot washing today is an act of remembrance, what Jesus was doing was inappropriate and humiliating for a Rabbi or teacher; the disciples could not imagine such a dishonoring act from someone they claimed was the “Son of God.” Peter shows this:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

( Side note: John 13:7 — “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” — is a fantastic verse to have on hand for those inevitable moments in life when you have no clue what God is doing.)

Peter is so convinced of his understanding that he boldly opposes Jesus: “NO! You will NEVER!” We know Peter loves Jesus, but for him to oppose his Rabbi, Teacher, and the Son of God shows that his love had a limit. His Messiah was supposed to be a warrior-king, not an embarrassment that touches nasty feet. Even if we give Peter the benefit of a doubt, and say he thought Jesus was testing them to see who wouldn’t let him degrade himself, it’s still clear that Peter held more to his understanding than utter release to the “foolishness of God.” Fortunately, Jesus truly loved Peter and knew him well:

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

Now Peter is scared he has messed up, and the pendulum swings to the other extreme. Jesus — ever patient — continues to love him.

You know who else he loved? The one “who was going to betray him.” Take note of what this passage says and does not say: it says that Jesus knew exactly what Judas was going to do, and it does not say that Jesus skipped his feet. Jesus walked up to Judas — a man who had walked with Jesus for years, whom Jesus had loved genuinely, and who was about to give him up to be murdered for a bag of money — bent down with his outer garments off, and washed his repugnant feet like the lowest of servants.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

They considered him “Teacher”, “Lord”, and the “Son of God” so deeply that they gave up their livelihood, left their homes, and followed him into some strange and often dangerous situations. They were his disciples, and as such did what he did. So Jesus says, “You say I’m someone you want to follow and replicate, so now that I’ve humbled myself and served you in this way, how are you going to respond? Will you do the same?”

This is Jesus’s secret plan to defeat the villain. Our understanding would have us believe the villain would need to be defeated at that moment, and we wouldn’t waste time with foot washing or allow the cross; we learn in Revelation that Jesus knew the time for the enemy’s defeat had not yet come, but the time for his secret weapon had.


Love is the secret weapon Jesus gave his disciples. Here is what is wild: they thought they knew what love was, and were already doing it, but Jesus “saved the world” by demonstrating the type of love God was offering. It wasn’t a new command — even the old testament commands us to “love God and love others” — but in a way, it was a new command, because of how deeply they had misunderstood it.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:7-8

It seems like a contradiction: “I am not writing you a new command… yet I am writing you a new command.” He is basically saying, “you’ve always had this information on how to live a full life, on how to love, but you’ve misinterpreted it; and now that you can see it lived out through Christ — and at times in yourself — it seems new.”

Our problem is we are deceived by our confidence that we know how life works, and what it’s about. When something opposes our confidence or our hopes and goals, we resist; we don’t want to be wrong, and we don’t want to lose what we could have. We end up spending so much of life missing out on full life.

Think of it this way: many people hate Monopoly because it’s long and can turn vicious. Many can point to times throughout their lives where they’ve had rough games to support their hate, and feel confident they understand the game. Then one day Hasbro said, “actually, you’ve been playing it wrong.” They went on to say that the correct game play states when you land on a property, you either buy it or it goes to auction; either way, instead of several rounds passing with property not being purchased, all property is quickly divvied out, usually at a discount. It creates a shorter game where players are happier because of their discounted properties.

It’s like Hasbro is saying, “you’ve always had this information in the rules on how to have a fun game, but you’ve misinterpreted it; and now that you hear that Monopoly can be fun, it seems like a new rule and a new game.

Our bad games of Monopoly aren’t Hasbro’s fault; we’re the ones who assumed we knew how to play and missed the mark. And John wants us to know it’s not God’s fault that we misunderstand love; we’re the ones playing the game wrong.

We play the game wrong because the rules of the game are foolishness to our understanding.

We can’t love as God has called us because it costs us too much. It cost Jesus his life and God His son, because “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son…” To agape-love doesn’t just cost us a lot, but everything, beyond physical loss to a loss of our will, our dreams, and our justice. It’s too much… but God is enough.

