Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pyramid Evangelism

First of all I want to thank everyone for their comments about mentoring. This is something I'm very passionate and convicted about in God's Kingdom, and I think it is grossly overlooked. I'm really praying that God helps me to have a character worth imitating, because putting yourself out there for someone to follow is risky. But I also realize that people follow our examples whether we ask them to or not, the real question is what example are we giving?

On to my actual post...

Have you ever been exposed to a pyramid scheme?

I remember when they were all the rage while I was in high school. My stepmother got involved in one. Basically here's the principle. Under the guise of some business (like selling chocolates or something), you try to sign people up to buy into the business (say, $50 to get in). By selling chocolates you make money, but not much. The real money comes in when you sign other people up into this business, too. So, when they sign up with their $50, the company will give you say $30 of that money. And if THEY sign people up, you even get a portion of that money, too.

It's complicated.

The idea is to sign people up, who will sign people up, who will sign people up. The more people underneath you the more money you make (much like the Vampires application that was all the rage on Facebook for a while).

The problem with these schemes is that money isn't made from the actual product. It's made from signing people up, which is illegal... which is why they use the guise of some product like selling chocolates.

But isn't this a little bit like how we do evangelism today?

According to Pagan Christianity the Church made a major shift in thinking and practice around the 1700s. Whereas beforehand the focus was on being the Church of Jesus Christ, that focus shifted into bringing others into that Church.

Before I continue, please don't misunderstand me and think I am against evangelism, or that I do not think it should be a priority. However, I do think that making it the priority is both unbiblical and dangerous.

Let me explain. Charles Finney, the man who invented "praying Jesus into your heart," was also the one who set up winning converts as the Church's ultimate goal. Look at many churches today and you can see that is still the current trend. Churches have done all they can to make the assembly convenient, entertaining, emotional, and individualistic in focus. This is to appeal to others, so we get more through the door.

Common church practice today preaches this message loud and clear:

Church attendance = Church growth

Or does it?

The problem about making evangelism our main priority is that we place more emphasis on winning converts than what it is they're being converted to. Like pyramid schemes, we're guilty of doing nothing more than spreading spreadness. The focus isn't on the actual product, but just getting more people in on it.

It is possible to "respond" to the gospel by belief and baptism yet have a completely untransformed life. This is a problem. We have millions in the United States who claim to believe in Jesus in one way or another, yet their lives mirror that belief in no visible way.

Could this be because we have so elevated becoming converted that we have left out emphasizing what they're being converted to, namely, the Gospel?

This summer I worked with a man, who, when he baptized people into Christ did not take the typical confession. Instead of asking, "do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" he would ask, "will you follow Jesus for the rest of your life?"

It's a different emphasis, isn't it?

Jesus didn't just ask for us to go out and make converts. He asked us to make disciples, people who would try to pattern absolutely every aspect of their lives after Himself. Regardless of what I'm ever paid for, my full-time job is to be more like Christ. Not just believe in Him.

The idea that "as long as it converts people let's do it" is a scary one. Just look at everything we do. Begin to question why a church would spend $5 million on a building and people are up in arms. "We use this building to reach more people! If we didn't have this building we might not have as many people." My blunt question in response is this:

So what?

We have made evangelism priority number one. By the way, when I say "evangelism" I don't mean Biblical evangelism. I mean calling people to an emotional and impulsive response to have a religious experience and ascribe to a set of beliefs. This is not Biblical, but evangelical.

In making it number one, we have justified using God's money for plenty of things that really have nothing to do with the Kingdom of Christ. Big bands, lights, dynamic preachers, expensive church buildings, the "health and wealth" gospel and a myriad of other things are all focused on one thing: bringing in more people.

But this is all so contrary to Jesus' example. I don't think He was much concerned with converting everyone He saw. Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom, and bringing those who were willing into it. But He never pressured people into it. When the rich man went away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything, Jesus never went after him. When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, lots of people left Him. We never see Him running after them saying, "Wait a minute, I just meant what's going to happen at the cross! And oh yeah, in my Kingdom you'll have lots of blessings and you won't go to Hell!"

He just let them go.

Instead, Jesus focused on training 12 men to be under God's Kingdom in every aspect of their lives.

Jesus' focus was quality, not quantity. Yet, common church practice does not follow His example. In fact, it's opposite.Could it be that we're spreading spreadness, instead of Christ's Gospel? And could it be that we have left out the serious implications this Gospel gives in daily life?

We need to examine why we do what we do and not just blindly follow common church tradition.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Call for Godly Mentors

When I came into the Church I was on fire. I was excited and passionate about reading the Bible and talking about God. It wasn’t but a few weeks after my baptism that I preached my first sermon.

I read the Bible for hours every day, and I had lots of spiritual discussions. But at 17, I had no idea what it looked like to be a godly man. So, I tried to build relationships with older men in the congregation and the elders.

But I hit a wall. They were very willing to mess around with me and make sarcastic jokes, but I was struggling in a life-and-death spiritual battle. I felt so alone in dealing with my lust, anger, and basically selfish tendencies. I had no idea what a Christian man should be like, but when I looked to the older men in the Church to see how, I met nothing but sarcasm.

But I didn’t want jokes. I wanted a relationship.

The amount of potential influence older men have over younger men is enormous.

When I was younger (around 8 or 10), I got in trouble a lot. People in my life were constantly disappointed with me: talking in class, not doing my homework, making fun of people etc. I remember feeling like a failure, like I couldn’t do anything right.

As a young boy in New Orleans, the preacher seemed like God to me. We had a kind man for a preacher, one who gave out candy and encouraged us children. His name was Mike Fox. I remember every time he saw me he would say, “Joshua, you’re a good man.” This still brings tears to my eyes. I cannot even begin to tell you what effect that statement had on me.

I didn’t believe him. I was so puzzled as to why he would say something like that. “No, I’m a bad kid, he must think I’m someone else,” I would think to myself. But every time he told me I was a good man, I felt something come alive within me that wanted to live up to what he said. I knew I wasn’t a good man, but I wanted to be, if nothing else but that he wouldn’t be lying when he said that about me.

It was his belief in me that later in life made me want to search out God. My dad didn’t live with me, so with the exception of my grandfather, that preacher was the only man I ever felt believed in me.

In switching gears a little bit, let me begin by saying that our society is very different than every other society in history. Kids spend more time with themselves than they do adults. They are their own people group, and there are entire lines of products targeted solely at them.

Youth are raising themselves.

Kids have their own private rooms, computers, phones, and social lives. Typically they live in a vacuum away from normal adult life. Think about it. How many serious life conversations did you have with adults while growing up? I can’t think of a single one.

Recently I’ve been meeting with a 15-year-old who is always around Church stuff. His family is even in ministry. I took him out to eat so we could talk, and I asked him if he had someone he could come to for advice. Nearly in tears he told me that he feels so alone as a teenager. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he told me. “You were a teenager, but I’ve never done this before. I really need some help, man.”

That’s how I felt at his age, too. I felt like adults expected me to live by some ambiguous standard, but they never explained exactly what that standard was or why I was supposed to live by it. The only time I figured it out was when I got in trouble for breaking it.

