1/25/2017

Encouraged Enough


As American Christians, we are gluttons for encouraging words. 

And on any given Sunday, we are likely to hear a lot of them. 

Just put your faith in Jesus and He'll help you be more than a conqueror!  God's got your back just like He did when David slew Goliath!  You can overcome your troubles by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony!  God is the God of infinite supply, and just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes from some kid's lunch, so God too can take your little and turn it into a lot!  And if you just have enough faith, you can tell the mountains in your life to move, and they shall listen to you!  Just keep your eyes on Jesus, and you too can walk on water!

O boy! 

If you are like me, you probably know a thousand other such clich├ęd phrases and messages that center around such themes.  Which is all fine and good.  These sermons are perfectly Biblical, and who doesn't need a good pick-me-up every now and then? 

My only problem is that for many, this is just about all they ever hear week after week, year after year.  Which is pretty odd considering how "well off" we are in America compared to most other parts of the world.  Why are we always so down and out?  You would think we would truly be encouraged by now after all the wonderful messages we've heard.  It's almost like such words aren't really helping us out, and they aren't really transforming our lives.  At best they seem to help us cope.  Like a drug, they give us a fix, but always leave us coming back for more.

It is my contention that as American Christians we have heard enough encouraging words.  Indeed, if I go the rest of my life without hearing another sermon designed to pump me up, I will be good.  And the chances are, so would you.  I believe we have individually heard more sermons designed to encourage us than Jesus and all the apostles ever preached in all of their ministries combined. 

Instead of another weekly pep rally "ra-ra-ra" type speech that tries to build up our fragile self-esteem, to help us overcome our problems and our fears, and make us feel good about our odds of making it in a cruel and dangerous world, I believe we would do well to encourage people in other ways. 

I believe we need to encourage people to love more radically.

I believe we need to encourage people to treat others like they want to be treated.

I believe we need to encourage people to be kind to those who treat them harshly.

I believe we need to encourage people to turn the other cheek.

I believe we need to encourage people to practice hospitality.

I believe we need to encourage people to give to the needy.

I believe we need to encourage people to practice mercy towards those who have wronged them.

I believe we need to encourage people to think of others before thinking of themselves.

I believe we need to encourage people to look after the rights of the marginalized in our society.

Such preaching is not likely to get a super large following, and will probably keep many ministers working second jobs. 

But, I believe in my heart of hearts that if we would encourage people to do these things more and more, that is, simply living out the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives, then we would find ourselves suddenly equipped to deal with all the trials that come our way. 

Instead of needing to feel constantly lifted up week after week, and seeking out preachers who do nothing but that (i.e. the T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Steven Furtick's of the world), we would simply be able to encourage ourselves through the regular up and down rhythms of life.  Their never ending sermons about feel good stuff simply would not be needed, and we would find them magically "speaking to our lives" less and less. 

Instead, we would become like the psalmist, and would be able to speak to our own soul and encourage it whenever we hit the occasional rough patch.  And, instead of being in regularly need for a sermon that helps you cope for a few days, we would among those who can not only lift up our spirits, but we would also be among those who can truly strengthen the knees of those who are truly weak. 

That's not to say won't need the occasional reminder of how good God is, and how awesome His love is towards us, and how He can take us under the shadow of His wings, and protect us through even the harshest of storms. 

But such a thing will only be needed on special occasions. 

For through putting the teachings of Jesus to work in your life on a regular basis, you will form the character and the humble confidence necessary to live out your life with faith and boldness.  By putting the words of Jesus into action, you'll develop spiritual muscle, and the things that used to weigh you down, you will suddenly find you have the strength to carry on.  Instead, you will know how to live that abundant life that Jesus talked about, even when facing adversity.

So, if we are going to encourage each other all the more as the day of the Lord draws near, as Scripture teaches, let us encourage one another to do the things Jesus encourages us to do in our day to day lives.  We've had more than enough of the other type of encouragement.  And that kind of encouragement often leads us up a creek without a paddle.

So long as we have the opportunity, let us encourage one another to do good works.  And if we do those things, the rest will sort itself out quite naturally. 

1/11/2017

Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?



"Indeed, the very heads of your hair are all numbered..." (Luke 12:7; NASB)

Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?

Our gut reaction probably causes most of us to say "no." 

After all, why would God care about something that is ultimately so trivial?  It's just a game, after all. 

Or, maybe we say it's not about whether or not the game is ultimately trivial in nature.  In reality, we don't believe God cares about such things, because if He cared about such things, such might imply He is somehow involved in the outcome of the Super Bowl, or even the outcome of other things in this world.

That's where things get really dicey.

Such offends our modern sensibilities.  To this day, even after all the preaching done in the past couple thousand years on God being a God of love who cares for us, we still prefer to think of God as some distant cosmic landlord who doesn't really involve Himself in the outcome of all that much in this world. 

We are willing to believe that God had something to do with raising Jesus from the dead, or that He helped us get a recent job promotion at work... but the idea He might get involved at some level in something like the Super Bowl... such an idea is preposterous sounding.  I mean... if God is involved there, what if He were involved in outcome of things like the weather, national elections, the economy, and various cultural phenomenon?

But as preposterous sounding as it might be to some, I must say that in my heart of hearts that I believe that God does care about the outcome of the Super Bowl.  If God is so concerned about the most intimate details of our lives, and even bothers to number the very hair on our heads, then I can't help but believe He cares about the Super Bowl. 