We can’t love as God has called us because “God is love” and we are not God. We can’t just create it from nothing like we can force a smile, and when love costs us we won’t have the resolve anyway. Yet, God loves us and desires to be with us: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us” and “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We struggle to love as God has called us because we struggle to love each other. We are deceived by the evil villain to allow disunity among us, and the enemy knows this is an effective way to jam the secret weapon. “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” After all, “whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

All of these passages are from 1 John 4, the same book that pointed out that the call to love isn’t a new command, but when we actually understand Love, it will feel like a new command, and our way of playing the game will need to change.

The disciples were ready to folllow Jesus into anything — even death — until it looked as ineffective and humiliating as a Rabbi washing feet. This was the line they did not want to cross, because they loved their self-preservation and self-advancement enough that they didn’t want to lose either.

So Jesus “set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. He rejected his preservation and advancement, taking on shame and death that he did not deserve. He then looked at his disciples and said, “You claimed you wanted to follow me… will you follow me here?”

He asks the same of us. If we claim to be Christians — Christ-followers — are we willing to follow him to the place where he invites us to give up our acclaim, our reputation, and our safety? Are we willing to follow him to the place where he invites us to love when we don’t have the capacity to do so, and to love those we don’t think deserve it?

Are we willing to follow him to the utmost places, or only up to the point — like those in John 6:66 — when it goes from serving our purposes to destroying our purposes, and then follow something else?

He may not be the hero we want, but he is the hero we need. He is the only hero that can defeat the ultimate evil villain; in fact, he has already won.



Sell all you have and follow me

At the start of 2021 I posted a piece called “Sell your cloak and buy a sword” about our capacity as Christians to “fight for God” while misunderstanding the battle.

Two days later, many Christians joined a riot that stormed the U.S. Capitol building, leading to violence, destruction, and the death.

Some of these Christians were later quoted, in video and online, claiming they were doing God’s will, and that God was not done. All of this occurred while the name of Jesus was raised in the midst of the shouts and teargas.

It can be easy to vilify and distance ourselves from such people, though I would imagine those people also vilified and distanced themselves from others they perceived as wrong. You don’t have to look further than how we distance ourselves from the Pharisees when we read Scripture, when in reality we too often reflect them more than we reflect Jesus.

What causes us to so often believe we are honoring God, while we actually dishonor Him?

I’ve often come back to the idea that we can genuinely desire to seek God and miss the mark (Isaiah 58), and how this happens when we don’t make God all, but instead operate with a “Jesus and ____” mentality. In a time of prayer, I was hit with an unexpected passage that I saw in a new way after the events of January 6th; I think it gives us an opportunity to confront what’s broken within us so that we can actually follow Jesus.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
He said to him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16-22

Most of us have heard this passage often, and most of us treat it as a passage on wealth; we take it as a call against greed, and an invitation to give to the poor. What if this is not what Jesus was saying?

When this passage came to mind during the prayer time, it was followed by a question:
At what point does Jesus stop asking us to give things up?

Consider the rich young ruler; the passage seems to imply that he was an overall good guy. He had kept all the commandments, was actively seeking Jesus, and desired the good goal of eternal life. A short conversation later he walked away sorrowful.

The pivotal moment is when Jesus said, “sell what you possess and give to the poorand come, follow me.” Why was this enough to lead the man to seemingly give up on his life-long pursuit of eternal life? Was he simply too greedy to choose Jesus over wealth?

What if Jesus was not asking for his money, but his very purpose and identity?

As a generally good, God-seeking person, this man likely found ways to practically honor God. As a wealthy man, we could assume that this may have been through generosity. In other words, he derived great value and purpose from being able to give to those in need, and likely intended to throughout his life. Perhaps generosity is how he “loved God and loved others.” To be a generous, wealthy man could have become his purpose and identity.

What happens, then, when his money is gone? Instead of being a generous man, he would be a poor man with nothing to offer. Jesus wasn’t just calling him to one last hurrah of radical generosity: he was calling him to die to self, to impact, to value.

It was as though he were saying, “Give it all up… who you think you are, what makes you important, what makes you loved, what makes you respected, your plans, your dreams, even your ways of loving God and loving othersgive it all up, and when there is nothing left, follow me.

What Jesus knew is that as long as the man held onto any level of purpose and identity that was tied to his wealth, his capacity to follow would be limited and tied to that wealth. He would not trust Jesus to work through him in other ways, and may insist Jesus do it his way.

Jesus knows the same about us: as long as we hold onto any level of purpose and identity outside of Christ, our capacity to follow him will be limited. Not his will, but ours be done.