For a time after being so passionate about God I fell away from Him. I still went to church services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, as well as any other extra activity they had. But I had stopped reading my Bible, praying, or living for God at all. But you know what? No one noticed.

I’m not blaming others for that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have come back to God a lot sooner if I felt I had someone to talk to. But I felt alone, like my only connection with God was at the building.

Titus 2:6-7 says older men should encourage the younger men as well as lead a good example for them. But surely this must go beyond Bible class once a week. In order for them to “set an example” they must be intentionally around younger people in everyday life.

I’m so thankful that I’m a little older now, because I KNOW the influence I have over younger men. I work with a missionary program, and it gives me such joy to hear one of the guys say that he looks up to me and appreciates me investing time in him.

I’ve been blessed with many great mentors in my life: Paul Partlow, Brandon Price, Chris Johnson, and Timur Rahimov (in Russia). In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul tells the Church to imitate him as he imitates Christ. These men have lived out this passage with me. They make me who I am, because as I have followed them I have seen past them and followed Jesus.

My biggest inspiration to continue trying to mentor younger men is the difference older men have made in my life. I know that I am more like Christ because of them, and I know that I can help younger men become more like Christ too.

This is getting long for a blog entry so let me get to the point: You hold enormous influence over people younger than yourself, and if you would just invest some time with them you will reap eternal rewards.

Pick out someone of the same gender younger than yourself and take them out to coffee. Go do something fun. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives and be genuinely interested. See if they would be interested in reading the Bible together with you. Be transparent about your life and your faith. Share your life experiences and the things God has taught you. Explain what it means to be a godly man.

I cannot exaggerate this. Doing this can absolutely transform someone’s life, but you must do it intentionally.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Four Principles of Evangelism from Jonah

Jonah is a prophet written about in the Old Testament. It's maybe my favorite prophet book. It's very small probably the oddest.We can learn a lot from his encounter with God. In case you don't know the story or have forgotten, here's what happens. Somehow Jonah gets called by God to leave where he is and go preach to Nineveh, a city that's pretty messed up.

But Jonah runs away. He goes to another place and God causes a huge storm to nearly capsize the boat. They decide to throw Jonah overboard and he gets swallowed by a big fish, and then the storm stops completely. In the belly of the fish Jonah prays a heartfelt prayer, and God lets the fish spit him up on land.

Jonah finally decides to preach to the city, telling them to repent. But then Jonah gets angry that God lets them repent, because he wants to see a fire show. The end. Kind of a weird way to end a story, but here's some principles I've learned about evangelism from it:

  • Evangelism always requires going (1:2). People usually won't learn about Jesus by themselves. Instead God chose people to teach others about Himself. His design is for us to "go." We need to leave our comfort zones, the things we're used to. We have to leave our everyday routine and be bold enough to penetrate the lives of others, if we really want to be serious about others knowing Christ. Going is never easy. It means going to places we don’t know, where we’re the outsider, where we’re uncomfortable. It means taking a huge leap of faith. When God says “Go,” don’t stay.

  • We'll never be good enough to teach someone, but God will use us anyway. By our standards Jonah was not the ideal person for the job. He didn't even want people to be saved! He had a lot of weaknesses, but God used him anyway. God can use feeble and stubborn efforts to affect many people. We’ll never be good enough to teach others about God. What God wants is willingness. Walk out on faith and God can do the rest.

  • We'll never know who's receptive until we try (3:5-6). The Ninevites were an evil people, a people evidently evil enough that God gave them two options: repent or die. This was their last chance. No one expected them to repent, but they did. It is not our job to judge men’s hearts, only to share the message. It’s usually the most unlikely people that become Christians. God just asks us to spread the seed, not to judge what soil would be best for it.

  • We can't get angry at the world for being worldly. People can't act on knowledge they don't have (4:11). The Ninevites didn’t know their right hand from their left, meaning they didn’t know right from wrong. Many times we're so judgmental toward non-Christians for their immoral lives: abortion, divorces, bad language, drugs, whatever. But what do we expect? Christ said if we love Him we'll keep His commandments. So what should we expecting from people who don't love Christ? Bad lives. So instead of looking down our noses at people, we should teach them, knowing that our God is one who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, who relents from sending calamity” (4:2).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Distractions and Propaganda

I noticed early on in my Christian walk that Satan was actively working to bring me away from God. After some time, I've noticed that he works (in my life) using two primary methods:

  • Distraction - This summer I was trying to mentor one of the kids we had just brought into Christ. As we were driving through a Miami Suburb, he started basically freaking out. "Why aren't people following Jesus? Don't they care about what happens when they die?" I thought about it for a minute, then I told him to look around. What were people doing? They were mowing their yards, driving around, shopping, having a good time. They were distracted. "As long as they're looking down, they'll never look up. It's our job to help them look up," I explained soberly. I think Satan uses many good things to draw us away from God: jobs, buying things, hobbies, even our families and ourselves. I think that's why Jesus said in Luke 14 we have to be willing to give up everything to be His disciples. "Jesus first and no close seconds," is how Jerry Tallman explains it. But even as Christians we get distracted by this world all the time. Whenever I fell away from God, I think I probably sinned less than when I was a Christian. However, I spent all my time watching movies, hanging out with friends, and relaxing. As long as I was focused on this world, I could not focus on God. This is how Satan gets us.

  • Propaganda - Wikipedia explains propaganda like this: "Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented." And this is exactly how Satan works. His lies always sound good, and he does that on purpose. I can think of countless conversations I've had with non-Christians totally buying into Satan's lies and thinking, "How on Earth can you believe something so illogical and ridiculous?" They've been mesmerized, that's why. Satan does a masterful job of using half-truths and flash to get us to buy into his garbage. It doesn't even matter what it is, as long as it's not God's he wants us to believe it. Even as Christians Satan doesn't want our faith to match how we live. He uses tons of lies to get us to do his will, lies like: "Just this once is alright," "I can't help it," "Everyone else is doing it, so it can't be that big a deal," or "At least I'm not as bad as those other people."

It is my prayer that God will help us recognize Satan's schemes for what they are: schemes. We should be careful how we live, and not let Satan creep in through the back door unnoticed.

"lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices" 2 Cor. 2:11

Friday, November 28, 2008

Theoretical Faith

Today I talked to a man who does work in oil fields in Nigeria. He goes for months at a time, comes home for a month or two, then goes again. He's not a Christian. We got to talking about how I wanted to do mission work (possibly in Africa), and he pointed out something very interesting.

He said in Nigeria there are churches everywhere, almost like here. Every store and place he went into had Jesus' name up and everybody was constantly praising Jesus. But, he said, they treat people like garbage. They're always looking how to take advantage of someone. They commonly leave dead people on the side of the road, can be very violent, and treat women horribly. He told me how strange it was that they praised Jesus so much but lived so terribly. I only had one thought...

America is not much different.

We have churches all over the place. A large majority of America claims to believe in Christ in one way or another. Yet, walking through a supermarket or turning on the television you couldn't guess it.

