Tag Archives: Belief

Christians can’t add to the “believe me” culture

unknown-1By now we all know the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Whether you’re on the right or left, Republican or Democrat, American or a citizen of another country, Christian or another religion or no religion, there must be concern about the increasingly subjective nature of truth. When facts, evidence, logic, and cause and effect are set aside and replaced with “believe me,” we must be skeptical of the one who is asking for our blind trust. We wouldn’t get on a bicycle outfitted with wings and just believe if someone told us that it could fly. Facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect tell us that a bicycle, although outfitted with wings, cannot fly, no matter how much someone tells us to believe that it can.

I could be talking only about politics but the same is true in our churches. Our churches cannot be places where facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect are set aside for a “believe me” stance. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, we cannot proclaim biblical truth, gospel truth, as a “just believe me” kind of truth. We have to value our integrity and the integrity of the message we proclaim better than that.

A 2013 study by Gallop showed that trust that American have in their pastors, ministers and clergy has plummeted in recent years. In the study only 47% of Americans gave clergy a “very high” or “high” rating on honesty and ethics;  that number has dropped from 67% in 1985. That number was even lower for those ages 18-34, with only 34% rating clergy “very high” or “high” in honesty and ethics. In an already skeptical generation, 7 out of 10 do not see pastors and ministers as honest or ethical. We have much work to do here.  There have been enough politicians who have lied, corporate CEOs who have stolen and pastors who have fallen to make the most trusting person cynical and skeptical. As Christians, not just clergy, we have to commit to living honest and ethical lives. This isn’t following moral rules for morality’s sake but so that in a world that appears unreliable, we must stand out as reliable, truthful and trust worthy.

As I am now preparing sermons each week, I am more aware than ever of the need to be deliberate in showing that, while the message of Jesus takes faith, it is not a faith devoid from facts, evidence and logic. It is a far different thing to show that the message of Jesus is true rather than just saying that the message of Jesus is true. I may not get it right all the time, but I hope that I am at least aware and thinking about it. Showing the message of Jesus to be true begins with a life lived true to the message of Jesus from the inside- out, showing how it connects to every area of life, how the truths of scripture match our observations of reality and not just saying  “believe me.”

(And here I’ll quote my sources in order to be honest and ethical: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/december/seven-people-americans-trust-more-pastor-gallup-honesty.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/trust-in-clergy-gallup-poll_n_4468205.html)

Fall To Grace, Not From It

This time it’s Perry Noble.

Perry Noble was founding and Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. NewSpring is a mega-mega church 17 campuses and a weekly attendance of around 30,000 people. Perry was removed as Lead Pastor of NewSpring after admitting to alcoholism and “unfortunate choices.” It is a sad time for NewSpring Church and for the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have heard Perry Noble preach. I  have also heard and read things about his church and ministry that have caused me pause and made me question his orthodoxy in certain areas. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I pray that he had been genuinely engaging people with the gospel.

This isn’t the first high-profile pastor that has made a mistake. In recent memory  we have seen Mark Driscoll resign from Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 removed him from the organization (even thought he founded Acts 29) because of controversy surrounding, what has been called, abusive behavior toward church members, ex-church members and ex-staff. Mars Hill Church then announced that it would dissolve and sell all 14 campuses.

We have also seen the fall of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s grandson) who resigned after confessing t0 extramarital affairs. There’s also the revelation from Naghmeh Abedini who filed for separation from her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was the Irania American pastor imprisoned in Iran because of “allegations of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.”

As I mention these three “high-profile” examples, I’m sure you know of others- both locally, nationally and internationally (like South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho who was convicted of embezzling $12 million from his church).

With all these example of pastors falling from grace, what are we to do? What do we do as Christ followers? What do we do as church leaders?

There is a lot that could be said, but I believe it can be boiled down to one overarching idea: fall to grace, not from it.

The phrase is not unique to me and it summarizes many of the other points. It reminds us that we all need grace. We are all sinners saved by grace. And we continually need grace because, though we are saved sinners, there is still the desire to sin within us. All of us are one mistake, one bad decision, one lapse of judgment away from being a thief, murderer or adulterer. That realization is a sobering one. It’s only by pressing into Jesus and falling into God’s grace each moment that helps us put to death the sinful nature and walk in the Spirit.

