I was reading Paul’s words that he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I paused for a long time, reflecting on what he wrote. My strongest initial reaction was that I would or could never write that. I don’t think that I’m following Jesus to the level that I could invite others to imitate me. I’m too broken to ask anyone to do that. My motives are still far from pure, even if my actions on the surface look okay.
And then I wondered how Paul could write that, even if he were an apostle. The apostles were just mere men who were sinful and broken like all of us. We see how they had to confront one another on their errors (see Galatians 2:11-13). And Paul admits to having lots of weaknesses throughout his two letters to the Corinthians.
There are a couple of things I discovered as I dug deeper into what Paul wrote. I’m fully convinced that he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so I don’t question its trustworthiness or value. However, we need to remember a few things. First, Paul and the writers of the books of the Bible did not insert the chapters and verses we have. The Holy Spirit does not inspire the chapters and verses; it’s a work of people long ago. I think whoever put verse 1 at the beginning of chapter 11 made a mistake. It really should be the last verse of chapter 10. Many scholars agree.
Second, any challenging verse in the Bible has to be looked at in its fuller context. That’s when I realized his invitation to imitate him was about what he talked about in Chapter 10:23-33 (not primarily about what he says in chapter 11).
Paul wanted the Corinthian church (and us) to understand that in Christ we are free from all the religious rules and rituals, as they don’t build a relationship with Jesus. However, we are not to use our freedom from religion to hurt or damage others. He said everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, and we should seek the good of others, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Well said!
He concludes this section and theme by encouraging us in whatever we do, do it to give honor to God while making sure we don’t cause another person who follows Jesus to stumble (verses 31, 32). Then he repeats his main idea in verse 33 – For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Now, that’s how I want to live my life! That’s the example that Paul wants us to follow.
Third, notice carefully what Paul invites us to do or what he doesn’t ask us to do. He invites us to imitate him only as he follows Jesus. He’s not boasting and saying we all need to be just like him. He’s asking us to not seek our own good but the good of others so that they might find Jesus and the love of God. That’s the example of Jesus that he’s following. We only imitate someone to the extent that they are following Jesus. I want to love well and seek the good of others above myself. That’s a life worth imitating! We should ask ourselves: Am I living the kind of life that I would invite others to model?
Last week, we began an eight-week teaching series called Bigger Than. It’s a title that lacks a subject and object! What’s bigger? The kingdom of God. What’s the kingdom of God bigger than? Everything except God himself! The kingdom of God was the central theme of all of Jesus’ teaching and it’s a huge concept found throughout our New Testament.
We are to seek the kingdom first. When we decide to follow Jesus, we make him the king or lord of our lives. We enter his kingdom where we have to live as citizens of his kingdom, under his authority. The kingdom overshadows all other concerns.
As we begin this series, may I encourage you to do a little study on your own about the kingdom of God. I prepared a Kingdom Study Guide that will take you to all the significant scriptures and teaching about the kingdom of God in the New Testament. The verses are printed out for you, so all you have to do is read them. You’ll be amazed at how vast this concept is. Get the Kingdom Study Guide here.
As you start the study, pray this simple prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how he wants you to respond as you read. Don’t just read the verses for information about the kingdom; read them asking God to guide you in how you need to be a greater part of and seek first the kingdom of God.
One of the texts you’ll read is from Luke 17:20-21. It says: Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Other translations say “among you.” What was Jesus saying about the kingdom of God here?
The Pharisees asked about the kingdom because every kingdom is led by a king. They wanted to know if Jesus thought he was the Messiah who would rule over an earthly kingdom. It was a trap because they had already decided Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
Jesus’ response is that the kingdom won’t be found by looking for signs of the end time. Wars, disasters, pandemics, or some show of power are not signs of the kingdom coming. Instead, the king of the kingdom was, in fact, standing among them. That’s the point. The kingdom of God is centered on Jesus. He’s the king. We are the subjects of the king and his kingdom. As his subjects, we follow him, honor him and live the life he sets before us. Our values, agenda, commitments, actions, and very lives are to be shaped by his values and agenda, and our actions and character reflect the king.
Over the next seven weeks, we will look at how we allow the eternal kingdom of God to overshadow our petty human kingdom. We’ll look at what it means to be a part of the kingdom in our everyday life. Jesus is here among us. The kingdom is here!