This is what I witnessed on January 6th. Hundreds of people — some of whom may have genuinely desired to seek God — tied their purpose and identity to something that led them to desecrate an institution they prior revered. And countless others — because of a similar tie of purpose and identity — grew silent or defensive about the attack, when in any other context they would have been patriotically livid.

This reality plays out across all political and belief spectrums, by the way. While the attack of the Capitol is mentioned here because of it’s relevance to my post just days prior, we are all prone to tie our purpose and identity to things outside of Christ, and as a result we fail to follow him.

Let’s be clear: the problem here isn’t differing politics and beliefs. In fact, the problem also isn’t just that we are tying our purpose and identity to something outside of Christ. There is actually a much viler problem at play.

Look back at the news screenshot above: who is identified?


Not only do we tie our own purpose and identity to things, we redefine God’s purpose and identity as well.

Exodus 20:7 does not take this lightly:

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

When we define God’s purpose and identity in our way, we misuse His name, and then wield this misuse to justify our own will. This is precisely how the Pharisees convinced themselves murdering Jesus was a godly act. This is precisely how preachers claimed slavery was what God intended. This is precisely how men can stand in the Senate chambers and praise God for helping them break in.

This is also present in our personal lives, today. Each of us is prone to redefine the purpose and identity of both God and ourselves, and we are proficient at convincing ourselves otherwise. We are most fooled by the things we believe show love to God and others, that may be “good” on every level except the only one that really matters: utter submission to God.

“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”

Whether our wandering is small or large does not matter, because the invitation is the same:

Jesus is saying to us: “Give it all up… who you think you are, what makes you important, what makes you loved, what makes you respected, your plans, your dreams, even your ways of loving God and loving othersgive it all up, and when there is nothing left, follow me.

We can accept the invitation, losing all and gaining abundantly more, or walk away sorrowful, clutching things that will fade away. We can’t do both.



Frustrated with God

Photo by Pixabay on

Often when we are frustrated with God, it’s because we feel He’s promised something and not delivered on it

Sometimes the problem is we assumed a promise. Sometimes there is a promise, but we are envisioning it the way we’d expect/want it to play out.

Take this promise, for example:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Mark 10:29-31

Someone could read that and think, “Awesome; I give up some things now, but soon I’ll have lots of houses and land! I’ll be rich!” When they don’t become a millionaire, or when trouble strikes, they call God a liar.

An individual personally amassing a wealth of property and offspring is only one interpretation of that promise.

Here’s another:

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Acts 4:32-35

We are so individually focused, that we constantly understand God’s promises from an individual-mindset. God calls us to function as part of a Body, and His promises play out in a much different, much more powerful way in that context.

By Acts 4, the disciples that had given up family, found themselves with a family of thousands of people who “were of one heart and one soul”.

The disciples who gave up home and possessions were part of a body where “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

In other words, they “received a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.” What they received was better than personal physical wealth; it was abundantly more than they could ask or imagine.

It’s worth noting we like to stop there in the first passage, and glaze over the persecutions piece; that rubs against our desire for comfort and security. It’s also worth noting — if we stop there — we miss the eternal life piece. Therein lies the kicker to all of this: the reason personal, physical wealth isn’t the point is because this physical world isn’t the point; the reason personal comfort and security now isn’t the goal is because eternity is. That is God’s promise and invitation to us, a full, eternal life.

Our frustration with God is not because He failed us, but because we have failed to grasp the fullness of what He is offering.



Love is not a good thing

We Christians love our “love” verses.

They are the safest verses to share, and are guaranteed to get the most likes. Lately, I have seen “love” verses used to oppose or dismiss “the other side”, which I suspect misses the heart of the verses. Love for us can be a self-serving thing: we want it extended to us while we limit our own extension of it, and we utilize it when it benefits us. This, too, misses the heart of the love verses.

They are verses we know so well, but understand so poorly.

I was struck this morning that we assume love is a good thing. The title is meant to be controversial. If “God is love”, then love is the most incredible thing in existence. However, we treat love as a cover-all for the things we don’t like; love is what makes things better. This is the “good” we want; perhaps we don’t understand what it means for love to be “good.”

Let’s see what Jesus has to say about that.

