Are We Feeding Giraffes? or Sheep?

Many years back while in seminary, one of the professors reminded the class that, compared to majority of followers of Jesus, we were receiving information about theology and the Bible in extremely high concentrations.

We were reading a lot of books, listening to multiple lectures and writing lengthy, in-depth papers.

Week after week we were digging into a variety of “-ologys,” such as soteriology, ecclesiolgy, christology and eschatology.

We were being filled to the brim with learning, and it was great!

But the concern our prof had was this: that we might return to our churches, youth groups or Bible studies and try to present our discoveries with the force of a fire hose.

Several years ago a friend told me about a new youth pastor to his church who was fresh out of seminary. The brand new pastor had just shared a Bible lesson at his inaugural youth group evening. When I asked my friend what he taught, he responded, “He shared eleven weeks worth of teaching on election…in one lesson!”

At Bible college, one my favorite instructors often told us pastors-to-be: “Remember, you’re not feeding giraffes, your feeding sheep.”

That’s the charge Jesus gave to Peter: “Feed my sheep.”

To do so, we must be clear with our content, stick with one topic, be mindful of our audience and careful not to try to teach the entire Bible in one lesson.

As seminary students, our lives can be non-stop chewing on God’s Word. We go from class to class and absorb great teaching.

But the people of our churches usually don’t have that much time. They have jobs. They’re raising kids. They have obligations.

The idea isn’t that we lighten the impact of our teaching. We’re not called to water down God’s message. We just need to be aware of how much our audience can digest in a singular sitting.

One of the most powerful Bible teachers of the late 20th/early 21st century was the late R.C. Sproul. R.C. was an absolute genius. He obtained degrees from Westminster College, in Pennsylvania (BA, 1961), Pittsburgh Xenia Theological Seminary (M. Div, 1964), the Free University of Amsterdam (Drs., 1969), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (PhD, 2001). He could run circles around people with all his intelligence.

But, for all his incredible smarts, R.C. always made his teaching clear, simple and accessible. Although he knew a slew of impressive words, he rarely used them, lest his audience get lost.

In fact, R.C.’s demeanor as a speaker was so down-to-earth and disarming, he was often compared to Lt. Columbo, the character played by Peter Falk on the old TV show, Columbo.

Why was this so? I believe it was because R.C. was much more concerned with communicating truth instead of trying to impress his listeners.

Bottom line, this is the teacher’s task: to transmit truth. If that is not accomplished through our teaching, than we have missed the mark.

As pastors and preachers, we are feeders of sheep. Not giraffes.

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Law and Grace

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

This morning I had to make my annual trip to the Kootenai County courthouse to drop off a guardianship report for Aaron.

And, as always, I’m always struck by the sights and sounds I encounter.

For starters, it all began with going through the metal detector, reminding me that such a facility can be a place of anger and frustration. So, to protect against any violence, each person must be screened to ensure no weapons enter the building.

As I walked through the main hallway, I passed groups of people, mainly attorneys getting their clients ready for court. The docket must have been full, because the hall was quite crowded. I imagine the judges would soon be hearing about cases dealing with everything from theft, assault, drug possession, etc.

Downstairs at the civil court counter, I waited in a long line. At the counter, two men were separately dealing with some domestic issues with the clerks. One was looking to serve a summons on an ex-spouse, the other, new to divorce, was fresh to the world of family law. He had a lot of questions about his rights.

Truth be told, a court house can be a bit depressing. Humanity often seems all-to-adept at violating and hurting one another. We have a bent toward lawbreaking (even if its just the seemingly small, insignificant laws).

And because justice must be served, the court system exists. And day after day, year after year, cases are presented and dealt with.

But as I surveyed all the machinations of the law taking place, something caught my as I waited to take my turn at the counter.

Christmas decorations.

Lights, garland and wreaths.

Which all speak to the wonderful reality of grace.

So, at the same time people were dealing with the heavy law issues, lights continually twinkled.

A reminder that God’s mercy is celebrated at Christmas.

The truth is our sins are deserving of punishment. Justice must always be served.

We may be able to resolve a court case by paying a fine or serving a sentence.

But our sin separates us from God, and as Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

On top of that, Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death! That’s the sentence sin serves us.