When we fall into the temptation that our strength, our ministry, our very life are derived from anywhere else but Christ, we move one step closer to falling from grace- in the eyes of those around us; we can never fall from God’s grace. When we don’t continually fall into God’s grace, rest in him and rely on his strength, we find that we will be let down by others and we will let others down.

I can’t say that I will never make a mistake. I can’t say that I will never let my wife, my children or my church down. I can’t say that I will never say the wrong thing. But I can say (because I believe it to be true) that the further I fall into grace, the harder it will be to fall from it.

 

References:

Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response” by Ed Stetzer

How a Megachurch Melts Down” by Ruth Graham

Tullian Tchividjian Confesses Second Affair Concealed by Two Coral Ridge Elders” by Morgan Lee

The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations” by Bob Smietana

Falling Off the Precipice: A Brave Easter

Unknown-1I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book The Road to Character. The book seeks the develop what Brooks calls the Adam II part of us. The Adam II part of us is “the internal Adam,” the part of us that wants “to embody certain moral qualities” (xii). Brooks believes that, as a society, we have failed to make the development of the Adam II part of us a priory. He challenges us to make it a priority by examining the biographical narrative and inner character of people throughout history. People like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Eliot and Augustine.

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In his chapter on Augustine, brooks crafts a sentence that, if you are follower of Jesus, immediately forces you to take an account of your own life. In telling the story of Augustine’s conversion journey from a life of worldly but unfulfilling success to one of Christian faith and service, Brooks says Augustine “hung on an emotional precipice between a religious life he was afraid to sacrifice for and a secular life he detested but would not renounce.” 201

The picture Brooks’ thought creates is vivid. And I believe most of us stand exactly where Augustine stood. We stand on the precipice, the edge, having come too far to go back but unable to fully let go and jump.

So we stand, afraid to let go. Afraid to commit. Afraid of what it’ll look like to others. Afraid of the reality that when both feet leave the edge there’s no going back.

But that’s exactly what God calls those that want to follow him to do: jump. Commit. Let go. Surrender.

This isn’t Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” rather it is the decision to choose the things of God wholly, fully and completely and let go of (renounce) the things that appear to give security but are ultimately unfulfilling.

But just like Augustine, we are afraid to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God because of the sacrifice that choice requires. We find that we are much more like the “rich young ruler” than Zaccheus- we just can’t bring ourselves to the sacrifice required.

What is it that God requires from us? What are the sacrifices we are afraid to make? There are different things for each individual. But there are sacrifices God calls all his followers to: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and sacrificial love of neighbor.

If we desire to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God, how can we do it? How can we be sure that the sacrifice will be worth it? In one sense we have to take it on faith. In another, however, we have the ultimate confidence that we are able to completely choose the things of God and do so confidently because of the resurrection of Jesus. In the Resurrection, we behold the ultimate proof that God’s word is true and that God’s word is powerful. It is the Resurrection that allows us to wholly, fully, completely and bravely choose the things of God and let go of the old life. In the Resurrection, God, through Jesus, defeated all enemies and gave all power, authority and dominion to Jesus.

If Jesus has everything, where is our hesitation to commit wholly, fully and completely to Jesus? One answers is that we continually choose lesser loves over the one great love that we find in Jesus. Holy Week invites us to fix our attention on the great love of God, the love that gave Jesus over to death on a cross. It invites us to re-commit ourselves wholly, fully and completely to the things of God and renounce the old life that we detest but somehow always entices us.

The challenge is for you and I to enter into God’s invitation and to choose that whatever sacrifice is asked of us, we have the bravery to embrace it because of the Resurrection.

 

-Bibliography

Brooks, David. The Road to Character. Random House. 2015.

Rejection, Compassion and Being Brave

Sometimes I still get a few butterflies in my stomach when I hit the “publish” button at the end of writing a post. There’s something about spending time writing, editing and crafting something then putting it out into the world for others to see, interact with and, potentially, to reject. When you put a little piece of yourself out for others to examine, some will accept it while others will reject it- that’s just the reality.

Beyond writing, this idea of putting ourselves out for others to examine impacts areas of our lives ranging from a school presentation, to a sales pitch, to asking someone on a date, to sharing an opinion, idea or aspect of your faith. The phrase “to yourself out there” even implies the sense of the unknown and with the unknown comes fear.

