Flesh and Blood Jesus

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My dad took a lot of pictures when i was little, mostly black and white, but a few color ones as well—the bright Kodachrome oversaturated reds and yellows that i love about the photography of my childhood. But mostly, at our house, things were black and white.

When my kids were little, we watched some old TV shows that i’d enjoyed when i was their age—Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, that sort of thing. Classic shows that are still great today, that had an innocence about them that disappeared from TV in the 70s and 80s. 

The Head of ChristOne day, when she was around three or so, our second daughter, Shelby, asked me, ‘when did the world start being in color?’

In her mind, old photos and movies simply captured the world as it was, and then one day, suddenly, like Dorothy opening the door from Kansas to Oz, everything changed and vibrant color was everywhere.

I explained that everything had always been the way we see it, and that black and white was just the result of the film and camera equipment we used. I loved that idea, though. That to a child, the world could be nothing but shades of grey, until one day…boom!

Sometimes, however, kid’s misperceptions carry over into adulthood.

When i was young, one of my Sunday School Classrooms had a reproduction of an oil painting of Jesus thumb-tacked to the wall. It’s called The Head of Christ, and was painted by a man named Warner Sallman.

According to Wikipedia, after publication in 1941 ‘it had been reproduced over half a billion times worldwide by the end of the 20th century. Enlarged copies of the work have been made for churches, and small pocket or wallet-sized prayer cards bearing the image have been mass-produced for private devotional use. The painting is said to have “become the basis for [the] visualization of Jesus” for “hundreds of millions” of people.’ 

You’ve seen it—i mean, it is one of the most reproduced artworks in history. Probably not regarded as ‘great art’ by the critics, but still one of the most famous paintings in the world. (I’m guessing right around #3, right behind the Mona Lisa and Dogs Playing Poker.)

Mr. Sallman did other paintings of Jesus, including one of him knocking on a door, that seemingly everyone’s grandma had on her wall when i was a kid, but this one, also unfortunately known as The Sallman Head, was his big hit.

Now i know, that’s not really what Jesus looked like—he was, after all, Jewish, and most Jews have…let’s say ‘more striking facial characteristics’ than the man in the painting. Archaeologists have also determined that men of the first century probably didn’t have 1960s hippie hair, contrary to public opinion, and the way we, and Mr. Sallman, envision things. In one approximation i saw, Jesus looked a lot more like a young Bob Dylan than the flowy haired guy i grew up seeing on the wall. But despite knowing this, that image of Christ is the one that pops into my head when i visualize him teaching the Sermon on the Mount, or sitting with his disciples having supper.

Be honest, a lot of you who grew up in church like i did, get that same image, or something similar.

But sometimes, seeing Oil Painting Jesus as Flesh and Blood Jesus is hard. Like little Shelby, thinking the world had simply been black and white at one point, there is a real temptation to see Bible characters, not as three dimensional, actual walking around the world people. People who dealt with some of the same kinds of problems we have (an ingrown toenail) or much worse problems (living in the Middle East without air conditioning)—but as somehow more like an oil painting than real. Two dimensional characters from a novel instead of living, breathing flesh and blood.

Maybe we do that because it’s easier that way.

Oil Painting Jesus never looks at me with disappointment at the bad choices i make. Flesh and Blood Jesus does.

Oil Painting Jesus doesn’t confront me with my sin issues. Flesh and Blood Jesus does, and tells me to ‘go and sin no more.’

So if i, as a committed Christ-follower, have a hard time seeing the Savior in the real world, imagine how a non-believer views things. A fairy tale that somehow people believe, like Jack and the Beanstalk. Stories someone made up to scare kids into behaving themselves, ‘cause they don’t want to burn in hell.

That’s why you and i have to see the importance of living out the gospel. People won’t see Jesus as real, until they see his followers that way—living out the things that he instructed us to do—loving, serving, being the hands and feet that he told us to be. Not by handing out tracts and yelling through a megaphone on a street corner, but by reaching out to the tax collectors meth-heads and prostitutes women who see sex as a commodity. By being kind to everyone we come in contact with, even those we disagree with politically, in our religious beliefs, social status or sexuality.

