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.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Knowing God

"Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me..." (Jer 9:23-24).

We exist to know God and make him known. So how do we know God?

Oddly enough, the Bible doesn’t offer a lot on that topic. It says that knowing God is the greatest thing we can do, but it’s short on the how. However, certain useful techniques have been passed down through the generations, and they are generally derived from Scripture. But the Bible doesn’t have a big flashing “how to know God more” by them.

There’s probably little that’s going to be a big surprise. How do you get to know anyone? How did you get to know your mate enough to know that you wanted to get married? You spent time with him or her. To some degree you can get to know someone in a group setting, but after a while you have to spend some time alone to get really close. You talk. You listen.

How do we listen to God? Through the Bible. We cannot know God without being thoroughly familiar with what He has said to us. There are degrees to being in the Word. Most basic is Bible reading – simply reading what’s on the page. It's important to remember that you're not just reading a book. Read it with the expectation that this is a letter from God, infused with the Spirit, written for the purpose of revealing him to you. That kind of reading makes a difference.

Next is study – sometimes what’s on the page doesn’t mean what it appears to mean with casual reading; going deeper into the meaning of the text is essential to understanding the Word which is essential to knowing the Author. Next comes memorization; nothing gets the Scriptures in you like intentionally committing parts of it to memory. Verses you memorize will resurface when you need them – they can keep you from sin, comfort you during trying times, or help you counsel others. Next comes meditation. Christian meditation is not like Eastern meditation; they empty their minds where we fill our minds with Scripture. Meditation is working a Scripture over and over in your mind, testing yourself against it and looking for every implication for your life. You can meditate without memorizing – if you have your Bible in front of you – but the advice in the Bible is to meditate on the Word day and night, and you cannot do that without memorizing. But when you can take the Word with you, you can focus on the Scriptures in traffic, waiting in line, between meetings, or while waiting for your child to finish smearing her dinner through her hair.

So the hierarchy of the Word is casual reading, study, memorization, and meditation. But if you stop there, you’ve left out the most important part. Obedience is an essential element in interacting with the Bible, and it is essential in knowing Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). If you want to have a deeper relationship with Christ, you must obey what you’ve gleaned from the Bible.

Think of it like a hand. Bible reading, study, memorization, and meditation are the fingers, but without obedience – the thumb – you cannot hold onto things. Without obedience you cannot hold tightly to God. As Croft M. Pentz said, “Let Christ first work in you; then he will work through you.”

The advice of J.I. Packer in his classic Knowing God is “listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; [turning each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God;] … accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; [finally] recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.”

As Mr. Packer mentioned, after the Word we have prayer. Any king may send a memo to his subjects, but our Heavenly Father, the King of everything invites, no requires, us – his subjects and also his dearly loved children – to climb up in his lap and talk to him. And that is the attitude we have to approach God with. When we pray we are not presenting a genie with a wish list; we are approaching the throne of Almighty God both humbly and boldly. Humbly because, if we have any sense at all, we will tremble just a bit at the thought of approaching a holy God. Boldly because we have been adopted into the family of God and approach him as a dearly loved child.

We can approach him boldly, but we must never forget that we do not pray primarily to get what we want. We can and should ask our Father for what we need and even want, but the primary purpose of prayer is intimacy with the Almighty.

There are some other spiritual disciplines that can help foster this intimacy with Christ. Solitude and silence tend to go together quite well. Get alone with God – for prayer, for meditation, for time in the scriptures. And sometimes make it silent time – we don’t have to have the radio or tv on all the time. Having your devotional time in a corner of Starbucks or on the bus is ok on occasion, but not all the time. Solitude and silence create an atmosphere in which we can more easily hear God.

The final spiritual disciple I want to talk about here is a rather unpopular one in our country – fasting. I’m not a big fan myself – I don’t miss many meals. But fasting has been used throughout the generations to grow closer to our Maker. In Drawing Close to God author Stephen Eyre says, “Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is broader than our quiet times. We may set aside half an hour for a quiet time, but a fast goes through a day or more. It is a helpful tool, however, because as a spiritual discipline, fasting enhances our spiritual sensitivity. …Like no other discipline, fasting involves all of me, body and soul, in the pursuit of God. When my body is hungry, my appetite working overtime and my will wavering, I am reminded that I have chosen God above all other desires. Hunger actually becomes my friend. Every hunger pang I feel reminds me to lift my requests to God. Each food commercial is an opportunity to say no to food and yes to God.”

Fasting does not have to be an entire day without food. Some people simply skip a meal or two. Others skip kinds of foods – a favorite that they are likely to crave if they abstain for very long. Whatever you decide to do just be sure that you are, as Jesus warned, doing everything for the right reason. And consult with your doctor before trying anything too extreme.