But Christmas is the reminder that God sent His Son, Jesus, to be born, live a perfect life, and die in our place, so that we might not be found guilty of sin, but rather justified in Christ.

And God does this as an act of grace and mercy. He gives us what we don’t deserve. It is truly a grace gift.

A courthouse can seem like a hopeless place of heavy burdens and rigid justice.

But because of a small display of Christmas decorations, I was reminded that God’s grace overcomes the weight of the law, and His mercy triumphs over sin’s sentence of death.

How good and wise it is to cling to these words of Jesus, not just at Christmas time, but all year long: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

For in Him we can be justified of our sin, and completely freed from it’s penalty.

 

Santa and the Consistent Christian Life

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” C.S. Lewis

I’m a firm believer that most things dealing with Christmas ought to wait until after Thanksgiving. (Poor Thanksgiving, always being squeezed out by Halloween and Christmas!)

But in this case I will break my “rule” and post a pre-Thanksgiving blog about Santa. And not just any Santa. A particular Santa who lives in our community.

So, here goes.

Every year our fair city of Coeur d’Alene kicks off the Christmas season with a parade, fireworks and a tree lighting at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

At the same time, the resort hosts a fundraising event called Festival of Trees, which takes place in one of the large hotel ballrooms. And, every year the Festival of Trees supplies a Santa Claus for all the kids to visit. (And one 26 year old adult with Down syndrome.)

Yep, Aaron is a huge fan of visiting Santas.

I took this photo the very first time Aaron met the Festival of Trees Santa in 2014.

Aaron with Santa

Aaron humbly approached this Santa, sharing his Christmas present dreams, and Santa patiently listened to every word. I’m no judge of Santas, but this one really seemed to be kind and caring with every child he spent time with. I was particularly impressed with how he appeared to value each interaction. For me, this Santa was top-notch.

Every year since their initial meeting, Aaron has made the pilgrimage to visit Santa at the CDA resort.

Now fast forward to 2018.

Last Sunday after church, we made a dash over to Cafe Rio to grab a quick lunch. And, while we were munching on our meal, who came into the restaurant? The Festival of Trees Santa!

Except, he wasn’t in Santa mode. He was a “plainclothes” Santa, if you will. He was off-duty, just grabbing a meal with his wife. But the natural, long white beard gave him away.

Now, for Aaron Santa is Santa even if he’s not dressed up in the official regalia. And as Santa stood in line, Aaron asked us if he could go over and greet him.

We wanted to be respectful of Santa’s time off-the-clock, but we figured a quick hello would hurt. So Aaron, hopped up and connected with Mr. Claus.

What amazed me was how this this off-duty Santa responded to what could have felt like an intrusion. He greeted Aaron with a big smile and a big hug. I might wager to say I saw a twinkle in his eye. And then they chatted. Aaron talked about his Christmas list. The wrapped things up with another hug and Aaron returned to our table. And when I looked over to Santa to offer up a “thank you,” he looked at me with a compassionate smile and held his hands over his heart, as if to say he was touched by the encounter.

Just like their very first meeting in 2014, it was a touching moment.

But what struck me most was the fact that this Santa was consistent whether on-duty at the Festival of Trees or off-duty at our local Cafe Rio.

The dictionary defines the word integrated like this:

Combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide harmonious, interrelated whole.

On this Sunday afternoon, I witnessed an integrated Santa! He was consistent in his character and dependable in his actions.

For which I am eternally grateful! The glow on Aaron’s face when he returned to our table was remarkable. And as we chatted about the encounter, Aaron (who has seen his fair share of mall Santas) offered his opinion.  His exact words, “That is the real Santa.”

(Little did I know that the real Santa lives in Coeur d’Alene and gnoshes on Cafe Rio tacos!)

Now, whenever I tell a story like this, there is usually a principle I’m wanting to communicate. So, here it is: In the same way our local Santa displayed consistency and integration in his actions, so the Christian is meant to live their life as a follower of Jesus.

Our life is supposed to line up. Our beliefs are meant to match our attitudes, and our actions are meant to correlate with our words. We are to display consistency wherever we are, whether at church or at work or on the golf course.

Bottom line, we have an obligation to practice what we profess! Otherwise, we leave people confused.

