Monday, November 17, 2014

Defending the faith against attackers

When we are equipped to defend the faith, we are a tool for bringing the lost to Christ and a help for the saints around us. But there's another kind of person we may meet.

Some unbelievers honestly ask questions wanting to understand why we believe what we believe and perhaps join us in the family of God. Other unbelievers, though, are not just non-Christians, they’re anti-Christians. These people are convinced that Christianity is synonymous with brain-death. They find every aspect of our faith absurd and think it is their responsibility to make everyone else see the light.

When Christians encounter these people out in the world, a battle of sorts should occur – a loving, grace-filled battle, but a battle no less. We should show them and all bystanders that Christianity is based on solid truth and that the skeptic is the one who has built himself a house of cards. Typically, however, Christians run for the hills or, worse, get trounced. Everyone sees that the Christian – and therefore Christianity – is intellectually inferior. The world sees these encounters and comes away convinced that Christianity is for the weak and the stupid. Lots of these encounters occur at the water cooler at work, but many of them occur in full public view.

One of the most infamous was the so called “Scopes Monkey Trial” where the teaching of evolution in schools was debated. The prosecution was Williams Jennings Bryant, a good man by all accounts and a believer. In comparing Darwinian evolution to the biblical view of creation, Bryant could have called theologians, apologists, and scientists. Instead, he called himself. He made a fool of himself, lost the case, and cemented in the minds of the other side the notion that anyone who dares question their pet theory is an ignorant rube that only just developed opposable thumbs.

We are at a point where society as a whole is starting to look at Christians – especially the evangelical variety – as mindless dolts. This is bad because it is untrue, but worse than that, it keeps people from coming to Christ because they either don’t want that association or they reject the gospel out of hand – because we are, after all, mindless dolts.

Being able to skillfully defend the faith is necessary to be the salt and light we are supposed to be in this society. We cannot affect this world positively if this world rejects everything we say out of hand. It is also necessary because we lose the ability to reach some people with the gospel as long as we have the unfortunate reputation we have.

People need to know that we have a thoughtful faith. If they examine the faith and can’t believe, it’s sad but their choice. If they don’t believe because we’ve let them think faith is unreasonable, though, that’s a tragedy of our making.

You may be thinking, “We need a practical religion, not theology and philosophy.” I want you to realize that this is very practical stuff. When a young mother wants to know why her baby died, that’s terribly practical theology. When your cousin is flirting with joining the Mormons, theology suddenly becomes very practical. When your friend doesn’t want to hear the gospel because he “doesn’t believe in anything he can’t see,” apologetics just jumped from philosophical conversation to deadly serious pre-evangelism. When you’re questioning why God is allowing unpleasant things in your life, a little theology – that God is sovereign, that God is all-powerful, and that God is good – becomes very practical.

You may be thinking that you’ll bring those people to church with you or give them a good book. But the odds are that most of them will not want to come to church with you – and if they did, would they necessarily find the answers they need in that week’s sermon? And while some will, many will not read the book – they’ll be polite and take it from you, but what are the odds that they’ll read it? Pretty slim. They’re going to be dependent on you to be their resource. And you need to have it readily available – on the top of your head if at all possible – because you never know what kind of opportunities you’re going to get.

You may be thinking that you’re not smart enough or educated enough to study this stuff. If so, that is patently untrue. More than that, you have to realize that the average person you’re going to talk will know less that you. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy or theology or anything else to study or use this kind of information. The average unbeliever doesn’t have one. He has some basic ideas regarding moral relativism, has been told that evolution removes the need for God, and may have seen a Jesus Seminar TV special or magazine article. The average believer can, with a little effort, equip himself to deal with these issues and lead the unbeliever toward, if not to, Christ. You might at some point in your life find someone who has made attacking Christianity a hobby or even a career – let someone else deal with that one. But the vast majority of the people in your life will not be like that, and you can help them.

In all of this, remember that you cannot argue someone into the Kingdom. Only God can work on a person’s heart and bring them to Him. But we can help overcome their objections, questions, and fears and clear the way for them to come to faith.

I’ve tried to convince you of the need to study theology and apologetics. Here’s my last attempt … today. The unbelievers out there are watching us to learn whether or not our faith is real. They are watching our lives first and foremost, but then they will have questions. How we handle those questions may well determine how they will decide the most important decision they can make – the fate of their souls. No pressure.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Making Him Known: Defending the Faith

We are here to know God and to make him known. To effectively make him known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the faith, defend the faith, and apply the faith to our world.

