Church

8Mar

Is the Bible Trustworthy? 5 Thoughts

Is the Bible trustworthy? Is it a reliable source? If so, reliable for what? In today’s culture, do we really still believe this ancient book (assembled over the course of 1,500 years from dozens of different writers) is completely true?

1. The Bible claims to be perfectly authoritative. 

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Far too often, those making claims (for or against) about the Bible’s authority or reliability haven’t actually read much of the Bible. When we seek to answer the question of the Bible’s reliability and usefulness, the Bible’s actually a good place to start. Is the Bible perfectly true? It claims to be.

I understand the dialogue, especially with those who don’t follow Jesus, needs to be more than, “The Bible says so” BUT that does not negate the fact that within the Bible are claims about the Bible to which we must lend our serious attention.

2. The Bible claims to show the path to eternal life.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Here, John clearly lays out the purpose of the Bible: that you may know you have eternal life by believing in the name of the Son of God.

The Bible does not claim to be a science textbook. The Bible does not claim to be a book of neat stories or fables filled with tidbits of morality. The Bible claims to be much more than that!

An important note: the Bible never claims to BE the path to eternal life. Jesus consistently scolds people for treating it as such (Luke 23:27, John 5:39). Rather, like John Piper notes in his book Peculiar Glory, the Bible is much more like a window than a masterpiece. The Bible is the window that points us toward the masterpiece that is Jesus!

3. The Bible is the baseline for the real Gospel.

(See: Galatians 1:6-10) – In Galatians 1, Paul is writing to a church that has quickly deserted the Gospel they received without even knowing they were doing so because they were adding to it.

The Bible serves as the baseline for the real Gospel, the real message of God toward and for humanity. Without it, we can spin off new religions, cults, spiritual ideas or revelations, etc.

4. It’s possible to know a lot of Bible and not know Jesus. 

In Luke 24:13-34, Jesus is walking on the road to Emmaus post-resurrection and comes cross these two travelers. Noticing their sadness, Jesus asks them why they’re so bummed. They don’t recognize Jesus but tell them they’re sad because they were putting all their hope in this Jesus guy who just ended up getting killed by Rome like so many others before him and even two others that same day.

Jesus (whose not recognized by these guys) asks them to tell them about this Jesus fella. These two guys end up sharing all these stories and facts about Jesus to Jesus all the while never recognizing that JESUS WAS RIGHT THERE WITH THEM.

Its’ possible to know a lot of facts about the Bible but completely miss Jesus when he’s right there among you.

5. It’s impossible to take the parts of the Bible you like (salvation from sin, etc.) and ignore what you don’t (the commands on how we live).

This one is simple to understand yet difficult to live.

I would argue that it’s not hard to validate the Biblical worldview. Take sin, for example. Sin is easy to spot in our world. The fact that the world is broken and standing in need of redemption is not hard to see. And I don’t need to check the latest news cycle to confirm the Bible’s claims about sin and our need for redemption, I merely look in the mirror.

So I love the parts of the Bible that mention God’s plan for redeeming us from the brokenness of sin, even thought it meant the sacrifice of the One who never sinned.

But go back and read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the same one who saves us (Jesus) starts telling us how to live in our day-to-day life and it causes noticeable friction in my self-centered life.

It’s reasonable to not believe the Bible. It’s also reasonable to believe the Bible.

It’s not, however, reasonable to believe, and even love, certain parts of the Bible that show us how to be right with God again, and ignore or reject other passages because they point out our sin and command us to a way of life that flies in the face of our sinful desires to put self above all else.

Once a young student asked the great theologian Karl Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life’s work and theology in just a few words. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled,

“Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

7Mar

“Belief” in God is Not Enough

In today’s culture, belief in God is not enough.

In a recent Gallup poll, 89% of Americans claimed to believe in God.

Yet less than 20% of Americans will attend church more than a few times a year. Of that group that does attend church more than a few times a year, only 10-25% give any type of tithe or monetary offering to the church. When they do give, Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3 percent rate.

But this isn’t an article about money. It’s about faith. REAL faith. SPECIFIC faith. Our giving habits simply show that our faith isn’t always real, substantive, or specific. In other words, our faith is lacking because far too often the object of our faith is faith.

In today’s culture, belief in God is not enough because everyone “believes” in God. Around my church, we’ve encouraged people to stop identifying themselves as a “Christian” and instead say they are a “Christ-follower.”

