Undermining Revitalization–Part 2

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Most have heard the leadership adage “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” With regards to church revitalization, this concept couldn’t be more accurate. If a church is to be revitalized and renewed, and experience health, vibrancy, growth, and multiplication, it will need to be led by a group of godly, knowledgeable, tenacious, loving, fierce, patient, unified, humble, and faith-filled leaders. 

Depending upon the church governance, these leaders can range from vocationally paid leaders (staff) to lay elders (who oversee the church’s direction) to the various committee members who hold positions of leadership. 

Church leaders—holding any leadership position in the church—are the key to the church’s revitalized future just as the group of spies held the key to Israel’s future in the Promised Land.

The problem for many churches in need of revitalization today is that they don’t have the leadership necessary to lead the church towards the land of revitalization and renewal. 

In this post, I will outline the first two ways leaders can undermine the vision of a revitalized church. Understanding these points will (1) help pastors and church leaders to ask the right questions as they lead struggling churches towards gospel vitality and (2) prevent many leaders from undermining the revitalization process. 

First, they believe everything is fine.

Churches are perfectly conditioned to continue doing what they are doing. In other words, they don’t have to change one thing to sustain their current condition. For many churches, this means a slow leak of membership, baptism, and finances while maintaining the image that everything is fine. 

The truth about revitalization is that every church must be constantly engaged in the process of revitalization. Revitalization for a church is like sanctification for a believer. Sanctification, for a believer is the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus. Revitalization for a church is the process of being conditioned for gospel witness and mission. Revitalization seeks to center a church’s DNA around the message and mission of Christ while adopting methods and strategies that effectively disciple and evangelize their context.  

The first step towards revitalization is acknowledgement. A church might be in need of revitalization if:

  • It has been running the same amount of attendees for ten years and has never participated in either a church plant or sent people out as missionaries
  • Everyone they baptized is primarily children of members
  • They have no footprint in the community with regards to their engagement and interaction

The gospel hasn’t called churches to run activity centers of spiritual development for members; instead, it has been called to release saints for mission advancement among the nations.  

Where revitalization is undermined is when leaders verbally acknowledge they want to grow and reach people far from Jesus, but inwardly they are hoping they can keep everything the same and yet see different results. 

Once vision moves from theory to execution, the undermining begins. Those who undermine revitalization typically are in agreement with pastors expressing the theory of vision. However, executing the vision is where they begin a subversive undermining (that is, a passive aggressive stance and language which cuts down or delays growth and change). 

This can manifest itself in a host of ways. Below are some statements that such leaders may make which express they are not fully on board with the changes of revitalization:

  • “What if we did nothing?” 
  • “Let’s sit on it for a while.”
  • “Let’s do some more homework.”
  • “Do we really need to make that change? We’ve been doing it that way for years.”
  • “Let’s bring some others in on this and get their opinion.”
  • “According to our bylaws, that’s not a decision for us to make.” 
  • “I’m not comfortable with it.” 
  • “The pastor is being too pushy.”

In order for revitalization to occur, we need robust conversations, dialogues, and discussions. There will certainly be times for pause so that the team can pray more and do more homework.

However, subversive undermining comes from those individuals who secretly have a problem with the overall trajectory of the revitalization. Now that revitalization is moving from concept to implementation, they are vocalizing their opposition in subversive ways. As a result, revitalization is undermined either for a season or indefinitely. 

Second, these leaders sympathize with complainers and naysayers.

Church leaders ought to have a loving and caring disposition when it comes to others. Love should be the motivating factor in all that we do. Jesus said it Himself: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). Of course, these are the two greatest commandments. Even Paul in his letter to the Ephesian believers addressed how the church body should build itself in love (Eph. 4:16).

Revitalization tests one’s biblical understanding of love. It tends to stir up complainers and naysayers who don’t like change and are accustomed and prefer the status quo. These complainers look for someone who has the capability to stop what is causing them discomfort. As such, they prey on the leaders who will listen and empathize with them—giving platform and credence to their complaint. In all fairness, many of these leaders are simply trying to love these people well. Despite this, their act of love undermines the church’s attempt to revitalize. 

Let me share an analogy. What if a child comes to a parent and begins complaining about the healthy food that has been placed before them? What if they insist on having a diet of french fries and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Anempathetic parent can understand their child’s frustration, but then must guide them through why their diet needs to have healthy food as the foundation. While the child may still long for french fries and ice cream, at least the loving parent has taken time to engage and explain the healthy course of action to their child. 

In order to maintain calmness and a mirage of order, a sympathetic parent, on the other hand, will work to ease their child’s feelings of discomfort. Therefore, they’ll give in to the demands. In doing this, the parent has given credence and validity to the child’s desired nutrition. 

Can you guess which act of love is selfless and the other selfish? The selfless act of love is taking the time to empathize with the child and to enter into a dialogue and discussion about the child’s feelings and why the parent has chosen to place this kind of meal before them. The selfish act of love is the sympathetic parent who feels for the child, but because they don’t want to listen to the complaining anymore gives into the child’s demand, thereby undermining the very health of the child. 

This kind of selfish love takes place all the time in churches desperately in need of revitalization. 

The most loving thing church leaders can do with complainers and naysayers is to help them see the biblical vision of a God-breathed church compared to a personal preferred vision of a self-absorbed church.

…Stay tuned for Part 3 as I cover the two other ways leaders undermine revitalization.

