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What We Are – Part 4 – Sheep

Recently, I was watching a movie and in the movie the pastor made a joke about the term sheep having a double meaning when referring to Christians.  In the movie, the pastor was hinting at how there were those in the church that were opposed to changes he was bringing by blindly holding on to personal traditions that were not spiritual and quite possibly no one could explain why things were done that way in the first place. 

This made me start to think.  Of all the animals God could have compared us with, why did He choose a sheep?  Was it simply because it would resonate with those who were shepherds or was there more to it? 

In today’s political landscape the term sheep if often used to describe someone who follows a group or ideology blindly.  A sheep in this sense is someone who does not think for themselves and has a lack of imagination and will follow whatever is popular at the time. 

I am pretty sure that this is not what God intended when He called His children sheep.  However, it seems to be the case today, that many Christians are acting just like this and have become sheep to the world around them.  So much so, that a faith-based movie even makes a joke about it. 

Too many of those inside the church today are following blindly and unfortunately, they may be following bad shepherds.  This type of “sheep” mentality is what creates a culture inside churches that cause us to hold on to our own traditions and treat them as Holy Ordinances.  We take the words of unqualified leaders as gospel without ever checking the Word to see if their teaching matches up.  This type of “sheep” mentality will eventually lead all the “sheep” to slaughter. 

Now that I have gotten past what I believe God did not mean by calling us sheep, let’s look at some things that I believe He did mean.

There is a common misconception that sheep are stupid animals.  This is not the case.  They actually rank on par with cattle when it comes to intelligence. 

A 2017 article from BBC.com had this quote:

 “Sheep are actually surprisingly intelligent, with impressive memory and recognition skills.  They build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and feel sad when their friends are sent to slaughter.  They are also on of the most destructive creatures on the planet.”

A study from the University of California showed that sheep develop strong friendships and even take up for weaker sheep in fights.  (1993)

These are all very interesting facts about sheep and are all qualities that could describe the Christian Church. 

One of the biggest traits of sheep is that they will follow one another especially if the one leading is trusted.  A shepherd must earn that position with the sheep, he cannot just show up on day one and start leading the sheep.  One of the major reasons that sheep stick together is for protection.  Imagine that, Jesus using an animal that bands together for protection as and example for His followers.  Jesus knew that we would be facing an enemy who was ready to devour us so in calling us sheep He was calling us to stick together for our own safety and protection.

Another trait that is connected to the desire to band together is that sheep will follow one another and even follow trusted friends.  Shepherds use this instinct to gain trust with the sheep by feeding them as they are leading them where they want them to go.  However, if the shepherd does not feed them or stops feeding them, then the sheep will catch on and no longer respond to the shepherd.  So as Christians, we must be like sheep and make sure that we are being fed along the way.  If you are not being fed, then you may need to consider the shepherd you are following.  Are you following your own desires?  Are you following someone who is following their own desires? Are you following the comforts of this world?  Or, are you following Christ and those who are truly following Him?

This next point, I found to be very applicable to the life of a Christian-

Sheep will try to maintain a safe distance known as a flight distance between themselves and others.  The more comfortable the sheep is then the smaller this distance is.  However, when a danger presents itself this distance increases to a point in which the sheep feel safe.    Look at that as a Christian:  The more comfortable we get the more we let our guard down.  This is not an invitation to avoid the world, but it is a caution to keep your guard up at all times.  If we get too comfortable with the sin in the world, then it is only a matter of time before it becomes the sin in our own lives. 

Here is the bottom line:  It is possible to be a Christian and not have a negative “sheep” mentality.  I believe that in order to do this we must ask ourselves some rather difficult questions.

  •  Why Do I Believe What I Believe?

This may be the hardest question for a Christian to ask themselves.  In this you must consider a few things.  Do you believe what you believe because you were raised to believe that way?  Do you believe because others believe? Or, do you believe because of the power of Jesus Christ in your life?  I could (and possibly will) write an entire blog just about this question alone. 

  • What Changed in My Life After I Accepted Jesus?

Becoming a Christian should be transformational.  The world should be able to see the change in us.  So, as a Christian, ask yourself, what changed. 

  • Am I following God or my own comfort?

What desires are you chasing?  Are you chasing worldly fame and fortune?  Are you only after worldly blessings and trying to see what God can do for you instead of how He can use you to serve others? 