Notice the difference?

In today’s culture, a Christian is merely a label, and at times, a fairly socially acceptable one. Even in today’s culture, in certain parts of the country, it can be socially and economically advantageous to identify as a Christian.

A “Christian” views faith as an accessory to their life. A Christ-follower knows that faith IS their life.

A “Christian” has faith in general (faith in faith). A Christ-followers has specific faith in Jesus Christ.

A “Christian” may think of their path as one of many to God. A Christ-follower trusts Jesus when Jesus claims to be the only way to know God (John 14:6).

A “Christian” compartmentalizes their faith, never allowing it to infiltrate too many other areas of life. A Christ-follower views their life as one compartment (Jesus) and only allows other areas of life to matter as they fit first into the Jesus box.

A vague belief-ism has infiltrated the “Christian” culture that needs to be addressed and expunged. Vague belief-ism is not a solid rock to lean on in seasons of suffering. Vague belief-ism can’t remind you that God does not owe you a long life, a happy marriage, or the ability to create children. Vague belief-ism has no ability to give concrete hope in the middle of a diagnosis that’s impossible to process.

In a devotional book on Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in John 14-17, Timothy Keller writes,

“In John 14, Jesus calls his followers to ‘Believe in God. Believe also in me.’ But not just any belief. Specific belief. Belief, or faith, in God. More than that, they are to have faith in Jesus. Belief in God isn’t enough. Vague monotheism isn’t going to help them. Jesus is.”

I have a friend that I visit with every few weeks and he does not love Jesus. Let’s call him Cody. Cody tolerates me talking about church (especially since it’s my job) and even God or faith in general. However, every time I steer the conversation toward Jesus as the particular object of my faith, stuff gets weird. Cody shuts down – starts looking around talking to other friends and begins to ignore me.

In today’s culture, mere belief in God is not enough, as if it ever was in any culture. What the world needs to see today are real, genuine Christ-followers who have sincere faith that changes they way we live, talk, think, spend time/money, etc. The world needs real Christ-followers who talk about Jesus specifically, not just vague monotheism in general.

16Nov

6 Marks of Good Evangelism

This post first appeared as a sermon I preached at The Table: a Christ-centered, outward-focused, community of friends (20’s and 30’s) in Austin, TX. You can watch or listen to that sermon by clicking here

When you hear the word “evangelism” what comes to mind?

  • TV preachers?
  • Emotionally manipulative end-of-sermon invitations?
  • Intrusive door-to-door visitors?
  • angry street preachers?

Evangelism done poorly by some does not negate evangelism as a command for all.

Evangelism is also not a spiritual gift that only some are good at.

Some Christ-followers have also criticized specific methods of evangelism, which is fine, as long as you’re actually telling people about Jesus as well. My hunch is that most of us realize that evangelism is just a churchy word for telling others about Jesus. However, I also have a hunch that most of us simply are not doing it.

Some Christ-followers have labelled things like evangelism as legalistic but it’s not legalistic to insist Christians obey the commands of Christ. 

Evangelism is among the final commands given to us by Jesus before he ascends into heaven. (See: Matthew 28:18-20)

When people we love speak their final words, we lean in to hear them and hang on to them. Why have we done the opposite with Jesus’ final words to us?

With all the confusion swirling around evangelism, what does good evangelism look like?

6 Marks of Good Evangelism

1. Friendship

1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”The 1st century Greco-Roman idea of self was all encompassing. It meant something similar to what we mean now when we say “soul” – the very core of who you are.

Notice, too, that Paul notes that he didn’t just want to share a list of beliefs for the intellectual assent of the Thessalonians people. Even before they believed, they had become very dear to Paul and his team.

Do you have friends that don’t follow Jesus? If you don’t, find some new friends!

If you do have friends that don’t follow Jesus, don’t give up on them because they don’t believe at first. Allow them to become dear to you.

 

2. Personal Proof

You know who doesn’t care that you know a few verses from Romans? People who don’t follow Jesus. 

But if they care about you, they’ll be much more likely to listen to how Jesus ha changed your life. Furthermore, they’ll know you’re telling the truth because they’ll see the proof in your life, especially if they may have known you before you started following Jesus.

When describing how Jesus has changed you, speak in positives instead of negatives.