Goodness. It’s not a word we are attracted to. It has connotations of being weak and wimpy. Goodness doesn’t win the races of life. The words of Billy Joel’s song ring in my ears: “Only the good die young.” We are more drawn to words like “strong.” Also, there’s a sense in which goodness is unattainable since the Bible says that no one is good. We are all sinners (Romans. 3:12). If we say we are good, others might accuse us of being arrogant. Yet, the root word for “good” is used over 700 times in the Bible.
God is good (Psalm 119:68). God, through his Word, implores us to be good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit having influence in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It characterized Jesus – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10:38). Jesus says others are to see our good deeds – that is how we shine as a light for others (Matthew 5:16).
But here’s three of my favorite encouragements to take seriously having a character of goodness:
Goodness is doing what is right and just. Goodness is how love is expressed. Goodness results in generosity. When goodness is present in us, we will respond with empathy to the wounded, neglected, or marginalized. Goodness is itself a power that resists fear and offers grace. Goodness always puts people first over cultural or institutional pressures that are demeaning to folks. Goodness embraces truth as it seeks it and refuses to put a spin on things. Goodness seeks to empower others.
Goodness is at the heart of who Jesus is. After all, he is our good shepherd (John 10:11 and 14). Jesus embodied all that’s in the paragraph above.
A church that has a powerful culture of good will reach lost people! (Matthew 5:14-16). Goodness draws people. If you are good to your “one,” that person you are praying for and want to engage, your “one” will notice your goodness. “Never tire of doing what is good.”
Make a Point or Make a Difference
We can opt to make a point, or we can attempt to make a difference. I’ve seen this idea quoted in several places, so I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it’s right on. In this polarized, divided, angry, broken, messed up world we live in, we are tempted to use social media to make a point and it’s so easy to do. Making a point almost always leads to arguments, or it sends people into retreat or silence. But making a point rarely makes a difference. And isn’t the idea of making a point to make a difference?!
Several people have asked several times directly and indirectly why I don’t take immediate stands on controversies in our culture. Let me assure it that my caution to make a point is not out of fear, cowardice, or lack of conviction. The fact is whatever I say or don’t say offends someone these days. Long ago I chose to make a difference and when I’m doing that I don’t have to make a point through a reactionary post or tweet. Making a difference requires a long term personal investment.
In our current hyper-divided, polarized, angry, and judgmental world, we have to be wise. I’ve taken seriously the teaching in the Bible (especially Proverbs) to act and live as a wise person and not as a foolish or evil person. I want this to guide me on how and when I respond and react. Unfortunately, I sometimes act like a fool. I’m still tempted by evil sometimes. But wisdom wins the day.
Proverbs is very clear on how a wise person lives and acts. I’m putting the links to the actual Proverbs below. It’s worth the time to actually read them. A wise person…
I want to be wise in what I say, write, and post! These are some of the things that guide and temper what and how I communicate. A wise person doesn’t seek to make a point, they want to make a difference in a way that honors God.
Then, the Proverbs warns us about being a fool and about how to relate to fools. This term is not meant to be just a derogatory label but instead describes people who act foolishly. Here’s what we know about fools from the Proverbs: Fools don’t seek the truth; rather, they twist the truth to fit their own agenda. Fools care first for themselves and are driven by pride. They don’t listen, period. They will react harshly when confronted with the truth. Here are just a few of the Proverbs that describe a fool – 9:6-8; 12:16; 14:3, 7-9; 18:2, 6-7.
Finally, there are those who are evil. They reject the truth outright and want to hurt you. Dr. Henry Cloud says it this way: You should: 1) Talk to wise people about problems;
2) Talk to fools about consequences; and 3) Not talk to evil people at all, period. We did a whole series on this in 2018 called Peopling. On our watch page under “Messages,” you can find the four-session “Peopling” series. Select “All Series,” then look for Peopling at the end. I’ve learned from the Proverbs and life that it is useless to “make a point” to foolish or evil people. They will only make a point back, usually in a selfish and/or hurtful way. The internet is full of foolish and evil people who will not listen but react in anger. Only the wise will listen.
