Doing What God Places in Our Hands–No More, No Less


I was talking with a friend the other day about the fear of being an ineffective Christian. Both of us face some difficult challenges in our lives, some the same, some different. Those challenges have taken their toll on us both.

No one gets through life unscathed, though. Everyone has challenges. Everyone. If not now, then later. If not when we’re young, then when we’re old. Life is hard, and no one has a magic mirror to peer into the future or a gilded passport to avoid trials.

Christianity in America consists largely of two polar camps.

You have the Radical camp that defines Christians by what they do or do not do for God. Some even go so far as to say one’s ultimate standing with God depends entirely on how radically engaged one is for the Kingdom. It all comes down to what you do, and you better do a lot.

Then you have the Rest camp. “Do? What is that? I’m resting in the Lord and in my salvation!” The funny thing about that camp is that it never seems to do anything, ever. The world ends at the tip of their noses (or, in some cases, the outline of their belly).

I don’t think the truth dwells in either camp. The Church in America can lull you to sleep or work you to death. Neither is healthy–or godly.

Open, cupped handsOne day, I cupped my hands in prayer and said, “God, fill these hands.”

And He did.

He filled them with a mix of normal American life and stuff no sane person would want. Do my best for Him at work, at home, and out there in the world. You know, everyday normality. This blog was part of that mix. Then came the outrageous stuff, most of which consisted of challenges that would push me to the edge.

All God asks of me is to address what He has put in my hands right now, or as one wise Christian once told me, “Jesus hung on one cross only.”

We have this tendency to either drop our cupped hands and let things spill out, or we let guilt force us to take on so much we can’t hold it all and panic sets in.

We need to examine our lives. What is immediately before us? What is in our hands right now? Do those things to the glory of God.

Little things that daily fall into our cupped hands matter too. When God puts a person in front of me, I can give that person my attention and be in the present. I can be Christ in that moment to that one person. That fits in my hand. That I can always do. I may not be the answer to that person’s deep need, but the little bit o’ grace I dispense in our connecting matters to that person. I can always be kind and empathetic. Maybe I can help that person financially or emotionally if he needs it. But then, maybe I can’t. God, what can I do right now? In what ways can I be your ambassador to this person now? What have you put in my hand?

Regarding the challenges of life, let no one judge you. Anyone who has had to caretake a dying parent knows how debilitating such a task can be and how it consumes all of life. That’s reality, and it’s OK. It’s what is in your hand right now. It won’t always be there. God is not judging you by what else you try to carry. Sometimes, something that big is enough. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your inability to say yes to everything else they ask of you. You can only do what you can do. Taking on too much means you do everything poorly and stress yourself. Don’t. All you can do is what is in your hand. Too few Christians understand this, and one of the most toxic tricks a local church can pull is to guilt people “in the name of Jesus” into doing more than God expects.

God knows what you can and cannot do. Keep your eyes on Him. Learn to say no when He wants you to. Never feel guilty for saying no when it’s God leading you to say it.

If the contents of that open hand begin to overflow, get help anywhere you can. God rewards the resourceful, and admitting to being overwhelmed is no sin. Where humility is, Jesus is. You’re not a superhero, so don’t try to be. We are all dust; without God, we can do nothing.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the man going on a journey gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to a third. He didn’t give five to the servant who could handle two only. Similarly, he gave five to the one who could handle that many in the moment. When the talent dispenser returned to his servants, all he expected was to see what each servant had done with what each was given. Each was accountable solely for making something out of what the journeyman had placed in their hands. No more, no less.

Those Rest folks need to step up. Those Radical folks need to calm down.

Where are you?

Know that you can do only what God has placed in your hands at this time. A year from now, what is in your hands may be different, possibly more or perhaps less. Give your best to God for what you have before you now, and stop beating yourself up. If only one thing occupies your hands right now, do it for His glory. If God wants to add something, He will. Trust Him to get it right. And if it seems too much, trust that God will put people in your life to help. Ask for that help and keep asking until you get it.

Most of all, trust God. Pray over everything He puts in your hands and never stop offering it back to Him as you partner with Him to make it happen. In the end, it’s not really about you and how well you perform anyway. It’s about moving the whole Kingdom forward. And that happens one cupped-hand item at a time.

3 Major Ways a Church Misses the Mark with Insufficient Theology


The Bible, old school style...Cerulean Sanctum deals largely with how the American Church lives out what it believes. Where I only occasionally stray is into the theology that undergirds that belief.

In crisscrossing the Christian blogosphere, visiting local churches, and viewing Christians posting in social media, I’ve witnessed repeated thought patterns based on “insufficient” theology. Too many statements made by supposed believers lack something essential to well-rounded Christian belief.

