What Will Make You Cease Moving Forward?

The New Testament calls us to a different kind of ethic – it’s a new kind of obedience. It’s not one measured in adherence to a code, but an obedience that’s through and through – not just doing right, but being right. Not just acting with love, but truly loving. Not just willingly acting but feeling it as well. But in the middle of all of these demands, there is one that isn’t quite as exciting:

Keep going.

Don’t give up.

Persevere to the end.

Or, as Journey might put it, don’t stop believin’:

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…” Hebrews 12:1

“If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…” 2 Timothy 2:12

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

During those days, these verses were read largely in the context of persecuted believers, or in the prediction of persecution to come. Faith was or would be challenged with loss, and in light of the cost, many would abandon their confession. They would reject what they believed. They would give up and stop running the race of faith.

But I don’t currently live in a persecuted state, and I’m not often tempted to give up my beliefs based on threats of property seizure, social loss, or outright violence. Likely, if you’re reading this, you might not either. But the exhortations to remain in the faith are still there. It seems like a good time, then, for me (and others who live in relative freedom like me) to ask the question of our own selves:

If not persecution, what will make us give up our faith?

You could probably point to many things, so here’s one more to throw into the mix: materialism. Greed. Prosperity. This is what might make us give up our faith. To understand why, though, you have to dig in a bit to the basis of Christianity, and then how prosperity puts a challenge to it.

Christianity is, from the beginning, a humiliating religion. To come to Christ, you can be full of all kinds of sin. But the one thing that you cannot be full of is pride. That’s because the message of the Christianity is a self-debasing one – you are dead in your sin, and you can’t ultimately help yourself out of that condition. You are a person in the worst kind of need.

Understanding that helps us see why prosperity might be the thing in prosperous nations of the world that might most make us abandon our faith. With money comes misplaced security. With money comes misplaced confidence. With money comes the altered sense of self that makes us forget or neglect why we came to the cross in the first place.

Money makes us forget our need of God, and with that forgetfulness comes the abandonment of the gospel.

So be careful, all of us who are rich. Be careful that your money does not replace your God. Be careful that your money does not keep you from believing.

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How Churches Became Cruise Ships

From Skye Jethani:

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, New York harbor bustled with ocean liners transporting thousands of people between North America and Europe every week. Great ships like the Queen Mary and Normandie were celebrated as floating palaces, but very few passengers enjoyed their luxuries. Most who sailed on them were poor immigrants and refugees relegated to 3rd class accommodations. These ships served a highly utilitarian purpose—moving passengers and cargo from point A to point B. That’s why they were called “liners.”

But the glory days of the ocean liners began to fade in 1953 when a Comet roared across the Atlantic. The De Havilland Comet was the first commercial jetliner. The distance covered by an ocean liner in six days was traveled by a jetliner in six hours. Virtually overnight the vast Atlantic Ocean became “the pond.” By the 1960s the great ships were being laid up or sold for scrap. Many predicted the passenger shipping business would never recover. They were wrong.

A handful of innovative ship owners developed a new way for their fleets to produce revenue: cruises. Rather than crossing the Atlantic  from point A to point B cruises sailed in a circuit, embarking and disembarking passengers from the same port. And their goal was not to transport passengers, but to get tourists to buy and consume more of the products and services onboard the ship. The shift from crossing to cruising was really a shift from transportation to consumption.

Because of this, over time cruise lines sought to increase the number of entertainment options onboard their ships. This triggered a rapid increase in the size of vessels being built, each one incorporating more of the features vacationers wanted. As a result, many of today’s gargantuan cruise ships dwarf the ocean liners of the past—something no one would have predicted 50 years ago when passenger shipping was believed to be on its deathbed.

Why am I talking about the history of the shipping industry? Well, I think it’s a helpful parallel for what’s happened in the American church over the last 40 years. Around the same time that jetliners were causing waves for the shipping industry, cultural changes were also rocking the church. Prior to the 1960s most churches in America were small with a very utilitarian function–they transported people into communion with God by providing the basic necessities for living a Christian life.

But by the 60s and 70s the Baby Boomers grew up and many stopped going to church. The culture had changed–secular values, youth culture, and entertainment had taken root and the church could no longer compete. Traditional churches, built for utility, struggled. But like some ship owners at the time, entrepreneurial pastors began tinkering to see if a new purpose for the church could be found…

Read the rest here.

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A Tale of Two Gentiles

There was once a Gentile woman…

Uneducated…

Poor…

Immoral…

Unconventional…

Outcast…

and without hope:

“By faith, Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed…” (Hebrews 11:31).