This past year we witnessed racial injustice and demonstrations across our nation. I decided to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, as the Bible teaches (James 1:19). I did eventually write and speak about it, but it wasn’t about making a point! Rather, I want to make a difference.
I started over eight years ago to intentionally engage with the black pastors and churches in our town. As wise men of God, we learned from each other and really listened. As trust grew, we developed a number of programs and events to address racial injustice in our churches and city – Pantano hosted most of those events. In fact, we were able to have conversations with our police department. Long before the events of 2020, we were working to make a real difference through wisdom, starting right here at Pantano.
We are in the midst of divisive political tension and hostility. I will address things like I did last week in my blog, “The Path to Change,” about rejecting violence to follow the humble way of Jesus. But a post or a tweet doesn’t change the world. In the end, rather than alienating people, I choose to engage people while never forgetting that a post or a protest doesn’t change people’s hearts. Only Jesus changes hearts which results in changed lives. Only a life submitted to Jesus will change our culture for the good. A wise man and woman of God who seeks to make a difference does so by putting Jesus first, ahead of political, COVID-19, or racial biases and issues. Be wise! Make a difference, not just a point.
This past year we saw the violence in reaction to the need for changes to bring racial justice. This past week we were mortified by the violence inflicted to and in our nation’s Capitol. I’m not writing this blog about the right or wrongs of these causes and of the changes sought. I’m writing only about HOW change is sought. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we want to pursue changes that reflect the heart of God. But the “how” must be considered, as well, and the path to change must also follow the way of Jesus.
I believe that violence does not bring about real, significant, and lasting social change. Humans are tempted to think violence will bring quick change, but if it does, it is usually only short-lived. Long term change happens not by force, but by winning over hearts.
In a few days, we’ll celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was a man of faith. He was a man with a vision for racial justice, but his “how” was unusual and rare. He sought justice through nonviolence. And he was not the first. There was Gandhi. And before him was Jesus, who transformed all of humanity through nonviolence.
Nonviolence is a clear and understandable strategy. But there’s something deep and profound that underlies a nonviolent approach to change. It is not talked about enough. It is even more rare to find. It is key to real, lasting change. The lack of this is why real change often fails to materialize. I’m talking about the foundation of nonviolence and lasting change – humility.
Jesus is the supreme example of this “how.” One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Philippians 2:6-8. It appears in the form of a Hebrew poem or song. Jesus…
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus, who is God, gave up the peace, glory, and safety of heaven to come to earth. He gave up all the privileges of heaven to come to suffer with us. He did so willingly. He came to serve us, not to be served. This was the ultimate act of humility and flowed from humility. He gave his life for us to bring us peace with God through his sacrifice. He gave us abundant life now and for eternity. Our salvation and hope are all a reality because of his humility.
He changed you and me and changed the world we live in through humble nonviolence. In our actions and in our hearts, we may choose out of humility to serve others to bring about the change that our world needs. May humility become the dominating character trait that moves us to live for others above ourselves. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
From time to time, someone in our church shares something that I want to pass on. This story is from Donna Gudgel, who’s been a part of Pantano for almost two decades and served on our mission’s leadership team.
Have you ever been the “first in the world” for something? Anything? Or have you ever wished to be the “first in the world” in something – like an astronaut? That one’s taken. Perhaps the first to find a cure for a disease – like many are trying to do today for the COVID-19 virus?
If you were asked, “What would you like to be the ‘first in the world’ in?” What would that be? For me, it’s hard to think of something that’s not already achieved. Plus, I am not really interested in being the first in the world for anything.
Recently I had a procedure done to treat a large aneurysm in a carotid artery in the left side of my brain. My surgeon asked me to be a part of a trial study for an improved flow diverter called the Evolve. Since I was willing to help pave the way for others, I agreed. I knew it was experimental, and I thought I was one of the first groups of patients for this procedure. It was not until a month after the procedure that I learned I was not only one of the first group, not only the first in Tucson, not only the first in the United States, but the “first in the world” to receive this procedure. The world!
I got to thinking about the question above. If God asked me to be the first in the world, what might that be? If it seemed impossible or risky, would I trust Him?