Defending the faith is a vital part of making Christ known. It's also the most controversial among Christians. To some it's too confrontational, to some unnecessary. To the apostle, though, it was essential:

"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 3-4).

Notice what Jude says here. He wanted to write to his readers about our salvation! Instead he had to send them a timely warning – be prepared to defend the faith. He says “contend” for the faith. What does he mean? He means to fight for the faith. He wants us to strain, struggle, sweat; this word is the root for our word “agonize.”

Why did he write this to them? Because people had slipped into their church who were false teachers – they were perverting the teaching of God’s grace and denying that Christ is who he is.

Jude’s instruction to them was to stand up to these false teachers. He’s not telling us to be contentious, but we must, gracefully, protect the faith. What is “the faith?” It is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that has been handed down.

It’s interesting to compare Jude’s world to ours. The Church was born in a time of great religious diversity. There were at least four great philosophical movements, a variety of cults, a number of local traditional religions, and pressure from the state to conform to the approved religious practices. There were atheists, pantheists, monotheists, and polytheists. There were those who said that you had to follow their religion, and there were syncretists who said all religions were basically the same. In short, Jude’s world was a lot like ours.

In the history of the church, there were literally a thousand years where a person could go his whole life without meeting someone who didn’t at least claim to be a Christian. That day is gone. We live in a world with great religious diversity, and like the early church, we have people who are trying to bring that religious diversity into the Church. Jude says, “Don’t let them!”

To successfully contend for the faith, we have to know what we believe and why. Based on the errors Jude describes these false teachers spreading, we can identify two fields of study in this matter: theology and apologetics. By theology, I mean knowing what we believe and why based on the scriptures – for example, knowing the proper teachings regarding grace. By apologetics, I mean knowing why we believe, the foundation for what we believe, based on scriptural and non-scriptural information – for example, knowing the biblical and extra-biblical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

Jude was not writing to pastors – he was writing to simple believers. Every believer has a scriptural mandate to study to be able to defend the faith. Besides that scriptural mandate, there are other reasons to prepare yourself to defend the faith.

We talked about the fact that we are here to represent Christ – we are His ambassadors. We cannot represent Him effectively unless we know His position on the matter at hand. Can you imagine the ambassador to the UN from the US going into a vote without knowing the president’s stand on the issue? Our job as an ambassador for Christ requires that we have at least a basic familiarity with theology.

There was a time when the average believer was an amateur theologian. It was considered important for everyone to know the nature of God and the nature of salvation and things like that. Then, a couple of hundred years ago, people started leaving that stuff to the preacher. And now we are in a situation where the preacher can get up in front of his congregation and teach completely unscriptural things, and no one calls him on it because no one knows. A.W. Tozer said,

"It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of sound doctrine in the life of a Christian. Right thinking about all spiritual matters is imperative if we would have right living. As men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles, so sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching."
Sound character does not grow out of unsound teaching. We’ve got a lot of unsound teaching running around today, and I think we can see it in the character of many Christians today – Christians who are representing Christ rather badly to the world around them.

Based on the message of Jude and on the nature of our calling as an ambassador, we all need to have a basic knowledge of theology and apologetics. We also have an obligation to study to defend the faith based on our calling as witnesses of the Gospel. When we share the gospel with people, it is always possible that they’re going to ask why they should believe it. It may take the form of how can a good God send people to hell or how could the incarnation be possible. It might be more of questioning whether God even exists. Sometimes objections will come up during the gospel, and sometimes you’ll hit them well before you’re able to share the gospel itself. Apologetics can be part of presenting the gospel, and it can be pre-evangelism.

The unbelievers most likely to ask apologetic questions of you are your children. Kids naturally ask questions like “who made God” and “how to we know Jesus rose from the dead.” It’s in their nature. But if we can’t give them good answers to those questions we run the risk of either giving them an immature, easily destroyed faith or even not having them come to faith at all.

J.P. Moreland tells the story of a woman he knows whose son, though a believer, was surrounded by unbelievers who provided him with lots of hard questions to ask his mother. She couldn’t answer them. His response was that if her faith was really important to her, she would have made the time to find out the answers – after all, she had time to watch tv and pursue her hobbies. Her inability to answer some of the tough questions skeptics throw at Christianity made her son wonder if her faith mattered at all.

This world is after our children. At some point they’re going to be asking those hard questions, and they’re going to need answers. I said before that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” but if you never know, your kids are going to start wondering if your faith is really important to you, and if it should be important to them.

When you’ve studied and can answer the hard questions, though, you will be more confident about sharing your faith with your friends and neighbors – and your children.

Sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of the unbelievers; sometimes we defend the faith for the sake of believers. You’ve probably heard of The Da Vinci Code. That one book was responsible for more angst on the part of believers than anything else in recent memory. Why? Because it told them that their faith was founded on fiction, and they were defenseless against the accusation. Don’t you know the Devil giggled when that thing came out? What person who is questioning his faith is going to be sharing the gospel?

When you prepare yourself to defend the faith, you build up defenses for yourself, and you become a resource for those believers around you who have not so prepared.

For the sake of both the unbelievers and the believers around you, commit to learning to defend the faith.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Gospel

We can't make Christ known to people if we can't explain the gospel to them. It's not hard to do, but it does require a little preparation. There are many gospel presentations out there of varying quality, and just about anything is better than nothing. The old Roman Road approach has led countless souls to the Lord. The Four Spiritual Laws approach has some good things going for it. The FAITH outline can be useful. Evangelism Explosion teaches a lengthy, detailed version that can easily be pared down for time. Get comfortable with something. Be able to share the good news in sixty seconds if you have to or six minutes if you've got it.

The version I currently use is based off Evangelism Explosion's gospel presentation with some modifications where I disagree with their approach. (I say "currently." I reserve the right to change everything next week if I rethink something or find a better approach.) I reproduce my version below.

In my presentation, the bold text can be presented alone if pressed for time, the normal text can be added to explain if time allows, and the italic text gives examples and explanations that can be added if necessary and if time permits. [Square brackets] are comments to the reader from me.

----

Have you ever wondered how good you have to be to be good enough to get into heaven? Jesus told us exactly how good you have to be; he said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

This is bad news, because none of us is perfect. As the Bible says, everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (Rom 3:23).
Do you know what sin is? Sin is anything that doesn't line up with God's standards. It can be things we do that we shouldn't. It can be things we don't do that we should.

Have you ever told a lie? [Obviously they have.] Then according to God’s standards you are a liar. Have you ever stolen anything, even something small? "Borrowed something without permission? [Hopefully they'll admit it.] Have you ever lusted? Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Did you ever disobey your parents? Have you ever seen someone who needed help that you didn’t help?

I’m not saying you’re an awful person, but we have to look at sin through God’s eyes. If I only sinned three times a day, most people would say I'm a pretty good person. If I only lied or was selfish or lusted three times a day, that doesn't seem to be that bad. But three sins a day is over 1000 a year and in an average lifetime that adds up to over 70,000 sins. Someone who's broken the laws 70,000 times isn't "a pretty good person"; they're a hardened criminal.

But even just one sins taints us. Think about an omelet. If I made you can omelet with four good eggs and one bad one, you wouldn't want to eat it. You wouldn't want to drink a glass of water with just one drop of poison in it. That little bit spoils the whole.


If we just commit one sin, we’re ruined. And in the course of our lifetimes, we commit thousands. We’re not just criminals; we’re hardened habitual offenders.

Do you think people who commit crimes should be punished? [Sure they do.] God does too. If He let someone get away with just one crime – one sin – He would not be a holy God worthy of worship. We have all sinned – a lot. And God is a God of justice, so He has to punish our sin.

We will all stand before God one day and answer for the life we’ve lived. For our sins, we’ll be sentenced to hell. We don’t know exactly what hell will be like, but Jesus described it as somewhere no one wants to go – a place of great agony that will never, ever end.

Now, God does not want anyone to go to hell, but He has to punish sin. So He created a way for us to escape hell. Would you like me to tell you about it?

Because God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, He became a man. Jesus lived the perfect life that we can’t. Then He died as a sacrifice – paying the price for our sins – and rose from the dead to give us everlasting life in heaven.

Imagine sin as like a blanket draped over you like you were pretending to be a ghost. When God looks at us, he sees that blanket of sin. It stands between us and God. When Jesus died, he took the blanket and wore it. God saw our sin as being punished with Christ on the cross. As the scripture says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray … and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6).

Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life to us as a free gift. This gift is received by faith.

Faith is the key that opens the door to heaven. But what do I mean by faith? [Maybe hold up a key ring.] Two keys may look alike, but only one is going to open a door. It doesn't matter how much I believe the wrong key will open the door, it won't. The right kind of faith will open the door; the wrong kid will not. Saving faith is not believing God or Jesus exists. It's not even believing Jesus rose from the dead. It's not trusting Jesus with things or issues in life -- your health, finances, safety, even your family.

Saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. (Acts 16:31)

It's like a chair. I can believe a chair will hold me up. I can put my things on a chair and let it hold them up. That's not trusting the chair. I can sit on the edge of the chair, most of my weight on my toes in case the chair collapses. That's not trusting the chair. When I sit on the chair and pull my legs up under me, I am depending on the chair to hold me up.

Saving faith isn't doing something. It's receiving something. It's a beggar taking bread from an outstretched hand.

Saving faith is trusting that Jesus alone will get you into heaven.

Does this make sense to you?

Would you like to receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life?

Let me clarify what this involves:
Transfer your trust from your good deeds to what Jesus did.
Receive the resurrected and living Christ as savior.
Receive Christ as Lord -- that is, to decide to live with him as king of your life.
Decide you aren't going to live the same way, that you want to live to please God from here on out.

-----

From there you run into the question of whether a "sinner's prayer" is necessary. I think it can help people focus, but it's not magic words. It is faith in Christ that saves.

Whatever approach you want to use, practice it, get comfortable with it, and employ it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why Don't We Share the Gospel?

So we’ve talked about the nature of the Gospel, and we all know that we should be out there sharing it. So the question is, why aren’t we?

One common reason people give for not sharing the gospel is that they don’t know what to say. You do know the basics, but it can still be difficult to put it also into a coherent presentation. What can we do about that?

The best thing you can do is to learn a good gospel presentation – memorize it – and then practice it. A very effective way to do that is by going through a training program like Evangelism Explosion. EE and programs like it will teach you a gospel presentation complete with appropriate verses and illustrations, and then they will take you out and make you practice it on real people. Presenting the gospel is something you cannot learn purely from a book – you’ve got to get out there and do it. A training program will send you out with someone who’s experienced at sharing the gospel, and you’ll go through the traditional mentorship pattern – watch them, help them, they help you, then they watch you. By the end you should be comfortable with the gospel presentation and how to steer conversations toward spiritual matters.

You don’t have to go through a formal program, but they are very helpful – especially when they give you hands-on training with someone watching over your shoulder. But if that’s not for you, you can still learn a good gospel presentation and practice it. But the key is practice – you’re highly unlikely to read a presentation out of a book and go right out and witness to people.

Besides not knowing what to say, many times people are just scared. This is another place that an evangelism training program can help. Knowing a good presentation and practicing with it can make you confident in your ability to share the gospel.

But a lot of times we’re just embarrassed. It’s a sad part of our sin nature that we’re embarrassed of the gospel. Generally we’re a bit ashamed of that embarrassment – and we should be. If a person’s house were on fire, we wouldn’t be embarrassed to let them know, but when the danger is to their immortal soul, we turn yellow. We should shame ourselves over that embarrassment and focus on the price Christ Jesus paid for us and the danger that they’re in. And then you just have to suck it up and do it.

Every hour 5,417 go to meet their Maker. Blatant emotional manipulation? Yep. I’m going to be totally shameless about this – we have to take their plight personally, or we will let fear or self-centeredness keep us from giving them what they need.

But what if you’ve got a reason to be embarrassed? What if you’re ashamed of the life you’ve led? That’s why we started this out talking about godliness. But if you’ve made mistakes, the best thing to do is confess those mistakes, change your ways, and move on. And if they ask, remind them that we’re not perfect, but we’re striving to be more like Jesus.

A lot of people are afraid to share the gospel because they’re afraid they’ll mess it up. The truth is, you probably will every now and then – especially at first. But God can still use that. That doesn’t mean you can tell them the wrong gospel, but if you mess up the right one, the Spirit is still there.

The story’s told that a woman criticized D.L. Moody for his methods of attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody replied, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The woman replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” It’s far better to do it badly than to not do it.

So what if they ask you a question that you can’t answer? Later we’re going to talk about preparing for those questions, but someone will probably ask you something you can’t answer. That’s ok! “I don’t know but I’ll find out” is a perfectly acceptable answer. If you’re not sure you’ll ever see them again (maybe you’re at an airport or something), tell them where they might be able to find out – a book or website or something.

What if they don’t believe in God or don’t believe in the Bible or something? Again, that’s something we’ll get into later, but let’s just say that sometimes you may have to do a little apologetics as pre-evangelism.

Realistically, we’re all going to miss opportunities. That’s just part of human nature. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about doing better than you did yesterday.

Next time I'm going to share my standard gospel presentation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Making Christ Known: Sharing the Faith

What is the worst thing that can happen to someone? To go to hell. The worst thing that can happen to someone isn’t to be lonely, poor, or sick; it isn’t to die young or outlive your children. The worst thing that can happen to someone is that they die and go to hell.