Undermining Revitalization–Part 1

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Imagine you have spent your entire life enslaved. Freedom seems unattainable, and hope is scarce. However, one day a strange man—a fugitive from Egypt—shows up with the message that God sent him to Egypt to demand Pharaoh to let God’s people go so that God can bring them to the land of promise. 

A hope that was once extinct now started to emerge. Freedom’s light was beginning to shine.

Over the next several days drama ensues as competing miracles, plagues, destruction, and death pummel around you. When the dust settles, Pharaoh releases the slaves. He releases you. 

Freedom! Or so you think. Not much time elapses between release and vengeance. Pharaoh and his army set out to wipe you and all the other freed slaves. You plummet back into fear, panic, and fading hope. 

Suddenly, however, there is a commotion, people pointing towards the sea. You look up only to see two walls of water—one on the right and one on the left. You hear a loud cry telling you to march towards the sea. With adrenaline taking over, you enter to where the sea should be, but instead of water, you are on dry ground. You walk forward in the place where the sea had been laying since its creation. You cross the sea and arrive at the other side. When all the people cross safely to the other side, the sea walls come tumbling down over the entire Egyptian army. 

Now what? 

Here you are—freed slaves in the middle of the desert. Who are you, where are you going, and how are you going to get there?These are the questions racing through your mind. Days and weeks pass. Life is tough. Whispers of grumbling began to filter through the camp. These whispers grow louder and louder until they become full out complaints towards God and His leader, Moses. 

Just when you think about joining in the complaints, fire from heaven consumes a portion of the camp, and immediately, there is a hush. The complaining quickly turns to concern. 

On the next day, rather than eating manna, you eat meat for the first time. Nothing has tasted so good in such a long time. But as you were enjoying your quail, you hear cries in the distance. Those who had craved and obsessed over the meat begin to die. And as these people are buried, you begin to make the connection that when people complain against God and obsess over things other than Him, they end up dying. 

You think to yourself that there has to be a reason God freed you—us—from slavery. Certainly, as you sit there and ponder, there has to be more to God bringing us out here other than to teach us some spiritual and life lessons around complaining, gluttony, and idolatry

About this time, you hear reports that Moses has put together a spy team. These men are going to go scout out the Promised Land—the land that God had promised to give Abraham’s descendants. You haven’t been this excited since the day Moses showed up in Egypt to share the good news of freedom and redemption. Now, there is news of a Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey—a land of blessing, prosperity, and flourishing. 

Finally, a land to call home. 

Waiting for the return, however, feels like an eternity. Your soul hungers for God’s blessing, for God’s best, for God’s promise, for God’s life for you and His people. You believe that their return means you are one step closer to experiencing God’s movement and blessing. 

After 40 days, news spreads throughout the camp that the scouting team is back. Everyone, including you, jostles to hear about their escapes and what God has in store.

As people gather around, the spies reach into their bags and pull out mouth-watering fruit from the land. They verbally describe how the land was indeed bountiful and fruitful. 

However, what comes next is not what you were hoping for—or expecting. Rather than words of positivity and affirmation, their words are filled with negation and prohibition: The inhabitants of the land are too much for us to handle. They are simply too strong to overtake. We cannot enter the land of promise. 

But from the back of the pack there is another voice. One man, Caleb, says that the people ought to go and take possession of the land. In the sight of God, the inhabitants of the land are no match for the power of God, Caleb reminds the community. Your excitement grows, only to be eliminated once more.

The naysayers win as fear, trepidation, and disbelief spread throughout the entire camp. Now, rather than moving towards the vision God has laid out for His people, many want to return to slavery in the land of Egypt. As a result, God issues judgment on the community that no one 20 years of age and older will see and enter the land of promise. You will never see that land.

Obviously, this was the story of the children of Israel outlined in Numbers 13 and 14. However, when we draw on the contemporary relevance for today, we can equate what transpired in the wilderness to what has transpired and is transpiring in many churches today—namely, there is a leadership vacuum to champion and protect the gospel vision of reaching people far from Jesus in struggling, dry, and barren churches. 

The result is that hundreds and thousands of believers will spend much of their church days—if they don’t leave for another church—in safe mediocrity, monotony, and even gospel (mission) malnutrition with their souls longing to experience God’s vision for their church. 

To address the topic of revitalization, in this four part series, I will first note the stark reality for how many churches in the West are struggling in the wilderness of mediocrity and malnutrition as they experience plateau and decline, and with very little impact in the community. The second and third part will then turn to how leaders can and do undermine the revitalization process. And finally, the fourth part will conclude with an exhortation for leaders to choose an alternate ending—one of hope and flourishing rather than one of struggle and survival. 

Struggling in the Wilderness 

Churches in the West should be concerned regarding their health and vitality. No longer enjoying the prominent role in society and culture, the church in the West has struggled greatly over the last few decades to keep and even reach new people. In fact, over the last couple of decades Mainline Protestantism has been hemorrhaging.[1]In addition, many evangelicals realized the struggle the church (in general) was having to reach a changing culture, which led many in the 1980s and 1990s to shift their methodological strategy in hopes of reaching people who had left the church as well as those who were far from Jesus.[2]

This era saw the rise of Willow Creek, Saddleback, North Point Community Church, and similar style churches. However, some practitioners and church growth experts like Aubrey Malphurs see most of the numerical growth during the church growth movement as mainly the results of transfer growth (Malphurs, 1994, 62). 

Even though numerical growth has been the story for some churches over the last few decades, that hasn’t been the story for the majority of established churches. 

David Olsen, in The American Church in Crisis, predicts that approximately 55,500 churches will close between 2005 and 2020 (Olson, 2008, 176). 