Then I got to thinking about what was said about Pastor Bryan Lee at his memorial – that he daily asked God how he could serve Him that day. We would do well to bring that question to our lives daily in our known world. What if we asked each morning, “God, what do you want me to be the first person to do today in my world?” Call someone and pray with that person? Be the first one to take a plate of cookies over to the new family in the neighborhood? Be the first one to stop and pray with a homeless person that day? Be the first one to love someone to Jesus? The questions can go on and on.
Some months ago, I was the first one in our neighborhood to take a plate of cookies to our new neighbors, welcome them, and ask if they had a church home. Now months later, I have been asked to come alongside the grandmother and daughter to pray with them, encourage, and support through difficult times.
So again, I ask: “If God asked you to be the first one in your world to do something, what might it be?” Would you trust Him to give you the courage to do what he asks? Will we experience “His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19)?
– Donna Gudgel
Some of my greatest regrets are those times when I failed as a friend. Just this week, one of those regrets came pouring into my mind.
One of my best friends is Ukrainian. When I started to investigate working in Ukraine, the communist economy created shortages and deficits of almost everything like toilet paper, food, clothes, or almost every kind of consumer goods. Before we actually moved there, I would stay at my friend’s small apartment as I was preparing for our relocation.
When I used the bathroom at his apartment, I discovered that the toilet seat had cracked. When I used the seat, it pinched me on a tender part of my body. So one day, while out with some other American visitors touring a factory and in the company store, I found a treasure: there was a toilet seat for sale. These were hard to find. So, I bought it, put it over my neck, and paraded around in public making all kinds of jokes about it. In my mind, I was a hero for finding a toilet seat for my friend.
But, he was completely mortified and totally embarrassed by this gesture. In his mind, I was showing all his esteemed American guests how “bad off” he was. I never, for a second, considered how my fun was ripping him up inside. I was such an insensitive and unkind friend that day.
Recently, I was challenged with this question: Am I the friend to myself in the same way that I want to be a friend toward others? I really try to be a good friend. I’m loyal. I want to encourage my friends. I’ll challenge them when I need to speak the truth, but I’ll do my best to make sure it is motivated by love. I’ll give a friend the benefit of the doubt. I’ll offer lots of grace to my friends. I’ll sacrifice for my friends willingly.
Do I do that to myself? Am I a good friend to myself? Not very often, unfortunately. I’m a terrible friend to me. I’m probably harder on me than Jesus is. I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt. I rarely offer myself grace. I’m not kind to myself very often. Is that you as well?
I’ve been meditating on John 15:15 lately. It’s a profound statement that Jesus made. I would love to see the reaction of the disciples to what he said. Jesus said; I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Jesus calls us his friends, with all that means. He is wide open to us and holds nothing back. Like a super friend, he speaks the truth in love. He encourages us to love and have good actions. He’s loyal. And he offers never-ending grace. What a friend we have in Jesus (someone should write a song about that… oh, they did).
If Jesus treats me as his friend, maybe it’s time I start treating myself as my friend. How about you?
There’s a statement and truth Jesus made that actually answers so many of my questions about life and what it means to follow Jesus. It provides an answer to my many worries. It’s an antidote to my pride. It’s a check on my temptation to be religious. It arrests my tendency to compare myself with others. It sets my limits on my need to be in charge. It gives freedom and so much more. It’s a statement Jesus made in Matthew 11:28-30 – 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What a picture! Like two animals yoked together, Jesus invites us to take his yoke and join him side by side. Together, any challenge or hardship goes so much easier. Being yoked to Jesus is a check on my pride because I can’t run ahead of him. Being yoked to Jesus means I also can’t lag behind as he helps pull the weight of whatever I’m carrying. He leads me to the right place at the right pace.
I don’t have to worry if I’m good enough. That is a worry that we all face. Regularly we all ask: Am I a good enough spouse, parent, friend, employee, student, boss, athlete, man or woman or whatever. When we are yoked to Jesus we don’t have to focus on whether we are good enough or not because Jesus is enough. We just have to trust him and walk in step with him. Wow, that takes the complication out of what it means to follow Jesus! Being yoked to Jesus is more than enough.
But the key is that I have to take off whatever yoke I’ve been attached to and let it go. It could be the yoke of performance. It could be the yoke of appearance. It could be the yoke of fear. Whatever name you give your yoke, at the core it’s a trust and dependence on ourselves. Our yoke that burdens us is in some way a yoke about self. That’s also called pride that results in self-reliance. It will wear us out and tear us down by its weight that we feel we have to carry by ourselves. But we don’t just stop at taking off the yoke of pride, we take on the yoke of Jesus. It’s easy. It’s light. It gives us rest.
