Quick Take: After the French Murders

Muslims-in-France

Global Media Outreach (GMO) reported a huge spike in the number of people in France accessing their sites since the French murders earlier this month. GMO is an online ministry that reaches worldwide with the message of Christ’s love. Globally, about one million people a day go to one of their 200 websites with questions about God, Jesus Christ, suffering, and hope. The January 7 attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists left 12 dead and sent shock waves of fear throughout the country where Muslims make up almost 10% of the population. Since that day the number of French going to the GMO sites has doubled.

Tragedy either drives people to God or away from him. But more often than not, suffering at both the personal and societal levels jolts us into thinking about what really matters in life. C. S. Lewis’s well-know thought is appropriate: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

 

What have you done today that only a Christian would do?

“What have you done today that only a Christian would do?” 

This is the sixth of seven in a countdown of life-commitments for 2015.

So what have you done? As followers of Christ, we promise ourselves to stop trying to be better and start being different.

The first five commitments are:

Commitment 7: Don’t get so easily Offended

Commitment 6: Don’t be so Offensive

Commitment 5: Get Equipped

Commitment 4: Get Accountable

Commitment 3: Get rid of Agendas

Read the brief descriptions in the five posts below to review or catch up. Each commitment builds on the previous ones and is intended to help guide our choices as followers of Christ to be different.

The commitments become more personal as we head to number one.

Keep calm

Commitment 2: Love. Serve. Pray. Repeat.

So, back to the question: “What have you done today that only a Christian would do?”

Maybe the question is better asked, “How have you lived today as a Christian?”

How would a follower of Christ . . .

Drive a car?

Read the newspaper?

Treat your waiter at a restaurant?

Check out at Wal-Mart?

Respond to an insult?

Walk by a homeless person?

Think about past hurts?

The answer to all of these is “differently.” There are no rules to follow but in every case a follower of Christ lives differently from others in ways that matter.

Followers

Phil Savage, the former General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, told us about the time he and his wife spent a day at a NASCAR Driving Experience in North Carolina. With about ten other people (all male), Phil and his wife took the morning training class which included detailed instructions for driving high performance automobiles at incredibly fast speeds. Phil said the instructions were complicated. “When to accelerate; how much to bank on the turns; how to pass. All decisions to make at over 100 miles an hour.”

In the afternoon, the group competed against each other in three multi-lap races. A professional pace car driver sped ahead of them to make sure none of the drivers overdid it.

Much to the surprise of the other drivers, Phil’s wife won the first race handily. And the second.

And the third.

At the dinner that evening, the men paid homage to her for humbling them so completely on the race track. Afterwards, Phil asked her, “How did you do it? How could you keep up with all of those instructions? I was struggling just to remember them.”

She smiled and said, “Oh, I didn’t think about any of that. I just followed the pace car.”

Most of the time, we feel like NASCAR drivers barreling around a track in a crowd of super-charged cars.  Trying to remember all of the biblical truths and spiritual life hacks we have been taught only overwhelm and confuse us. We become tentative, passive.

We think that all we need is more instruction. More Bible. More theology. More preaching. More worship. More prayer.

But Jesus is saying: “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.”

The command Jesus gave more than any other is, “Follow me.” No hidden, esoteric meaning here. He intends that we fall in line behind him and follow in his steps.

So how do we do this? He radiated Gods’ presence and expected us to pay attention. The most obvious features of his everyday life are on display for us to follow. In fact, he told us to emulate three in particular: love, serve, and pray.

First, . . .

Love.

Jesus startled the theologians when he told them that the greatest command was not to obey, worship or serve God – but to love him with their whole being (Matthew 22:37). The command was well-known, part of the great declaration of faith (Deut. 6:5) but then he tied to another command: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). These two commands, he said, summarize all of God’s law. Just do these and you’re in life’s sweet spot.

Jesus – the great simplifier.

Current culture has diluted the force of “love” and it comes across as cliché.  The truth is that love is the most difficult and intentional act we practice. The choice we make in life is not between loving and hating. Our default is to do neither. The other side of love is not hate or rejection, but doing nothing; not caring at all. Apathy and passivity chill the life of the follower.

True devotion to God, Jesus said, is realized by loving those around us; meeting needs when we come upon them; being God’s heart to a loveless world.