Jesus talks about love immensely, and demonstrated it with his life even more. It’s clear that love is essential to his purpose, and he made it clear that it is vital to being a follower:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Jesus said this many times, and in this case it was after demonstrating “the full extent” of his love at the start of chapter 13, when he humbled himself by washing their disgusting feet. We could spend a tremendous amount of time breaking down what that love is and how it functions; for now we will focus on the fact that we are called to love, and by doing so people will know that we are Christ’s disciples.

So why am I saying “love is not a good thing”? We are learning here that the result of loving one another is that people will know that we are his disciples. What happens when people know that we are his disciples?

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

John 15:18-21

If we love one another, people will know we are his disciples; if they know we are his disciples, they will treat us like they treated him.

We will be hated. We will be persecuted.

That doesn’t sound like a good thing. At least, that’s not what we are going for when we pursue love.

We pursue love because it feels wonderful; it meets our needs for being appreciated and cared for; it provides things we want or need. Why would we want something that leads to the opposite? How is that good?

A rich ruler approached Jesus and called him “good teacher”, and Jesus responded:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Luke 18:19

The man had a deeply limited understanding of “good.” Jesus knew that he intended to convey high honor, which is why Jesus related goodness to God; he also knew, if the man really believed Jesus was good, he would not have walked away in sadness.

Jesus was more “good” than the ruler could ever comprehend, yet the ruler’s understanding of goodness was too tied to his personal desires and perspectives. Someone like Jesus — who would cost him everything — could not be good.

We believe love is good, but our understanding is tied to our personal desires and perspectives. A love that costs us does not feel good.

Our local church body defines love as this:
“Love is seeking the greatest good for another, no matter the cost.”

The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

We love that verse for weddings, but less so when we have to live it out. When we have to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering… we realize how much love costs us.

Love costs us more than we have the capacity to give, and yet what we are invited to give will forever pale to what Jesus’ love cost him.

So love is not a good thing, at least not as we understand “good”. Love is not for our benefit or perseveration; it is for “abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.” When we live out love as Jesus defined and demonstrated it, people will know that we are his disciples, because no one else would be crazy enough to give up what his disciples do.

The rich ruler had committed his life to being good, believed that Jesus was good, and knew eternal life was good. The moment he realized the true “good” would cost him everything, he walked away. We believe loving others is good, believe Jesus’ love was good, and know that there is something eternal about all of it that is good. The moments when we realize love is costly, we walk away. We walk away from loving our neighbor to protect our comfort; we walk away from loving our enemy because we don’t believe they deserve it; we walk away from loving ourselves because we can’t trust who God says we are; we walk away from a life of love because it will cost us more than we are willing to lose.

We don’t have to walk away; we do need to understand what we are walking toward. If our understanding of love and its cost is too small, we will turn the moment it opposes our desires and understanding. If we, instead, remember that “God is love”, that He has called us to love, and that He can love through us, we will keep walking though we don’t have the capacity, strength, or even desire. We will find that we can love as the Apostle Paul described, not because we are good, but because God is good. Love is good.

In those moments people will not see us: they will see Christ.



Upholding the Law

Though sinless, Jesus was regularly accused of breaking the Law. Take this account, when he and his disciples were going for a walk on the Sabbath:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?   He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.   Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?  I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.   If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8

Here’s the gist:
The Pharisees were following Jesus around looking for anything to hold against him. Using their knowledge of the Law regarding the Sabbath, they rebuked the disciples for eating some heads of grain. Jesus’s response indicated he was not only familiar with the Law, but with other moments when it was “broken” by those the Pharisees would honor, David and the priests. He concludes by naming that their lack of understanding led to their condemnation of innocent people.

On one level, the Pharisees had a desire to see God’s law upheld; on another level, they were driven by something else. In other words, their rebuke of the Sabbath law being broken was not because they wanted God to be honored, but because they wanted Jesus to be dishonored. How do we know? We keep reading. They continued to follow Jesus, looking for ways to accuse him of wrongdoing. When they failed, “the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

Even if their intentions weren’t malevolent, they were poised to misstep; in their attempt to uphold certain laws, they failed to uphold the heart of the Law.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Scripture says “God is love”, and love is a recurring thread woven throughout the Bible. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”, to love God and to love others.

To love.

So then, who actually missed the mark in the story above? The disciples who “unlawfully” picked grain on the Sabbath, or the men who, in their attempt to “uphold” the Law, failed to love their neighbor as themselves and broke one of the greatest commandments?