I spoke with a woman this week who left a powerful group that put a religious yoke on her. It was a yoke that said she had to be perfect. It told her she had to work harder, do more, give more and be better to be okay and acceptable to God and to that religious community. It presented God as anyone but gentle and understanding. And it wore her out.
One day, she discovered that Jesus is enough. That awareness is so simple. It is so profound. Jesus is enough. Get linked to him. Walk with him. He’s gentle. He won’t push us faster or harder than we can bear. He’s humble. He’ll use all his resources to help us on our spiritual journey. The result is that we’ll find rest for our souls.
So ask this question – Am I finding rest for my soul? Religion is a heavy, tiring burden. Jesus is gentle and he helps ease the burden and weight of trying to be enough on our own. Take the invitation of Jesus – take his yoke upon yourself and see how the journey leads to a rested soul.
This last weekend I (Michael Goodwin) had the privilege of preaching on the question – Is Jesus God? I discussed how different religions view Jesus and then shared what Jesus actually said about himself. Jesus claimed to be God, and that was clearly acknowledged and understood within the culture of his day (you can watch the message here). They wanted to kill him for what they considered blasphemy. They eventually arrested him, put him on trial, and crucified him. Jesus died. He willingly offered his life as a sacrifice, and we shouldn’t forget that the cross is a cruel way to die. The cross is now viewed as a religious symbol, but it first existed as an instrument of pain, torture, and death. That’s sobering.
I think it’s only fair that we acknowledge that while Jesus claimed to be God, he was also crucified. That can seem odd because God is not obligated to submit to physical death. Author Mark Clark, in his book The Problem of God, states that historian Robert Wright says “throughout history, gods have been beings to whom you made sacrifices. Now here was God that not only demanded no ritual sacrifice from you but himself made sacrifices – indeed the ultimate sacrifice – for you.” Robert Wright is an atheist, but even he sees the radical contrast of Jesus’s sacrifice, as God, when compared to other religions. The crucifixion is only half of the story, and it is vital that we focus on the resurrection.
In my opinion, the resurrection is the most compelling piece of evidence we have that proves that Jesus was God. There were so many witnesses of him appearing after the resurrection that it’s hard to dismiss. One interesting observation is that within the culture of Jesus’s day, women didn’t have a legitimate voice. Their testimony wasn’t even valid in court. Society had assigned them a depressed and diminished status. Yet, guess who were the first people to declare that Jesus was alive? Yup, it was women, and the authors of the gospels tell us this even though testimony from women wasn’t respected. They told us because that’s the way it actually happened. God doesn’t play by our rules, and he wanted women to be the first to declare that he was alive. I love that about God.
There will always be skeptics about the resurrection. But, here’s the deal. The Bible is an actual reliable historical record, and too many people saw Jesus appear, heard him speak, and actually touched him. Besides, if you dismiss the resurrection, how in the world do you explain the explosive growth of the early church? Dead men don’t lead movements… but a resurrected one can. Why were so many of his followers willing to die for him? Think about that for a second. They were willing to die for him instead of just denouncing him when they were persecuted. People aren’t usually willing to do that for someone who is dead.
People typically default to self-preservation, but his disciples were rocked by the fact they had seen Him alive, and He had promised them eternal life for believing in Him. Now they were living for eternal purposes and not temporal ones. They were no longer afraid of death, torture, false accusations, and persecution. They lived the rest of their days on mission. If you doubt that happened, then you will have a difficult time explaining the worldwide existence of Christianity today. The message about Jesus spread like wildfire. Oh… and it’s still spreading… like wildfire.
I have news for you. Jesus is still alive, and that news should rock you. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades”. If the early church was so willing to suffer because they knew that death had been conquered and eternity was waiting shouldn’t that be an example for us? I know too many things compete for our attention and our affections. But too many things are just temporary. There is a way to live for eternal things where moth can’t destroy, and thieves can break in and steal it. Jesus told us so, and then He goes on to explain that if you want to find your life, you have to lose it for His sake. There is an invitation to live for eternal things, and I believe that path is paved with surrender. What is it you need to surrender today?
