Tag Archives: church

The Firstborn

The firstborn Son of God. Those words defy meaning. Full of mystery and wonder. Yet, the Father calls Jesus “the Firstborn.”

The rightful heir of all things. Begotten, not made. Of the same substance as the Father. One with the Father.

The highest in authority and honor. The one who called creation into being and sits in the judgment seat. All creation lies at His feet.

The majestic Conqueror who rides in victory over sin and death, the greatest enemies of the people of God.

The One who overcame death in His own strength, proving to all creation that He stands in the power and authority of Eternal God.

And our Brother, who loves us and gave Himself for us. The one who saw us in our need, separated from the Father who made us, and came to give us His own life.

Jesus, the Firstborn of the children of God—of whom I am a part. My God, my King, my Lord, my Brother, and my Friend.

That’s who Jesus is!


For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18

But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Hebrews 1:6

… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, Revelation 1:5


Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery

I Belong

Words of Grace  


A few years ago the “model” for churches was based on the television show, “Cheers,” where you could come in, sit down, and everyone would know your name.  Church leaders were supposed to try to build a community that allowed people to feel at home, comfortable, like they belonged.  I often wondered how that was possible in churches that preached legalism.  (No, wait, they couldn’t use the model of a bar.  Could they?)

Many people feel like they don’t belong when they are at church.  It isn’t only that the people aren’t friendly.  Sometimes they are friendly, but the feeling of being a hypocrite or an outsider still lingers.  In fact, it’s harder when they are friendly.

Think about what the church is supposed to be.  It is supposed to be the local and present representation of the body of Christ, right?  The gathering of those who have been washed, forgiven, accepted, and filled.  Those who belong to Jesus.  But, when the preacher focuses on the sins of the Christians in the assembly, he causes them to question whether they have truly been forgiven and included.  Some look around at all the rest of the people, pretending to ignore the condemnation, and they feel that they are the only ones who shouldn’t be there.  The preacher just said they are hypocrites, that they have displeased God, and that their salvation hangs by a thread.  He just told them they don’t measure up to the standard.

So they go to church but never really believe they belong.  They miss the joy of the gospel, the acceptance of the Lord, because of the message of condemnation.

Listen: If you have come to Jesus for the washing away of your sins and have trusted in Him alone for salvation, you belong to Him.  Heaven is yours.  The church is yours.  All the promises and hopes are yours.  You are accepted in Him and because of Him.  You belong.

You are not of this world.  You are in Christ.  You are washed and accepted.  You are in the Kingdom of God.  You are in His family.  You are a citizen of Heaven.  Nothing can change that and there is nothing more for you to do.  You belong.


I belong.

Jesus has accepted me.

No one can take that away from me.

I am His forever.

I belong.


Filed under Church, Relationship

The Church – enemy of grace?

Grace 101


I have spent my adult life serving the Lord through the organized church.  That’s why this post brings me grief.  I am certainly not against the church as Jesus led in the beginning.  In the beginning, the church was the community of grace.  It was where people could come from all kinds of backgrounds and find their unity in Jesus.  Slaves and masters, rich and poor, moral and immoral—all came because of Jesus.  And all were accepted in the same way.

Whoa!  Really?  Well, maybe at first, the very first.  By the time James wrote his letter to the church, the people were already segregating themselves according to social status.  That was about AD 49, according to many scholars who believe that James is the earliest of the letters.  Now, let’s see: if we say that Pentecost happened in AD 30 (that’s about the earliest date suggested), then it took just 19 years for the “community of grace” to become corrupted by fleshly perspectives.

But does that really surprise us?  Wouldn’t we expect that the problems began much earlier than that?  In fact, in Acts 6, just a couple of years after Pentecost at most, there is a division between the Hebrew-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews.  Divisions between the people of God are nothing new.

It is in the nature of an organization to establish hierarchies, traditions, and standards.  Who gets to lead?  Who gets to participate?  Who fits and who does not?  These are questions organizations almost always ask.  So the manipulations and values of the flesh often prevail.  Grace is pushed aside.

When I suggest that the church is an enemy of grace, I don’t believe that it has to be that way.  That’s just the way things seem to happen most of the time.  Old battles have established boundaries of doctrine and style, perhaps even race or nationality.  It is difficult to welcome those who don’t quite fit.

So when you come with your new joy and enthusiasm because of the message of grace, you shouldn’t be surprised that the church seems a little offended.  After all, the church has been charged with telling the Good News and has decided what that “good news” entails.  Baptism, church membership, service, attendance at worship, certain lifestyle values, tithing, receiving communion—these things may be added because of history and tradition; but the church still considers itself to have the Good News as the core of its message.  When you suggest that these things mean little or nothing to the true message of God’s grace, the church can become defensive.