BONUS FACTS:
Certain breeds of sheep have wool that will grow forever. (Imagine a Christian who never stopped growing).

Sheep have 320 degrees of peripheral vison. Due to their pupils they can almost see all the way around themselves.

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What We Are – Part 3 – The Branches

We must go through the pruning process to grow closer to Christ and further from ourselves.

What We Are – The SALT, The LIGHT, the BRANCHES

So in the first two parts of this series I have talked about being the SALT and the LIGHT. I am not sure but this next one just doesn’t seem to carry the same pizazz the other two carry. I am in a Sunday School class now called the Salt Class, I have seen entire church programs around being the Light but is anyone in the Branch Sunday School class? Although it does not lend itself to a cool name it is one of the things Jesus said that we ARE.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

The entire chapter of John 15 is so moving and is such a teaching point for us as Christians. 

The first thing I want to highlight here is that branches always grow outwardly, just as I mentioned salt must come into contact with the world and light must go out into the world the branches must grow out from Christ.  Once again, this is not an ask; Jesus states “You ARE the branches”.  If this is true, then we must grow outwardly. 

If we are the branches of the Vine (Jesus) then we must grow outwardly from Him carrying Him into the world.

In the list of things Jesus called is followers this one may be the hardest to follow.  It seems simple enough but I think there are some things that anyone who is not a gardener might miss. 

“Every branch that bears fruit he PRUNES.” 

Pruning goes against our natural growth.  Pruning prevents a plant from growing into its natural path and allows a gardener to determine the way he wants the plant to grow.  Imagine this, a plant’s natural growth is vertical as in a singular branch sprouting upward only blooming at the final tip.  Now if this same plant is pruned then it will have multiple blooms throughout and will create multiple vertical shoots. 

This is very relatable to Christian growth.  We are born into the flesh and our natural desires are to follow that flesh and to chase things that are worldly.  If God does not prune us then we will never be able to reach the goals He has set for us or be able to display our true beauty as designed by God. 

One of the key reasons for pruning is to create healthier and lively shrubs and plants.  This is the same with God but to understand this we must first understand what pruning is. 

Not to insult anyone’s intelligence but let’s look at what pruning is. 

Without getting too technical, pruning is simply cutting off the tip of a branch or the end bud, which creates a chemical that slows the growth of other buds.  Once this has been trimmed or cut off it allows other buds to flourish. 

Wow, what a beautiful picture of God’s pruning of His children.  He will cut out or trim off elements of our lives that are choking out or preventing the healthy buds from blooming.  Sometimes we may not realize why God has allowed us to lose something we valued but, sometimes we allow our desires to get in the way and they need to be pruned so that we can focus on God’s desires for our lives.  There are even times when in planting that you may have to cut off one healthy rose in order for multiple others to be able to flourish. 

This entire concept is one that Christian’s avoid sometimes, because they tell us that this isn’t going to be easy.  These verses tell us that as Christians there are going to be growing pains and times that God must prune us.   This pruning will show itself in many forms but ultimately it will always allow us an opportunity to grow closer to God and further from our own desires.  If our growth is left unchecked then we will follow our own desires so it is reasonable to see that God’s pruning is an opportunity for us to see what we are allowing to get in the way of true fellowship with God. 

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What We Are – Part 1 “The Salt of the Earth”

Salt is useless unless it comes into contact with the thing which it is intended to enhance.

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the Earth”

Right here in Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples that they are “the salt of the earth”.  We hear this expression a lot as Christians and most of us think we know what it means.  Recently, I had a discussion with a friend, and he encouraged me to look into the uses of salt.  He made one glaring comment that both offended and moved me, but I will save that for the end. 