Not condoning, but also not condemning.

Treating people with love makes them want to get to know Flesh and Blood Jesus, and that church, is the goal. Imagine Heaven—seeing someone there that God, the creator of all that surrounds you—used you to help guide into an eternal relationship with him. Now imagine staying silent, and that person never knowing the Savior because you were too busy, too judgmental, too caught up in your own self-righteousness, or just because you didn’t care.

Oil Painting Jesus may look alright on a wall, but he won’t change your life the way Flesh and Blood Jesus can. And, a lot of the time, it takes Flesh and Blood Believers to show people that he’s real.

Snooze 

SnoozeMark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I love hitting the snooze button.

And i have a feeling that i’m not alone here. I mean, there’s got to be a reason that when the alarm goes off on my iPhone, the Snooze button is five times as big as the Stop button. The lure of those extra few minutes of sleep grabs ahold of a lot of us in the morning, and oftentimes sets us on a treadmill of being nine minutes behind all day.

I always wondered ‘why nine minutes? Who decided that? Why not an even ten? Why not fifteen?’ So i Googled it, and found that it’s basically a throwback to the days of mechanical alarm clocks. When they came up with the idea for a snooze, the gear ratios were already standardized throughout the industry, so because of the gears, the engineers could make it either a few seconds over 9 minutes, or they could do 10 minutes and some change. The rationale was that 10 minutes was long enough for people to fall back into a deep slumber, so they settled on 9. 

With today’s electronic gadgetry, of course, they can make it any darn length they want, but people have gotten used to a 9 minute snooze, so that’s what we still use.

Not sure if i’m an oddball or what, but i can go back to dreaming in those 9 minutes, and do most of the time. In fact, some of my best dreams are during that little window, free from drowning, being trapped in a crawlspace or left alone in an abandoned amusement park to screw up the entire night. (Yeah, i’ve got some issues. Before casting stones, let’s see you write yours down for everyone’s amusement.)

I never hit that button on Sundays, no matter how little sleep i’ve gotten, 1.) because i’m excited, and 2.) because there’s so much to do from the moment i get up. But i’ll hit it a time or two during the week, unless Angie prods me to get up and go for our walk around the park before the weather heats up.

I mean, i like my job, but i really, really like my bed.

Of course, there’s a huge difference in falling asleep, staying asleep, and going back to sleep once you wake up in the middle of the night. I’m pretty good at the first one, and absolutely suck at the other two. The upside is that some of my best blog posts were written at 3AM, so i shouldn’t complain. But i guess i do anyway.

Truth is, i probably like the snooze button a little too much—not just in the mornings, but in life.

I am a procrastinator. Big time. I’ve told you before, that i keep everything, and i mean everything on my computer/phone calendar. It’s full of different colored blocks of time, which helps me keep things in balance. Red is family time, so if there’s no red on the calendar for a week, my priorities have been out of whack. Orange is ‘me & Angie’ time. If it’s only on there in a couple of 30 minute spots in a week, that’s a problem—i’m not doing my ‘husband job’ well.

But let’s say the calendar alert reads “Have a hard conversation with Bob” or “Talk to Angie about that thing you’ve been putting off talking to her about.” I somehow find a way to drag those things until the next day, next week, or next month. They’re still there, of course, but they’re conveniently ‘put off’ until i’m better suited to deal with them.

Which is usually never.

At my previous job, i didn’t have a manager above me in the company. I reported straight to the President, who was the guy who hired me, and was, and still is, a good friend. He was also born with the ‘conflict avoidance’ gene just like i was. Often, when it was time to fire someone, he and i would both put it off until the last possible moment. Frequently, we’d avoid an issue, decide not to make a decision right away, and find the situation somehow work itself out through other means, and when it was all over, smirk, high five and say ‘one again, procrastination pays off!’

