Faith

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?

30Nov

How to Survive Finals Week in College

Can you remember? Back to that very first day of class when you got the syllabus. You were thinking, “This is going to be awesome. I’m going to work ahead, knock out those papers early and be super prepared for all my labs.” See: Start College Right

Well, maybe you did…maybe you didn’t. But no matter what the bulk of the semester brought your way, it’s crunch time now. Finals week is finally here.

Finals are stressful even for the most prepared student because they hold so much weight. So much of your semester grade is contingent upon your performance on several comprehensive tests over a mere handful of days.

At this point, you know you should have studied more earlier in the semester and you’re probably aware of general stress-reduction techniques but that’s not what you need. You need to manage the crazy.

How to Survive Finals Week

1.) Log off all social media.

Delete the apps from your phone. You don’t need to have that tab open on your laptop. GO DARK. What was a fun way to connect with new friends over the course of the semester has become your number one enemy during finals. Nothing has the power to distract and derail you more.
See: When the Cool Kids Grow Up

2.) Figure out how you study best…and DO IT.

For me, it actually depended on the subject. I had a friend in college who learned best by teaching. In the subjects where I best studied in a group session (history, theology, philosphy, ethics, etc.) I always made sure to put myself in the same room as my teaching friend. It worked out best for both of us.

But some subjects I learned best by studying by myself. Figure out what works best for you and do that. Don’t waste time in group study sessions you don’t need or trick yourself into thinking you’re studying because you spent 3 hours making note cards.

3.) Eat and Sleep

If you were performing surgery at the same time as your final tomorrow the hospital wouldn’t let you binge eat all the Doritos and drink the entire caffeine contents of your local grocery store. At some point, you have to stop and sleep. Take care of yourself. Take breaks. This is why studying before now is so important. There’s only so much you can cram in a week.

My trick: Study hard for 2 hours, take a 5-10 minute break. Study hard another 2 hours. Take an hour break to eat a meal and go for a walk. Rinse and repeat as needed. Watch one episode of something on Netflix…not ALL the episodes. Pizza rolls are your friend, though…even if Mom’s not there to make them for you.

4.) Pray

One semester I set up a bean bag chair in the corner of my dorm room. It was gross and I don’t think it moved or was cleaned all year but it was my prayer spot. Finals are tough because they help you believe a lie, that all your identity is caught up in passing this test so you can graduate ahead of the person next to you so you can get a better job than the person you graduated next to so you can get a raise instead of the person next to you, etc. etc.

Don’t forget who made you, who gave you the opportunity to learn where he’s placed you. Don’t forget who holds the whole universe in his hands. Finals are important, but Jesus doesn’t check your transcript at the pearly gates. For some of you, the first words you need to focus on are Jesus’ last words, “It is finished.”

Study hard so you can succeed out of response to all that God has done for you, not to earn his love or admiration. God isn’t impressed with your 4.0 or bummed by your 2.0. He simply loves you. Don’t waste an opportunity to carve out some time to remind yourself of the simple truths of the Gospel in the place of prayer. See: On Prayer: Pews and Plastic Tables

5.) Spend (a little) time with friends.

Finals also signal the end of a semester. And every semester some students never return. Some graduate, others transfer to other schools. Some study abroad and some enter the work force or go back home, maybe for good.

Maybe on one of your study breaks you need to grab coffee with a friend or go on a date. I met my wife during finals week! You never know who you might meet that could potentially change your life. Friendship gets a lot harder after college – something about the real world, I don’t know.

6. Call your mother.

This has nothing to do with finals. Just do it. Because you should. Every day.

P.S. – when you rock a C instead of a B you can tell Mom you just couldn’t focus because you missed her so gosh darn much and that’s why you called so much. It works. And she’ll bake you cookies when you get home.

 

What other tips help(ed) you survive finals week?

22Oct

Love Your Enemies

The barbershop was like every other barbershop.

The war had gotten bloody, confusing, and anger toward the enemy had been growing steadily for years.

As the barbers cut and shaved and talked, one man getting his hair cut proposed a simple solution to the war protesters who had come to town, “They ought to round up every one of them sons of b*%ches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.”

This story, as told by Wendell Berry in his novel Jayber Crow took place during the Vietnam War. As the men in the barbershop echoed their passionate agreements, Jayber, the barber, spoke up and said,

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

The first man, Troy, jerked his head up and widened his eyes, “Where did you get that crap?”