It's so easy to have a theoretical faith, isn't it? It's so easy to sing songs to Jesus on Sunday, hold our hands up high, put money in the plate, have Bibles highlighted up the whole way through. But when things get tough or we're by ourselves, we really end up doing whatever we want to do, don't we?

It seems like many Church leaders just want to get people in the doors of their buildings. We're doing that well enough, I'd say. We need less churchgoers and more Christ-followers. The trouble in Africa, and everywhere else, is not just getting people to believe in Jesus. What does believing in Jesus mean if it doesn't change who I am? If Heaven is real, why can't I live like it now?

This got me immediately thinking, "I wonder if people have had the same thoughts about me?" If he's so passionate about Jesus, why doesn't he act more like Him? I'm sure people have had thoughts like that about me, and it saddens me. I don't just want to talk about Jesus, I want to actually be like Him.

I want to defend those who can't defend themselves, especially when it's inconvenient to do so. I want to have the same integrity of doing what's right regardless of who I'm around. I want to treat people better... like they matter, no matter who they are.

I'm praying that the Gospel will shape who we are, not just what we believe.

I'm curious what you guys think. What does having a more practical faith look like to you? How can we be more like the Jesus we sing about?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Recently Joe (lifeandthoughtofjoe.blogspot.com) and I spoke at a youth rally we titled "Cruciformity." We talked about the cross and how it should affect us. I really think it may have been one of my best lessons so far. Anyway, we had them break into groups and discuss some things that we thought would be appropriate for this blog as well. I hope these questions at least make you think, but feel free to share also.

God chose to be born in a barn and die on a wooden torture stick to save the world. This cross of Christ is our means of getting back to God. We are being conformed by it and to it. Jesus told us to take up our crosses every day.

In many ways it is the foundation of our faith. We sing about it, pray about it, put it on our tombstones, tattoo ourselves with it. I could talk about the cross and it's implications for hours, but I want to ask us some questions instead.

  • Have your prayers ever concerned the cross of Christ? In what way?

  • What is it about the cross that affects you the most? Why?

  • What can you do in your life to pick up your cross?

  • Who in your life has best shown you who and what Christ is?

  • What can you pray about in your life that would best help you become like Christ?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Have we secularized our lives?

I know I said I'd keep writing from the last post, but I really have something else on my mind. I still intend on continuing to write on that subject, but I've been thinking about what spiritual growth looks like more.

I often here people say, "I just wish I was more spiritual."

I know how that feels. I've often felt far from God, like He was some guy I used to know. The Bible is very exciting to me now, but it doesn't always feel that way. Sometimes I don't feel like reading it, and then I feel very unspiritual. In Russia there were times I looked at the Bible like homework, something I had to do but really was quite boring. But I hated that. I fought through that. That wasn't good, and I knew it. I did not stay there.

I think sometimes we're content with liking Jesus when we're called to love Him.

As long as I just like Him simply, this whole Christianity thing will be nothing more than a tedious chore I do to feel good. I must move on from just liking to a kind of love that's very emotional and real.

I want to be the kind of person who can talk about spiritual things freely. But at least right now, that's not always true. I tend to get distracted, sarcastic, and apathetic. If you know me you know that's true. I so badly want for Christ to be my actual Lord. I am not content with others thinking I am spiritual, I want to be fully transformed by Jesus.

I love the idea that the Kingdom of God is much like leaven that, when kneaded enough into the dough, will pierce it the whole way through. I want this to be true in my life. I wish that God wasn't something I keep in some corners of my life but there's still parts which are very much my own. I want it to all be God's. All my hobbies, tastes in music, humor, and all the other little idiosyncrasies that make up who I am... can those really be God's, too? Or is it just the "spiritual" aspects that I will give Him?

I'm afraid our religious world has become secularized. We tend to think there's parts of our lives that belong to God, but then there's parts that are our own. There's parts where God's Kingdom reigns (spiritual stuff), yet there's also these parts where I reign because it really doesn't matter (neutral stuff). But I don't see that in the Bible. God must be my life, or I am not really experiencing His Kingdom.

I think spiritual growth involves many things, but a great part of it must be that there's bits of me which are constantly changing shape to look less like me and more like Jesus.

But this makes us so uncomfortable, doesn't it?

I mentioned this idea once in the context of being willing to make new interests so we can relate the gospel to others, and it made some people very angry. "Those things make up who I am!" they exclaimed. We are so defensive about what we hold as our identity, and I might be so bold to say that may be because our identities are in us, not Christ. Any attack on our identities and we are up in arms. As I said, I'm afraid some parts we want to give to God but some parts we're content keeping to ourselves.

This is what allows some Christians to talk passionately about evangelizing a lost world, but laugh hysterically at the very sin which makes them lost.

I'm not trying to point fingers here, but something's wrong. Does Jesus exist in religious activities but goes on a break during ordinary life? This is not the Jesus I know. I remember trying to convince some people to have small groups during the week, and they freaked out. "Where would the control be? Would the elders be there to monitor it?" It was like we needed permission to talk about Jesus. We already hang out in homes, why can't we just keep doing that but talk about Jesus instead of watching movies? We need permission for that? How far have we gone? Something is wrong.

I want to be like Jesus, but I allow so much to get in the way. I desperately want to serve a God who gave it all up for me. He didn't command me to love Him, instead He earned it by paying the ultimate debt I didn't have the money for: His own life. Man, I love a God like that. How could I not? He deserves whatever emotion, energy, and actions I can muster.

My prayer is that we can give up the personal parts of our lives we prefer to keep... the secret parts, the fun parts, and even the ordinary parts.

What do you think?
Share your thoughts.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What is the Church supposed to look like?

I'm not sure. And I'm certainly not any real authority to how this is all supposed to be and look like. But I do think I have caught a glimpse.

I remember when I first came into the faith I was so excited as I read the Bible. It electrified me in a way I cannot explain in words. I literally felt on fire as I read through the pages for the first real time in my life. I wrote down Scriptures and put them on my wall with a feeling of deep passion and reverence. I read through Acts in awe at people who could live with such faith that it often took their very lives.

And then I went to church.

It didn't take me very long to figure out that the pages I read at home didn't really seem to match up with what I saw on Sunday mornings. Everything seemed so official. So... pretend. I remember feeling like when we left the building, God left too. We sang about God, talked about God, and prayed to God at church. But where was He in our homes I wondered?

It seemed like God was a very interesting relative we went to visit once a week. We had a good time and everything, but He had no lasting effect on the way we lived, spoke, and treated people. Where was this fire I felt from the Scriptures? It was drowned in church.

I know I must sound very harsh and critical, but I love the Church. Because the Church is people. It's made of people like me who love Jesus like all get out, but we are not contained by buildings. When I criticize the "church" I don't mean the people who are the Church, but the form it has become.

In many places the church (little 'c') has become a one hour a week thing. Many churches have people paid full time salaries who are dedicated to Sunday morning alone. It is "show time". There are preachers, pastors, worship ministers, youth ministers, family ministers, pulpit ministers, orchestra ministers, secretaries and so on. I'm not saying hiring ministers is a bad thing. I am one. However, in many places we have hired professional Christians.

I cannot even express how much that hurts me to think about. We have people hired to evangelize, teach, serve, love, be Jesus. But the Church is Jesus. We can't hire people to be Jesus for us.