In Comeback Churches,Mike Dodson and Ed Stetzer accentuate that 70-80 percent of North American churches suffer from decline or plateau, and 3,500-4,000 churches close each year (Stetzer, 2007, 17).[3]

Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, notes in The Incredible Shrinking Church

According to a special report published in Leadership Magazine, of the approximately 400,000 congregations in the country, 340,000, or 85 percent, are either plateaued or declining in membership. Some are in crisis while others are soldiering bravely on, grateful not to be in worse shape than they are (Page, 2008. 8). 

There is an apparent backwards ecclesiastical movement taking place across America in the majority of churches. Rather than growing, many churches are suffering from severe decline and facing impending death. The state of our churches’ effectiveness, fruitfulness, and missional impact in the West is bleak.[4]

While many advocate for church planting as the antidote to this deadly infection of Western churches, the question still remains: “How do we revitalize these struggling churches?” 

Revitalization is no easy task. In Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer writes,

Saving dead and dying churches is much more difficult and ultimately more costly than starting new ones. Some authorities even argue that changing a rigid, tradition-bound congregation is almost impossible. As Lyle Schaller has indicated, even if it is possible, nobody knows how to do it on a large-scale basis…Church revitalization does not happen much, but it does happen sometimes. I have been struck by how infrequently it actually occurs… (Stetzer, 2006, 11).

George Barna also comments, “In many cases, trying to revitalize a declining church is probably a wasted effort” (Barna, 1993, 15). This sagacious comment comes in light of how rigorous and demanding church revitalization can be. Although revitalization is difficult, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the gospel. 

If the gospel brings the dead to life, shouldn’t it be able to awaken declining and dying churches? Absolutely! Thus, revitalizing churches is a gospel task.

What is involved in this gospel task of renewing and revitalizing struggling, dry, and barren churches? Much ink has been spilled addressing what is involved in revitalization (e.g., the importance of preaching the gospel, being a leader who leads with conviction and courage, praying to undergird, having patience to wait, and embracing unity around a new or renewed vision). 

With such good theological and practical content today regarding revitalization, there’s one element to this gospel task that is typically overlooked. That element is a group of leaders championing and protecting the vision of a renewed (and revitalized) church. To that I turn in Part 2.


[1]Ed Stetzer, “Churches in America—Part 2,” July 6, 2016 The Exchange, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/july/state-of-american-church-part-2.html

[2]Many refer to this shift as the “Church Growth” movement as many church leaders attempted to see the church increase in numbers of converts, attenders, and members. 

[3]Also, in Breaking the Missional Code, Ed Stetzer and David Putnam believe 89percent of all churches are not experiencing healthy growth.

[4]Rick Richardson, in his recent work You Found Me, notes that based upon research only 10% of churches are growing by conversion. 

Dangerous Church

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dan·ger·ous (ˈdānj(ə)rəs/)

Dangerous is an adjective which means, “able or likely to cause harm or injury.” It can also mean, “likely to cause problems or to have adverse consequences.”

Typically, when Americans think of the word “dangerous” they tend to think of a weapon, an object in the house, a kind of animal, a kind of person or group, an area of town, or a region of the world.

Those things that we think of as dangerous have the potentiality of causing an effect on us and our lives. When something is dangerous it yields a certain kind of power and authority towards those who consider it dangerous. In other words, when someone thinks something or someone is dangerous, there’s a respect and honor—even a fear—towards that something or someone.

If I had to guess, I don’t think people today (particularly in America or throughout much of the world) believe the church is dangerous. Sure, they may think that radical religious groups like the Westboro Baptist tribe is emotionally dangerous and/or a cultural nuisance. Yet, they don’t view the church, in and of itself, dangerous. In fact, many do see the church, by in large, as a menace and nuisance to society—not to mention irrelevant.

However, when it comes to the book of Acts, the church was dangerous. Now, before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean. Did the church cause bodily harm to people? No! In fact, they brought healing to people. Did they cause problems for religious people and their institutions? Yes. Did they cause problems in cities throughout the known world as people turned their life over to Christ proclaiming Him as King and God, not Caesar nor their pantheon of gods? Yes.

The harm induced by the church—the problems caused by the church—throughout the world in the first century, had to do with the kind of change and transformation the gospel brought into the lives of people, and thus, in the spaces they occupied. Isn’t this ultimately why the Jews and Romans killed Jesus? He was dangerous. He was a threat. He was causing harm and causing problems within their spheres of influence. He was disrupting their way of life, their religious system.

In this short post, I want to provide the “how” and “what” of becoming a dangerous church.

First, how do churches become dangerous? Jesus exclaims, “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). So, just what does it mean to die to oneself? To help understand what it means to die to self, I use the acronym D.I.E. (Deny yourself; Intend to be crucified to the world; and Emulate Jesus. In sum, to follow Jesus—and to access and download His life for us—we must D.I.E. daily. To state it in another way, to download the latest version of His life for us, we must kill the oldest version of us.

To download the latest version of Christ’s life for us we must die to the oldest version of us.

So just imagine what our churches would be like comprised of people who D.I.E. to themselves daily.  Imagine the impact these churches would have in and on their communities and cities.

Those who D.I.E. become dangerous to those around them and the places and spaces they occupy.

Second, what does becoming a dangerous church look like? In other words, what are some of the characteristics displayed in churches that are dangerous? Based upon Acts 5:1–32, I believe there are at least five characteristics exhibited by a church that is dangerous.

