Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Stress Effective?

Some call it stress. Others call it anxiety. Whatever you call it, it can be such a drain on your emotions.

I've studied a lot about stress for my current degree, and what I've learned has really helped me in my walk with God.

God gave us stress so we can realistically deal with situations that are dangerous. If a lion is chasing me, it would be dangerous for me to remain too calm. I need to run like crazy and get my blood pumping so that my muscles can work flat out until I'm out of reach from the lion. This is typically known as fight-or-flight mode, something your body does in reaction to a perceived threat. Your body kicks into high gear to help get you through a possibly life-threatening situation. But we have a big problem: our body can go into this mode over a perceived threat that actually isn't threatening.

For example, when thinking about a big final coming up in 3 months, my body can enter stress mode. My heart starts pumping, my mind starts racing, and I can barely sit still. It's like my body thinks its about to run for its life, all the while I'm doing nothing more than sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned room. My body trusts my mind to evaluate threats realistically, and so it reacts to what my mind is telling it. If my mind says, "This is really scary and I don't know if there's a way out!" then my body will react accordingly. We might even feel threatened by something that may or may not happen in the future, something like a nuclear holocaust. So, the problem is not my body, but my mind.

The biggest problem that happens in my mind is seeing tasks in my life as insurmountable. I think about all the homework I have to do, or a sermon I need to prepare, and my mind says, "This is too much! I don't know if I can do it!" and therefore my body goes into high stress mode, regardless of if those tasks are actually insurmountable... or not.

For whatever reason this is a particularly common problem in our current society. We're highly stressed and anxious, even though we live in one of the most comfortable times in the history of mankind. The problem isn't circumstances, but rather our incorrect evaluation of those circumstances.

For people who struggle with perfectionism (like me) this tends to be a crippling thing in their lives. Everything becomes an almost insurmountable threat, because I view every goal as only able to be accomplished perfectly. Thus, I tend to put everything off till the last possible moment because I'm afraid that if I start on it that it won't be perfect, so I shouldn't even begin. Of course, almost none of this comes out in concrete thoughts, but it's still there.

I sometimes wonder if sermons can do more harm than good. Take evangelism, for example. A preacher stands up and tries to motivate people by reminding them how big a deal it is that people are lost and need Christ, and then he gets semi-panicky that we had better do something right now! (I have preached this sermon.) His heart is in the right place, but I'm afraid it can produce the opposite intended effect in his audience. What they're hearing is, "This is a really big deal, and there will be terrible consequences if you don't do something!" So what happens is that evangelism actually becomes far more intimidating than it previously was, and therefore impossible. When, as a Christian, evangelism should be something I do out of a genuine love for others, not out of a sense of divine panic.

I could go on about a lot of applications with this idea. For me the most practical one is training my mind to see every goal and task as obtainable with God. A phrase I try to think about daily is, "No task is insurmountable with God." This helps put things in perspective for me. Making tasks and goals as large and intimidating accomplishes nothing but stressing me out and rendering me incapable of actually attaining them. That just wastes my time and makes me miserable. So, instead, I have to go to God in prayer reminding myself that He's bigger than my problems, He'll see me through regardless of how badly I perform at something, and at the end of my life the bottom line is that I'll be home with Him. And I certainly won't be thinking about all the tasks that seem so threatening now.

I pray this is an encouragement to those of you who struggle with stress and anxiety every day like I do. Just remember: No task is insurmountable with God.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


One of the questions I think about most is, "What does it really mean to follow Jesus?"

I know what it means to be religious, to be a good American Christian, to be a good church member, even a good preacher. But what does it mean to genuinely be a follower, a real disciple, of Jesus?

I've been exposed to a lot of blogs, books, and sermons that deal with this. Sadly, most of them are framed negatively. What most of them basically say is, "We have a problem! We're not disciples, we're just religious! Rant, rant, rant..." But the problem is that I get that. All you have to do is look around to see that. When I first started seriously reading the Bible at 17 it didn't take me but a couple of days of reading Acts to go, "Wait a minute. What I see in church today doesn't match this... like, at all. I know a lot of religious people. But I've never met anyone like the guys I'm reading about. Something's wrong."

Now, I'm not writing this blog post to say I have all the right answers on how to fix this. I don't. But I am trying to be a follower of Jesus, whatever the cost. And in an honest exploration of the Scriptures I believe we can plainly see what it looks like to follow Christ.