A few months ago I read the book Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang. In the book, he makes a revealing statement, “I rejected my own ideas before they could be rejected by the world.” I think that’s were most of us land. We reject ourselves and our own ideas before we ever “put them out there” for others.

But why? We could come up with several reasons but I think one of the major reasons is because we believe that whatever we put out there isn’t important or worth anything for anyone else.

What if we did have something that was worth everything? Would that make us braver about putting ourselves out there? Studies don’t support that, at least when it comes to following Jesus. The Reveal study found that of those they classify as “Christ-Centered” (the highest level of spiritual maturity) almost 80% said that they “strongly agree that they love God more than anything.” But only 20% said that they invited six or more non-Christians to church in the last year and only 40% said that had six or more meaningful spiritual conversations with non-Christians in the last year. (Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, 86-87).

Those numbers show the disconnect that exists within the lives of even the most spiritually mature followers of Jesus. If God were truly the most important thing, the thing that worth everything, wouldn’t that impact those around us? I think we would all agree that it should, but why doesn’t it?

Again, we could come up with many potential reasons but what it comes down to is two possibilities: 1. We don’t really love God more than anything    2. We love ourselves (our reputation, our comfort, our security, our status quo, our churches) more than we love people around us.

In the Gospel of Matthew, four times it says Jesus saw the people and was moved with compassion for them and twice Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.”

When I put myself out there because of compassion for you, because you matter, because I want what’s best for you then maybe I can be braver in what I say and how I live. I no longer have to have you validate the worth of what I put out. Yes, rejection can still happen and it can still hurt but at least it’s rejection for being brave and it’s a step beyond rejecting myself.

To put yourself out there requires bravery. To love God more than anything requires bravery. Compassion requires bravery. We need more bravery.

Where do you need to brave?

 

Sermon or Sound Bite? Let’s Talk About the Kingdom: Part 2

This blog series is about the kingdom, so let’s talk about the kingdom. In Part 1, I argued that the way in which we view the world actually tells us a lot about the way we view the kingdom of God and our role within it. If we look at the world through pessimism or evilism (a word I created) and if we look at ourselves as guerrilla warrior against an evil establishment rather than ambassadors for the king, then we really don’t believe that Jesus is king right here and right now. What is unmistakable in Scripture is the belief that Jesus is, in fact, king right here and right now.

This leads us to the question of this post: how do we talk about our king? As ambassadors of the king, how do we herald the message of the kingdom?

I once heard a business man say that every business and sales man or woman needs to have a fifteen second speech ready at all times so that in the time it takes to get one floor on an elevator, one can make a concise and clear pitch. As followers of Jesus, are we able to do the same thing? Can we give a concise and clear kingdom message in fifteen seconds? What would we say?


How do we herald the message of the kingdom?


In a sermon series from June 2014, Andy Stanley asked a similar question and he proposed a response: “I believe Jesus died for my sin and rose from the dead, but  not because the Bible says so. I believe because Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James and Paul said so. They were eyewitnesses and friends of eyewitnesses.” This response would work in certain settings, however, it requires the recipient to have a basic knowledge of the Bible and Christian belief. They would have to know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are, for example. Additionally, outside of mentioning Jesus dying for my sins, it does not mention what it means for the hearer or for the world. And, to be fair, the question Andy Stanley was addressing was “How can you believe…” instead of “What do you believe…?”

When you and I try to answer the “What do you believe?” question, the response can easy become unwieldy. Do we start with God? Creation? Jesus? Sin? Our own story? From there do we talk about forgiveness, faith or justification? How do we end? It’s easy to see how the person who asked the question could end up getting a sermon they have to wade through and not a sound bite that they can remember and think about.


Sermon or sound bite?


I don’t think there is a single answer that works for everyone in every circumstance but as I have thought about this all week, I think I have developed an answer that works for me (and it was surprisingly hard).

You’re a Christian, what do you believe? I believe a perfect God made a perfect world; human beings became prideful and greedy and broke our relationship with God but God sent Jesus to show us what God is like, what the world was supposed to be like and to make a way for us to have a relationship with God again.

That is about an fifteen second answer. It may not be perfect but it tells the problem and the solution, it’s easy to remember and it leaves room for follow up questions.

