Disciples Are Not Religious

Disciples Are Not Religious

Colossians 2:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Today’s Super Bowl will divide the nation into two camps. Not between those who cheer for the Steelers and those who are fans of the Seahawks, but between the few of us who care and the most of you who don’t. This is Super Bowl XL, and I don’t remember this much boredom related to the world’s most-watched sporting event. Do you care who wins? Do you know anyone who does?

Apathy or frenzy is not the only way our nation appears to be divided these days. Ever since the Bush-Gore election, commentators have said that we have two Americas: blue states and red states.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was either compelling or irrelevant, depending on which color you are.

Last week’s confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court was largely on a party-line vote, after the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended him on a straight party-line vote. Red won, blue lost.

“Brokeback Mountain” leads the Academy Awards with eight nominations, including best picture and best actor. You either think the movie is courageous and timely, or you think it sends exactly the wrong message. Again, your “color” probably determines your opinion.

“Dualism” believes that the world is made of two substances, usually mind and matter or the spiritual and the material.

We have lived with Ft. Worth vs. Dallas dualism for generations now. When I left Texas for Atlanta 12 years ago I discovered Texas vs. the rest of the world dualism. We have “conservative” vs. “liberal” dualism today in our political system, more than I can ever remember. We have Europe vs. America dualism on the war in Iraq.

And on “Disciple Now” weekend, you and I are at war with God vs. life dualism today. At least we need to be. The problem is, most of us don’t know the battle is going on. And that we’re its casualties. “Religion now” is fine; “Disciple now” is not. Let me explain.

Reject religion

Paul is “struggling” for something, and wants the Colossians to know it. “Struggle” translates agona, from which we get “agony.” “How great a battle I am fighting” is the sense. Where is the war? On one side: Jesus Christ and the “full riches of complete understanding” which are found only in him.

Paul wants them to be “encouraged in heart”–“strengthened in resolve” is a better translation. He wants them to be “united in love”–“instructed so that they love each other” is a better rendering. For this purpose: “that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” Not the partial knowledge of the Gnostics, but the full and complete knowledge found in Christ and in him alone.

Why in Christ? Because in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Not just some, all. “Treasures” translates the word for “storehouse”–all wisdom (how to live practically) and knowledge (what to know about the world) are stored in him and in him alone.

So Paul wants them to “continue to live in him,” rooted, built up, strengthened in him, and overflowing with gratitude for his grace and love (vs. 6-7).

On one side of the battle stands Jesus, in whom alone are found all wisdom and knowledge for every part of life, every problem we face, every question we ask, every day that we live. On the other side stands the enemy. What do we know about him?

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” (v. 4). “No one” in the Greek seems to indicate a specific person, someone he and they know is leading the charge, preaching the sermons, commanding the troops.

His weapons are “fine-sounding arguments.” The word described a person who used persuasive words in a courtroom to keep something he stole from someone else.

What does he want to steal from the Colossians? Their faith: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (v. 8).

“No one” is this person again. “Takes you captive” means to “seduce” or “kidnap.” The enemy is using “hollow and deceptive philosophy” which comes from human traditions and the elementary teachings the Colossians left to follow Christ.

What is this “deceptive philosophy”? In a word, dualism. Their spiritual enemies taught that the spirit is good, the secular bad. So do what you want with your body, because it is irrelevant to your soul and your soul is irrelevant to your body.

Religion is irrelevant to the real world, and the real world to religion. Be a Christian if you want, but don’t be a “disciple now.” Don’t get carried away with your religion. Keep things in their proper perspective. So long as your faith is personal and private, all is well.

Seek relationship

Paul reminded the Colossians that they “received Christ Jesus as Lord” (v. 6), the only time he uses that exact phrase anywhere in his letters. Christ the Messiah is also Jesus the man, refuting the Gnostic heresy that the “spirit” Christ and “material” Jesus were separate. He is “Lord,” refuting the Gnostic heresy that Christ Jesus is irrelevant to life. If he were standing in Dallas this morning, he would make the same argument and call us to the same battle. This war has never ended.

