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I’m weary tonight.

I’m weary of empathy and compassion so often being refused access within the evangelical heart.  It’s a DISEASE.  It’s an epidemic.  It’s a cancer of the soul.

How a brother in Christ goes to his fellow brother, pours his heart out to him; confides that he is being tormented by clinical depression – one that has driven him to the precipice of suicide.

And the response is, “Man up,” “Do some push ups,” or even worse, “You don’t love God.”

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How the social media landscape is crawling with memes and content of people who seem strangely delighted when people fleeing oppressions and tyranny we cannot fathom; horrors that we have had the silverspooned privilege of never having to experience ourselves, are called “animals.”  When victims of horrifying injustices who are peacefully making their voices heard are colluded against and kicked in the teeth ten times harder and their commentary to them is, “Well, if you won’t take it laying down then get on the ship and go back to Africa.  Or Cuba.  Or wherever.”

This is the Christian voice we want the world to hear?  This is a light flashing upon a dark sea?  In what world?

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I’m weary of the elegance of patriotism and the American flag being concocted into a golden calf and a bronze serpent and becoming the god the evangelical unconsciously genuflects before as LORD and MASTER.

I’m weary of the politics of this temporary, corrupt and dying world taking on a more passionate and zealous precedence within the evangelical spirit than the gospel, the great commission and the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40).

I am so unspeakably weary.

Weary of the dividing delusions of political-dyed-in-the-wool-gang-mentality-tribalism of “Trump can do no right and Obama could do no wrong;” of “Trump can do no wrong and Obama could do no right.”

I’m weary more than anything of the cowardice and the fear that still somehow exists within my heart at times. I’m weary of the gurgling disgust that festers and lurks within me at this moment where there ought to be peace and overflowing Spirit.

I’m weary of the societal antidotes of empathy and compassion being rejected and dismissed as being too “girly” too “sissy” and too “soft.”

Jesus did not hang His head and breath His last on a Roman cross in order to raise up an army of headstrong, machismo Americans who are too tough to enter into the pain of others or to weep at the plight of those who don’t look like us. He desires an army of compassionate, tender-hearted, grace-loving CHRISTIANS, commissioned and possessed by His Spirit to love everyone in their sight with the same amazing grace that saved a bunch of wretches like us.

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All I know is, when Jesus comes, He won’t care who embraced the Elephant and who embraced the Donkey.

The only thing that will matter when the world is on fire will be who embraced the Lamb.

And who loved his fellow human being as much as he loved himself.

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Congress Contemplating Steroid Hearing for Miami Pastor

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Washington (A.P.) –  2007 was the year of the extensive probe into the treacherous underworld of human growth hormone (HGH) and anabolic steroids in Major League Baseball – a 21st century Salem witch hunt that went all the way to the U.S. Federal Court.  Spearheaded by Maine Senator George Mitchell and his 409-page dossier known as The Mitchell Report, accusations were levied against 89 baseball players.

Vanishing from the limelight for the past decade, the now former Senator made an unforeseen return to the cameras Tuesday morning in Washington, whereupon he announced his new target: a Miami pastor named Danny Prada.

Prada, who pastors the effervescent Heartway Church of Davie, Florida, is known for a transcendence far beyond public oration or ministerial excellence.  The legends circulating of his weight room exploits and freakish superhuman strength have long since reached mythical proportions.

In October of 2016, Prada saved the lives of a tour group, single-handedly slaughtering a horde of ferocious lions while on an African safari – doing so with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey.   In July 2017, stunned onlookers at Aventura Mall witnessed him help three men who were attempting to push a Jeep Grand Cherokee by lifting the sports utility vehicle over his head and carrying it forty yards into a Macy’s parking lot.

“Aw man, Danny Prada.  That dude is a workout monster!” Hector Sulgaro exclaimed at Equinox Gym.  “When anyone else is there, it’s just the gym.  It’s boring, you know.  But the second Prada steps in, it ain’t the gym no more.  It’s a performance.   Everyone just stops whatever they’re doing, everyone’s whipping out their phones and it’s like, ‘What’s this crazy guy gonna do this time?’  Even the professional bodybuilders who come in here are blown away and take notes.  We’ve seen as many as two hundred people gathered around when he hits the weights.  It’s pretty wild, man.”