He said that people would notice our love for each other and conclude that we are his followers (John 13:35). But love doesn’t stop there. He broadens the heart to include all of his creation, even loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We treat everyone with grace because that is how he treats us.

This kind of love is no burden because it explodes from the life of the Christian as a response to the love extravagantly poured out on us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:20).

Manning says, “The axis of the moral revolution is love, and it is the only sign given by Jesus by which the disciple would be recognized. . . Turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, offering no resistance to injury, being reconciled with one’s brother, and forgiving seventy times seven are not arbitrary whims of the Son of Man.”

Because we are so loved, we cannot help but . . .

Serve.

Serving is just love in action. Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28).

When Jesus told us that loving God was the greatest command he pointed out that the consequence of that was loving “our neighbor as ourselves.” He then gives an illustration of a social outcast going out of his way to care for a Jewish stranger who had been beaten and robbed.

“Go and do likewise” he said.

Love cannot be silent or passive. As Bob Goff writes, Love Does [a fabulous (and hilarious) collection of stories of how love is seen in everyday life. It is subtitled: “Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World”].

Serving is not patronizing duty, but passionate engagement.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10).

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).

Then, Jesus pointed us upward, so we  . . .

Pray.

The only activity the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. He prayed so often and so fervently that they saw it as a key to his life. His conversation with his Father was the critical mass for the radiant life.

Haddon Robinson says,

“For Jesus . . .

Prayer was the battle; ministry was the spoils;

Prayer was the final exam; ministry was the graduation;

Prayer was not the preparation for the fight; it was the fight.

Jesus did not sweat as great drops of blood in Pilate’s hall but in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before.”

I have a friend who addresses God as “Dad” when he prays. My friend’s life has been filled with incredible difficulty, addictions and rejection. For years he turned his back on God and when he returned it was through God’s loving intervention of acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. Now his prayers are personal and intimate. Some Christians would try to correct his use of “Dad,” but he is not talking to them. He is talking with his Father who knows his brokenness and loves him because of it.

Jesus never intended for us to follow a list of rules or to do nice things when it is convenient. He called us to follow him in a way that is so natural and consistent that it defines us. Every day.

Repeat. Daily.

A good life is made up of good days. Jesus told us to take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). Every day we have the opportunity to reboot our lives and start fresh. He asks us to because he knows that we can lose heart when we rehearse the hurts of the past or fear the challenges of the future. Today is all we can handle so his mercies are new every morning because his faithfulness is so great.

So, what have you done today that only a follower of Christ would do?

Love. Serve. Pray.

They are simple. Difficult. Life-changing. Different.

NEXT: The Number One Commitment for the Christian Life  

Unbroken: Is the rest of the story important?

 

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Is it important that the movie tell the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story?

My answer is yes but maybe not.

Yes!

Louie Zamperini is the kindest, most upbeat person I ever met. Anyone who knows his story feels a little cheated by the film version of his life. The cinematic smash, “Unbroken,” brought to the screen by producer Matt Baer and director Angelina Jolie, tells Louie’s story up to the point of his return home from the Japanese POW camps.

His life after the war is a gripping story, too, but did not make it into the movie.

Left out are:

-the humorous account of his courting and marrying Cynthia Applewhite;

-the night terrors from his abuse in the camps that plagued him for years;

-his subsequent descent into alcoholism as a way to deal both with the post trauma terrors and the loss of his athletic dreams;

-his vengeful obsession to return to Japan and kill the Japanese prison guard who tortured and humiliated him;

-his conversion at a Billy Graham crusade;

-his changed life by Christ’s forgiveness that he translated into power in his own life to forgive his tormentors.

Amazing grace. Incredible redemption.

For Christians, Louie’s conversion and subsequent life are the most important parts of his story. Not to include these compromises the integrity of his life story.

Maybe Not

Of course the story of Louie’s later life is crucial for understanding the man – but Unbroken focused only on the most “sensational” slice of his life.

That’s entertainment.

In fact, by the very nature of the medium only a snapshot (ironically) of the full story of anything can be told.

This is true for most movies: adventure stories, dramatic tales, horror flicks. Romantic comedies are the best example because they follow the same story line: boy and girl meet; boy hates girl; girl hates boy; girl and boy start liking each other; something happens to make them hate each other again; then they fall in love and plan to spend their lives together.  What about the rest of the story?