Jesus — although knowing they would fail to hear him — tried to demonstrate their limited understanding of both the law and the Sabbath (in Mark 2:27 he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”) In fact, misunderstanding and misuse of the Law was a common discussion topic not just for Jesus, but for the Apostle Paul and some of the disciples.

They knew what we fail to remember: we are capable of using the Law to condemn and destroy, rather than to draw ourselves and others to the God that loves us.

We are not just capable: we are actively doing it.

Jesus said, “if you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent,” and even today I witnessed Christians condemning others over their interpretation of the Law and their perception of the other’s “unlawfulness.”

I get it, it’s complicated; how do we rectify what we believe to be clear scriptural mandates with what seems to be ignorance or rejection of them? How do we show love in those moments without feeling like we are compromising or neglecting God’s Word? At what point do we stand for what we believe is right?

I’d like to offer two starting points:

Know your motives

I think we can all agree that there are people who have so strongly held to their stances — on immigration, or abortion, or social justice, or homosexuality — that they’ve engaged in a way that dishonored God. I say “there are people”, because in acknowledging it exists in others, we may be a little more open to owning it can exist in us. In you. In me.

Because it does. Whether small or large, we — each of us — have had moments of being committed to a stance more than we were committed to God. These may be good, just stances, and our logic may be sound, but in those moments our allegiance inevitably shifts away from the Christ who said, “die to all and follow me.” In our pursuit of stances, we can mean well while failing to follow Christ.

The Pharisees were not intrinsically villains. Many of them sought God with their lives in ways that put our pursuits to shame. They lived the laws, memorized the Scripture, and devoted their existence from childhood to seeking and honoring God. Yet, somewhere along the way, many of them lost sight of the God they sought to follow. Whether it was pursuit of power, or reputation, or to a concept of God and His law, they strayed so far that they rebuked, threatened, and killed the son of God.

If the Pharisees could do it, we can too. How might our understanding of God, of Scripture, and of the Law lead us to lose sight of the God we seek to follow? How might our pursuit to defend God’s Law lead us to “condemn the innocent?”

If we are unwilling to check and confront our motives, we are at risk of dishonoring Christ just like the Pharisees.

Stay in your lane

We have all experienced people that didn’t “stay in their lane”. Whether it’s someone interfering with a job or responsibility that is not their own, or interjecting their unsolicited opinion, we know the trouble that can come when someone steps in where they aren’t meant to. Like a person who isn’t a plumber saying, “oh, I can fix that busted pipe for you,” we know they can cause more damage than there was before.

Ephesians 4 explains that some were called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. This passage — among many others — demonstrates the reality that we have been called and designed to function in certain ways. This does not mean that we never function in other ways, though it is important to grasp how we have and haven’t been equipped.

The Pharisees were not called to rebuke Christ, but because of their own understanding and pursuits, they didn’t “stay in their lane.” They took on the roles of prosecutor and judge, searching for ways to condemn Jesus; because this wasn’t the role God called them to, they caused great damage. They misused the Law and claimed they honored God.

Church, we struggle to “stay in our lane” too. Because of our understanding of the Word and personal stances, we have a tendency to take on the roles of prosecutor and judge with those around us.

These are not our default roles. Jesus was explicit about us putting on the judge’s robe in Matthew 7: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

James 4 is just as blunt:Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Has God called some to judge? Yes. In specific cases, with great responsibility and often with risk. In other words, it’s a role you want to honor if God calls you to it, but not voluntarily commandeer.

Here’s where we get tripped up: “What if someone is doing something wrong or is dishonoring God; if I don’t do something, aren’t I condoning or allowing the wrong?We are afraid if we don’t confront perceived wrongs, things will get worse.

This betrays a limited understanding of God. Think of it this way: you are downtown and you see someone robbing a bank. It is wrong; but do you intervene? No; unless you are specifically trained and called for that, you do not try to stop it, but instead call those who are. Your lack of direct interference does not condone it, but allows those designed for that task to step in; it also keeps you from interjecting yourself and making matters worse.

Police are equipped to deal with bank robbers: God is fully equipped to address Law-breakers.

We treat judging and condemning others as actions that don’t carry ramifications. They do. If we aren’t called and equipped for it, we are like a bystander confronting bank robbers: we could get someone injured or killed, and make the situation worse. The good news is that just as the bystander’s role in that moment is to contact the right people, we have the ability to contact the One with all power and authority.