We are raising our children in a culture which believes that the secular and the spiritual are two completely different spheres of existence, the one quantifiable and real, the other personal and subjective. And the latter is increasingly irrelevant to all that really matters in society.

Alarmism? Homiletic hyperbole? The following examples come from Nancy Pearcey’s excellent treatise on the subject, Total Truth (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1994):

In a debate over embryonic stem cell research, actor Christopher Reeve told a student group at Yale University, “When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table.”

Scientist Steven Weinberg was addressing the Freedom From Religion Foundation: “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive to religious belief, and I’m all for that!” The hope that science would liberate people from religion is “one of the things that in fact has driven me in my life.” If science helps end religion, “it would be the most important contribution science could make.”

Marvin Minsky of MIT says the human mind is nothing but a “three-pound computer made of meat.” Carl Sagan was famous for saying, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Even the Bernstein Bears have picked up the theme. In one of these popular children’s books we find a dazzling sunrise and the words, “Nature is all that is, or was, or ever will be!”

This dualistic separation between the spiritual and the material has affected Christians as much as the rest of our culture. Historian Sidney Mead: “This internalization or privatization of religion is one of the most momentous changes that has ever taken place in Christendom.”

One example: at a Christian high school, a theology teacher walked to the front of the classroom, where he drew a heart on one side of the blackboard and a brain on the other. The two are as divided as the two sides of the blackboard, he claimed. We use the heart for religion, and the brain for science, he further explained.

Paul defeated the Gnostics in Colossae, but they are winning in Dallas. If Satan cannot get us to repudiate Jesus entirely, he’ll be nearly as happy for us to believe in him on Sunday, but to ignore him on Monday. He’ll quarantine the disease lest it spread.


So, what does God want us to do about the dualism which separates him from our lives? First, reject the lie of religion. Reject the dualistic lie which separates soul and body, faith and life, our Creator and his creation, our Father and his children.

Dealing with a nation which had reduced faith to rituals and religious routine, God says, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies” (Amos 5:21).

Religion tells us that so long as we keep our religious observances, we’ve done all God requires. So long as you have a salvation experience, come to church when you can, and satisfy the demands of basic morality, you’ve done all you need to do.

Meanwhile, the Lord of the universe is left out of our daily lives. We are isolated from his omniscience for our decisions, his omnipotence for our problems, his forgiveness for our sins, his strength for our souls. We fight Satan ourselves, and we lose.

Reject religion. Instead, pay the price of relationship.

God wants disciples, fully devoted followers, those who receive him as Lord, continue to live in him, strengthened in the faith as we were taught, overflowing with thankfulness (vs. 6-7). He is looking for those who will walk in his presence, obey his word, live for his glory and in his fear, radically committed to his Lordship.

Relationships come at a cost. Marriages, families, friendships, business partnerships–they all require priority, time, sacrifice, commitment. You reap what you sow. You profit as you invest. Pay the price of relationship with your Father.

Last Wednesday, as I was finishing this manuscript, I was challenged by the Spirit to consider again the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Perhaps the most brilliant theologian of his generation, he was a professor at Union Seminary in New York City when Hitler came to power in his native land. He could have stayed there in safety, but sensed the call of God to risk everything for his homeland and her people. He paid the ultimate price for his commitment to his Father, hanged by the Nazis shortly before his camp was liberated by the Allies.

His most famous book is titled The Cost of Discipleship. It begins, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

What does he mean? “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which a disciple leaves his nets and follows him….

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (The Cost of Discipleship [New York: Macmillan 1963] 47, italics his).

Is your faith cheap or costly grace? Are you religious, or are you a disciple now?

Fake Faith

Fake Faith

Colossians 2:16-23

Dr. Jim Denison

Some criminals need to be in jail for their own protection.

For instance, I read this week about a man who attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street. However, the confused criminal plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner declined to press charges, as the man had already been punished enough.

45-year-old Amy Brasher was arrested recently in San Antonio, Texas, after a mechanic found 18 packages of marijuana in the engine compartment of her car. She had brought the car in for an oil change, and didn’t realize the mechanic would have to raise the hood to change the oil.