The story ends just when real life begins: “And they lived happily ever after” just doesn’t cut it.

The same is true about stories in the Bible. We get snapshots of characters pertinent to what God is revealing through the story.

The movie was not made by Christians for Christians (thankfully). What is inspiring is the positive depiction of faith in God throughout the film. We may not agree with the choices made by the writers and producers of a movie but the larger question for Unbroken is how God is using the film with its passing reference to his subsequent conversion.

What we know is that Louie’s “unbroken” spirit in the war came before he was a follower of Christ. He is an incredible example of the strength of the human spirit in the face of unjustified abuse and personal despair. This is why his story appeals to people on a universal scale.

It can be said, and Louie says so himself, that the depression, PTSD, and alcoholism were far more challenging than anything he faced in POW camps. Christ provided what he needed when he was on the verge of breaking. This is the part of Louie’s story that makes the book so exhilarating and satisfying.

Unbroken Movie  Millions had read the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand before the movie was released this past Christmas. Now, it appears that millions more are doing so. The incredible story and the incompleteness of the movie give a hunger to know the rest of the story. In the book, they are getting it. Television specials are telling the story of Louie’s faith while related internet videos, articles and interviews are being accessed globally. Louie’s life has exploded around the world in ways that cannot be discounted. There is no way to disregard a life so well lived. Maybe this is what God had in mind all the time.

One final note: Louie and his family liked the approach that Jolie and the writers took with the film. His son, Luke, wrote:

“The film version of UNBROKEN does not spend a lot of screen time on his Christian conversion – detailing it in a series of text cards before the closing credits. And that is exactly the way my Dad and our entire family wanted it.”

Time to Fly: Commitment number three

This is the fifth of seven in a countdown for 2015 commitments.

As followers of Christ, we promise ourselves to stop trying to be better and start being different.

The first four commitments are:

Commitment 7: Don’t get so easily Offended

Commitment 6: Don’t be so Offensive

Commitment 5: Get Equipped

Commitment 4: Get Accountable

Read the brief descriptions in the four posts below to review or catch up. Each commitment builds on the previous ones and is intended to help guide our choices as followers of Christ to be different.

The commitments become more personal as we head to number one. Here was a tough one for me:

Commitment 3: Get rid of Agendas

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Sometimes having an agenda is important. We see them most often as political agendas (get elected, pass a bill, raise poll numbers); or, military agendas (take this hill, win this battle, clear this street); and even adolescent agendas (buy these shoes, get that smartphone, find a boyfriend). By definition, agendas are short term and self-centered. There is an ideological underlying motive that is unstated.

But when agendas become the driving force in a person’s life and work, it numbs the soul. People who have agendas are dedicated and very busy – but they have no idea how off-center their lives are. They hang around with people who think the same way and reinforce the ulterior beliefs that guide their lives.

Agendas are limited in in focus and duration.  The big picture is out of the picture.

Even Christian agendas that focus on promoting a church, enforcing a theological system, or procuring power in an organization become an end in themselves. Many think that in all of their political machinations that they are serving Christ but many will find they have missed the most important truth of all: being known by our Lord (Matthew 7:21-23).

Replacing Agendas with Vision

The only way to get rid of agendas is to have a vision.

A vision is broad, long term and idealistic in a good way.  From the biblical perspective, a vision is seeing what God desires you to become and then conforming your life every day to becoming what you envision.

Admittedly, God promises that one day we shall see Him as he is and be like him (1 John 3:1-3). In the meantime, he gives us a vision that is unreachable on this side of the resurrection:  whoever claims to be a follower of Christ, “must walk as Jesus did’ (1 John 2:6).

Having a vision at the personal level is asking, “What kind of person do I want to become?”  Next, be practical about what this person looks like. What does this person of your vision do and not do? Be specific. Here are some words to help you think through this:

Giving, pornography, prayer, attitude, eating, weight, books, servant, family, money, activity, entertainment, clothes, friends, study, alcohol, exercise, spiritual life. 

Add other words pertinent to your life and experience. Mull over each word/idea and decide what your life should look like.

Then, ask a most important question: “What do I do today to move in the direction of that vision?”

The vision for the kind of person you want to become may never be reached completely in your lifetime, but the journey in that one direction yields incredible blessing. Each day is a step in becoming that person.