One story that hits home for me in this is the story in Luke 7. This is such a humbling and profound event to read about. Jesus enters the home of a religious guy who doesn't follow the customary tradition of washing his feet or anointing him with oil. Then there's this lady, who's probably a prostitute. She comes in among all these religious people, and ordinarily she would be nervous and embarrassed out of her mind to go there. They know who she is, and they've got to be staring daggers at her. For whatever reason, this woman is sitting at Jesus' feet weeping, probably overwhelmed by the sin in her life. She even wipes his feet with her tears, the very feet the religious guy was supposed to clean, but completely ignored. And on top of that, she's dumping perfume on His feet, a big source of livelihood for her because it's probably a tool she uses to seduce men. There she is, completely vulnerable and bare in front of Jesus. The religious guy not only ignored common courtesy for Jesus, but then scoffs at Jesus for letting this woman touch Him.

Scoffing and weeping. What a contrast between two people who spent time with Jesus.

I wonder which one I am. When I reflect on my faith, I notice a caution, a carefulness, a "balance." I love Jesus, but my emotions are held back so that I don't come off as strange, I guess. I wonder what that says about my gratitude and devotion to Jesus. Here's this woman, totally bare before Jesus, and not just in private. She's in front of highly religious people who are not at all approving of her behavior, yet she displays a completely vulnerable devotion to Jesus. And Jesus honors this about her. He doesn't tell her she's being too emotional or too extreme. He's pleased with it, and commends her faith.

I think part of being a disciple of Jesus starts with a vulnerable, heartfelt devotion to Him. Simple admiration won't do. Jesus isn't looking for admiration, but devotion. He's looking for nothing-held-back, ignoring-the-status-quo, heart-bleeding devotion to Him by people who don't care what it looks like. It may come across as weak, too emotional, too transparent, or even as immature. But who cares. This is where following Jesus begins.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Journey

Life is a messy journey.

I preach every Sunday, and one of the things I like about sermons is that they always wrap up neatly at the end. There’s an introduction, content, application, and some kind of conclusion that wraps the whole thing up. Something was accomplished. It’s finished, and I’ve done something worthwhile.

I wish life worked that way. I wish I could go home after preaching a sermon and it become immediate reality for me. I would love God with all my heart, pray throughout the day, see God in everything, carry my cross, and always be courageous about my faith. I used to think most preachers I met were fakes, plastic people incapable of real feelings. They reminded me of Hallmark cards. But now I think they were just trying to live up to the ideal they preached, and trying to be like that all the time is exhausting. You can’t show too much of yourself, because then people might find out that you sin, too. Then you’re a fake. Then your sermons aren’t true anymore.

The Old Testament gives me encouragement. The same Elijah with success on the mountain became suicidal soon afterward. In fact, Job, Jonah, and Jeremiah were all suicidal at one point. Look at David. We like to separate the cheating, murdering David from the David who slew Goliath with 100% faith. But they were the same man. He was a man after God’s own heart, yet he still had the capability to be completely selfish and destructive.

Life is a journey. A messy, unpredictable, and sometimes frustrating journey.

I guess that doesn’t sound very spiritual. The Christian Life is supposed to be black and white. But the people I read about in Scripture weren’t ruled by the black and white. They wept, bled, and sinned. They struggled, and weren’t always sure what to do. They did wrong even when they knew what they were doing was wrong. Yet, somehow God still used them to fulfill His will.

The worst sin ever committed in human history was murdering the perfect Son of God. But God used that to bring about the best thing in human history: our redemption. Maybe the same God who used a mess like that to bring about something good can use my messy attempt to follow Jesus today. Maybe He can even use my mistakes.

I’m not depressed, and I’m not struggling with some huge sin. I’m just coming to grip with the idea that bringing Christian truth into real life is a long, and sometimes emotionless journey. You grow up thinking it’s supposed to be exciting. And in some ways it is, but really most of the time it comes down to me doing what God wants me to do even when I really just feel like being a baby. And then going to my knees because I was being a baby anyway.