Sometimes I like to read ads of churches looking for ministers. Many want him to teach every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, do all the personal Bible studies, visit all the sick and widows, plan the evangelism, and more. I've read many of them, looking over the loads of responsibilities they want and think, "Could Jesus Himself do all that?" We pay professionals to be Jesus for us, and that is wrong.

But we're all supposed to be trying to follow Jesus. There's no "upper management" in the body of Jesus. We're all important. I want to do full-time ministry, but not because I wouldn't do it otherwise. I passionately want to know Jesus and be like Him, and I have a strong desire to spend as much time as I can in ministry. But if I still worked at Subway, I'd still be just as valuable as any paid clergy in the Church.

Oh, how I wish we saw ourselves this way. I want to do mission work in a foreign country, but I'm a missionary every day. When we go to school, work, or wherever else we are sent to be missionaries to whomever we come across.

Well, I don't want write a whole chapter on a blog so I think I'll continue this line of thought into however many entries it will take.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Not a Big Deal

Ever have one of those days where you put your foot in your mouth? I think I have those a lot.

It's days like this that remind me how much of a big deal I'm not. I think the beginnings of Christianity in my life started when I realized this fact: I have nothing to offer God that He hasn't already given. This realization led to every other decision I have made in my walk with Jesus.

Over the last 2-3 years I've really been studying the Sermon on the Mount a lot. I just love it. I can't read enough about it. It's like my creed as a Christian; at least I want it to be. Lately I've been reading "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount" by Dr. Lloyd-Jones, and this book is amazing. He does a sermon on every beatitude, and I'm eating it up.

My favorite beatitude has to be the very first one, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

I love this one because without this Christianity means nothing, but with it it means everything. Unless I realize my helplessness before God, Jesus is just some guy who got tortured and killed a long time ago. But if I am truly lost, He means immeasurably more than that. He has literally saved my life.

I love the way Jones put it:

"If one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him."

I am reminded of this so often, and the times I have this attitude are the times I truly give myself to God. It's when my life becomes about me that everything breaks down. In mentoring younger Christians, I can't even tell you how many times I wish I could be direct and say as lovingly as possible, "Look. You're not a big deal. But it's ok. It's time to stop faking to yourself and everybody around you that you're awesome. There's no need to pretend, because none of us are a big deal. We're all sinners, and that means we're all equal. The sooner you realize this very important fact the better your life will be, and the happier you'll make it for the rest of us to be around you."

But I guess that would be too blunt, huh? I guess this is one of those uncomfortable truths that we don't really like to talk about.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I've often wondered what makes Christianity so appealing to some people and not to others. Why is it so exciting for me, yet others can think it boring, outdated, and even silly?

I remember as a child reading great stories. I loved reading the Hardy Boys. In elementary school I spent countless hours reading during class when I should have been listening. It all seemed so exciting to me, full of mystery and meaning. All stories were exciting. I remember thinking after every movie I saw as a child, "That was the best movie I've ever seen."

Most of us love stories. It must be somehow hard-wired into us to love them. At church I love to watch the audience during a sermon instead of the preacher (sorry). People get distracted, look around, talk, and even sleep when the preacher talks about abstract concepts and ideas. But when he tells a story... well, that's different. Everyone perks up. Just this last Sunday I watched as every face in the audience was glued to the preacher as he was telling a story. Weird. It's not like people are bad Christians because they love stories rather than ideas.

I'm not sure I completely understand why God built this in us. But read the Bible. How much is told in story? Almost all of it. Each Gospel is a recording of Jesus' life, and we can all connect to that.

In Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller points out that we all have the elements of story built into us as making sense. In every story there's an introduction where the characters are introduced: in the Bible it's God, Satan, and man. Then the conflict is brought in early: Satan perverts good into badness and thus the protagonist (man) is thrown into an eternal struggle of whether He will follow the invisible God rather than his visible pleasures.

After this comes the rising of the conflict which rises until the ultimate climax. In this case the rising is the Old Testament with nations rising and falling in trusting God or not trusting Him. All the while God is teaching them that this isn't working, that something else must be done. A price must be paid.

Then, in the midst of great expectation, the author surprises everybody. God Himself comes down from Heaven as a human being, born in a feed trough. This God is called Jesus and lives among them as a brother, perfectly. He is the Great Picture. Unknown to most who see Him, He shows them what real love looks like in every move He makes. And then another surprise: Tragedy strikes.

The hero is tortured and killed. Everyone thinks the hero has lost, including the Enemy. But with a great twist the hero rises again, starting a New World Order which is to be followed until the end of time. This is the resolution of the Great Story, and we're all living in it. It has the promise of the main characters living "happily ever after" with the hero if they choose to, or the opposite if they refuse.

I love this Story. It makes sense to me, down in my bones it makes sense. Every good story has these elements in it. Why? Because they point to the bigger story: reality.

The Bible isn't a law book with formulas, while laws are contained within it. It's story describing Life as God made it. He wants us heart, mind and all. I love that. It excites me more than Lord of the Rings or any other story, because I get to take part in it. This great plot intercedes with my own. I wish so badly that others understood it for it's beauty, and I pray God may open their eyes before their own story ends.

So many things in this Earth can serve as distractions, but we should instead turn them into shadows. Shadows always point to something else. Something bigger. Everything good in this life points us to God, His love, beauty, and His perfection, because He is the author of it all.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


What qualities do you admire in other people? For me, there's two qualities that always impress me in another person, regardless of other parts of this person's personality. Maybe these two things impress me so much because I wish I had them.

1. Honesty - I love being around people who don't try to be someone they're not. Maybe some better adjectives would be "transparent" or "genuine". I don't mean people who are sort of prideful about how "real" they are, and others aren't. And I don't mean people who are genuine, yet they passively brag on themselves every chance they get. But when someone has truly come to terms with who they are as a person... when they're willing to admit their weaknesses and even their accomplishments without seeking any attention, I love that. I love being around those people. My grandfather is like that. He is who he is, and that never changes no matter who he's around.

2. Integrity - I love it when someone holds a high standard when they don't have to, even if it costs a lot. I tend to run people down sometimes, but it's refreshing to be around people who just can't imagine saying something negative about one of their friends. Also, as people we tend to cheat and cut corners all the time, even without thinking. But I love being around people who will stay true and constant regardless of how small the situation is. They don't do commonly accepted things like downloading illegal music or breaking traffic laws - and they would never make themselves feel superior over others because they have a higher standard. It's just who they are. I want to be around these people too, because they have character that means something.

Noble character is something so rare today. When I see any real nobility in another person I tend to sit back in awe, wanting to be around them as much as I can hoping that somehow a little bit would rub off on me.

What qualities do you admire in other people?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Glamorous poison


What is it?

I'm always challenged in my faith when I'm asked to define it. Yesterday I was studying with someone and explaining the gospel, first trying to explain sin. We all do it. Every day, every person in this world makes willingly selfish and stupid decisions, including myself. And in the end sin, our own choices, kills us. We're committing suicide on our own well-being every single day.