Jayber responded, “Jesus Christ.” (Matthew 5:44)

Troy said, “Oh.”

Then Wendell Berry penned a cutting indictment on the entire conversation that I, unfortunately, have been a part of far too often,

“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

You see, the verse Jayber quotes might be one of the most difficult Jesus ever uttered, and possibly the most misunderstood and I’m in no way claiming to have it understood.

When Jesus says, “love your enemies” you know what he means? LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. It sure seems like we’ve tried all the hermeneutical gymnastics we can muster to make Jesus say anything except what he actually said.

When Jesus says love I wish he said teach or correct. That’s how Jayber operates and I know the feeling all too well. It’s hypocrisy in its purest form, when a Christian criticizes someone else who doesn’t love their enemies and in the process the criticizing Christian fails in the exact same way.

Love your enemy doesn’t mean teach, correct, convert, change, or hate your enemy. When Jesus spoke those words, he was very aware that those of us alive today would be living in a “drop-the-mic” culture that overvalues one’s abilities to shut down anyone who might disagree with us but it’s time for a change.

It’s time to start taking Jesus seriously.

Love means love, in every language.

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?

30Jul

Is Church Your Higher Power?

“A support group is my higher power.”

So claimed Julie Schumacher in her 2008 New York Times article.

Schumacher found herself rather accidentally actively involved in a Jewish women’s support group. Being the only non-Jewish woman herself she felt very out of place at first until she got to know the other women and heard the story that unified them all; all of them had “a teenager who has fallen apart.” See: 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry

Alcoholism, drug-abuse, self-starvation, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, etc. You name it, these women have been through it. All but one of the teenagers represented were away from home in long-term treatment.

Faith was the glue that held the group together, except in Julie’s case. She raised her kids as “compassionate disbelievers” and she self-identifies to this day as an agnostic. Her daughter is what initially brought her to this group of women. Julie’s daughter, before her bouts with depression and suicide attempts, was in the process of converting to Judaism. She was in Hebrew classes, learning all she could about the faith.

Julie marveled as the group progressed through some of the darkest experiences imaginable, all with a firm trust in God to be with them through it all. She formed incredibly close bonds with these women over the years and still counts them among her dearest friends.

But she still doesn’t believe.

Julie concludes her article, “Although I still don’t believe in God, I have come to believe in support groups…Fortunately our meetings aren’t only about commiseration. They are also – Christian metaphor here – about rebirth.”

For Julie, support groups are her higher power, her God, her salvation. She’s tragically mistaken. Julie, for all of her pain endured and burdens carried, has placed her hope where it does not belong. See: How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

 

For many Christians who fill the seats on Sunday, I fear it’s not much different.

 

As churches adapt and change, newness can be exciting. I currently serve at one of those new, exciting-type churches, at least when compared to most others in our area. Generally speaking, people love our church. We don’t have a lot of the typical church problems. We don’t suffer from much division. We don’t struggle to get buy-in. We don’t have a lot of red-tape to go through to lead the way we feel is best.

There’s one significant draw back to a church like ours, and in some way it’s present in every church: some people love our church more than they love Jesus.

We are proud of the things we do right. We are far from perfect as a church but I have a quiet confidence that in many ways we are headed in the right direction as we continue to submit to God’s rule and reign over not just our church, but our entire lives.

Yet there’s this fear that church can become a higher power.

Lately it seems like one of the cool things to do in Christian circles is to try and separate Jesus from Church. Jesus is greater than religion, right? Certainly. But Jesus calls the Church his BRIDE, and I don’t know about you, but I would gladly die for my bride today, without hesitation, and I’m incredibly sinful. See: Can You Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Imagine how highly a perfect, sinless Savior must think of the Church to call her his BRIDE. So church matters, a lot. When people miss, I don’t feel the need to contact them and beg them to come. I want to contact them and mourn with them because they missed out on being a part of the bride of Christ when it gathers. See: I Went to Church Anyway

This weekend, all over the world churches will gather in the name of Jesus. I sincerely hope you find one and worship with everything you’ve got.

Be careful, or else you’ll find yourself only appreciating the things at church that Julie appreciated in her small group: the warmth of the people, the faith of mature believers, the atmosphere and the authenticity.

We work hard at my church to try and create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. We don’t really have any rules. You can bring a crying baby in the worship center and spill your coffee all over the place, no worries.

