I’m Tired… Tired of Christianity

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Like you, I read several online papers, I keep track of social media.  I even subscribe to 3 email alerts each day for news items with the words, “church,” “pastor,” and “faith.”  I understand the brokenness of the world.  And I understand the limitations of the church.  But it seems like something else has happened.  We have built a system of faith that is making me tired.

So, on this December 20th morning, at 4 a.m. I confess: I’m getting a little tired of the Christianity we have constructed.

  1. I’m tired of a Christianity that believes in the kingdoms of this world to solve the world’s issues.
  2. I’m tired of a Christianity that relegates Jesus to the corner of our existence, instead of being Lord of all.
  3. I’m tired of a Christianity that offers tricks, tips and strategies for improving our lot, rather than leading others to the Jesus who comes to bring life.
  4. I’m tired of a Christianity that snipes at itself instead of learning to submit to one another for the sake of reconciliation.
  5. I’m tired of a Christianity that allows anger to motivate a call to justice, instead of love.
  6. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not distinct from the world in its words and ways.
  7. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not engaged enough with the world and doesn’t hear its questions.
  8. I’m tired of a Christianity that explains away the hard things Jesus said, instead of wrestling with them with open hearts.
  9. I’m tired of a Christianity that doesn’t look for the miraculous, but trusts in the mechanical.
  10. I’m tired of a Christianity that Jesus isn’t invited into and depended upon to lead.

I confess, I’m a co-conspirator.  I’ve helped build this Christianity.  I’ve chased human dreams sanctified by holy words.  It makes me sad and tired.  We’ve traded away our birthright for a pot of stew.

I’m not tired of Jesus.  I don’t think we make a big enough deal over him.

I’m not tired of the community Jesus started, the church. I love her and have big hopes for her.

I’m not tired of serving. I want to serve those Jesus loves and died to give life to.

Maybe Christmas is a good time to admit we’re tired and from there we can seek a quiet, humble, and prayerful way back to His path.  I think there we will find rest.

What are you tired of?  Is there a way back?

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.  

4 Reasons Fewer Christians Might Be a Good Thing

Where have all the Christians gone?

 

 A new research study was just published on the Pew Research Forum website.  You can find it here.  To sum it up, the religious score in America is in:  Hindus, Muslims, Atheists and Agnostics are up.  Christians are down.
This surely shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watches the news, reads the paper, has set foot on a school campus, or even watches popular TV.  And for anyone in Christian ministry, it is abundantly clear.  More and more people are less and less rooted in the culture, ethic and story of the Bible.
Rather than bemoan these results as many Christians will, or use these stats to marginalize a biblical faith as many are doing, I believe these results can strengthen our mission as Christians.
1)  First, it reminds us the self-professing is not enough.
This survey, like all surveys are answered by people who “self-report.”  They tell whether or not they are Christians.  This is really an unrealiable measurement.  I’ve had many people who have told me they had a particular church home.  But when I asked how often they attend, or if they are involved, they give me a sheepish grin.  They realize they’ve been caught.  Real affiliation isn’t a label, but a commitment.   
 There are many who would call themselves Christian, though Jesus wouldn’t call them Christian.  Jesus warned of that himself.
Matthew 7:21-23  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdo of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
Self-reporting isn’t enough.  We need to inspect the fruit of our lives.  That brings us to the next point.
2)  Second, it makes us redefine what being a Christian is.
This survey may shake us at first glance.  But it should cause us to be a little introspective.  After all, “what is a Christian?”  Our affiliation may or may not be an expression of our faith.  I read an article this last week from a lady, who is an atheist and she wants to hang onto the traditions of her Episcopal upbringing without confessing Christ.  Huh!  I guess, at least she’s honest.  But she’s not Christian.  What is a Christian?
A Christian personally confess (believes in) Christ as Lord (God, the Divine).  In Romans 10:9-10 Paul summed it up, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Lest we think this was just “Paul’s opinion.”  Confession is important to Jesus too.  In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me beforemen, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  This is why people would rather take a sword to the throat then deny Christ.
A Christian is a disciple (learner) who obeys (follows) Christ.  We can’t divorce what we believe from what we do.  In John 3:36, John warned, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (we like this part); whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (ouch!).”
Ok, so now we know what a Christian is, even if imperfectly.  That should motivate all of us self-professing Christians to reevaluate where our loyalty lies.
There is another good thing about this survey of fewer Christians.
3)  Third, it confronts us that we live in a big mission field.
It is a big reality check.  Are there really fewer Christians, or are we just departing a cultural Christianity that kept us all numb to the fact of this nations “lostness”?  It may be a little of both.  Either way, we now know, as the church that we need to be on the mission that God gave us.  That mission is not to make the world feel Christian.  That mission, in the words of Jesus is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded.  And I will be with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).”
We don’t have to go to another country to share about Christ, though we should.  We just have to go the Jewel, McDonalds, the YMCA and yes, even church.  People who are lost are no longer “out there” somewhere.  They are here.  They are with us.  And in some instances, they may be us.
One last reason this study about fewer Christans might be good is…
4)  Fourth, it gives us an opportunity to be different and make a difference.
Remember Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… (Matthew 5:13-14).”  We can’t count on culture to make the difference we should personally be making.  We are commanded by Christ to be transformed by His Spirit.  When that transformation takes place, the world will notice.  Some won’t like it.  Some will be indifferent to it.  But some will be attracted to a life of purpose, love, joy and hope.  And we will have a clear answer when asked, “Why?”  It is the work of Christ, by the grace of God.
The truth is, I don’t want fewer Christians.  I want everyone to be restored to God through Christ, just as God does.  I also don’t want to lose my heritage of living in a land where it is easy to be a Christan.  But more than being comfortable, I want the real, powerful gospel of Christ to bring life to those who are lost.  And the first step to that usually begins when people know they are on the other side of grace.  That’s how it happened to me.