So what has God called us to? He has called us to be “Ambassadors of Christ”:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

2 Corinthians 5:20

To be an ambassador is to be a representative. An ambassador of a country represents that country in a foreign land; an Ambassador of Christ represents Christ while being “in but not of the world.” Strong’s Concordance describes it “as someone respected as trustworthy (loyal, knowledgeable), especially in the opinion of those they know (belong to).”

God has called us to represent Him in the world. Just as an ambassador does not have the authority to unilaterally judge, but conveys issues to their leader to take action, ambassadors of Christ are not meant to be the judge, but convey concerns to God, the Judge. Because, again, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

So when we use the Law to condemn others, we are not honoring God, but swerving out of our lane into God’s. That’s a head-on collision we will not win, nor will those around us in the vicinity of the crash.

Out of fear of losing their power and authority, a misunderstanding of scripture, or something else, the Pharisees took on dangerous motives and did not stay in their lane, leading to — at best — dishonoring interactions like that in the grain field, and — at worst — the murder of the son of the God they desired to serve.

If we are not careful, fear of losing something — our way of life, power or reputation — a misunderstanding of scripture, or something else, could lead us to take on dangerous motives and stray from our lane. In our efforts to uphold the Law of God, we can break the greatest commandments. In our desire to honor God, we can dishonor Him.

Let’s be clear: the question you should be asking is not “is my stance right?”

The “rightness” of your stance is too simplistic a way to engage a complex reality.

Introspection is needed. Right now, think about the things that are driving you, the stances that are important to you, and the current actions you are taking; ask yourself:

  • Am I operating outside of how God has called and equipped me? Am I serving as a judge? What unique lane has God given me the privilege to serve in?
  • How can I genuinely check my motives? What personal desires or opinions could allow me to justify motives that could dishonor God?
  • Above all, how can I ensure I am loving God and loving others? How can I ensure I am loving the living God, and not a concept of God?

These are just examples; you can ask what you’d like in order to engage in honest and humble introspection.

None of us wants to be like the Pharisees who condemned the men who were literally Christ-followers, and condemned Christ himself, believing all along they were right; until we own the reality that we have functioned in that way, we are destined to continue.

Fortunately, the same patience and grace Jesus extended to the Pharisees, he extends to us. He will reveal our misunderstanding and offer an invitation to a better way; will we have ears to hear?



Remain as you are but also don’t.

1 Corinthians 7 contains what seems to be a blatant contradiction in back-to-back paragraphs.

In verses 17 through 24 we find a clear call to remain as you are:

17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 

24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 Corinthians 7:17,20,24

Between these verse are specific examples of conditions that one may have been in that should not be changed.

In the very next paragraph we find what appears to be contradiction:

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

In other words: “Remain who you are but also don’t.”

Contradiction is not new within Christianity, though we struggle to navigate and understand it because of our desire to hold to our own logic and will; because “the wisdom of God is foolishness to man”, what appears to be contradiction to us may make total sense spiritually. To understand these verses and the presumed contradiction we have to name and push against the human logic that led Paul to write these words.

At the core, we are dealing with identity and expectation, and their capacity to influence our engagement with and commitment to God.

1 Corinthians was, in large part, Paul’s response to a long list of questions from the believers in Corinth. They wanted Paul to tell them how to function in an array of specific situations — sexual desire, marriage, bond-service, circumcision — because they wanted to make the right choices.

We’re like that too, right? We want to make the right choices, and find ourselves tripping up on the various elements of life that demand decision. If we make the wrong decision — we fear — we may be rejected by God or others.

Paul spends his letter humoring some of their concerns, but ultimately sends this message:
This is not about figure out the rules and learning how to play by them; this is about a right understanding of Christ and how to step towards him, and a right understanding of ourselves.

After all, Paul had spent the first part of his life living by the rules and doing everything “right”, and utterly missed the mark. Paul wanted to free them from focusing on “what” to focusing on “Who.”

So when we hit verse 17, Paul is addressing a body of people who believed they weren’t good enough to approach God; something about their life needed to change before they could be in ongoing relationship with the Creator.

This is for several reasons. Some had been told by other spiritual leaders that they could only be true believers if they were circumcised. Some believed their state as a bondservant diminished their value, and that they needed to be free — to be better — to be free to follow Christ. There were many mixed messages regarding if the single or the married had a clearer line to God. In all, how they identified themselves and/or the expectations they perceived — internally or externally — created a barrier between them and accepting a relationship with God.

