Wear Your (Jesus) Colors

January is the time of year that people begin coming to church wearing a variety of shirts, jerseys and jackets representing their favorite football teams.

Packer green.

Seahawks blue.

Chiefs Red.

And, as teams go deeper into the playoffs, the more people seem to come to church in their NFL garb.

Of course, Super Bowl Sunday is when all of this reaches an apex. On “Super” Sunday, the energy is palpable. Maybe even a bit competitive! At this point in the season, its down to the final two teams. Pretty much everyone has picked a side of who they would like to win.

I think all of this is pretty fun. Why not get behind your favorite team and make known to all your gridiron allegiance?

Allegiance. That’s a word that I wonder if we use enough as Christians.

Think about it: through the scriptures and the Spirit, we are called to manifest an abiding loyalty to Jesus. We are called to joyfully praise Him, consistently obey Him and faithfully serve Him. All in all, our loyalty is not to be divided or diminished.

When a person chooses a favorite football team, its near impossible to talk them out of their strong feelings of devotion. Whether their team wins or loses, they don’t bail out and jump on the bandwagon of another team.

In the same way, we ought to show Jesus an even greater degree of undying fidelity. Yet, divided loyalties can prove to be a huge hurdle for some Christians. All I can say is that we are called to go all in for Jesus.

So how do we display our Jesus colors?

By loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,

By loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

By doing what Jesus tells us to do.

By acting as light to a world that stumbles in the darkness.

By serving as salt to a world that suffers from sin-induced decay.

When we live like this, we let the world know where are loyalties lie.

Here’s my challenge. Live in such a way that your allegiance to Jesus is unquestionable.

Wear your colors.

The Tragedy of Spiritual Stagnation

Many years ago, we lived in a community that surrounded a fairly large lake. Each spring the lake was filled by a river that brought forth rainwater and melted snow from the nearby mountains. But, one thing unusual about this lake was that it had no outflow. All the water that entered the lake remained in the lake.

When summer came and temperatures began to rise, the lake would stagnate. The result? Algae blooms made swimming unsafe and a drop in oxygen levels proved deadly for the fish. By August, it was typical for the shoreline of the lake to be lined with scores of rotting fish. You can imagine the noxious odor that wafted through the air! All because the lake didn’t have an outflow.

So, why I am a telling you this? Here’s why: I want you to get a mental picture of what happens when a Christian is filled up with all sorts of good things pertaining to the Christian life (such as good doctrine and discipleship training) but fails to put such things into practice.

Simply put, the Christian life is meant to be a steady stream of both inflow and outflow. What we learn is supposed to be applied to our lives (which often impacts others as well).

James wrote about the unfortunate disconnect that occurs when we hear the instructions of God, yet decide to apply the brakes at the point of actual practice:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:19-25 CSB)

Sadly, some people will spend years learning about things like serving, ministering, sharing, loving, teaching and evangelizing, yet apply very little of what they’ve learned. Such people are like athletes who ravenously invest in learning about the details of their particular sport, but rarely make the move to actually play the game.

I believe that, from the perspective of heaven, this is heartbreaking!

In a nutshell, Christianity was never been meant to be a spectator sport. We aren’t trained and equipped for our own personal satisfaction, but rather to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Remember the Hebrews writers lament of chapter 5? “By now you should be teachers…” These people should have had an outflow of their Christian lives, but instead, they just kept taking in for themselves. Which meant they were getting spiritually bloated. Yet, in reality they were going backwards! So much so, they were having to learn about the basics of the faith all over again. And, as a result of this irresponsibility, the ball of ministry was obviously getting dropped.

I think one of the main reasons we hesitate from getting involved in service and ministry is we feel inadequate. We feel like we might mess up. Brothers and sisters in Jesus, on our own we are inadequate! And we very well may mess up! But doing nothing with all our learning is even worse. It’s disobedient and it shows a lack of faith that God, by his power, can use us for his purposes. Remember, according to 1 Corinthians, God actually prefers to use people who are weak:

Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 CSB)

So here’s my challenge: get involved in living out the Christian life! Assist a neighbor in need. Teach a kid’s class. Serve in the nursery. Use your God-given skills to help your church. Disciple a new believer. Volunteer at a local ministry.

Whatever God prompts you to do, just get your hands dirty! Don’t stop being equipped, but at the same time, become fully determined to put your equipping to use. I guarantee this: to do so will bring about greater spiritual vitality and well-being in your life. Conversely, without a spiritual outflow, we will become weak and a burden to the body of Christ.