  • Example: Jesus has changed me so now I live for him by trying to think of others as more important than myself.
  • BAD Example: Jesus has changed me so now I live for him by not going to drinking parties.

Both statements should be true of people who follow Jesus but only one is primarily helpful in evangelism. It’s simply a matter of emphasis.

 

3. Saying “Jesus”

Times have changed. When sharing about your faith, if all you say is, “I believe in God” most of America will agree with you even though most of America does not in fact follow Jesus. But you say the name of Jesus – and it becomes more clear who and what you’re talking about.

When then topic of evangelism comes up many Christ-followers cite a quote that many have attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (although there’s rampant skepticism around the source), “Share the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.

That makes zero sense.

Let’s say a Christian, a Muslim, and a Mormon go on the same mission trip. They work on the same roof, pain the same house, help the same person – but none of them ever say a word. If they all looked about the same, how would you know who believed what? – YOU WOULDN’T!

To share the Gospel, you must use words and you must say “Jesus.”

4. Being prepared

The first part of 1 Peter 2:15 reads, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew the conversation was turning toward faith but you weren’t ready? Have you ever felt like God was pushing you to bring him up in a conversation but didn’t? We have to be ready!

Prepare now for a conversation you’ll have SOON. 

 

5. Humility

The second part of 1 Peter 2:15 reads, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 

“Bad evangelism says, ‘I’m right; you’re wrong; and I would love to tell you about it.’” – Tim Keller

Good evangelism says, “Jesus is right; we’re all wrong; and I would love to tell you about it.”

When you remember that before Christ, you were “dead in your sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1) you remember just how much God has saved you from. You remember how you did nothing to deserve grace so the only proper response to someone who has not yet experienced saving grace is not arrogance but humility.

 

6. Bible

Like we said before, a lot of times you can’t start here. However, you can never accurately share the truth about God if you don’t open the Word of God.

Click here to see 10 Gospel Passages that are great for evangelism conversations. I would suggest committing a few to memory so that you are always ready (see #4 above: be prepared).

 

What are other marks of good evangelism?

When’s the last time you told someone about Jesus?

12Oct

4 Ways to Pray

I had a brief stint as a Kids Pastor. It was both wonderful and frustrating.  See: Why I Love and Hate Kids Ministry

When I was teaching 3rd-5th graders how to pray, I used the prayers below. They’re simple, one sentence prayers.

I had a hunch awhile back that a lot of adults in church may not be super comfortable with prayer. Prayer can be one of those tricky things in the Church that you know you should do but once you’re around long enough you feel like it might be too late to ask someone to teach you how to pray. See: On Prayer: Pews & Plastic Tables

My hunch was proven right and I started introducing these prayers to adults a few years ago with remarkable results. They are simple yet profound. You can pray these prayers with a community, in a group of 2-3, or just by yourself.

If prayer is confusing to you, new to you, or you’re just ready to try something new, try these 4 ways to pray.

 

1.) God, you are __________________.

(Prayers of Adoration) – telling God how awesome He is.

Examples:

  • God, you are so gracious.
  • God, you are so faithful, even when we’re not…especially when we’re not.
  • God, you are always with us.

Notice: you can finish the prayer with just one word!

Some Biblical examples of prayers of adoration: Psalm 8, 19, 29, 33, 66, 100, 103, 104, 145

 

2.) God, thank you for _________________.

(Prayers of Thanksgiving) – recognizing that every good and perfect thing comes from our unchanging God (James 1:17).

Does your family do this around the table over Thanksgiving holiday? Mine often does and this prayer is simply turning that practice toward God.

Examples:

  • God, thank you for your beautiful creation.
  • God, thank you for family.
  • God, thank you for being willing to discipline your children when we wander from you. 

Biblical examples of prayers of thanksgiving: Psalm 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 66, 92, 116, 118, 138

 

3.) God, forgive me for ________________.

(Prayers of Confession/Individual Lament)

These are the most under-utilized prayers in my life yet easily the most beneficial.

Examples:

  • God, forgive me for trying to control everything. I know that means I’m not trusting you. 
  • God, forgive me for thinking I deserve better than what you have deemed best for me.
  • God, forgive me for not seeing people how you do, as people equally created in your image.

Biblical examples of prayers of confession/individual lament: Psalm 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143

A note: try and be specific. Don’t say, “God, forgive me for my sin.” Name the sin. Be specific. Because of Jesus that sin has no power of you anymore and you walk in freedom!