Too often, we can tempted to compartmentalize our lives. Or we choose to base our actions depending on the group of people with whom we are hanging out.

But our pursuit should be the same person, no matter our situation or the people we spend time with.

Such consistency can often seem difficult to attain. In some cases, the more we pursue consistency, the more we realize how inconsistent we are!

So we will often fail and come up short. Thanks be to God for His patience.

But may we not be satisfied with inconsistency. May we desire and pursue a more integrated, harmonious, consistent expression of our Christian life.

 

The MANDATE of Evangelism

I have three basic goals for this blog series:

  • To help people gain a better understanding of the art of evangelism
  • To give us a clearer understanding of the importance of evangelism
  • To motivate us toward more involvement in evangelism

So, what is evangelism?

Here’s my shot at a working definition:

Sharing/explaining/teaching/declaring the message of the saving Gospel with the intent the message be understood, received and utilized.

This process of evangelism can take shape in many forms, but the basic message is always the same: Jesus is fully able to save us from our sins and bestows upon us new life. To use a pair of theological words, the Gospel message is one of justification and regeneration.

But, here’s a dose of reality: many Christians are not participating in reaching others for Jesus.

Several reasons for this include:

  • Fear
  • Lack of confidence
  • Introverted
  • Don’t feel qualified or equipped
  • Don’t want to hurt/offend/anger someone
  • Don’t possess a strong burden for those without Jesus
  • Too wrapped up in the world to think much about spiritual realities
  • Laziness/disobedience
  • Sometimes GOD’S sensibilities and values give way to OUR sensibilities and values (think Jonah)

That’s a long list! But nothing on this list negates the Bible’s teaching about evangelism.

So, where in scripture do we find the clear-cut directives that Jesus’ followers are supposed to be going out, rather than hiding out?

Consider these three passages of scripture. The first one comes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus chose two of the most basic elements of our world to make a point about influence: salt and light. Both have a way of getting our attention!

Ever been served a dish that was over-salted? As much as you tried to enjoy the meal, you just couldn’t get around the saltiness! It’s dominating!

And how about light? How many of us have had a hard time sleeping because a light is on and we just can’t seem to fall asleep

Jesus used these metaphors because they bring great power with their presence.

Now when it comes to these earthly elements, we can also see how they provide us pictures of we are supposed to provide the world with spiritual influence and impact:

  1. Salt makes people thirsty! The Christian’s presence in this world has the potential to stoke spiritual curiosity.
  2. Salt acts as a preserving agent! The gospel message we share holds the ability to reverse the dying and decaying that typifies much of what we see going on in the world. A world without Jesus is bound to fall apart!
  3. Salt helps heal wounds! The gospel message we both share and model can take our deepest hurts and greatest struggles and bring about peace, forgiveness and restoration to our souls!
  4. Light helps us determine reality! Light clears up a lot of mysteries. It also helps us know the difference between truth and falsehood.
  5. Light helps us know which way we should go! Consider the wonder and usefulness of a flashlight. In the same way, Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Bottom line, Jesus wants his followers to going out and representing His gospel message in both word and deed. We are to bring influence and impact to the world around us.

Here’s the second passage of scripture, perhaps the clearest call for believers to actively share the good news of Jesus:

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The word used for “go” in this verse literally means go and keep going!

The instructions are crystal clear. Jesus says to his followers:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptize disciples
  3. Teach disciples

Of these verses, Warren Wiersbe wrote:

The Christian faith is a missionary faith. The very nature of God is not willing that any should perish. Jesus death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are children of God, and share his nature, then we will want to tell the good news to the lost world.

Responding to Matthew 28:18-20, Jonathan Hayashi made this challenging point:

“You are either making disciples or making excuses. Which one are you?”

The final scripture passage reminds the reader of the reach of evangelism:

Acts 1:6-8: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He (Jesus) said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

These are the very last words of Jesus, spoken right before he ascended into heaven. And my hunch is that when it comes to famous last words, Jesus chose his very carefully. He wanted to imprint upon the minds of His disciples that one thing that should serve as their preoccupation!

They are to be his witnesses and take the message all around the world. Meaning, the gospel was never intended to be localized. It’s meant to invade every cranny and crevice of the earth. It’s meant to either fall upon the ears or be taken in by the eyes of every human on the planet.