In the 1960’s Lay’s Potato Chips began an advertising campaign around their slogan – “Betcha can’t eat just one!”.  This was very clever, and it worked.  You know why?  It is because their chips are salty, and salt gives you a feeling that you want more.  This is the direct correlation we usually get to our Christian walk and although we may look at some other uses for salt, we cannot discredit this one just because we have already heard it before.  As a Christian does your walk bring people closer to Christ or push them away?  It is a simple yet thought inducing question.  If you truly investigate your lifestyle what answer would you have to give?  Remember that the Bible tells us that we are either for God or against Gods, so it would be logical to assume that you are either drawing people closer to Christ or pushing them further away.  What if we were as confident in our witness as Lay’s is in their potato chips? Imagine looking at a non-believer and saying “I bet there is no way you can resist wanting to know more about the God I serve”

I wish had the faith in the irresitablity of my testimony that Lay’s has in their potato chips! “Betcha can’t eat just one”

As I took a dive into the world of salt I realized that salt is a necessary ingredient in fertilizer.  Plants get most of their salt from nutrients found in the earth’s soil.  I found this to be pretty interesting because Jesus said “you are the salt of the earth”.  What if He intended us to be the fertilizer that is found in the world that encourages those around us to grow?  As I dug further into this thought I found that Christianity Today published an article in 2016 title “You Are The Manure of the Earth”.    In this article it is highlighted that in the times of Jesus, when the statement was made, using salt to fertilize soil was a very common practice and this meaning would have probably been immediately realized by those receiving the message.  Here is the first step in understanding this idea – We have to get out of our own way.  When you or I hear the word salt we immediately think of table salt but in reality there are many, many other kinds of salts.  In the times of the disciples and Jesus many of these salts were used in fertilizing soil.  As I have said before, we must look at Scripture in a way that allows us to see what is was saying when it was written or when the words were spoken.  It is very possible that Jesus was not referring to the table salt but instead of being fertilizer.  Another trick when looking at Scripture is to examine the entire context.  So. Let’s look at a couple of verses for clarity:

Luke 14:34-35 – “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” 

Now if you think of salt as that stuff we put on our fries then this makes little sense but if you think of the many types of salt and how it could be used as a fertilizer this verse now makes perfect sense and gives us insight to what Jesus was referencing when He said “You are the salt of the earth”.    We are to foster growth in the world as salt fosters growth in the soil and if the Christian community loses it’s saltiness what will keep that growth alive?

“If the agricultural use of salt makes barren soil easier to till, facilitates the absorption of other vital nutrients by plants, and maintains and enhances the fertilizing capacity of manure, then Jesus is calling us to something extraordinary and countercultural.  If we are truly supposed to be salt in the agricultural sense, that means we are supposed to get messy and go where nothing is growing right now.  Instead of going where things are bright, new, and exciting, we have a call to explore opportunities that will probably not make sense in the eyes of “normal” people.”  –

Anthony Bradley “You Are the Manure of the Earth”, Christianity Today, 2016.  (Https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october/you-are-manure-of-the-earth.hml)

Well, I can honestly say that as I am sitting here writing this, that it has went an entirely different direction that I thought I was going in.  Thank you, God, for allowing me to live in Your Grace and directing my thoughts.  I feel like this is enough for today, I will save my thoughts on salt as a cleansing agent for another time.  

I almost forgot, my friend’s comment that was both offensive and moving.  As a Christian you may have to read this twice and then read it again to fully understand it.  I know I wrestled with it for some time. 

Thank you, Dustin, for these wonderful words:

“Salt is useless unless it comes into contact with the thing which it is intended to enhance.”

Christians inside the church building are not salt, we only become the salt when we get out and get involved with those around us. 

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When a Christian Falls

Continue to pray for one another; don’t ever forget where you came from and don’t think you are ever so close to God that the devil cannot strike.

“Christian Author Leaves Christianity Behind”That was the headline that I read last week.

Recently a famous Christian author and pastor announced that he was “no longer a Christian”. If you read his post, you will see that this is a somewhat vague statement and he does not go so far as to denounce God. I am not writing this to address what he said and the apologies he made but I am writing to address what we as Christians can take away from this event.

1. Prayer We must be in constant prayer for each other. As Christians we should never seek to see another Christian fall and we should not celebrate anyone’s failures or trials. Undoubtedly, I am sure the secular world is rejoicing at the fact that a well-known Christian influencer who was a role model for so many has come out against Christianity and in support of their causes. I do not know this person or what they have been through, but I know that he needs our prayers in a very big way.