 

4.) God, please ________________.

(Prayers of Supplication/Trust)

These are probably most of our default prayers. We don’t spend time adoring God, thanking Him, or confessing sin. We often treat God no different than Santa. We swoop in, read off our list of requests, and go on our merry way firmly expecting every request to be granted just as we asked.

These can be prayers for others or yourself. (It’s not bad to pray for yourself!)

Examples:

  • God, please comfort my Mom in her battle with cancer.
  • God, please show me how to make my life count for You.
  • God, please help me trust you even when my emotions say something different than your Word. 

Biblical examples of prayers of supplication/trust: Psalm 86, 143

 

What type(s) of prayer have been beneficial for you?

Has someone ever taught you how to pray?

29Feb

7 Biblical Principles for Dating, Part 1

Dating is hard.

For the Christian, dating is like every other area of life in that we should be deeply concerned with how following Jesus informs the way we think and act and love.

If you did a Bible search for the word “dating” you know what you come up with? NOTHING.

There are some that feel the Bible prescribes a courtship form of dating because that was the cultural norm in that time. Using that same logic you can make the argument that we should all be polygamous because that was the cultural norm in that time as well.

Instead of direct, explicit instructions, the Bible teaches us several  principles that we can apply to dating and ultimately, the pursuit of marriage.

 

7 Biblical Principles of Dating

 

1. Walk with Jesus.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. – Colossians 2:6-7

Far too often the first step a Christian takes in thinking about how to date God’s way is to sit down and make a list of all the qualities their future spouse needs to have. Then, they only date people who fit the list.

While the forethought is admirable, our first step in trying to date in a way that honors God is to BE someone worth dating. Our faith in Jesus should be active and meaningful as Paul described in Colossians. We should be rooted and built up in Jesus. Lists are just fine but we should make a list for who we need to be first.

 

2. Only date people who walk with Jesus.

The second principle is where you can use your list! In looking for someone to date, you’re really looking for the type of person you will marry. That person needs to have the same active faith you’re living out.

They need to be more than cultural Christians who attend church. They need to be able to explain the Gospel out loud. They need to be able to talk about what Jesus means to them and describe what Jesus has done for them. They should be able to point out ways they are more like Jesus this year compared to last year and be able to share what God is currently teaching them.

 

3. Keep physical boundaries.

Flee from sexual immorality. – 1 Corinthians 6:18

You know what this verse says in Greek? Flee from sexual immorality. Literally run away from it. Since sex is a good gift from God but a gift meant to be enjoyed only in the covenant marriage relationship, sex outside of marriage falls under the category of sexual immorality.

So does pornography, homosexuality, lust, objectification, and crossing physical lines even if you don’t “go all the way.”

If the Bible calls us to run away from something, why are so many of us trying to get as close as possible to the line without stepping over? We are fundamentally misunderstanding God’s heart for us to live a pure life walking with him and honoring others.

Setting and keeping firm physical boundaries helps you flee from sexual sin instead of flirting with it.

If you’re an unmarried Christian I would suggest you consider boundaries that keep you from:

  • sex outside of marriage.
  • living with someone before marriage. (co-habitation)
  • being alone in a private place (apartment, dorm, parked car, etc.)
  • being alone in a room with your computer/phone late at night.
  • sending pictures, Snapchats, etc. that you would not want others to see/know about.
  • laying down (even in an Eno!) with someone you’re not married to.
  • Isolating yourself from godly friends who can hold you accountable.

 

4. No marriage. No commitment.

One of the reasons the Bible doesn’t talk explicitly about dating is there is absolutely zero commitment in dating. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “I love you” or how long you’ve been together or how many promise toe rings you’ve exchanged.

The covenant relationship of marriage is the only place to find real commitment. Dating can be a wonderful experience but don’t deceive yourself into crossing physical boundaries you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable crossing under the guise of a commitment that simply does not exist.

 

Check back tomorrow for the last 3 principles.

28Feb

4 Thoughts after Preaching Esther

Yesterday our church finished up a 9-week preaching series through the book of Esther. Click here to listen to any of the sermons.

At the end of every preaching series, I like to take some time and reflect on my own heart, not as a pastor but just as a person. If you let him, God will change your heart as you spend more and more time in the Bible and Esther was no different for me. I have four main thoughts from our journey through Esther.

