Given the emphasis upon spiritual formation and discipleship in my preaching and teaching, a question I’m asked from time to time is: “Okay, so what does a fully formed disciple of Jesus look like?”

There are many ways to answer this question. I believe it’s important to focus on both who we are (core values) and what we’re able to do (core competencies). In this blog I want to focus on the latter category of discipleship earmarks—ten abilities I believe all fully devoted disciples of Jesus should (over a lifetime) seek to acquire. These ten core competencies are:

  1. An ever-increasing ability to cultivate and nurture a personal, intimate, dynamic relationship with God through the development of a daily devotional time involving such spiritual disciplines as Bible study, prayer and private worship. (1 Tim. 4:7-8; Luke 5:16; Matt. 6:3,6,17; Acts 17:11; Ro. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  2. An ever-increasing ability to actually obey the Ten Commandments and the moral teachings of Jesus, especially those contained in his Sermon on the Mount.  (Luke 6:46; Matt. 7:12-27; Ro. 8:1-4)
  3. An ever-increasing ability to cultivate a healthy, functional family life that contributes to the spiritual nurture of fellow family members and provides onlookers with a winsome witness for Christ. (Eph. 6:4;  Tit. 2:1-10)
  4. An ever-increasing ability to represent Christ in the neighborhood, on the job and in the community in such a way as to edify fellow believers and to encourage the unchurched to take another look at the claims of Christ. (Matt. 5:13-16; Col. 4:5-6; 1 Thess. 4:11-12)
  5. An ever-increasing ability to explain and defend the Christian faith to those who are either curious or confused about its true meaning. (1 Pet. 3:15-16; Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 4:16)
  6. An ever-increasing ability to lead spiritually hungry seekers into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to help these new believers become established in their own Christian walk. (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:37-39)
  7. The habit of attending church services on a consistent, regular basis, doing so not merely as a consumer/spectator but as a participant whose three-fold responsibility is: to worship God; to encourage fellow believers in their walk with Christ; and to contribute to an environment that makes it easy rather than hard for spiritual seekers to connect with Christ and his church. (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 14:24-25)
  8. The ability and willingness to use one’s spiritual gifts to minister God’s grace to fellow members of the body of Christ (i.e., body ministry—service to fellow church members beyond the general call to encourage one another). (1 Pet. 4:10; Ro. 12:4-8)
  9. A willingness to cheerfully provide consistent, generous prayer and financial support for: (a) the local church as it endeavors to make and mature disciples; (b) the cause of world missions; and (c) the cause of worldwide hunger and disaster relief . (2 Cor. 9:6-8)
  10. A willingness to become personally involved in the local church’s compassion ministries to the poor and powerless living nearby (i.e., a commitment to pray and work to see justice done and mercy demonstrated in the name of the Lord). (Pr. 14:31; 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; 28:27; 29:7; 31:9; Micah 6:8; Matt. 23:23)

So how about it? Could you stand to grow some in one or more of these areas of Christ-following competence? What would your walk with Jesus be like if you were doing really well in all ten of these discipleship abilities?

Now it just so happens that I’m writing this blog in late December. Thus, it’s only natural for me to suggest to my near-term readers that perhaps one of these discipleship earmarks might be the focus of a high-quality New Year’s resolution.

Then again, it’s not just at the turning of the years that we can and should engage in some serious soul-searching regarding our walk with Christ, is it? That said, I want to suggest that no matter what time of the year you read this blog, it’s appropriate to allow the Holy Spirit to rivet your attention on one or more of the core competencies listed above, and to motivate you to really begin praying about and strategizing toward its acquisition. And, as you do, keep this thought in mind: For a variey of reasons, Jesus wants you to possess these ten abilities even more than you do!

Something to think about.

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A. W. Tozer has famously asserted that: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

This bold assertion is based on three huge assumptions: first, that everyone is a theologian in the sense that they can’t help but have ideas about God bouncing around in their heads (even the atheist and agnostic are thinking about God); second, a person’s theology will greatly influence every aspect of his or her life; and third, that real knowledge of God is possible.

The first two of Tozer’s three assumptions are probably givens: yes, everyone is a theologian in the manner described above; yes, most folks would likely concede that what we believe to be true about whether God exists and, if so, what he is like, and how it is that we are to live before him will (and should) greatly impact just about everything having to do with our daily existence.