I am thankful for the journey. The key is that throughout all the mess you read about in the Old Testament, God is always there. He never forsakes. He always stays true. He teaches and guides even when we think He’s nowhere to be found. That same God works in our lives no matter how messy it gets, and that pushes me to seek Him more and more. And so I’m thankful for the messy journey. Because every fall and every triumph is another step with God. That gives me the joy to keep pushing, because I know one day I won’t have to push any longer. I’ll get to sit at His table, and that’s what keeps me going.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Two Crazy Stories

I’ve got two crazy stories to tell. One will be brief, since you probably already know it because it’s in the Bible. The other one happened to me about a year ago.

In Acts 16 Paul implements a mission strategy to reach people that he’s already had success in: go to a religious place and talk about Jesus. In this case he goes to a group of praying women, and then Lydia and her household are baptized after Paul teaches them. Pretty cool, the strategy worked.

If it worked before, it would probably work again, right? So Paul goes to another place of prayer to try and convert some people, but a wrench gets thrown in the mission strategy. A crazy fortune-teller girl starts pestering Paul, and the text even says Paul gets pretty aggravated by it. After all, he’s trying to do God’s work and this annoying girl just won’t go away. He has a couple of options: do something about it, or continue on with his previous strategy. But, Paul decides to go for it and do something. Eventually he casts out her spirit of divination, which leads to even crazier events.

The whole town gets pretty mad, and Paul and others get thrown into prison. Again, Paul could easily just get annoyed again by another plan foiled. But, instead he sings to God, and an earthquake comes and frees all the prisoners. You know the rest. Paul converts the jailer and his entire household.

The interesting thing is that Paul set out with a plan for God, and that plan was cut short by some pretty bothersome circumstances (an annoying girl and a prison sentence). But, Paul had something special: a willing heart. He was willing to be sidetracked and allow God to do something crazy, and in the end his story of success here was probably much bigger than it would have been had he just gone to another place of prayer.

Something similar happened to me. About a year ago Alisha and I were visiting some friends in Austin (Chris and Rachel Bennett). I had been preaching most Sundays in Hart lately, so I was looking forward to one Sunday where I could just listen instead of preach.

That Saturday night Chris was joking about me being a preacher, and made some joke about if I was somehow called on to preach last minute would I do it. We talked about it for a bit, and I told him I could probably do it because I preach every Sunday, so I have a lot to pick from. But, of course, in what universe would I randomly be asked to preach at a visiting church? And why would I even want to? “That’s so prideful to think about. I don’t even want to,” I thought. “This will be nice to just listen for once.”

The next morning I sat in Chris’s Bible class, and happened to flip through some of my sermons wondering what I would preach if I happened to be asked to preach last minute. It was like I couldn't shake the thought. But I laughed out loud, put my sermons away, and inwardly chastised myself for being so ridiculous. “Pay attention,” I thought. “You’re being prideful.”

That Church happened to have a guest speaker that morning. But when Church was starting, I asked one of the elders about it, and he got frantic when he realized the man wasn’t there yet. It was like a beehive getting stirred as they ran around trying to figure out where this guy was. I thought, “There’s no way this guy won’t be here. He’s got to call or something.”

Alisha (being a good wife) told Chris to volunteer me to speak, but I was kind of frozen because it was like my thoughts were coming true. “I don’t even want to preach today, what on Earth is going on?” I thought. Eventually, right after the Lord’s Supper, one of the elders approached me and told me, “Looks like you’re up.” So I went to the back and tried to find something recent enough I remembered well, and when I found one Chris came back to pray with me. When we were done I told him I had to look over my lesson, because I had preached it a month earlier. Right then one of the elders came back and wanted to pray with me. And when he finished the prayer, they were introducing me. It’s then I prayed, “God, this is weird. I haven’t even looked over this. Looks like you’re up, too.”

I got up there, and did the best I could. I preached a sermon I had done recently called, “8 Modern Lies About Christianity” as a part of a series on Colossians. Among the lies were things like, “Being right is more important than living right,” “Christianity is primarily about what happens on Sunday,” and "Christianity is primarily a political religion." Based on people’s faces I wasn’t sure if it was going well or not. I thought maybe I was making people angry.

Well, I preached as best I could and stepped down, not sure what to think (and still dazed that I even preached to begin with). But I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think every last person in that Church came to tell me that sermon dealt with exactly where they were and that they needed it so badly. It was the strangest thing. I was in shock.

