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 ( 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.