Tag Archives: Gospel

Principles are weird…are you weird?

jetskiSometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, even if we have resolved to live our lives on principle. We will always be tempted to fall back into a habit of self-preservation and the seeking of our own self-interests. However, there’s another factor that will make it difficult to live consistently on principle.

Living on principle is weird.

It is unusual to find someone committed to living on principle. When you do, they stand out. They spend a huge amount of time doing things apart from their own self-interest; they don’t simply volunteer one or two Sundays a month at church, they are consistently and regularly volunteering hours whenever and wherever there is a need, while also being active in other community activities and outreaches. They don’t look at their time as something they sparingly donate, they are focused on making a significant impact on the world around them.

Looking around, you will see lots of people spending their money on lavish vacations, recreational activities, bigger and better vehicles, and other things that make life a little more comfortable. Often times, people who live on principle seem short on cash. They live below their means because their spending is tied to their principles. This doesn’t mean they don’t go on vacation, upgrade vehicles, or have other comforts, but they could have much more than they do if they didn’t spend so much money supporting their church and other worthwhile missions and causes. It isn’t an issue of tithing 10%; that is simply a minimum. Jesus highlights that we are called to more than the minimum; we are called to live generously.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, ESV

Living on principle means putting those valued ideals of yourself and your own comforts. For some, that may mean donations yearly in the tens of thousands of dollars. For others, that may “simply” mean hundreds or thousands of dollars. It means we are willing to sacrifice some things that would be really nice for something bigger than us.

I remember when my youth pastor, Tim Hunter, challenged us to give 10% of whatever we money received as junior high and high school students. He said, “Right now, you are sacrificing a meal out or a case of soda, but if you can’t do that now how will you be able to sacrifice a jet ski or a new car when you tithe as an adult?” Living on principle means the mission is more important than the money.

As a ministry director for a new nonprofit, it’s fair to say that funds are not plentiful in my household. However, we were what I would call “comfortable” in our finances when I was a youth pastor and my wife worked for a law firm. We owned a modest home, had decent vehicles, and I even eventually saved enough money to buy my Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, that purchase came after a year of saving extra money after our tithe, our other bills, and additional giving to groups and missions like our support for a missionary friend in southeast Asia and our giving to a Christian summer camp that we are passionate about. Anything we purchase beyond essentials (true essentials, like food and clothing, NOT “essentials” like cable TV and gym memberships) was weighed against doing what we could do to support the advancement of the gospel in and through the various groups we worked with.

If by some fluke a “normal” person notices that you are living on principle and not for our personal interests, it will grab their attention. While they will talk about going to the cabin every weekend and the new snowmobile they bought to replace the “old one” that they bought last year, you talk about volunteering at the food distribution over the weekend or at the local youth drop in center. In addition, even though they know you make enough money to afford new things, they will notice that you don’t buy new toys every year. They may eventually work up the gumption to ask, “What’s different about you?” And when you give them the answer, their response will be simple.

You’re weird.

And they’re right.


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Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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Thoughts to drive us – We are “but dust”

dustWe are dust – earthy and humble, finite and temporal…We live on borrowed breath. We are alive in the most profound sense of the word – filled with the very breath that spoke creation into being. Within this tension is a status that is regal but lowly, significant but insignificant, unique but ordinary. God looks upon humanity’s frame of dust and says, “I formed you, I love you, and I delight in you.”

We are beloved dust.

Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, Beloved Dust, p 8

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“Altar Ego” – Craig Groeschel


You are not yet who you are supposed to be.

You were made for more than you’ve settled for.

We all self-identify in different ways; if you want to know how you view yourself, think about what your first answers are when someone says, “Tell me about yourself.” We often start those answers with our jobs; that says an awful lot about our priorities, doesn’t it? We might point to our family; “I’m a Whitman.” We might point to interests or activities; “I’m a Vikings fan” or “I’m a Belieber” (note: if this last example is one of your first answers, please contact me; I can help).

In “Altar Ego” Groeschel points out that God has bigger plans for you, and these plans aren’t simply a list of tasks; God wants to transform us into what He has called us to be. Groeschel point to the empty labels that we often use, what God has called us to become, and how that transformation drives us to boldly follow Christ as He has called us, not as our culture or world expects us to.

His chapters on boldness are particularly challenging. As Christians (especially those of us who have been followers of Christ for many years) we often fall into something of a trance; we have low expectations (or no expectations) and we move through our lives without purpose. We need to be regularly challenged to live boldly and unashamedly for Christ.

Boldness is behavior born of belief.

We speak boldly about what we believe deeply.

I believe true obedience overflows from our passion for God, lovingly yielding our decision-making process to him…Bold obedience is rooted in love and allows us to experience God’s presence in a new and very real way.

