Evangelism, life, Mission, purpose

How To Talk About Jesus At Easter

For Christ followers around the world, Easter week is the most anticipated and sacred week of the year. It is our time to celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made for us and to remember the tremendous cost of this gift of salvation He gave us. For so many among our circles of people, though, Easter has a different meaning altogether, or no meaning at all. It is difficult for some to see past the plastic eggs, Easter bunny photos, retail mania, and sugar overload to find any kind of deep meaning in the day. Easter is not about bunnies and eggs. Instead, it is about the Lamb. It is up to us, the redeemed, to show them the miraculous love that Easter really represents. For many of us, this may be difficult or overwhelming. Anyone who hasn’t had much practice sharing the Good News of Christ may not have developed the social and spiritual muscles needed to make them feel up to the task. Remember, though, that as many as were called to join Christ, He equipped to carry out the work. If you have not been one to share Christ in the past, this Easter week is the best possible time to start.

There are some great truths that you may find helpful, and shareable, as you take up your assigned mission of sharing Christ with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers this week. Whether you share these directly, or just use them as a refresher to clarify or organize your own thoughts, I hope this is useful to you.

Observations To Share During Easter Week

  1. God is real and He intentionally created us to be with Him and to spend time with Him. We are not truly complete if we do not have that relationship. In other words, there is a God shaped space in our souls that no one or nothing else can fill or satisfy. (Psalm 139: 13-16, Jeremiah 29: 11-14)
  2. God is holy. He has set the standard of right and wrong that does not change with time and is the same for all people, always. (Psalm 99, Isaiah 5: 16, Psalm 77: 13-14)
  3. Because He is holy, He cannot associate with anyone or anything that is not holy. Even the temple of God had a curtain that kept the people from being directly in the presence of God, because they would surely die. The high priest was permitted to go past the curtain only one time per year in order to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. (Leviticus 16, 1 Kings 6, Hebrews 9: 1-7)
  4. Except for one man, every person since, and including, Adam and Eve, have done things that violate God’s standard of right and wrong. These violations are called sin. It doesn’t matter what those violations may have been, they all result in the same thing. Every violation of God’s law makes us worthy of death and separation from God. (Romans 3:23, Romans 3:10, Romans 6:23)
  5. God loves us more than we will ever know. He is not willing to let any of us stay in our separated state, so He arranged a way for us to be washed clean from our sin and to be declared blameless. As the law required, a lamb, pure and without blemish, was to be sacrificed for the sin of the people. Unfortunately, these sacrifices were only temporary arrangements which had to be offered regularly for the forgiveness of sin. God sent His only Son to be a permanent substitute. Jesus, who is called the Christ, came to earth to serve as the Lamb of God who takes away sin once and for all time. He is the pure, unblemished lamb that satisfies the law for ever. (Hebrews 10:1-13, Romans 3:25-26)
  6. Jesus came to earth as a baby born to Mary. During His childhood He surprised everyone by His understanding of Scripture. When He was an adult, He began His ministry by calling disciples and teaching any who would listen about God and His Kingdom. He performed many miracles in order to show people the power and love of God. He healed people of disease and physical impairments. He brought some people back to life. As He taught, He told the people that He would be killed, but that in three days He would be raised back to life again. The people did not understand what He meant. (Mark 6: 1-7, John 2: 19-22)
  7. Jesus gave a new law. The message of Jesus was that we should all love God with all our heart and mind and spirit, and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus did not come to pass judgement on anyone. He came to seek and to save that which was lost, that is, you and me. (John 13: 34-35, Matthew 22: 36-40, John 12: 47)
  8. The religious leaders of the time did not approve of this new law, they were jealous and afraid. They had Jesus beaten and nailed to a cross and hung up to die. While He was dying, people yelled insults at Him and harassed Him. For His part, He asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. (Matthew 12:14, Mark 15, Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19)
  9. Two thieves were crucified at the same time. One of them joined in the insults. The other recognized that Jesus was innocent and asked to be remembered when Jesus got into His kingdom. Jesus promised him that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. In this He shows us that He accepts, immediately and completely, all who acknowledge Him as the Son of God and who seek forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 23: 39-43)
  10. As Jesus drew His last breath, the curtain of the temple that separated the people from God was torn completely in two from top to bottom. Thus, by His death, He has become the High Priest who makes atonement for the sins of all people and He has given us direct access to the presence of God, forever. Jesus died, taking on death and hell in our place. He took our suffering on Himself. He endured the separation from God that sin creates on our behalf and paid the price for our redemption. Because He died in our place, we can be washed clean from our sin. We can have access to the presence of Holy God because Jesus has opened the way. (Luke 23: 44-46, Hebrews 9: 11-15, Romans 5: 1-2)
  11. After He was dead for a short time, He was taken down from the cross and placed in a rock tomb. A huge rock was placed over the mouth of the tomb and military guards were posted at the tomb to make sure His followers did not come and steal His body. (John 19: 38-42, Luke 23: 50-56, Matthew 27, Matthew 27: 62-66)
  12. On the third day after His death, some of the women who had followed Him went to the tomb to properly prepare His body for burial. When they arrived at the tomb, the rock had been rolled away and the guards were gone. The body of Jesus was not in the tomb where it has been left. After discovering that Jesus was not in the tomb, some men appeared to them wearing clothing that shone like lightning. The men asked the women why they were looking for a living person among the dead. They told them that Jesus was risen from the dead, and was alive, just as He said He would be. (Luke 24: 1-12, Matthew 28: 1-15, Mark 16: 1-8, John 20: 1-10)
  13. After His resurrection, Jesus was seen by many. He gave them instructions to go to all the world and tell everyone the Good News of salvation. After this, He went up into heaven to be in the presence of God where He intercedes for us with God. He is preparing a place for us so that, in due time, we can be where He is. (Matthew 28: 16-20, Luke 24: 13-53 , Mark 16: 9-20, John 20: 11-31, John 14: 1-4)
  14. As many as believe in Him, He gives eternal life and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord brings us into relationship with Him. We become brothers and sisters in Christ. When we take on Christ, God no longer sees the things that we have done wrong. He sees the righteousness, or rightness, of Jesus. The blood that Jesus shed on the cross washes us clean forever. This relationship is freely given, but must be accepted. Although we are free to accept or refuse this unspeakable gift, at some point every person will acknowledge Christ as Lord. If we do not do so before we die, it is too late. Jesus is the only Way. He is the only Truth. He is the only Life. Any others claiming to offer these things are wrong. He is the only Hope of the world. (John 1: 12-13, John 14:6, Acts 4: 10-12)

