Wednesday, July 24, 2013

3 Common Misconceptions About Following Jesus

So many of the things we believe, are things we don't even think about. We pick them up in our earliest years from our parents, teachers, friends, and the culture at large. Some of them are things deliberately taught, values passed down from the previous generation, like the idea that all people should be treated equally. Others are so ingrained into our culture that we never question them, like the superiority of sliced bread to unsliced.

We have picked up a lot of subtle beliefs about Jesus as well, and what he asks of us. Some of them are wrong, contrary to the Gospel. Often, these misconceptions go untested.

1. Following Jesus is a Religious Thing

So what do you think of Jesus?”
I go to church and all that”

Jesus never asked anyone to go to church. His call was simply “follow me.”

The words “religion” and “religious” are only found ten times in the NIV Bible. Most of those clearly refer to the Jewish religion (Amos 5:21, Acts 25:19, Colossians 2:16, and Hebrews 10:11) and many of those show “religion” in a negative light, sometimes directly opposed to God.

Jesus was a member of the Jewish faith. He remained so all his life, faithfully keeping the Law, showing that it was meant to point to himself. But most of the things Jesus talked about had little to do with his religion, other than a general faith in God. Jesus spent a lot of time telling people about the kingdom of God. He talked about loving others, neighbors, enemies, anyone. He talked about how we spend our money, how we treat our children, how we make peace with others. He talked about prayer and fasting, but he specifically criticized those who made a religious show of them. He taught us that prayer and fasting are primarily something between ourselves and God.

Jesus never talked about church buildings, programs, services, pews, or ceremonies. He never told people to be priests, or ministers. He never commanded people tithe to their church. Jesus never discussed forms of worship, and whether we should be contemporary, traditional, or liturgical.

Jesus did not come to earth to start a new religion called Christianity. He came to bring people to God. Following Jesus is not about religion. It is not about promoting religion, or trying to get people to join our particular brand of Christianity. Following Jesus is living life in away that brings people closer to God, wherever they may be on that journey.

2. Following Jesus is a Personal Thing

I can just worship God in my truck or on the lake.”

One of the distinctives of American culture is our “rugged individualism,” our determination to make it on our own, not influenced, not dependent on others. Our cultural axioms include: “Be your own man,” “Follow your dream,” and “Do it your way.” We have a tendency to read this into the Bible as well.

Jesus never intended us to go at it alone. Faith is a deeply personal thing, but it is also a deeply communal thing. I can not love my neighbor without a neighbor. I can not encourage others if I don't talk to them. I can not confess my sins to others and pray for them (James 5:16) all by myself.

Much of the New Testament is composed of letters written to specific churches. By churches, I do not mean 501(c)3 organizations that meet in a building with pews and stained glass. Rather, the New Testament word “church” simply means “group.” It was written to groups of people together. People who were often diverse, but shared a common connection as disciples of Jesus.

Anytime in my life that I have been growing as a disciple. Anytime I have deepened my understanding of God and the world. Anytime I have become more like Jesus, It was in the context of a group of people encouraging me, teaching me, caring for me. And it almost always happened as I was doing the same thing back to them.

3. Following Jesus is an Easy Thing

I asked Jesus into my heart once. Did you see my new truck?”

I am not here to judge an individual's temporal or eternal relationship with God. I can say this with certainty, following Jesus is not about praying a prayer, believing a doctrine, or even getting baptized (although those are all often involved in a decision to follow Jesus). Following Jesus is about living life like Jesus. It is saying, “Jesus knows more than me, I am going to trust him and do things his way.” This is not an easy thing to do.

Jesus said it like this,
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:31-33)

So if you want to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, it will cost you everything. Don't do it unless you are ready for trouble.

Here is what I have experienced. Sometimes following Jesus means bucking the trends of society. Society does not always get it right. Sometimes following Jesus means bucking the trends in the church. The church doesn't always get it right either. You will get persecution from all sides. You will be too liberal for your conservative friends, too conservative for your liberal friends. If your highest aim is for people to like you, following Jesus might not be for you.

So why follow Jesus? I do it for the rewards. I am not altruistic. I am not a good enough person to just love everyone for their own sake. But I trust that when I do love people, when I do it like Jesus , it will be worth it.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

For every thing I have given up, for every criticism I have endured, I have received a multitude of blessings. I have always been provided for physically. I have witnessed God transform lives. I have seen enemies embrace. I have seen neighborhoods rebuilt. I have an ever increasing family in this life. I have a lot to look forward to in the next.