5 Ways to Make Your Grandkids Proud: Lessons from Hall of Famer

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This last week player Deacon White was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is the great Grandfather of a man in my church, Jerry Watkins. Jerry had the opportunity to give the speech at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown. He did a great job and he should be proud.

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Here’s a link to the speech on the MLB.com website. http://wapc.mlb.com/play?content_id=29228835

It’s worth listening to!

Most people know I’m not an avid sports fan. But this was a moving tribute from a great grandson for a man he never knew. And as I’ve thought about it the past day or so, I began to think about what my great grandkids will say about us. Have you ever wondered that? What is the legacy you’re leaving behind?

And so, from Jerry and “Deacon’s” example, I came up with this list of 5 things we can do to make our grandkids proud!

1) Be a professional sports star! It’s just awesome to have someone in our family someone who is a cultural hero. What little boy wouldn’t look up to such a grandpa? Okay, so it might be too late or you may not have the gifts or opportunities for such achievement. What else can we do? Suggestions 2 to 5 may be more appropriate for you.

2) Be good at what you do! Deacon played baseball in a day when no one wore baseball gloves. He was a catcher. He had a record of being good at what he did. Whether you’re a business man, a janitor, or a preacher, or a stay-at-home Mom. There is honor in honing our skills. There is a lot of mediocrity in our world. People who do their thing well make a mark. People remember them. And it is part of leaving a legacy of a good name.

3) Distinguish yourself from the crowd. Deacon’s name wasn’t Deacon. His name was James Laurie White. His teammates gave him the nickname Deacon. He had a reputation for being different. In a day of rabble rouser baseball players; he read the Bible; he didn’t cuss at the umpires; he didn’t drink alcohol. Instead of making the baseball culture making its mark on him, he made his mark on baseball. We leave a record to be honored, when we do what we do differently from everyone else.

4) Live for a bigger purpose. Deacon loved baseball, but his life was about something bigger than baseball. This was important because after baseball he lived another 50 years or so. He was a Christian. He raised his family to know and serve Christ. He lived a whole life of serving God by serving others.

5) Start young. Deacon didn’t wait to become a grandpa before he started building a legacy. He did it as he made the first professional baseball hit ever at the age of 23. Legacies aren’t built at the end of our lives. They are built throughout our lives. Now, if you think you’re past your prime. All I can say is, start now! And give your grandkids something new to be proud of.

There are good and bad examples all around us of grandparents who leave an impact for good or ill. Like Deacon, we can live a life worthy of commendation by those who come after us. It probably won’t be a moving speech like Deacon got, but it will be a comment, a memory shared, and a word of thanks to God for your life and legacy.

Thanks Jerry for sharing your great-Grandpa with us!

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What is Faith?

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“The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17
“Abraham believed and it was counted to Him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3
“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Hebrews 1:6
“For by grace are you saved through faith…” Ephesians 2:8

If faith is so critical to our relationship with God, we have to ask, “what is it?” Is faith a process? Is it something we are given, or something we do? What is it’s relationship to works? And, can we miss the mark thinking we have faith when we may not?

As I have contemplated the idea of faith, I think faith includes at least these 3 components: understanding, assent and response.

1. Faith begins with understanding. Different levels of understanding are needed for different people, but understanding is vital. Abraham didn’t understand Christ, but he did understand God’s call on his life. As the gospel was presented in the New Testament, understanding the gospel itself was vital. To respond in faith, a person needs to understand something of Jesus and His work on the cross and the nature of His resurrection. The gospel message has many metaphors for the reality it creates. So the meaning of the gospel may be explained in many different ways. But the elements of the gospel: holiness, sin, the cross, the resurrection and new life have to be communicated and understood.

2. Faith demands assent. At some point an individual needs to agree with the understanding they’ve received. I might call this the beginning of “belief.” This agreement is necessary if one is going to have faith. In this I agree that the claims of Christ are true. I agree with the testimony of Scripture that the work of Christ is effective. I agree with the testimony of the church, that the call of Christ on my life is reasonable.