Why? When you get to the heart of it sin is just us trusting ourselves rather than our Creator. Nobody ever really thinks this drug will hurt anybody, or that they didn't have the right to be angry that one time, or that "just a little fun" is such a big deal before marriage. We always think we're right, or we wouldn't do what we do. Or at least, we think what we're doing isn't as bad as what some of those 'other people' do.
God probably just wants us to be happy, right? Sure He does, but we don't really know what that means. We screw up happiness with idiocy.

It's no secret that sin kills. Ask any family torn apart by divorce, adultery, or abuse if they like it that way. Gossip, adultery, lies, lust, pride, getting drunk, hatred... it's all poison. It all destroys any chance of meaning or goodness in our lives. Yet there's this odd and quite arrogant idea within us that God wants to spoil our fun, that He just wants us to make us live by some unattainable standard for the fun of it. We act on what we personally think is best. But it never really works out, does it?

For some reason the word "righteousness" has become a bad word. I automatically have this image in my head of some self-righteous religious guy yelling at everybody on a street corner.
But righteousness is goodness. Everything full of love and truth and meaning is righteous. It's good. And the word "sin" has become something laughable. A number of shows now even have it in their name, as though it's something cool. But sin is poison.

Sin is kind of like candy. It tastes really good, but in the end it gives you cavities and an upset stomach. As a kid I thought it would have been amazing to eat nothing but candy. Halloween all-year-round sounded like Heaven to me. But imagine if my parents had actually let me do that? Not only would I have been sick, I would have died. Vegetables didn't always taste good, but they gave strength to my bones, immune system, emotions, and mind.

Every day each of us drinks the poison of sin. It looks so good at first. And it's so easy. I guess that's the catch of it all, isn't it? At the time it seems more appealing and fun to sin than to do good. We're all addicted to poison, and on top of that... we love it. We're addicted to the very thing that kills us.

In the end the key to doing good is trusting God. Do I really believe Him when He says he came to bring life to the fullest? What about when that means turning the tv off to something everyone else thinks is harmless? What about when righteousness makes me look stupid? What if it really doesn't seem so bad as that Bible makes it out to be? It's at those times that "trusting God" has to become more than something we sing about on Sundays. It's more than some theoretical belief about a God far away and some man named Jesus. I'm hit with choices every day where I decide if I really do trust God like I say I do... or I don't.

I pray that morality would become more than just do's and don'ts to us. I pray that when our own selfish desires come rushing on us during the day we would see it for what it is: an issue of faith.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I'm preaching today.

At the Bible School I go to (www.sibi.cc) we have preaching labs where we practice speaking. I enjoy it, but I always get so nervous beforehand. I don't think nervous thoughts, but my gut starts turning and I can't stop shaking my leg. Oh well.

I've really enjoyed this term of school. It's hard being inside one room all day long Monday through Friday, but I do enjoy the privilege of studying God's Word every day. Still, sometimes it's easy for me to "leave school at school". I love Bible school, but sometimes I don't take it home into my everyday actions. Why do we do that? It's stupid, whatever the reason.

Sometimes I feel like I struggle more with following Jesus being a minister or Bible student than I would just working at a normal job. That's probably not true, but it feels that way. I can be impatient or just plain mean sometimes. And then I stop and think, "Did my 8 hours of Bible do nothing to me today?"

It's so easy to have a theoretical faith, I think.

I hate this more than anything else in my spiritual life. I can teach great lessons, pray heartfelt prayers, and be so passionate about living for Jesus... but still act like a jerk. I know God's working on me, but sometimes it feels like I'm regressing or something. How I wish godliness were more than a word I studied or taught, that it was a characteristic of who I am as a person.

I think, though, this is a good place to be because it makes me humble. If only I would stay here a little while and stop getting big-headed my life might just turn out alright. I love this state, because here I don't pray because I should but because I need to. I need God so very desperately, but life distracts me and I get to focusing on myself a little bit. I praise God for down days that teach me I'm not God but He is.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Heart

It's such a difficult thing to have a consistently good heart. Last week I taught class going through the four soils, and I so badly wanted to be the good soil. I want to be the kind of person who loves knowing God and looks forward to hearing what He has to say. I want my life to be about God and not about me. But that's so hard, isn't it?

I wonder how Paul felt. The guy wrote like half the New Testament. I think I would be so arrogant if I wrote something in the Bible. I'd go around casually mentioning it in conversation to have people tell me how awesome I was. If someone ever questioned my motives I'd be like, "Hey, did you write any Scripture?" I get to feeling pretty good about myself after I teach a good lesson. I can't imagine writing a novel or a piece of the Holy Scriptures. I understand why Paul talks so much about how little he's worth, and how awesome God is. I think he was reminding himself of the truth so he wasn't tempted to think otherwise.

I pray so much about my heart. God is continually using circumstances and people to humble me. It's so hard in those moments when I realize I'm not a big deal. It always hurts. But I'm so happy afterwards, because it's at that place I can grow and be aware of God's voice. It's only there that God can use me. Pride is such a disgusting thing in others, and even more disgusting within myself. I pray that God can continually purify my heart so that He can do something with me. I pray that I can get out of the way so that I can genuinely love God and other people.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Joel Osteen Impression

This was done in our Mountain View retreat at the talent show. It's all in good fun, so hopefully no one will be offended. Still, it's hilarious.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Stirring and Robbing

What helps us focus on God? It's easy to boil down spirituality to reading your Bible and praying, but I think it goes way beyond that. Because of the monks, people have traditionally taught that to be "spiritual" you need large amounts of time by yourself. I think that time has a lot of value, but there's more to it.

I was reading Matt Chandler's blog (dwelldeep.net) and he wrote about things that stir his affections for Christ, as well as habits that rob his spirituality. It made me think about a list of my own. I think we all have our own list: things that really inspire us and make us feel alive, as well as things that make us feel stale spiritually. Here's mine.

Things that stir my affections for God:

1. The writings of C.S. Lewis.
2. A hot shower, followed by a good cup of coffee while journaling a prayer on a cold morning (especially in Russia).
3. Teaching young Christians about living for Christ.
4. Meaningful conversations with older Christians.
5. Listening to heartfelt, genuine sermons.
6. Spending time with the homeless and knowing I'm doing what Jesus did.

Things that rob my affections for God:

1. Spending too much time watching TV, movies, or video games.
2. Being lazy and undisciplined in general.
3. Being around unfocused Christians.
4. Spending money only on myself.
5. Knowing the Bible without it changing my attitude in life.
6. Too much sarcasm.

What's your list?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Word

I've been reading "The Imitation of Christ" a little here and there lately, and I've really loved it. It's a devotional book written by a monk in the 1300s. It's been especially good for someone being in ministry. The guy talks a lot about making sure you don't replace intellectual study with care of your own soul.

"I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers, if we live without grace and the love of God?"

The Bible is not just for information, but transformation. (not from the book)

It's so easy to have a theoretical faith, I think. I don't want my faith to be theoretical or intellectual. I want it to affect my soul, my mindset, the way I view people, the way I view life. Sadly, sometimes that takes effort. Instead of studying Greek words in a text, I'm trying to ask what practical implication it has for my life. That can be difficult when I study the Bible upwards of six hours a day in school. But I have to, or I'll get spiritually sick.