  • They realize they serve a dangerous God. Early in this chapter, God takes out Ananias and Sapphira because of their lie and deception. They lied to church, and ultimately to God, about the amount for which they sold their property. A dangerous church has a dangerous God working in and among them to fulfill His mission. I find it interesting that in the same chapter, religious people are trying to protect their institutions and way of life through violence and threats. Dangerous churches never have to resort to violence and vehement threats to those who endanger their way of life and mission. Why? Because they serve a dangerous God who ultimately protects His people, His church. This doesn’t mean that we don’t shepherd, watching out for wolves in sheep’s clothing or ravenous lions looking to devour weak prey. It simply means we don’t have to fight fire with fire—violence with violence, nastiness with nastiness. We can trust in a sovereign, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotent God who work in and through us to accomplish His will for His good pleasure.
  • They stand in awe of God. A couple of times in this chapter Luke tells the reader, “And great fear came upon” those who heard of what God had done—particularly with Ananias and Sapphira. The idea of “fear” invokes awe. There’s this healthy reverence and fear the church has towards God. When a church stands in awe of who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do, they posture themselves submissively to God offering their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him.
  • They embody unity and togetherness. In the early days of the church, while God did many signs and wonders in their midst, they gathered consistently in Solomon’s Portico, a large outer-court where large numbers of people could gather. We also see in other places, whether it is in the Upper Room (Acts 1), devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to one another (Acts 2), or believing they were of one heart and soul (Acts 4), the early church wasn’t about individuals coming to a location to consume a religious experience but about individuals coming together to form a body (Jesus’ body) to live on mission. One person can make a difference, but a group (a body comprised of many) can alter history. Think about it. The only reason why Jesus altered history as we know it, was because He empowered His body to go into all the world. A dangerous church can only become dangerous when it is unified, moving and operating together in the power of the Spirit.
  • They buy into Jesus’ comprehensive mission. Not only did they preach the gospel, they served the hurting, the needy, the broken, and the sick. They were serving and meeting the needs of so many people that it went out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to the point that people from the surrounding towns and villages started bringing the sick and afflicted to Jerusalem. As they physically met needs they spiritually pointed to Jesus—the hope and King of the world—who had come, lived, died, and rose again to make all things new.
  • They are willing to die. After being arrested, the apostles’ lives were threatened once again in Acts 5. They were told they had been warned and charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet they continue to do so. Peter, along with the other apostles, respond, “We must obey God rather than men.” And they go on to proclaim the gospel once more to these, already irritated, men. In the face of an angry religious mob, Jesus’ devoted apostles declare, “Kill us if you must, but we cannot disobey the command of our King.” This mentality makes the church extremely dangerous. And it is this kind of attitude that becomes the seedbed and fertilizer of God’s movement in the world. Church father, Tertullian, put it this way, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world cannot stop people willing to die for what they believe in!

In closing, are you dangerous? Is your church dangerous?

May it be said in our generation, from cities and communities throughout our land, “These men (and women) who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).

A Servant’s Viewpoint

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A few mornings ago, my 11-year old had a “princess moment”. You know what a “princess moment” is? Where she thinks the world should revolve around her. She was running late, as she fell back asleep. As she comes down the stairs, my wife was very gentle and encouraging to Ellie as she said, “I have everything ready for you. I’ve made you breakfast; got your bookbag all packed.” 

As parents we would love for our child to respond by saying something to the effect, “Thanks so much mom! You’re the best! I couldn’t ask for a more caring mom. I love you.” Yep, you guessed it. That’s not how she responded. Having plopped down on the couch, opening up her laptop, she begins barking about the breakfast. “That’s not what I want,” she exclaimed. With a little bit of my wife’s New York-Italian coming out, she expresses that all she wanted to do was serve Ellie and make her life a little bit better and easier since she was running late.

My wife’s words resonated with John 13, the passage I’ve been contemplating lately. John 13 is where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Imagine the scene. The Son of Man wraps a towel around His waist. He kneels down to where the dirty, nasty, and filthy feet are planted. He then takes the basin of water and begins to wash the dirt and grim off the disciples’ feet. 

As He begins to wash Peter’s feet, a shell-shocked Peter immediately and bluntly says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” We know that Jesus responds, “What I’m doing you don’t realize now, but afterward you will understand.” Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus looked up and locked eyes with Peter, or if Jesus continued to focus on the feet. If I had to guess, I would say that Jesus locked eyes with Peter for the dialogue goes on a few more sentences to the point where Jesus exclaims, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.” 

It is in this exchange that we see a servant’s viewpoint. It is from the bottom looking up. We live in such a culture where I don’t know if we fully understand a servant’s viewpoint, for our culture in one way or another is where people posture themselves from the top looking down. 

A servant’s viewpoint is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. 

Looking up rather than looking down is a game-changer. They are two completely different viewpoints and perspectives. One says, “I’m here to serve,” whereas the other says, “I’m here to be served.” 

Jesus goes on to describe to His disciples that what He did that night they are to do likewise. They are to pick up the ministry of the towel. To follow in the vein of Jesus, and to take upon ourselves a servant’s viewpoint, we will have to arm ourselves with three questions. In other words, a servant will always be asking themselves the following questions.

Who Can I Serve?

This seems to be the easiest question, yet it is the most difficult. I know what you’re probably thinking, “How is it the most difficult question?” Because, although it is easy, our hearts and minds don’t naturally want to ask this question. Rather our hearts and minds—especially in our culture—are constantly looking at who can serve us. 

Be honest. When’s the last time you went to a sit-down restaurant, entered your subdivision, pulled into your home, exercised at the gym, or attended church and thought, “Who can I serve?” The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves. 