Remember: You will never become in the future what you are not becoming today.

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Questioning Motives

If you are like me (and I know I am), you may struggle with wondering if your motives are right. One of my favorite teachers and friends once confessed to me that he didn’t think he had ever done anything with completely pure motives. “There is always a bit of self-service in everything I do,” he said. I was shocked since I considered him to be the closest person to perfect that I knew. I thought I was the only one who was so self-centered. But I realized that the nature of our sinfulness will always pollute even our greatest acts of service. Awareness that we will struggle with our motives is important. It’s when we don’t struggle with them that we should worry.

Here’s a question that helped me think through this challenge:

“What do you want people to be thinking after you spend time with them?”

“What an incredible guy. I want to be like him.”

“He really loves the Lord.”

“Boy, he really has his life together.”

“Man, he is smart. He really knows the Bible, etc.”

“He is one of the nicest people I have ever met.” 

While these seem like encouraging responses, they are all about me and making me feel good.

A visionary response? What do I want people to be thinking after I spend time with them . . . ?

“God is an awesome God. I want to know Him more.”

 

NEXT: Commitment 2: Love. Serve. Pray. Repeat.

The French Murders: Radical Islam and Christ

The murder of the 12 people in an attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, has given rise to a fresh evaluation of radical Islam. For the most part, the West is counter-attacking with support for the freedom of expression, which such a heinous event was intended to punish and curtail. On Twitter, check out #jesuischarlie – “I am Charlie.”

But today a radical Muslim cleric in London, Anjem Choudary, stated clearly that the employees of Charlie Hebdo brought their deaths on themselves.  Below is his article:

Anjem+Choudary+Plans+Controversial+Anti+War+InxK0zRey79l

Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.

Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, “Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.”

However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.

Within liberal democracies, freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred.

The truth is that Western governments are content to sacrifice liberties and freedoms when being complicit to torture and rendition — or when restricting the freedom of movement of Muslims, under the guise of protecting national security.

So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?

It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.

__________________________________________

The worldview of radical Islam is frightening because it is borne out of weakness and fear. It is delusional to think for one moment that murdering those who speak against the “honor of the Prophet” shows strength of faith and character.

Christ never demanded that his “honor” be defended. He told Peter to put down his sword when he attempted to protect him (John 18:10-11). He told his disciples that the world hated Him so they should be prepared to be treated badly as well (John 15:18-25).

The only story where Jesus remotely deals with the issue of “honor” is when he drives the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:13-17). They were desecrating the holiness of the temple by exploiting the people who had come to worship. They had turned God’s house into a “den of thieves.” He turned over the tables, scattered the sheep and told those who sold doves to take them away. Even in his anger the scoundrels lost nothing. They could pick up the money and corral the animals. Even the dove were safe. They would have flown away if he had turned over their tables – but he didn’t. He just told the sellers to scram.

Any religion (including Christianity) that needs to force compliance from its followers and threaten outsiders shares more with fascism that than anything else.

The beautiful truth is that the history of the faith is filled with those who once spoke violently against Christ and then, overwhelmed by grace, embraced Him as Savior. It began with the Apostle Paul and continues to this day.

Napoleon lamented that while he had conquered the world with force, Jesus had conquered the world with love. God is relentlessly patient with even the most cynical and hostile critic.

I am grateful that we live in a country of free expression. Let people discredit, dishonor, offend, and misrepresent Christ all they want. It is a free country and God does not need my help to keep his honor.

Time to Fly: Commitment Number Four

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This is the fourth of seven in a countdown for 2015 commitments.

As followers of Christ, we promise ourselves to stop trying to be better and start being different.

The first three commitments are:

Commitment 7: Don’t get so easily offended

Commitment 6: Don’t be so offensive

Commitment 5: Get Equipped

Read the brief descriptions in the three posts below to review or catch up. Each commitment is intended to help guide our choices as followers of Christ to be different. We are all tired of just trying to get better and do more. We live our Christian lives either by sin management or responding to guilt when it gets overwhelming.

But our Lord’s complete acceptance of us, even with our sin, motivates us to see the world through his eyes and cooperate with his work in our lives and the lives of others.

When we come to Christ, we must be prepared for the full treatment. God is never going to stop working to make our lives into a place where he takes up residence.