The reason it took so long for me to become a Christian is because I knew many people who talked about God on Sundays, but then it was like He went on vacation the rest of the week. I wanted nothing to do with that. I couldn't flirt with God, I knew I needed to marry Him.

I love God. I think He wants me to live out His Word not just in the letter, but in the heart. I'm striving to "be an imitator of God" (Eph. 5) when I approach the Word. Instead of asking "What does this mean?" and stopping there, I want to ask "How can I be more like my Father?"

I love that approach.

How do you read the Bible?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sinus Infection... Or Something

Yes, I'm very sick. I'm feeling a little better right now, but last night I was miserable. I laid on the couch with a pounding headache that wouldn't go away for a long while, and I could hardly breathe. I hate being sick, because I never get just a "little" sick. I usually feel like death is coming for a day or two, and then it just goes away. As I laid there, all I could think about was how much my head hurt and how nothing seems to be making it feel better. I was dreading going to sleep that night, wondering if I would sleep at all. At that time it seemed like I was always going to be sick, like it would never get better and I would always have this stupid headache.

And then I thought of Jesus. While last night for me felt like Hell, it was small beans compared to His last few days before His burial. I couldn't think about anything but the pain last night. But I wonder what Jesus thought about? I wonder how powerful
His love must be to sit there and continually take it in that painful haze of beating beaten and made fun of, betrayed and tortured. It wasn't glorious or neat. It was messy. And it hurt.

I can't even imagine being that sick to help another person, let alone dying gruesomely for someone. Jesus always puts things in perspective, doesn't He?

Any time I start thinking I'm a big deal, I look at the cross and realize I put Him there. When I start beating myself up and feeling guilty, I look at the cross and see how much God loves me and wants to forgive me. And when I start feeling stale about my spirituality, like I'm bored with it or that I just don't feel very passionate that day... I always go back to the cross. I have to sit and think about how much trouble God went through to bring people back to Him. He gave up so much, because He loves us. I can at least put a little effort into praying when I don't feel like it, or reading my Bible when it feels dull.

I love the cross of Christ, because every day it gives absolute meaning and purpose to my life.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Church Buildings

I guess it's good that few people read this blog, because I think this post would make people angry.

I have a lot of personal heroes in the faith from history. Jesus gave up all He had in Heaven to give His life to this fallen human race so He could love us and bring us to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave up a wealthy lifestyle to help lead the underground church in Nazi Germany. Mother Teresa gave up her life to help people who were at the bottom of the barrel of life's sufferings.

Jesus told the rich man who wanted to go to Heaven to sell all he had, but the guy just went away depressed because he owned so much. Then Jesus said it was extremely difficult for rich people to make it into the Kingdom. Which, looking at the standard of wealth at that time is nothing in comparison to the standard of wealth in the States.

And then I walk into most church buildings today in America. I think I'm judgmental... I have a big problem with it. I can't walk into expensive church buildings with fountains, expensive decorations, coffee shops, cool logos and lightshows without thinking about how many missionaries all that money could support. Or how many poor families could use that money to help pay rent, mortgages, and taxes. I wish I looked at my own money and thought, "I wonder how much I can save so I can help other people?"

Today someone was talking to me about expensive church buildings he saw, and a look of disgust grew on my face as he was speaking. He got pretty firm with me and told me I shouldn't judge, because those people have good hearts and they want to use it all for ministry and honoring God. He's probably right. I think most Christians have good hearts, and I have no place to ever question that.

But it still bothers me. I still don't get it. Reading the Bible and looking at Jesus' life, it's hard for me to look up and find a connection to what I see in megachurches and the Bible. I'm not saying big churches are evil, but I can't help wondering if we have our priorities a little mixed up.

I remember looking at the flashy (and gorgeous) Catholic church buildings in Mexico City and just being so confused. A gold cross? The cross was a wooden torture stick used for the worst punishment imaginable, and now we wear it as jewelry. Seems to me like it's kind of like having a tattoo of an electric chair on your arm or something.

Maybe someone needs to explain it to me better. It's just hard for me to imagine Jesus attending a big Church seeing all "God's money" spent on so much flash. It makes me sick to even think about...

I wonder how much money is spent on something that happens one hour a week.

It's not like I'm much better. Any time I get shocked by something, I always have to look inwardly. How do I spend my money? Because it's God's money, too. I really want an iPhone, but I know I shouldn't spend my money on it. Not because it's evil... but because I don't need it. I can help people with that money, but instead I want to feed ME. Yuck. I wish I could really be like Jesus... not judging others yet still pouring my life out to others asking nothing in return. One step at a time, I suppose. God help me.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Late Night Ranting

I have a lot of homework to do, yet here I am. Blogging. Oh well. I think maybe only three people read this anyway, but it gives me an excuse to write. :)

I feel kind of down, though I don't really have a reason to be. AIM starts this Saturday. Forty-five or so young people will be coming to train to become better disciples of Jesus, and then sent out around the world in eight months to work under a missionary. I love AIM, and it's weird to think I'm one of the people that help train them.

I feel out of sorts lately. I think life just gets more and more complicated sometimes. The longer I'm alive the more I see drama between people, including myself. All the questions like who I'm going to marry and what I'm going to do with the rest of my life and if I'll be a good dad come surging into mind every once in a while. Life gets hard. People hurt each other, and sin creeps in to all of us. I hate it all, and sometimes I just want to go home. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with life.

I'm constantly reminded that this is when "let go and let God" becomes less like a cliche and more like reality. That sounds nice and everything, but what does it mean? It means I don't have the answer to most of my questions about life, but God loves me and He's there for me anyway.

I once met an adamant atheist on a plane who tried to grill me on every scientific question about the Bible. We finally got to dinosaurs, and he got a little heated. I stopped, smiled, shrugged my shoulders and told him I didn't have the answers. But God does. He calmed down a little, and then quite passionately told me that all the other Christians he talked to said they had all the answers. I plainly told him they were liars, because only God has those. He's revealed to us what we need to know, and part of faith is accepting that that's enough. It gives me comfort to know I'm not God, and that He has all the answers.

It's so hard to be called a minister when you are constantly faced with your own selfishness and laziness. There were times in Russia I tried to find a way out of going to the homeless ministry I started. I had been selfish and lazy that week, and didn't feel worthy to lead an example to other people. And no matter how hard I try to put my sinful part to death, it always seems to boil over anyway.

But I love this, too, because it makes the cross mean something to me. Every once in a while I get just delusional enough to think I'm some kind of big deal. But I'm not, and when this hits me hard in the chest the only response I can have is to kneel very low to the cross and appeal to God's loving sacrifice He made through His Son. I love that place, because it's the only place that life makes sense.

It's there that I realize that I do in fact hurt God, but the good news is that everybody does, and God loves us anyway. Through Christ God makes jerks like me good enough, and that gives me enough determination to get up with even more fervor and keep going... because I love Him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"If These Kids Die..."