Then there were the counterfeiters who sent their jammed printer for service. Trouble was, they left in place the counterfeit bills which jammed the press. They’re now awaiting trial as well.

With the new scanners and printers, counterfeit money is more a problem than ever before. And fakes exist in other areas of life as well. Fake antiques; knock-off watches and jewelry; pirated DVDs and identity theft abound. But the earliest counterfeit operation in history is still the deadliest: fake faith.

Satan wants you to reject God and his word entirely. If you won’t do that, he’ll try to get you to substitute a fake for the genuine article. If he can’t make you bad by refusing the right things, he’ll make you busy about the wrong things.

He doesn’t mind if you are passionate about the wrong faith. In fact, he’s rather amused by such deception. This week we’ll encounter one of the most practical issues in all of Christianity: the difference between full and fake faith, and why it all matters so much to you.

Religious activity (vs. 16-17)

There are three ways we know everything we know–the pragmatic, the intuitive, and the rational. Most of us are pragmatic about most of life. We use cell phones and drive cars, not because we understand them, but because they work.

One way to counterfeit Jesus is purely pragmatic: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (v. 16).

“What you eat or drink” refers to acts of worship in their culture. The Lord’s Supper and all-church fellowships come the closest in ours.

“Or with regard to a religious festival”–Jewish celebrations like Passover and Pentecost, Christmas and Easter to us.

“Or a Sabbath day”–the synagogue worship on the Sabbath, or its equivalent to the Gnostics. Sunday church to us. “Stop letting people judge you” by these things.

But why? It just makes practical sense that activity proves relationship.

You prove that you’re a member of the Dallas Women’s Club by attending events and supporting programs. You prove you’re a Republican or Democrat by how you vote, not what you say.

Years ago, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca stepped onto an elevator. A man gushed, “I love your commercials.” Iacocca snapped, “I don’t care what you think about my commercials. What kind of car do you drive?” Activity proves relationship.

Except that it doesn’t. As Paul warns, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (v. 17).

Every real thing casts its shadow. Love for my wife casts its shadow in the things I do because I love her. But I can do them for someone I hate as well. Love for my church motivates me to preach, teach, and write. But I can do these things for my sake rather than God’s or yours.

Religious activity is but a shadow, and a shadow can be cast by anything, good or bad.

How does this counterfeit Jesus tempt us today? Church services, Sunday school attendance, singing in the choir, serving on committees, all the usual things. If they are an end rather than a means to an end, they’re counterfeit. If you think you are right with God just because you came to church, you’re mistaken.

Standing in a bank lobby doesn’t prove that I know the bank president, or that I even have a relationship with that bank. Augustine said that the church has some that God hasn’t, and God has some that the church hasn’t. Religious activity is no guarantee of real Christianity. Our culture is convinced that going to church makes us Christians. Don’t be fooled.

Religious experience (vs. 18-19)

Others of us are more intuitive than pragmatic. We discover truth by how it feels to us, how we experience it personally. Satan has a counterfeit Jesus for this person as well.

“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (v. 18a). “False humility” in their spiritual lives and activities related to fasting, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. “The worship of angels”–the worship angels give and invite us to join, “angelic worship.” Worship in its highest expression.

Feeling equals relationship. Except that such experience can “puff us up with idle notions,” making us think we are closer to God than we are. If I’m so moved by worship, I must be right with the Lord. If I have been moved by prayer, I must be right with the One to whom we pray.

Such fake faith disconnects the body from the head, focusing on what we experience rather than the One we experience.

So don’t base your faith on your feelings. I questioned my salvation for more than a year because I didn’t feel anything when I trusted Christ. Only later did I realize that the Bible nowhere tells us how it feels to become a Christian, or to worship, or to witness, or to be obedient to God’s will. Feelings are the caboose at the end of the train, not the engine driving it.

And don’t base your worship on your feelings. If you came to church for feelings you came for the wrong reason. If you came to be inspired or uplifted, you came for the result rather than the Cause. When you focus on the experience rather than the God who gives it, you lose both.