The trodden path where grace cannot take root is found in many organizations.  The church, of course, but also the mission organization or the homeschool group or the men’s fellowship.  Wherever the organization itself is of more importance than the One who is supposed to lead it, grace will not be very welcome.

Now, please understand.  I continue to serve God through the church and I expect to do so until I die.  Almost all of my friends have been church folks.  We have been greatly loved in the church.  I believe in associating with the people of the church.  And I believe in calling the church back to the pure and simple message of grace.

Just don’t expect to find the grace message broadly embraced by the church or by any other organization.  It is too personal, too radical; no matter how true it is.


Filed under grace, Grace 101, Grace definition

Religion Today

Grace 101


So what do you think—has religion changed?  I have suggested that people operating in the flesh take the things of the Lord into their flesh system and make religion.

The things God gave for the good of humankind, because of His love, were twisted into rules of behavior upon which people would be judged.  Faith and relationship mattered little because of the system.  The religious person who kept the rules would be judged on the basis of his obedience.   This was the system Jesus exposed.

The Pharisees were the epitome of this system.  They were the separatists, the legalists, of their day.  They made rules to keep people from breaking rules so they had to keep the commandments of God.  Yet, they built loopholes for themselves so they wouldn’t be burdened by the system.  But, even without the corruption, this was never what God intended.  He had given good things for the good of the people.

So now we are in the Christian era.  We know those old Jewish rules aren’t for us.  But we have new things.  The child who can memorize Scripture is considered spiritual no matter what he does to the other kids during break time.  The elder who can pray with eloquence is spiritual even though he cheats the employees of his business.  The mother who serves faithfully in the church is spiritual even when she uses her connections to gossip.  The corruption certainly hasn’t gone away.

Nor has the ability to twist the good things of God.  The flesh continues to incorporate the things of God in its attempt to find spiritual success.  Bible memory, faithful giving, worship attendance—these are things that are used to judge spirituality even today.  Not bad things, but things misused by the flesh.

The point is that religion is the flesh’s substitute for a relationship with the Lord.  The Lord loves us and wants us to walk with Him.  The flesh cannot understand that walk, but tries to create something similar.

It is particularly sad that so many preachers and teachers and churches have been focused on the flesh’s religion for so long.  Religious flesh is still flesh.

Religion hasn’t changed.

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Filed under Grace 101, Relationship

Following Jesus

(We are making the move back to CO and the office, school, church, etc.  Please enjoy these posts from the archives.  You are welcome to comment as usual and I will respond on the other side.)

A while ago I received an email from a pastor who truly appreciated the grace message but felt that he could not promote it in his church because it would be divisive.  He had seen a church split because of the battle between legalism and grace.  He asked some good questions.  I sent him a lengthy response that addressed several of the things he brought up and carried on a conversation for a time.

The next several posts will be from my correspondence with him, beginning below.

Isn’t it sad that such a wonderful message is divisive within the church? But, you know, it has always been this way. The church, like each of us individually, is “prone to wander.” The church seeks order, control, predictability – and finds these things in rules and standards (or law). The message of grace is about a personal (and corporate) relationship with a living and active Lord who is not predictable, controllable, nor tame. It is far more risky, in a fleshly sense, to simply follow Jesus than it is to have a list of regulations and expectations to follow. For one thing, it takes a real relationship with Jesus and we have not done well in teaching people what that means. How many believers know and hear His voice today? I am not talking about being Charismatic or mystical, just about being one of His sheep. Following Jesus means going to Him with our questions and listening with expectation for His leading. Following Jesus means knowing His heart (very different from “trying to be like Him”) and acting in accordance with His will. Following Jesus means that I take my eyes off the list and actually look for Him.


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Filed under Grace definition, Legalism, Relationship

What should church be like?

We have spent several days considering whether or not a believer has to attend regular Sunday worship at a local church.  Perhaps the answer would be easier for all of us if church were what it is supposed to be.  Of course, what I am about to describe is somewhere in the realm of fantasy.  It removes the human factor, or, better, the “flesh factor.”  As long as we remain here, this church will be a dream.  However, we could try….

The primary purpose of the church should be to share love.   What?  What about worship?  Well, we all know that we can worship alone, but how do we love alone?  Besides, what do you think Paul meant when he said that you could sing like the angels and still sound like clanging brass without love?  To love others is to worship God.