And there once a Gentile man…

Educated…

Wealthy…

Upstanding…

God-fearing…

Respected…

and without hope:

“Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

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Transparency is Not an End in Itself

“Words create worlds.”

I’m certainly not the first person that’s said that, but I am learning it to be true in many areas of life right now. Whether at home, work, or church I’m finding over and over again that because the tongue is the window to the heart, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. And then say that thing over and over again because you become what you celebrate. One of the strongest ways to create a culture in any environment is through the language that you use.

But here’s the problem. We’ve seen over and over again that using a term, even when it’s a good and right term, especially when it’s not explained, causes an effect of dilution. The words, which once upon a time, had great meaning and significance, eventually become a sort of catch phrase that now means something very different than the original intent, or even worse, means nothing at all. Think about it:

- Saved

- Missional

- Community

These are good words. Right words. Powerful words. But for many of us, including me, they’ve lost their punch because they’ve become so ingrained in my vocabulary that I rarely stop and consider their true and full implications: “I’m saved. But saved from what? Saved to what? Was I in danger? How much danger? Who saved me, and at what cost?”

Something great is lost when words of value become catch phrases of a culture.

Such is the case, I think, with another word that got its 15 minutes of fame some years ago. That word is transparency. Or maybe you’ve met its cousin, authenticity. Or “being real.” The word rose to prominence as we were all talking about community, and having community, and being community, and in that community one of the keys was to be real. To not act like we have it all together. To not answer “Fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing. To admit and confess sin in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ.

That’s a good idea. It’s a biblical idea. It’s an honest idea. But, as happens with words when they get popular, it has become diluted. The dilution in this case was a morphing of seeing transparency as a means to seeing transparency as an end. Here’s how James saw transparency in that way:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (James 5:16).

This verse is transparency at its best. It’s a picture of someone who, convinced of the limitless grace and promised forgiveness of Jesus, confesses their sin. They lay themselves open and bare before others, not expecting shame or guilt, but instead expecting healing. It’s a crucial step on the road to holiness, but that’s just the thing – it’s one step on the road. It’s not an end in itself.

We have been right to value transparency, but in so valuing it, we have come to measure the depth of our relationships and our groups with how real we are. So there might be confession, over and over again, but nothing more. Just a bunch of people sitting around “being real.” Our transparency has become like a 2 day old open can of soda – diluted down so that it’s worth not much more than being spit out when it’s drunk in accidentally.

We confess to one another not so that we can be real with one another; we confess to one another because we have a desire to be made holy. To be healed. To stop sinning. And we are responsible and even blessed for aiding one another on that journey. James continues on in verses 19 and 20:

“My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back,  let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

Let’s be transparent. Let’s be real. Let’s be authentic. But let’s not stop there. Let’s remind each other of the good news of the gospel, that Jesus not only has secured our forgiveness but also chosen us for holiness, and move each other along that road. Let’s keep going together and not camp out in the ditch before we get to the destination.

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Why Hobby Lobby Matters

From Russell Moore:

The ruling isn’t just a win for evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Greens. It’s a win for everyone. Here’s why. A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens can steamroll over any dissent anywhere. Whether you agree or disagree with us about abortion, every American should want to see a government that is not powerful enough to set itself up as a god over the conscience.

As Christians, we believe in obeying the law and honoring our government authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). But Jesus taught us to render unto Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to him. Our consciences are not held in a blind trust when we leave our church buildings on Sunday.

I hope this decision is a warning to the White House to stop such a cavalier disregard of religious liberty, seen both in this coercive mandate and, earlier, in their argument to do away with the ministerial exemption in hiring.

More than that, though, I pray for churches that can raise up a new generation to prize freedom of conscience and religious liberty for all. We won this case, and now is the time to thank God. But who could have imagined just a few years ago that we would even have to take such a thing to the United States Supreme Court? We must teach our children what it means to be free people, and what it means to follow Christ whatever the cost.

This is not just a political issue. The Apostle Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship when he was charged with disrupting the peace. All the way through the appeals process, he not only plead for his freedom, but he also preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 25-26). We should do so as well. But that means teaching the next generation that following Christ will be costly, and that they will be often viewed as strange and even subversive by a culture in which sexual liberation is the highest god in the pantheon. A discount-rate prosperity gospel will not supply such grit. The gospel of Jesus Christ will.

Read the rest here.

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The Power of Consistency

Imagine a leaky faucet. Regardless of how you hard you twist the knob, it still drips. One drop at a time. Incessantly – drip, drip, drip. The consistency becomes an annoyance pretty quickly. But put in the right environment and given enough time, that same dripping with that same consistency, can have an immense amount of power.

