The MOST Important Step in Your Christian Faith

If you boiled it all down, stripped everything away, lost the church buildings, programs, Bible studies, choirs, lights, steeples, and every other comfort item from religion, what’s following Jesus really about? We like completing a task, crossing a finish line, an end goal to shoot for. Life would be so much simpler (and more manageable) if following Jesus was a short sprint, a 100 yard dash, something we could complete with a short burst of energy and then move onto other pursuits in our life.

3.9.15

But following Jesus isn’t a 100 yard dash; it’s more like a marathon. And the goal line isn’t something we cross until we cross over into the next life. So if following Jesus really is a lifelong journey, then what’s the most important step? Finding a good church to attend? Getting baptized? Joining a small group? Going on a mission trip? The answer is “yes and.” Christianity is not a destination religion, where we tick off three or four accomplishments and sit back to enjoy the perks. It’s a lifelong, never ending pursuit of a man named Jesus. It doesn’t end until we see him face-to-face. We don’t arrive until we arrive on the other side. Until then, we can never become complacent in following him.

The MOST important step in your Christian faith is the ‘next step’. Jesus’ first command to “follow me” doesn’t have an expiration date to it. He’s never done with you. Our spiritual growth may come in spurts and seasons, but it takes a lifetime to finish. If you look around and realize you haven’t taken a step of faith in months or years, then you haven’t grown in months or years. Christianity is not merely attending a religious service a few times a month. It’s about following Jesus, one step at a time. Your steps may look different than those around you. But never stop taking those steps of faith. The most important step in your Christian faith is the next step.

The Jesus I See in the Book of Mark

As part of our new sermon series The Jesus I Never Knew Sunday I challenged Mt Vernon to read the book of Mark in one sitting and share their thoughts. It took me about 45 minutes this morning to read through the book of Mark. Here’s what struck me:

3.3.15

  • The crowds were quick to materialize. The poorest of the poor, it must have been a region and people desperate for any good news. I think Jesus would have had a tougher time gathering a crowd if he came today and had to compete with football, movie premieres, and ball practices.
  • It seems like Jesus intentionally ticked off the religious leaders. Or at least that’s how Mark records it. Every chapter seems to have something else Jesus did to make them mad. Jesus grew up in that society and he well knew the rules. He just chose to break them.
  • It’s amazing how quickly the religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat. Even from the opening pages they were figuring out ways to get rid of him, a threat to their way of life.
  • The story of Jesus commanding the waves to be still has always been an odd one to me. How could he have stayed asleep if the waves were engulfing the boat? What’s odder to me is the disciples reaction when Jesus calms the waves. They were afraid. They’d seen him do miracles before, but something about this one was different.
  • I’m always amazed at the death of John the Baptist. Here he was, God’s messenger, devoted to God since birth, and this is how he dies? Beheaded by the whim of a girl? It’s proof that God’s kingdom is not of this earth. If John’s end was this lowly, who are we to demand any better?
  • Jesus seems to turn a corner in Mark 7 and starts laying into the religious leaders. He’s no longer just breaking their traditions, now he’s dressing them down publicly and rebuking them. There’s no way they would stand for this.
  • I don’t know what was a stronger motive for the religious leaders to kill Jesus: the fact that they were threatened by Jesus’ teaching, or the fact that they were insanely jealous of Jesus’ following. The crowds loved him in a way they never loved the religious leaders.
  • How hard must it have been to include Mark 8 and 14? The writer of this gospel is Mark, who was not one of the twelve apostles. But scholars believe that he got all his information from Peter. This is Peter’s telling. And yet he chose to include those two chapters, where Jesus calls Peter Satan and Peter denies Jesus. It takes a strong man to include those low points.
  • It always seems to me like Jesus is a little harsh to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10). This guy just wants to follow Jesus, and Jesus makes him sell all his possessions first? My selfish self wants it to be okay to pursue Jesus and money at the same time, but Jesus would not allow that.
  • I’m always astonished by the crowds. Jesus had the crowds. But he never sought the crowds. He was focused on his disciples and his mission. What does that mean for churches that simply seek the crowds?
  • Jesus doesn’t give his disciples a sunny picture to look forward to. They will be persecuted, tried, and killed for their faith. What keeps them devoted? They cannot deny that Jesus is from God. What will you give up for God?
  • Mark 15 doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. Jesus has shown miraculous powers now for fourteen chapters. Nature, the human body, the spirit world, all under his command. And yet he allows himself to be tortured and executed without fighting back?

That’s what stands out to me. What stands out to you?

 

Hope Story: Convicts and Lesbians

Last Thursday was a great reminder for me of what the gospel is supposed to be about. It’s not just for the well-manicured families we typically think of when we think of church. It’s for everyone (at least it’s supposed to be). It’s for the high and mighty and the down and out. Last Thursday I was reminded of that.