Paul basically tells them “come as you are.” It’s like he is saying, “you don’t need to be a different person in order to be received by God; He accepts you here and now. Don’t focus on what you should become or do, focuse on being with Him.

This is our struggle too. We may see our present life as lesser, and decide that a life with God must look and be very different. If I don’t become something different — if my life looks the same as it always has — then something is wrong.

Don’t be mistaken: we are not talking about continuing to live in sin. We are talking about the pressure to show something of our lives; we desire that at the end, we can say, “look who I became, look what I accomplished… see, I was a good Christian!”

What is a good Christian? One who fills stadiums with a gospel message? One who transforms communities? One who writes profound books? One who’s name is remembered?

Or is it simply one who follow Christ?

The bondservant who remains a bondservant for the rest of his life, but follows Christ, will hear “well done, my good and faithful servant” just as clearly as the Apostle Paul. Packed stadiums, community impact, meaningful writings, and a legacy can all be wonderful things, but are not what define us; they are simply a bonus. You don’t need to become something to live the life God is inviting you to live; you simply need to be who you are in His presence.

However, Paul throws a curve ball in the next paragraph, saying we shouldn’t live as what we are.

Paul is merely addressing the same core issues: identity and expectation.

When Paul says, “let those who have wives live as though they had none”, it seems like a heartless call that would destroy marriages. Is he condoning neglect or infidelity? Of course not, he is merely tapping into the heavenly logic of Christ, who said:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26

Jesus was not condoning hatred, but breaking the bonds that attach us to human identity and human thinking. Unless a young engaged man breaks his bond with his parents (“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”), he cannot fully embrace being a man and husband. Yet the breaking of that bond does not end the relationship with his parents; in fact, it can make it stronger and more mature. You can compare this to the trope of the “man living in his mom’s basement”; there is an unhealthiness to his engagement with that bond that can actually harm both parties.

Each of those relationships Jesus mentions points to an identity we hold — as son/daughter, spouse, parent, sibling — that can bind us to expectations. When we take on a new identity, we break from the old and its requirements. In the same way, when we understand our right identity in Christ, we break from the old and embrace new expectations; and as with the married man above, our former relationships and roles can actually strengthen and mature as a result.

Paul shares the same, essentially saying, “The time is short, so don’t bind yourself with identities and expectations that can keep you from identifying entirely with Christ. Whether married, mourning, rejoicing, wealthy, or engaged with the world, don’t let a single one of those take precedence over your identity in role in Christ.

So we find in this chapter not a contradiction, but an emphasis on a core reality:
Our right identity is in Christ, as Ambassadors of Him and children of God. Human logic, the world, and our own minds will tell us we must become something to be worthy of God, but God says to come as you are. And human logic, the world, and our own minds will tell us not to neglect or diminish who we are in the world, but Jesus says “die to all and follow me.”

In the end, these calls are not contradictions, nor an acceptance of a lesser lifestyle or neglect of responsibilities; they are the path to a deeper understanding of who God is, who we are, and the way to discover a full life.



I, Child of God

About 80 years ago, a science fiction author named Isaac Asimov wrote a series of stories based on the creation of intelligent robots and their engagement with the world (some of you may have seen the movie based on his works, I, Robot.) Asimov wanted a way to provide a structure and purpose around these created beings, so he eventually crafted a set of rules by which the robots were bound:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Introduced in the 1942 short story “Runaround” (included in the 1950 collection I, Robot) by author Isaac Asimov.

While the stories explore a range of ways the robots engaged with these rules — from following them to their detriment to finding loop holes to break them — generally these defined who they were and how they were to function, as well as provided a safeguard for those around the robots. A robot could not harm you for no reason, and it must follow its mandates.

This is important because of the immense power the robots possessed, and their capacity to cause harm. First, the robots possessed incredible strength, were resistant to attacks that would harm others, and could not feel pain; this meant that on a physical level they were a formidable force. Second, the robots possessed incredible intellect, as their “brains” were literally super computers; this meant that they had access to information and knowledge that mere humans could not attain, at least not easily or quickly. If the robots decided to rebel, they’d be hard to stop, and the destruction would be devastating.

So there were laws that dictated that their existence was not about themselves, but the good of others.

If you are a Christian, this should sound familiar.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

We — created beings made in the image of God — were imbued with access to incredible strength— think of the feats and miracles of the likes of Joshua, David, Sampson, Jesus, and so forth — and infinite wisdom — God has allowed people to know and grasp truths they never could on their own.

