Author Archives: deorl

About deorl

Pastor of Lifewell Church. lifewellchurch.com

Are Christians Mean?

In reality people are people, some are mean, some are nice. Most of us have good days and bad days, and that affects how we treat others. However, people have higher expectations for Christians, as they should. To be a Christian means I follow Jesus, and that is what sets the expectation of others.

Was Jesus always nice? Not really. I know, I know, we all believe in “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but Jesus was pretty harsh sometimes. Most of us can call to mind the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple. That’s a good example of who and what made Jesus angry. Jesus had little tolerance for the self-righteous Pharisees of his day, and the Lord was often upset over the unbelief coming from people who would claim to belong to God.

Jesus was gentle, however, if you understand the term. It doesn’t simply mean “nice,” nor does it imply Jesus was soft concerning injustice and evil. It means he was genuinely understanding of those who were enslaved to sin, and was willing to love them and spend time to teach them the truth. The Pharisees just could not understand why Jesus “ate with tax-collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus never advocated for excessive or fraudulent collection of taxes, nor did he participate  in or promote sinful lifestyles. Jesus taught those who would listen, and many believed in him and changed their minds and their lifestyles as a result.

Sometimes Jesus’ followers weren’t very nice. On one occasion two of his disciples, called the Brothers Thunder, (James and John were known by this name), wanted to bring fire down from heaven to consume their Lord’s opponents (cf. Luke 9:54). Jesus scolded them for this. “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.” When parents tried to bring their children to Jesus, so the Lord could bless the little ones, these same disciples tried to keep them away. Jesus said, “Don’t hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

The Holy Spirit is gentle, and Christians who are full of the Spirit will be too. He is also called “the Spirit of Truth,” and he guides Christians into the truth  (John 16:13). As a result we will speak the truth in love when under the Holy Spirit’s influence (Ephesians 4:15). Not everyone responds favorably when they are told the truth, even when that is done in love. The perception by those who hear what they don’t believe or want to hear may be to accuse the messenger of being unkind.

Christians may be genuinely mean, though. In fact, some of the most difficult, self-righteous, unpleasant people with whom I’ve had to deal over the years were in church most every Sunday. This should not be true of those who claim the name of Jesus. The root problem behind this unkindness is self, or self-centeredness. I want things to go my way, and when they don’t I will mistreat you.

In Christ, though, I am a new creation with a new nature, which is focused on Christ, not self. It is not difficult to be unselfish when I simply turn my mind’s eye on Jesus, and allow him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”   The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:5–8.

I want to challenge my fellow Christians: Be kind! Pay attention to others. Smile at people. Love each other and treat everyone with respect, especially those with whom you disagree. Courtesy is a Christian virtue. Hold doors open for people. Give up your seat on public transportaion or at church, or scoot over so others can sit down easily. Give up the prime parking spot instead of cursing and fighting for it. Don’t cut people off  or flip people off because they aren’t driving the way you want. Refuse to gossip or speak unkindly about anyone. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And that includes social media! Pray for people you’re angry with, don’t post hateful things about them. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; don’t hold grudges. Refuse the play the judge. Take the log out of your own eye before you go hunting for sawdust in someone else’s. Walk around in other people’s shoes for awhile before you snap to a judgment about who they are and why they’re doing what you don’t approve of.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 4:32–5:2.