Two weeks ago, ESPN’s Sports Center aired footage of Prada holding court at the Miami Dolphins practice facility, leaving everyone in the room awestruck.

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry said.  “All the big boys were throwing down – Laremy Tunsil, Gavin Escobar, Akeem Spence, all the usual suspects.  Tunsel lays down 315 pounds, he busts out 17 reps and starts hollering at Prada like he don’t belong in there with us.

“Prada is wearing this collared shirt, slacks and dress shoes.  He was there to do a devotional for us.  Dude smiles, walks over – with no warm-ups, and throws down 780 pounds and reps it fifty times.  I mean, just lifting the house:  26!  27!  28!  29!  Then he starts doing tricks and does this thing where he throws it in the air and catches it one-handed and reps it with a different hand each time.  And keep in mind, all this was going down while he did a Bible class lesson with us and was asking us questions about Galatians and stuff.  He was doing things in that weight room that weren’t humanly possible.”

But while everyone else gushes and captures his feats of strength on Instagram, George Mitchell has arrived at a different response, hypothesizing Prada may have an illicit advantage over other pastors, who more resemble the Pillsbury Dough Boy than a Greek statue.

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“When you look at this guy running around doing all this stuff, do you really think this is the byproduct of normal human ingenuity?” Mitchell asked a throng of reporters as the cameras popped.  “We’ve got to start going after some of these preachers.  We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.  When I think of a pastor, I think Reverend Camden from 7th Heaven.  My mind never takes me to the Incredible Hulk or to that orange fellow from Fantastic Four.”

The Senator’s suspicions run even deeper than originally thought, extending far beyond Prada’s gargantuan biceps.

“His sermons are uncommonly good,” Mitchell added.  “So good that I’m left wondering if any performance enhancing drugs he may be experimenting with are beginning to seep into his brainwaves and emblazon his word selection, his flow of speech.  Something’s up here.”

The Senator may be onto something.  Prada’s  sermon “Life Sucks, Then You Die” garnered an unparalleled number of downloads, even by Pradain standards, logjamming Itunes and momentarily breaking the internet Sunday afternoon.

“Maaaaaan, this is crazy talk,” Heartway congregant Brendan Byrne told TMZ, Tuesday afternoon outside a Hialeah Denny’s.  “My boy Danny is clean.  You see how he always smilin’.  He’s just full of the Holy Spirit.  That’s how it’s goin’ down.  This politician needs Jesus, brah.”

As for Prada, he unabashedly welcomes any steroid and HGH test to come his way, even inviting Mitchell to be his guest at a worship service at Heartway.

“Bring it on, baby!” he shouted, amid the clamoring spectators at Equinox Gym, while casually deadlifting a soda machine while swinging upside down from the chin up bar.  “Truth fears no investigation.  This is 100% Jesus, Holy Spirit joy and perseverance.”

He then followed it up by lifting a keg of beer up and down while stepping barefoot on a trail of broken glass shards.

It remains unknown if there will be a Prada steroid hearing at Capitol Hill.  Pundits indicate any case being heard could commence as early as February 2019.

If found guilty, Prada could face a fine of $27.

The Story Behind My Mug Shots

(for spoken version read aloud by the author, click here)

It’s the cry of despair I’ve heard far too many times from across the table.  Where once upon a time, in the heat of some savage moment, somebody made an outrageously terrible mistake.  One that would irrevocably alter the next 5…7…15…25 years of their life.  5…7…15…25 seconds of pure reckless abandon that would haunt their every waking moment from that time forth; that would stain their orange prison jumpsuit with sweat from the nightmares that grieved them in their sleep.

And now, here they sit with me.  Their earth-weary eyes, so ragged and sad, are welling up with bitter tears.  At a loss for true words, I look away as if to search for them, and whenever I reestablish eye contact, there is a melancholy on their face that can be felt.

