Theology

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?

2Oct

4 Reasons You Don’t Need a Sign from God

Surely I’m not the only one…

Have you ever asked God for a sign? Maybe to prove He exists or that He actually loves you.

Or maybe you believe but just needed some guidance or help out of a tough situation.

Whatever the reason, this is a common request from the people of God and there are at least 4 reasons we don’t need that which we often think we need most.

1. You’ll just need another sign…and another…and another…

In the book of Exodus, the people of God were delivered from slavery and oppression under the corrupt hand of Pharaoh. As the people of God began to walk in freedom, they realized how unfamiliar it was because of how used they had become to their past state of slavery.

Over the course of their wandering journey, they quickly lost faith…in God and in their leader, Moses, who God appointed.

Over and over again, God showed up in miraculous ways that these people saw with their own eyes.

  • They saw God keep His promise to bring 10 plagues against Egypt as long as His people were enslaved.
  • They saw God miraculously save His people once the Egyptians tried to chase them down.
  • They saw God provide bread each morning and meat each evening for them to eat.
  • They saw God guide them by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud in the morning,

Even though they saw these incredible signs, signs that if we were honest we would love to see, they still doubted.

It’s easy for us to forget that even in 2016, we are the forgetful people of God.

We were delivered from slavery to sin and shame and as we began to walk in freedom, we realized how unfamiliar it was because of how accustomed we had become to our past state of slavery to sin.

 

2. You have the Bible.

Let’s say you did receive a sign from God, for the sake of argument. The Bible is the benchmark by which you would discern if that sign actually came from God, anyway. Consider this: how often have you, or someone you know, received a sign that didn’t confirm what they really wanted anyway. Far too often we ask God for signs and then “name and claim” anything that furthers our pre-existing confirmation bias.

Why not just stick to the sufficient revelation of God in the Scriptures? See: Bibles and Newspapers

Don’t ask God for a sign when you don’t read the one you have.

 

3. Hope that is seen is not real hope.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” – Romans 8:24

I love my iPhone. It’s remarkable how simple the design is for such an incredibly complex tool. From what I understand, they’re quite easy to take apart, with just a few parts making up the whole. If you desired, you could take an iPhone apart and examine the pieces from every angle and then put it back together again, deciding to love it because now you fully understand it.

But that’s not why I love my iPhone. I love it because I can book a vacation and fire off 3 baseball-related tweets nobody cares about all before the stoplight turns green. I love it because I’ve experienced it. 

The 11th century theologian, Anselm, famously defined life with Jesus as “faith seeking understanding.”

Faith is not something you understand fully before you experience it. You have a genuine encounter with Jesus which gives you hope, then you spend the rest of your life seeking to fully understand that hope, a hope which is unseen. Some mis-categorize that as “blind faith” but the Bible points us to real hope, hope unseen.

4. Jesus is the only sign you need.

In Matthew 12, a group of people demand a sign from Jesus.

First off, anytime you see people demanding things from the only One who has the power to demand things…red flag.

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:39-40

You don’t need a sign from Jesus because Jesus is the only sign you need. 

At the cross, we’re reminded who God is, what He’s done for us, and who we are in Him.

That’s always enough. 

23May

When Being Still Isn’t Enough

We all know it. You can feel it. Even Darth Vader knows it.

We all know that our pace of life is simply out of control. In an effort to do more and be better we’re doing less that matters and becoming worse. (See: Do More Better)

It seems like every bit of our time is spoken for and a never-ending bidding war ensues from all sides. Some of this chaos is simply a product of our culture today. For many, the 40-hour work week is a figment of past imagination, like waking up from a really good dream you can’t quite remember.

However, most of this chaos is self-imposed.

Maybe you’re a people-pleaser and struggle with telling people “no.” You end you end up helping someone move every weekend and take on projects at work that are outside of your normal scope simply because someone asked.

Maybe you’re a parent and your kids are all involved in 3-4 activities at a time…each! I have regularly witnessed the anxiety this produces in teenagers as school starts to get more challenging and college looms a mere few years away. I worry that we’re teaching the next generation to live life at even more frantic and chaotic pace than we are.

Maybe you’re a procastinator and your unwillingness to stick to a schedule is constantly leaving you scrambling to finish tasks at the last minute.

 

In short, we all feel stressed, hurried, and a bit overwhelmed at times. You don’t have to follow Jesus to know that.

A popular solution: meditation

Recently, meditation has experienced an undeniable resurgence as a solution to our unbridled hurriedness, an addiction to production.

The world is recognizing our need to be still.

I love when our culture catches up with the Bible. 

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

For thousands of years, the people of God have practiced meditation as an integral part of prayer. This is not primarily an Eastern Buddhist practice, but a distinctly Christian practice.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” – Joshua 1:8

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” – Psalm 19:14

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” – Psalm 119:15

…and many more.

 

The world is learning in part what God has always fully known. 

The world knows we need to be still, but that’s not the full solution.