So what is the most important thing you can do for someone? It is to tell them how to escape hell. The purpose of all believers is to know Christ and make Him known. To make Christ known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the Faith, defend the Faith, and apply the Faith to our world. After godliness, sharing the faith is the most important aspect. We can live out marvelous lives in front of our neighbors, but if we don’t tell them how to come to Christ, we have failed them – and him.

Many of us fail to share the gospel because we aren’t totally sure what it is – we don’t know what to say. But if you’re saved, you do know the gospel – you just may not feel confident in it.

The Basic Gospel
Here’s the most basic and most important question: Why do people need to be saved? What is it that gets us in trouble? Sin.

Why is that a problem? God is just. He must punish sin.

So are we without hope? No, God is merciful and sent Christ to die for our sins.

So what do we do? Trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for our sins and repent from our wicked ways.

That’s it. That’s the heart of the gospel.

The Need
Let’s look a little closer now at an often under-appreciated part of the gospel: In Mark 10:17-23, a man comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response may seem a little strange to us. Jesus didn’t say anything about having a god-shaped hole in his heart. He didn’t tell him, “I love you and have a wonderful plan for your life.” He didn’t tell him to invite Jesus into his heart. He pointed the young man to the Law. This seeker replied that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, and Jesus pointed out that he hadn’t kept the first one – his money was a god to him.

What was Jesus doing here? Is he suggesting that keeping the commandments would get someone into heaven? No; rather he is using the commandments to point out the man’s sin. Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was, except for the law” (Rom 7:7). He also says “in order that sin might be recognized as sin, [the law] produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (Rom 7:13).

The Modern Problem
This is very important to us today. Once, you could pretty much count on everyone being aware of the fact that they are sinners. Today, that is not true. We live in a world of moral relativism. People generally want to believe that there are no hard and fast rules – whatever you believe is good for you, but it means nothing for me. So we get hung up at the first points of the gospel – sin and the coming judgment.

Some people have responded to this by making the gospel about peace with God or completeness or a cure for loneliness. But Jesus did not come to this world to merely give us peace with God or to fill the god-shaped hole in our hearts. Sin is the disease – it is why we need peace and have a god-shaped hole. Trying to make the gospel about anything else is trying to treat the symptoms without getting at the disease. It’s not good medicine, and it’s not good theology.

It’s been said that before people can benefit from the good news they have to be bothered by the bad news. The bad news is that we are all sinners and we will all be judged by a just and holy God. Any “gospel” that does not start from that point is no gospel at all. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all called people to do two things – repent and believe. If we leave out the sin part, we leave out the repent. If we leave out the repent, we fall under Paul’s curse in Galatians 1:8 – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” That sounds harsh, but we have to realize that if people aren’t coming to Christ because they’ve realized that they cannot be good enough to stand before a holy God and survive, they don’t really think they need Christ. The modern approach at the gospel – which bypasses the whole yucky sin thing – has produced a lot of so-called Christians who think they’re fine but are really headed toward hell.

This may explain why, by and large, self-described born again Christians are almost as likely as non-Christians to cheat on their taxes – or their wives! It also helps explain why over 80% of those who make “decisions” for Christ are living like unbelievers within a year.

It is only when we realize our precarious position as “sinners in the hands of an angry God” that the cross of Christ becomes attractive.

Why am I going on about this? Because I want us all to be out there sharing the gospel, but I want to make sure we’re actually sharing the right gospel.

There’s a lady at work that I’ve been trying to witness to. Some things have come out in our conversations that seemed to really peak her interest. Coming from a Hindu background, she was quite taken with the notion of a God that is personally interested in her. She also showed surprise and interest in the notion that you can be absolutely certain right now about what course your afterlife will take. A lot of people would press those things, urging her to pray a prayer and start a “relationship” with God. But until she accepts that she is not good enough and cannot ever be acceptable to God by her own merits, she can’t have a relationship with God. I’ll keep praying and looking for opportunities, but the gospel cannot be watered down. Hopefully she will one day see her need for a redeemer and come to Christ, but if she doesn’t, she will stand before God knowing that she was warned about that day.

Share the gospel. But share the right gospel. The real gospel. Anything else is doing more harm than good.

"OK, but I don't know how." We'll get into that next time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I'm Not Godly Yet

We are here to know God and make him known. Making him known properly requires a few things of us; the first and most important is that we be godly followers of Christ.

It's been a month since my last post on the topic. Are you godly yet? No? Not like you want to be? What's wrong with you?

Seriously, though, it's hard. And there are lots of things that get in the way.