Remember: God invaded our planet NOT to make us nicer or better but to make us His own; to be different, not better. Lewis’s analogy is perfect: a better horse can run faster and jump higher than others; a different horse grows wings and flies.

So let’s fly.

Commitment 4: Get Accountable

Not long ago a dating couple at the school asked me to hold them accountable for the physical side of their relationship.

“What does that mean?” I asked them.

“Well,” the guy said. “We want to keep sex out of our relationship until we get married.”

“OK,” I said. “So tell me what you’d like for me to do.”

The guy looked at his sweetheart and then said to me, “We talked about this. Whenever you see us around campus, we want you to ask us if we’ve had any failures in this area.”

I didn’t ask for him to give his definition of failure but I generally understood what he meant. I wasn’t excited about his proposal.

“So, in other words, every time I see you, I’m supposed to ask you how you are dealing with your sexual temptations?”

“Yep,” they both said in unison.

I smiled. “The last thing I want you to do is to cringe every time you see me or, worse, hide if you know I’m around. It would be easier if I just go with you on all of your dates.”

They had no sense of humor (“That’s a little much, don’t you think?”) but what I was getting at was how they misunderstood the biblical concept of what we call accountability.  It is not having someone stalk you to check up on your behavior. Accountability is a mutual commitment to grow together in Christ.

At times, there may be specific areas of challenge you want to share with a trusted friend. I told this couple, for example, that I would be happy to help them. I asked them to stop by my office every Monday morning for five minutes to tell me how it was going. They had to take the initiative.

And they did. It became a wonderful time that usually lasted way beyond the five minutes.

I asked them once, “Isn’t this a pain to come by and see me every week?”

They laughed. “No,” she said. “It’s like we are finally free. We are sharing our lives with somebody who really cares for us. Every date we remind ourselves, `We are going to talk to Dr. Brown Monday morning.’”

“Yeah,” the guy said. “That really cools things off.” He laughed.

At least he said I was cool.

The Body

Every true follower of Christ is organically connected to all other followers. The Apostle Paul uses the picture of a body, where we are each a different part of the same body. Hands, feet, eyes, nose – each with a different appearance and responsibility.

This is important. Our identity, purpose and function only make sense when connected to the whole. Think of a disembodied hand (or eyeball). What is it? What is it for? How does it work? These are meaningless questions if you don’t refer to the whole body; without it they are useless and lifeless.

“Accountability” is the most natural bodily experience. Mostly, your body strives to take care of itself and avoid harm. If you cut your hand, the rest of your body goes into crisis mode to care for it.

The Body of Christ is the same. We are all very different (God’s idea) but we take care of one another – in everyday living and in a crisis.

Being the Body

So why is this an important commitment? Because it is the most neglected aspect of being a follower of Christ. Social media, entertainment, and the urgency of busy lives are poor replacements for the connectedness that nourishes our relationship with Christ.  He intended that we grow together as we grow separately. Read through these passages slowly and catch the spirit of God’s intent:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:26).

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).

“Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Friends Eating Lunch Outdoors --- Image by © Steve Prezant/CORBIS

Living Accountable

The friends I have who are involved in Alcoholics Anonymous tell me that what gets them through the day is not the teaching but the kinship with those who are walking the same path of struggle. Everyone is to have a sponsor; and everyone sponsors someone else – usually several others. Together they make it, taking it a day at a time.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we need any less. We must have others in our lives, God tells us, to help us take up our cross daily and follow him.

If you do not have this in your life, at least do this:

Make it a priority and start meeting with someone for breakfast or lunch a couple of times a month so that you can talk about your lives, encourage the good and share the burden of the challenges. Find a good book together and read a chapter each time before you meet and talk about it. Pray for one another. If you are struggling in a particular area, don’t put off getting someone else to come alongside you.

I really wish that the young couple had been part of a fellowship where their desire for accountability would have been a natural part of their relationship. I hope they have that now because the need to grow as a part of the Body never goes away.

In our world of despair, the value of this kind of encouragement cannot be measured. The nourishment of the personal and meaningful fellowship with another is life-changing.  Let another speak into your life and you build them up as well. Sometimes, God will use that one word from a friend to make all the difference. Be that person.

