Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Lives as a Witness

More and more we are finding that our lives are our witness to those outside the faith, but what does that actually mean for us?  Pastor of The Summit Church in NC, J.D. Greear had some amazing thoughts on his blog today, so I thought I would just let him speak on this subject, as I couldn't say it any better.  (go to his November 19, 2008 post)

My favorite part is  "we are to live in such a way that our lives BEG a question from people that are watching."

Is this you?  Is this me?  It should be...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Cart Before the Horse

I am reading "unChristian" right now and it is a phenomenal book.  The premise is that many of the things we "Christians" do right now is actually rather un-Christian.  The writers have spent years researching and compiling their findings into this book to show how outsiders view the church and why we need to change.  We are viewed as sheltered, hypocritical, antihomosexual, and several other things.  They have many small sections in the book that have been written by many other pastors and Christian leaders and a theme seems to be popping up regularly, and I am encountering it in sermons on podcasts as well, and it is this:  We have put the cart before the horse too long in evangelism and it's time we turned it around.  

What they mean is that for a long time we have been asking people to make a decision as their first act, and then get to know Jesus.  We have emphasized the importance of the decision - with good reason, as we see the decision as being the point where they ask Jesus into their hearts, hence receiving salvation - and this is what most Christians are passionate about, saving people from an eternity in Hell.  But, if we take a look at where Christianity has led in the last 50 years, with that as the emphasis, has it been the right emphasis?  Many people make decisions and then fall by the wayside - they turn back to their old lifestyles, they stop going to church, they aren't brought into a small group or a church family where they can be discipled and loved.  Of course this is not the case in every situation, but there seems to be an overall lack of enthusiasm about Christ and it's coming from Christians.  Maybe it's because they decided to become one before they really knew Jesus.  

The premise of the writers I am referring to above would say that nonbelievers shouldn't make a snap decision, but that we as churches should invite them to come and be with us, and learn who God is and see what He's done in our lives first.  Then, they will be drawn to Him through us - they will learn who Jesus is and what He's done and they will see lives that have been changed and hear stories of restoration and grace and that's what they will be drawn to.  

Some would say, well that message is what we call the Gospel, and if it is preached one time, then they've heard it and can respond - what more is there to be done?  I don't have a comprehensive answer for that, and I'm not trying to say the old methods were wrong.  But there is a new generation out there, and they are a skeptical and cautious group that sees right through our masks.  If we call ourselves Christians, they are going to wait and evaluate that claim before deciding anything about us.  If we push them for a snap decision, it will push them away in many cases.  

We also need to get a lot more serious about discipleship.  If we have a bunch of people running around claiming to be Christians who, when questioned, can't explain what exactly they believe in or why, then we are presenting ourselves as blind and ignorant followers of something unknown to even ourselves.  C.S. Lewis said, "If you can't turn your faith into the vernacular, then either you don't understand it or you don't believe it."  

There are a lot of labels Christianity has on itself right now, many of them not good.  What are you doing to change that?

Monday, November 10, 2008

What is Christmas?

I just heard a Q-talk by Chris Seay on consumerism.  I have been feeling this for a while now, and have mentioned it a couple times but not gotten supportive response.  I am overwhelmed thinking this right now.  Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ - at least for Christ-followers it is supposed to be that.  It celebrates the beginning of a life that was lived out differently, in stark contrast to the pop-culture of His day.  His was a way of caring, grace, peace, generosity, love, and holiness.  Christmas is a celebration of the beginning of THAT LIFE.  

But what is our usual habit of "celebrating" Christmas?  We spend hundreds (some spend thousands) of dollars buying ourselves and each other things we do not need.  Exactly how does that celebrate the life of Christ?  I'm not sure it does.  There will inevitably be the person (or maybe everyone) out there that will tell me the tie in for the gifts and Jesus and will justify it in light of this discussion.  But justify this: a child dies every 15 minutes simply because they don't have clean water, yet we spend $600 giving our kid a room full of toys.  

What I'm getting at here is not that it is wrong to give gifts.  I am ALL for giving meaningful gifts that come from our God-given talents and abilities (things like baked goods, poems, photographs, and the many other things we can do and create).  Even smaller gifts, like a book or a journal - something someone really needs, that's ok too.  But this addictive consumerism that takes over us and we buy and buy and buy and we are constantly taking inventory of how much stuff we've bought compared to how much we think someone else will buy for us, cause we can't look like the cheapskate - THIS HAS TO GO.  What about that process celebrates Christ?  

Here's a radical idea.  What if we narrowed down our gift giving to one or two meaningful, from the heart, gifts and took the rest of the money we were going to spend and sent it to the Rwanda Clean Water Program so kids could get clean water and stop dying.  Or there are tons of other ideas out there in which we can use our money (which we have a ridiculous abundance of - just look at your Christmas bills if you think I'm wrong) and use it for the good of those who are not as blessed as we are.  Your family could sponsor a child, or buy mosquito nets to help prevent malaria, or decide to buy gifts only from a website that is fair trade, send Operation Christmas Child boxes, or many other things.  Isn't this more of an actual celebration of the life of Jesus than just consuming?  