Jesus claimed to be God, He proved it, and that is WORTHY of our response!
Global Outreach Pastor
Suffering is one of those things that everyone will deal with at some point. None of us are exempt from the touch of sin in this world. Suffering is difficult for anyone regardless of their relationship with God, but knowing Jesus and all of his promises can add a layer of complexity to our difficult seasons. If God is good, then why does he allow suffering to occur? This question was the topic of my message last Sunday. If you missed it, you can watch it by clicking here.
Suffering was never part of God’s plan for humanity. Genesis tells us that sin entered the world through man and woman choosing their desires above God’s perfect gifts for us. We’ve paid the price ever since. Even though we live in a world ravaged by sin, God promises to never leave us in the midst of our pain.
For some of us reading now, you are in a season of pain. Maybe it comes in the form of depression, unhealed emotional wounds, or tragedies that time has never healed. For some, you know others going through great difficulty.
As I mentioned before, followers of Jesus have to reconcile the joyful promises of Jesus with our current realities. Sometimes knowing that Jesus never leaves our side is not enough to break the cycle our minds feel. While Jesus IS enough for all of us, knowing Jesus is enough can be hard for our hurting brains to comprehend. This might lead to thoughts that it would be better to end the suffering or that everyone else would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with your problems. If you’ve found yourself thinking this during seasons of suffering, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You have value. The world would miss you. God still has a purpose for you.
When I read John 11, I see a God that is not far off and separate from our pain. On the contrary, in this story, Jesus is with Martha and Mary during the grieving for their brother. Scripture says, Jesus was deeply moved and began weeping. Their story is also our story. What I find interesting is that Jesus is not only weeping with Mary and Martha, but he never scolds them for struggling with deep emotions.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and I don’t want to underestimate how the world and ultimately Satan is attacking those reading right now. If you are having these thoughts or have made plans, it’s not too late. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness but an act of courage. It takes incredible strength to stand up and say you need others to walk with you.
If you need help, please reach out to someone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. Our church also provides many free resources to help navigate seasons of suffering. If you’re not in immediate danger, you can call our office at 520-298-5395 and get a pastor at any time. We have many care groups, offer free in-person peer counseling, and have an online group available for those that don’t live in Tucson. Call our office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to connect you with the right resources.
Pain and suffering is only a problem if we go through it alone. The good news of Jesus is that we’re not alone. Be courageous today.
In my message Sunday I addressed the question – “Is Jesus really the only way to God and eternal life?” This is a question in a culture that has embraced complete tolerance and rejects exclusive claims by any religion or faith. More and more folks embrace religious pluralism which claims all religious paths are equal, valid and there is no one true faith.
This is often supported by a Hindu parable that describes a group of blind men who encounter an elephant. One touches the trunk and compares it to a snake. Another touches the leg and describes it as a tree trunk. One grabs hold of the tail and says it is a rope…and so on. The point of the parable is that each religion touches, feels or sees only a part of a very big god (small g intentional). The point is that all religions have a partial understanding of God and all are valid in their limited understanding. That’s the spiritual elephant in the room.
What I like about the parable is that it does point to the fact that all humans and all religions will be limited in what we can understand about God. In fact, the Jewish and Christian faith teach that a human cannot fully grasp all there is to God (Romans 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 13:12). While God can be known, there is also a mystery to him.
But the parable of the elephant falls short. It suggests there is no ultimate right or wrong, and that every person has a part of the truth. The fact is we are not totally blind. We can see that we are touching an elephant! Following the teaching of Muhammad is not the same as following the way of Jesus. They are very different and exclusive of each other. Pure Buddhism is in fact atheist in that there is no god; and that is mutually exclusive of our faith in one true God. In Judaism, you and I, as Christians, are excluded from the covenant made only with the chosen tribes of Israel. I could unpack how Hinduism and most world religions have no parallel with our Christian faith.
The other point of the Hindu elephant parable is that we should be kind, respectful, and in fact, love those who hold different beliefs. That’s what Jesus taught – “love your enemies and those who persecute you.” That’s what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:15. When someone asks questions or even attacks our faith, we are to be ready to give an answer with “gentleness and respect.” We shouldn’t accept or even respect a belief we believe to be false, but we respect the person who holds that belief! And, we go further and even love the person with whom we disagree.