As Dickens describes in Oliver Twist, “For the rest of his life, Oliver Twist remembers a single word of blessing spoken to him by another child because this word stood out so strikingly from the consistent discouragement around him.”

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NEXT: Commitment 3: Get Rid of Agendas

Time to Fly: Commitment Number Five

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This is the third of seven in a countdown for 2015 commitments. Unlike typical New Year’s resolutions, making substantive spiritual commitments begins by asking, “What kind of person do I want to be?” then taking each day and acting on these commitments. I write them on an index card and look at it every day to recalibrate my mind and heart.

As followers of Christ, we promise ourselves to stop trying to be better and start being different.

The first two commitments are:

Commitment 7: Don’t get so easily offended

Commitment 6: Don’t be so offensive

Read the brief descriptions in the two posts below to review or catch up. All of the commitments will fit nicely together. Living differently means that we see the people around us as Christ does. We recognize that non-Christians act and talk like non-Christians so we should avoid the standard Christian default of getting easily offended or becoming offensive ourselves.

These first two commitments focus on changing our attitudes. Next, how do we graciously respond to people who have genuine questions about the faith?

Commitment 5: Get Equipped

I taught a weekly evening class at a local institute a number of years ago. One of the students was “Sal,” a secular Jewish fellow who signed up for the class on a lark. He was single, had a free night, and the topic (the Old Testament book of Nehemiah) sounded interesting to him.

We had many talks before and after class. He was a genuine seeker and was finding the idea of God and the person of Christ fascinating. When the class ended after two months, we parted as friends with the intention of staying in touch.

As it usually happens, we never really did connect. That is, until one day we ran into each other at a Target store. He came up to me with a look of surprise on his face. “Bill! You’re here!” Since I was in the ladies department (waiting for Lynne) I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

Sal, threw his arms around and said, “This morning I decided to give up. And here you are!”

He then told me that for the past few months he had been on a search to understand the Christian faith better. He had questions about God’s goodness, the reality of evil in the world he created, problems with the Bible, and so on.

He said he made appointments with pastors of the major churches in the city. He was discouraged by his interactions wit them. “They couldn’t even begin to give me answers. Most of them told me I just had to have faith. A couple of them told me I might be demon possessed.” He shook his head. “So this morning I decided to give up. And I run into you!”

For the next hour, Sal and I stood in the ladies department in Target and talked about his questions. I gave him references to books and articles to help him in his research. I told him to search with an open mind and an open heart.

He was elated and left with a strong suspicion that our meeting was not a coincidence.

Lynne and I moved from that area soon after that and I lost track of Sal. I am always heartened when I remember his hunger for answers but saddened when I think about how he came up empty when he tried to get answers from those who should have been able to help him.

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Able to Teach

Paul tells young Timothy, that the one who serves the Lord, “must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach . . .” (2 Timothy 2:24).

When someone asks a question or expresses doubt about our faith, how confident are we to answer? If we are not, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they question whether we have really thought through what we believe.

That doesn’t mean that we have nice, neat answers for every question. In fact, there aren’t nice, neat answers for most questions. What it does mean is that you know the issues, you have seriously thought about them and have come to the conclusion that a resolution exists that affirms the Christ-centered view of life and the world.

Here are some questions people have addressed to me I have dealt with over the past few years:

. . . About God 

Doesn’t science prove that God doesn’t need to exist?

If He does exists, why does God not make his presence more real?

Why does he let bad things happen to people, like children getting abused by adults or dying of cancer or a natural disaster?

. . . About the Bible

How can you have a book from God that was written by people?

Why the Bible and not the Quran, or the Upanishads, or other “holy” books?

Why did God order Israel’s army to kill all the people, including children (Deut. 20:16)?

Why does God order execution for disobedient children, gays, and people who work on the Sabbath?

Why did so many Bible heroes have a lot of wives? Why can’t we?

. . . About Christians

Why are many Christians so close-minded and mean-spirited?

Why do Christians hate gays and Hispanics?

How come Christians still sin as much as everyone else?

How come Christians dislike each other? Why are there so many denominations?

Why do churches spend so much money on their nice buildings while so many people suffer from poverty and disease?

. . . About the world 

If Christianity is true, then why are there so many other religions who think they are right and Christians are wrong?

If Christianity is true, why haven’t most people in the world had an opportunity to hear about it?