Not saying that was a great way to run a company, but it did work for us, some of the time.

The Bible, however, take a decidedly less cavalier view of putting things off. 

James 4:17 says “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

And let’s look at this exchange in Luke 9 for a minute. In the New Living Translation, Jesus says to a man, “Come, follow me.”The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

So, the first guy, being a noble son, is saying “hey, Jesus, my father’s old and doesn’t have long to live. Let me take care of him until the time comes, make the funeral arrangements, and settle his estate, and then i’ll follow you.” The fifth Commandment in Exodus 20:12 tells us “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” On the surface, here’s this fellow wanting to do just that, but then Jesus rebukes him.

In reality, the man is probably saying something more like ‘oh, sure Jesus, i’d love to be your disciple. Really, i would…but you see, my father is old and i should be there for him, so i can’t follow you just now. Give me some time, and i’ll get back with you.’

Page 1 of the Liars & Procrastinator’s Playbook that i could be one of the co-authors of.

The second man is doing the same thing—saying what he thinks Jesus wants to hear, but having no intention of following through on his promise. Jesus, of course, knows his heart, and hits him with a truth-bomb as well, going so far as to say he’s ‘not fit for the Kingdom of God.’

So, how do procrastinators change? I’m not sure…heck, i’ve been putting off the finishing touches of this post for a few hours now. But i think we saw the answer in James 4 earlier—we need to look at it, and treat procrastination and conflict avoidance for what it is: sin.

Simply put, it’s a part of our sinful nature that we need to turn away from and throw into the fire of refinement, along with the less socially acceptable sins in our lives. Like Jesus said in to the guy in Luke 9, God’s desire is for us to be spiritually alive and share our personal stories about His Kingdom to a world that is dying. And the time to do that is now.

Without hitting Snooze.

The Prodigal Do-Over

Outdoors Backpack Hat Man Guy People LifestyleRandal Brewer, Stonepoint Member

We are all familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son told in Luke 15:11-32. Most of us are familiar with a variety of spins on the parable that have been written in books or taught in countless sermons. We’ve been told that the story is equally about the older brother that was angry about the father’s grace and mercy. There’s a really good Tim Keller book, Prodigal God, about the prodigious love of the father. 

As Christians we need to have a good grasp about the younger son, because we are him. No matter who you are, you are him. I certainly am.

Recently, my identification with the prodigal son has been a comfort to me, because I need a Do-Over. I need a bunch of them. This is the most beautiful thing about the story. The big Do-Over. The Do-Over begins with, “When he came to his senses…” (verse 17). I’m really good at coming to my senses, I’m just poor at the timing. I usually come to my senses after I’ve been knocked senseless. It’s a God thing, I think.

Don’t we all need a Do-Over? Not just that initial act of believing in Christ and understanding our sin and our need for a Savior. It keeps going, or at least it does for me. I need a financial Do-Over. I need a spiritual Do-Over. I need a professional Do-Over. I can conceive of some parental Do-Overs that would be good. When it comes to marriage, I’d Do-It-All-Over Again. (Hey baby, gotcha.)

I’ve come to my senses, again. A Do-Over sounds good to me. Now I understand, Lord. I see the light. I can’t undo what has been done, but we can start fresh from here, right? A little Master-of-the-House manipulation on Your part, and we’re good to go, right? I mean, what’s the use of my sin being as far as the east is from the west, or Your prodigious forgetfulness if we can’t have the big fresh and fuzzy Do-Over now?

In this contemplation and fervent prayer, God revealed to me the story found in the minor prophet book of “I’maguy-a.” It’s a short book, and very hard to find, but if you want to pause here and look it up…or it might be quicker if I give you the Cliff Notes version. “I’maguy-a” tells what Paul Harvey would refer to as, The Rest of the Story.

You see, everything wasn’t happily ever after for the Prodigal Son just because he found himself back in the good graces of his merciful father. Oh, it went well for a while. He was excited to get up early and work the ranch. The labor even felt good for a while. He was sufficiently contrite and deferential toward his older brother and amends were made. They laughed again remembering the old days. 