That’s how canyons are made. Not all at once, but through the power of consistency.

Dripping isn’t that exciting, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for in effectiveness. There’s a lot to be said for the power of consistency.

When we lead people in the way of discipleship, one of the issues we must deal with is the boring nature of it all. I mean, there’s only so many ways you can “spice up” the habits that characterize consistent growth in Christ.

In the end, there will be many days when you and the people you lead won’t feel like reading the Bible. They won’t feel like praying. They won’t feel like memorizing Scripture or serving or doing any of the other practices of spiritual development. Consequently, we might be tempted to reframe or describe spiritual growth as some grand adventure completely free of drudgery. While it’s true that at times growing in Christ will feel like that, it’s also true that many times it won’t.

In the end, what we’ll find is that consistency wins over excitement time and time again. And here are a few reasons why:

1. Consistency emphasizes faith over experience.

What makes someone get up and do the same thing day after day after day regardless of whether they feel like it or not? You could argue that it’s simply being a creature of habit, but you could also say that such action is driven forward by faith.

You do the same spiritual practices because you genuinely believe that the Bible is the Word of God. You truly believe God hears you when you pray. The alternative to this kind of consistency is a life driven by experience. If that’s the case, your spiritual development is like a yo-yo moving up and down with the flippancy of emotion.

2. Consistency causes roots to grow deep.

When you opt for consistency over excitement, you are developing the kind of practices that will carry you through the seasons of spiritual dryness all of us will encounter. In other words, your roots are growing deep.

When we integrate the same, repeated practices into our lives, day after day, we will find that when eventually we don’t feel anything; when we are suffering; when we simply can’t pray any more, that our roots will have extended well past the shallows.

3. Consistency works into other areas of life.

One of the side benefits of this kind of spiritual discipline is that it will work into other areas of life as well. You’ll find, I believe, that not only are you disciplined “spiritually;” but physically, emotionally and mentally. But then again, that’s why “spiritually” is in quotes because I seem to remember Jesus saying that we should love God not only spiritually but with every part of ourselves.

Time is a powerful ally. Drip, drip, drip. One drop at a time. And slowly, the landscape changes.

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GOOOOAL!

Okay, World Cup. You’ve got me. See you Sunday:

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History Cops by Lego

Yep – That’s pretty much how I remember it.

 

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Book Review: Southern Fried Faith by Rob Tims

The story goes that if you try to put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. Shocked by the sudden change in its environment, the frog will know something is wrong and do everything it can to get out of there. But if you put a frog in a regular pot of water and then slowly increase the heat, it won’t notice the gradual change in environment and will just stay in the water, slowly being boiled to death.

I’ve never boiled a frog in water, but I am a Christian who lives and goes to church in the south. And the analogy fits.

The culture in the south is a religious one – we are part of the so-called “Bible belt” where communities and families are built on “Christian roots.” And that’s both an incredibly good and also potentially dangerous thing. On the good side, going to church really is part of the regular routine in these parts. Most people do it, or at least most people have done it, and communities have long been impacted by it. On the other hand, because churches are so numerous here, churches and Christianity in general can and does quickly become just something that you do. There is a great danger in confusing what can and has become in many places part of the culture with the true gospel. I have at times wondered where the line is and should be drawn in my own mind between biblical truth and cultural assumption, and I know I haven’t always been on the right side. Like a frog in boiling water, I have wondered just how much my faith has been affected by the environment in which I’ve been raised.

Rob Tims has written a helpful book that diagnoses the issue and helps draw the line clearly between what is culture and what is gospel. Southern Fried Faith is written not from an outsider’s perspective, but from the inside. It’s the voice of one who has grown up and served in churches throughout the Bible belt, and in so doing, has seen both the beautiful and ugly expressions of what happens when Christianity becomes deeply baptized into a given culture.

The book takes several issues that you would find in most any southern church – things like patriotism, politeness at any cost, even the good old fashioned potluck, and digs a little deeper. With each issue, Rob helps us see both the positives and the negatives of each and how these issues can (if not held in their proper perspective) actually dilute the reason we are at church to begin with. Using a combination of personal anecdotes, humor, and theological truth, Rob helps us see the distinctive challenge and calling it is not only the shepherd the flock in the south, but to actually be a church member faithful to the gospel.

In reading this book, I had the same feeling I get when I go to the doctor for a yearly physical. I know, walking in, that I’m not going to hear everything that I want to hear, but I am going to hear what I need to. In the end, the best I can hope for in that situation is for a kind person on the other side of the table who will deliver the truth but will do so in an understanding and empathetic way. That’s what I found in this particular book.