The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves.

When you ask yourself, “Who can I serve?” it takes the attention of you and refocuses it on those God has placed around you. It can be a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a complete stranger. Jesus arrived that night and entered into that upper room knowing that He was going to serve His disciples. 

This question is critical. If you don’t know who you are going to serve, you won’t be able to answer the next question. 

How Can I Serve? 

Why did Jesus take upon Himself the form of a servant, wrapping a towel around His waist and kneeling down with a water basin to start washing feet? Because Jesus entered that upper room not only knowing who He would serve, but how He would serve them. 

Knowing how He would serve them was built upon knowing them. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them. In other words, knowing precedes doing. Better yet, knowing precedes serving. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them.

If you know the account in John 13, you know that Jesus performs a physical act of service that has deep spiritual connotations. In other words, His physical act of cleaning feet represents His fast approaching physical (yet spiritual) act of sanctifying hearts. In short, Jesus’ physical act of serving feet reflected a deeper kingdom reality directed at their hearts. 

The physical act of service should reflect a deeper kingdom reality directed at hearts.

As followers of Christ, when we ask ourselves, “How can I serve?” we should be thinking about the deeper spiritual realities of our physical act of service. For instance, husbands when you ask this question in the context of your home—particularly towards your wife—your deeper spiritual reality will involve loving your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. 

How we serve should ultimately reflect the deeper spiritual reality of the kingdom of God invading the dirtiness and brokenness of our lives.  

What do I Hope to See from My Service? 

Obviously Jesus wanted His disciples clean—spiritually speaking. John 13 isn’t as much about feet as it is about hearts. Jesus wanted to see His disciples (as He wants to see the whole world) clean so that mankind and God could be reconciled. Without cleaning—which ultimately required the shedding of Jesus’ blood—there is no reconciliation. In fact, Jesus tells Peter if He doesn’t wash him then Peter will have no part (or relationship) with Him.

But there is something more Jesus wanted to see from His act of service. He wanted to see this kind of service enacted in the life of His disciples. In other words, what He did, He wanted the disciples to replicate. 

If you continue to read the passage, there’s even one more layer to what Jesus wanted to see. He wanted the disciples to experience deep-seated happiness—better known as joy. He expresses that those who do such things are blessed. 

Could it be the reason why many today have such an unsettled spirit is because they are selfishly driven to feed the bottomless pit of self-absorption. The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

Put these three things together, and a servant’s viewpoint hopes their service: 

1) draws the person closer to God, 

2) ignites others to join in serving in a similar manner—making the world a better, more selfless place, and 

3) instills a deeper-seated joy and peace in life. 

Do you get it? A true servant’s viewpoint leads to the trifecta of life—right relationship to God, right relationship towards others, and a right relationship with self. 

In closing, Jesus teaches that the greatest position in this world is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. That’s what we call an inversion of the gospel. The Prince of Peace didn’t tie a towel around His waist and kneel down next to a water basin to wash feet so that we could be American cultural princesses and princes that tell Him, “He missed a spot.” He did so in order for us to take our clean feet—washed by the blood of the Son of God—and go and do likewise. And this is definitely something my wife and I are striving to emulate for our children—not to mention, praying for them. 

Living in the Land of OZ: Three Ways for the Church to Posture Herself in a Foreign Land

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The influence of Christianity upon Western society seemingly has become a past experiment. As the Enlightenment experience failed—failing to eliminate all societal ills and bring about a human utopia—so too has the “Christian Nation” or Christendom failed. As a result, the church has struggled with this shift—and now find herself, in many ways, confused as to her role and posture in a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian, and skeptical environment. In other words, the church in North America has finally realized they are no longer in Kansas but in the land of OZ (or biblically speaking, in Babylon). And now believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, “What do we do?” 

Believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, What do we do?

In many ways, the North American church in the twenty-first century finds many similarities with the people of God in Jeremiah 29. [The dissimilarity that I must point out is that God was in a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, whereas America is not.] Jerusalem had fallen. No longer did Israel experience cultural and national hegemony. Now in captivity, Israel experienced life as a sojourner, alien, and minority. They were marginalized. Obviously, many saw their newfound position as difficult, demoralizing, and depressing.

In response to their newfound foreign environment, they had a few options with regards to how they would posture themselves towards the larger culture. First, they could have just faded off as a sub-cultural hermit—sitting and longing for the ‘good ole days’ as they faded into irrelevancy. Second, they could have taken a more antagonistic, resentful, and angry approach, one that was mean-spirited, violent, and intolerant. Second, they could have bashed the Babylonians over the head with the Torah. Third, they could have accommodated the Babylonians—thinking “if we can’t beat ‘em’, join ‘em’.” Or, they had a fourth option—God’s option. They could seek the peace of the city.

Embedded within this Spirit breathed option, there are at least three particular ways the people of God were (and are) called to seek the peace of the pagan land.

1) Live here as if you were living there. We are to live everyday normal lives as if we were living in the homeland. God informs His dazed and confused people to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer 29:5-6). In other words, God tells them to live here as if they were living there (back at home)—faithfully tilling and cultivating both land and family while they multiplied in the land. Seeking the peace of the foreign land begins by living faithfully as if we are in the homeland. [Keep in mind that for believers today, our “homeland” is the new city where Jesus will have made all things new (Revelation 21).] 

God tells them to live here as if they were living there.