Friday, July 12, 2013

These Are Our Children

The facts are staggering. Every year more than a million kids are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor around the world.  Across the world, children are  subjected to rape multiple times every night. They are subject to beatings, abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases. They are afraid. They feel helpless. They feel unloved.

Victims of sexual trafficking often remain in the sex industry even after they become physically free to do so. It is the only work they know. It is the only value they have been shown. The slavery never really ends.

I knew trafficking was a problem. But it isn't something I really like to think about. When I decided to open my eyes to the problem, I found I didn't even know the half of it. Here's some things that shocked me.

 - It's not just girls. Although young girls may be the picture we often have in our minds for sexual trafficking, an estimated 400,000 boys and young men are victims of sex trafficking each year.
 - It doesn't just happen in some third-world country out there. An estimated 100,000 children in the U.S. are involved in the sex industry. The U.S. is the second largest destination for human trafficking in all its forms.
- It's big business. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry (after the drug trade) and brings and estimated $32 billion each year.

So I know what you might be thinking. I've never trafficked anyone. I've never participated in child prostitution or child pornography. Maybe I should think about donating money to an organization that fights trafficking, but really, this isn't my problem.

Business needs a supply and a demand to grow. The supply for child sex trafficking comes from poor vulnerable people in some of the poorest neighborhoods and the least developed countries of the world. But the demand - that comes from us. The demand for sex trafficking does not begin with a pimp on a seedy street corner. It does not begin with a creepy guy in a trench coat. The demand begins when people are looked on as something less than a bearer of the image of God. It happens when we objectify a person.

We objectify a person when we look at them for what they can give us. This can happen in a lot of ways, and not all of them are sexual. Most of us wold agree that  in viewing pornography, we objectify a person. But we can do the same thing by the way we look at someone who passes us on the street. There was a reason Jesus warned against looking at a woman with lust (Matt 5:28). It wasn't just some prudish, archaic rule to keep us in line.

Lust and pornography are not victim-less crimes. When we devalue one human being to an object, we devalue every human being. So what starts as an "innocent" second glance progresses to an obsession with fulfilling our desires at someone else's expense. It will hurt our relationships. Eventually, without any checks, it can lead to such an objectification that we would harm another person, even an innocent child to fulfill our desires. We like to think we are insulated from such evil, but it is not as far as we might think.

The bottom line is that we are all responsible for child sex trafficking. We are responsible by what we do. We are responsible by what we don't do. We are responsible by what we choose to ignore.

Photo: Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
We are safe,
Because of you!!!

This is the sweet face of one of the little girls in a Rapha House prevention program.  Every day, teams of RH social workers are dispersed into high risk trafficking communities. We reach out to children and families in these communities with education about trafficking as well as physical services.  We have a responsibility, not only to minister to child victims in our safe house programs, but also to stop trafficking from taking place before children are victimized.  

This Valentines Day, we want to say thank you for showing love to the children of Rapha House.  None of this is possible without you!

Photo by Theara- RH Kid's Club DirectorThese are our children. They are not nameless faces on a street. They are boys and girls created in the image of God. Each has a name. Each has a story.

These are our children. This isn't a problem some other people have in some other part of the world. We can't pretend we don't know it is happening, both in America and around the world.

These are our children. We live in the wealthiest nation on earth. We have power and resources to stamp out human trafficking. We are not helpless to come to their aide. We are just unwilling to get our hands dirty.

These are our children. Our sons and daughters are just a step away from slavery, when we allow them to be viewed as objects. When we objectify another human being, we are adding fuel to the growing inferno that is human trafficking.

These are our children. Every girl you look at online is someone's daughter. The ad revenue alone from visits to such sites fuels the pornography industry, creating a demand, making it more likely that another life will be destroyed by trafficking.

These are our children. Because it is not right to deny justice to the innocent (Provebs 18:5). Because God defends the cause of the fatherless (Duet 10:18). Because Jesus was compassionate to the helpless (Matt 9:36). Because our highest act of worship is to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27)

If God has so moved you, please consider joining the cause of rescuing children from sex trafficking. For more information, visit and

Stats courtesy of: and