What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

There are many answers for what it means to be a Christian: following the teachings of Christ as taught in the Bible, following the Holy Spirit, or loving others. All these are true, but these can be simplified even further: being a Christian means experiencing God’s love for you.

God calls us to Him. All have fallen away from God and need to be saved by Jesus to return to Him. (Romans 3:23). For some of us, this is a new idea, but others have heard this their entire life. Whether you grew up in church and know all the answers to every Bible trivia question ever asked, or if you are hearing these ideas expressed this way for the first time, the truth is the same for each of us. We need to experience the love of God in our lives everyday.

We need to experience the forgiving love as we repent and turn our lives to Him, each and every time there is a need for repentance. We need to experience His redeeming love as we grow into an understanding of His purpose for our lives. We need to experience His bountiful love as we learn to trust that He provides for us.

As we learn to be more and more aware of His love for us, we can then experience an awareness of God on a deeper level, as God is love. This new awareness transforms our moments, and enlivens our lives as we learn to see things through His perspective. Being a Christian is about walking day in and day out in this awareness. We can fill our days with a fullness of life and the power of God based on knowing Him more.

Part of this process of growing more aware of His love is learning to believe what He says about us. God says we are loved, we are valuable, we are precious, and we are eternal. Not only do we believe this about ourselves, but when we look at others, we should believe in their value as well.

When we see God’s love and experience how it flows from Him to everyone, we see their value and we know that we are all children of God, equal before Him. He shows no favorites; He loves all of us.

Where Do I Serve?

When we think of serving, we often think of missions in far off places with grueling surroundings. Serving at its core, however, is simply being useful. We don’t need to be in any particular place or doing any particular thing. We need to be useful wherever we are.

Service to your Family

Our usefulness starts at home. It wasn’t just a coincidence that honoring your father and your mother was a part of the original ten commandments God gave to His children. Service to the world at large is wonderful, but falls short if you aren’t useful to the family God put you in.

Service to your Church

The next family God put you in is a church family. Being helpful to your church family is the next place to focus on being useful. Community is vital to a healthy life and supporting our community is how we can contribute to the health of our immediate surroundings. The church is there to help protect and serve others that we can’t reach on our own or who don’t have a family to help them. Serving at our church is the best way we have to create a connected environment for everyone.

Service to your Neighborhood

The phrase, “Location, location, location!” is usually referring to real estate and the prime locations that go for lots of money. Our location, where we live and where we spend our time, impacts our friendships and relationships. Being useful in our neighborhood allows us to connect and support the people we spend the most time around.

It is good to support friends and family that live far away; however, supporting those in our immediate surroundings help us build  strong connections that return and support us when we are in need.

Service to the World

After our local connections, we can offer support to the world. This is usually done by connecting with a large mission or service organization that allows us to contribute to causes around the world. Sometimes this is in person with skills or labor, but often this is with money.

We can feel connected with others at a global level when we offer this kind of service. Seeing the goodness and blessings that are being worked out all over the planet can help us remember how big God’s power and plan are.

It is important to remember, though, that this kind of service isn’t a replacement for being involved locally. God put us where we are for a reason of His own; let’s build up our community within the circles of people that God has placed us in.

Who Do I Love?

God wants us to love everybody. Easier said than done, and what even are we saying? Loving your neighbor is a foundational truth of Christianity, so how do we practice being aware of our love for them?

Love is the connection that brings us together. Love lifts us up and builds us up with strength and joy. We see our love in how others respond to our words, our actions, and even our presence.

Seeing Love

We know when we feel loved. We feel connected, important and supported. It is much more difficult to know if other people feel loved by us. Each person needs to be loved in slightly different ways. How they feel most supported  is different for each person in our life, just as we are different in what we need. The more deeply we know someone, the more deeply we can express our love for them. We can speak to them with our actions, (the loudest way to speak to someone), and they can understand our care for them.

Love comes in so many forms that it can be difficult sometimes to see it as love. We might call it politeness or being a good neighbor. Sometimes it’s civic duty or being a responsible citizen. All the ways  we live and act to benefit others, individual or groups is love. Even being a good worker and honoring your boss is an act that supports and lifts up; it’s an act of love.

Love doesn’t have to mushy, gushy and make someone cry. Love can be anything that supports and helps. It builds connections and creates bridges between people.

Practicing Love

To fully love others, we must consciously practice love, both in our actions and in our thoughts. Focusing our thoughts on building others up, on supporting the community that is around us, makes love a priority in our lives.

Practicing love may look different from person to person because God has given us all different gifts. Some are gifted in words, others in organization and execution, others in celebrating beauty in people and nature. Whatever your gifts are, God has given them to be used to support and build up.