Impediments
What are some impediments to godliness? We may have some habits that are not helpful. They don’t have to be sinful to be an impediment. We may have people in our lives who aren't very edifying. We might spend too much time with the television – it is impossible to have the mind of Christ while filling our minds with the gunk on TV. We may read things that aren't helpful – for example, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition or trashy romance novels. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” The things that hinder in that verse are not sins – but they don’t lead to greater godliness. We all need to sift through our lives and find the things that hinder our growth in Christ. Those things have to be ruthlessly cut from our lives.

Kent Hughes points out in Disciplines of a Godly Man that when we sin, it is usually because we are forgetful of God, not because we are rebellious. Who says, “I think I’ll lie and cheese off God?” We lie because we let it become about us instead of Him.

Fixes
TV: So what can we do about these things? We need to examine our habits, the people we spend time with, the media influences we allow in our lives, and whatever we may find that hinders us and make the necessary changes. If I may make a suggestion regarding TV watching, if you think you need to reduce your TV viewing – and most American Christians do – a relatively painless way to start is, when a show you watch is canceled as many are every year, don’t replace it. Also, if you can pick out a show or two that you watch just out of habit – maybe they’re not that good or aren't as good anymore – cut them out. A few years ago I watched a couple of hours of TV a night – mostly out of habit. Now, after slashing a few shows and not replacing those that were canceled, there is only a few hours of TV a week that I really watch.

Hedges: Something else we can do to counter those things that hinder and entangle us is to create hedges in our lives. What I mean is that we can create our own rules that, if kept, keep us from breaking God’s rules. As an example, men generally don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” It is usually a slow, gradual thing where a man grows too close to a woman who is not his wife, they end up in a compromising situation – going to dinner alone after work maybe – and then one thing leads to another. A hedge that could prevent this would be for the man to intentionally keep other women a certain emotional distance from him. He can also make it his policy not to be alone with another woman – that means if at lunch the only two who want to go out together are him and another woman, they don’t go. A hedge is keeping yourself from putting yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to sin. Some other ideas about hedges might be an internet filter, cutting off certain cable channels, letting your spouse keep the credit card if you have trouble there, or setting rules on when and where you and your mate will have emotionally charged conversations so that they are less likely to get out of hand.

A word of warning about hedges, though. They are a fine, useful tool, but they can be taken too far. Remember that your hedges are your hedges and not binding on anyone else. The Pharisees were really big on making hedges around the Law to keep from accidentally sinning; the problem was that they eventually gave their hedges the force of law, and looked down on those who didn't keep their hedges. Another thing to remember is that the commands of God supersede your hedges; for example, if you have a rule that you don’t travel alone with a woman you’re not married to, and you come across a woman whose car is broken down and needs a ride, do you obey your hedge or do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Prayer: To help yourself to not forget about God, get in the habit of praying every chance you get. 1 Thes 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing;” I believe that is truly possible, but it’s not something done overnight. But we can pray more – lots more.

Jeff Foxworthy says he gives this advice to expectant parents: Sleep! Sleep between meetings, sleep at stop lights, sleep between naps – just sleep! We can adapt that advice to our purpose – pray between meetings, pray at stop lights, pray in line at the store, pray in traffic. Keep your mind focused on God and His kingdom, and it will be harder to forget about God when faced with the opportunity to sin.

A Parable
Why am I going on so much about godly living? Let me tell you a story. A certain man went up from Jerusalem to Jericho, and on the way he was attacked by thieves, beaten, stripped, and left for dead on the side of the road. A Christian walking along the road saw him, said “Jesus saves” and walked on. Another Christian passed by, saw him, said “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and went on his way. A Muslim traveler saw him, had compassion on him and said, “Allah forgives.” The he cleaned his wounds, gave him some food, and carried him to a hospital.

Whose gospel will that man believe?

How well we live our lives, how well we live out Christ’s love, will in large part determine whether or not people are interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So godliness is the most important part of making Christ known; it is also the hardest. I mean, if it were easy, we would all be doing, right? It is only possible to be more Christ-like through the power of His Spirit. We have to choose to do it, but we have to lean on Him for the strength.

Changes
If Jesus worked where you work, how would He be different from the people you work with?

We need to think about how Jesus would be holy at our workplaces, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our church, and we need to emulate that. This is the big application time. What needs to change in my life?
A word about application: We tend to come out of church saying things to ourselves like “I ought to be nicer,” but nothing ever changes. That is because we stop at the warm fuzzy stage of application – the recognition of the fact that we need to improve. To really change, though, we each have to come up with a plan. A good application always includes a plan.

