Following “God” Is Easy, Following Jesus is Difficult

jesus-1233747This quote is just so true:

Jesus is particular, God is generic. It is easy to follow a generic God because you can fill the term “God” with any presupposition you please; it is difficult to follow Jesus because then you have to take seriously his teachings on discipleship, on what exactly following him entails. Michael Hardin

Following “God” is easy, because it is generic. You can be a “spiritual” person, or a person connected to the “energy” of the world or anything like that easily. Because as Michael Hardin points out, you can choose the things that you will follow or connect with. You can create the path you want to follow. Following Jesus though means following his path. The difficulty path of self-denial and other-centred love. The path that values sacrifice for others, and loving at a level that seems ridiculous at times. But that’s the beauty of Christianity; it’s about Christ. It’s about following him, and not giving into the easy things but shooting for the difficult life transforming things. Things that Jesus teaches us to do like:

  • Love your enemies
  • Forgive everyone
  • Judge Not
  • Fear Not
  • Worry Not

Each of those things is simple to understand, and will take a life-time to learn to practice. Which is precisely the point. Following Jesus is a path and a journey that takes a lifetime to learn. Learning to love your enemies and that there is no them, only us is incredibly hard. Learning to not let fear and worry have holds in our hearts isn’t a weekend retreat thing. It’s a lifetime thing.

This is why G.K. Chesterton said something truthful in, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried

But I believe it’s in the trying that life is found. It’s in the striving after following Jesus,  his path, and his way of life that life is found.

And my question in all of this is this: if you’re a follower of Jesus are you following his path? 

Because as Michael Hardin reminds us, it’s easy to follow “God” following but Jesus means following his path. And his path leads to life, it’s not easy, it’s hard but it’s absolutely worthwhile.

So out of those 5 things listed above (judge not, fear not, worry not, forgive everyone, love your enemies) which one do you need to work on today? Which one do you need to focus on and give some attention to? Which one do you need to try to follow today? Because following Jesus means walking his path, and this is the path he laid down. It’s not an easy one, but it is a life-changing one.

I cannot lead people where I am not trying to go…

1443938_20970553Here is a leadership principle that I live by. I’m sure I read it somewhere, by someone brilliant. But it’s a simple principle that I think matters. Here it is: I cannot lead people where I’m not trying to go.

I really think that this is true. You cannot lead people where you are not trying to go. And the reason I love this principle is for a few reasons.

  • Know Thyself. This principle means you need to know yourself and know where you are going. This principle focuses me in on self-awareness which matters so much in leadership. If you don’t know where you are headed, no one will be able to follow. So this focuses on knowing yourself, and your direction.
  • I don’t need to be there, I just need to be trying to get there. And this is so freeing. I don’t need to have “arrived” to have it “all-together” to be an “expert”. I need to be someone on the journey. So this principle is freeing and true in that it focuses me on progress, on direction, and intentionality.
  • Going Together. The last reason I love this principle is that inherent in it is this idea about journeying together. Leadership isn’t so much directing, and telling people what to do – but journeying with people. And that’s what this principle gets. Leadership isn’t about solo directing, but communal journeying.

And this principle really comes down to three questions I often ask myself, tied to those three reasons. First, where am I trying to go? Second, what’s the next step to take towards that goal? Third, who is journeying with me?

This helps me to stay focused and moving forward. Not perfect by any means, but progressing. Because I can’t lead people where I’m not trying to go.

What do you think of this principle?

Deadly Theological Training

I came across a quote a little while ago that has really stuck with me. Richard Rohr says this:

“Theological training without spiritual experience is deadly”.

And I think that is bang on. Whenever our theological knowledge outpaces our practice we have problems. And in general, as has often been said, I think so often our Christian culture is educated beyond their level of obedience. And this is deadly. Whenever we know more than we practice, our knowledge can become sharp and hurtful. Our practice can seem weak and hypocritical.

Now if you know me, I’m not against theological training or knowledge at all. My wife says I have a “reading problem” (which means I have too many books to keep in our house). So I’m not against learning, depth, and training. But learning, depth, and training that doesn’t flow out into practice becomes stagnant, stale, and sometimes toxic.

So all of this is to say one thing: learn more, and practice more. Let your faith grow deeper, and let your practice grow truer. Because people who know lots about Jesus don’t change the world; the world is changed by people who know, and follow Jesus.