 

1. God’s divine providence knows no bounds.

The only caveat worth adding here is that God does never does anything outside the character of God and we know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). However, we need to be careful to not impose our concept of what we define love to be onto the actions of God.

In a book historically criticized by some due to God’s apparent absence, (God’s name never appears in the book of Esther) it is impossible to miss God’s providential activity.

  • What are the odds that Esther, a Jewish girl living in Susa, would be chosen to be Queen of Persia?
  • Why were Esther and Mordecai still in Persia? God’s people were no longer in exile but Esther and Mordecai did not return to Jerusalem.
  • How was Mordecai, a Jewish nobody, able to maintain communication with Esther after she was crowned queen?
  • What are the odds that Mordecai would be the one to uncover the secret plot to kill the king?
  • The turning point of the entire book begins with the king’s seemingly random sleepless night (6:1).

God’s divine providence isn’t on center stage in Esther, but it is undeniably moving in the background, moving closer to true redemption all the while using surprising reversals and non-Israelites to accomplish God’s purposes.

Even though we can’t always see how God is moving, we can trust that God is moving.

 

2. We still have a responsibility to obey.

Even though God’s divine providence moves the story of Esther forward, people are still called to obey along the way.

  • Esther eventually realized this and decided to obey with her bold, famous declaration, “If I perish, I perish.” (4:16)
  • Mordecai’s wisdom and faithful support of Esther accomplish much at great potential danger to his own life.
  • Even King Ahasuerus decides to do what is right and honors Esther’s courage instead of Haman’s evil plan even thought he risked being labelled a “flip-flopper” and losing political collateral.

Is there an area of your life where you know what’s right but you’re not doing what’s right?

“22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” – James 1:22-24

 

3. Power is a fleeting tool.

Power comes and goes in the book of Esther. The only people who retain it are those who see it as a tool to point others to the glory of God.

  • When the book of Esther opens, Esther and Mordecai are displaced Jews with no power. When the book ends, Esther is queen and Mordecai is VP of the Persian Empire (10:3).
  • Haman quickly gains and quickly loses power. He dies arguably the most ironic death in Scripture, hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.
  • We first meet King Ahasuerus in the middle of a 6-month long, no-rules party which some scholars estimate was attended by up to 15,000 of the king’s most vicious warriors and most cunning politicians. As great and powerful as his reign was, history tells us King Ahasuerus was later assassinated by his own chief official.

Even though it might not feel like it, you have a certain amount of power and influence. Friendships, work opportunities, and social media profiles can all be leveraged to point others to the glory of God.

 

4. It’s important to remember and celebrate God’s work in our lives.

The book of Esther ends with the inauguration of Purim, the festival to commemorate God rescuing his people from Haman’s edict to eradicate the Jews from the Persian Empire. Jews today still celebrate Purim by reading and remembering the story of God’s divine provision through the bravery of Esther and Mordecai.

One of the ways my wife and I remember the good, normal days of our marriage is through these photo books she makes every year. Our most recent book just came in a few days ago and I found myself remembering good moments from the last year I would have forgotten if it weren’t for the books.

As Christians, we should remember the landmark moments of our faith. We should celebrate our baptism and other significant breakthrough moments of spiritual growth. But the key to a lifetime of faith might just be the ability to remember God’s everyday goodness even when it doesn’t feel like it’s real. Maybe it’s journaling or telling faith stories around the dinner table on a regular basis, but I would encourage you to find a way to remember and celebrate the good, normal work of God in your life.

 

Have you read through the book of Esther lately? What were some of your take-aways?

20Dec

What the North Pond Hermit Knows about Community

When he was just 20 years old, Chris walked off into the woods and never looked back.

For the next 27 years Christoper Knight, the North Pond Hermit, had only one interaction with another human, a brief “hi” as he passed a hiker in the woods.

He lived within short walking distance of several neighborhoods but went undetected for 27 years. In that time, he only ever slept in a tent and never lit a single fire, even as the harsh Maine winter temperatures plunged to 20 below.

For almost three decades, he uttered only one syllable and never saw a doctor or took any medication.

But the only reason you and I know the story of the North Pond Hermit is because he got caught on one of his 40 robberies a year.

The man who thought he didn’t need anyone quickly learned just the opposite.