A plan has certain characteristics: It is first person. It is specific. It is measurable. And it has a time limit. “We ought to be more loving” is not a plan – it’s a warm fuzzy. “This week I will mow the lawn for my elderly neighbor” is a plan. It’s first person – I. It’s specific and measurable – you can easily tell whether you mowed the lawn or not. And it has a time limit – this week.

From now until you stand before the Lord, I want you to think of application in these terms. Whether you're reading on the internet, in church, or listening to a preacher on the radio, if you can come away with an idea of something that you need to stop, change, or do then you need to make a plan. Anything less is simply disobedience that makes you feel good.

So for today, think about how Jesus would be if He was living your life and then make a plan.

You've probably heard this quote from Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” They are watching us. They are watching you. Their acceptance of the gospel depends in large part on how we live out the gospel in front of them. Let’s not let them down.

I don’t anyone to think that I’m looking down on them and telling them to be holy like me. We’re all in this boat together – struggling toward the goal of being more like Jesus. But because we’re all in the same place, we can understand, support, and encourage each other in this Christian life. That is what the Church is all about. If we lean on each other and follow Christ, we will make it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Making Christ Known: Godliness

We are here to know God and make him known. Making him known properly requires a few things of us. The first is both simpler and more complicated than we'd like.

In John 14:15 Jesus said, If you love me you will sing really loud in church. No? Maybe it was, If you love me you will put a fish on your car. No? “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Godliness is how we show our gratitude to Christ, but it does more than that as well.

1 Peter 2:11-12 says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Titus 2:9-10 says, “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

We have the power to make the Gospel more or less attractive by how we live our lives. It is a terrible power – one that most of us would rather not have – but we have it no less. When we sin, we not only damage ourselves, but we do harm to everyone who sees us as an ambassador of Christ. That’s why, as Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Not every believer is called to full-time Christian service, but every believer is called to full-time Christian living.”

Without living a godly life out before unbelievers, we cannot make Christ known — nothing else we might do will matter. Not only that, we interfere with other believers’ ability to make Christ known to those people. We probably all know folks who have no interest in Christ because of the Christians they have known. That is a terrible crime against those people — one for which the perpetrators will have to answer one day. We have to remember two important truths about lost people — they desperately need Christ, and they are looking for any excuse to reject Him. Don’t be that excuse.

So what exactly do I mean by “godly?” Perhaps Christlike is a better term. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:29, the Father’s goal is for every believer to be conformed to the image of Christ. We will never achieve that perfectly in this life, but we should be ever striving toward that goal.

Christlike is simply like Christ – doing what he would do, not doing what he wouldn't do. It is love and holiness. It’s being loving, patient, kind, and gentle; it’s not lying or cursing, not being selfish, rude, or mean. It’s loving justice and showing mercy. It is being different from the world in all the right ways. It is being attractive as a person so as to make the Gospel attractive.

Here are some things that are not being Christlike. It is not godliness to be a sourpuss. We are allowed and even expected to enjoy life; if you read the gospels carefully you can see that Jesus had fun. Being holy does not mean being completely cut off from the lost — Jesus certainly wasn't. Christlikeness certainly does not look like legalism; cold adherence to a set of rules is part of what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees.

So how do we become more Christlike? First, by knowing him more. You become like the people you hang out with. If you spend more time exposing yourself to Christ, you will start to be more like him.

Second, carefully cultivate better attitudes toward things and people. Peter’s advice regarding suffering in this life was “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Pet 3:15a) — i.e., as sovereign over all things. The result would be that people would see something that they wanted in your response to suffering and ask you where it came from, and so you would need to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15b).

A way you can change you attitude toward people is by choosing to see them as they really are. C.S. Lewis pointed out that you have never met a “mere mortal.” Everyone you have ever met is an immortal, and one day they will be one of two things — a being so glorious that, if you saw them right now, you would be tempted to worship them; or a being so terrible that to see them now would give you unending nightmares. Keep that in mind when you deal with the guy who barely speaks English at Wal-Mart, and you may respond to him differently.

Finally, to become more like Christ, remember the words of the philosopher who said, “Just do it.” In the end, your godliness is a conscious decision on your part. Choose to do what you know is right – it won’t always be easy, it certainly won’t always be popular, but you can do it. As Croft Pentz said, “He who lives like Christ wins men to Christ.”

Remember Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are only given two options – we will be conformed to this world, or we will be transformed. Choose transformation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Meaning of Life Part 2: Making Christ Known

We are on this earth to know God and to make him known. If we only seek to know God more, we are only performing half of our job. We are expected to seek to make him known to those around us.