There is truth. If there is truth, then there must be untruth. There is right, which means there is wrong. What is true and not true is to be discovered in this world. We live in a spiritual world that is exclusive.
The way of Jesus is an exclusive way as Jesus declared in John 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is God. He came from God. He best knows who God is and how to get to him. Because he’s God he knows the truth. Jesus is the only way to God or back to God. Stating that truth is not mean, bigotted or based in hate (like many claim of us who believe this). It’s the truth and in sincere love we want all to know the truth because it has eternal consequences.
This Sunday we will celebrate that God raised Jesus from the dead. It is a big deal! The resurrection changes everything, in every way, for everyone who believes. There are two passages from the Bible that I love to reflect on at Easter time; each has a special meaning to me and I want to share them with you. The first is found in Matthew 28:5-6 (NIV) – The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” Because Jesus is alive and because Jesus conquered death there is nothing we have to fear in the present, for he is with us, and nothing to fear at the end, for death is only a door to life that never ends. As God raised Jesus from the dead, we too share that same hope. If we really believe in a risen savior, fear no longer has to rule in our lives.
Last Sunday I read from Romans 10:9 (NIV) – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul describes our salvation as based on surrendering to Jesus and making him “large and in charge” of our lives as Lord. It is also based on the deeply-held belief that Jesus is alive. God raised him from the dead. He is our living Lord who guides us in our daily lives. But that hope is based on the fact Jesus is alive!
Join us Easter Sunday as we celebrate the risen Jesus. Services are at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm. Children’s ministry is at all services except the 7 am. We’ll have free breakfast and lunch between services. Our team has created an amazing service to celebrate the resurrection, including baptisms. We’ll have two baptisteries on stage this year!
On Saturday, from 8 am to 2 pm, we’ll have our Family Fun Fest on campus. It’s a FREE event that features family-friendly activities and a 50,000 Easter egg hunt. There will also be a petting zoo (the largest we’ve ever had at an event), an illusionist, train ride, crafts, games, inflatables, a slip ‘n slide (if you want to get wet, come prepared!) and more! It’s not too late to sign up to help us serve either Saturday and/or Sunday.
He has risen! Indeed! And that changes everything.
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Every person, every organization and every church has values. Sometimes we are not aware of them and often they are not clearly articulated, but they drive how we live and shape who we are. Values are the foundational motivations for what we do. They provide our inspiration as non-negotiable guiding principles. They shape what we say “yes” or “no” to. They influence and characterize everything that happens in and through us. They give our church community its unique “flavor.” And for many of us, these values are what we love about being a part of Pantano. So, values matter!
Over the last six months, our leadership team has prayerfully and carefully looked at what we truly value in our church. After lots of healthy discussions and rewrites, below are the newly clarified values of Pantano Christian Church. I doubt that there will be many surprises at what you’ll see. And remember that these values do not replace what we believe (see our Statement of Faith) but are built on those beliefs. We’ll do a deeper dive into these values and their biblical basis in a series that we’ll launch in May. The six main values are in bold type below, followed by short descriptions in italics. What do you think?
We are unapologetic grace givers.
We are all broken, incomplete people in need of God’s grace. We meet people where they are and generously give away the grace we’ve freely received.
What matters most is loving people to Jesus.
Loving God = Loving People. Everyone has value and matters to God. We pursue those who don’t know Jesus to help them write a new life story with him.
Being “kingdom first” drives us beyond our own church community. We strive to join God wherever He is at work. Church is who we are, wherever we are.
Radical generosity reshapes our world.
As a kingdom first church, we share our resources and people selflessly.
The Bible transforms how we live and who we become.
The Bible is our primary source for transformation. We move beyond information to practical and relevant application.
Connected people are changed people.
Community is essential to connect with God and others in order to be transformed.
We pray you would consider how each of these values could be shown in your own life.
It’s common for people to love Jesus, believe the Bible, be basically good and serve others, but stop short of the radical kind of life that Jesus invites. Well, what more is there to faith? I’ll get to that shortly. Now, I’m pretty sure most of these folks are saved (only Jesus knows for sure). They obey Jesus, but often do so reluctantly and mostly out of a sense of obligation. They will be dutiful and go through the motions, but their obedience has limits. They have faith, but it is not a fully surrendered faith.