Sometimes we confuse being bold and being obnoxious. This isn’t what we are is talking about. We are called to live bold lives where we follow Christ’s leading without being held back by the consequences that we will have to deal with – and if we are living as Christ is truly calling us there will be consequences! Are we willing to trust God to guide us and take care of us or will we do our own thing, trying to blend in with our surroundings and not let our faith get noticed.

This is a life-call, a change in perspective that goes beyond a new year’s resolution or a 21-day fast. It’s a lifestyle of worship and service, one that can be incredibly challenging and frustrating, but ultimately a rewarding and fulfilling pursuit because we will be living out what we were made to do. I hope that we are all willing to take this challenge, and as we do we find others with the same conviction that we can lean on for encouragement and support during those times that life gets tough.

One of my mentors told me, “Craig, you’ll very likely overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you will very likely underestimate what God wants to do through you in the long run.” He nailed it. I was so disappointed because I didn’t see the immediate ministry results that I wanted…I overestimated what I could do in a moment. But I had no idea what God wanted to do through me over a lifetime. Don’t give up. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Altar Ego” by Craig Groeschel

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Gospel Outside – Go Teach Sunday School

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

“You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.” -Claude Chabrol

Often times, when we think of being highly successful, wealthy or famous, we think life gets easy. We picture business owners, entertainers and leaders as the people who get to kick back behind the scenes and be important while they have “their people” do the hands-on grunt work.

That’s not how it works (at least not most of the time).

I am often impressed by the work that people I often expect to be more hands-off get done. These people usually know that God has blessed their diligence and attention and has brought them a measure of success, and they are usually willing to dive in to accomplish a goal or task. I’ve spent countless hours doing hands-on grunt work next to world-famous musicians that haul and set up their own equipment, or businessmen willing to get dirty working on a construction project, or pastors and ministry leaders that aren’t content to stay behind a podium and speak but get out serve by driving a van, shoveling snow or cleaning a mess. These people recognize that they are not above these tasks-they are willing to do whatever they need to do in order to reach their goals.

Jesus was a different story. He wasn’t different in that he didn’t do those hands-on tasks, because in every story of the gospels you see Jesus mingling and interacting with people at their level; spending quality tie with the poor and needy, fishing with Peter, even spending time playing with little kids!

Jesus was willing to do whatever task needed to be done. The difference is that he was above these tasks. As Creator of the Universe, King of Kings, and Messiah, he would have been justified in saying, “Andrew, you are in charge of children’s ministry. You play with them, I’ll sit here and teach the adults.” Instead he said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:14, ESV) He even took time to wash his disciples’ stinky, dirty, nasty feet to display what it means to be a servant.

But these are from the gospels, and this is supposed to be Gospel Outside, so lets get outside the gospels.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Philippians 2:4-11

When we are faced with an opportunity to do good, to minister and love on someone who needs another person to show they care, remember the example that the God of the Universe provided for us. He didn’t just humble himself to become the Supreme Ruler of the Earth, with each and every human being as his servant – because that truly would have been a humbling, descending from the glory of heaven and the constant worship of angels to a fallen and sinful planet he created. No, Jesus made himself nothing, a slave, the guy that does the things others aren’t willing to do. He even allowed the very creation that he not only brought into being, but whose existence he continued to sustain, to beat, torture and murder him.

And he did it for us, to provide an opportunity for you and I to have a restored relationship with God.

When you begin to think too highly of yourself, when you start to think that you are better than someone else or decide that some task is beneath you, remember that Christ came to spend time with “those types of people,” doing that stuff that you think someone else should be doing, and that someday each and every person who has ever lived will recognize the Lordship of Christ because of it.

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Gospel Outside – Don’t Lie To Yourself

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

Art by Scott Erickson. Visit www.scottericksonart.com

“Man Acquainted With Grief” by Scott Erickson

Have you ever had a problem but just wanted to pretend it wasn’t there? For the last two weeks I’ve been sick. I don’t think it has been one illness, I think I have had the luck to contract several illnesses in succession. Over those two weeks I did what I think many of us often do – I tried to pretend I wasn’t sick. I’m sure many of you have done the same thing; you show up someplace when you know you should be home resting and everyone looks at you with concern and asks, “Are you ok? You look horrible!” Despite the fact that I was obviously sick I went Christmas shopping, pretending I was fine right up until I was so exhausted by my illness that I couldn’t walk straight. I decided to go home before I face-dove into a store display.

We can be very good at pretending to avoid a reality we don’t like, and we will often carry that delusion right up until we are forced to face reality. Problems arise when we are able to avoid that reality for long periods of time and we continually perpetuate the lie we want to believe instead of facing the truth we don’t like.