 

Do you feel overwhelmed? I do.

Rest assured you don’t need to argue to convince, but explain to understand.

Time to Be Different

Get a good list of books, articles and websites that are helpful. Use these in two ways: for you to read and for you to give as references to those who ask questions. Read a little bit every day; even if it is just a page. Make it a daily habit. Get your mind used to thinking about how “to give an answer for the hope within you to everyone who asks” (1 Peter3:15).

Read C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, etc. If you have daily drive time, download or get CDs from these speakers and listen as they think out loud about difficult questions. I like listening to the many debates that are available.

Here are some examples:

A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible, by William Lane Craig and Joseph E. Gorra

When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Revised and Updated,      by Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks

The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity, by Lee Strobel

And check out the “Reasonable Faith website and app. It has a Q&A approach that allows you to see and hear several sides to questions.

And exploreGod.com is a good site to recommend to those who have questions.

Some of you may have other suggestions so please chime in.

Attitude is Everything

Getting equipped means more than merely having clever answers for these questions but relaxing and taking the time to have a conversation. To hear people speak and sense their heart behind the words.

Out world is weary of self-serving Christian organizations and individuals who call people “ungodly,” “ignorant” and “intolerant” before they even begin to engage them. We represent Christ in what we say and how we say it. Peter reminds us that we are to give answers “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3: 15-16).

Conventional wisdom says that Christians are mindless, unthinking, and mean-spirited. It’s time to turn conventional wisdom on its head and merely put into practice what our Lord asked us to do. Let’s put aside bumper sticker and refrigerator magnet theology. We are blessed with incredible resources at our fingertips and amazing opportunities every day. It’s time to be different.

truth1

 

NEXT: Commitment 4: Get Accountable

Time To Fly: Commitment number Six

funny-church-signs-6

Followers of Christ are called not to be better but to be different — different in ways that matter.

The seventh commitment (“Don’t be so easily offended” see previous post below) compels us to see the world through the eyes of God and respond with the heart of Christ. Yes, the world is antagonistic to Him – what else is new? When Christians get so easily offended every time someone looks at us sideways we are acting more like spoiled children than confident representatives of Christ. 

Commitment 6: Don’t be so offensive

OK, so we won’t be so easily offended anymore but, unfortunately, that may not keep us from being offensive ourselves.

Grace AND Truth

Comedian Jeff Dunham serves up a funny example of an offensive Christian.

Jeff- “A Hanukkah tradition is making potato pancakes. For something a little different, use a sweet potato. Anything you’d like to add, Walter?”

Walter- “Accept Jesus as your Savior or you’ll burn in Hell for all eternity.” 

Many Christians will say, “What’s wrong with that? I speak truth and let the pieces fall where they will.”

They are halfway there. We cannot forget that Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  There is an appropriateness about how and when we speak that turns our focus fully to the person in front of us. Like Jesus, our words are not a prefab presentation but a heartfelt conversation that listens and responds.

Paul tells us, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

Oblivious Arrogance

Christians tend to surround ourselves with people just like ourselves.  The result is that we have no idea what perspective people outside the faith have towards us. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t care.

Researcher David Kinnaman says, “Arrogance is perhaps the most socially acceptable form of sin in the church today. In this culture of abundance, one of the only ways Satan can keep Christians neutralized is to wrap us up in pride. Conceit slips in like drafts of cold air in the winter. We don’t see it, but outsiders can sense it.”

His observation comes from the well-known Barna Institute study to determine how non-Christians view Christians. The possible responses were wide-open for respondents to give positive or negative answers. When asked about how they viewed Christians, the top five answers were:

Christians are . . .

1) Anti-homosexual
2) Judgmental
3) Hypocritical
4) Too involved in politics
5) Out of touch with reality

Even though the results are seven years old, no one thinks these views have changed. The absence of anything positive is a cause for reflection and the details of each area are explained in Kinnaman’s book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters.

Should we care what non-Christians think? Absolutely. Jesus, the early Christians, and church leaders all were marked as having favor with everyone (Luke 2:52; Acts 2:47; 1 Timothy 3:7). That doesn’t mean that we change what we believe or speak deceptively in order to curry favor with others. Any truth is a gift to us and we communicate it with humility and grace. We should never expect those outside the faith to accept or even know the values and moral commitments of Christians. These are better observed than argued about.