2) Live to bless, not curse. God expresses that His people take up the task of blessing the pagan nation. This is quite remarkable! The people of God were to live as a blessing, praying to the Lord on behalf of the nation as they seek the flourishing of the pagan city. For in the city’s flourishing, God’s people will flourish. While the scope of this article does not permit me the time to dive into the notion of “blessing,” this vision, nevertheless, harkens back to both Genesis 1 where God blesses humanity (Gen 1:28) as well as the prophetic promise God made to Abram, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

3) Live faithfully, not forcefully. We are to strive for faithfulness, rather than striving for world change. In this passage, there is nothing about seeking the transformation of the city. God doesn’t ask them to work towards transforming Babylon into a theocentric (Jewish) nation. God doesn’t ask them to transform the Babylonian culture and cultural practices to those that more align with the Torah. While change may very well take place, God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life, as they seek God and the welfare of the pagan city. 

God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life.

In applying this notion to the cultural context of the church today, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I completely agree that the gospel is transformative; the gospel changes individuals, families, cities, and even nations. To a certain degree God did bring change in Babylon through the faithfulness of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. My point is that the goal for the people of God is faithfulness to God and to His call, work, and mission in the world.

In neither Testament does God ever assign the task to His people of world change or city transformation—forcing people to believe and behave like the people of God. 

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples. We witness and make disciples by working as ambassadors for the kingdom of God, serving as agents of blessing for the city, and inviting people to follow Jesus as their King who is in the construction process of making all things new. In sum, we simply share and show the gospel of King Jesus!

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples.

In closing, may the church today—in finding herself in this foreign land like Dorothy found herself in the land of OZ—seek to live faithful lives reflecting the characteristics, attributes, and signs of God’s kingdom life in our homes, vocations, relationships, and ethics. May churches seek the “welfare” of the foreign city, living as agents of blessing rather than antagonistic, mean-spirited, angry, resentful and defensive agents. And finally, may we take the posture of faithfulness—faithfully calling people to follow Jesus. 

Pre-Clean Before the Deep Clean

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We have decided in the Laxton house to hire someone to clean our home a couple times a month. Given our busy schedules both at work and chauffeuring the kids back and forth from their events, we thought it best to hire someone to help us keep our house clean. 

On the eve before the cleaning person started, my wife frantically goes around barking orders at everybody to clean the house for the “cleaning lady.” I’m sitting and listening to this thinking to myself(because I don’t want to upset momma; because when momma’s not happy, no one is happy), “What? This is crazy! We have to clean the house for the “cleaning” person?” For a man, it didn’t make sense. However, Joannie explained it a little more to me and then it still didn’t make much sense. [Ladies, what can I say…I’m a man.]

This got me thinking about how some Christians communicate (whether unintentionally or intentionally) about “cleaning up” our lives, and how many outside the church view themselves before darkening the doors of a church building or thinking about giving their life over to God. 

Here’s the misconception: We think we need to pre-clean before Christ does a deep clean

Like I said, Christians communicate whether intentionally or unintentionally that there’s some self-effort that goes into cleaning up a person’s life before Christ comes in to do a deep clean. My feeling is that this is unintentional. In other words, churches don’t really know they are doing it. But they do so through their posture. 

The posture of many churches communicates to people that you need to be a certain kind of person to make it here. Your worldview can’t be too crazy. You need to be somewhat moral and decent. You need to use a PG (or at the most PG-13) language. You need to do a little bit of homework so that you can understand a smidgen of what’s going on—since few will do anything to try and reach communicatively where you might be. In short, you need to be somewhat put together. 

Such a posture communicates to “dirty” people that they need to have some things straightened out before Jesus does a deep clean in their life. This kind of posturing frustrates people with already dirty lives. Just like our house, we knew it was dirty. We knew it wasn’t put together. That’s why we “hired” someone to clean it. So, being told to clean it before the professional cleaning person came was frustrating. In essence, we were being told to do something we had yet to do.

When churches posture their engagement this way with a lost world that waddles in their dirty sin, they wind up pushing them further away. When the church (even unintentionally) communicates that a dirty world must do some pre-cleaning prior to attending Christian community, they tell them to do something they don’t know how to do and to do something that only Jesus can fully do. 

One of the glories of the story of the Gospel is that “dirty” people found Jesus attractive. They encountered Jesus in all their filth. There was no pre-cleaning that happened. Sure, some were cleaned after encountering Jesus, others left still in their mess. Nevertheless, they encountered Jesus in all their nastiness. 

Dirty people found Jesus attractive.

The church must have a posture where people in all their filth feel safe enough to encounter the glorious Christ. If not, we aren’t as much like Jesus as we imagine. Truthfully, I believe the church, by in large, has a lot of work to do in reimagining such a posture where “unclean” people feel comfortable enough to approach. [Hint: we can start by realizing that we don’t have it all together. We might dress up and play a good part, but we all have our own mess and our own struggles. We call this vulnerability and authenticity. Those two places are a good start in creating a safe environment. Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus. It’s not our morality or how we seem to have it all together. It’s simply Jesus!]

Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus.

The other thought that’s a misconceptionis when people think they need to clean their life up before coming to God. If I had to guess, this misconception finds its roots in shame. In other words, people are ultimately ashamed of who they are, what they do, and how they feel. They feel they don’t add up. They feel they aren’t enough. They feel defeated. Thus, they feel shame. 

Shame is a powerful deterrent from God. It is what drove Adam and Eve into hiding. Because there’s this innate feeling that we don’t add up to a being that (if He exists) is transcendent. And so the thought goes, if God is real, and He is who He says He is, then I need to get my act together before I come and bask in His presence—much less join His family. 