The way to be happy personally is to make others happy, not to seek happiness as an end in itself. If you focus on joy rather than Jesus, you miss both.

Religious morality (vs. 20-23)

Some of us are pragmatic, tempted to base our faith on religious activity. Others of us are more intuitive, tempted to base our faith on our feelings. Still others of us are rational by nature. We like our truth to be logical, non-contradictory, systematic. We like rules and regulations, charts and diagrams, moral systems for every question and issue.

And the enemy is happy to oblige.

“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Do not handle, or taste, or even touch the physical world. As you know, the Gnostics separated the spiritual from the secular, the soul from the body. Some therefore taught that we can do anything we like with our bodies, since they don’t matter.

Others were the Gnostic legalists–they taught that since our bodies are bad, they must be disciplined and punished severely. This phrase comes from that school of thought. Keep the rules! Obey the regulations! Learn the right thing to do, and do it.

What’s wrong with religious legalism? Such rules “are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings” (v. 22b). You can’t keep it up. You can’t keep all the rules, all the time.

And such rules have an appearance of wisdom but “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (v. 23). They don’t change your heart. You’re always trying not to do what you really want to do. And that’s misery defined.

The simple fact is, we can keep the rules without ever having a relationship.

At a large university, you can enroll in freshman English, attend every class, make an A on every test, and never know the professor. At a large corporation, you can be on time for work every day for ten years and never meet the company president.

You can attend worship and Bible study, read your Bible and pray, and live by the Ten Commandments, all in your own initiative and ability. The rich young ruler told Jesus he had kept all of them, and he meant it.

I have seen Muslims worship with such fervency on their prayer rugs that their foreheads were bleeding. I have seen Buddhists burn money at the grave of their ancestors. I have seen Hindus live in abject conditions to obey their caste system. The rules do not guarantee a relationship.


Tellers and cashiers are trained to examine the portrait, seals, border, and paper of the money they handle. They use pens which stain normal paper but leave no mark on real currency. But the most effective strategy is the simplest: in training, they are made to spend hours and hours with the real thing. They handle, feel, and see real money for so long that they can tell a fake the moment they find it.

The solution to fake faith is full faith. Religious activity, experience, and morality not as ends but as means. Not as the gods we worship, but as ways to worship our God. We get involved in the activities, experiences, and moral standards of our faith because God loves us, not so he will. Because he has forgiven and accepted us, not so he might. Because we have received his mercy, not so we can.

This is an issue of deep and enormous importance. The power of ancient religions was always the power to curse. People went to their temples and made their sacrifices in order to appease the gods and escape their wrath. This is because such an impulse is basic to the human condition.

We all know that we are not what we should be. We know that we deserve to be punished for our sins by the omniscient God of the universe. Guilt over our failures and the fear of failing again motivates us to do better and try harder.

All the while, our Father is waiting to bless his children. He is waiting to forgive and forget our past, and guide and bless our future. He is waiting to give his nature, power, and victory to all who will open his gifts. He is waiting to bless all who will live for his glory, in his fear, radically and completely surrendered to him. Not so he will love us, but because he already does.

Why did you come to worship today? So God would love you, or because he does? So he would forgive you, or because he has? So he would accept you, or because he already loves and likes you as you are? Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic theologian and spiritual writer, puts all this better than I can. May I read to you from his wisdom?

“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.

“Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’

“Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse…wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one'” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved [New York: Crossroad, 1996] 30-1).


The Gift Your Soul Needs Most

The Gift Your Soul Needs Most

Colossians 2:9-15

Dr. Jim Denison

Last Tuesday morning I needed to get a book at one of the local bookstores. I had not yet purchased Janet’s Valentine’s Day card, and knew time was running out and nothing would be left. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The side of the Valentine’s Day card display which held cards wives would buy for their husbands was completely picked over. Scavenged. A few envelopes stuck down in the cracks at odd angles. The side which held cards husbands would buy for their wives was pristine. Undisturbed. Five o’clock that afternoon would be a different story–a rugby match, arms broken, blood on the ground, fighting for the last card with a pink heart on it.