Speaking of the old days, one of the servant girls who was a child when he left was not a child any longer. She was a beautiful young woman. She laughed at his jokes. She appreciated his generosity toward her father and family. In fact, the Prodigal Son had become a favorite among the hired hands. He worked with them and treated them well. They liked him much more than the older brother.

Word of the Prodigal Son’s return reached the neighboring ranches, and when he would run into the family members or servants of those ranches, they congratulated him on his return and were happy to see the rumors of his new life were true. They remembered when he was younger and had held such promise, and such rebellion.

After a while, his responsibilities increased and he led a small caravan into town to engage in trade for his father, and while he was there ran into some of his old party pals from the days of riotous living. They invited him to buy them drinks, but he said ‘no thank you.’ Instead, he directed the caravan to edge of town and set up camp. He sat next to a fire and after the meal was served he contemplated his life and his mind found the rabbit trails of “How Do You Like Me Now?”.

He thought about the servant girl and wondered what everybody would think if he married her instead of the daughter of the wealthy neighbor his parents were planning on. What would his brother say if their inheritance was intruded upon again, this time by a family of former servants? What about the other ranchers in the area? Did they really think that highly of him or did they privately scoff because his only real success was being his father’s son? Would they view his marriage of a servant girl more proof of irresponsibility? Could he go ahead a marry the wealthy daughter and go Old Testament with a second wife? 

He thought about this business trip he was on. He hadn’t thought his father’s instructions were the most profitable. He thinks that he could have traded differently and made more money. In fact, he could have kept the extra profit for himself and began amassing his own fortune. He could eventually branch out on his own and prove his worth was more than just as his father’s son. He could prove it to his brother, the neighbors, the riotous friends, this servant girl who probably only pretends to like him because of his money – his father’s money.

We can see where this is going. The Prodigal Son is on his way. The sin has been conceived in the fertile ground of his mind. We can fill in the blanks for what he’s going to wind up doing, or each of us could fill in the blank for what we would be in danger of doing…for what our next big Do-Over would be. 

How do I make my next Do-Over the last one? Better yet, how do I make my last Do-Over, my last Do-Over? How do I take captive all those “How Do You Like Me Now” comparisons and desires and envies and performances? 

The answer…Love God. How’s that for a good Sunday School answer? I know what you’re thinking—how do we do that…really? What is the practical path to love that which I can’t always see or hear or know? What I have started doing is remembering who I am without Him. I am Pig-Sty Boy. With my mind on the Father, and who He is, and what He has done, I am Prodigal Son, basking in the Do-Over. With my mind wandering all over everybody else, I am Pig-Sty Boy with another Do-Over on the horizon.

Loving God, chasing hard after God through prayer and reading the Bible and making others more important, cause the “How do you like me now” rabbit trails of my wandering heart to grow over with weeds. 

The weed eater is always nearby, I just can’t…pick…it…up.

 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

     

Why Not Fly?

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor 

RobinThe other morning, while I was drinking my coffee, I looked out the back door and saw a bird, a male robin, walking down the sidewalk, like he was just out for a stroll. It seemed a little strange, so I watched him for a minute. He had a twig in his mouth, which I assumed was going to be used for a nest. Now, our yard is a veritable Home Depot of bird nest building materials, with a dozen or so trees, that drop limbs every time there’s a light breeze in the forecast. There’s a majestic old pecan, some stately oaks, and a few catalpa trees, which I’m convinced line the banks of the mythical river Styx in Hell, dropping crap year ‘round.

Anyway, the bird walked, slowly, like an elderly person, along the sidewalk from our shed to the driveway, a good twenty feet or so, probably looking to do some sort of twig upgrade. It was a long enough distance that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with him, maybe a problem with one of his wings, so I sat down my coffee mug, opened the door, and startled him, so he took off into the air. (And yes, honey, I used a coaster.)