So, thus far we’ve looked at three primary passages that focus on the importance of outreach and evangelism: Matthew 5, Matthew 28 and Acts 1.

Putting the message of these verses in a nutshell, I would put it like this:

Go…Go Everywhere…Go and Make an Evangelistic Impact for Jesus!

And I imagine us see this and we applaud!

But let’s be honest: in our current culture, this doesn’t seem to be happening much.

Meaning, only a small percentage of Christians are telling people about the good news!

As I shared early in this post, there are several reasons why this might be the case.

But our reasons (or our excuses) don’t minimize God’s call for us to spread the Good News.

What can be challenging for many of us is that some people are so good at going out and striking up conversations that inevitably turn toward spiritual matters. We might say that you are the people the Bible describes as having the gift of evangelism. But even if we don’t possess the spiritual gift of more easily bringing people to Christ, we aren’t off the hook! All of us are called to be involved in the great commission of Jesus that tasks us with taking the Gospel out into our world.

So, what is that will bring about a change in the percentage of believers?

As with everything else in the discipleship journey, it will demand our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and our obedience to the Word of God.

Remember what the book of James says? We are to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers.

(In the more literal NASB translation, James calls it being an effectual doer!!!)

Until then, things won’t change, because we aren’t allowing the promptings of God to have their effect on us.

The calling is clear to evangelism is clear. The implementation is often a little more challenging.

 

 

 

Everyday Evangelism: Intro

I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! Deuteronomy 32:3 (NIV)

Some people feel really comfortable being involved in evangelism.

But, my experience tells me many people find evangelism landing somewhere between challenging to excruciating.

For these, evangelism seems like an activity best left to the pulpit professionals, or those specifically endowed with the spiritual gift of evangelism.

Yet the Bible doesn’t limit evangelism to a few gifted individuals. No, evangelism is an activity meant for every believer to pursue.

So, what do we do with the gap that often exists between the Bible’s commands and our willingness to share Jesus with others?

We close it.

For that to happen, I believe we have to cross two bridges.

One is the bridge of motivation. How do we go from dreading evangelistic involvement to the place of actually being excited about it?

The second bridge is the bridge of skill. It could be said that, to some degree, effective evangelism is an art. An art to be mastered! We just have to learn how to sharpen our skills.

Think about it: if we possess the motivation to share Jesus, coupled with the ability to more effectively communicate the Gospel, I imagine that the task of evangelism won’t appear so daunting, but will be much more interesting and inviting.

Over the next few weeks of blogging, I’ll work through the six “M’s” of evangelism:

  • The Mandate
  • The Motivation
  • The Mover
  • The Model
  • The Method
  • The Message

My goal is simple: that this template, designed for the implementation of more courageous, effective evangelism, will turn hearts away from being plagued by fear and timidity, and replace such feelings with boldness, excitement and anticipation.

Up next: The MANDATE of evangelism.

 

 

 

 

Back to School

This past September I started a class (audit, not credit) at the brand new Great Northern University. I took the class for a few reasons.

For one, I serve on the board of trustees, so I felt taking a class would put me right in the middle of school activity. Also, it was a way to have some interaction with GNU students. Finally, learning something new is never a bad idea!

So, on Tuesday afternoons I drive over to Spokane for the Foundations of Leadership class taught by the school’s president, Dr. Wendy Liddell.

It’s been a good experience. What strikes me each week is how the students, typically 18  or 19, are just dipping their toes into the subject of leadership. In most ways what is taught in class is just theory for them.  They haven’t been able to apply the lessons in the “laboratory of life.”

In contrast, I sit in class thinking about all the life situations I’ve been in that fit whatever the prof is talking about! It sometimes makes me feel like the weathered sailor who’s sailed every sea and been in every port.

I’m thankful the students have a class like this, because much of what I have learned about leadership dynamics has come by way of experience and hard knocks.

One recent lesson I really appreciated was a lecture on how to handle disagreements, particularly in a church or business setting.

Overall, we should always be pursuing unity as much as we can.

But there are instances where unity is tested and stretched.

In a small number of situations, unity appears impossible.