The overall thrust of this way of thinking is what most religions teach. You work your way out of shame into God’s good graces. In other words, you pre-clean your house before God does the final clean. But, that in no way is the Gospel message. You don’t have to pre-clean your house. You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

Some might come back and say, “That sounds all well and good. But what happens if I make it dirty again.” Truthfully, it’s not “if” you will make a mess again, it’s “when” you make a mess again. What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home. Jesus has covenanted (not contracted) to not only do a deep clean justifying your past, present, and future sin, but to work with you to bring about a sanctifying cleanse where you become more like Him. Over time you will have less and less mess.

What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home.

In closing, I ultimately realized why my wife asking our children to pre-clean before the professional cleaner came. However, when it comes to our lives, I’m grateful that Jesus doesn’t ask us to do some pre-cleaning before He does His deep clean. I’m grateful that Jesus enters into our mess and chaos (regardless of how bad we think it is) and not only cleans it but takes up residence to keep it clean as He leads us to our glorious future home—eternal life with Him in the new city.  

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If…(Part 2)

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In my previous post I began outlining four identifiers that your church might be more like a country club than a church. Once again, I’m not knocking country club memberships. If you are a member of one, I give you permission to sing along with Travis Tritt—loud and proud—“I’m a member of a country club….” [If you are a country music fan, maybe you just got that song stuck in your head for the remainder of the day. You’re welcome!] 

The reason for my posts is that I fear many American believers view the church as a country club. Or at the very least, they practically behave as if the church was indeed a country club. Regardless, viewing the church or behaving as if the church is a country club distorts both the identity and the mission of the church. 

Knowing the characteristics of a country club can help protect the church from becoming or being viewed as such. Here are the remaining four identifiers that your church might be more of a country club that members pay for than the church that Jesus died for.

1—Your church might be a country club if your members worry about public disruption.

One of the benefits of being a member of a country club is that you don’t typically have to worry about the public infringing upon your property. In other words, the members of the club can enjoy the exclusivity of the club’s amenities. They don’t have to vie for tee times, tables in the dining room, the pool, or the tennis courts. In short, they can enjoy their club with minimal crowd or public disruption.

For many churches, and church members, they don’t like crowds—they don’t like newer people coming in and disrupting the way things are. They want their same parking spot for both their car and their rear. In addition, church members may fear more newer people means more newer things. In other words, if the public comes in, they may shape the church house into something they aren’t comfortable with. 

I know what many church members say. They say, “We want to grow and reach new people.” What they really mean, however, is, “We want to grow and reach new people as long as it’s convenient and agreeable for us.” In other words, they are fine as long as the newer people don’t rock the boat or disrupt what they have going on. It’s incumbent to keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for His people to protect their exclusivity, but for His people to proclaim and demonstrate the inclusivity of the gospel—that Jesus is for all mankind. 

2—Your church might be a country club if you view other churches (“clubs”) as competition. 

The last thing you want if you are a club owner—or a club member at that—is people leaving and going down the street to the newer, bigger, and fancier club. In fact, if a club starts losing lots of members to the club down the street, they begin to see them as their big bad competitor. As a result, there tends to be a sour taste towards the “other” club. In addition, there tends to be reactive measures taken by the “losing’ club. Instead of having their own identity and crafting the club accordingly, they copycat the club down the street—thinking such measures will plug the leak. 

Churches should be different. Churches aren’t in competition with one another but are partners in the Great Commission. I believe the reason why many churches and church members see each other as competitors is because for the last thirty years or so, there’s been a lot of swapping going on. Something happens at one church, and people leave to go down the street to the other. Or, another church sprouts up with a “better” band, preacher, children’s ministry, and environment, and people from the “older” church leave to attend the newer. Such a cycle is built upon consumerism which drives competition. 

Church leaders must learn to be secure in who God has called them to be and what He has called them to do. While every church has the same call and task—or the same message and mission—the way they go about enacting them should have flexibility. In other words, church shouldn’t come in a one-size fits all mold. As J.D. Greear expresses, “We are to marry the mission [and the message], and date the method.” Every church must seek the face of God to determine how they are to flesh out their call and task there in their locale. Keep in mind, it may not look like the church down the street. And that’s ok. 

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting there’s nothing to learn from one another. I think there is plenty we can glean from the various models and styles of church. However, the minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission—to be better than the church right down the street. 

The minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission.

3—Your church might be a country club if 99.9% of your programs and events evolve around members.

Have you ever noticed the calendar of a country club? Almost every single event and program is for its membership. There might have been more, but the only event that I saw on the calendar that involved outsiders was the member-guest golf tournament. Like I said, there could have been more, I just didn’t see them. Such a practice shouldn’t be odd though. Should it? The members do pay for the club’s services and amenities. Thus, it would only stand to reason every event and program would revolve around the members.  

Having every event and program revolving around members isn’t a bad thing if implemented at a country club. However, it is detrimental if implemented at a church. The church is a body or organization where the membership doesn’t exist for itself but for those who have yet to join. If churches aren’t intentional, they will find that most of what they do is geared for insiders not outsiders. But if churches will stay true to their Christ-given mission, they will develop their ministries and programs with non-members in mind. If not, they are well on their way to becoming a country club. 

4—Your church might be a country club if you create an environment of becoming before belonging. 

If you are going to belong to a country club, you will have to become of member of that club. It is as simple as that. Sure, some clubs offer you an opportunity to try out the golf course and the kitchen prior to joining. Nevertheless, if you are going to belong and find community at the club, you will first have to become a member. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what would happen if clubs allowed people to belong to the club before they became a member? Perhaps more people would join?