3. Faith also requires response. This is reflected in the call of Christ to “follow Me.” This is not a legalistic response of earning God’s favor. The response is an act of the will. It is the act of surrender, not performance. Repentance and obedience are both part of a faith-response.

If we are talking to someone about faith and they object. We may want to delve into why they haven’t moved to faith.

1. Some people have understanding issues. They just don’t know what the message and hope of Christ is. They don’t know the biblical story of sin and redemption. They need to be exposed to and informed of the truth.

2. Some people have assent issues. They know the story, but they haven’t yet affirmed it’s veracity. They may not be sure it’s true. Or, they may not yet be convinced that the gospel matters. In this case, if they are open, we can work at connecting them with others who have wrestled with the same issues.

3. Some people simply have response issues. They know the facts. And they believe them, but they haven’t yielded for one reason or another. For some, it is because of fear. “I’m afraid of what God will want from me.” is something that has been expressed to me several times. For some, it is the desire to hold onto control of their own lives.

We can also use these categories to assess the growth of our own faith. Growing faith means growing in our understanding, in our assent and in our response. If you consider the next step of faith you should have, what is your issue? Is there something you don’t understand? Is there something you haven’t yet agreed with? Is there something you haven’t yielded?

Which came first, the Christian or the Disciple?

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You know the question that is asked, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Of course, if you read Genesis 1 the answer is the chicken.  Now I know that still may evoke some disagreement.  But have you ever asked, which came first the Christian or the disciple?  We use those two terms, but is their one that is primary?

Look at, Acts 11:26 “… And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

Reading this last week made me think about how we’ve turned things around.

The early believers were first and foremost disciples of Jesus. This means they were learners and followers of Christ. The process seemed to be repentance, faith, baptism, and obedience. The heard and followed the commands of Christ. When others saw their lifestyle of commitment to Christ, they were branded with the nickname of “Christian.”

In the typical American-Evangelical church, we turn this around. We call people Christians (converts) and we hope they will grow into disciples (followers). This sounds like a slight deviation, but I think the implications are huge.

1. We eliminate the necessity of following Christ from our definition of faith.

Jesus said the one who loves Him is the one who obeys Him.

2. We give people a false sense of security by branding them with a name that may not represent their true devotion.

Some will come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord…” That doesn’t mean they know Him.

3. We make faith about adherence to a set of beliefs rather than loyalty to the Lordship of Christ.

Remember even the demons “believe in God and shudder.”

4. We perpetuate the myth that one little prayer, walking the aisle, or being dunked in water is the essence of being saved.

Jesus announced the Kingdom of God and then called, “come, follow me.”

I think it is time the church turn the order around again. Let’s make disciples. As people see that we are learning to walk the Jesus way, they will call us Christians. And it will be a badge of honor.

Here’s a challenge. Don’t use the title “Christian” for yourself until or unless someone, looking at your values, your obedience and your devotion to Christ, would call you that name. Be a disciple first.

Which term in more meaningful to you?  Why?

Christ, Our King

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These are few lines that filled my heart as I prepared for my sermon “Christ, Our King.” It’s part of a series entitled, “Christ, Our Everything.”
You can listen here.

A throne too big
Filling it with boastful proclamations
Striving, pursuing, conquering
Reigning my life, me, king

Marching for independence
Revolution after revolution
Winning and not victorious
Enslaved in freedom’s promise

King upon king embattled
For pride’s sole claim
Warring never ending
Peace forgotten

Parade of humble power
Weapons of mercy and righteousness
Majestic, good, a King
Another king and kingdom

On clouds of glory in each heart
Subduing kings and kingdoms
Rule and reign the world, me
A throne now filled with His glory

I hope these encourage you to reflect on what we have in Christ as our King. And that it will move you, this Christmas season to move deeper into what it means to follow Him.

What does it mean to you, for Christ to be King?

Jesus Came as the Priest of God

shapeimage_1This second week of advent, we looked at Christ, as the Priest sent by God. These are some of the lines that have rattled around my mind in preparing for the message. I hope it is an encouragement to you.

CHRIST, MY VOICE TO GOD

An impenetrable fortress, walls, laws, righteousness
The curtain, muffling every cry
My God inside, waiting, listening,
I sit outside, hoping without hope

Inside, separated, distant, even God cannot hear
Help, a hand, no, a voice
Speak, speak for me, be my voice
Break in and speak

Arriving with bloody sweat
Thorn crowned and nailed to the beam
He enters, he speaks, he dies
The sacrifice enough, complete forever

A curtain torn, sitting at Mercy’s seat
Whispering to the Holy One
I have a voice God hears
He is my voice, my Priest, Jesus

If you would like to listen to the sermon, you can do so here.

What does it mean to you for Christ to be your priest?