On top of that, they paid us for speaking, which happened to be around the exact amount we needed that month because of some unexpected expenses. I don’t know what happened from it all, but I do know God was in it. Here I was expecting to lay down my preacher hat for a weekend and just go somewhere, when God threw one of the coolest opportunities I’ve ever had right in my lap. I could have said no. I could have let someone else do it. But because I was willing (though inadequate, scared, and incredibly nervous) God used me to do something special.

I think that’s how God works. He doesn’t need talented people. He needs people to raise up their hands and say, “I don’t know what it will look like, but here I am for Your purposes, God. Please use me.” And, He will.

Note: The guest speaker had a flat tire and had left his cell phone at home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Disconnect

I've noticed a trend of disconnect.

Recently I was studying the history of science for a class I was taking, and I started to notice a common thread between many of the scientists. They began to get so wrapped up in what they were studying, that they forgot about the world around them. Many of them became sour old men with no friends. They missed relationships, the beauty of the outdoors, and among other things, God. There was a disconnect.

I've also been studying a little bit about pagan religions for one of my classes. One of the things pointed out was that their religion (usually) had almost no relation to moral effort in everyday life. Their worship at the temple, rituals, and sacrifices had nothing to do with ordinary life choices. That religion didn't necessarily make them try to treat people better, and that was normal.

There's a trend here: We tend to believe in and appreciate something and at the same time forget that thing's very nature. I've seen this for a long time in myself and other Christians. We can boldly proclaim something in a sermon, but the next moment live in complete contradiction to it. What is that? How can that be possible?

Bible students, for whatever reason, seem to be especially prone to this. While many have great hearts and motivations, there's always those who use religion to puff themselves up. It's as if when they stand up to speak about the Bible that equates to them inventing the truths they speak of.

I enjoy studying, I really do. I love reading Christian books and having my mind pushed. But I never want to stop asking, "What does this have to do with me?" I want Christianity to be more than something I say I agree with; I want it to change my very nature.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rob Bell, Universalism, and The Cross

Two articles have been written lately about Rob Bell's upcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

The first one is written by someone criticizing his upcoming book. You can read it here:

The second one is by CNN writing on the controversy this book is erupting. You can read it here:

I suggest you read at least the first article and watch Rob Bell's video embedded in it before reading my post.

Rob Bell has been a popular and controversial figure for some time. His Nooma videos have been seen by countless people, he is a pastor at a very large church, and he has written several successful books.

His next book seems to be a mystery as to its true content. Many are holding out judgment until its release, and many are criticizing its supposed premise beforehand. I obviously have not read his book, but only have his video and public silence since this controversy started to go on.

I don't really want to criticize Rob Bell or the book directly, but this controversy has brought up a few questions. For one, is Hell a real place? How could God judge people and cause them harm? And what place does the Cross play in all of this?

Hell is a controversial subject. Many people have abused the notion of Hell to manipulate and coerce, and many have used it as a sole motivating factor for conversion. On the other end it seems many have abandoned the very idea of Hell as barbaric and outdated. As you can see in many of the comments on the above mentioned articles many people are extremely offended by the idea of eternal punishment, and especially that a loving God could be behind it.

I would contend, that regardless of public perception and opinion, you cannot call yourself a follower of the Jesus in the Bible and disregard any idea of Hell (or punishment, or judgment, or whatever term you prefer). Maybe you could throw out the traditional idea of Hell (A deep cavern of fire with Satan as the master torturing his victims for eternity), but you cannot throw out the whole thing. Judgment by God is all over the Scriptures.

I think at the heart of this topic is not really the actual idea of Hell, but the idea that a loving God could actually cause harm and punish people who disobey Him, be it for eternity or for a small amount of time. But, the Bible is clear. The only thing that awaits people who live contrary to God's will suffer from it. Consider these verses:

"But these people, like irrational animals - creatures of instinct born to be destroyed - speak blasphemies about things they don't understand, and in their destruction they too will be destroyed, suffering harm as the payment for unrighteousness." 2 Peter 2:10-13

"But by the same word the present heavens and earth are held in store for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." 2 Peter 3:7

"This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don't know God and on those who don't obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." 2 Thess. 1:7-9

I'm not one of those people who enjoys talking about Hell and the judgment that awaits those who live in rebellion to God. As a 21st century American born into a postmodern generation, I do not like that idea at all. But just because my cultural influences and intuition tell me to find that idea uncomfortable, it does not stop that idea from being reality.