In the church there’s a small debate over the progression of people’s faith and involvement with the church. Do people believe (in Christ), then become (a member of a church), and then belong (to the community)? Do they belong, then believe, and then become? Once again, I don’t believe there is a one-size fits all for every person. However, I do believe the church must be flexible on each person’s process and progression in the faith and involvement with the church. 

Having said that, I do believe churches should be very careful at creating environments that prohibit people from experiencing Christian community before they actually become a Christian. In other words, churches would do well to create safe environments for people to belong before they believe and even become. Just out of curiosity, what kind of impact do you think a church could have if they created safe places for nonmembers (people far from God) to belong as they explored faith, engaged in a Christian community, and witnessed authentic worship? 

Country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them.

In closing, there’s definitely more that could be said with regards to churches behaving more like a country club than what Jesus intended for them. The reality is, country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them. When church leaders and church members keep this at the forefront of their mind, they will be a missional vehicle advancing the good news to a people in desperate need rather than a recreational vehicle enjoying the amenities of a religious club. 

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If… (Part 1)

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I have been involved at three country clubs in my life. The first CC was under my parents’ membership in Covington, TN. The second CC was as an employee serving as the assistant to the golf pro in Canton, GA. The third was at an affordable club I found in Louisville a few years back. Let me just say, I have an affinity for golf!

I’ve also grown up in the church and have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years—serving as a Lead Pastor for the past 12. Let me say, with all her blemishes and imperfections (of which I am a part), I love the church! 

Having been a part of both country clubs and churches—as well as studying the North American landscape—I think for many Christians it’s easy to confuse country club membership with church membership. In this two-part blog, I want to highlight eight identifiers (four in each post) that your church might be a country club.

Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for the church to be a country club. Jesus died and rose again for the church to be a commissioned conduit to take the good news to the ends of the earth! 

With that in mind, here are four identifiers that your church might be a country club.

1—Your church might be a country club if the goal is to keep members happy. 

A country club is a service provider. For many, they provide golfing, swimming, tennis, dining, and entertainment services. Thus, if their services don’t appeal and appease the members, they will soon experience a decrease in membership. As a result, if members complain about the conditions of the locker rooms, the quality of the greens, the attire of the staff, or the taste of the food, country clubs will work to rectify the problem. A club’s future and sustainability is fueled by the satisfaction of the members. 

A church, on the other hand, is a mission vehicle. A church’s goal isn’t to keep members happy consuming a service, but to equip members to be sent out proclaiming and demonstrating good news. However, many churches have been turned into country clubs as they field an onslaught of complaints and suggestions. When churches are crafted into the image of consumers they distort the image of their Savior. 

2—Your church might be a country club if the leaders are seen more like a board of directors.

Many country clubs have a group of people called the board of directors that oversee the activities and effectiveness of the organization. In short, the board is mostly comprised of business people that are mainly concerned with two things: membership happiness and the club’s bottom line. Thus, board of directors are inclined to measure a club’s success based upon the bottom line of bodies and budgets. 

In the New Testament, church leaders were never referred to of as a board of directors, but as apostles, pastors (elders), evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). And these leaders were to equip the members for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Did you catch that? Those who belong to the church are to do work! Gospel work! I don’t know about your club, but I never experienced my club calling for a work day for members to tidy up the property. Members pay others to do the work so that they can enjoy the benefits of the club. 

Church leaders aren’t a board of directors but a body of developers.

Beware, churches that are primarily built on a country club mentality will experience a bottom-line effect when they have leaders that call members to work—getting their hands dirty—for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good. 

3—Your church might be a country club if people with affluence carry all the influence. 

For many, membership to a country club carries a connotation of status and wealth. Our culture is conditioned to treat those of status and wealth differently than those without the position or the deep pockets. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the owner of a multi-million-dollar company received preferential treatment compared to the retiree who drove a UPS truck. It’s not that the retiree was treated poorly, he just didn’t carry the weight the million-dollar business man did. 

I’ve also witnessed first-hand in the church world how status and wealth can get one a prominent place of influence in the church. Never mind the person of affluence swims in a theological, missional, and spiritual kiddie-pool. Yet, because of the influence his affluence provides him, he is able to bend the ears of the board of directors (leaders), which ultimately gives direction to the bent of the church.   

Affluence should not be a factor for giving one influence in the church. People that should be given a voice and weight are those who exhibit an authentic and deep abiding love for Jesus and His mission.

Success in business doesn’t mean maturity in mission. 

4—Your church might be a country club if the membership is homogenous. 

There’s seldom diversity in club members. Most members are cut from the same piece of cloth. They live in the same area, go to the same schools, dress the same way, vote for the same political party, etc. In short, most country clubs are set up for homogeneity. 

The church, however, was birthed for diversity. With the mission to create a peoplefrom all peoples, Jesus envisioned a diverse church—a third race as some have expressed. Therefore, churches should be about engaging, reaching, and cultivating the diversity represented in the community around them. Therefore, churches should experience racial, cultural, socio-economic, political, and to some extent denominational diversity. In doing so, the church demonstrates the in-breaking reign of God to unite a people from all peoples through the blood of the Lamb! 

In closing, I’m for both country clubs and churches. Given my affinity for golf, I understand the benefits and environments of country clubs. Given my love for Jesus and having studied His affection and mission for the church, I understand who the church is and what the church is to do. But the two entities are entirely different! A church isn’t a country club, and a country club isn’t a church. 

Kiss of Death

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I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.