Knight routinely broke into cabins during the offseason and homes only when he was sure its residents were gone. Until his capture, he never encountered another person during any of his roughly 1,080 burglaries.

He took food, supplies, and hundreds of propane tanks to cook his food and remain warm.

As you can imagine, residents began to grow aware of the hermit’s presence among them even though his exact location was unknown. One local claimed that his cabin was burglarized 40 times !

As ridiculous as the hermit lifestyle might seem, many of us live life in a similar way – isolating ourselves from others all the while failing to see how much we need one another.

We want isolation. We need each other.

We may not need propane tanks and tarps from one another but we do need encouragement and concern.

We need a timely text message and we need to pray with one another, not just tell each other we will.

We need a dinner invite and a handwritten card.

We need people who will listen and understand instead of people who merely want to fix others.

We need each other and we’re better together.

We’re better together because it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

We’re better together because unity is surprising and pleasant in a world ripe with division (Psalm 133:1).

We’re better together because other people are better at some things than us (Romans 12:4-5).

We’re better together because we would love less and stray from God on our own (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We’re better together because we’re not too good to help each other when life falls apart (Galatians 6:2).

We’re better together because we can comfort one another with the words of Jesus when they ring hollow in isolation (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Are you ever tempted to live life in isolation?

How have you benefited from community?

How have you been community for someone else?

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” – John 1:14, The Message

14Dec

No Capes: Serving in Secret

The first time I heard Bob Goff speak in person he starting talking about Jesus and the Incredibles. I loved him from the get go.

He spoke about one of the opening scenes from the Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible needs a new suit. So he goes and sees this tiny little woman named Edna, seamtress to the superheroes. She explains that she has one stipulation for Mr. Incredible’s new suit, NO CAPES.

While Edna wanted a suitless cape for pragmatic reasons, Goff connected it to all the times in the New Testament where Jesus served someone and told them to keep it secret, like when Jesus heals the leper at the end of Mark 1.

Moved with pity, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to no one.’ – Mark 1:41-44

Jesus didn’t want to become famous for healing this man. It was compassion that moved him to act, not a desire for notoriety. No fame. No capes. Just serving people.

When did service become about us being recognized instead of simply loving our neighbor?

Some would have you believe this is a new development, a plague wrought on today’s society by the selfie generation.

But it takes no more than a cursory glance at the New Testament to see it starting to happen even as Jesus is showing his disciples a better way. They start making it about them, just like we do now.

In Luke 9, Jesus predicted his death again and the disciples didn’t understand again. Immediately after Jesus explained to them again that he was going to die the disciples launch into a discussion about which one of them will be the VP of Jesus’ new kingdom. Jesus tells them,

“He who is least among you all is the one who is great.” – Luke 9:48

Instead of humbling serving in secret, the disciples were fighting for recognition and power in a kingdom they fundamentally did not understand. When we do the same thing today, people see right through it, especially those outside the Church. It reeks of hypocrisy.

Companies are guilty of this.

Over the last few months, Gillette started a razor subscription plan to compete with Dollar Shave Club, a start-up company that risen to prominence with cheap razors sent right to your door. To try and squash this new competition, Gillette paid to promote ads on Twitter, not an unusual practice. But the tweets they chose to promote were from users who switched back to Gillette after trying Dollar Shave Club. Gillette ended up clogging up people’s Twitter feed, mine included, by promoting their “welcome back to a man’s best shave” and “2 million guys switched back to the best” tweets.

While the jury is still out, several advertising and marketing execs have estimated their shameless promotion may have cost the company more business than it created.

People, not just DSC customers, saw that type of advertisement as ingenuine and petty.

Pastors are guilty of this.

I really appreciate when people point out corruption or hypocrisy from within their own ranks. For example, the most powerful rebuke of radical Islamic terrorism is from mainstream Muslims. The most powerful rebuke of police brutality and corruption is from good, hard-working police officers. Likewise, the most powerful rebuke of pastors come from other pastors. Most Muslims are not terrorists;  most cops are not racists; most pastors are not embezzlers.

However, when it comes to serving in secret, no capes, most pastors struggle, myself included.

Most of the time it seems innocent enough. I think most pastors mean well. When they post things like, “So #blessed to baptize __ people today” or “Wow, we had ____ salvations this morning!” I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to think that they’re trying to give God the glory and spread the story of what God is doing in their midst…

but Jesus never does that.