Being a Leader ~ Finding a New Grip for Shaky Hands

248245_9652I was reading through some of Hebrews today, and I came across this verse that spoke to me so clearly. I felt like God was reminding me of what my calling is as a leader. I think in many ways this is the essence of leadership. It’s found in Hebrews 12:12-13:

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame will not stumble and fall but will become strong”.

The reason that this spoke to me is that so often as a leader, I do have tired hands and shaky legs. Sometimes uncertainty grabs me. Sometimes disbelief haunts me. Sometimes I wonder if I am strong enough to follow the call that God has placed on my life. I don’t often question the call, I question whether I’m able to pursue it.

But that’s why I love these verses. These verses don’t pretend that leadership is easy. These verses don’t pretend that we don’t struggle, worry, doubt, or have tired hands or shaky legs. These verses know that in purusing God and his calling, there will be moments of difficult, doubt, and decision. And the decision that this verse calls for us to have is to take a new grip, to stand firm even on shaky legs.

This verse reminds me that God is with me, like he is with you, so take a new grip. Don’t give up. Stand up on those shaky legs, get up again, move forward again, trust again, and don’t give up. And that as we refuse to give up, as we take a new grip (even though our hands are tired) as we stand firm (even though our legs are weak) and move forward we will help others find strength and follow God.

I guess what this verse really reminds me of is this: being a leader doesn’t mean your hands don’t get tired. Being a leader means you don’t give up, and you find a new grip with tired hands. Being a leader means sometimes God needs to remind you, that regardless of whether your hands are tired and legs are shaky, there is a calling still to pursue. And it’s worth pursuing.

So take a new grip today, a new stance today, and let others find strength as you follow.

Jesus Didn’t Really Mean Don’t Judge Right…

1409594_29311718This Sunday we are looking at probably the most important teaching of Jesus for our day and age. I say this because two of the 3 tops things Christians in North America are known for is being judgmental, and hypocritical. The irony, and also the deep sadness is that Jesus is really clear: do not judge. (Matthew 7:1)

Soren Kierkegaard once said something like, the Bible is clear, most Christians just don’t want to follow it. And I think of that often in terms of this teaching of Jesus. It couldn’t be clearer but it also couldn’t be less practiced.

So on Sunday I want to help us begin to practice this by peeling back some of the layers and seeing how when we judge we separate ourselves from others and God. I want to discover how Jesus’ teaching is so freeing, brilliant, and amazing that we should want to live this way.

I know sometimes it’s hard to imagine a world without judging and condemning because it is so normal to us. But we need to imagine a world without it, we need to practice a world without – because that’s God’s kind of world. That’s God’s kingdom, a community and a place where people don’t judge but go graciously to one another. A place where people deal with their own stuff, rather than trying to deal with someone else’s. A place where people who have experienced grace, share grace.

So I think this Sunday matters because I think we need to learn how to live without judgment. I think we desperately need to learn how to live without condemning others. I think we need to learn to live like Jesus – or at least I do. Because judging comes so naturally to me, it’s so easy to have a running dialogue of judging thoughts go through my head. But here Jesus is clear, don’t judge. And my honest belief is that if Jesus taught it, we should do it. And not only that, he will provide a way for us to do it. And that’s what we want to discover, a way to live without judgment.

So that’s where we are going, but before we get there why not do this little thought experiment for the rest of the weekend. Why not just try to notice how often you judge. And as you do think about how your relationships and this world might be changed if we just got rid of that. I think it’s worth trying to do. What about you?

How Do You Become Like Jesus?

1209121_19492254On Sunday we are wrapping up our series on the Prodigal Son. We’ve looked at the older brother, and the younger son. On Sunday we are looking at the Father, and asking the most crucial question:

How do we become like the Father?

Because this is honestly one of the central parts of following Jesus. Jesus perfectly represents the Father in this parable. And we are called as followers of Jesus to become like Jesus. We are called to follow in his footsteps to become like the Father in this parable. We are called to learn to show reckless love, abundant forgiveness, and never-ending grace.

So on Sunday we are going to be exploring the hard question of how do you actually do this? How do you actually live, love, and look like Jesus? Of course it will take the Holy Spirit’s work, the Father’s direction, and the power of Jesus. But what practical steps can we take to start to live like the Father in this parable?

Because I believe this truly matters. Imagine with me if each Christian loved, lived, and looked like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son? If this was true our homes, meeting places, and churches would be filled with people drawn to this depth of love. They would be drawn into our lives, just as people were drawn to Jesus.