While the whole of Christian theology and apologetics encompasses a staggering breadth of topics and issues, I want to stick to three areas of deficiency that continually cripple solid understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century.

That said, an obvious one must be discussed, too, as well as one that is a “major minor.” But I’ll get to those two later.

First, a declaration. To do this subject justice requires a ton of footnotes and a plethora of Bible quoting. If I put all that in this post, it would end up in the TL;DR pile. So, we’re all adults here: I will leave the study to you. Please do look up these issues in your Bible and confirm them for yourself. I will be writing from the 30,000-foot view. I want to put these ideas out there. You can follow up as you see fit.

The Obvious

The Trinity.

Now you know why I’m keeping this high level. A study of The Trinity could fill 20 posts and still not touch on everything.

By Trinity, I mean God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. Three unique, co-existing persons enveloped in one Godhood.

I say with no hesitation that if a church gets The Trinity wrong, everything else is wrong. Stop right there. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

While the word cult raises hackles in a politically correct age, you can separate a genuine, orthodox Christian church from a pseudo-Christian cult 99.999% of the time by how it portrays the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That criterium alone. Seriously.

What does your church believe about The Trinity? How does that square with small-“o” orthodox Christian belief? Find out. Really.

The Three Majors

How a church thinks and how that thinking informs its practice is not something most people ponder. They show up on Sunday, sing a few hymns, listen to someone talk about God, share an awkward handshake or two with some folks they don’t know as well as they should, and they go home.

You don’t want to be that person. You want something more.

I think that more you want hinges on how your church deals with the following three issues:

  1. Sin
  2. The Journey of Christ
  3. The Kingdom of God

These three rise to the top because most people, even Christian leaders, don’t think much about them once they’ve convinced themselves of the basics, especially how teaching and understanding them manifests itself in practice.


We need to look at sin as two component parts:

  1. Estrangement from God
  2. Bad behaviors we do (because of estrangement from God)

Many Christians spend their entire lives managing bad behavior because that’s what their churches teach. The Christian life becomes an endless wrestling against those couple rotten behaviors we can’t seem to overcome.

That’s picking nits, though, and it’s doomed to failure. Constantly monitoring oneself for sin slipping in here or there leads only to despair. And that’s where many Christians are regarding their sin.

In reality, the core problem isn’t sinful behaviors but estrangement from God. The first thing God said to Adam and Eve after the Fall was not “What have you done?” but “Where are you?”

Whenever we talk about sin, the word repentance follows close behind.

Want an interesting exercise? If you have a King James Bible, do a word search in the Old Testament for the word repent.

Not many uses, are there? And usually only related to God changing His mind about something.

Yet the history of God and His People in the Old Testament was a history of God doing what? Asking those people to repent. But if God didn’t use that word, how did He ask? By holding open His arms and longing for His beloved people to walk away from their idols and return to Him. To come Home.

What does biblical repentance that ends estrangement from God look like? Read Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15).

God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to turn from whatever it is that distracts us and come back home to Him. At its core, that’s what repentance truly is.

A funny side effect occurs when that happens. You find it in this classic hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

When it comes to the second half of that sin theology, first dealing with our estrangement from God tends also to diminish greatly our sinful behaviors. The closer we draw to Him after we’ve come home, the less those sins bedevil us. Drawing close to God matters most.

The Bible says this:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
—John 17:3 ESV

The problem many churches have with their theology of sin is a focus on managing sinful behaviors rather than a focus on coming home to God and deepening intimacy with Him. Knowing God deep in our very core makes all the difference. THAT is eternal life. If a church does not spend the majority of its time helping us deepen our intimacy with God, then we may forever struggle to manage sinful behaviors.

The Journey of Christ

Ministry –> The Cross –> The Resurrection –> The Ascension/Pentecost

Please note the four component parts of The Journey of Christ. Now realize it is highly likely that a church will not fully teach and minister from an understanding and practice of all four parts equally.

That’s a huge theological deficiency.

The worst part: Most churches and denominations insist they teach and practice it all equally. They don’t, though. Most cherry-pick a place or two in that journey and throw those select few all their time and effort. This diminishes how they frame the Christian life, teach it to others, and practice it.

For instance, it’s easy to see many charismatic churches skip right to the end and spend most of their time living their faith out of The Ascension/Pentecost. Sure, there’s a little talk of the other three parts, but they remain forever secondary. That diminishment skews the way charismatics look at everything. A lack of teaching on The Cross as a means to end the willfulness of the Christian almost never gets discussed. It’s one reason why so little humility exists in some sectors of the charismatic movement.

Many mainline churches jump right to The Resurrection. They talk a lot about new life and clearly perk up around Easter time, but they don’t do as well dealing with the old life and its troubles or with the charismata. The Cross and The Ascension/Pentecost get short shrift.