Winds Will Blow

This week we had a major windstorm strike our area. The aftermath included felled trees, blocked roadways. dropped power lines, mangled roofs and extended power outages. It’s amazing to think that something that cannot be seen can do so much damage!

Sometimes the Bible uses the imagery of wind as a metaphor for trials and troubles. Jesus did so when He wrapped up the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s what He said:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 CSB)

In this story, the wind is shown to hold the potential to wreak great havoc. But, the focus of story isn’t supposed to be the wind. The point of the story is to get us thinking about the difference between flimsy and firm foundations.

Make no mistake, life is turbulent. There are all sorts of “winds” that blow about at any time, bringing with them all types of possible confusion and upset. When the winds struck our community this week, the main reason their was so much damage was some of the trees had weak roots and some of the roofs weren’t nailed down well. The wind was able to dislodge them and create incredibly hazardous conditions.

The Bible makes a point that the person who builds their life on the words of Jesus will be like a well-rooted tree and a house constructed on a solid foundation. Another section of scripture that provides a similar picture is Psalm 1, which challenges the reader to develop roots that run deep to the source of living water:

How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 CSB)

But what’s in store for the person who decides to not be well-rooted in the instructions of the Lord? Well, just as Jesus did in Matthew 7, the writer of Psalm 1 brings up the potential destructiveness of the wind:

The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1:4-6 CSB)

We live in times of extreme storminess. There are issues all around us that seem intent on uprooting us from life-giving truth. It could be politics. It might be the pandemic. It may be social upheaval. The question is this: when the winds of life blow, will we be left stand standing or will we fall?

I dare say that too many Christians who ought to be standing firm through life’s storms end up being blown away. How we fare in the midst of the squall depends on whether we build our life on the words of Jesus, and how deep our roots dig into the truth of the scriptures.

If we find ourselves easily tossed about by the winds of life, struggling with stress, anxiety and dismay, maybe its time to reassess the condition of our foundation.

Not of this World

Well, it looks like 2021 gave us a five-day honeymoon.

But now our nation is once again struggling with strife, division and turmoil.

It was of course extremely surprising to see our nation’s capitol under siege.

But I would venture to say it should not be shocking to us.

What boiled over yesterday was just another chapter in the story of a nation on edge. The seeds of distrust and disunity simply continue to leaf and produce their ugly fruit.

Why is this so? I’d say it’s an amalgamation of frustration, mistrust, selfishness and injustice. Which can prove to be pretty potent brew. Hence, protests which turn into riots which often result in violence.

In reality, our nation is acting just like many nations that have gone before us. As Solomon once wisely noted, “There is nothing new under the sun.” What we are seeing are common humans struggling with what’s known as the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. And this struggle has existed ever since humans fell into sin.

What’s sad to me is that it appears that some Christians have found it right in their minds to join in these destructive expressions of angst.

One thing that seems clear to me from the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament is that Christians, by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the instruction of the Word, are called to live noticeably different than the world. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a complete treatise on how kingdom living is vastly different than worldly living.

-The world loves to fight, but scripture tells us vengeance belongs to the Lord.

-The world seems fueled by pride and greed, but Jesus consistently called His followers to pursue humility.

-The world wrestles for power, but Jesus told his disciples that their lives were to be marked by humble service to others.

At the end of the day (as well as the beginning and the middle!), Christians are to demonstrate a different way of doing life. It’s the way of love. It’s the way of peace. It’s the way of grace.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he offered this counsel to His listeners:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are 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 in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 CSB

Here’s a few questions on my mind:

As Jesus’ followers, are we in danger of losing our saltiness?

Is our light dimming?

Are we becoming less distinctive?

If so, I would dare say it’s because our gaze has drifted off of Jesus and onto the turbulent waves of culture and politics.

My prayer is that God’s indwelling spirit will convince us that the only firm foundation worth standing on is Jesus. As the old hymn declares, “All other ground is shifting sand.”

Yes, God works through the means of human governments (Romans 13). But as G.K. Chesterton once said, “All government is an ugly necessity.” As long as sinful humans are involved, politics and government can quickly devolve into chaos.

Ultimately, there is only one perfect King. And, more than a king who only rules nations, Jesus rules hearts. And when Jesus rules hearts, the world quickly moves from bedlam to beauty.