So this question of “how” matters immensely. And on Sunday we hope to answer it. But before we get there, why not spend sometime thinking about it yourself. If you are to become like Jesus, what next steps help you get there? What is he calling you to do? How might you go so deeply into his love, that it transforms you into a person of deep love? These are questions worth thinking about, and even more importantly worth living out.

Keeping the Rules can Keep You From God

On Sunday we are going to be looking at a super well-known teaching of Jesus but not some of its well-known implications. The teaching is the teaching of the Prodigal Son. So many people are familiar with this amazing story and teaching. But what most people, especially Christians, aren’t familiar with is some of the startling teaching that’s within it.

The startling teaching is this: that keeping all the rules can actually keep you from God.

That’s right, that following all the rules, obeying all of God’s commandments, can actually, in some circumstances, distance you from God. The reality is that not only does the prodigal son need forgiveness and acceptance by the Father in the story; but so too does the older righteous brother. Both sons in the story are lost and on1209888_22374533 Sunday we’ll discover how the one son is lost by breaking the rules, and the other is lost by keeping them.

This is a hugely important topic for us to reflect on, because it is easy to see how we create distance between God and us when we break the rules. It is really difficult for us to see how we create distance between God and us by how we follow the rules.

So on Sunday that’s where we’re going. And I know initially this idea, that keeping the rules can keep you from God might seem startling or even shocking – but it is true. Simply look at the Gospels and see that the people who kept the rules the best, (the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law) were often furthest from Jesus.

So the question is: how can keeping the rules get in the way of following God?

It’s worth thinking about and reflecting on before Sunday. Because if there is any distance between us and God, either by following or breaking the rules, we want to acknowledge it and close it.

Because one thing is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: it’s best to be inside the party with the Father.

Why do Some Christians Look so Unlike Christ?

1302967_45228232On Sunday we are going to be looking at a classic question that has been discussed among ethicists for years. I know that might not get you leaping off your seat, but my guess is that this question you’ve experienced or had to answer. It is this: why do people who follow the same God live and act so differently? Why is it that some followers of Jesus live and look so much like him, and others…well don’t?

You might have encountered this phenomenon before. Maybe when watching the news and seen a “Christian” you say to yourself, “I don’t think we believe the same stuff”. Maybe when you hear of how a friend was treated in a church you say to them, “I don’t think that’s how Jesus would have acted.” how someone was treated. You’ve encountered how people can be following the same person, but live and look very different.

On Sunday we are going to explore why this happens, and more importantly how we live differently. If we are followers of Jesus we need to live and look like Jesus. The point though is that it is not enough to simply do the same actions that Jesus did. We need to do them in the same manner Jesus did. Stanley Hauerwas, a brilliant ethicist and theologian writes this:

No one can become virtuous merely by doing what virtuous people do. We can only be virtuous by doing what virtuous people do in the manner they do it.

That’s what we are discovering on Sunday, the manner in which Jesus’ actions occurred. We are going to be looking at what attitude should shape our actions as apprentices and followers of Jesus. Because the hope is that when your family, friends, and neighbors get to know you – you might start to remind them of Jesus in our actions, thoughts, words, and most of all…lives…

Followers of Jesus ~ Actually Follow Him and Step Out of the Boat

st_peterLast Sunday we looked at an interesting passage where Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water. In the next moment Peter asks Jesus to call him out on the wind and waves. Jesus does, and Peter steps out. Then Peter starts to sink…

This seems to be the part that most of us remember and focus on. Somehow this has become a picture of Peter’s failure, when that misses the point completely. This isn’t a picture of Peter’s failure…but of Peter’s growth.

No one does anything perfectly the first time (expect maybe for Jesus). All of us learn through failing, succeeding, and trying again. What we forget is that growing often starts with failing. So when Peter starts to sink it’s not a failure, per say, but instead a moment where he grows.

Earlier that day Jesus had given him a clear command to feed the people. Peter refused. This time Jesus give Peter another clear command to come to him on the wind and waves. This time Peter doesn’t refuse but jumps over the side of the boat into the dark, turbulent waters. Peter is learning. And yes he sinks, but Jesus grabs him and together hand in hand they walk back to the boat. Peter learns that he can only do this thing  through and in Jesus.