There are many ways to share the Good News of Christ. The most important thing is that we do it. Sometimes we will have need of laying out the gospel verse by verse, sometimes by telling our own stories of redemption. When we talk about what Christ has done in our own lives, people are often able to see more clearly what Christ offers. You will probably encounter people who do not believe you or who think that the gospel is ridiculous. That is to be expected. As the Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1: 18) Don’t worry about that. Always be sincere. Always remember that we are not the judges, we are the witnesses. It is not up to us to decide who will get into the kingdom. It is up to us to show and tell what we know and have seen of Jesus Christ. Whether you practice what you will say or use notes the first couple of times you talk about Jesus is not as important as actually carrying out the deed. The Holy Spirit will prepare you and will provide the words to say if you need help. Do not be afraid, just tell the story. Because of Christ, the story has power all on its own.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3: 16-18

Encouragement, leadership, mentoring, purpose

7 Mentoring Skills I Learned From Jesus

Life is hard. It can be overwhelming, confusing, even a little scary once in a while. It’s good when you have people who can come along side you to help navigate the waters sometimes. It’s nice to know that others have been in this same boat on these same choppy waters and have lived to tell the tale. These are the people we want on our side when the storms rage or when we just need a bit of encouragement.

This is what mentoring is all about.

I have had the benefit of being mentored by some awesome people over the years. These men and women invested time and interest in me and in my success and well being. They taught me some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. Sometimes, these were uncomfortable truths that I needed to grasp but wasn’t getting to any other way. I appreciate these people more than they will ever know. It is partly because of them, I think, that I love being a mentor to others. Having the opportunity to invest in the growth and success of another person is a tremendous privilege. It is something I take very seriously, so much so that I have spent a good amount of time and energy studying and seeking to improve my own mentoring skills. I want to be sure that I am providing my best to those I wish to guide.

Of all of the books, TED Talks, seminars, webinars, and conferences I’ve experienced, the best example of mentoring I have ever found is Jesus Christ. He is the greatest Mentor, ever. It is no coincidence that one synonym for mentor is “shepherd”.