Remember the old song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”?   Some churches don’t dare sing that song, do they?  If they were judged by their love, no one would know they were Christians.  Oh, most of them think of themselves as loving, of course.  Certain people in the church are loved a great deal… and they seem to love themselves just fine.  But love can be hard to find at many churches.

Why should love be the center point?  Because Jesus is the center point.  Because He loves us, we should love each other.  Because He loves the lost, we should love the lost.  Because His heart is our heart, our motives and actions toward others should be His. 

Once you look past things like doctrine, missions, service, worship and everything else churches think they do, you see that love is really the point.  Everything flows out of love.  Even right doctrine can only be enjoyed in connection with love.  Nobody cares if you are right if being right means you don’t care.

No comparisons, bearing one another’s burdens, respecting each other’s differences, no cliques or elitism, patience, welcome, acceptance—these are the things of love.  This is what church should be like.


Filed under Church, Freedom, heart, Relationship, Uncategorized

It’s still about relationship

Kay wrote:  “The relationship we have with HIM is the real reason to find yourself wanting to be with others. Since the Church is His Body, He would have all of His saints to love one another within that relationship, then love and ‘draw’ the lost to HIM.”

This is so good that I just have to comment in a post. 

I believe that God is so great, so wonderful, that He knows Himself through relationship.  Without getting into the deep mystery of the Trinity, we can simply say that He has revealed Himself to us as a relationship of three Persons.  When we are told that God is Love, we get a glimpse of the fact that His essence is somehow manifested in relationship.  When Jesus told us that He and the Father are One, He simply reveals a facet of that relationship.

Because of love, He created us to share in that relationship.  Why?  I don’t know.  All I know is that it is important to Him to live in that relationship with us, that He made us for relationship.  In fact, I do not believe that the human heart can be whole and right apart from right relationships. 

So He created us for that relationship; grieved when we left that relationship (the Fall); and called us back to that relationship.  When we come to Him for relationship, He destroys anything that stands in the way and gives us His own life so that we can share fully in that relationship.

Now, if relationship is so important to our Lord, if the whole point of creation and the gospel is for us to share in that relationship with Him, then wouldn’t it be consistent for Him to invite all people to share in that same relationship?  In other words, instead of many one on one relationships with His people, He invites us to share in one great relationship with Him and with each other.  He knows each of us by name and He cares for each one of us, but He wants us to come together and live in His presence.

This is why we are allowed to see Heaven, not as some Nirvana where we are simply absorbed into the being of God but, as an eternal community of believers in the presence of their Lord.  We were not only made to be in Him, we were made to be together in Him.  We will be with other believers for eternity. 

So, the church should reflect that unity, that love, that relationship.  Next time: What should church be like?


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Filed under Church, Freedom, heart, Relationship

Do We Have To Go To Church? – the text

This is a rather long post, but it seemed important to offer it here. 

The most common text used to get believers to attend regular Sunday worship is Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.   Hebrews 10:24-25(NKJV)


Let’s take a look at this passage.  First, I want to be very careful to stay true to the text and to the intent of the passage.  I recognize that I have a new grid through which I see the Scriptures and I have to be careful that I am not reading what I consider a grace message in a place where the Lord means something different.  If He is telling us that we ought to attend Sunday worship every Sunday, I want to know that.

  •  This is the letter to the Hebrews—that means the Jewish believers.  They are under serious persecution and are probably still struggling with the cultural changes of being connected to the Gentiles through Christ.  They are susceptible to deception by those who try to bring them back under the Law.  They are trying to understand how the Christian gospel fits with what they have been taught.  This is why the letter was written.


  •  There is strong agreement among Biblical scholars that this passage refers to the regular gathering of believers as believers.  In other words, this is not just a community gathering or a chance meeting.  This is what we would call “church.”  It is good and right that believers should gather to support and encourage each other.  (Somewhere along the way, “exhort” has become “preach at” instead of “encourage” as it was intended.  This is sad.  To exhort a friend meant to encourage, to walk alongside and support.)  If possible, Christians should find each other and be a blessing to each other.


  •  However, here’s where the interpretation comes in.  Are we talking about Sunday mornings or some other regular meeting?  If two believers see each other on the street and plan a gathering for Tuesday evening, would that fulfill the spirit of the passage?  We know that the Jews set aside the Sabbath for worship and we know that some believers gathered in some communities on the “first day of the week” for worship.  Is this the only format that is taught in our passage? 