People like “Jay,” who was arrested ten years ago for breaking and entering a house he burgled to feed his heroin addiction.  Or like “Ricky,” who once assaulted a police officer after committing a heinous crime.  Or, like “Maria,” whose facial tattoos etched from her jail cell were as grisly as the aftermath the crystal meth had inflicted upon her frame.

“They wouldn’t love me,” “Jay” gently laments to me with this erratic cadence.

“I was so happy to be there,” he elaborates.  “Couldn’t wait to get there.  I did my time.  I learned from my mistakes.  I came out a changed man, all brand new!  But they wouldn’t accept me.  It was like no one cared about me.  Until three of the biggest men there came up to me and told me that I wasn’t welcomed and that it was time to go.”

Where this becomes heartbreaking and in other ways, downright infuriating, is that this kind of thing didn’t happen to them at a bar, at the public library or at a job interview.  It happened to them in churches.  By people who wear the name of Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t the facial tattoos, though they were certainly a factor.  It wasn’t that they smelled differently than everyone else, though it played a role in it .  What brought about the rejection and the ostracizing more than anything else was that somebody had the dirt on them.

“It was the mug shots,” “Ricky” says.  “When someone is arrested, they put it up there for all the world to see.”

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“One of them took my name down and googled me and they found all my mug shots on the internet from way back when.  I told them exactly what happened with each one.  I came clean and told them that I was guilty of those things.  And then I shared the story of the pastor who told me about Jesus, and about the day he baptized me and how I came out of that jail a child of God.  I pointed at those mug shots and told them, ‘That’s not who I am anymore!  I know that some people break the law again after getting out.  But I’m walking with Jesus now.   I’m your brother in Christ.”

And that was when they told him it was time to go and appointed three bouncers to send him right back into the street he had come in from.

And it was then as I sat there, having once again heard the cry of despair from yet another rejuvenated human being, in a different place, with similar details but with the identical, sick outcome, that it fiercely registered in my mind.

In the eyes of the law of our land?  They very well may have been the only ones in the room with the mug shots.  But in the eyes of God throughout our lives?  They’re not the only ones with the mug shots.

We all have blood on our hands.  We all have an excruciating past.  Every single one of us have skeletons in our closets.  And in the attic.  And in our basement.  And in the trunk of our car.  And buried six feet deep in our backyard.  We all have stepped into the darkness and made the demons gush with glee.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And no matter how hard we may try to excuse our carnality away, making ourselves to be harmless misdemeanor sinners, while looking at the “Ricky’s” and the “Maria’s” and the “Jay’s” of the world as the felony sinners, we’ve all committed outrageously terrible heinously savage sin crimes against our Creator.  Every last one of us has a rap sheet.

I have never been arrested for anything in my life.  I’ve never been to jail.  In the eyes of the government databases, I have an immaculate criminal record.

But, I had a spiritual rap sheet.  I had so many mug shots from my crimes against the kingdom of God, that it froze the screen and shortcircuited the computers.

Imagine it – an embarrassing, disheveled mug shot for every single time that we have ever sinned.

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I know sometimes we like to think that serial killers and rapists and pedophiles and people who commit bestiality are running around committing the real sins; the big sins.  But the crimes of lying, of worry, of selfishness, of cowardice once had us in the same pin as the Charles Manson’s and the Ted Bundy’s of the earth.  It doesn’t matter what sin one commits – the very first sin we ever committed made us a bunch of Jeffrey Dahmer’s.  One sin made us lawbreakers and necessitated the Lamb of God to offer Himself as the sacrifice.

But it’s also what makes me the happiest.  The one person in Scripture who reminds me the most of myself isn’t Abraham or Moses or Paul.  It’s Barabbas.

Barabbas was the notorious thieving-insurrectionist-killer who was inexplicably exonerated when he should have been executed.   What set him free was Jesus being crucified in his place and becoming sin itself so that He might make Barabbas and us and the entire human family the antithesis of what we were – the righteousness of the Divine.