So, after he flew off, I started to wonder, “why in the world would you walk when you can fly?”

As people, most of us dream of having the ability to fly. Some folks literally have flying dreams at night. (I’ve unfortunately never been one of those people, and have always been kind of envious of them. Instead, I get drowning dreams.) Here was this little guy, blessed by his Creator with an ability so amazing—one that he takes for granted, and that his peanut-sized brain can’t really fathom—walking to his destination instead of soaring in the clouds like you and I would do, just for a minute, even if we had no reason to do so.

He’d been blessed with a gift from God, and wasn’t using it.

As believers, we have also been given something incredible—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God Himself. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) Think about it. In Old Testament times, God’s Spirit dwelled in the Tabernacle, or later, in the Temple, once it was constructed. The indwelling of the Spirit in people in the Old Testament was selective and it was temporary. 

The Spirit “came upon” people like Joshua (Numbers 27:18), David (1 Samuel 16:12-13) and even Saul (1 Samuel 10:10). In the book of Judges, we see the Spirit “coming upon” the various judges whom God raised up to deliver Israel from their oppressors. The Holy Spirit entered into these folks for specific tasks and for certain periods of time. This indwelling was a sign of God’s favor (in the case of David), and if they fell out of God’s favor, the Spirit would depart (Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14).

It was not until Pentecost in Acts 2, that the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised to the disciples before He ascended into heaven, filled the believers. Not as a temporary blessing, but a permanent one.

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

From that point on, the once timid disciples, the very same men who ran and hid when the authorities arrived that night in Gethsemane, spoke boldly of the risen Christ, with no fear of arrest, persecution or even death. They had spent three years walking alongside Jesus in his ministry, witnessing his miracles, hearing his teachings, but it was the indwelling of the Spirit that really changed them.

So in the Old Testament, outside of a few special instances, the Holy Spirit did not live inside God’s people, and when it did, it was only for a season. As incredible as that sounds, you and I have something that Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, David, Elijah and Elisha did not—the very Spirit of God living inside us.

Picture yourself in Heaven, finding one of your Old Testament heroes…Moses, for example. Excitedly, you ask him what it was like to see the burning bush, to lead God’s people out of bondage, showing God’s power to the rulers of Egypt, or receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

What if Moses’ response was something like, “yeah that was cool and all, but I want to know what it was like to have the Holy Spirit living inside you?”

Imagine his reaction be to our typical American Christian answer of “you know…It really didn’t affect me a whole lot. In our culture we liked to shop for clothes and binge TV shows on this thing called Netflix and I worked a lot so we could have a bigger house and nicer cars, and go on vacations and cruises and attend sporting events.”

Church, we have the indwelling of Holy Spirit, and we’re walking around picking up twigs to build bigger nests. 

I can’t help but feel that we will one day look back at our fascination with the shiny objects this world has to offer—sex, materialism, even the ‘your best life now’ promise of the TV preachers with nothing but regret and remorse. It’s like we are the Indians, trading the Island of Manhattan for a few dollars worth of trinkets.

God wants so much more for us, as his beloved children. Not ‘blessings’ in the way so many have been taught to think of them, so much as the abundant life of obedience. Of dying to ourselves in order to live for Him, to take up our crosses and follow. To see those in need, and truly hurt for them, share their burdens, and do our part to help lift them up, sharing our own stories of redemption as part of someone else’s healing process.

That’s what the church should be. 

As Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”

Church, we have the Spirit of God. Why are we walking?

Live the Church

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14 ESV

There’s a song that has popped up recently on the Christian charts called Church (Take Me Back) by Cochren & Co. At its heart the song has a good message. It is about a guy that grew up in church, but strayed into the pleasures of the world (very Prodigal Son-esque). He is wanting (almost begging) for someone to take him back to church. IMG_0002

He equates church to a physical place, full of people, with preaching and singing. 