  •  One of my general rules of interpretation is that God could be as specific as He wanted in His Word.  There are very specific commands, detailed instructions on rituals and behavior, in the Old Testament.  So, if He is not specific, I think He intends to give us some leeway.  I know this is uncomfortable for the legalists, but the truth is that God could have given us intricate details for anything He wanted.  He could have told us exactly how long a woman’s hair should be; exactly how much money New Testament believers should give to the church; exactly what the governing structure of a church should be; and exactly when and where and how we should worship.  Since He didn’t give us these details, we must be free to seek His leading on a more personal level. 


  •  So I think our passage is intended to bring believers together. These Hebrews may have been frightened of gathering because of the persecution.  They may have been concerned about gathering with Gentiles.  They may simply have been confused about how to live their relationship with Jesus because everything was corporate before and now their faith was personal.  Or maybe their community was so segmented that they couldn’t imagine getting together with people they didn’t really know.  Whatever the reason(s), they had to be told to get together with other believers.


  •  Also, this is a message for the Christian community, not so much for individuals.  The Christians should come together to encourage each other.  This is not meant to be a mandate for every believer and every Sunday.  I think that is a misuse of the passage.  In fact, they should especially consider this because “the day” is approaching.  What day?  Well, again we don’t have a specific, but it is fair to suggest that this is the Day of the Lord, the day when all believers will be brought together forever.  You see, in spite of what some may think and teach, we will all be one big happy family in Heaven.  Skin colors, nationalities, social class, doctrinal positions—none of these will matter in that day.  The only thing that will matter is that we come trusting Jesus alone.  In Him we will have a unity we have never experienced here.  So the message in our passage is about becoming that community, in a small and precious sense, here and now. 


  • Would it be good for all believers to be and feel part of that community?  Of course!  But there are a couple of things to consider.  First, all believers are a part of that community.  Just because they don’t attend church, for whatever reason, doesn’t change the fact of their place in the kingdom.  Second, instead of trying to convince every believer to come to church, church leaders should set the goal of making their congregation a place of welcome and grace.  I think all believers should be a part of a grace-filled church.  The only problem is that there are very few of those churches out there.


  • Sometimes it is helpful for us to look for wisdom in other areas.  The Lord tells us to give.  How?  Generously and without grudging obligation.  Maybe that’s how we should look at church attendance.  We should gather with other believers joyfully and without feeling a negative obligation.  We should come together because we want to.  Husbands and wives are to be together physically.  However, the Lord makes allowance for healing times and for special times when the Lord is working in the life of one or the other.  Maybe there is a place for setting aside the “gathering of ourselves together” for worship so that we can have a time of healing and/or drawing near to the Lord.

Bottom line for pastors:  Tell the preacher that he could use this passage to encourage the believers of a community to come together in Jesus’ name to love and encourage each other.  Tell him that he really shouldn’t use it to demand that you come to church at his church every Sunday. 

Rather than trying to beat believers over the head with a Bible passage, pastors could try to get to the real question: Why do you feel unwelcome?   What is it about church that makes you afraid or feel inferior or put off?  The answers to these questions might change what happens at the church and might actually minister to the heart of the person who doesn’t feel like attending. 

Bottom line for you:  Go to church—or not.  Just do what Jesus leads you to do.  It’s about you and Him, after all.  Yes, others are a part of Him, but let Him lead you to others.  Ask Him to show you safe and kind people with whom you can share love.  It may be a church you have never considered “good enough” doctrinally.  It may be a home fellowship.  It may even be an online community.  Just follow Him and let others do the same.

(Oh, and remember that Christians are not perfect.  In their flesh they aren’t even good.  That’s why they needed a Savior.  Don’t expect more than they can give.)

Your comments are welcome!



Filed under Church, grace, Legalism

How To Do Church

Have you seen this video from North Point Media poking fun at how we do church today?

“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

This is great, but the real chuckle in my heart is remembering about 20 years ago as the “contemporary” folks ridiculed the traditional patterns.  Three hymns, offering, prayer, sermon, and go.  Yep, it was pretty much the same everywhere then, too.  What goes around comes around, I guess.

The truth is that it is easier to create patterns and traditions that work than to try to do things differently each week.  Of course those patterns should be second to the leading of the Spirit and, of course, they should be evaluated often.  But it is okay to find a comfortable groove and default to it.  Just remember that the pattern isn’t holy and undefilable. 

24 years ago I visited with a pastor who had left his denomination to connect to Vineyard, then a new movement.  The buzz at that time was that the evangelical church was stuck in tradition and something new had to come.  But he was already disillusioned.  He said, “I’ve learned that Vineyard has its traditions also.”  Ya think? 

God bless Vineyard and everyone who tries to do new things and God bless those who continue in “the way it has always been.”


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Filed under Church