Likewise, stopping at The Cross with one foot into The Resurrection explains why some of the loudest Reformed voices on the Web get hung-up on sin, talk less about what a new life looks like in full, and rarely venture into The Ascension/Pentecost and what that means for the Church. As a result, you hear a whole lot of sinner and not much saint. Oddly, as much as Reformed and Holiness churches clash in the rest of their theology, they both share this affinity.

It is highly probable that your church and mine do not deal equally with the four parts of The Journey of Christ. Again, leaders will protest this like crazy, but it’s true. Something in that journey is being overemphasized and something under-. It’s a very human failing.

To be a balanced Christian in our theology, we must identify the dearth in our church in regard to The Journey of Christ and supplement from other sources that highlight the underserved part(s) of the path. Those sources will likely fall outside the ghetto of our church or denomination. Because, hey, blinders. Don’t be afraid to step outside your familiar church neighborhood. You will be a more well-rounded Christian if you do.

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God consists of both The Kingdom Now and The Kingdom Not Yet. Jesus brought The Kingdom of God with Him in His incarnation and it persists in the Church (Now) until He comes again and restores everything (Not Yet). Almost every church will insist it believes The Kingdom of God is both Now and Not Yet, but too many of them don’t act as if they do. The Church in America struggles with its teaching and practice of The Kingdom more than almost any issue.

When a church is heavy in Kingdom Now, we see a strong emphasis on ministry to others and on the power to do so. Nothing wrong with believing that The Kingdom manifests in power through the living, dynamic Church. Charismatic churches tend to dwell in Kingdom Now theology.

However, that’s not all The Kingdom is. And this explains why so many charismatics become disillusioned when they assume Kingdom Now, but God is directing them toward Not Yet. We simply will not see every tear dried until Christ returns. We have the Lord’s Supper now, but the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will far, far outstrip it in glory. Kingdom Now folks need to bear this in mind and recall that our ultimate destination is not here and now.

When a church is heavy in Kingdom Not Yet, everything feels delayed until we die and go to heaven. This thinking reminds us of the temporality of this life and the eternity of the life to come, where we will see the fulfillment of everything we hoped for here and now. That’s a good thing.

However, too much Kingdom Not Yet can ignore the present. The Cult of Suffering I see in some Reformed and mainline churches today is a result of thinking only Kingdom Not Yet. That leads to a church that is powerless in the face of current problems, always preaching muddling through rather than any kind of triumph over the vicissitudes of life. Everything positive feels delayed until we see the Pearly Gates. Obviously, that’s a deficient way of looking at The Kingdom and what Christ empowered the Church to be and do this side of heaven.

The Kingdom is both Now and Not Yet. We must live and believe both parts fully to have a fully realized faith.

The Major Minor

How Christians view The Atonement of Christ, while a major aspect of our theology, runs under our radar and is therefore often assumed rather than understood. Pastors know which type of atonement theory they teach and preach, but most people in the seats can’t distinguish Penal Substitution from Christ Victor, much less define them.

By The Atonement, we mean what Jesus accomplished for us by His death on the cross. Many theories exist for what happened in Christ’s sacrificial act. Theologians will defend their particular favorite theory almost to the death and to the point of calling anyone who doesn’t share their singular belief a heretic.

I find that ludicrous. I look at the many Atonement theories and each has something interesting to say about the breadth of Christ’s finished work that I can see the Bible validating. Excluding all other theories to the acceptance of one alone is unwise, in my opinion. While YMMV, I believe we should familiarize ourselves with the many theories and use them as a means to widen our understanding of the enormity of Christ’s Atonement. This can only lead to a greater appreciation for all Jesus did for us.

Like the three Majors listed above, what we think about The Atonement will flavor what we believe about the Christian faith and how we manifest it…


…so will many other aspects of Christian theology. Our eschatology, how we view the End, factors into how we live now. As does our soteriology, what we believe about how Jesus saves. And many other -ologies within our theology. All have importance. All will lead us to the expression of the Faith we believe and show to the world.

Still, each of us must ask how our churches and denominations bend our beliefs and practices in one direction or another. Because the direction we do not go is likely valid, too, and when we skip it, we may just find ourselves believing and living a less-than-optimal Christian life.

Christian Self-Defense and Luke 22:36


Peter cuts off the ear of MalchusRecent world and national events have brought increased attention to issues of the right to bear arms and of personal defense. These important issues deserve discussion.

Many Christians cite one particular passage from the Gospel of Luke as a means to justify personal defense and counterattacking attackers. Good Bible exegesis requires us to look at verses in their context and to resist the tendency to build an entire theology from a lone Scripture. (Going forward in this post, readers will need to agree that such a philosophy is wise or else we will have no common ground from which to work.)