If God has His eye on the sparrow, then you better believe He has His eye on the likes of the legendary (and infamous) quarterback Tom Brady.  And if God takes care to even clothe the grass of the field, you better bet He has His sovereign hand all over the NFL. 

Now, how you view the extent to which God is involved in the outcome of any given Super Bowl, or any other issue for that matter, will ultimately depend on where you stand in the entire spectrum of views in the free-will vs. sovereignty debate.  And I for one don't pretend to have an answer to that issue.  Go ask John Calvin and John Wesley about such questions if you want. 

But, what I do know for sure is that God cares!

He cares about everything that is happening in the world.  And just as there is not a single patch of grass in this world that is God forsaken, there is not a single Super Bowl that has escaped the attention of God.  And because God is God, He has the best seat in the house.  He knows for sure whether or not Tom Brady under inflated his footballs. 

And, just as God is involved in all of these things, so God is also involved in our lives.  Nothing that happens in your life happens apart from His notice.  If things are going well in your life, He's there with you, and likewise, if things aren't going so well in your life, He's there with you even in the midst of great loss and suffering. 

And no matter what your circumstance, God knows what you are going through, and He always stands by your side, willing to draw near to you and to intervene in your life, if you would just but call on His name.

1/04/2017

Come to Jesus Moments???


Over the past couple of centuries, much of our Christian vocabulary has been filled with language that speaks of dramatic and sudden conversion experiences. 

We recall making our way down the aisle at a Billy Graham style crusade.  We recall heading to an altar with tears in our eyes to "pray that prayer" with a preacher, wherein we confessed we were sinners in need of a Savior.  We remember a Sunday school teacher or friend who asked us to suddenly pray to accept Jesus into our heart.  We recall stories of powerful decisions made for Christ.

But what if all of this, as touching and as precious as moments as these stories might be, reflect what is in truth something that isn't really "normative" in how most people come to truly know Christ?  That's not to say there aren't crisis moments of sudden and dramatic conversions, but rather, that such moments of dramatic decision might in fact be more rare than the way God normally works.  And I think it's time we begin to recognize this.

What if the average conversion to Christ comes through less dramatic means, and is in fact, much more slow and gradual in nature? 

While I do not negate the powerful stories of people suddenly and dramatically coming to Christ, as such stories are also found in the Bible, I can't help but think the heavy emphasis we have made on dramatic "altar-call" type experiences is wanting, and is theologically suspicious in light of the full testimony of the Scriptures. 

Jesus asked His audiences to "consider the cost"  of following Him.  He didn't ask such a thing of some random person He just bumped into on the street and gave a Romans Road gospel presentation to.    Rather, He asked such of men and women who had time to carefully consider His radical message, and the implications His teachings had for their lives, after having repeatedly heard His preaching over a duration of time. 

What if the average Christian conversion is normally a slow and gradual thing, and less like something we picture happening at some massive revival styled meeting?  What if the average conversion experience can be likened more unto how a plant grows from a seed than a spaceship blasting off into space? 

I know in my life and conversion to Christ, while I recall some very powerful moments and encounters with the Lord, I feel like my coming to know the Lord was ultimately through a very long, slow, and gradual process.  While I can pinpoint some moments in time that were pivotal in my journey, and where I definitely felt like I had a special encounter with God, the more I reflect on these events that have transpired in my life, the more I think my conversion was less of a dramatic "come-to-Jesus moment," and more of a "back-and-forth conversation" I had with Christ over a period of years, as I struggled with the full weight of the Gospel message and the teachings of Jesus as I gradually came to understand them.

And as I come closer to the 20 year anniversary of the time I first called on the name of the Lord, sometimes I wonder "exactly" when it was that I came to know the Lord.  Looking back at the sputtered messy beginnings of my faith, sometimes I just don't know exactly when I got saved.  Maybe it was when I prayed that prayer.  Or maybe it was sometime after that.  Honestly... I just don't know anymore.  All I know is that for me, my conversion felt more like a prolonged wrestling match than a Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of a football game. 

I know along the way I received several strong "nudges" that made God larger and bigger and nearer to me than I had ever experienced before in my life.  And I know that in my heart of hearts that as of today I believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead and that I am saved.  But the exact moment I passed from death to life, oddly, I'm not so certain anymore.  All I know is that God eventually prevailed over me. 

And talking to many Christians over the years, I'm starting to believe more and more that most came to know the Lord slowly, gradually, and over time. We came to know the Lord as a result of a seed being planted, nurtured, and in time, ultimately bringing forth life. 

And if that is indeed the case, that most Christians have come to know the Lord slowly over time, to the point where they eventually experienced the new birth, instead of in some dramatic moment, should that not radically challenge the way we do outreach and evangelism?  Should that not change the way we do church? 

Instead of trying to have a giant extravaganza and crusade to save souls, should we as the church not instead foster a culture that invites those who are outside to come alongside of us, to dialogue, to struggle with us, to wrestle with the claims of Christ, and to taste something of the Christian community that we enjoy with others who follow the Lord?  And maybe, just maybe, they will over time get caught up in the faith that we have come know, to experience the life we have, and to become true followers of Jesus Christ?

What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts below. Feel free to comment!