We can often do this when it comes to our sin. Sometimes we like to pretend that our actions are fine when the reality is that we are really enjoying our sin. Sometimes we like to ignore some things we really should be doing and pretend that our avoidance of what God has called us to do is something other than sin. And sometimes we like to pretend that, when we ask for forgiveness from those sins after we finally own up to them, the sins simply evaporate from existence, “because Jesus.” We don’t like thinking about what that forgiveness cost.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Our forgiveness isn’t a pat on the tush and a redirection of our life, it came with a terrible cost. Sin, even the “little” sins, are a rejection and rebellion of the King of the Universe. In order for our rebellion to be forgiven and our sin to be paid for we needed someone to pay the penalty as our substitute. This was what Christ came into the world to do. The Eternal Word, the being that spoke creation into being, took our sin fully upon himself and died so that we could avoid the eternal death that is the penalty for sin.

Don’t look away from that fact. Remember what it was that the infant Christ came into the world to do – to be tortured and to die as the only human in history not to deserve what he got and the only one able to bring salvation for the rest of us. Praise God for His grace and mercy!

The art pictured here is called “Man Acquainted With Grief” by my friend Scott Erickson. Click here to go to his website and check out his other work – some very powerful and some that is just plain fun!

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Gospel Outside – Creation: Sex and Death

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

GrossNearly every culture from around the world has a creation myth. Each story is connected with that culture’s religious system and, while many are unique, there is some overlap in concepts and ideas. A couple of themes that often run through these creation myths are sex and death. Here is an example from a Babylonian creation myth featuring the chief Babylonian god Marduk;

Marduk armed himself with a bow and arrows, a club, and lightning, and he went in search of Tiamat’s monstrous army. Rolling his thunder and storms in front him, he attacked, and Kingu’s battle plan soon disintegrated. Tiamat was left alone to fight Marduk, and she howled as they closed for battle. They struggled as Marduk caught her in his nets. When she opened her mouth to devour him, he filled it with the evil wind that served him. She could not close her mouth with his gale blasting in it, and he shot an arrow down her throat. It split her heart, and she was slain.

After subduing the rest of her host, he took his club and split Tiamat’s water-laden body in half like a clam shell. Half he put in the sky and made the heavens, and he posted guards there to make sure that Tiamat’s salt waters could not escape. Across the heavens he made stations in the stars for the gods, and he made the moon and set it forth on its schedule across the heavens. From the other half of Tiamat’s body he made the land, which he placed over Apsu’s fresh waters, which now arise in wells and springs. From her eyes he made flow the Tigirs and Euphrates. Across this land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forests and the orchards.

Marduk set the vanquished gods who had supported Tiamat to a variety of tasks, including work in the fields and canals. Soon they complained of their work, however, and they rebeled by burning their spades and baskets. Marduk saw a solution to their labors, though, and proposed it to Ea. He had Kingu, Timat’s general, brought forward from the ranks of the defeated gods, and Kingu was slain. With Kingu’s blood, with clay from the earth, and with spittle from the other gods, Ea and the birth-goddess Nintu created humans. On them Ea imposed the labor previously assigned to the gods. Thus the humans were set to maintain the canals and boundary ditches, to hoe and to carry, to irrigate the land and to raise crops, to raise animals and fill the granaries, and to worship the gods at their regular festivals.

-“The Babylonian Genesis” (2nd edn.), Alexander Heidel, 1952: Chicago, University of Chicago Press, available here.

Creation myths are filled with similar ideas to this story: humanity came to be through unpleasant and unfortunate circumstances for the purpose of serving petty and power hungry gods.

Imagine being a child and hearing this story. How would you view the world if you believed your existence is based on the slaughter of some higher being, and your creation was to do the work that the lesser gods didn’t want to do? You’d grow up worried about how to please a petty god that would just as well squash you as let you live. You would know that, despite your abilities and efforts, anything you do could we wiped away at their whim. Life would have little meaning or value, so anything you do has even less value. And when life has little value, evil and selfishness run rampant, the strong prey on the weak, and hopelessness and despair reign.

It was into this world that God sent a simple message:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

This is something that we often just fly past without thinking, but it has profound meaning. The creation of our world, leading up to and including our creation, wasn’t an accident or an unfortunate side effect, it was intentional and planned from the start. And that creation was made personally by God, and in a very personal form; through his voice. God spoke creation into being, giving creation His personal attention and care.

And He took special time to create humans:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV)

Humanity was not an afterthought, it was special above the rest of creation. Humanity was made in the very image of the Creator – we bear His likeness! We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not some afterthought serving a pantheon of petty gods. Our lives are not hopeless, they are valuable beyond our imagination because God intentionally created us for a purpose – to worship and serve Him. Not by doing tasks He is unwilling or unable to do, but because He is worthy to be worshiped and praised!

So, when you are feeling down and when life starts to get to you, remember that God has specially created you with care and purpose – you are highly valued and loved by the Creator of the Universe! You are who you are because God wants you that way, and He has put you where He has you for a reason. Rest knowing that He is there for you!

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