BUT, don’t make church your higher power this weekend. If you love your church, talk about it! But make sure you talk about Jesus more. Love Jesus more.

I love my church because I love Jesus.

I love my church but I love Jesus more.

I want to be with people at my church but I want to be with Jesus more.

I want the approval of people at my church but I want the approval of Jesus more.

Jesus > church.

14Jul

Being Honest in a Hypocritical World

In a recent article in the Atlantic, The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists, Emma Green compiled years of data mined from studies done on the ethical implications of various professions. She sought to discover if people who, at least in part, give advice for a living were practicing what they preached.

Some of the conclusions were what one might expect in a study like this.

  • One study of 500 doctors found 38% to be overweight. The national average is only 33%, although doctors rate of obesity is lower than the national average.
  • Nearly 4,000 police officers in Florida were surveyed and almost 800 of them had been found to be driving 90-130 mph on toll roads, many while off duty.
  • According to a security company’s study, most of the shoplifting that occurs in the retail stores is committed by employees, not shoppers.

Yet the main point of the article was fascinating. It discovered that ethicists, people who think, write, and teach what is right and wrong for a living are noticeably less ethical than both the general population as well as other non-ethics professors. Not only that, but on many occasions their behavior directly contradicted their stated beliefs. 

  • 60% of ethicists surveyed said they found eating red meat to be morally wrong, yet only 27% do not regularly eat it.
  • Ethicists are not more likely to vote donate blood, or register as organ donors.
  • Books on ethics checked out of the library are more than 50% likely to be permanently missing as compared to other books.

But if you’re reading this, you are most likely not an ethicist. Frankly, I do not know any that I like.

So what about the rest of us?

 

What if the way we live our lives and make our daily decisions was analyzed? Would we be hypocrites or legit?

 

As a Christ-follower, I have a firm commitment to be as honest and open as possible. We, more than anyone, have nothing to hide because our failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings only make the God we serve look that much more glorious for loving us. See: Fake or Real?

I wonder…what would the statistics look like if we compared the lives of Christians to the lives of non-Christians? Could you tell a difference? Would there be a difference in your life? In mine?

Two arenas jumped into my mind where Christians can be legit and really make a difference.

Christians need to be legit in our marriages. 

SplitShire-8645

Our church wrapped up a series on marriages a few months ago and in one of our home group sessions, one of my friends said, “I’m not sure there’s a more consistent testimony to the faithfulness of God than a committed, loving marriage.”

She is absolutely right. While you in no way need to be married to bear witness to God’s faithfulness, marriage is a nearly universal experience in our culture, regardless of your particular belief system.

But marriage can be tough, and I think sometimes Christians tragically forget that they married an imperfect person. Much more often, they forget that they themselves are imperfect.

When two selfish sinners (all of us) are able to selflessly give themselves to one another in the covenant (not contract) of marriage, and stick with it for six or seven decades, people will ask, “How do you do it? What’s the secret?” They can answer simply that they spent their lives giving one another the love that God so richly gave to them through Jesus.

Christians need to be legit in the workplace. 

hardwork

One of my favorite articles ever written is entitled, “Today’s Lazy Youth Pastor.” In it, Jonathan McKee laments the state of many youth workers he comes into contact with, thinking they’re overloaded with work, stretched too thin, or burned out. While that is definitely true for some, it happens much more in other staff positions.

I wonder if that article could be written about you at your job. Today’s Lazy ________.

Christians send a loud message of the faithfulness of God when they work harder than their co-workers. When asked what gives them such drive and ambition, they can respond simply with Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I love those verses because while they include pastors, that is not the primary audience…“WHATEVER you do.”

  • If you’re a school teacher, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a CEO, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a plumber, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home Mom, when you work hard, you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a used-car salesman, or a lawyer, when you work hard you might be serving the Lord. 🙂

When Christians are lazy at work, we fail to be honest. We become hypocrites who make Jesus look like a fake if we are constantly give half-effort.

“If you show up on time, WORK while you are at WORK, and smile you will be noticed. Most people don’t even do that.” – Dave Ramsey

In what other areas do Christians need to be legit? 

8Jul

How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

My favorite annual tradition might be my wife’s least favorite, probably because she does all the work.

Every year, she creates a coffee-table photo-book of all of our adventures from the last year. I don’t know about your life but ours at times is somewhat uninteresting. We love to travel but some years we don’t get to do that as much as we would like.