I've been living in Miami the last six weeks working with a Church here. I've been able to do lots of things, but I've really been able to mentor three guys closely: Danny, Patrick, and Josh. All three of them decided to follow Jesus this summer and get baptized. It's been an awesome experience to see them so hungry to follow God and live for Jesus in the environment they live in.

Today we went to MacDonald's together to get some dinner. We were studying the Bible, and Danny wanted to know if kids go to Heaven. I explained to him how there's a point when kids get old enough that they really know right from wrong and are held accountable. Kids do wrong things, but they just copy what they see others do. It's when they get old enough to be independent, they can actually distinguish right from wrong, feel guilty, and be responsible for their choices.

There were some little kids playing in the PlayPlace right next to us. So, in order to illustrate my point, I pointed behind my shoulder and said loudly that for example, "If these kids die, they're going to Heaven." But right as I said this, their mother happened to walk right by me and looked at me with a face of sheer horror. The funny thing is, I think the only part she heard was "If these kids die" as I pointed at her little children. I waved and smiled afterward trying to show I wasn't a child killer or something, but she still looked horrified.

The guys were laughing, but I felt so embarrassed.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Postmodernism VS Conservatism

Note: I apologize for these definitions, because I know they are broad and not entirely accurate. But they're the best I can come up with. In this entry I am not speaking of all things or people labeled as "conservative" or "postmodern". I am dealing mostly with what I see in the religious arena, especially the extremes. I have been called both postmodern and conservative before, so I realize that labels can be deceiving. Instead, I'm dealing with two overall mindsets I see in American Christian society and their implications.

In the religious world:

Postmodernism: A prevailing mindset that spirituality is more important than truth. If something makes you a better, more spiritual, and loving person, then the means that made you that way are mostly insignificant. When truth and love battle, love always wins.

Conservatism: Keep things the way they've "always been". As long as we believe it is true, the implications are mostly insignificant. Facts are more important than people. When truth and love battle, truth always wins.

Believing things because they were true used to be a prevailing thought. If it's true, it has to work. And throughout history we have seen people misuse things that were "true" in order to hurt other people. Many Americans hate Christians because they have seen many arrogant, judgmental, and abrasive people shove their faith in others' faces. "If this is truth, I don't want it", many non-Christians would say.

In the postmodern mindset, if something works it has to be true. If there is some inconsistency with the Bible, tradition, systematic theology, or any other idea then people just point at the results. For example, if a Buddhist idea helps you to treat others better and live life more spiritually, it's not really that big a deal if it somehow contradicts with Christianity (or at least the common perception of "Christianity", they'd say).

It is my opinion that both of these mindset have strengths and weaknesses, but they are both extremely dangerous. Both bring down the Supremacy of Christ (His Redemption and Teachings) in order to establish something else: a human idea.


Many people are sick of the conservative mindset, and so am I. People are tired of seeing private agendas, pride, and tradition being pushed through the religious and social arena. People are tired of abrasive people who are more concerned with facts than people. Pride is disgusting when shown, and most people have seen someone argue something that was true, but in a manner that showed they cared more about their idea than the person they were talking to. I used to do this a lot. I think that many evangelicals have misinterpreted key Scriptures in the Bible, so I made it my goal to "correct" them. However, I had a "me vs. them" mentality that was disgusting. Instead of assisting my fellow human being get closer to God because I loved them deeply, I was passionate about an idea. I think the primary problem with the conservative mindset is that truth and facts are set up as priority, rather than people.

This is seen in Churches chastising people for being different, not forgiving others' public sins, giving up friendships because of disagreements in theology, and anything in between. The Pharisees did those things, and Jesus slammed them for it. The Bible says that "Mercy triumphs over judgment", but I'm afraid many get it backwards. In doing so they (including myself) have denied the essence of Jesus' Message in order to establish the letter. This is scary, and we see the repercussions of this in America. (For example, if I even mention I'm a Christian to a stranger I'm prepared to see a look of disappointment, disgust, or even anger.)


There's so much of postmodernism that I love. Much of my life as a Christian I viewed the Scriptures as a law book. But it's not. We were freed from the law, in order to live by faith (Gal. 3:24-25). Books like Velvet Elvis and Blue Like Jazz both helped me to expand my spirituality to consider the implications and essence of living for Jesus, rather than just the facts. They helped me to move my faith from theoretical to practical, and I love that. Too many people go to Church on Sunday, but that's where their faith stays. Postmodernism calls people to move their faith away from ritual to reality.

However, in an effort to bring faith into practice many have abandoned the truth of faith altogether. In order to make faith practical, many have discarded the idea that Jesus can be the only way to Heaven. As I said in the definitions: if truth and love battle, love wins. To say Jesus is the only way to Heaven condemns a lot of people. "That's not love", they would say. But it's really no love at all to "accept" other teachings that bring down what Jesus did on the cross for all people, everywhere. Jesus didn't come to bring another idea, He came to rescue people from sin. And He is the only way. Many see that as bigotry, but it's a free gift! It's an expression of God that mankind can be forgiven and not condemned. I don't see what's unloving about God becoming a person, pouring out all He was for His beloved creation, dying gruesomely for it, and then asking people to accept that love as the only thing that can make a person righteous. I say it's beautiful.

In books like Velvet Elvis, the writer elevates his own agendas more than the truth of Christ in some areas. I think we need to take care of the Earth God gave us, because we are thankful to God for it and want to be responsible stewards. However, this is not a major teaching of Christ. The Bible makes it clear that the two most important commands are loving God and loving people. The third is not to keep the Earth healthy. In order to make it that way, you have to abandon truth and establish your own agenda. This kind of thing makes me so sad.

The Conclusion

The problem with any false teaching is that it always brings down the Sufficiency and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. In the first few centuries Paganism, Gnosticism, and Judaistic Legalism all asked people to put their trust in something other than Christ and Him crucified.

Conservatism misses the mark: For God so loved the world that He sent His only son. If we don't love people, we're missing the very motivation Jesus had for dying at all. I believe in Jesus, and I believe everything He said is 100% truth. However, I think that many have missed the implications of Jesus' teachings and instead have used Jesus as a sword to judge others and justify their own lifestyle. But that has nothing to do with the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus loved people deeply, personally, and sacrificially. He calls us to do the same, regardless of a person's beliefs or lifestyle. If we aren't doing this, we can't really say we follow Jesus.

Postmodernism, while beneficial in some ways, can elevate human philosophies, ideas, and "innovations" above Christ and His Word. However, the answer is not in new ideas. New approaches are wonderful, but changing the message of Christ is nothing short of damnable. If there are other ways to Heaven than Jesus, evangelism is a silly idea. People dying for their faith in Christ is stupid, and being a missionary is also a waste of time. Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is the only way to Heaven, and it's my belief in that which makes me share it. I share it because I love people, and I want them to know the beautiful message that Christ came to save us.

Let us not be persuaded by popular religious ideas and mindsets, but rather let us come to Christ: Our Redeemer, Master, Friend, and Comfort.

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of this world, and not based on Christ. Col. 2:8.

