In his book The God First Life, Stovall Weems, pastor of Celebration Church in Orlando, wants you to uncomplicate your life by doing it God’s way. Working from the familiar passage of Matthew 6:33, Stovall writes that God will provide all the things we need in life, but he has to remain first in our lives, “regardless of my questions or regardless of whether I understood something or how I felt about it.” (17) When we put God first, we get a new family, a new life, and new freedom. The life we instinctively want and pursue, he argues, is only available through “God-first living.” (20) 


A life of anxiety is never an issue of unmet need but always an issue of disordered priorities. -Stovall Weems, 22

Stovall uses the three “new” promises – a new family, a new life, and new freedom – to organize the book. Our new family is God’s family, into which we are adopted by faith in Jesus Christ, and with whom we are called to do life together. This new family is vital because “community is where God shapes us into the image of Christ.” (63) Our new life is the life in the Spirit, empowered by God himself to do more and become more than we ever thought possible. This new life is also a life of worship, prayer, and service. Finally, the new freedom we have is the grace we enjoy from being set free from sin. We are free from the sins of our past and empowered to live for God in the present. Putting God first, walking out the powerful promise of Matthew 6:33, is the key to all of this. Stovall concludes, “you will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced – God’s way.” (154)

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A photographer, who is a Christian, reached out for help. “I have several gay friends, and they keep telling me, ‘When I get engaged/married, I’m definitely having you shoot the photos.’ While I’m honored by their compliments and love them dearly, I’m conflicted about whether or not I can, as a Christian, participate in their weddings as the photographer.” When her friends ask her to shoot their wedding, what should she do?


What did it mean for Jesus to eat with sinners?
A Christian college student at a state university wants to join a fraternity, but they have a reputation as a party house. He thinks he can be a witness for Christ in the house, but there is a lot of drinking and drug-use that goes on there. When they ask him to join the house, what should he do?

These are complicated questions that require serious reflection. One of the most common responses I’ve seen to these types of questions goes like this: “Jesus ate with sinners, so you should [shoot the wedding/join the frat/go to the party].” But is it really as simple as that? What, after all, did it mean for Jesus to eat with sinners? And why was it such a big deal?

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Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

A refrain spoken over the dead. A reminder for the living. We are but dust, and to dust we shall return.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We close our eyes and abandon ourselves to God. These are the symbols of our humility, the reminder that our time here is short, and that we are not in control.

Ash and dust bring us into confrontation with our own mortality, our own sinfulness, and the fleeting nature of our lives here on earth. Ashes and dust are a reminder that our hope and faith must be in God alone, and not in what we can accomplish in our short time.

What, then, are we to do in the face of such confrontation with our own mortality? We must repent. In dust and ashes.

The ancients placed this symbol of death, these ashes, upon their heads as a sign of their repentance. Like worship, it was an external action that reflected an internal reality. Finally seeing the folly of their old ways, they repented in dust and ashes, hoping that the god to whom they prayed was a forgiving god. A gracious deity. A merciful Lord.

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As my friend Rachel said on Facebook this morning, Lent is the time when everyone is going to get back on the #yearofno bandwagon. (If you aren’t familiar with the #yearofno, you can find all the relevant posts here.) Whether or not any of that actually happens I don’t know, but Lent is an excellent opportunity to revisit your entitlements and indulgences, and your plan to learn to say “No” to them.

Many of us are giving things up for Lent, saying “No” to idle pleasures and innocent addictions so that we can draw nearer to God in this season. The intention of this is good, but as many others have been writing recently, we need to go deeper.

Lent is a season of repentance, and a season of repentance requires repentance before self-denial can mean anything. We cannot simply subtract an idol from our lives without first confessing, “I am an idol worshipper.” When we try self-denial without repentance, the idol simply goes off into arid places until it finds seven other idols more powerful than itself, and then brings them all back to fill your heart again, leaving you worse off than before. You cannot simply ignore an idol out of existence. You must destroy it with repentance.

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In his latest book, Futureville, author Skye Jethani argues that the way we envision the future deeply affects how we live in the present. Our lives are guided by our eschatology – the way we view the end of things and the (if there will be one) new beginning. Using the 1939 World’s Fair as the controlling metaphor, Jethani guides the reader through several different ways of viewing the future, and how those visions of the future (eschatologies) direct and shape our lives in the present.

There are, he argues, three general ways we envision the future coming about. He calls them Evolution, Evacuation, and Resurrection. Evolution is the belief in the inevitability of human progress to create an ever-improving world. This view, popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, is girded by the innovation of science and the capacity of human reason. It is championed by “Change the World” propaganda. In many ways, the Church has embraced the Evolution view in its many “crusades” and willingness to influence political power for Christian ends. The trouble with this worldview, however, is that it turns our culture into a battlefield. “With more power, we tell ourselves, we can muscle our agenda into existence and force others to submit to our vision of the future.” (58)

Evacuation is the belief that the whole world is going to be destroyed, and it’s the Christian’s job to get as many people into the escape pods of salvation as possible before the fire reigns down from heaven. Evacuation is about escape. “Central to evacuation is the belief that believers will be entirely spared from the pain and suffering awaiting the rest of humanity.” (64) In this view, Christians evangelize out of safe pockets of purity, where everything they consume carries a “Christian” label. This inevitably leads to a culture of disengagement and self-centeredness, where everything becomes about the safety and purity of the isolated community of faith.

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