These photo books help us remember good days that would be easy to forget.

One book has a full page dedicated to a day spent in the park with our dogs. Nothing super eventful happened that day but it was a day we celebrated the simple things in life and I remember that day now even though it was rather uneventful and almost five years ago.

Another book has several pages dedicated to a night at my first church where we took our entire youth group of 12 students over to an 80-year old woman’s house and played croquet and grilled hot dogs. A lot has happened ministry-wise in my life since that night but I remember it because it’s in the book. Dozens of other nights just like it happened but I can’t remember them, and they were not that long ago.

Life is busy! Things get hectic and while we remember big vacations and fun road trips, we can easily forget the simple days and good but uneventful nights.

The same is true with faith.

We can remember the big events.

  • A life-changing week at camp, free from normal distractions.
  • A mission trip spent serving someone else.
  • A baptism, a public declaration that we belong to Jesus.

But what about all the other good, but uneventful days?

  • When we needed a friend to reach out and they did.
  • When we didn’t feel like going to church but went anyway and had a real connection with a real, loving God?
  • When what we read from Scripture that day was somehow exactly what we needed to hear.

If we’re not careful, those good but uneventful days are easily forgotten like days in the park or nights playing croquet with a dozen teenagers and an 80 year-old woman.

So then what happens when the good but uneventful days are forgotten and bad days come?

Dark days move in, like a 35 year-old kid who won’t move out of Mom’s basement. They’re here to stay. In those days we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?”

The feeling of doubt must be universal.

If you’re a Christian, you know that God’s grace is present and active but sometimes it feels like it’s at best expired, if it even exists at all.

Like a questionable carton of milk sitting on the refrigerator shelf long past its “best if enjoyed by” date, in times of doubt God’s grace seems like an outdated form of comfort that seems good enough for some people but never quite sufficient enough for others, for those of us with questions.

Real questions. The kind of questions that keep you up at night, wrestling with God in deep thought.

  • Why did ____________ happen?
  • Why does the world have to be this way instead of that way?
  • Why is there so much suffering?

My generation has often been turned away from church and faith because they feel the faith of their childhood and the status of the Church today simply does not allow room for their doubts and questions. We have made an idol out of theological certainty which suffocates any attempts to wrestle with God.

But we do have to arrive at some level of certainty. How?

4 Ways to Remember God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

1. Timehop – an app that reminds you what you posted on various social media networks that same day 1, 2, 3, etc. years ago.

I love social media. Roughly 10% of my articles are focused directly on social media. I love how it makes the world small. I love how it connects me with people from church throughout the week. I love how it connects me and my wife to our families that both live out of state.

My favorite thing about social media is the platform it allows people to create to share a message, and I love when people genuinely talk about Jesus on that platform. A few days ago, my Timehop brought up dozens of tweets and Facebook posts from students that I had reposted on my various social media accounts. The posts they shared were from a mountaintop experience, literally, that is still one of the most powerful moments of my spiritual life. I woke up not thinking about that time, about God’s grace on display. Yet Timehop reminded me.

It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop experience. Maybe it’s a quote from a sermon or a verse that you read at just the right time. If you posted it, Timehop reminds you of it.

2. Journaling

I have never been much of a journaler. At times I felt like less of a Christian because of it but there have been seasons of my life where journaling has played a huge role in my walk with Christ. The great think about journaling, especially journaling when you may not feel like it, is that you slowly build this library of personal testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Whenever doubt creeps in, you get to kick it to the curb because you can go back and re-read some of your old journals. You’ll remember trials you had forgotten because God overcame them. You’ll remember triumphs you had forgotten because there’s too much goodness in God’s grace to record.

3. Get together with people.

Was there a time in your life where you know you were close to God? Who was with you then? Who shared those times and places with you? Find them. Call them. Eat with them. Remember with them.

4. Watch/listen.

Do you have some type of media that recorded a time you were close with God? Maybe it’s a baptism video. Watch it. For me, I can remember the cheesy, “contemporary” Christian song that was playing when I finally decided to obey God’s calling on my life to pursue ministry as my vocation.

While you are unable to recreate that experience or time, you can remember what it was like to be close to God. You can use those tools to remind yourself what is really true.

“And when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you. And when I can’t see past the dark of night, remind me you’re always by my side.” – Bret Stanfill, “Sons and Daughters of God”

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