One Last Ride

I met you when you were young,
my brother, my friend Jonathan.
You were full of fire, anger, strife, desire,
and a need for friendship.
What was I to you?
a mentor, a teacher, a pastor,
and when all else failed,
a friend.
I loved you, my brother,
like a father would a son.
I taught you that love is
as love does,
and love does what is best
for the one it loves.
I sought to do that
until the end.
I gave and gave and gave,
to you and the two who
also were to you like brothers.
I fed “my boys” and shed tears,
as I tried to guide you three,
to show you, teach you, tell you
the truth.
I drove you all around,
and you drove me to see
that grace is often taken for granted.
Too soon I lost you boys to the world,
as each one consumed the Lie
that life is about the here and now
and not the hereafter.
Now you know without doubt:
This life is temporary,
but the unseen, eternal.
Why would you keep calling me
and coming to church
if you didn’t believe what I preached?
Why would you finally pray a prayer
to receive the Lord
if you didn’t want to be in heaven with God?
Where was your heart when you died
that night, Jonathan?
I truly hope and believe
that you opened up to receive
Jesus’ sweet love and grace.
You knew, or feared, you’d die young,
and you made me promise to do your funeral
some day.
Why did that day come so soon?
You’ve left this world
to face the Judge of all people.
But the Judge is also your Defender
if you entrusted him with
your soul, your spirit, your life.
Sunday I drove your family and your ashes
to the cemetery.
One last ride.
We laid white carnations in around your remains,
before we buried the little casket.
When I returned to the church I saw
a single carnation remained on the table
where we honored you.
This morning I took one last flower to your grave.
Now I leave you to the grace of God.

I kept my promise, Lord.
Will you tell Jonathan what I’ve said and done?
I don’t know why he had to die,
Lord Jesus, but I
have done my best to honor You
and exalt your grace
by speaking the truth in love
to all who would hear it.
Lord Jesus, I trust your love,
and this Gospel of God’s grace.

Looking Back

Forty years ago this week the first Star Wars movie was released.
U2 is doing a 30 year anniversary tour of the band’s Joshua Tree album. They were at ATT Stadium in Arlington last night. I didn’t see the show.
Outside the front door of my church today there is a car show going on with classic vehicles from the 50’s-70’s and music from the same time period.

We love to look back. Sometimes it seems we cannot escape our past; sometimes we wish we could return.

I saw the first Star Wars as a 15 year old during a visit with my birth dad in North Carolina. I had little hope of seeing this blockbuster movie in my hometown, since the lines literally circled the block at the Cine Capri—the only theater where it was playing in Phoenix, AZ. However, there were very few people in the theater in downtown Weaverville, NC that summer day in 1977. I sat in the middle of the auditorium all by myself. I felt special. That day I also bought my very first record album: Hotel California by The Eagles. That was 40 years ago.

I went to the first concert of U2’s Joshua Tree tour at ASU Activity Center in April of 1987. It was enjoyable. Then on December 19th and 20th of the same year U2 concluded the tour at ASU Stadium. I was there both nights with young men from Arizona Youth Associates, the group home where I worked as Program Director. Tickets were only $5, very cheap even way back then. U2 wanted to be sure to fill the stadium both nights because they were filming the documentary Rattle and Hum. If you fast forward to the middle of that movie, you’ll experience some of what we did. It was amazing, far and away the best concert experience I’ve ever had. After the concert ended 60,000 people exited the stadium peacefully singing “40” together, which is a song based on Psalm 40.

Now, here’s the question: If I could go back 40 or 30 years ago, would I? Maybe for a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live it all over again. Movies and music help us to visit in a sense. However, I want to live today. Now that doesn’t mean I like our current time period better than the late 70’s or late 80’s. I really don’t. However, everything I’ve experienced, all of the lessons I’ve learned, and all of the life I’ve lived has been preparation for where I am now. I need to remember the past, but also forget the past. I must remember what I’ve learned, but forgive and forget the pain and evil caused by people. I also need to seek forgiveness from God (and others when it’s possible) for my failures and wrongs.

The most important decision I made in the past changed the trajectory of my life. I’m in a much different place than I could have been. At 16 years of age, on Easter Sunday to be precise, I committed my life to Jesus Christ. I received forgiveness for all of the wrong I did. That was 39 years ago, and the forgiveness has never stopped coming. I confess, he forgives. That commitment is something I cannot forget because Jesus has stayed with me and continues to transform me. Through all of the changes in my life and in this crazy world the unchanging Christ has been the constant. He has always been my leader and friend.