The Bible demands we understand its contents in context, which ranges from the entirety of the Scriptures down to “scenes” within the biblical narrative. Get too granular and context is lost. I would go so far as to say misunderstanding context is the major error committed with biblical texts. This happens, in part, because we mistakenly reduce the Bible to chapters and verses, artificial points of organization that were added in the 16th century, long after the canon was approved. The original text contains no chapter and verse numbers. Chapters and verses compartmentalize the text, and this works against understanding a broader context.

Before we exegete the Luke passages, a personal disclosure: My father was a lifetime NRA member, and I grew up with guns in my household. In my youth, I won marksmanship awards. Later, I taught marksmanship and gun safety. I am experienced with personal firearms. Readers should know this because I want the Scriptures to stand by themselves and not on me as a biased interpreter.

Take time to read the Luke passage in its entirety below:

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.
—Luke 22:35-54 ESV

The setting comes at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He will soon be crucified. He is gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room, having celebrated the Passover meal and having dismissed Judas, who will return with the Jewish governing authorities that will arrest Jesus.

Jesus begins by referring to His earlier sending out of 72 disciples in pairs, which included the apostles, to minister to people in the region (see Luke 10:1-23 for details).

Highlighted in the Scriptures above is the contentious verse, Luke 22:36:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one….”

Many people stop right there. That’s not good exegesis, though. This is especially the case because Jesus isn’t finished talking yet! He goes on in verse 37 to explain why He says this:

“…For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

With all that will go down in the next few days, why get a sword right that moment? For personal defense months after Jesus is gone? Or to fulfill in the next few hours a specific prophecy about Jesus as Messiah?

The prophecy in question comes from Isaiah 53, which is the great Old Testament foretelling of the personal work and characteristics of the Messiah. I would recommend reading the entire chapter for best context, but this is the passage cited:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
—Isaiah 53:10-12 ESV

The sword-bearing company of the Messiah puts Him among the transgressors, men of violence, which we will soon see played out.

Then, in verse 38 of Luke 22, Jesus and His disciples further discuss His statement about swords:

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

What does Jesus mean by “It is enough”? Enough swords to arm each of them for personal defense? No, there were 11 disciples now. Enough swords to provide self-defense for pairs of them, as they had been sent out earlier with the others? No, since there were only two swords for five and a half pairs.

No, the two swords were enough to fulfill the prophecy of Jesus being numbered among the transgressors.

Jesus and His disciples then move to the Mount of Olives. Jesus warns them not to fall into temptation. What might that temptation be? To fall asleep at a time when Jesus needs their comfort is certainly one case. But what else might a band of armed men be tempted to do? What is the human reaction to an upcoming confrontation that might go from temptation to action?

After the disciples did succumb to the temptation to sleep, Jesus said this in verse 46:

“Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

They already failed to stay awake. but Jesus continues to refer to temptation. Why?

Then the government party arrives with Judas to arrest Jesus, and the disciples say this:

“Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

Transgression. Violence. Notice that Jesus did not give an affirmative response to the disciples’ question. We know from parallel accounts of this incident in Mark 14, John 18, and Matthew 26 that the impetuous Simon Peter was the attacker, who took it upon himself to provide an answer. Did he give into the temptation to use violence to resolve the issue from his limited perspective? Notice what Jesus says in verse 51:

“No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Jesus rebuked Peter’s action against a perceived attacker. Further, Jesus demonstrated the proper counter-response to violence: healing.

The Matthew parallel passage expands further:

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
—Matthew 26:52-54 ESV

Several notable revelations here:

1. All who take the sword will perish by the sword. Jesus does not see the sword as an answer; it will boomerang on those who use it.
2. Supernatural options greater than the sword exist. In this case, angels. Solutions exist that are unseen by those who are blind to them.
3 The sword was wielded so that the Isaiah passage about transgressors might be fulfilled.

Jesus ends the Luke passage with His statement in verses 52 and 53:

“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

By their actions, what did the governmental authorities consider Jesus and His disciples? Robbers, transgressors. Later, who did the people choose to free instead of Jesus? Barabbas, a robber. Who was Jesus later crucified between? Robbers.

Isaiah prophecy fulfilled: The Messiah, Jesus, was numbered among the transgressors.

Now that we have explored this passage from Luke 22, what should we ask ourselves?

Are transgressors considered to be “good people”? In what ways should Christians aim to be transgressors or not?

According to Jesus, what is the end of those who take the sword?

According to Jesus, are there other options beside the sword? What might they be?

In what ways are Christians tempted to respond to difficult situations with human solutions rather than spiritual ones?

Is Luke 22:36 a proof text for Christians to take up arms in self-defense? Why or why not?

In closing, I offer this passage on the role of the Christian to this world as the representative of the King within the Kingdom of God:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ESV