I’m not going to ask anyone to fast – you’re going to have to decide for yourself if that’s for you or not – but I am going to ask you to do something with all of this. Do you spend time in the word pretty much every day? If not, that’s where you need to start. If you do, move up the chain of involvement with the Bible at least one step. If you don’t already, start spending time in prayer – not just frantic prayers for help throughout the day but disciplined, intentional prayer. Try to get away from the noise of life at least a couple of times a week and spend time in silence and solitude with the Lord.

In committing to change, don’t get too ambitious or you’re likely to give up. As Kent Hughes points out in his Disciplines of a Godly Man, it is far better to start out with 15 minutes a day – read for 5 minutes, reflect on what you read for 5 minutes, and then pray about what you read for 5 minutes. As you get into the habit, your time commitment will probably grow, but start small. And if you can’t do it seven days a week, do what you can and grow from there. If you’re committing to study the word, you may find that you can only do that a couple of days a week – that’s fine! Just commit to moving into greater familiarity with God’s word and therefore with God.

I know some of you are wondering where you could possibly find another 15 minutes in your day. It may be time to prioritize. What is more important – knowing your God and Savior more or SportsCenter? Maybe you have to spend less time with the newspaper. Maybe you need to pick a tv show to give up. Guys, if your wife happens to be the mother of a small child, you might need to ask her if you can help her make some time in her day. Maybe there is one particular chore you can take over; maybe it’ll be something different everyday. Men we are responsible for our wives’ spiritual growth, so we need to make sure we make room in their lives for that growth.

Finally, don't expect to "feel different" — especially not overnight. The day will come when you actually want to sit down with your Bible instead of the newspaper. But that may not happen for two months. And when it does happen, the next day it may be harder than usual to get yourself to open your Bible. These things are called spiritual disciplines for a reason. But if you invest in this, the reward will be far greater than what you put in.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What is the Meaning of Life?

Why are we here? Why are we on this earth? Pretty much everyone asks that question at some time in their life. Just about every society has had an answer to that question. Ours, however, doesn’t seem to offer one. In fact, there are a number of popular philosophies that assert that there is no reason why we are here. To them, life is without meaning or purpose. Oddly enough, the chief proponents of these philosophies tend to commit suicide.

We have a better answer than that: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him” (Psalm 33:8).

What God wants from everyone in the world is for us to fear and revere him. However you want to phrase it — God’s will for your life, the meaning of life, your purpose — it all boils down to one simple concept. We are supposed to know God more and more and seek to help others know him. Let’s refine it a little more. “God” can be so broadly applied; many think just believing in some concept of God is enough to get a person to heaven. It’s not. So let’s take any ambiguity out of it.

The reason you and I are on this earth is to know God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and make him known.

Let’s look at this concept a little closer. In Genesis chapter 3 we get an interesting picture of God. He comes to visit with Adam after the day’s work is done — just to chat. This shows that we were made to commune with him.

In Jeremiah, the Lord says, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me..." (9:23-24).

Skip forward to Jesus’ life. We all know John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus came, lived, and died so that we could have everlasting life.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, he prayed, “... This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Eternal life is more than heaven; it's knowing God. So Jesus came, lived and died so that we could know God. That's how big a deal this is.

It is amazing that a holy God would want us to know Him. Our triune God was perfectly happy communing with himself before making us, and yet he decided to create us, knowing the price that would eventually have to be paid so that he could have a relationship with us. Is it not amazing that we are invited into a closer relationship with God Almighty? He created us — for no good reason. He redeemed us out of the goodness of his heart — what more could we ask for? And yet he says he wants more — for us to know him. This is the reason we were made. This is the reason we were saved. It is the reason we exist.

Paul demonstrated this for us when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ …” (Philippians 1:21). We’ve all seen shirts saying things like “football is life” or “golf is life;” Paul’s t-shirt would say, “Christ is life.” Those for whom football is life are obsessed with the game. They watch it, read about it, think about it, and talk about it as often as they possibly can. It consumes them. Paul was consumed by Christ. He made his life about knowing Jesus more and more.

How can we do the same? Paul left us a glimpse into his mind that can help us to have his attitude.

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Phil 3:8). Everything Paul had that the world might consider of value — family, possessions, renown, pride, his own life — he looked at as garbage when compared to the “surpassing greatness” of knowing Christ more. Much as the choice between a moldy piece of bread or a steak is a no-brainer for most of us, when it came time to choose between Jesus and something else, for Paul there was no choice.