Rather than being another volume of church-bashing, this is written from the perspective of one who truly loves the church. From one who loves the church in the south. And from one who wants the best for her and all she represents.

I’d commend Southern Fried Faith  to you as a look in the mirror. Pick it up, and if you live south of the Mason Dixon line, you might even give it a read alongside a bowl of mac and cheese and a plate of chicken. You know, just for fun.

Get your copy here.

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Every Open Door Isn’t Meant to Be Walked Through

Imagine that you are visiting a friend who lives in apartment complex. You Mapquest your way to the complex, but your friend didn’t give you the specific number of his apartment, so you start walking up and down the hallways where every door looks the same. You’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for – maybe that welcome mat he used to have years ago? Perhaps a door knocker emblazoned with his family crest (cause that’s always there)? But not this time. There are no marks of identification to let you know which door is the right one. But finally, after walking down two or three hallways you finally come to a door that looks like all the other ones… except it’s open.

What do you do?

I can tell you what you DON’T do – you don’t just walk right through it, assuming that it’s the right one just because it’s open. You’re smarter than that, and depending on which state you’re in, you know about things like concealed handgun laws. You still knock. You still examine. You still use your powers of deduction and wisdom to know whether or not that open door is the right one to enter in.

Every open door isn’t meant to be walked through. But that’s precisely the way many of us treat God’s will in our lives. We glimpse an opportunity, we have a feeling, we see the seemingly greener grasses through that open door, and because the door is open, we conclude that surely this is what God intends for us. Here’s what it looks like practically:

- God wouldn’t let me have these feelings if he didn’t want me to pursue this lifestyle.

- God wouldn’t have given me this opportunity at work if He didn’t want me to go after it.

- God would stop me from feeling bored in my current relationship if He didn’t want me to leave.

Just because the door is open doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Let me give you a case study from the Bible that helps us see this.

Though Saul was the king of Israel, his popularity had been surpassed greatly by David. David, the handsome young general. David, the champion over Goliath. David, of whom it was said had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king. And Saul would have none of us. In an obsessive rage, he launched out in a no-holds-barred manhunt for his once valued comrade. He chased him ruthlessly, and he chased him endlessly.

This went on not for days; not for weeks; but for years. All the while David ran, knowing that he was indeed the next chosen king. Knowing that as soon as something happened to Saul he would rise to the throne. Knowing at least at some level what God’s will was for his life. And then we come to the text in 1 Samuel 24:

When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness near En-gedi.” So Saul took 3,000 of Israel’s choice men and went to look for David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. When Saul came to the sheep pens along the road, a cave was there, and he went in to relieve himself. David and his men were staying in the back of the cave, so they said to him, “Look, this is the day the Lord told you about: ‘I will hand your enemy over to you so you can do to him whatever you desire.’” Then David got up and secretly cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.He said to his men, “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.With these words David persuaded his men, and he did not let them rise up against Saul” (1 Samuel 24:1-7).

Talk about your open doors. The king was there, oblivious to David’s presence. And David was there, no doubt tired of running for the last four or so years. And his men were there, telling him that this was not only a golden opportunity, but that clearly this was from the Lord. After all, they knew God wanted David as king; and they knew that God had provided this choice circumstance; and they knew that it would be clean, quick, and easy. No more running and finally the chance to see what they all knew would eventually happen come to fruition. So up he snuck – quietly. Stealthily. Like the warrior he was, stalking his victim. The voices in his head were loud and clear: “This is going to be so easy. He’s completely unaware. The promises of God are true, you just have to take hold of them. Just reach out and…”

And then David blew it. I’ve got a feeling the text cleans up the conversation a little bit when David came back to the camp with a piece of a robe instead of the king’s head in his hand. So why didn’t he do it?

It’s because every open door isn’t meant to be walked through.

But that leaves us with a huge question, doesn’t it? How do you know? How do you know when to talk through the door and when not to? The text gives us at least part of the answer in David’s response: “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.”

The way you know if the open door is the right door is by comparing what you think God might be saying with what you know He has already said. David no doubt wanted to stop running, and he no doubt was tired of being pursued when he had done nothing wrong. He had all kinds of feelings telling him that this was the door for him to walk through, and yet even in the emotional tumult of those feelings, he had the ability to step back and evaluate the door before him not based on what he perceived in the moment but what he knew to be true.

God is the same now as He was then as He will be tomorrow. And if He said it then, He means it now. So how do you know if the door that’s open is the door for you?

Look to what God has already said. And then go with what you know rather than what you think.

 

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