There we sat in our jail cells.   Haunted night and day.  Guilty of every disturbing detail our rap sheet had documented.  But now, thanks to the grace of heaven, such a one that reaches even me and even you, our chains have been unshackled, our prison cells are swinging open in the night and the criminal record listing all our felonies has been erased and replaced with our names being added into the registry of heaven.

We can look at those mug shots and know  – “That’s not who I am anymore.”

Until then, the “Jay’s,” the “Maria’s” and the “Ricky’s of our broken world continue to search for someone who will love them.  Someone who will acknowledge their transformation.  And someone to celebrate life in Christ with.

What a sadness it is – that everyone else in the circle gets to be forgiven and to be defined no longer by their worst day.  But certain people’s must forever be ostracized and defined by those 5…7…15…25 seconds of their life, because of what happened in ’83.

Perhaps the way we will learn to destroy this practice is to view the grace of God as something that’s even more blessed to give than it is to receive.  Then, as it is in any real family, “me” becomes “us;” “mine” becomes “ours,” and suddenly, now we’re sharing Jesus and we’re sharing redemption instead of trying to hoard Him all to ourselves.
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“Jay” found that belonging at long last sometime later when he discovered not all churches are like the one he experienced.  “I’m back!” he exclaimed to me with the smiling exuberance of a first grader.

I’ll never know if “Maria” or “Ricky” ever did.

What I do know is, whenever we encounter the “Maria’s” and “Ricky’s” of our future, we need to address and own up to the elephant in the room:  that their mug shots and crimes are no less hellish than ours were.

And then, if we do, when we look into their faces, we will see who we used to be, looking back at us.

“When Paul (*the one who called himself the chief of all the sinners) came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.  But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”
– Acts 9:26-27

 

the awe and gratitude of existing

It isn’t easy. And it’s not exempt of every type of struggle, setback and growing pain imaginable along the way.

But the happiness and joy to be alive that I’m waking up to every morning is so intense, it’s a disorienting happiness. It’s an ethereal awe and gratitude that I exist and that I get to do exactly what I was created and put on this planet to do, everyday.

This is better than playing professional basketball.

I’m not even talking about being the minister at the West Chester Church. That’s the icing on the cake.

I’m talking about being a Christian and being an apprentice of Christ. I and every one of His followers today across the world have the privilege of choosing what He wants and making it what we want today. We get to leave yesterday and all of our failures behind in the past and to learn and mature, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

And get this – we actually GET to love everyone in our sight today, just as He does, and to be walking, talking extensions of Him and conduits of His Spirit.

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This world has seen enough self-righteousness and priggish Churchianity.

I just want to show them JESUS.

I want to be so infused with the Spirit that they walk away from me shaking their head and turning around in a stupefying daze; captivated, having just experienced that Jesus Christ really is the love of the world and that contrary to popular belief, He really is the rescuer of their soul.

Today might not be the day that happens.

But the longer we choose what He wants and He becomes all that we are living for, it’s going to.

Embrace Discomfort

Two weeks ago tonight, East Pennsylvania became our new place, our new home, our new, well, everything.  From the moment we visited this place in January, we were in love with the region, with the pulse of the downtown district but especially, with the church here.

We have lived and worked in cities all over the world.  But I have never lived anywhere that makes me feel as ecstatic to awake to than here.  This is the happiest we have been in our lives.   And I will believe it even when the novelties wear off and the euphoria of this honeymoon stage shifts into the harrowing middle that inevitably comes to any ministry.

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By most standards, it must have been an unorthodox decision.

People flock to Florida from Pennsylvania.  They don’t leave Florida to go live in Pennsylvania year round.  It gets cold there.  Why would you ever want to give up a place as warm and comfortable as Florida to go somewhere as gelid as the northeast?  It snows there, ya know.  What, you’d rather shovel snow than sip piña colada‘s at the beach?  Did I mention it gets cold there?

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Call us nuts.  Call us crazy.  But there’s just something about waking up in a place far away from where we were raised and immersing ourselves in a culture that’s vastly different than everything we’ve ever known that makes me come alive.  Where you have absolutely zero roots and no one knows you at first.