Building Bridges

Love is the force that brings people together. It is the bridge that allows us to connect to others to help and find joy in life together. This connection can only start when one person reaches out. Love flourishes when hearts and minds are open to other people. If you’ve ever felt alone in a crowd, you know the barriers that can be between people. Love breaks those barriers so we can feel connected, whether we’re in a crowd or with an individual, far away from the crowd.

Love is the connection between us that allows support to build up our community. It is so vital to love everyone because anyone in our community that doesn’t feel connected or important is a hole in the cloth that makes up the community God has created for us to live in. Holes create weakness in our world and loss and hurt creep in through these areas.

Let’s work together to create a community of connection and support to everyone that God brings into our lives.

What Is Love?

Love is broadly used in our culture, but not often specifically defined. The Bible tells us that it’s by our love we will be known as Christians (John 13:35). Applying the broad definition of our culture to such a specific Biblical purpose can lead to confusion about how we are supposed to be living. Defining exactly what we mean by love, in the sense of how it defines us as Christians, can be very helpful.

Love Can be an Emotion

Love as an emotion is arguably the most connected form of love. We feel love towards dear people in our lives. We seek out romantic love in a partner. We find material things that we love-our new favorite thing from lip balm to new houses.

All of these  feelings revolve around the emotional sensation of connecting with someone or something. This emotional side of love is a legitimate experience of love, and is important when we need to connect with things and people we value.

Love Can be an Action

Taking action to do something good for another person is also called love. It’s the expression of the emotion that we feel. We feel love toward someone and so we do something good for them, or we help take care of a need they have.

Expressing love as an action is an important part of love because it tests the mettle of our affection and determines how much we mean it. It makes our connection tangible.

The Balance of Love

We walk in love when we keep emotions and actions feeding each other. In some cases, the feeling comes first and the action comes later. Romantic love often, not always, falls into this pattern. Other times, we do what we know we should for others and the action fills us with a feeling of good-will to them. Serving others usually follows this pattern. Both ways are important and living in love means we are experiencing both sides of the love: the action and the emotion.

The Love of Christians

As Christians, there’s more to the love that others should see in us. Most people have love in them, Christian or not. It might be only a small amount of love, it might be highly conditional love, it might be damaged and manipulative love. It’s not that Christians have love and nobody else does; it’s the type of love that Christians have that sets them apart.

The type of love that Christians have is a selfless love. The love we offer others is a love that came to us through God by the sacrifice of Jesus: ultimate selflessness. What sets us apart is that our love doesn’t come from us and fill our needs first. We have a love that starts with the needs of others, not the needs of ourselves.

Being known by our love means we become filled by something so clearly that it becomes what all people see when they encounter us. Our ultimate defining feature should be an overflowing of God’s selfless love for everyone.

The Lord Delights in You - Isaiah 62:2-4

Delighted and Determined

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. – Isaiah 62:1-5 ESV

Isaiah 62:1-5 is a beautiful promise of hope and celebration. I love the idea of renewal fresh from God in, “you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give” (v. 2). I love the focus on belonging in, “your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her.” (v. 4). I love the imagery of happiness and joyful relationships in, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (v. 5).

There are so many beautiful promises in this passage, but those aren’t what jumped out to me at first. The first sentence is, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.” The emotion behind this is determination. God, through Isaiah, is telling us how determined He is to bring His righteousness to life through us. He doesn’t sit with His fingers crossed and hope that we figure it out. He isn’t silently waiting for us to remember or think things through. He is determined to bring bright shining salvation to His children, and He will be as loud as He need to be to do it.

As we learn about His salvation, grace, love and hope, we will then be able to the promised blessings in our life and our culture. Once we accept that Jesus is the hope for eternal life, we will be given a new name, a name given by God as we are adopted into His house (Ephesians 1:5). As the world see us being righteous by His power, they will learn to see righteousness as beautiful, not constricting or cruel (John 16:8). As we learn to trust in Him and walk closely with Him, He will pour out blessings beyond what we could have imagined for ourselves, even sometime material blessings (Ephesians 3:20).

The Lord is continually calling to us and desiring us. What is the Lord speaking into your life? What promise is He giving you that you can hold onto? Remember, He will never give up on you.

Fresh Air, Part 1 – Sermon Notes

[These are sermon notes from a sermon given at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO by Craig Kackley. The message can be watched here.]

For many people the New Year is a good time to think about new changes and improvements in our life. This series is about choosing to use this year to build a deeper relationship with Christ.

On the earth, there is a weather phenomenon called the Intertropical Convergence Zone. This is an area where the trade winds converge and cancel each other out. Sailors call this area the doldrums. There’s not any wind and wind powered boats can’t move through this area.

Often our relationship with God falls into this pattern where we find that we’ve lost the passion in our relationships.

Four Stages of Doldrums

  1. We try to fake it.

There’s an idea that if we go to church we often feel like we have to have it all together. We know that we’re here to worship the most powerful God, but we feel pressure to put on a face, to pretend that everything’s alright.