When done for the right reason, and with the right heart, there’s nothing wrong with this definition of church. After all, Jesus himself said ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’  Matthew 18:20 ESV

Meeting at a location we call church can be a renewing of spirit for believers. I’ll be among the first to admit that I look forward to Sunday mornings. There is something comforting about it, as stated in the song. Being with a group of similarly minded people, sharing in worship for a couple of hours each week. 

 But even the ‘unchurched’ do that. Sporting events, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and even theme parks are full of like minded people spending time on a recurring basis, praising (worshiping) something. 

So how are we as church goers any different? 

The short answer is “we’re not.” Not if we are simply church goers.

We must instead be church doers. As Brandon, Brian and the rest of the Stonepoint Staff have said multiple times the place the world calls a ‘church’ is just a building. The only thing special about the building is the people inside. 

The people are the church. 

Need proof? Look in your Bible. The book of Acts is full of stories of Christ followers meeting in homes and secret locations, sometimes even hidden in fields, because they had to keep moving or risk persecution. Yet they were still called the church. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we as a body participated in what is now called Mission Van Zandt (formerly Stonepoint Serves.) It is a yearly chance for us, along with other bodies of believers, to put this into action. To go out without expecting a return, no strings attached, and ‘Be The Church’ in our communities. 

We go out and and clean trash from parks, do yard work and clean up for the elderly or infirm, and occasionally tackle even bigger projects, like re-roofing a house or building a fence. 

But again, even the ‘unchurched’ do this. They, too, will take a day or a weekend and clean up trash (Earth Day) or give money to the poor.

So what makes us as the church different? 

Back in 1995 DC Talk released their album Jesus Freak. The title song on that album became, and still is, immensely popular. And it’s a good song, but it’s just one piece of an excellent album. I had the album on cassette and repeatedly listened to the whole thing start to finish. 

The song right after Jesus Freak is called What if I Stumble (if you’ve never listened to it I encourage you to do so.) It opens with a spoken quote by Brennan Manning.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

This is where we have to be different. Don’t just ‘Be The Church’ one day a year and go on living worldly the rest of the time. 

We need to instead ‘Live The Church’ everyday. 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

(Interestingly enough the next track on the Jesus Freak album is called Day by Day.) 

So, instead of waiting for the broken to want to be taken back to church like in the Cochren & Co song, we should be taking the church to the broken everyday. 

Count it All Joy?

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

A good commercial has a sticking factor. A phrase or ear-worm that gets stuck in your memory. Growing up, one such commercial was the one for Space Bags. I remember the frustrated lady screaming ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’ 

It’s part of our human nature to desire stuff. We collect and amass and still desire more. It could be books, jewelry, cars, trinkets and art, clothes, etc. My own personal vices are Legos and electronics.  

8fbaa9b5-8d8e-4e14-bc63-c91a878482be-shutterstock_9769461cjIt is common in American households to have junk drawers, you know the one…that drawer or cabinet full of stuff that doesn’t really have a place but that we’re not yet ready to throw out. 

Well my ‘junk drawer’ is an entire room, and no, I don’t mean my teenage daughter’s room (although it’s pretty close). The room in question is an office space off our master bedroom that has become more of a storage room than a usable office.  

We have definitely hit the point of ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’, not quite hoarder status (although my wife might argue that point).

There is a Japanese custom for decluttering that has resurfaced and made it west in recent years, popularized by Marie Kondo. Essentially the custom is to hold each of your possessions in your hand and only keep the items that bring you joy. I’m sure that over simplifies it, but it’s the basic gist.   

Seems easy enough, go through everything and take a moment to see if it sparks joy. A beloved heirloom with pleasant memories attached, the little trinket gift your child made in school with their hand prints for Mother’s Day, that pair of headphones that are balanced just right for music or audio books (just me?) You get the idea. 

 Now I see memes online where people talk about throwing out their electric bills, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, etc. 

This falls in line with a worldly definition of joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. In other words if something doesn’t make you happy, throw it away. 

The problem with using happiness as your guide is where do you draw the line? 