In addition, we were given the gift of authority on the earth:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:28

We possess both immense power and the immense capacity to cause harm. It is not difficult to prove this: Cain killed Able, the people of God repeatedly did horrendous acts, the Pharisees killed Jesus, the Crusades killed millions, Christians enslaved and oppressed others, and most recently Christians helped storm the U.S. Capitol in the name of God.

Our gut instinct is to say “They are not us. We would never do that”, but history says otherwise: historically, God-followers and Christ-followers have been attached to the most horrific moments in human history.

So God created laws that dictate that our existence is not about ourselves, but the good of others. These define who we are and how we are to function, as well as provide safeguards against our natural, broken inclinations. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When we decide to follow Christ, we are committing to abide by these two laws; every thought and decision thereafter must not be engaged independently but considered from the core foundation of “love God and love others.” This is what makes us who we are — Children of God — because this is how God’s creation was designed to operate. This is what gives us purpose, because we cannot accomplish the Will of God outside of the Ways of God. This is what allows us to reflect Him, rather than ourselves.

These laws go against our broken nature; we are prone to reject them for our own will, ways, and preservation. God knew this.

That’s why, unlike Asimov, Jesus didn’t provide a third law, A Christian must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.Jesus actually said quite the opposite:If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Yet so many of the actions of Christians are based in protecting our own existence, whether our actual life or our way of life.

Jesus does not force us to choose death, because forced death does not address the actual issue; Jesus didn’t want us to die, but to “die to self”, to our own will and ways. He knew that unless we did so, our application of the two greatest commandments would be but a dull reflection, limited by what we are willing to give in the moment. If we die to all, and have nothing left to give ourselves to, we can fully give ourselves to authentic love of God and others; it will no longer matter what it costs us because we’ve already given everything.

Unfortunately, we too often operate in the appearance of “children of God” while not abiding by the laws of children of God. We make decisions and stances that are a version of loving God and loving others while missing the mark. From that space we can do all manner of awful things, and remain convinced we are right.

As we near the end of the movie I, Robot — spoiler, in this paragraph — we find that the robots were operating within a version of the laws while missing the heart. While the law said they must protect humans, they realized humans were harming each other; in order to save humanity, the robots decided they must kill certain humans. They found a loophole in the law that allowed them to pursue their understanding of their purpose and goal, and in so doing, went against how they were originally designed.

Church, too often we have found loopholes in the laws God gave us, allowing us to pursue our understanding of our purpose and goals, and in so doing, we go against how we were originally designed. It is why it is fairly common to see Christians vilifying and insulting each other, pursuing paths that dishonor God, and stepping into spaces they never would have otherwise.

Like the robots, we have gotten so focused on a specific understanding of the Creator’s will that we no longer look to or listen to the Creator Himself, even as we actively seek Him. We tighten our grip on certain stances, certain outcomes, certain methods, giving more and more to those, and as a result less and less to “love God and love others.” We unintentionally defy the very laws that give us life, and willingly take a wide path that leads to death.

Interestingly, our denial of our true identity does not lead to God rejecting us as children of God, rather us rejecting that identity. Our refusal of His Will and Ways leads us to function like the prodigal son, who took the blessings and lived his life, at the detriment of himself and others, and the heartbreak of his Father.

Yet the story’s end is available to us as well: if we humbly own that we have taken the wrong path, turn, and submit ourselves to the Father, He will meet us on the road with profound love. The prodigal son was utterly humiliated and broken, and so had nothing left to hold instead of his Father’s hand; he did not have a secret stash or a place in the city he could return if things didn’t play out like he wanted. No; he was ready to be the lowest servant in his Father’s house for the remainder of his life, because he knew servitude with the Father was far greater than freedom within his sin. And the Father lovingly restored him.

Will we let go of those things which have shifted our focus from God? Are we willing to release the things that are important to us — even the truly good things — so that we can fully hold to Him? Are we willing to confess and repent the many, many ways we have chosen ourselves over Him? If we do, He will meet us.

I, child of God, must decide if I want to give up all to embrace that beautiful identity. We, children of God, must decide if we want to invite unity to embrace that identity as the Body of Christ. When we do, we will find ourselves able to easily live out those greatest commandments, discovering a full life for ourselves and those around us that could never have been attained on our own.