And I think if they were honest, those pastors would admit that their intentions are not in fact 100% humble.. I know because I’ve done it before, at times accidentally and at times on purpose. The pastorate can be hard and a little validation can go a long way. But that’s not the way of no capes service.

The only reason numbers matter is because numbers are people and people matter.

I’m grateful to serve at a church that doesn’t do the “We served ____ people tonight” celebration messages. And honestly, it’s a hard thing to be great at and I’m sure we fail just as much as we succeed but I do know that we are a place that genuinely desires to serve without capes, without fanfare and without recognition.

Are you guilty of this?

It’s easy to point out companies and pastors/churches failing at this because it’s less personal than looking at your own life. Are you content to serve in secret or do you need to constantly document every good thing you do on Instagram?

Do you find yourself casually mentioning ways in which you helped someone else when that’s not necessary to the conversation, maybe just so someone takes notice and recognizes you?

Do you get frustrated when you do something nice for someone and it’s not reciprocated? Since when does service come with strings attached?

Friends, let’s take off the capes, serve in secret and point people away from us and toward Jesus because you and I make sorry excuses for Saviors.

10Dec

Can You Ignore Jesus?

“In the corporate psychology of every city, there is a threshold of non-ignorability.” – Ray Ortlund

It was in a breakout session a few years back at a conference when I heard Ray Ortlund say those words.

The threshold of non-ignorability is an invisible line, in the cultural atmosphere of any given place. Most things (sub-cultures, groups, movements, passions, etc.) live and operate below that line. They fly under the collective radar of the city. They are important, no doubt. They are just very important to a specific group of people or a rather small amount of people.

In my hometown of Waco, TX, the Baylor Bears are no longer ignorable. They were extremely easy to ignore my entire childhood. You can like them. You can hate them. You can be indifferent. But you simply cannot ignore Baylor in Waco today. They currently live above the line of non-ignorability.

What is impossible to ignore in your city?

It’s impossible to ignore country music in Nashville or hipsters in Austin. Or food trucks in Austin. Or naked people in Austin. Austin’s weird.

It’s impossible to ignore the Razorbacks in Arkansas or the Pacific in southern California.

In the South, it’s impossible to ignore college football, sweet tea and religion.

It doesn’t matter if you like college football or not, it’s everywhere here in the fall, on every TV in every restaurant in town.

Last week I overheard a woman in a local restaurant ask why everyone drank sweet tea down here. The waitress was baffled at why this woman, clearly not from ’round here, would ask such a ludicrous question.

There’s also religion everywhere. Religion is impossible to ignore in my town with a church on every corner and most major world religions represented.

But sometimes I wonder if Jesus is impossible to ignore in my city.

I am not one of these “relationship-not-religion” people. I understand what that movement is trying to accomplish but I think they unintentionally drag through the mud valuable traditions and the foundation of faith built by 2,000 years of committed Christians.

However, a genuine need exists to separate genuine faith from rote religious activity.

This is my biggest prayer for my city – that Jesus would rise above the threshold of non-ignorability so that every person living here notices all the evidence of Jesus in our city.

They won’t all follow him, but that’s nothing new. “And some were convinced by what he [Paul] said, but others disbelieved.” (Acts 28:24). My hope is they simply can’t ignore him because of the collective work of the churches here and more importantly, the collective life change and joy on display in the lives of my city’s Christians.

True life change will make Jesus impossible to ignore in our city.

The New Testament book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome. He gathered the local Jewish leaders together and shared his experiences with them. Paul was respected by them and they asked him to tell them about Jesus and this new movement of his followers causing a stir across the empire.

While they did not know much about Christianity, they knew one thing, it ellicted a response.

“But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” – Acts 28:22

Christianity has been spoken against since its inception. It could be argued today that the biggest fear of many Christians in America is being spoken against. Yet historically, Christianity has grown the most when it has been pushed to the margins, away from the majority, away from the center of public acceptance.

Maybe Jesus is ignorable in my city because I am.

Maybe Jesus is ignorable in your city because you are.

Are people speaking against you as a direct result of the way in which you live out your faith?

Are you taking risks for the kingdom of God that seem foolish in the kingdom of this world?

Are you radically generous in a way that makes non-Christians scratch their heads in confusion?

Or are we simply living life exactly like people who don’t believe but we just wake up earlier on Sunday?

Is Jesus ignorable in your city?