This is the point for us, that we often are scared of failing. We don’t follow Jesus when he gives us clear commands (forgive, serve, give, follow, etc) because we are scared of failing. But here is the thing. Jesus isn’t scared of us failing, he is worried about us staying in the boat. Because Jesus knows that theory will never teach us better than hands on experience.

So if you want to grow as a disciple the next step is clear. Step out of the boat. When Jesus calls us…follow. Because that’s what disciples do.

We ended off the sermon with three ways to follow. First, get to know Jesus by reading the gospels this week. Read them and search not for information on Jesus, but for direction from him. Secondly, when you have direction, follow him and act on it. If you are moved by the difficulty of greed – step out of the boat – and give. If you are moved by the need to serve the poor – step out of the boat – and start. And lastly, get together with some other people because this isn’t meant to be a journey alone…but with Jesus and others…as we all try to step out of the boat to follow him…

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Apprentices follow Jesus in action

Take Aways…

  • “Grace isn’t opposed to effort, its opposed to earning” Dallas Willard
  • The action of an apprentice is all about following
  • We see learning as becoming theory experts where Jesus sees it as mastering a craft
  • You will not grow without attempting things you cannot do
  • If Jesus is doing it, we can be part of it
  • Jesus doesn’t want to do ministry for the disciples but through the disciples
  • An apprentice follows Jesus even out into the wind and waves
  • You learn more through practice than through theory
  • Get to Know Jesus: Read the gospels this week listening for Jesus voice
  • Get Practicing: Take a step out when Jesus calls you
  • Get Together: Gather with friends to discuss the next steps Jesus is asking you to take

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What made you laugh? What did you take away? What did you think of the difference between earning grace and showing effort because of grace? How do you make sure we don’t just end up “knowing lots about Jesus” without actually “becoming like Jesus”? Has Jesus ever called you to do something before (i.e. get rid of anger, forgive, start a ministry, etc)? Did you follow through? What was the outcome? What might Jesus be calling you to do today? How will you do it? Who can help you in it?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment to sit down with your kids and talk about what “following Jesus” looks like to them. Talk about how for them it might look like sharing, forgiving, and reaching out to kids who don’t have friends. Talk about the specific things Jesus has called you to do in your life (maybe change jobs, talk to someone, or give up a grudge). Share how it made a difference and why it matters. Also share with them how you’d like to follow Jesus together as a family.

Challenge for this Week:

Get to Know Jesus (Read the Gospels), Start Following (Put into Practice what Jesus asks), Get Together (Share with Friends how you are trying to follow Jesus)


“Daddy are you a Princess?”

A couple of weeks ago my almost 3 year old came up to me and said, “Daddy can I brush your hair?” Being a good dad and wanting to spend time with my son I said, “Of course buddy”

So he started to brush my hair, with a plastic saw of course. And then he turned to me and said, “Daddy are you a princess?” At which point I said, “I don’t think you should brush my hair anymore.”

Hudson, just from brushing my hair at 3 years old, made the associative leap to me being a princess. Even though he was brushing my hair with a plastic saw from his tool set the very action of brushing hair reminded him of “princesses”. I think he’s picked this up from his daycare and the five year old girl who is there with him. But what’s the point, other than that Hudson is never brushing my hair again?

The point is this: that certain behaviors get associated with certain types of people.

The simple act of brushing hair reminded Hudson of a princess. The thing I was thinking about as I walked to work today was what types of actions get associated with Christians? Or the more difficult question, “do my actions get associated with Jesus Christ?”

What I mean is this: do my friends, neighbours, and enemies (and maybe especially enemies) associate me with Jesus because of how I live? Would my lifestyle have anyone stop and ask, “Andrew do you follow Jesus?” Hudson stops and asks “Dad are you a princess” because of one action. But would anyone else stop and ask me if I follow Jesus because of all of my actions?

This is the question that really stopped me today, and made me think and reconsider how I live. Do people associate me with Jesus because of how I live and if they don’t, are there changes I need to make?

So for me that’s what I’m thinking about today. Are there any changes I need to make so that my life looks more Jesus-like? Does anyone actually stop and ask me about following Jesus because of how I’m living? What can I do to better follow Jesus? And maybe those are some questions worth for you to think about today too. Do your co-workers know you follow Jesus because of how you live? What about friends, hockey teammates, and family?

So that’s where I’m at today, thinking about what my actions say about me. Because the truth is this, that because of my actions I’d rather people be asking me if I’m a Jesus follower rather than a princess…