Now it’s your turn. What is your fifteen second kingdom message?

 

Power, Faith and Doubting God

Throughout this blog, I have tried to be honest about my struggle with doubt. In fact I have called 2015 the Year of Doubts. During the year I have “doubted” Easter, church music and good works. I have also looked at the stages of doubt and Jesus’ disciple Thomas, who has ever been labeled as “Doubting Thomas.” When I have used the word doubt in these contexts what I have really been trying to do is take an honest and fresh look at some of the aspects of my faith. As I wrote in my opening Year of Doubts post: “I haven’t lost my faith. I’m not leaving Christianity or the Church/ church. I’m not even somehow testing the claims of God, Jesus and the Bible. What I am doing is being open about my doubt- what I don’t know, what I don’t understand, what I cannot explain and what question I have.”

My posts haven’t been about doubting God but rather the ways that we have made God work (or limited God to work) through our religious systems.

That’s until I realized that I am in the midst of doubting God right now.

I’ve been working through a process for a couple of years now of trying to discern if God is calling me in a particular direction. I still don’t know what God might be leading me to do but I know that I didn’t really believe that God could do it. I didn’t believe that God could make the vision work. God could issue the call and give the vision but God couldn’t actually make it work. My thoughts, fears and prayers have been focused on whether or not God has the power to do the things God calls us to do.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever experienced this kind of doubt. God has an inconvenient habit of asking those who believe in him to do the things that seem, at first glance, to be too crazy, too grand or too consequential. Perhaps it is fair to say that when God calls us to a specific task it’s one that seems either too big for us or too small for us. Either way, I think God calls us to tasks for the purpose of seeing if we trust God; to see if we believe God is powerful enough to do the task God has assigned.

It’s God’s power, however, that I have a hard time believing.

Paul the Apostle by Rembrandt, 1633

Paul the Apostle by Rembrandt, 1633

A couple of days ago, I was reading in Ephesians and I began to see the way I have been doubting God and God’s power. At the end of chapter one, the Apostle Paul prays several things for the Ephesian church and the Ephesian Christians, one of which is that they will know the “surpassing greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe.” Then, in typical Pauline fashion, he elaborates on God’s power so extensively that it appears he has moved on to another topic. However, Paul wants his reader to fully understand what kind of power it is that God has toward the believer. Paul first says that the power at God’s disposal is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, seated Jesus at God’s right hand, gave Jesus all authority and placed everything under Jesus’ rule. That would be enough, but Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues by describing God’s power as the same power that took you and I, people dead in sin, and made us alive (just as Jesus is alive), raised us up and seated us with Jesus where Jesus is seated in the place of supreme rule and authority. Paul also goes through great lengths to show that this power comes completely from God- there’s no power you and I bring to the table.

Paul is clear in his message: God possesses great power. God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead and give him all power and authority and God has to power to take people dead in sin, make them alive and place them where Jesus, himself, sits. If God has the power to do that, then God has to power to make what seems too crazy, too big or too small, not only possible, but a proven certainty.

imagesPaul also says that this is the power that God has “toward” us. It’s the power the pushes us, like wind in the sails of a ship. A ship cannot make wind but if the wind is blowing toward the ship, the ship can use its sails to be pushed by the wind. It is similar with you and I. It wasn’t our power that raised Jesus from the dead and it wasn’t our power that moved us from death into life- it was God’s power. We do not have God’s power stored inside us somewhere, waiting to be released; God alone controls God’s power and we simply want to have our proverbial sails ready if and when God blows that power in our direction.

When you and I doubt God’s power to accomplish the task God has given us, what we are really saying is that God may have the power to raise Christ from the dead and give Christ all power and authority and God may have the power to give us life and seat us with Christ in the place of power and authority but God doesn’t have the power to meet a financial need, to bring the right people to a team, to find the right location, to help us communicate God’s vision, to take a step away from the spotlight, to serve- or whatever our fears and anxieties may be when we think about the task God has before us. To say it another way, we are saying God has the power to save me for eternity but God doesn’t have the power to help me accomplish God’s calling on earth.

When we look at it in those words, our doubts seem awfully silly. It becomes one of those times where our emotions and fears don’t line up with our knowledge and logic. When this happens, our only response is to rest in faith that God does indeed have the power to accomplish all that God wants to accomplish. And that is true even when God decides to use imperfect human beings like you and like me.