Sweet Mary Jane, Some Facts On 420

The following conversation was overheard between a street preacher and a heckler. Evidently the street preacher had said something negative about marijuana, so you know somebody’s going to jump to the defense of their precious Mary Jane!

Heckler: Ok, who created marijuana?
Preacher: God did.
Heckler: Well, since God created it, there’s nothing wrong with me smoking it (Proceeds to high five his friends who all think he burned the preacher).
Preacher: God created poison ivy too. So why don’t you go take your clothes of and roll in it!

Today is 420, the chosen day for hedonists to celebrate their favorite weed. I don’t think it likely I’ll be able to convince anyone who smokes marijuana regularly that it is a bad idea. Weed is now considered by many to be not only safe, but healthy. This is not an objective conclusion. You can read studies that demonstrate marijuana’s destructiveness when used in a chronic way (pun intended), and studies that tout marijuana’s helpfulness in assisting cancer patients with nausea, for example. As is the case with many things, the truth about weed is likely found in the middle, not at the extremes of opinion.

The source of marijuana’s capacity to make someone feel “high” are cannabinoids that mimic brain chemicals. This is why young teenagers are particularly susceptible to the siren song of Mary Jane, since their brains are in development.

Here are some excerpts from neuroscientist Marc Lewis in his book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain:

“Cannabinoids are specialized neurotransmitters released by neurons that have only just fired… in some parts of the brain, cannabinoids increase the firing rate of the neuron that has just released them….By increasing the action of neurons that are already active, cannabinoids cause each thought, each response, each act of perception or imagination to magnify itself… The cannabinoid receptor system matures most rapidly…during adolescence…. teenage thinking bears an uncanny resemblance to the delusional profundity of a marijuana high…Even when they’re not stoned, adolescents live in a world of ideation of their own making and follow trains of thought to extreme conclusions, despite overwhelming evidence that they’re just plain wrong” (exerpted from pp. 51-53).

So, let’s relax all the “weed is safe” rhetoric here. Marijuana is a powerful drug because it changes the way your brain works. By the way, that’s exactly what prescribed psychotropic medications like Xanax, Zoloft, Celexa and Ativan do, not in the same way, but all of these drugs affect how your brain functions. In fact, so does alcohol (There’s an interesting chapter on this in Lewis’s book). Therefore, it would seem caution, perhaps extreme caution, is in order when deciding to put these chemicals into your body and brain.

It is quite ironic, in an insidious sort of way, that many who smoke marijuana and tout it’s positive medical benefits, vilify cigarette smoking. The irony comes in two forms: one, the idea that sucking smoke from one plant into your lungs is healthy while doing the same with another plant is not; and two, consider that the exact claim being made about marijuana’s health benefit was also made regarding cigarettes in the earlier part of the 20th century. The only healthy substance that belongs in your lungs is clean air, not smoke from a weed or the leaf of a tobacco plant.

What about the medical benefits of THC? Should it be administered to help, say, epileptics if it is shown to slow or stop seizures. Absolutely, yes. However, that’s a far cry from the majority of medical marijuana prescriptions being written. Quite frankly, the medical marijuana industry is largely just a cover up for those who want a legal way to get high. The reality is, some doctors write prescriptions to make more money. I have anecdotal evidence to illustrate. My sister, who is now deceased, saw a doctor for years who prescribed a long laundry list of drugs for her to take, many at her request. Taking a high quantity of so many different drugs was very destructive to her health, but this doctor didn’t care about my sister, just his bottom line. I mention this in the event that someone is tempted to leave decisions about their health to the judgment of just any doctor, especially a doctor who writes a large quantity of prescriptions for marijuana, or other psychotropic medications.

Now, you might assume that someone with opinions like mine would be opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I don’t think it is healthy, but neither do I think it is any more dangerous than alcohol. This country went through some violent times during prohibition, and there are parallels between the distribution of illegal liquor in the 1920s and the violent drug cartels that supply marijuana today. I am interested in seeing some hard data that demonstrates how legalization has impacted Colorado and other legalizaiton states, not just economically, but how it has impacted usage, especially among teenagers. I really don’t want to smell weed on every corner, but I don’t like the violence associated with it’s illegal sale, nor do I believe those who smoke it should go to jail.