19Oct

41 Questions/Doubts Teenagers Have about God & Faith

Research indicates that about 5 out of every 10 high schoolers will walk away from the church and their faith after graduation. There are a variety of reasons a student might leave their faith behind:

  • Other things simply become more important (driver’s license, dating relationship, etc.)
  • Acquire a new group of friends that don’t desire to be a part of the church.
  • Some simply experiment with straying from every opinion their parents hold in the quest for their own independence.
  • Some never felt like they belonged to the church to begin with.

The Fuller Youth Institute, in their exhaustive, nationwide studies discovered the number one reason young people leave church and faith behind: the Church’s failure to engage difficult questions.

From the research, “Specifically, these young people cited the church’s failure to wrestle with issues like the reliability of the biblical text, sexuality, evolution versus creation, and the exclusivity of Jesus. But notice these students did not say they left the faith because of the stance of their church took on the issues above. They left because the church failed to address them at all. When tough questions were addressed, the answers were found to be vague and superficial.

Last week I gave 41 students a pen and a blank note card. I told them that as a church and as caring Christian adults we wanted to listen, validate, and attempt to answer any and all questions they had about faith, God, etc.

Our group comes from pretty diverse church backgrounds (wide-ranging denominational upbringings). We have a few students who are the only Christians in their family. We also have several atheists in our group as well as some who aren’t sure what they believe or why what one believes even matters.

These are their questions: (the last two were especially tough to read)

  1. Why are there poor, hungry, and thirsty people if God is real?
  2. Why do we not get what we need when we need it?
  3. Why do we have to struggle with things over and over again? Sometimes it feels like we have no help from God.
  4. How do we know someone didn’t just write down whatever they felt like in the Bible?
  5. Why does God let such bad things happen to good people?
  6. How can God be good if people who follow him get so down that they commit suicide?
  7. If God really wants us to follow him, why doesn’t he just make us? Why do we want other things more than him and why do some people never want to follow God?
  8. Why isn’t there more proof? It would be so much easier to believe if we had physical proof like the people in the Bible did.
  9. What do I have to do to go to heaven?
  10. How do I love people who are bad influences for me? I love my friends but I don’t love what they do and I worry about how that affects me.
  11. Why does God seem to punish people who don’t deserve it?
  12. I feel like I only believe in God because I’m scared of hell. Is that wrong?
  13. When you get saved, is there a chance you can still go to hell? P.S. I don’t want to go to hell.
  14. Can I be a Christian and believe in evolution?
  15. Why doesn’t God help when you’re going through a rough patch and you pray and pray and nothing happens, nothing gets easier?
  16. Can you have faith in more than one thing, more than one god?
  17. How come Christians are able to forgive so easily?
  18. How do I know my faith is true and real? How can someone restore their faith?
  19. I have heard that God is with me but why does it sometimes feel like I’m all alone?
  20. Does God stay in your life even if you do a really bad sin?
  21. How do I get away from pornography?
  22. Why can’t God simply speak when we need him the most? How are we supposed to know what we wants us to do?
  23. Is sex outside marriage really wrong? If so, why?
  24. Can you go to heaven if you are not baptized?
  25. What happens when you die? Like right after you die, when your brain stops, what do you see or think or remember?
  26. Is it possible to grow your faith, to get stronger in your relationship with God?
  27. How can I get better at spreading the word in my school?
  28. Do people always have doubts about God? I believe in him but I sometimes feel guilty about doubting.
  29. Why did God not just make everything perfect?
  30. How did different races exist if everyone came from God?
  31. Can people believe in God and be gay at the same time?
  32. Why do some people who claim to believe in God not ever go to church?
  33. Does faith in God require me to be a good person?
  34. Why is lust bad?
  35. Why don’t we ever have to be physically punished for our sin? The pain Jesus went through on the cross seems so unfair.
  36. What do I do when it feels like Jesus shouldn’t forgive me? I know he does but it sometimes feels like I don’t deserve it.
  37. Why did God make us?
  38. Do you need to ask Jesus for forgiveness more than once?
  39. If God wanted us to choose his way, why did he make it so difficult?
  40. Why would someone pay attention to the Christians when there’s so many different groups of them and they hardly seem to agree on anything?
  41. Why do some people hide behind religious cliches instead of trying to wrestle with real questions?

Which questions surprised you?

What questions would you add to the list?

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