A $400 a month electric bill doesn’t make me happy, the same with endless piles of laundry or dirty dishes. 

The book of James opens with these words, ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds’ James 1:2 ESV. 

So what is a biblical definition of joy? Surely James isn’t telling us to be happy that we’re suffering. 

Biblical joy is definitely a feeling, but not necessarily a feeling of happiness. 

Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica used the word as a verb in the form of rejoice and gave us a pretty good definition of biblical joy. ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.’  1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV. 

Notice in verse 18 he says ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ 

In other words be grateful. 

Proverbs 17:22 says ‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ Or if I may be so bold as to paraphrase, Being grateful heals, while grumbling destroys. 

So what happens if we use the biblical definition of joy and apply it to the Marie Kondo method?

Suddenly instead of that electric bill that I was not happy about, I can be grateful that I have electricity and by extension a comfortable place for my family to live. Instead of dreading the endless piles of laundry and never-ending dishes, I can be grateful that my family has clothes to wear and food to eat. 

And that’s just when applied to physical objects, but what about the argument you had with your spouse, or a disobedient action from a child. Sure these are things, but they also aren’t making you happy so we discard them. We jump headfirst into divorce, we kick kids out of the house or send them away. 

After all isn’t getting rid of relationships and the people involved the ultimate decluttering? There’s a billboard on I-20 between Grand Prairie and Duncanville, that if I’m honest, makes me angry every time I see it. It is an ad for a divorce lawyer that says in big, bold letters: “DOUBLE YOUR CLOSET SPACE.” In other words throw them and their stuff to the curb. 

Society, or as it is referred to many times in the bible ‘The World’, tells us it’s ok for relationships to be disposable. The world would have you look at the people you’re in relationship with as objects, no more valuable than the straw you’re not allowed to possess in California. The world encourages this reckless abandon for people while heavily pushing recycling of trash to help the environment. 

Not that helping the environment is a bad thing, in fact as Christians we should be concerned with the Earth that God has given us as our temporary home. But that’s just it God designed the Earth, the skies, and the heavens to be temporary. He will replace these in the end, but relationships were designed by God to be forever. 

1 Corinthians 13:7-8 says it this way ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.’ 

Instead of disposing of relationships in a time of struggle, we should renew our love for one another. In doing so we can place the appropriate value on each other and focus on decluttering where it really matters. 

Clean out the junk drawer (or room in my case), and be grateful for the people God has placed in your life.  

We, the Pharisees

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

Every once in a while, i start feeling like i pretty much have God figured out. 

PhariseeI mean, i’ve been a believer for a long time, grew up in church, and since i was in the cradle i was taught all of the Bible stories that are appropriate for kids. (And a few that probably aren’t. I mean, if you really think about the Ark or David & Goliath, we really do skim over some gory details that would give kids nightmares for weeks.) As Christians, we believe that God’s nature is revealed in the stories of how He has dealt with His people over the years, culminating in His Son, Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God.

The Pharisees in the Bible were the same way, but to the nth degree. Not only had they grown up learning the Law, they had devoted their entire lives to it. They had studied scripture, memorized huge parts of what we now call the Old Testament, and even went so far as to take the laws that were handed down to Moses, and ‘improve’ them (in their minds,) piling more and more minute rules and regulations on the people, until it was exhausting just trying to keep up with them. Their intentions were noble—they did all of this in the name of ‘good,’ with the idea of being holy and righteous before God.

Their lifestyles, however, tended to be purely judgmental. They had God and His laws figured out, dotted every i and crossed every t, but saw only the sin in other people, not the good that God might be working in their lives. They saw themselves as holy; and saw everyone else, because they weren’t as good at keeping the law, as failures.

Then Jesus shows up on the scene, and singlehandedly blows up all of their preconceived notions of who God is, and what is important to Him.

In the story of the two sons, in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus paints a startling portrait of God, represented by the father, as ready and eager to forgive each son’s transgressions and restore fellowship with them. The father, undignified, bucking all Jewish tradition, even hikes up his tunic to run toward the returning prodigal, and embrace him, despite his many sins. It was blatantly clear that Jesus was telling the Pharisees ‘this is what my Father is like.’