Slowing down isn’t good enough. We need something else on which to fix our gaze, away from ourselves and our busy schedules and our endless striving.

The world knows the first half of Psalm 46:10 but not the 2nd. 

Being still isn’t enough. The solution to our obsession with ourselves is an obsession with God. 

Once we actually slow down, we need to remind ourselves who’s really in charge of our lives. 

Spending time with God isn’t complicated, but it’s also not easy. See: What a Dentist Knows about Faith

It takes time. See: It Takes Time to Take Heed 

But once you get started, it can become an obsession, one that will actually save you from yourself. See: What Christians Can Learn From Cross-Fit.

If you don’t know where to start, click here for a free 10-day study called Jump Start through the book of James.

This week, be still, but remember that being still isn’t enough. Be still and know that he is God!

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

9Dec

An Open Letter to American Muslims from a Christian Pastor

To All Muslim Americans,

I’ve had it.

There are a lot of political issues and current events about which I have formulated certain opinions. Collectively they don’t neatly place me in any specific category of political thought. Labels like “conservative” or “liberal” don’t fit the sum of my thoughts.

Moreover, I am a grateful pastor in a church where a wide range of political opinions are expressed. Even if those opinions were homogenous I would not share my political opinion because I greatly appreciate the separation between church and state. Thank you, Baptist up-bringing.

But I simply cannot remain silent on this issue.

I am a white American male. Statistics prove over and over again that based simply on surface level impressions, I get the benefit of the doubt more than any other gender/race combination. Based solely on my gender and skin color I am usually the most easily trusted and the least suspected person in any given situation.

I am also a Christian pastor. As a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, I could not disagree more with Islam.

I do not appreciate, and I don’t think you should either, the efforts of some Christians to synthesize our two distinct faiths, making them appear more similar than they actually are.

I believe a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to know lasting, true life with God, the God who lovingly created us all in His image. I hope you do not hear my expression of faith as anything akin to arrogance. Instead, I simply believe what Jesus said when he was the way we come to know the Father (John 14:6) and that he and the Father are one (John 10:30), along with the Holy Spirit distinct but equal members of the Triune God.

However, even though we will disagree on many theological issues, I must tell you…

Donald Trump does not speak for us and he definitely does not speak for me.

One of the greatest strengths of Protestant Christianity in America is its diversity. It is simply impossible to think about that diversity, even with its unity in Jesus Christ, being personified and represented by one person, especially that person.

I cannot begin to understand how we are even having this conversation. The First Amendment clearly gives you the right to believe in whatever religion you choose, “and the free exercise thereof…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

It is the definition of hypocrisy when so many people want to ignore the First Amendment when it does not further their own position yet embrace the Second Amendment when it does.

Donald Trump’s comments the last two days have been absurd. He wants all lawful Muslim immigration to stop, calling for a “total and complete shutdown.” He wants all Muslims to be forced to wear some sort of ID badge. Absurd.

America is as much yours as it mine.

 


 

We realize that what it means to be a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with what it means to be an American.

To say otherwise is to insult the 2 billion Christians who do NOT live in America, claiming that they have are practicing an inferior form of Christianity because it is not wedded with some syncretistic form of nationalism. God Doesn’t Need America

We realize that religious liberty only exists as actual liberty for all religions, not just the most popular religion.

We don’t think American mosques should be shut down, as Trump does. This would obviously be a gross violation of the Constitution but we also don’t want American mosques to be shut down because we don’t want American churches to be shut down one day, or any type of peaceable religious assembly.

One of the pastors at our church wrote recently, “As Christians restrict the religious practice of Muslims, secularists will begin to restrict the religious practice of Christians. And we will not have a logical argument to stop it. We must choose a better way.”

As Christianity, and religion in general, continues to move to the margins of American society, we will all soon be in the minority. As secularism continues to gain more and more ground, how dare Christians approve the words of someone like Trump when they could just as easily be used against their own faith one day.

We realize that radical Islamic terrorism has little to do with mainstream Islam.

We would ask that you consider how little Donald Trump’s words match up with any tenant of mainstream Christianity.

We realize that ISIS is a perversion of true Islam even in their pursuit of true Islam.

We realize that Islamic terrorists also target Muslims who they deem unfit for true Islam, which is nothing more than their ruthless form of brutal radicalism.

We realize that we have a shared responsibility to call out radicalism from within our own ranks.

It has been so powerful to see so many Muslims denouncing Islamic terrorism as radical violence they want no part of. Thank you. As Christians and your fellow Americans we also commit to do the same.

Donald Trump is not our voice just like ISIS is not yours.

I was glad to see Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan condemn Trump’s comments with four simple words, “This is not conservatism.”

Ryan also said that freedom of religion is “a founding principle of this country…What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”


I am grateful to share this great country with you. I am grateful for the ways in which you enrich our cities, neighborhoods and schools. As a Christian, I am choosing a better way than what Donald Trump proposes.

Question: What do you think the Christian response should be to Muslims in America?

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.

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