It's funny how doctrinal change in the Church tends to flow with culture. This is why we have the Scriptures. Men change their minds based on what their cultures hold in high esteem. Today we hold tolerance as the ultimate virtue. But God does not. "Tolerance" as it is often used today is nothing more than a cowardly acceptance of wickedness. Should we "tolerate" hate, murder, racism, child abuse? Should God? And why are we so angry for Him for postponing judgment until our lives are over, and then executing His judgment fairly upon everyone?

At the heart of the matter is the Cross. Most false teachings attack the Cross. The prosperity gospel says, "If you bless God, He will bless you with material possessions." Yet, our Savior lived homeless, persecuted, and finally tortured and executed among two criminals. The Cross stands in defiance of the prosperity gospel. Living as Christ's disciple does not guarantee peace in this world, and in fact we can expect the opposite (John 15:18-19). It is the same with the idea of Heaven and Hell. If there is no such thing as a coming judgment, then why bother with the Cross?

Some might say that the Cross does show God's love, but that it's not God rescuing us from Himself, because that doesn't make sense (many comments on the articles mentioned say as much). But there's no way around it. The Cross without judgment is senseless. Does God really need torture and death to show His love for us? Hasn't He already showed us that? He gave us life, food, friends, family, and many other joys. Did He really need to prove He loved us?

God created the Universe, this beautiful world we live in, and us. He created us, above all else, in His very image. This is a beautiful gift to us. We can create, think, make art and music, have families, eat and drink, build, and pursue. Yet, since the beginning man's message back to God has always been the same:

"We don't trust You. We know you say not to eat this fruit, but we think it's good. We know you say not to lie, cheat, commit adultery, act selfishly, slander Your name, and many other things. But we would rather live our own way, so just go away."

Each of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and this treachery cannot simply go unpunished. Of course we are untrue to our nature and can say one thing and do another, or hold a standard in some cases and then change our minds when it is convenient. But God does not sway. He is holy, just, and right. In His world that is His own, betrayal must be met with death.

Yet, His love remains. He watches us rebel and declare our trust in ourselves, but He loves us all the same. And He sent His Son to pay that price and bring us back. It wasn't flippant, and it wasn't a merely symbolic act of kindness and love. It was the grand act of love that bought us back to Him. In short, without judgment the Cross is an absurdity.

Yet, not everyone will accept that love. Many have spurned it, and many will spurn it still. What should we expect God to do? Save them anyway? How does that make sense? His gift is free, and He only bids us trust Him and live in Him. And here we stand offended that He would still punish people...

What arrogance.

Many have what C.S. Lewis called "all thrills and no work." They want the good feeling and peace that Christianity produces, but they don't want the harsh realities that go with it. Men want to fashion their own idea of a religion that provides themselves with the best results (good feelings, public approval, license to live the way they already do) without any requirements upon themselves. But we cannot approach God like that, or I'm afraid we'll simply be following ourselves.

We have to approach God as children, recognizing our place. He is God, and we are not. We are the ones who have wounded, taken advantage of, and betrayed. We cannot come to Him demanding that He act a certain way when He is Sovereign. If we really believe that God is good, then we have to believe that in the end God will do, above all, what is right. So while judgment may confuse and frustrate us here, that does not give us the license to change the clear teaching of judgment in the Scriptures.

And it makes the Cross that much sweeter, and should motivate us to share its message with all who will listen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Gospel - A Resource for Teaching the Gospel to Others

Hopefully this embedded link works.

About 4 years ago, while I was in Russia, I began studying the Bible with people who had little to no knowledge of God or the Bible. This was very difficult for me, because (usually) in America I could teach people about Christ with some sort of reference point. Most non-Christians have at least been to Church once or have heard something about Christianity. But, as I said, in Russia this is usually not the case.

I grew a lot in my teaching when I was forced to teach people who knew nothing about what I was talking about. I had to change my language, approach, and really focus on boiling things down to simple points that could later be expanded upon.

I made this 6 part study to be used with many kinds of people, though it's far from answering every question that people can ask, nor will it work for every type of culture or background. I put it on here hoping it may be useful for someone, hopefully in sharing the Gospel with someone else.

At the end of this I also added a summary of a class I did on evangelism for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration in sharing your faith with others.

I'll explain how this was intended to be used. In my teaching style (especially one-on-one) I like to use three main methods: Scripture, principles, and discussion questions.