This is an old admonition from Paul, but let's take it seriously today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Four Commonly Asked Questions by Postmoderns

I originally prepared this for school based on different conversations I've had with postmoderns. I think these are fairly typical questions people with a postmodern mindset (including myself) like to ask about life, spirituality, and God. I hope these answers can help you a little bit personally, as well as maybe being able to help you articulate how to answer these questions when they are brought up. These are just suggestions, obviously, but I do think they can simply and adequately answer these questions. I hope these answers can help you as these questions come up in everyday conversation as you discuss spirituality with people.

1. Is there really such a thing as “truth”? As long as it works for you, what does it matter?

Many people believe that the idea that there can only be one way to God is intolerant.

However, we don’t apply that same logic with other facts of life. In mathematics, schools everywhere teach that 2 + 2 = 4. But what if there was a kid in a school that thought 2 + 2 = 6? What if he believed that, “well that kind of ‘truth’ may work for you but it just doesn’t for me”. He would fail his class, right? Why? Because we know for a fact that two plus two does in fact equal four.

What about gravity? If I decided, “You know, the law of gravity is just too rigid for me. I don’t think I believe in it anymore”. So, I decided to stand on the top of the Empire State Building and jump off. What will happen? I will very likely fall to my death. Why? Because the law of gravity is bigger than my own private opinion about it. It really doesn’t matter what I think, because truth is not determined by my own thoughts about it.

We know that the law of gravity and mathematics are not determined by us. We just have to do our best to understand them. Yet, when we are talking about a higher power we are talking about someone who created the Earth, people, as well as the laws of gravity and mathematics and all of that. If we can’t make something true on this Earth by our own private opinions, how can we do so about something that created the Earth? Either God exists or He does not, but my opinion about Him cannot change Him one way or the other, just as it cannot change laws of gravity or mathematics.

2. I like spirituality, but how do I know there is a God?

Well, there are many ways God has revealed Himself to people. One of those ways is that as humans we all have some idea that there’s such a thing as right and wrong.

All humans expect other humans to live by a certain standard. For example, say I’m your friend. If I leaned over and punched you right in the mouth you’d be pretty upset with me. Why? You’d be upset because I’m your friend, and friends don’t hit each other. But where did that idea come from?

We know as people that some things are evil, even if the culture we’re in tells us otherwise. For example, if a culture determines morality, we had no right to be angry with the Nazis. They were doing what was right in their own culture. But rather we held them to a standard: that they should not be allowed to torture and slaughter other people. Why? They should know it is wrong as people.

Think about your interactions with people day to day. Most of the time it doesn’t even matter what a person actually does, it’s their intentions that bother us. If someone bumps you on accident when you’re walking and knocks you down, though you’re upset you’ll likely forgive them. But if someone tries to knock you down but misses, though you don’t receive any physical damage you’ll probably be pretty angry. Why? He intentionally went against the standard you expected him to go by as a person.

Christians call this the “conscience”. We believe, based on Scripture, that God gave us this idea of right and wrong to make us question where it came from. We certainly didn’t put it there, yet we were born with it. Simply by the fact that we call some things “good” and some “evil” say that we think some things are in their nature bad and some are good. The God who put this idea in our heads must be “good”. If He were bad, we’d call bad “good” instead. And here’s where it matters: A “good” God would have to reveal Himself to people. And He would have to show us how to know Him and live rightly in this life. We Christians believe God did show Himself, and in fact He came to Earth as a person.

In summary, we all know there’s a right and wrong. If it didn’t come from us, it had to come from a higher power. And this higher power wants us to know Him, otherwise He wouldn’t have put that desire within people. All of this should point us to God.

3. What’s the difference between Christianity and all the others (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism)? Don’t they all teach not to murder or lie, and to be kind to people?

Yes, basically. As I said before, we all have a conscience built in us by God. This means that people in history who were very aware of their consciences would arrive at the same conclusions. Great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates never taught anything about right and wrong that was anything you’d call a real difference from what Jesus taught. This is because God placed the idea of morality within all of us. Muslims and Hindus both teach we should basically treat people well, not lie, and help people when we can.

But, there is a big difference in all these religions and it all has to do with what happens when we die. Some believe in an afterlife and some don’t. Some agree or disagree about what God is like. These may seem like small matters, but they’re not. If morality is just a way to be happy on this life, then none of this matters anyway. If there is no afterlife, then the idea that “whatever works for you is truth” makes complete sense. But deep down all humans know we weren’t born just to die. We were born to last forever. God didn’t go through all the trouble of making this world and people just for us to last 70 years or so and that be the end of it. If that’s the case then life has no real meaning. It’s here and gone, and whatever happens… happens.

But there is an afterlife with God. Those who believe in this afterlife, with the exception of Christians, believe you basically get there by how well you did in this life. Islam basically teaches that at the end of life there are scales. On one side is your good works, and on the other are your bad. If you did more good than bad, you go to Heaven. If you did more bad than good, you don’t. All other religions teach basically the same thing.

But Christianity is about something completely different. In the Bible God teaches that no person can be good enough on his own. This means that we could never do enough good things to earn our way to Heaven. No other “religion” teaches this.

The Bible is about Jesus. Jesus is God’s own Son. This means that God placed Himself inside of a fleshly person. He did this so He could example how to live this life perfectly. Then, in the end, He was tortured and killed. This was the great sacrifice for all people. Because we’ve all done bad things, we need a perfect sacrifice to pay for those wrongdoings. Jesus did that.

As Christians we don’t believe we’re better than anyone else. But we do believe that Jesus was the only perfect person, and by His death we can be made good enough. In the end what we physically did won’t be what mattered. It will be a matter of who we trusted. Did we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice and way of life, or did we trust in something else?

As you can see, Christianity is completely different than any other religion out there. It’s not so much about beliefs as it is about a way of life based on trust that God alone can make us good enough to go to Heaven because of Jesus. Other religions teach you get to Heaven based on your actions, Christianity teaches you get there by trust in Jesus.

4. Say I did want to consider Christianity. What is Christianity put into really simple terms?

The Bible teaches that God is completely good, and that He made everything that exists. He made people so we could enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. But the first man, Adam, decided to break that relationship with God. God told him not to eat a piece of fruit, but Adam decided not to trust God. When he did that, he sinned. We all do that every day. When we lie, cheat, steal, hurt other people, or act selfishly we’re basically telling God that we trust our way of life more than we do His. This is why the world is full of wars, evil, famines, diseases and anything bad. The world has gone bad because people decided to trust themselves rather than their Creator.

All people who do this, like you and me, deserve to be punished forever when we die. But God loves us. So He came as a person, Jesus, to show us how to live perfectly, and then He paid our price of punishment by being tortured and killed on the cross – for all people everywhere. If we choose to believe in that sacrifice we can be saved from punishment. But belief really just means “trust”.

We have to trust that Jesus paid the price of sin for us, and that God’s way of life is better than our own. That means we have to choose to try and give our lives over to God and trust Him even when His way doesn’t make sense to us.

The point of life is God. If we choose to place our trust in Jesus, we can live life to the fullest extent possible. We will have an intimate relationship with the Creator of all things who loves us personally. Not only that, but we will get to live forever with God because we chose to trust Him. This is Christianity in a nutshell, and if you’d like to study with me about how to actually become a Christian I’d love to look in the Bible with you and see how to do that.