Second Story: Moses and a Dark Past

One fact is that true of every person is that each one has a life story. Everyone has a story about where their family came from, where they themselves came from and how the events and circumstances, both good and bad, have made them who they are and have brought them to the place of life they are in.

Everyone has a story.

However, as Christians we have something that not every person has- we have a second story. We are people who have a story of our pasts and the things that formed us but we also have another story. We have a story about they way God has changed our lives. We are people of a story but we are also people of a second story.

Each of our stories are different. We have different family histories, different joys and different struggles but there are similarities too. There is a part of every person’s story with which someone else can relate. One of the beautiful things about scripture is that we can relate to the lives of each person recorded.


We are people of a story but are also people of a second story.


When we read scripture we find people of faith and courage. We find people who prayed big prayers, won great battles and trusted God when the whole world was seemingly stacked against them. But we also see people who were- for lack of a better word- jacked up. We see the men and women of scripture doing things that would make Tony Soprano or Walter White blush. We see them make mistakes and fail to live up to what they know to be right. In short, they are very much like us and because they are like us we can see ourselves in their lives.

This series is about seeing ourselves and our stories in the stories of the people that fill our Bibles. We will see how each of them had a first story and see how God gave them a different story, a second story, by redeeming their past, their present or their future.

There are a lot of places to begin in looking at the idea of a second story, but we will begin with Moses. If we plotted the highs and lows of Moses’ first story, we would see a picture that resembles a mountain range- dramatic lows, followed by dramatic highs, followed by dramatic lows. Born under the threat of immediate death (low), Moses is miraculously saved by the daughter of Pharaoh and adopted as an Egyptian (high). He then murders an Egyptian (low), but thinks he got away with it (high) until he discovers the word is out and is forced to flee as a fugitive (low). Moses had some darkness in his past to say the least.

It’s in the state of being an exile and a fugitive that God calls Moses. God wants Moses to do the crazy- go back to Egypt (the place he ran from), confront Pharaoh and tell him to release from slavery a large portion of his labor force. Why? Because God, who Pharaoh doesn’t know, (and remember, Pharaoh was thought to be the son of the gods) said so.


The real darkness in Moses’ past wasn’t his actions, the real darkness was Moses’ own identity.


I don’t find it surprising that Moses has a few questions for God. What I find interesting is that Moses doesn’t question the mission, rather he questions why Pharaoh or his own people would listen to him. The real darkness in Moses’ past wasn’t his actions, as dark as they were, the real darkness was Moses’ own identity. Although he was raised as an Egyptian, he obviously knew he was a Hebrew and probably didn’t fit in with either group. Slaves don’t like when one of there own becomes one of the elite and the elite don’t like when a slave becomes one of their own. When Moses fled and married Jethro’s daughter, he had what he never had before- a family, a purpose (shepherding the flock) and a place to belong.

In Midian Moses was finally someone but in Egypt he was no one. That’s why, when Moses talked with God, he didn’t bring up the murder he had committed, but the fear that no one would listen to anything he had to say.

And yet God wanted to change Moses and give him a second story. It’s a story where Moses boldly confronts Pharaoh to free the Hebrew people and lead the newly freed slaves through trial after trial until he takes them to the very edge of the Promised Land.

Some of us may have some pretty dark actions in our past. Some of us don’t. But probably all of us have felt the tug in our hearts to do something or say something and have thought, “No one is going to listen to me.” To reassure Moses, God told Moses God’s name and gave him signs to show the people. We have even more than Moses. We have Jesus who reflects God’s very nature and in Jesus’ resurrection we have the ultimate sign of God’s power. Moses had to go onto a mountain to meet with God, in the Holy Spirit we have God’s presence with us at all times. God gave Moses laws on stone but we have God’s law written on our hearts. We’re jealous that Moses physically saw the burning bush and heard God speak but Moses would be jealous of the revelation and the power given to us. In fact, Scripture says that Moses foresaw the day of Jesus Christ and longed for it.

If you’re first story is a story of a dark past like Moses, whether dark actions or a dark identity, God can redeem the past and still write an amazing second story. God is a God of the second story.

How has God, or how is God, redeeming your past?