  1. We put it off.

There’s a lie that time heals all wounds. In truth, time will make our wounds worse. A untended tooth can lead to a much worse situation: a root canal. Yet, we often do this with our spiritual life.  (Hebrews 12:15)

  1. We give up.

The heart of COTFC is to minister to people in this place, those who don’t have any hope in church or change.

  1. Death.

The end of all things that are not in the Lord.

We need to be spiritual revived. This revival, however, is not due to anything you do. It has to do with what you choose. This goes back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). In the garden, there was two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We tend to gravitate to the second tree, we try to understand things instead of focusing on our spiritual life. When we are feeling stuck, we move to the knowledge tree. It ends up pulling us in like quick sand and the more we struggle, the more we get sucked into knowledge which causes us to strive and struggle more and the cycle continues.

Christianity isn’t about behavior modification. It’s about living the life the Lord has for me is about deeply falling in love with Jesus, knowing Him, receiving Him and seeing Him in our life. It’s laid in Deuteronomy 30:19, “Today I have given you a choice between life and death… Oh that you would choose life…”

How Do We Choose Life?

Choice 1: To Do More – OR – Receive What Has Already Been Done

Some churches teach that to be spiritual or Godly you need to do more of something. Example, struggling? Read more. Reading 2 chapters a day? Read 4. They use the example of Jesus asking Peter to stay up just an hour to show that our prayers should be an hour long. If that’s where you are, you’ve missed it. Jesus said to the Pharisees that they searched the scriptures for life, but they missed that He stood in front of Him. One of the first steps to breaking out of spiritual apathy is to acknowledge that there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less. We do not need to try earn His approval. Romans 5:8 Christ died for us while we sinners, not while we were getting things right.

Choice 2: Obey Out of Duty – OR – Obey Out of Delight

When we have the feeling of “getting” to do something, we are more likely to do that then when we feel like we “have” to do it. Anything that we feel like we are forced to do, we are going to stop doing when our motivation leaves us. Anything that we get to do, we are going to do because we enjoy it and not because we feel that someone is going to fail us or condemn us if we don’t.

Things become easier to do when we either love the thing we do or we love the person we’re doing it for. John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” This is great litmus test of the status of our hearts. Some people hear Jesus saying, “If you love me, prove it. Try harder and learn more. Eat more of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. See how much behavior modification you can do. ” Others of use hear, “If you love me, don’t worry about it. If you love me, you’ll do what I ask. Be with me and enjoying doing what I ask. It’s about a relationship and not about rules.”

Are you in the do more camp where you will never be enough because you are seeking what you already have? Are you in the camp of life to be given life through the blood of Christ so you can then turn around and obey out of delight?

Love and Faithfulness Meet - Psalm 85:10

The Meeting of Good Things

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. – Psalm 85:10 ESV

In Psalm 85, the psalmist talks about the result of those who fear the lord, those who salvation is near (v. 8). In the description of that, it says that, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”(v. 10).  What beautiful imagery! The psalms are poetry and songs, things that are mean to elicit emotional responses. In that spirit of connotative worship, I give to you an analogy of star-crossed lovers; love and faithfulness ever apart and peace and righteousness separated by wicked designs.

Imagine what love would be like without faithfulness. Love, a discipline of action that puts others first, is necessary for building healthy relationships. But love without faithfulness? It’s always finding ways to help strangers, but not worrying about being loyal through the long days. It’s giving fully and freely, but not consistently.

How about faithfulness without love? It’s dogmatic determination without mercy. It’s loyalty without understanding. Taken to the extreme, it requires either gullibility or manipulation. Hardly an ideal worth pursuing or sacrificing for.

As for the other couple, the world as it seems now would keep them eternally apart. Peace we can have sometimes, and righteousness we can have sometimes, but rarely together. Righteousness is fighting to find peace, ever searching for the other half it is made for. The evil in the world keeps the peace away. Soon righteousness can’t see the suffering any longer or stand the wickedness and it begins to fight for the afflicted. It stands up for the exile and sufferer at the cost of its most valued partner, peace.

Peace wants to be with righteousness, but can’t be where war is, even when it’s a righteous battle against injustice. Instead, peace, trails behind righteousness, wanting to be near, but unable to.  It finds quiet and joy in the aftermath of the righteous victory.

But when the righteous fear the Lord and His glory fill us, finally our separated lovers can unite. Love and faithfulness can come together to bring long-term, consistent generosity and care. Peace and righteous and settle down together without losing ground to wickedness. The glory of the Lord will be seen in the bringing together of things that without His power will be forever separated.

I hope to see a day where this isn’t a beautiful dream. Someday, I will see my redeemer with my own eyes and His glory will fill the earth and love and faithfulness will join together and peace and righteousness will be inseparable. Praise God that His plan is true no matter the chaos of our world!