There are some specific things that we can borrow from Him and incorporate into our own mentoring style that will make us more effective and impactful in helping to develop and encourage others in any mentor/mentee setting.

7 Mentoring Skills of Jesus:

1) He Was Purpose Driven:
Jesus knew His mission. He was laser focused on achieving it. He came to walk among men to seek and to save that which was lost. Everything He said and everything He did characterized that mission. He entered into a dying, hopeless world and intended to leave behind Him a world of people filled with life and hope. Because He was mission focused, He was not swayed and did not wander or waiver. He was intentional and purposeful in how He spent His time.

2) He Was People Focused:
He carried out His mission by interacting and engaging with the very people who were dying and hopeless. He talked with them and listened to them. He ate in their homes and fed them in the fields. He celebrated when they celebrated and mourned when they mourned. He didn’t leave it at that, though. All along the way, He gave them back their hope. He loved them and healed them and gave them life. He served them to the very point of dying. His mission was, and continues to be, the people.

3) He Chose His Team Carefully:
Jesus knew that His time in this place was limited. In order to effectively accomplish His mission, He had to prepare others to carry on in the work after He left. He was very particular about the people He called. He was surrounded by throngs of people, He chose for His circle only a few. He chose carefully, His invitation was simple. He promised to make some fishermen into Fishers of Men, and Andrew, Peter, James, and John followed. He called a man sitting under a tree whom He said was without guile, and Nathanael accepted. He called a tax collector and a religious zealot and Matthew and Simon joined Him. He called twelve and twelve followed. Each one of these who went along with Jesus would be transformed by their work with Him and would then be part of the most life changing mission, ever.

4) He Invested Himself In Them:
Once He had His team, Jesus started pouring Himself into them. They spent a lot of time together. They traveled and ate and talked together. He shared with them the vision about the mission and of the coming Kingdom. He showed them how to pray and how to heal and how to live. He taught them how to raise the dead. He prayed for them, died for them, and after three days, came back to life for them. He gave them, literally, everything He had to give.

5) He Prepared Them:
During all of this work with His team, He was making them ready to do their part and to go off in their own way to continue the mission. He warned them about the hardships. He promised to send a Helper who would be with them after He was gone. He told them that one would betray Him and one would deny Him, but that was part of the mission. He showed them things to come that they could not have imagined before He had called them. At the proper time, He completed His work on earth and went to the cross, where He suffered and died.  But then , just as He promised, He rose from the grave, alive.

6) He Sent Them To Complete The Work:
When He returned from the grave, leaving death and hell destroyed, Jesus rejoined these disciples of His for some final instructions before it was time for Him to go back to the Father. He let them know that they were ready to do the work they were called to do. He promised them that they would be able to perform greater things than He had done. He gave them His blessing and told them to go.  He sent them to the far reaches of the earth to carry out the mission they had been preparing for. He got them ready, then sent them packing, to share the Good News with all the world.

7) He Is Still Available:
Even after He returned to the heavenly places to wait with His Father, God, Jesus remains available and vigilant for His people. He intercedes with God on their behalf. He sent His Holy Spirit to be with them as a guide and helper. He is preparing a place for all of His people so they can be where He is. He told His disciples to stay connected to Him like branches to a vine. Even though He sent them to the ends of the earth, He remains available to listen and encourage and guide always.

If we have chosen to follow Christ, we, too, are His people. He freely offers these same things to us. We have been sent on this same mission. We have this same responsibility. We should take these lessons as we go to the ends of the earth making disciples of all nations. If we do these things, if we pour ourselves out into others as Jesus has, we will be partners in changing lives. In doing this, we may just change the world. After all, that is what real mentoring is all about.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit….

John 15: 1-5a, NIV

life, purpose

Climate Change

Is our planet doomed?

Are we really in danger of being washed away by rising seas or of being incinerated by the heat of an unshielded sun?

Though debate rages over whether or not earth’s temperature is rising, there is still no definitive answer. Those who believe we are headed for imminent disaster and those who think climate change is a hoax are often each unwilling or unable to interact rationally with one another. Because of this, we are no closer to a unified understanding on the topic than we were at the beginning of the debate years ago.

Regardless of your side of the debate, I know, at least partly, why we cannot reach a satisfactory verdict.

Climate change is real…but it may not be what you think.