2. Measure Everything Against Scripture: As I am writing this blog, I am trying to avoid putting the person’s name out there as I feel it is out there enough and many of you will already know who I am talking about. The book that made this person famous started a major movement in the late 90’s, the book taught that dating was somehow not biblical and should be avoided if you wanted to have a successful marriage. As a young adult when this book came out, I did not get on board with this train as I never saw the spiritual backing for these claims. Many young adults did and for some I am sure it was a positive thing and for others not so much. Here is the catch, in stepping away from the faith this person has asked that all these books be taken off shelves because they no longer feel that those teachings were correct. As Christians our measuring stick is the Bible, the entire Bible. Not everything that gets published, even by Christian publishers, is fundamentally sound doctrine. Even if there are biblical claims and verses to back up their claims, are you sure those verses are not taken out of context? That is our duty as Christians to take everything we are taught and measure it against the wholeness of Scripture. It does not matter if it is a Sunday School lesson or a book that sold over a million copies; it must be measured against Scripture.

3. Don’t Get Lost in The Noise: Here is what I mean by that; Continue searching after God. Continue striving to be a better Christian. A Christian should never stop learning and growing. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast that with crowds come popularity and even some type of a celebrity status. With that status comes a whole new set of temptations and trials. I have to admit; sometimes my flesh looks at some of these Christian pastors that have large crowds and are on tv and the radio and think it would be nice to have all that but really I am not sure I want all the trials that comes with it. As you grow in Christ, you must always strive to remember where you came from – a lowly sinner – and that although your worldly status may change you are no different than the beggar on the street.

4. Romans 3:23: My fourth and final point is this; none of us are above sin. Not one person alive today or in the history of mankind, other than Jesus, has lived a perfect life. Now it should not surprise us when sin is found in someone’s life that has been put under a microscope. Most days, you don’t even need a microscope to see mine. The devil is a powerful adversary to Christians and what better way to bring us down than to attack those that are the most visible. Although I would love for more people to ready this blog, sometimes it scares me to think of how the devil would attack if this was getting in the hands of more people. The more people our message starts to reach the more it is going to stir up the devil and that means the attacks on us will grow stronger. There are no Christians that are so great that they cannot fall into temptation at any given time. It is only God that gives us the strength to avoid those temptations and to continue pushing forward for Him.

In closing, I want to say this:

Continue to pray for one another; don’t ever forget where you came from and don’t think you are ever so close to God that the devil cannot strike.

What We Are – Part 2 – “The Light of the World”

Just as a lighthouse is an immovable warning for dangerous areas so the Christian must stand firm in their witness for God.

In Part 1 of “What We Are” I discussed Christians being the “SALT of the Earth” and how we should be using our talents to help the witness of Christ grow.

Today, I want to look at the same set of scripture but focus on the next title that God gives His children.

Matthew 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.”

The first thing that sticks out to me here is that Jesus states “You ARE”, He does not say that you might be, or you should be but instead says you ARE. I think this characterization is much clearer that Salt but that does not mean we should just gloss over it.

If we ARE the Light, then that must mean that there is darkness. We know as Christians that the darkness in our world is sin and those that are living without knowing Christ are living in that darkness. Our lives should be a complete contrast to those who do not know Christ.

Philippians 2:15 wraps this up in a nice little bow for us. “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as a light in the world,”

As Christians we should be a constant source of light drawing others towards Christ. This makes me think of a lighthouse and the beacon that emits from it.

The two main purposes of a lighthouse are:

  1. To serve as a navigational aid
  2. To serve as a warning for dangerous areas

In that first purpose a lighthouse let’s the boats know that they are on course or if they need to shift their course. As Christians our actions, attitudes, behavior, words should all be an example to others to show them the course that they should be on. We should be the measuring stick for the world. Does that mean we should be perfect? No, that is impossible, but it does mean that we should constantly be striving to be as much like Christ as we can be. When non-believers look at us, they should see the blueprints for what a Christian should be.

The second purpose of a lighthouse can be taken different ways when applied to Christianity. I think the Bible is clear that we are to warn others of sinful behaviors. Here is the same, a lighthouse has never hit anyone over the head or forced them to change their paths. They see the lighthouse; they recognize the lighthouse; they divert their course because they know the lighthouse signals an impending danger.

I love this old joke so I will include it here:

This is the transcript of a radio conversation:
Ship Captain: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision

Reply: We recommend that you divert your course 15 degrees to avoid a collision

Ship Captain: This the Captain of a US Navy Ship, I say again, Divert Your Course.