It’s the third of Tozer’s assumptions—that there is such a thing as orthodoxy in the sense of right belief about God—that proves to be controversial in the contemporary era. Those who have drunk deeply (too deeply I would suggest) from the well of postmodernism would aver that there is no “right” way to think of God. Since God is ineffable (beyond human description), any sort of real or accurate knowledge of him is impossible. All anyone has is a hopelessly subjective, historically and culturally conditioned view of God. So the argument runs.

On the other hand, what the hard postmodern position fails to take seriously is the idea that a triune God has taken pains, through the sending of his Son into the world, to reveal himself to people created in his own image (see John 1:1, 14-18; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:1-3), and that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to make it possible for finite human beings to gain real knowledge of an otherwise ineffable divine being (see John 14:26; 15:16; 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Furthermore, the following verses seem to go on to suggest that gaining, maintaining and growing in our knowledge of God (and his Son, Jesus Christ) is a very, very important thing to do:

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 2 (Corinthians 2:14)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:10) 

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. [3] His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. [18] But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

At the same time, it’s important for those of us who embrace a soft version of postmodernism to point out to our brothers and sisters in Christ that, given what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:9 and 12 about our present knowledge of God being less than perfect, we should never, ever conclude that we have the truth about God in our back pockets, becoming spiritually arrogant, overly dogmatic, and annoyingly argumentative in the process (the worst aspects of Christian fundamentalism)!

The bottom line is that there is such a thing as orthodoxy in the sense of right belief about God. While it’s true that none of us should assume that we have it wired, neither should we ever give up on the goal of gaining, maintaining and growing in our knowledge of the holy.

Tozer was right: what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. So remember, everyone is a theologian and … our theology influences everything!

Something to think about.

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On the Weaning of One’s Soul

Posted on 14, Dec

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. [2] But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. [3] O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)

In Psalm 131 David talks about weaning his own soul, with the result that it becomes still and quiet within him.

When I think of an infant who isn’t weaned, I picture a crying child clamoring for the breast, absolutely refusing to be denied. An unweaned infant lacks humility, self-control, and the capacity to trust. Evidently, so do unweaned souls.

According to the first verse of this psalm, unweaned souls demand immediate answers to all questions and resolutions to all problems. The idea is that if God doesn’t perform on cue, there’ll be heck to pay—the unweaned soul either screams and crys, or perhaps becomes sullen and pouts. A common tactic of an unweaned soul is to imply to God that a defection from the faith would be completely justified if he doesn’t do what we want, and do it right now! Sort of the ultimate form of holding our breath until we turn blue!

According to the last verse of this psalm, the weaned soul is able to hope—to humbly, trustingly sit still until the Lord in his wisdom decides it’s time to act.

Over the years I’ve met people whose souls were weaned within them, and others whose souls were anything but. Frankly, I myself have passed through seasons during which my soul was able to sit still in hope, and other times when I behaved liked a self-aborbed, undisciplined infant who felt entitled to have God provide immediate answers to all my questions and resolutions to all my problems.

On the one hand, I can vouch for the fact that life is definitely better when one has weaned his or her soul. On the other, I can also verify that weaning one’s soul is no easy chore. In our book, Beyond the Bliss, Patti and I quote John Ortberg who has astutely observed that:

“[w]eaning is not a popular process. At least not for the ‘weanee’. Children rarely volunteer for it because it is both costly and painful. Weaning means learning to live in stillness with unfulfilled desires. It is the mark of maturity.”[1]

So how about it? Are you weary with all the demand-making, crying, clamoring, and pouting before God? Wouldn’t you like to possess a soul that is able to sit still and simply trust God to answer and act in his own good time? Wouldn’t you like to have a heart that’s filled with the kind of hope for the future that actually makes a difference in how we behave in the present?

Maybe it’s time to engage in some soul-weaning.

I’m praying for you, whoever you are, right now. May all of us experience empowerment by Christ’s Spirit to humble ourselves before God and learn to trust, to wait, to hope.

Something to think about.

[1] John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 42.