The day started with a text from one of our church members saying she recently had a conversation with a member of another church about a new co-worker who happens to be lesbian. Our church member said she was planning on inviting her to church, to which the member of the other church replied, “Yeah, she would probably be comfortable there.” I took that conversation as a compliment, meaning we’ve created a welcoming environment where our members feel comfortable inviting those with lifestyles that you typically wouldn’t see inside a church in the South.

letter

Later on that morning I wrote a letter to a convict who had written me the previous week. He grew up in our community and has a reputation for wild living. He attended church as a kid but it never stuck. His second trip to the pen got his attention and he gave his life to Christ a few months ago. He’s 2-3 months from being released and is looking for a church home once he gets home. He heard that Mt Vernon might be a place where he would be accepted. I wrote him back and assured him that he has a family waiting here for him, with some great guys ready to mentor him and disciple him.

That was my Thursday. Convicts and lesbians. I was reminded of the truth from Scripture, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) I guess ‘everyone’ means everyone, not just the ones we’re comfortable with.

Or as Jesus famously recounted in his parable: we’re to go to the highways and hedges to invite people to the Great Banquet.

21 ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:21-23

I think convicts and lesbians count as ‘highways and hedges.’ I’m so glad they have a place here at Mt Vernon!

Why Brian Williams Has to Be Suspended at Least Six Months (if not more)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

2.11.15

It’s been a surreal few days to see how quickly the face of NBC News has fallen from his pedestal atop the news world. Much more than a newscaster, Williams was a quasi-entertainer with his comedic timing and constant presence on the talk show scene. He was about as mainstream and beloved as a newscaster can get.

And it all came tumbling down with an admission that he misrepresented a war story that happened during the Iraq War. And maybe something he saw during Hurricane Katrina. And maybe something else. And maybe something else. Some are speculating that the six month suspension is merely an audition for the next anchor. Either way, Williams probably isn’t coming back.

The knives were quick to come out in the cutthroat world of journalism (interestingly enough, I checked several news media sites, and Williams’ suspension was the lead story on all but one. Yep you guessed it, NBC News). But a greater question might be asked: why such a harsh punishment for a seemingly small crime? So he embellished a few stories. Every person who’s ever gone fishing has done that. He was the face of NBC News for twenty years. How can that all be discarded in a matter of days? No laws were broken. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Until you realize what Williams represents: truth, transparency, integrity, trust, facts. When he embellished stories, stretched the truth, colored in the gray areas, he undermined the very foundation from which he built his entire career.

That’s why Jesus said that to whom much is given, much is required. That’s why Williams needs to be suspended (and probably fired) even though he broke no laws, even though he did what every other person does when trying to enhance their mediocre weekend to sound like a great one Monday at work. He’s not just any other person. He’s the face of a franchise. He doesn’t get free passes. Much much more is expected of him. And that trust is now irrevocably broken.

For the church world, that’s why ministers are (and ought to be) held to such a higher standard. That’s why a moral failure which may seem pedestrian to most is devastating to a minister or ministry. When the moral trust is broken, it is difficult if not impossible to regain. May Williams’ fall from grace be a warning to us all.

 

The Worst Thing About the Seahawks Superbowl Loss

I still can’t believe the Seahawks lost the game last night. I’ll always be a die-hard Saints fan (Who Dat!), but last night I was pulling for Seattle. If you’re any type of football fan you couldn’t help but get pulled into this game as it literally went down to the wire.

2.2.15

Two minutes left, Seahawks need a drive down the field and touchdown to win. The football gods seem to line up the stars for the Seahawks on that ridiculous grab by Kearse after he had fallen to the ground. Marshawn Lynch pounds it to the 1 yard line, the game is won. They just have to gain one more yard. The Patriots can’t stop Marshawn Lynch. Give the ball to him and let him punch it in. Instead, in a play call that will forever live in infamy, Seattle executes a pass play and throws an interception, giving the ball and the Superbowl to the Patriots.

I was only mildly pulling for Seattle but I was sick to my stomach. Here’s the worst thing about Seattle’s Superbowl loss to me: the regret.It would have been less painful if they had gotten blown out. It would have been easier if they had gotten beaten soundly. But the game was theirs. They beat themselves. They outsmarted themselves, made the game too complicated, and let it slip through their fingers.

If you’re a Seattle fan, I honestly don’t know how long it takes you to get over this loss. This one hurt. I hurt for you, and I’m just a Saints fan in Mississippi. As most things do for me, my thoughts eventually turned spiritual, and not to ‘Jesus juke’ this post, but it pained me to think that people can be burdened with this level of regret in life, not about a football game, but about a life choice, a failed marriage, a wayward child. How crippling that regret can be!

It made me that much more thankful for my relationship with Jesus. That’s the reason the hope of the gospel is so powerful. Only Jesus can truly take away that level of regret and replace it with hope. When this world disappoints it’s natural to look for a world beyond ours. I’m so thankful that I have a hope in Jesus that will never fade! (Okay, so I pretty much ‘Jesus juked’ this post. Sorry!)