Reply: No, I say again, You Divert Your Course

US SHIP: This is the Aircraft Carrier XXXX we are a large warship of the US Navy Divert Your Course Now.

Reply: This is a lighthouse – Your Call.

Not sure why I find that joke funny, I guess it is my dad joke humor. The interesting part though is that the lighthouse does not divert its course to make the captain happy. The lighthouse does not move to appease someone else. It is rock solid and set in its foundation just as we Christians should be.

There are times on the water when a ship captain cannot see the danger ahead but when he sees the light of the lighthouse he knows it is near so he can react accordingly.  If he does nothing and enters the dangerous area and crashes, does that mean the lighthouse did not do it’s job?  No, it simply means the captain did not listen.  As Christians we must remember it is our job to be a warning to others; to help identify the areas that God has commanded us to avoid.  If someone still chooses to enter those areas then that does not mean we have not done our job as Christians. 

When we start moving the lighthouse of God to make others more comfortable then we are living in dangerous waters.

I fully believe that God calls us to love others but in that love we must never decrease the standard. If we are going to be the light of the world then we must stand strong as an example of Christ’s love for us.

1 Corinthians 15:58
“Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
Philippians 1:27
“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

We Are The Church

Over the past few weeks this topic has come up more than a few times in conversations I have had.

Where did the idea of having a church building come from?
What if you did not have a church building?
Would you still worship Christ?
Would you still gather with other believers?
How would you share the gospel with others if you could not invite them to church?

I believe that the teachings of Jesus are very clear that we are to meet together and worship Him but I cannot find one place where He commanded one of his followers to erect a building in His name. Actually, He did say that He was actually greater than the temple and He told His disciples that they were His church. So now then, why do we put so much focus on a building being the House of God and it being “filled with the Holy Spirit”?

Imagine your life without a building that’s sole purpose was worshiping God. Imagine if we opened the doors to that same building 7 days a week to serve the needs of our communities. Isn’t that what it is all about anyway?
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go into our community and serve food to those in need. Some of these folks were homeless and others just down on their luck. Whatever their circumstances are the chance of them coming into a church building on a Sunday night for a Worship service is very slim. This whole experience caused me to think, “was the church that Jesus said he would make Peter the foundation of ever about a so-called worship service?”

Again, do not get me wrong, I believe that Christians should gather together and worship Christ and learn Scripture. I believe those are biblical concepts, but I also believe church as Christ intended it is much larger.

In all honestly, I believe that most of our modern ideas of church and services are based on man made traditions. I cannot imagine that serving those in need and sharing the love of Christ with them is not just as much church as any service you can hold inside the four walls of the church building. The great commission tells us to go and make disciples and sitting in your church building 3 times a week is not cutting it.

We have to stop thinking of church growth in terms of membership and think of it in the way Christ intended it – Spreading the Gospel. Instead of saying how many 1st time visitors were here today, why not ask how far your members spread the gospel this week. Too often we only evangelize as a means to get more people to come to our church. Frankly, I do not care if they ever come to my church, I just want them to have a relationship with Jesus. That is the most important thing.

Instead of opening our doors more maybe we should be closing them more to encourage our members to GO.

This week my Pastor talked about living lives that are worthy of our blessings and again I am drawn back to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts and the sense of community that the church had. It was a system that said the NEEDS of others are more important than your WANTS. You could even go so far as to say the NEEDS of others are equally as important as your NEEDS.

As Christians, if we truly want to start living a faith that is worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a cross and a faith that draws others closer to God then we have to learn and live this key truth. Serving others is our responsibility. Putting the needs of others is the example Christ set for us.
I told this to a friend and the commented he made was that this sounded like a socialist idea. I have heard before that Jesus may have agreed with socialism on many things but the catch here is that it did not and should not take government action to force us to serve the needs of others. Yes, Socialism can force us to share wealth and ensure everyone gets an equal share of goods but that does not fix the heart issue. The church in Acts did not need the government to tell them what to do or how to serve others because they had something greater and that is the Holy Spirit. If you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you and you listen to it then you will have an unquenchable desire to serve others.

Too often today we are more concerned with our savings account than whether our neighbor has food and water for today. We say that we trust God with our future, but we live our lives like we have to have an emergency back up plan in case God doesn’t come through.