Scripture - In this study you can see that I have many Scriptures in parentheses, which I would read along with the person I'm studying with (taking turns or whatever they're most comfortable with). This is obviously the foundation of any Bible study, and the rest of it just serves as a help to bring those Scriptures over to our daily reality.

Principles - You'll notice many of the paragraphs start off with a bold, italic sentence. This is a principle that summarizes the point I am trying to make (similar to how I often write in blog posts). The principles are important, because I try to make things easy to understand, simple, meaningful, and memorable. Often when I'm studying with someone I'll use these principles as my launching point and just use the paragraph to make sure I discussed the main idea of that principle.

Discussion Questions - The last part is discussion questions, which are also vitally important. For one, they are important because it is completely necessary to know where someone is when you're studying with them. You may not want to move on at times if it seems like they're getting a totally different idea than you are trying to communicate (one of the reasons I prefer one-on-one over preaching). This also puts you on a more level playing field with the other person, because you answer the questions as well. This is a good time to be personal, and maybe a little transparent. It also gives the other person time to process out loud whatever you've been reading/discussing.

At the beginning of each lesson I have the main points for the teacher to get across, as well as an outline of the lesson. I also have assignments at the end of some of the lessons, in the hope that the other person will start off practicing some simple parts of Christianity from the very get-go.

This is definitely a work in progress. It's not a perfect study, and there's lots of other concepts I struggled with not adding in here. But, I tried to go for simplicity as much as I could (some of it still needs to be simplified more, for sure).

If it's helpful for anyone at all, I'd love to hear about it. And if you have any questions about it whatsoever I'd be glad to answer those.

Link (in case the embedded part doesn't work):

The Gospel COMPLETE in PDF

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Crucifying Sin: Make War!

I've been thinking about sin for a while. I don't like thinking about it too much. For one, Christianity isn't about just abstaining from bad things, but it's a pursual of something. Sin sometimes gets too much attention.

Still... I'm weighed down by it. I watch it ruin people's lives every day: marriages are broken, emotions are spoiled, friendships ruined, jobs lost, children abused. We constantly want to be first, to have the attention, to be right... and it ruins us. Sin is a disgusting poison.

I'm about to finish preaching a series on crucifying sin in our lives, so I thought I would share some of those thoughts on here as well.

One of the things in our Christian culture that strikes me as strange is that we have a tolerable level of sin that we accept as normal. It's okay to cheat on your taxes once in a while, make dirty jokes here and there, treat people badly when we're having a bad day. Just don't do anything too terrible. Why is that? Why do we treat sin like it's something we have to accept?

I watched this video a while back, and while it may be a little dramatic, I think it makes the point well.

Sin absolutely wants to crush us, and it never stops its pursuit. Sometimes I feel like we're naive villagers walking through a war zone without a clue. Gunshots are everywhere, but there we are, believing that if we pretend everything is fine, it will all just go away. But that's not spiritual; it's idiotic.

I mean, people whose life goal and pursuit is to follow God at all costs are caught up in immorality every single day. They're not all bad men; many of them have great intentions. And I don't claim to have the answers to all of that, but sometimes I wonder if they were in war mode against their sin. At what point do we stop and say, "That's enough. I'm going to declare all-out war against my evil desires because I don't want them ruining any more of my life, or anyone's around me!"

I love what God told Cain when he was about to do the unthinkable and murder his own brother. He told him, "Sin is crouching at the door. It desires to have you, but you must master it!" The same goes for us.

I truly pray that God would give me the same hatred for evil in my life that He has. It put His Son on the Cross, it hurts the innocent every day, and we cannot avoid its presence. We must fight it. There is no tolerable level of sin.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everyone Has a Dark Side

This is one of the hardest truths in life that I have had to face. Everyone has weaknesses. No matter how good a person is perceived to be, there’s always the chance that they will hurt you, betray you, humiliate you, or neglect you. And maybe the worst part is, sometimes the person that does those things is me.

I have been hurt by family, and by my closest friends. I imagine all of us have. Part of me thought that would all change within the Church, but in some ways it’s been the opposite. The nature of Christian relationships is that you’re much closer to people than you would otherwise be, because of that intimate spiritual connection found only in Christ. But, the closer you are to someone, the more potential they have to do you harm. We can take many things from strangers, but from a brother… there are no words. David says it like this in Psalm 55, “For it is not an enemy who insults me, for then I could bear it. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend.”