Paul tells his young protégé, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24).

The very nature of Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection is offensive. It says to the world, “You can’t do it yourself. You need help. You are in need of a Savior.” We communicate this truth with humility rather than arrogance.

Let’s lay aside the temptation to be offensive for Christ. Jesus said that he did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17), why should we?

 

NEXT: Commitment 5: Get Equipped

Time to Fly: Commitments for 2015

20141226cover600-x-800  The events of the past year have shocked us out of our spiritual stupor. That slap in the face is the flailing chaotic uncertainty of our world gasping for a breath of hope. God is on the move and now is the time to step up.

God invaded our planet NOT to make us nicer or better but to make us His own; to be different, not better. Lewis’s analogy is perfect: a better horse can run faster and jump higher than others; a different horse grows wings and flies.

It’s time to fly. For 2015, here is a countdown of seven commitments to help transform our hearts and minds to think and live differently.

Commitment 7:    Don’t get so easily offended.

Living differently: When the prevailing culture attacks Christians and Christianity, see it as an opportunity to show grace, patience, and understanding. 

We live in a world of perpetual righteous indignation.

Just recently . . .

North Korea was politically offended by a movie.   The-Interview

Egypt was officially offended by a movie.    christian-bale-exodus-photos-christian-bale-exodus-2014-movie

Pakistan was formally offended by a television program.     homeland

Offending Christians is an acceptable pastime in prevailing culture (and some of it is deserved). Sometimes the insult or disrespect is purposeful; sometimes it is merely the result of conflicting beliefs or values:

*When Newsweek’s current issue is an end of the year attack on Christianity and the Bible;

*When Christian symbolic displays are denied (manger scenes, crosses, the Ten Commandments, etc.);

*When Christ-centered Christmas carols are prohibited from public programs;

*When secular and satanic organizations put up displays next to mangers in public spaces;

*When popular entertainment disparages or ridicules Christian faith and values.

The list goes on.

When we are offended, response is everything. We may think we are standing firm for the Gospel and protecting the dignity of God. But our offendedness usually diverts attention to a lower trajectory. All that is remembered is the horizontal conflict between the offender and those offended.

Sometimes, giving an answer is important. And people will remember how we respond more than what we said.

Be different. We serve our Lord when we “deal gently with those who do not understand or are going astray” (Hebrews 5:2). Instead of lashing out at the most ill-intentioned offensive insults and disrespect, we should reflect back to the offender (and the world) the soft light of grace, kindness and understanding. Why should we be surprised when non-Christians think and act like non-Christians?

Opportunities to communicate Christ’s grace will come when people want to know why you respond so kindly.

Years ago, Lynne and I were overseas talking with a college student from an eastern bloc country. He described how he was constantly ridiculed publicly for his faith in Christ at the university. When we expressed our concern for his situation he looked at us with surprise. “But Bill” he said, “They don’t know Him.”

He expected the ridicule. It was part of walking with Christ. Everybody knew that. He asked us not to pray that his ill-treatment would end but that he would be faithful.

Jesus told us to expect the same mistreatment. Why?  “You do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why they hate you . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:19-20).

Time to fly.

Next:  Commitment 6.   Don’t be so Offensive.  

Why target children?

A number of people asked a question about yesterday’s post:

children

Why do Muslim extremists target children in their deadly terrorism?

The answer is multifaceted but centers around the goal of inflicting the most pain and fear to further their cause.

  1. Nothing causes more grief to a parent than the death of a child. Parents experience the crushing burden of responsibility that helps to mitigate any revenge.
  2. Nothing causes more wide-spread angst than the targeting of children for murder. It signals to the general public that no one, not even the most vulnerable, is safe from the reach of terror.
  3. Nothing causes more fear than for children to be killed in places that are usually safe for them. Schools, school buses, athletic events, parks – supposedly spaces where children learn, play and grow. They have become killing fields.
  4. Nothing says more about the resolve of the terrorists than to target children for death. Children are non-combatants in the conflict yet they are considered expendable. Their murder extracts the maximum amount of hopeless sorrow. Resistance is not only futile but will be meet with swift retribution.

The posting below gives more specifics regarding recent terror attacks. May God give us courage to stand against the horrific forces that threaten freedom, peace and our children.