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Reading through the Book of Revelation recently I began to wonder what it would be like to focus attention on the heavenly expressions of adoration and petition referenced within it.  Would any interesting theological themes be emphasized? Would any sort of pattern emerge, perhaps a clue as to the message of the revelation as a whole?

What follows is a presentation of those passages in the apocalypse that refer to the words of praise and lament John heard being directed at God in the course of heavenly vision. It’s my hope that looking over these passages will provide the reader with an experience that is both inspirational and informational.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, [10] the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: [11] “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:9-11)

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. [8] And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. [9] And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. [10] You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” [11] Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. [12] In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” [13] Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” [14] The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:6-14)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. [10] They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” [11] Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. [10] And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  [11] All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” [16] And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, [17] saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. [18] The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:15-18)

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues–last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. [2] And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God [3] and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. [4] Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:1-4)

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. [5] Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; [6] for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” [7] And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” (Revelation 16:4-7)

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, [2]  for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” [3] And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” [4] The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” [5] Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” [6] Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. [7] Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. [8] Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) [9] Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”  (Revelation 19:1-9)

So what does this examination of the worship John heard in heaven tell us?

Well, to be honest, I’m still processing the experience. What I can report rather immediately is that I’m struck by the fact that God is worshiped in heaven not only as creator and redeemer, but also as “reckoner.” What I mean by this term is that John’s vision makes it clear that a day of reckoning is coming for every human being that lives on the planet, especially those who have in any way mistreated God’s people—the followers of Jesus. (2 Thess. 1:3-10 makes the same point.)

Apparently, this was a major aspect of the message the apostle John (and the Spirit who inspired him to write) wanted to communicate to his peers in the first century (and, by extension, to all who would read his prophecy). Suffering for Christ’s sake will be a reality throughout this age, becoming more intense as the day of the Lord draws near. The only real option when faced with such suffering is to overcome it—to steadfastly resist the resulting temptation to defect from the faith or grow lukewarm in our commitment to Christ (see Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11; 21:7). In other words, one of the lessons of the worship John heard in heaven is that God doesn’t pay at the end of every day, but in the end, he pays.

So, take courage my friend, wherever you are and whatever you’re going through right now. A day of reckoning is coming. After it arrives, we will participate in the kind of heavenly worship John overheard.

Something to think about.

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On Loving (and Knowing) Jesus

Posted on 10, Dec

Ever wonder why so many church-goers don’t actually obey the teachings of Jesus?

Though I teach a course that aims to help students develop a Christian worldview—a course that obviously emphasizes the importance of core beliefs about how the world works and the way God would have us live in it—I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s not only what we know that shapes our lives, but what we love. It’s one thing to know what the right thing to do is, but do we love doing it. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is Lord, but do we actually love him?

In no uncertain terms, Jesus told his disciples that the key to obeying him is to love him:

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:21-24) 

According to the passage just cited, loving and obeying go together. To render unto Jesus what Eugene Peterson wonderfully terms “a long obedience in the same direction” requires that we genuinely love the one we call “Lord.”

Some other passages that encourage us to cultivate and maintain a love relationship with God are: 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” [29] “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:28-30)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”– (1 Corinthians 2:9)

If anyone does not love the Lord–a curse be on him. Come, O Lord! (1 Corinthians 16:22)

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Ephesians 6:24)

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (1 Peter 1:8)

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, (1 John 5:3)

According to all of these passages, it is indeed both possible and important that we love God if we want to effectively navigate our way through this world, pleasing him in the process. 

This is not to say, however, that it’s unimportant to strive to know as much as we can about God as well.  It’s fashionable these days, given the influence of a radical epistemological skepticism that pervades what I refer to as a “hard” version of postmodernism, to suggest that, since we really can’t know the truth (objectively) about anything–especially God–all we can do is love him. In opposition to this eccentric position I would offer that the following passages all seem to refer to our ability to possess some knowledge of God (and his Son Jesus):

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:10) 

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. [3] His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)  

So, where does all this leave us?

Ultimately, you have to make your own call, but it leaves me with the impression that: while it’s very important for us to strive to know as much as we can about the God who created and redeemed us, it’s also very, very important for us to go beyond a mere knowledge of him to a genuine love for him!