In class we learned that when we disagree with others, we can respond appropriately in four different ways:

Some things we die over.

These are the core, non-negotiable, immovable beliefs or values of which we cannot and will not budge.

One thing our teacher said about this category is that we ought to have a fairly short list.

People who die over every disagreement usually don’t have a job or any friends!

Some things we divide over.

These things may not be as serious as our “die list,” but at the same time we know that we cannot continue to work in such a situation.

A good example might be the time Paul and Barnabas went separate ways over whether to bring John Mark on their missions trip.

Here’s how Acts 15:36-41 describes their parting:

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Yet Paul and Barnabas were still co-laborers and brothers in Christ. But in that season, they felt they couldn’t work together.

Some things we debate about

They aren’t enough for us to divide, but they remain a topic of ongoing conversation.

The truth is we all have things to learn, no matter our station in life.

The Bible says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

So, there are times to take a topic of which people hold different perspectives and work it through.

This point makes me think about the discussion that took place in the Jerusalem church regarding the acceptance of Gentiles. The debate went forth, and out of it emerged a resolve.

Final point:

Some things we agree to disagree upon

Imagine a world where we all thought the same way. It would be awfully boring!

There is room for holding a disagreement without dying, dividing or debating.

If it’s not that important of a matter, we choose to allow one another the freedom to hold their view.

Sometimes we need these types of categories to sort our our struggles, don’t we?

Not all disagreements are one-size-fits-all. Which means we can respond accordingly to the level of disagreement.

What a great lesson for all of us GNU students to take in!

 

 

Two Challenges Facing the Church

Recently our church leadership team spent a day away for some praying and planning.

One of the exercises we took part in was the venerable SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

When it comes to strengths and opportunities, the goal is to capitalize upon them.

When it comes to weaknesses and threats, the idea is to reduce them.

When I think about the church in general, there are many threats.

Culture is always throwing us curve balls. (And if I may stick with the pitching analogy, perhaps we could say that Satan loves throwing us spit balls).

In reality, the threats facing the church make for a long list.

But here are two threats that have been rattling around my brain for a while.

Threat #1: The unity of the church is threatened by generational tribalism.

Now, there have always been what some have called “generation gaps” which deal with the differences between age groupings.

But in our current culture, the generations are being divided up with some really hard lines. And the number of generational groupings are coming much more quickly.

We have builders, boomers, gen-X, gen-Y, gen-Z, and millennials.  And of course, new generational groupings are set to emerge.

What makes this challenging for the church is that we are called to unity, but generational tribes have a tendency to misunderstand and/or distrust the other tribes, resulting in generational polarization.

Have you notice how much comedy on social media depicts the differences between boomers and millennials? It can become downright adversarial!

But if the Bible is our highest standard, and if our Bibles call us to pursue unity, then we will have to figure out how to coexist in a world split into generational tribes.

Paul asked the Corinthians a question that I believe is quite fitting for us: “Is Christ divided?”

It will be interesting to see how the church fares on the open seas of generational tribalism.

Threat #2: The rapid rate of cultural and informational change threatens our ability to focus on our real calling.

Here’s the church’s struggle: Things change sooooo quickly. Flash. Boom. Bang!

Yet, even when we fervently strive to pull things together and keep up, oftentimes were a day late and a dollar short.

I often see churches trying to keep up with all the changes, yet rarely ringing the bell.

To me, there’s nothing more exhausting than trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” yet repeatedly falling short.

I believe the church has to have an aspect of cultural relevance, but all this striving to keep up (and rarely accomplishing that goal) makes me wonder: Is that really what the church is supposed to be about? Running neck and neck with culture?

Doesn’t our mandate from Scripture transcend culture?

From what I see, church leaders are busier than ever, but accomplishing less.

We’re making efforts to become hip, but in turn, we’re as shallow as a puddle.

All in all, it feels like we’re on a treadmill. A lot of motion, but no mileage.

When we join the breakneck pace of the world, aren’t we just joining in the ways of the world, and as a result losing our distinctiveness?

There you go. Two threats I see potentially hobbling the church.

Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun.

Yet the world is ever changing!

God help us navigate well.

 

 

 

 

The Black Hole of Cynicism

At times, I imagine most people deal with feelings of cynicism. I know I do.