I told that story to some of our staff at lunch that day, and one of them told me about the year when she got a card from her husband which read, “Happy Valentine’s Day on our first year together.” The problem was, they’d been married 25 years. He didn’t even notice.

Speaking for guys everywhere, we want you to know that it’s the thought that counts–if we had one.

At least with my Valentine’s Day habits, we don’t run the risk of gifts unopened. One year Janet bought birthday and Valentine’s Day cards so far in advance that she couldn’t find them when the days rolled around. I’ve never had that problem. Imagine buying chocolates and forgetting where you put them, so they sat there and grew rock-hard and moldy. Flowers still in the box, wilted and dead. Airline tickets in the drawer, unused and expired. Years ago the comedian Robin Williams remarked: the greatest gift is life. The greatest sin is to return it unopened.

In Colossians we’ve learned that Jesus expects us to live for the glory of God, in his fear, radically committed to him as the Lord of every part of our lives, not just our religious activities. This week we receive the gift which enables us to do all of that, to experience the victorious and joyful, radical and free life Jesus offers. Like all gifts, this one must be opened. Don’t return it today.

Open the gift of God

What is this gift? Think of it as four packages, one inside the next. The first package is the largest, because it contains all the others: “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (v. 9). The first present is God himself.

“In Christ,” and in no other. Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius never even claimed to be God. From the beginning, despite The DaVinci Code’s fabrication, Christians have worshiped Jesus as God.

“All the fullness of the Deity”–not just part. It’s found in him and nowhere else. Jesus claimed, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). He was omniscient, omnipotent, sinless; every attribute of God the Father belongs to God the Son.

“Lives in bodily form”–God became one of us, that we might be one with him. We couldn’t climb up to him, so he climbed down to us. Traveling in England this past summer, I encountered a number of cathedrals with stunning architecture and artwork in their vaulted ceilings. Knowing that tourists like us wouldn’t be able to stare straight up for long, the church wardens placed large mirrors angled on the floor. Looking down, we were able to look up.

In precisely that way, Jesus is the mirror image of God, God come down for us. In Christ, God has come to present himself to us. If Jesus is your Lord, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You have God dwelling in you today.

The second package comes from the first: the nature of God, now available to us: “you have been given fullness in Christ…in the putting off of the sinful nature” (vs. 10, 11).

“You have been given”–this is a gift, something done for us, not earned but received at our salvation. “Fullness in Christ” means the full nature and capacity of Christ. His Spirit has come to replace the “sinful nature” with his holy presence. The former tenant has been evicted; the new owner has moved into the house. The same Spirit who indwelled and empowered Jesus indwells and empowers us.

Now we can experience the nature of Christ. Be “Christians”–“little Christs.” We can manifest his character to the world–his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We can conquer temptation and defeat sin. We can live the victorious, abundant life of Jesus. We can literally be the presence of Christ today.

The third package is contained in the second: the power of God. When we asked Jesus into our lives we received “the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (v. 12). The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave lives in us.

Jesus promised: “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14).

In answer to prayer, the Holy Spirit living in the first believers enabled them to heal the sick, raise the dead, stand with courage before the Empire, die in victory, and live in joy. Everything Jesus did, they did. That same gift is ours now.

The last package is contained in all the others: the forgiveness of God. “He forgave us all our sins” (v. 13), not just some. Not just the negligible ones. He forgave Moses and Paul their murders, Peter his denial, David his adultery and murder, the crowd their cross. He has forgiven every sin you’ve ever confessed.

He “canceled the written code”–the word was used for wiping writing away. Ancient writing materials were expensive, and did not absorb ink. So a scribe could wipe it off and reuse the papyrus or parchment. When you erase a chalkboard, the writing that was there is now gone forever. So it is with our sins. They are wiped away, the debt cancelled, the record expunged forever.

Now the spiritual “powers and authorities” of the enemy have been defeated publicly at the cross. They are vanquished foes, their power over us broken forever. We can start over, our past forgotten forever.