But it is not enough to simply know God. We are to share him. Jesus commanded us, “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

When the man who had been host to the legion of demons became a disciple of Jesus, the Lord’s instructions to him were not to build a church, tithe, or start an anti-abortion campaign. His instructions to that man were, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). This is not to say that building a church, tithing, or starting an anti-abortion campaign are bad — far from. But that is not what is most important to Jesus. God’s will for every Christian’s life can be stated quite simply: Know God and make him known.

Why does this matter? It’s said, “There's no point in carrying the ball unless you know where the goal is.” But knowing your purpose in life can help you filter through all the clutter and see what is important. Many Christians are looking for "God's will for my life." This is it. The truth is, in most cases, God isn't hung up on the details. And if he is, he'll let you know. As one pastor put it, most of the time, finding God's will for your life is like looking for hay in a haystack. Just pick one!

If you are doing something or if you are contemplating doing something, and if you cannot see how it could help you know God more or make him known, you don’t need to be doing it — it is out of “God’s will for your life.” If what you are doing or want to do can help you know God more and make him known, then it's good.

So the question for us all is, "Right now am I doing anything to know God and make him known?" Next time we'll look at ways to do that.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Did Jesus Say Nothing About Homosexuality?

I'm loathe to get onto this topic again, but in the wake of the Duck Dynasty/homosexuality controversy, I feel like we need to look at an objection that so frequently appears in these discussions.

The pro-same-sex marriage crowd, whether Christian or not, likes to say that Jesus never condemned homosexuality — therefore it isn't a sin. And there is no record of Jesus ever explicitly mentioning homosexuality.

He did one better.

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person" (Matt 15:19-20a).

What did Jesus mean by "sexual immorality?" He was pointing the Mosaic Law, to Leviticus 18. Your Bible probably has a heading for the section like "unlawful sexual relations." That is sexual immorality. The chapter covers incest (in some detail), adultery, bestiality, and homosexuality. Jesus condemned all of those sins in one fell swoop.

I can hear the objections already: "But that's the Old Testament. If you're going to apply those rules, you have to apply the ones about eating shellfish and mixing fabrics. Jesus said, 'not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law.'"

I love it when y'all quote the Bible, and I'm glad you brought up that passage. It actually explains why we don't have to worry about shellfish and polyester. The entire verse says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt 5:17-18 emphasis added).

The Law will not pass away, but most of it has been fulfilled.

Jesus himself, in the first passage I quoted, threw out the dietary rules, and probably the whole "holiness code." The parallel passage in Mark explicitly says, "Thus he declared all foods clean" (7:19). Simply touching something or eating something doesn't defile you, he says; it's what you decide to do.

The rest of the New Testament takes that view of the Law. Hebrews describes it as an illustration that was put in place until a "new order" was established by Christ (9:8-10, 10:1-12). Paul said it was given to teach us about sin until Christ (Rom 7:7-13, Gal 3:19). When the apostles had to determine what part of the Old Testament applied to Christians, they said, "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality" (Acts 15:24-29). There's that word again.

There are different parts of the Law of Moses. Some of it was supposed to tell them how to run a country; it gave them their legal system. Some of it was to make them realize how hard it is to come to God and how dirty we are just because we're human. Those parts don't apply anymore. They've served their purpose. The moral instructions — the ten commandments, the rules about sexual immorality, the rules about mistreating the poor and your neighbor, etc. — still apply.

So to sum up, Jesus condemned "sexual immorality," which includes homosexuality, in a way that lets us off the hook for shellfish and polyester.

I can hear the next objection: "But when he said that, he did also mentioned 'evil thoughts, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, slander.'"

Yes, that's a great point. All of those thing defile us.

But there's only one thing in that list people are trying to make into a good thing. There's one thing people are trying to tell us we can't call sin. It's not murder. It's not slander. It's not adultery (though that's probably coming soon).

The truth is, homosexual relations are only one sin out of many that defile people. We should want to stamp out greed and theft and covetousness. Homosexual relations are not a special sin. But it's one that is hateful to God and destructive to the sinner, and yet we're being told we can't call it a sin.

I was a child during the "greed is good" era. I don't know how the Church responded to it. I hope there were many voices crying out that greed is not only not good, it is evil and toxic.

You know what else greed is? It's natural. Humans, in their natural state, are greedy. Humans are also lustful — where do you think adultery comes from? They're selfish and petty and violent.

There are a lot of things that come naturally to human beings that are wrong. Jesus died to put them all to death. But he requires us to call them sin and then to repent.

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Related:
Hate the Sin ...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Should I Give?

Christianity Today asks "Should I Give a Cow or Cash for Christmas?" They look at giving to the poor in the world via animals, cash (whether as gifts or loans), and digging water wells. It's well worth reading.

If you want to give an animal, cash, or water, I'd like to commend World Vision to you out of the many good options. That's where our family gives.

For your convenience, Heifer International is another popular place to give.