If my suggestions make you mad - and you're mad at the idea that we do away with the huge spending on piles of gifts, I urge you to prayerfully and Scripturally consider your habits.  I challenge each of us to choose habits this Christmas that honor the life of Christ, instead of choosing ones that ignore it.  Read the Gospels and tell me what Jesus would think of our Christmas.  All the money we throw away each December - that money can be STOPPING problems in other parts of the world.  It's your choice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I come second

I just finished reading an amazing book by Eugene Peterson called "Working the Angles." The three angles are prayer, scripture, and spiritual direction. There's no huge imagery or illustrations that tie deeply into the whole "angle" thing, and there's no subliminal reason that there's only three. In Peterson's mind, there is only prayer and scripture for us to be putting energy towards, and we are also supposed to have and be a spiritual director.
The concepts that he brings out about prayer, Scripture, Sabbath, and many other things are so life-changing. He says prayer doesn't start with us. God spoke first, so any speaking we do is second and ought to be in response to God. Wow, kind of changes the idea of "starting a meeting with prayer." He also talks about how God spoke His Word, and then it was written down later. God's Word is spoken, and as such, it is arranged in narrative form. When we submit to others our teaching from the Scripture, are we giving it that value? That whatever verse we pick is deeply and inseperably tied to a huge story that God literally SPOKE to us. Do we read the Bible like that? Again, God spoke, we listen - we come second. He also discussed how we see our day to day structure. The day begins when we go to sleep - because we get out of the way and God does amazing and infinite things as the sovereign creator that He is, and then we wake up later and ask to be a part of it. The Jews saw each day ending at sundown, and beginning in the dark while they were asleep. God comes first, creating and moving in the details things we can't possibly imagine, and then we get up and become a part of it each day. We come second.
Whether you agree with his ideas or not, I think it is worth considering the overall point that everything we do ought to be done with a proper posture and mindset - that God comes first and we come second. This one thread should run constant through the way we pray, the way we live out each day, the way we study the Bible and interact with each other, and maybe even the way we prepare to go to sleep. Think about it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I was listening to Ed Young's sermon on iTunes from this past Sunday and he put words to a distinction we need to recognize.  The term tolerance used to mean "acceptance".  You tolerate it, you accept it.  In this way, Christians should be tolerant.  And it is something we try to be - accepting.  We accept people with various lifestyles, problems, attitudes, etc.  Or at least we should.  But today it has a different connotation, which goes askew of this original meaning.  Now it means "approval."  Now, in order to be tolerant, we not only have to accept something, we have to approve of it, or applaud it.  If we do not approve of lifestyles, problems, attitudes, etc., we are labeled as intolerant.  There is a need for us as Christians to be tolerant (accepting) of all people, but we need not applaud their lifestyles and actions when they go opposite to our values and teachings - AND THIS INCLUDES OURSELVES.  People who attend church regularly need to stop approving of their own lifestyles and habits as well, when they also run counter to a life that would honor God.  So, we should be tolerant (accepting) of everyone, but not to the point where we applaud things we know to be sinful.  When people do come, the opposite reaction is not the best either - to condemn them for what they are doing.  What the church needs to do when people are hurting or need help is to put down our stones and get our our bandaids (thanks Jud).   If imperfect people can't come to the church and receive all the help they need, where can they go?  If we're not that place, what are we?  

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Ongoing Conversation

In Eugene Peterson's book "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" he says that he realized at one point that the most important things he could do as a pastor were Scripture and prayer.  Scripture, being God's Word, is a way for God to communicate to us, to literally speak to us.  And for those of us who read it often we know it can come to life in front of us and jump right into our souls and speak to something we've been working on or tell us something we need to say.  Prayer on the other hand is our way of communicating to God, and sometimes we know God also communicates to us through prayer as well.  He realized that he must also combine the two as much as possible - prayerfully reading Scripture, and praying scripturally.  And there's lots of other comparisons and illustrations you can draw from his ideas if you want.

The thing I pulled from those ideas is that there is supposed to be an ongoing conversation between you and God when things are as they should be.  Brother Lawrence called this Practicing the Presence of God.  Every fiber and moment in life is created by God and full of His purpose.  We, as His men and women, need to be in tune with God at all times.  How better to know what His will is for our lives, and how better to know what He wants us to do in a given situation, or what to say to someone?  And what a great constant reminder of who's really in charge and where we should go first when things come up.  

Through my first week of doing 60 minutes for 60 days, I have already noticed a difference.  I bring more things to God, and I notice Him more throughout the day, and I feel that I am beginning to view more of life through a God filter because He's on my mind more.  But I am also noticing just how big of a problem I have as well.  There are times when I am on a photo shoot for work and I all of the sudden notice that I haven't heard my watch chime in a couple hours.  I at first wonder if it is still working, but alas the problem is that I was so engrossed in work I overlooked/ignored God.  Also, there are times when I hear the chime but I don't really stop what I am doing, but instead give God a quick hello, how are you kind of response instead of truly pausing to acknowledge Him.  

The good news is, I have 52 more days to improve.  I am already planning to probably never not have a chiming watch again, as it is such a good way to stay in touch with God.  And I am finding that I don't know more about His will for my life yet, but that I am more willing to be a part of it each day.  I can't wait for Christmas!