The will of God never leads where the power of God cannot sustain. God has called us to live for his glory, in his fear, radically committed to him in every part of our lives. Here’s how he will help us: he gives us himself, his nature, his power, his forgiveness. The strength to live for his glory, in his fear, radically surrendered to Jesus.

But now I must ask you: do these commitments mark your life? Do they describe your experience? Did you truly live for his glory, in his fear, radically surrendered this week? If not, why not? If this gift is available to us, why haven’t we opened it?

Why we don’t open this gift

I cannot speak for you, but I can give you my answer to the question. For a long time I would have to answer honestly that I did not live in the power of God, for several reasons.

One: I didn’t know I could. For the longest time, I thought Christianity was a life of religious achievement performed in gratitude for salvation. Going to church, reading the Bible, praying, giving, witnessing, serving–all the things we do for God.

I had no idea that the same Spirit and power which resided in Jesus was available to me. I had no idea that I could ask God for his help in defeating temptation, for his courage in witnessing to my neighbor, for his wisdom in making my decisions.

Deism is the belief that God made the world but has nothing to do with it now. This was the theology which motivated Thomas Jefferson to cut all the miracles out of the New Testament.

It is still dominant today. Do you really expect God to heal terminal illness? To save notorious sinners? To give you victory over temptation every hour of every day? We get what we expect in life. Do you know that you can do what Jesus did? That you can have his character and his ministry as God wills? That you can literally be the presence of Christ today?

Two: I didn’t pay the price. Even Jesus had to get up a great while before day, and go to a solitary place to pray (Mark1:35). He had to pray all night before choosing his apostles. He had to pray before his miracles, and in his Gethsemane, and on his cross. Even he needed to connect with God to have the power of God.

I didn’t do that. I prayed at the start of the day, and occasionally if a problem arose. I had my “quiet time” and thought I had done all God expected. I didn’t keep the drill plugged into the socket, and wondered why it ran down so quickly. I didn’t begin the day by surrendering it to Jesus, and keep it before him all day long. Do you?

Three: I didn’t want more of Jesus than I had. I wanted to live in two worlds. I wanted to serve God’s agenda but mine as well. I wanted people to trust in Jesus, but also be impressed with me. I wanted the Kingdom to grow, but my church as well. I wanted God’s plans to succeed, but I wanted my career to succeed also. I bought into the spiritual/sacred division, and wanted a foot in both.

I didn’t have all of Jesus I needed, but I had all I wanted. Meanwhile, my soul was shriveling up. I was burning out and didn’t know why. My faith had become routine, my ministry a job, my life overcast and dull. Because I had all of Jesus I wanted.

All the time, the gift of God himself, his nature, his power, his forgiveness, his victory and joy, lay on the shelf unopened.

When did any of that change for me? I’ve told you the story before. It was a silent retreat in 1997, at Ignatius House, a Jesuit retreat center in Atlanta. I was sitting on a deck overlooking a waterfall one Monday afternoon, when God spoke directly to me. When God showed me that I had lost my soul, that I was no longer dependent upon him or close to him.

I could not remember the last time I prayed except to deal with some specific problem, the last time I read Scripture except to complete my morning quiet time or to prepare a message, the last time I listened to his Spirit. I could not remember the last time I told him that I loved him.

During those two days, God called me back to himself. He called me back to loving him and depending on him and not myself again. He called me back to an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The two days of that retreat were as transforming for me as my salvation experience. I have gotten away from them several times since, and had to return to Jesus.

God has led us to the changes we are making at Park Cities with Miller Cunningham’s coming, in part so I can get back to my soul with my Savior. In part so I can stop running a church and yet trying to listen to the Spirit, responsible for an organization and yet responsible for God’s word to our souls. I have learned that I cannot do both and do either fully. I am grateful and thrilled for the privilege of returning to my first love, and sharing him with you each week.


Do you need an Ignatius House for your soul today? Do you need to repent of self-sufficiency and make him your first love again? When last did you ask Jesus to give you his character, his power, his forgiveness and victory? When last did you ask him to be in your body what he was in his own? When last did you exchange your life for his?

That’s the last time you opened the gift your soul needs most. Let’s open it again today.