The real climate change has nothing to do with weather.

It isn’t in our heads. It is in our hearts.

Human beings have wandered so far away from the Garden of God’s creation that souls are left dry and dusty and hearts are dry and brittle. We have become obsessed with finding the fault for this, but are unwilling to give credit where credit is due. Instead of looking for the God of the Garden, we seek out a more “rational” explanation for our deserts of despair.

As we feel more and more parched and thirsty in our spirits, we cast blame everywhere but where it should be. Our politicians have failed us, our neighbors have too many children, the roads are filled to overflowing with bad drivers, life isn’t fair. The truth is, though, that these are all lies we have told ourselves for so long that we believe them. The truth is that taking away the cars or the kids or the politicians won’t fix the dehydrated hearts that are at the root of the problem.

We need water.

We need to open our hearts and minds wide so we can be refreshed. Instead of blaming everything we can possibly think of for why we feel so stingy in our spirits, we should be looking for the water that quenches thirsty souls.

Now, possibly more than ever in history, we need the Living Water.

Forget political correctness and party politics. Put aside race and gender. I am not your enemy, and you are not mine. We are all in this together. No matter what path we take, we will, sooner or later, reach the end of our time on this earth. What happens then will be decided by what we do now. Will we drink the water that keeps us from ever thirsting again, or will we push the cup aside and stay in a cocoon of wilting self pity and want that can be never be satisfied?

Right now, today, you and I need Jesus.

The water He offers is, all at once, refreshing, life saving, and endless in supply. Come, drink the water with me. Join me at the Spring of Living Water. Sit with me by the stream of pure, fresh, cleansing water that washes away the desert dust and causes the seed of life to sprout and grow and thrive.

This is how and where we will change the climate.

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

–Revelation 22:17, NIV


Is God Love?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “Love never fails?”

Does it bring to mind some previous bad experience with someone who professed love but didn’t show it? Is it an encouraging thought for you or does it seem like some lame greeting card blurb that has no real truth?

How we take this message has more to do with our own perception of love than it does with the validity of the point. We can take this at face value and attempt to understand it in light of our own human experience, in which case it could be uplifting or sarcastic and hollow, or we could find the Truth in it.

Let’s look at this another way. What if we edited the phrase a bit and made it, “God’s love never fails.” Would that make a difference? Though earthly love can be awesome or painful depending on your experience, God’s love is perfect and pure and precious. God’s love is the standard by which all other behaviors claiming to be love should be judged. With God, love isn’t just a word tossed out on occasion like treats given in exchange for some preferred behavior. It is real and complete and life changing.

We’ve all heard that “God is love,” but have you thought about what that means? Often this fact is used to excuse false belief. Since God is love, He wouldn’t really make Jesus the only way to heaven, it isn’t inclusive. If I am a “good” person, a God who is love, will certainly overlook my sometimes bad behavior. God must not be real, because if He really was love, then there would be no disaster or disease or death. In truth, we have taken the prime attribute of God and made it lazy and cheap and tawdry in order to justify any number of temporary things.

God is eternal. He is unchanging. He is the only standard of right and wrong. His character is constant. His truth is rock solid. He has been the same for every generation since the creation and will be the same for every generation to come. We are the ones who waiver and waffle and wander. That’s on us, not Him. He gives us all we will ever need and He knows our need before we do. He withholds no good thing.

Because of His great love for us, He arranged a way to exchange our earthly nature for an eternal relationship. Because He loves us, He made this arrangement voluntary for us. He allows us to refuse. He doesn’t force us to join Him. We have the right to rebel. If we tell Him to get out of our lives, He will step away. His love for us doesn’t end there, though. Because God can’t abide sin, He knows where our rebellion will lead us and that isn’t okay with Him.

Sometimes He may allow bad things to happen so we see what horrors await us if we die in our waywardness. It is not in His plan for anyone to die without Christ, the only way to eternity, so He allows things that will get our attention.

If we won’t open the door to the knock, there may be a phone call that wakes us up in the dead of night. It is impossible to know how many difficulties were allowed just so one lost sheep could be found. Sometimes, in the storm, God is asking, “Can you hear Me now?” because He Is love. He is completely, utterly devoted to us in pure love that neither lessens nor ends.

We change. Our interpretations of what love is change. Culture and moods change. Thank God His love will always be the same.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

–1 John 4:7-10, NIV