Jesus said we make God known by making Christ known. So if we want to fulfill our purpose, we will make Christ known.

The problem with this world is sin. Political, psychological, social, or economic solutions are simply treating the symptoms. The only thing we can do to make the world a better place is to make Christ known because only Christ can change hearts. If you want the world to be a better place, make Christ known. If you want the world your children and grandchildren live in to be a better place, make Christ known. If you want to do all you can to touch the future through your children, make Christ known to them.

It gets even better – you are making Christ known wherever you go:

"We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20).

Notice that it doesn’t say we might be ambassadors, that we can be, or that we should be. We are ambassadors.

We are ambassadors for Christ, and we represent Him whether we want to or not. If people know – or even think – you are a Christian, you are representing Christ. The nonbelievers who know you will judge the Gospel based on how you have lived it before them. It's not fair, but that's how it works. People tend to look prejudicially at an entire group based on the actions of a few examples. People are very quick to do this to Christians.

Everywhere we go, we are representing Christ, making Him known to the people around us. We have a responsibility to both Christ and to those souls with whom we have contact to do this very well.

In some ways it is both easier and harder to make Christ known to your kids than it is with other people, but the basic principles will be the same. And what are those basic principles?

To properly represent Christ, to make Him known in our world, we have to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the Faith, defend the Faith, and apply the Faith to our world.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to look at each point of that in detail.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Knowing God: A Sidebar On Prayer

Prayer is a fundamental part of spiritual growth. It's also badly neglected. Why is that? I think part of the problem is that we don't appreciate it. Let's step back and look at prayer for a bit.

The Privilege
It's amazing that we're even allowed to pray. Think about this: God is running a universe. He sees and hears everything. He takes care of galaxies. He's got plenty to keep himself busy. Where you're concerned, he knows what you need, what you want, and what you fear. He knows what you've done and where you're going. Why would he want to hear from you?

But he does! Prayer is not just allowed but commanded. He makes time for you to talk to him.

The Access
In the story of Esther, we get a picture of a royal court where the king is considered semi-divine. You do not even dare to approach the king silently. If he doesn't grant you permission to speak, just standing in front of him draws a death sentence.

The picture of prayer is the exact opposite. We are not subjects standing, trembling, before the throne hoping to be granted an audience. We are children who run up to daddy and climb into his lap and talk to him. This daddy is never too tired to listen to us after a long day. He lets us prattle on and on about things he already knows. And while we talk, he holds us and sings over us and loves us.

The Beauty
God doesn't just put up with our prayers; he cherishes them. He views them as incense. We make his abode more beautiful, in his eyes, with the prayers we offer to him. (Though I'm sure all prayers aren't equal in this regard.) Our pitiful offerings are like a child's treasured "artwork" posted on the refrigerator.

Make the time to avail yourself of the privilege of access to a king who receives your every word as a treasured gift. "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are You Required to Serve Me?

A black man with a catering business should not be required to cater an event for the KKK. A gay woman with a photography business should not be required to photograph an event called "Stopping the Homosexual Agenda." If I ran a printing shop, I should not (white gentile that I am) have to provide any signs or any other materials for a neo-Nazi march against teaching the reality of the Holocaust.

Sometimes people object morally to something so much that they simply cannot in good conscience profit from it. It's not rejecting a person. If someone who was a KKK member walked into any restaurant, he'd be served. It's not about discriminating against people; it's about refusing to participate in an event. And that should be okay.

And in the examples I've given above, it is. There is no law (as far as I know) requiring a black man (or anyone else) to cater for the KKK.

But apparently a Christian can be forced to cater a same-sex wedding reception. And to take pictures. And to print programs. Next will people be required to attend the things?

Why can people be forced to do these things? Because homosexuals are a special, protected group. We're not, and we're not likely to be.

So what now?

People who have gotten in trouble have been open about their objections. You don't have to be. You can just refuse. "I don't have an availability there." Already scheduled? "I'm sorry, I have a conflict, I'm going to have to cancel."

Are they pressing for details? I don't know if this is an issue about which we can safely midwife them, but it's something to ponder.

But ultimately, we can do little. This society is simply going that way. So what, then?

The gospel.

Homosexuality has been embraced in our society alongside greed, covetousness, gluttony, and all kinds of sexual sins. It is not the disease. It is a symptom. As societies spiral down into sin, this rears its head. And this will only turn around if a society repents and turns to God. That's where we should focus our energy.