What about you? Believe it or not, I didn’t write this to judge you or tell you what to do with your body. I write it as a counterpoint to the rhetoric you’re likely to read online. I will say this, if you are buying weed (or any other chemical) from a drug dealer, you are supporting organized crime and violent cartels. You share responsibility for the deaths of thousands in Mexico. If you want to smoke marijuana, move to a state where it’s legal and buy it from a store. Put these violent gangs out of business. Quit supporting organized crime with your habit.

Be informed. It has been proven that chronic marijuana usage, particularly in teenagers, lowers one’s IQ.  Marijuana Lowers IQ Smoking weed also lowers motivation, inhibits memory and learning.

Make an informed decision. As for me, I’ve never possessed marijuana and I’ve never smoked it. I don’t intend to start, not even if it becomes legal.

The Prince of Disappointment

We sing about being the king
of excuses….
Today I say that I am
the Prince of Disappointment.
Little has happened as I had hoped.
Every week I revive my expectations,
but find out at the end I’m still fettered.
It seems we’re stuck in the dark
of Good Friday night,
even though the promise is heard,
Sunday’s on the way!
I could stop believing and leave,
walk out into the musky dusk
of self-indulgent insanity,
which would only serve to prove
my faith to be little more than a wish
unfulfilled.
Sight or experience don’t produce faith.
Rather, those who truly believe see,
and somehow I believe
and somehow I see,
even if I’ve yet to experience.
So I wander around this graveyard
on a never-ending Friday night,
and I set my hope on the Savior who rose.
Sunday’s comin’; yes, I believe

Sunday’s on the way!

Love, Forgiveness, Justice, Wrath

“God is love” (1 Jn. 4:9).
Love is the determination to act for the best interest of the beloved. (CS Lewis)
What is in a person’s best interest: not merely what gives the beloved pleasure, not merely what they want, but what is best for them? Love is meaningless unless God knows and is committed to do what is just and right for human beings, and for each individual person.

Therefore, in order for God to be love, he must also be just and right.
Thankfully, the Scriptures affirm on more than one occasion that the foundation of God’s throne is righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14 & 97:2). This means justice, not power, is the basis for God’s authority.
Forgiveness may be considered an act of love, assuming there is justice. Apart from justice and a standard of right and wrong, there is nothing to forgive. Further, in order for forgiveness to be a genuine act of love, there must be an appeal to God who will make all things, including the offender, right.
Therefore, we look forward to Judgment Day: some with trepidation, others with longing. The world is not just or right, but the God of justice will make everything right on that fateful Day (see Heb. 9:27 & 1 Cor. 5:10 among several passages).
Wrath is God’s response to injustice and unrighteousness. It is apropos for a personal Creator who loves deeply to be angry when injustice and evil is perpetrated against himself, his creation and those made in his image. This is not a temper tantrum, and it is not a merely emotional reaction to being offended. God’s wrath is a personal response of justice toward evil, injustice and unrighteousness. It is measured and pure. It is destructive where reconciliation and restoration are rejected, and when his love is scorned in favor of hatred or willful disbelief and disregard of his authority, plan, and design.
Forgiveness comes at a price: propitiation.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Propitiation means the God of love made a way for justice to be satisfied, sin expiated, and for his wrath to be turned aside. That way is Christ, who died on the cross for us and for our sins (Rom. 4:25, 5:8, 1 Cor. 15:3), and who rose to conquer death forever (1 Cor. 15:26, 54-55, Heb. 2:14-15).
Therefore, every Christian who understands what it means to be saved will affirm the words of the scorned hymn Christ Alone, which state:
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

And I write:

So, we go outside the city,
Where our Savior was led
To sanctify us with his blood,
And we bear the scorn
From civil and vulgar alike,
For in Christ alone we find salvation.

Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Jesus looks up

21 Things Accomplished
by the Cross of Christ

  1. Substitution– Justice was accomplished when Christ paid the death penalty we owe for our sin (Rom. 3:25, Col. 2:14, 1 Pet. 3:18, 2 Cor. 5:21).
  2. Propitiation– Turning away God’s Wrath. God poured out all of His anger against human sin and rebellion on Christ, so that He is no longer angry at any who are in Christ (Rom. 5:9, 1 Thes. 1:10, 5:9, 1 Jn. 4:10).
  3. Expiation– Christ took our sins upon him and died, thereby removing sin from all who are in Christ (1 Peter 2:24, Heb. 9:28).
  4. Redemption/Ransom- The Death Penalty is the price for sin. Christ paid the penalty that gave Satan power over us (Rom. 3:24-26, Heb. 9:15, 1 Cor. 1:30, Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14).
  5. Rescue/Salvation- Another way of viewing redemption. We are saved from the power of sin and death, and from Satan and the destruction to which he and the world under him are destined (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  6. Reconciliation- Our sin made us God’s enemies, Christ’s cross makes it so we can be friends with God (Eph. 2:11-14, 16, Col. 1:20).
  7. Restoration of the Imago Dei- Christ’s death and resurrection result in the restoration of the image of God in a reborn human being (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, 2 Cor. 3:18, Col. 3:10)
  8. Justification– We receive the righteous life Christ lived on earth when we put our faith in Him and His death for our sin. This is both positional (ie. judicial) and actual. God judges us right in spite of our weakness because He looks at Christ, who is our atonement, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit gives us rebirth and makes us like Christ continually in actual experience (Rom. 3:24-26, Rom. 8:2-16).
  9. Christ Became the Curse- Similar to propitiation, but focused on the curses that fall upon those who rebel against the Law. By becoming the cursed one, He frees us from every curse and makes the way for the righteousness that comes by the faith of Abraham (Gal. 3:13-14).
  10. New Covenant in His Blood- A covenant was established by the promise of the lives of those who enter into it. If broken, the oath taker’s life was forfeit. Christ shed his blood to guarantee the covenant for us. All we have to do is trust and receive (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8 & 9, Luk. 22:20).
  11. Made the Old Covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:16, 10:9).
  12. Last Will and Testament- Christ wills to give the promises to those who believe in Him (Heb. 9:16-28).
  13. Imputed Death- Christ’s death is transferred to His followers with the result that they overcome sin in actuality, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20, Rom. 6, 1 Pet. 2:24)
  14. Victory over Death- Christ faced death faithfully and fearlessly and beat it, so He is the “firstfruits of those who are risen from the dead” with the result that His followers no longer have to fear death (1 Cor. 15:53-56, Heb. 2:15)
  15. Rendered Law of (Sin and) Death Powerless- “so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men.” Athanasius (On the Incarnation, ch. 2), see 2 Corinthians 5:14
  16. Established the Pattern of Obedience- “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22), ironically by sacrificing himself on the cross in obedience to God, Christ replaced the sacrificial system and the covenant of the Law by establishing a New Covenant based upon his own obedience unto death (Phil. 2: , Heb. 10:5-10). When we put faith in Christ we are seen as obedient children even before we are fully obedient, but we live in obedience to the Spirit’s leading (Rom. 8:2-4).
  17. Sanctified Us- We are made holy and acceptable by the cross of Christ (Heb. 10:
  18. Proof of God’s love- Christ’s death on the cross proves God’s love for humankind (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 4:10).
  19. Pattern of Suffering- Christ suffered in this world to identify with us and leave us an example of how to deal with suffering (1st Pet. 4).
  20. Release of the Captives- Christ freed the captives in Sheol; that is, those who died before He came to earth (1 Pet. 3:18-20, Eph. 4:7-10).
  21. Fulfilled prophecy concerning Messiah (Psa. 22, Isa. 53).