Jesus invites us to an uncommon level of faith. What does that mean? He calls us to a radical abandonment of that which is safe and predictable and where we are, in the end, still in control. Jesus wants us to embrace an uncommon faith that is so mature that we are sold out, fully devoted and “all in” as we follow him. This kind of faith sets no limits on what we’ll do in obedience to Jesus. This Sunday we begin a new series called Uncommon. I’ll be challenging all of us to join a group of uncommon folks who embrace an uncommon faith. This is going to be good!
One of the places I see this is in a story recorded in Luke 5:1-11. What we see in this story is that Simon Peter responds to Jesus in two different ways. The first occurs as he’s living out of a common kind of faith. Jesus asked Simon Peter to go fishing but he really didn’t want to do it. That’s a characteristic of ordinary faith. We know what Jesus wants, but we drag our heels, question why and often complain (even if only inside). When Simon Peter reluctantly agreed to do what Jesus asked he addressed Jesus as “Master” (see verse 5). The word “master” means one who has status and authority or someone who is perceived as important. Simon Peter saw Jesus as a great person and obeyed him because of his status.
Simon Peter and his partners put out the nets and had a miraculous catch of fish that filled the boats. In response to the miracle, Simon Peter addressed Jesus as “lord” (see verse 8). “Lord” is a different word than “master.” It means owner. There’s a huge difference between Jesus being an important person with status and Jesus as the owner of our lives. Peter moved from a common, normal faith to an uncommon one.
So, I want to invite you to renew or embrace a commitment to live an uncommon faith. We call that All In Partnership here at Pantano. Every year I ask you, as one who’s part of our church, to declare your commitment to surrender to the lordship of Jesus. 2019 All In Partner cards will be available this Sunday or you can sign it online.
Don’t sign up to be All In unless you are sincere about it. Not everyone is ready to embrace an uncommon faith – that’s why it is uncommon. And, declaring you are All In doesn’t mean you will do this perfectly. Join me, and many others, in being All In. Being All In means you affirm that your whole life – your time, your skills, and your money belongs to Jesus. Because he’s Lord, you’ll do your best to follow him in how he leads you to use your life to make a difference, wherever and however. Being All In means you’ll seek to love people to Jesus and help us transform our world and populate eternity.
Next Monday (January 21) is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. It’s a time when we remember not just the past racial injustices in our country, but the continual challenges we have with racism, bigotry, and discrimination.
This Sunday, we are going to remember that for those of us who follow Jesus, the issues of racial injustice are bigger than race. These are issues central to the kingdom of God which I spoke about last weekend! The Kingdom of God is made up of people from every race, nation, language, tribe as well as from all economic levels and genders (see Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9-10).
The Bible is so clear that we are all children of God and thus brothers and sisters by faith in Jesus… period. In Christ, we take on a new and deeper identity without having to abandon our racial heritage or tribe. I am born again or re-born first as a child of God; that is my primary identity. I am secondarily the gender, race and social status to which I was born; that shapes my secondary identity. I seek first the kingdom before all things and only secondarily I seek my moral and legal rights as a ________ (you fill in the blank).
One of the pivotal passages that emphasizes this concept is found in Galatians 3. Paul was addressing a race that thought they were the only legitimate people of faith because they were descendants of Abraham – the Jews. So in verses 7-9 he writes: 7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Our access to God, our standing before God and our participation in the Kingdom of God is dependent on one thing – our faith in Jesus – no matter who you are.
Then Paul comes to a glorious conclusion in verses 26-29: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. It is our faith in Christ that makes us one in Christ. Race, socio-economic standing or gender is not a factor on who is a part of the Kingdom of God. This was revolutionary 2000 years ago. It is revolutionary today! It is what we celebrate.
So, this Sunday, we are having Jamie Benjamin from Greater Faith Church join us to celebrate how the kingdom of God is bigger than any divisions that our culture continues to embrace and tries to challenge us to engage in. Our brothers and sisters from Greater Faith Church will also be joining us for our services and our worship team as we give glory to God together. You won’t want to miss this Sunday… I’m just telling you!