Just as bad is being hurt by those you highly respect: teachers, ministers, those in other high positions. I’ve been publicly humiliated by those I’ve greatly admired, and I cannot begin to explain how devastating that was to me. And I shamefully admit that I have likely done the same to others in times of weakness, selfishness, and pride.

There are many ways to react to this dark reality of life. One is to deny it, to believe that people don’t really hurt each other like this, or that it doesn’t really hurt to be treated badly. One is to buy into the lie that we deserve whatever this person has done, because we are essentially bad people. Another is to put up a wall, unwilling to trust other people, because there’s always this fear that the closer they get, the more it’s going to hurt when betrayal comes. But I think the way of God is very different from these.

I believe God invites us to, in spite of our sinfulness, have intimate relationships with other people, because we have a different motivation than the rest of men. In one of Jesus’ beatitudes, He puts it like this, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Whenever I forgive and accept those who humiliate me, hurt me, and betray me, I am actually taking on God’s nature… because that’s what He has done to me. Our lives, if nothing else, are on the whole an exclamation point screaming that all we really care about is ourselves, and that God is anything but a priority to us. We have loved the gifts, but ignored the Giver. We have taken for granted His blessings, but complained bitterly about our problems. Mercy to my brother or superior who demeans me seems nothing in comparison to what I have done to Almighty God. My motivation to forgive is that I have done far worse to God, and yet He has forgiven me.

But that doesn’t stop it from hurting. I have shed many tears over harsh accusations, character assassinations, gossip, public humiliations, and brutal attacks on my intentions. I have been so hurt by those I trusted that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to walk out my own front door. But the second part of this reality that I must face is that the roles could easily be reversed. It is not beyond me to betray, to hurt, and demean. So, when all my tears are shed, mercy is my only option.

And, in the end, the only perfect one is God. I must be like David, that though I may be completely surrounded by enemies disguised as friends, He is my only real sustainer and validation. He alone is all-loving, just, compassionate, and unwilling to do evil. I can hold on to that, realizing that one day sin will be completely finished. On that day I can trust my brother without fear, because we will be with God and all that will be left is love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gospel Summarized

I'm teaching a class soon at Church on evangelism, and part of it is learning how to explain the Gospel message very simply in just a few minutes. I thought I'd put it up here. Let me know if you have any suggestions or if you find it helpful.

“What is Christianity all about in really simple terms?”

1. God created us to be with Him. The Bible teaches that God is good, and that He created everything that exists. He made people so that we could enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. He promised that if we lived His way, life would go well and He would fulfill all our needs.

2. We have rebelled against Him. The first man, Adam, decided to break that relationship with God. God told him not to eat one piece of fruit, but Adam didn’t trust God and ate it anyway. When he did that, he sinned. We all do that every day. When we lie, cheat, hurt other people, honor other things above God, and act selfishly we’re basically telling God that we don’t trust Him, and that our ways are better than His ways. Because we’ve rebelled against Him like this, the only thing left for us is eternal punishment.

3. Jesus paid our price of rebellion. But the great news is that God loves us even though we continually rebel against Him. So He came to Earth as a person, Jesus, to save us from ourselves. He paid our price of rebellion by being tortured and killed on a cross 2,000 years ago. He paid that price for all people, everywhere. He loves us so much that He died to bring us back into a relationship with God so that not only will we not be punished, but we’ll get to be His children again and experience life in the best way possible.

4. We can reject His love. But we can choose to reject that love. We can choose that we’d rather live whatever way we want to, or that we don’t believe it, or that we’ve got better things to do. If we do that, God will have to punish us. No matter if we ever seek God out or not, doing nothing is still rejecting His free gift. He wants to be with us, but there’s nothing He can do if we refuse His love.

5. We can accept His love. But we can also choose that we do need God, and that we want to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We can choose to trust in that sacrifice and trust that God knows what’s best for us. If we do that we can not only be forgiven for our rebellion, but we can then experience life in the most fulfilling way possible. This love is free for anyone who wants it, no matter what bad decisions they’ve made in their lives. It’s not about being a better person, but understanding that none of us are good people, and that only Jesus’ sacrifice can make us into good people. God loves us so much that He desperately wants us to accept His love, but we can also choose to reject it. He loves you very much, and He wants to be with you. He is wanting for you to choose Him.