On a daily basis, as we’re walking around, there are things going off within me that I haven’t felt in a decade since we were living in China – and this is a good thing.  It makes the mission field feel like the mission field.

But my favorite component of all?

The frigid climate.  The bodily discomfort.  The inconvenience of putting on multiple layers of clothing and still freezing your tuchis off.  That naked feeling of being an alien in a town that doesn’t yet know our names or our stories…

Contrary to what my American comforts tell me, ministry and the Christian life itself are predicated on discomfort and entering into the intimate reliance of the Spirit in the midst of that discomfort.  Difficulty is inescapable in any ministry regardless of where it is.  But what better way to bring the warmth of the Gospel to the sadness of a broken and cold world than to personally feel a bitter coldness coursing through your bones as you roam it’s avenues?

But what about the people, David?  It’s Philly.  This isn’t the Bible Belt anymore.  People are rude in the Northeast.  They say the jerkiest things.  You’ll realize this sooner or later.

Call me crazy.  But I’ve encountered rudeness from people wherever we’ve lived.  A time or two, I very well may have been the rude one.  And I’m from Arizona!  The people we’ve met so far have been some of the sweetest, most kindest people we have met.

Well, except for one guy last week – a Philadelphia parking lot attendant who walked up to me and dished it out pretty strong.  He was extremely rude and insulting to me in ways that were beyond inflammatory to me as a person.

At any other point in my life, and quite possibly, in just about any other place we’ve ever been, I would have been tempted to knock his head off his shoulders.  Or sink into a depression episode for weeks.

In this moment last week?  I slowed my thinking down.  I refused to let my emotions govern me.  I silently prayed to show him the love of Jesus Christ, I swallowed the insult, responded kindly, I laughed at myself, I wished him a good day and as I walked away, that man liked me and had a smile on his face that wasn’t there before.

It wasn’t until Paul stopped imploring God to remove his thorn that he saw human weakness, the difficulties of life on planet earth and the insults that were spewed in his face with strange new eyes – those that identify them as things to glory in (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Brusque remarks and uncomfortable situations and venturing deep into the wild unknown are the things that are all too human to want to avoid and ignore and to flee from.  But there is a whole other world of spiritual resurgence and ministerial renaissance when we sprint towards it, cannonball into it and embrace it with every fiber of our being.

Mansions Over Hilltops

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I don’t want a mansion over a hilltop
I don’t demand a mansion over a hilltop
You don’t owe me a mansion over a hilltop

You are my mansion
You are my anthem
Gazing forever upon Your radiant glory
In Your presence is heaven

I don’t want a robe and crown
I don’t demand a robe and crown
You don’t owe me a robe and crown

You are my robe
My only hope
Gazing eternally on the crown of thorns You wore for me
Being clothed in You is heaven

I don’t want golden streets and precious stones
I don’t demand golden streets and precious stones
You don’t owe me golden streets and precious stones

You are my gold
You saved my soul
Gazing perpetually upon Your dazzling beauty
Being Your living stone is heaven

A mansion though may be
A robe and crown though may be
Gold and stones though may be
Nevertheless, You are heaven to me

3 Things God Doesn’t Need Us To Be

Got pulled over by a church cop today.

Some minister in the Midwest I’ve never met who somehow accessed the Belleview Church Facebook page and by every indication, was cruising around looking for someone to flash his badge and gun at once the donuts were gone and he had nothing better to do.
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Asked me why there’s a cross on the wall of our sanctuary.  Thinking it an innocent inquiry, I explain it’s simply a visual reminder.  Then, all of a sudden, he goes from speaking my language to sermonizing down at me in 17th century blather.