So, here’s my very simple prayer for today: 

Spirit of God: here’s my mind—enable me to keep growing in my understanding of who Jesus is and what he’s about; here’s my heart—fill it afresh with a profound, transformative love for Jesus, his words, his people, and his mission; here’s my will—help me to be a doer of Jesus’ teachings, not just a hearer. Amen.

Something to think about.

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A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

There are times in our lives when we desperately need to know that we’re not alone. For example, a few years ago I had a really weird, disconcerting experience. It was mid-morning; I was at my office at Vanguard University endeavoring to get ready for a class I was supposed to teach in a couple of hours when it seemed that I began to lose some brain function: I couldn’t concentrate; I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t remember little details—simple things like my own computer password and phone extension number.

Since this was a “new course prep,” I had prepared my afternoon lecture just the day before. The problem was that I couldn’t make sense of it. It was like gobbledy-gook to me—words that had been written by someone else, words that made no sense—just a bunch of black symbols printed on pieces of white paper. (Though my students might disagree, usually my lectures do make sense, at least to me!)

The more I tried to concentrate on what I had written, the more anxious I became. In a short amount of time I was supposed to stand in front of classroom full of college students and communicate something to them that, at that moment, I couldn’t even grasp. Eventually, an actual sense of panic began to set in.

That’s when I called my wife Patti, whose office at that time was in the same building, one floor above mine. (Patti served Vanguard University for twelve years as the executive administrative assistant to the president.) When she answered the phone, I told Patti that I thought I was experiencing some sort of stroke.

After hearing me describe what was happening to me, Patti put down the phone, set aside whatever important projects she was working on, came downstairs, and within a minute or two was standing at the doorway of my office.

Simply put, she was there for me. When I most needed a friend, a companion, a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Pr. 18:24), someone to walk through a dark place with me, she was there.

(We eventually decided that my “panic attack” was attributable to a significant season of stress exacerbated by way too much caffeine.)

What does any of this have to do with Christmas?


One of the most basic implications of Christmas is that we serve a God who was and is willing to “come downstairs” in order to be there for us.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

And, in John’s Gospel we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . {14} The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . {16} From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. (John 1:1-16)

Two big lessons linger in my mind as I contemplate the truth presented in these two famous passages of Scripture:

First, we Christ-followers are never alone; we always have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

This important truth is verified by still other famous passages found in the Gospels of Matthew and John:

. . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

Speaking figuratively, no matter where we are in this world, Jesus’ office is always just above ours. We don’t even have to pick up a phone to reach him; he’s always just a whispered pray away.

Second, sometimes Jesus wants to use us to carry his presence into the lives of other Christ-followers.

There are a couple of ways that Jesus shows up in the doorway of our lives when we really need him. Most often, Jesus shows up via the comforting, empowering presence of his Holy Spirit. But sometimes, when he knows we need something a bit more empirical, Jesus shows up via the comforting, empowering presence of a person with skin on, a fellow Christ-follower in whom he resides, someone we can literally touch and clutch in our time of desperation.

This is what I experienced when Patti came downstairs and personally entered into my crisis experience with me. This is also what I’ve experienced many times in thirty-five years of ministry as the person sent by the Lord to “be there” for someone else.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? Have you ever had Jesus manifest toward you his comforting, strengthening presence in the form of another person? Have you ever had Jesus use you to be his comforting, strengthening presence in someone else’s life?

Take it from me: I know from personal experience that there are times when the greatest thing we can do for a hurting person is to provide him or her with some of Christ’s Christmas presence—to simply “be there” in their time of need; to “be there” when they are feeling truly alone and desperate; to “be there” when they are most in need of a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Something to think about.

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There’s way too much “hating” going on among God’s people.

In 2 Samuel 6:12-23 we find the story of David dancing before the ark of the Lord as it was entering the City of David. The passage goes on to indicate how that David’s wife, Michal, ridiculed her husband for his undignified display of religious enthusiasm. Actually, verse 16 of this text reads: “And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.” 

In John 12:1-8 we find the story of Mary pouring an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wiping them with her hair. The account goes on to indicate how that Judas Iscariot spoke up, voicing an objection to this extravagant waste of resources.

In Mark 14:3-9 we find what appears to be a parallel story to the one referred to above. In this narrative a nameless woman pours a very expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. Once again, the story goes on to indicate how that some onlookers expressed their indignation over this obvious waste of resources.