Here they are, the teachers and keepers of the ‘capital L’ Law with Jesus standing there saying ‘most of what you’ve been taught and assumed about God is wrong.’ No wonder they didn’t like him.

Now if you grew up in church, like i did, a whole lot of life seemed to be whittled down to be this list of do’s and don’ts—The Ten Commandments, plus some other ‘suggestions’ that church traditions had added to them, to ‘improve’ people’s behavior, much like the Pharisees years before.

In the book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller puts it this way: “I grew up hearing about God, hearing that He had created the universe, some animals, the Grand Canyon, and that we weren’t supposed to have sex or drink whiskey or go to dance clubs, that sort of thing, you know. He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

Some people today are still hung up on the law, even though Jesus came to fulfill it. As the keeper of the church Facebook page, from time to time i get random people asking why we don’t ‘keep the Sabbath’ and meet on Saturday like they did in the Old Testament instead of Sunday. That one’s a biggie, apparently. Nobody ever asks questions about eating shellfish, wearing blended fabrics, or trimming the edges of their beards, at least not on our Facebook page, anyway. (See Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 for reference on why we gather on Sunday.)

As humans, sometimes we try to boil ‘religion’ down to a set of moral codes—some sort of checklist of things we can say we did, and another list of things we can say we didn’t do. Even as believers, despite knowing God’s plan for atonement, we still think that those lists will somehow make us righteous before Him, and keep us in good standing. Truth is, if left up to our own devices, none of us can do that. God is completely holy, and one sinful thought that enters our minds separates us from Him for eternity. Without Him coming to earth, in the form of his Son, Jesus, none of us have a chance at redemption.

But, as you really start living it, faith is much more complex than a set of rules to follow. Once you enter into a real relationship with God, and learn more about Him, He begins adjusting your mindset, ever so slightly, one sometimes painful step at a time, to be more aligned with His mindset. 

Christianity isn’t some set of rules and regulations, but about falling in love with Jesus, and asking him to take over your life and allow you to see things more and more the way he sees them.

One problem we have, is while we accept that forgiveness and mercy for ourselves, we still look at other people, and pass judgement on their spiritual maturity though their actions. I’m not talking about someone obviously, blatantly living a life of sin here, but how we sometimes hold other people to a standard of rules that we have decided is right for ourselves. 

Here’s an example. Tony Campolo used to begin his speeches to Christian groups this way, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 children around the world died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that right now, you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘sh*t’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

People who live in their Christian ‘bubbles’ miss the absolute tragedy of his first point, as they are picking up stones to cast at him for the way he stated his second. All of the repentant feelings we should have for not doing enough about poverty and hunger around the globe is immediately ignored ‘cause somebody said a ‘bad word.’ It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.

Please understand, God’s grace means that we can approach the Father directly now that the Son has atoned for our sins and done away with the need for animal sacrifices through the priestly system. It does not mean we’re excused from obedience of any sort and can do as we please. 

One of our goals, as growing believers, is to truly see our sin as God sees it, ugly and repugnant. That’s where our road to healing and repentance begins. (1 John 1:5-9) All too often, though, we categorize, or write sins off as ‘not that big of a deal,’ when in fact it is a very big deal to God. (Romans 6:23) Jesus was full of compassion when dealing with sinful people, but always admonished them to leave their sins behind them.

But i do wish, as Christ followers, we could stop judging those whose sins differ from ours, and understand that so often, that road to redemption is a rocky one. Not all of us stay in the ruts, avoid the potholes, and stay the course without wandering into the weeds from time to time. 

Believers who stray off course need encouragement and admonishment instead of the judgement that we, the Pharisees are so quick to bring.

A thousand years from now, in Heaven, we’re going to have a much better perspective on what our lives on earth were about, but even then, we’re not even gonna be close to having God figured out.