Because there’s a decoration on the wall of a church building two thousand miles away  from him, where people worship (who he has never met and doesn’t know), to him, that automatically meant we were guilty of the following charges he ticketed us with:

              a).  Being idol worshipers who bow down before graven images

               b).  Changing and perverting the truth

               c).  Following after the Catholic church

               d).  Making “very light” of the New Testament

And then last, but certainly not least,

               e).  Being doomed (to hell)

When you’re someone who put yourself on a negativity diet because of how much you want a joyful mind and you intentionally seek after maintaining one, this kind of madness has a way of making your grip on positivity very slippery.   As respectfully as I could, I refused to have an argument with him about something as trivial as that and I invited him to do something God actually cares about (loving Him, loving people, seeking those who don’t know of His grace, feeding and clothing the poor).

I’m writing this post, not to cannonball into this swamp of negativity or to settle any scores; nor to give his outlandish condemnation any more time than the four and a half minutes it already wasted in my life today, but to simply say this:

Pure and simple, Jesus wants DISCIPLES.  AKA, followers.  AKA, apprentices.

It often begins that way.  But it’s so easy for us to become something else along the way.  The following three are especially on my mind tonight:

                                           Jesus’ Lawyer
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We’ve seen this guy a hundred times on Law And Order.  The high-powered lawyer who knows a ton about what the book says but uses big words with emotionally-charged tones and tries to bully someone on the witness stand into saying something self-incriminating.

This happened to Jesus constantly (Matthew 22:15, 23-29, 34-36, Mark 12:13-17, etc).  Lawyers and Pharisees and Scribes (the clergymen of the time) whose brilliant minds were overflowing with knowledge of what the Scriptures said.

But sadly, that precious knowledge never made its way to their hearts.  It was only to be used to start arguments and to throw Molotov cocktails at others (so they could flex how much they knew, so they could feel superior).

They would seek Him out just to ask Him loaded questions in public with the hopes of getting Him to say the thing that would condemn Him.

The Scriptures were never meant to be used as a Debator’s Handbook.  Or to be bashed over someones head like a wadded up sports page to a cowering puppy.

Bob Goff said it well – “I don’t want people to meet my opinions.  I don’t want to be Jesus’ lawyer.  I just want them to meet Jesus.”

                                 Jesus’ Attack Dog
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The person who in so many ways resembles a rabid Pit Bull, prowling around on a leash that’s getting yanked further and further loose from the post by the minute.  It’s foaming at the mouth.  It’s snarling with a menacing growl at anyone that walks by.

It spends the day salivating at the fantasy of mauling somebody.  Anyone.  For any reason.

How could truth so life-changing and so overwhelmingly good be delivered with such anger and malice?

This type speaks as if they are Paul and everyone else in the world is Elymas the Magician (as seen in Acts 13:9-11), only in circumstances in their life that don’t matter.  Like, oh I don’t know, if there’s a decoration on the wall of a church building for instance…

And last but not least, the aforementioned Church Cop
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They could be a fellow student sitting at Jesus’ feet just like everyone else.  But they would much rather be the Church Sheriff.  The reason they’re there is to confront others and to belittle them.  They are impossible to please.  And they love it sooooooooooo much, how big it makes them feel to pull someone over and talk down to them as if they were a child (especially if they are a person with a reputation for being wise) and to accuse them of not being as righteous or as knowledgeable as they are.

God forgive me, there was a time when I very well may have spent two hours wrestling with someone in the mud about something as absurd as what’s hanging on the wall – and getting absolutely nowhere.

But Jesus doesn’t want or need me to be a cop.  Or His lawyer.  Or His attack dog.  Or His enforcer.  He wants us to be His sheep.  His followers.  His children.

I turned in my badge and handcuffs years ago.  And the peace that brings is indescribable.

It occurs to me that the root of this grotesque identity crisis is the illusion that the church one associates with is the only one that possesses the truth – and that everyone else disagrees with Jesus.

But if we’re honest enough, we will discover that we all disagree with Him in some way.  That we all must learn to conquer those disagreements.  That so many of our well-guarded positions is the trivial nonsense that doesn’t matter to Him – while the things that do matter to Him could very well be the things we are neglecting.”

He wants disciples – gentle sons and daughters who exist to become more like Him than they were the day before.  People whose hearts and minds are orchestrated by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24) and not the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:18-21).

Are we truly a disciple?

Or, are we running around playing cops and robbers?