In Luke 7:36-48 we find the story of Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house. During this soirée a sinful woman poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, but not before washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The Pharisee’s response was predictable: this display of devotion was inappropriate at several levels! 

Now, what do all of these passages/stories have in common?

  • First, each of these passages shows someone being very enthusiastic in an attempt to demonstrate gratitude and devotion to God.
  • Second, each of these passages shows an enthusiastic person being ridiculed or chastened by others who are put off by his or her display of devotion.
  • Third, each of these passages contains some sort of “word of vindication” for the enthusiastic worshipper. 

Okay, so what’s the point of all this? 

Mark Twain once made the observation that:

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. 

I’m suggesting that the truth of this observation can be applied to the enthusiasm some people demonstrate in their walk with Christ. Very often, people who are enthusiastic about their relationship with Jesus and somewhat demonstrative in their devotion to him, get on other folks’ nerves.

Do you remember the L’oreal commercial that began with a gorgeous model looking into the camera and then pleading: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”? Well, maybe those of us who, like King David, Mary, or the disreputable woman of Luke 7, are enthusiastic and expressive in the expression of our gratitude and devotion to God should begin saying something similar:

  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . grateful for what God has done in my life.”
  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . devoted to the Jesus who suffered and died for me.”
  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . excited, joyful and enthusiastic about my life in Christ.”

Even though I possess a Pentecostal/Charismatic heritage, a good number of the folks I’ve shepherded over years have not. This has made for some interesting conversations regarding the tenor of the worship services I’ve presided over. From time to time I’ve had non-Pentecostal/Charismatic parishioners complain about the worshipful demonstrations of devotion being offered to the Lord by some of their fellow church members. I’m not talking now about prophetic utterances at this point, but simply the lifting of hands, swaying to the music, occasionally praying and praising aloud, etc. (Ironically, nearly all of these behaviors can now be found in churches that do not possess any sort of Pentecostal/Charismatic affiliation!)

The critique of this “erratic” behavior usually goes like this: “Who do these super-spiritual church members think they are? What are they trying to prove? God doesn’t need us to be so expressive. Their extravagant behavior really puts me off with regard to my own ability to worship.”

Now let’s be honest. Over the years have some Pentecostal/Charismatic believers engaged in worship practices that seemed to lack biblical support and therefore bordered on the bizarre? Yes. And can some Pentecostal/Charismatic worship behavior be attention arresting despite the best intention of the practitioners? Again, yes.

And yet the passages that prefaced this blog seem to indicate that there are times when an extravagant expression of gratitude and devotion to God is simply the right thing to do no matter how many onlookers are distressed by it.

My observation, as a pastor of many years, has been that while there is certainly a need in many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches for good, biblical teaching regarding appropriate versus inappropriate worship decorum (e.g., see 1 Cor. 14), there are some believers who are going to be irritated with any enthusiastic display of spiritual devotion that takes place around them no matter how well intentioned or properly performed.

So, what kind of people do we really want to be? The kind of people who are genuinely enthusiastic about what God is doing in our lives, and who don’t mind letting this enthusiasm show once in a while, or the kind of people who just can’t help but be annoyed by all such displays of devotion?

Folks, don’t hate me because I’m . . . glad, grateful and enthusiastic.

In fact, here’s something to think about:

It may well be that a little religious enthusiasm never hurt anyone, and that more of us who like to think of ourselves as fully devoted followers of Christ could use some!

Speaking of the benefits of enthusiasm in general, David Steindl-Rast says:

The antidote to exhaustion may not be rest. It may be wholeheartedness. You are so exhausted because all of the things you are doing are just busyness. There’s a central core of wholeheartedness totally missing from what you’re doing. 

And speaking of the benefits of religious enthusiasm in particular, Leonardo Boff says:

Enthusiasm displays the exuberance of life that is made manifest in the decision to work and create, to rejoice and dance. It changes the person into an “entheos,” that is, someone inhabited by God. . . . Nothing great and truly creative is ever achieved without the powerful influence of enthusiasm.

Couldn’t we all use a bit more enthusiasm in our walk with Christ? Wouldn’t we all like to become an “entheos”—someone inhabited by God? Don’t we all want to experience as much joy as possible as in the course of this life?

Something to think about.

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