If our ideals are deflated too many times, we can often bear feelings of disappointment, distrust and, in the worst case scenario, despair.

Our world is not perfect, fair or just. At any turn, we can be served hearty portions of dismay and disillusionment at what is going on around us.

Cynicism is defined as:

Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species  or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialismgoals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It’s an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism; a feeling of distrust or that something isn’t going to work out well. 

Synonyms for cynicism include: skepticism, doubt, mistrust, suspicion, disbelief, pessimism, negativity, disenchantment, and my personal favorite, world-weariness.

The emotional fruit of cynicism is varied. The cynic can have feelings of sadness, anger, indignation, surprise, despondency and disgust. Sometimes all at the same time!

It’s been said that the root of cynicism is not that we care too little, but that we care a whole lot. Which is a good thing. Until it isn’t.

Because our cynicism can become like a consuming black hole.

Andrew Byers, in a CHRISTIANITY TODAY article called Is Christian Cynicism a Spiritual Sickness? wrote:

So many believers have now slid into those dark pits that cynicism is becoming vogue in many Christian circles as a self-identifying trademark of a new spirituality: edgy spirituality of the jaded. Since cynicism is emerging as a hip new way to be “spiritual,” religious disenchantment is often hailed as a spiritual virtue

But here’s the deal: ultimately, our emotional buoyancy is a choice. Meaning, cynicism doesn’t have to be our lot.

Yes, the world (and particularly the people who populate it) give us multiple reasons to feel cynical.

  • People don’t live up to right standards.
  • People are hypocritical.
  • People let us down.
  • People do terrible things
  • People are downright hurtful. 

It kills us when we see people walk in the way of Esau, who sold his precious birthright for a stupid bowl of stew.

It drives us nuts when we see people seem to act more like those who chose the golden calf over worshiping the one, true God.

But then we must remember: it is for these types of sinful attitudes and practices that Jesus died on a cross. 

Cynicism sometimes tempts us to separate and differentiate ourselves from the people who demolish our ideals.

But we can’t separate ourselves FROM them because we ARE them.

As a former pastor of mine used to often remind his flock: “The ground around the cross is level.”

It’s sometimes good to remind ourselves that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

I have to admit that sometimes hiding behind my cynicism are flecks of spiritual pride. I, sadly, have too much in common with the condescending Pharisee who prayed he wasn’t like the other sinners.

If there was ever a person who could have become incredibly wearied by the world, it was apostle Paul. As he went forth to share the Gospel, he encountered all sorts of harassment and persecution.

More than once he was beaten to a pulp. He was unfairly charged and imprisoned. He was even left for dead.

Who could blame Paul if he finally got so sick of people and their painful ways, that he lashed out. Or maybe checked out.

But instead Paul revealed great resiliency.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul used a phrase several times regarding how he and his ministry partners dealt with ministry difficulty and being letdown by people: “We do not lose heart.”

Why? How could a man so pressed down keep popping up like a cork on the ocean?

He explained it like this:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

What kept Paul going? The Gospel. The Gospel within him as well as the Gospel he proclaimed.

And because Paul knew people needed the Gospel, he didn’t let people’s sinfulness destroy Him.

I wonder if there were times when Paul was tempted to become cynical, but then thought back to his own life before he met Jesus. You know, the life where he persecuted and killed Christians.

Maybe an awareness of his own darkness made it a bit more difficult to get bent out of shape about the darkness in others.

I think the problem of cynicism is rooted in one major mistake: we have our eyes on people more than we have them on Jesus.

People will always disappoint us.

I know I will certainly let people down.

When I have feelings of cynicism, I am often taken back to a chorus from a song, See Through,  performed by the band Audio Adrenaline:

Don’t you know that God loves you?
Don’t you know that I try too?
I’ve been known to miss my cue
Don’t look at me I’m see through

How’s that for reality? We are professional “cue-missers.”

We lack the substance for anyone to place too much trust in us.

No, there is only one place to bury our faith. And its not in human beings.

We’re see through. We’re sin stained. And until we make it to heaven, we’ll often miss the mark.

Last thought:

Peter walked on water once. But only because he fixed his gaze on the Savior.

Once he began to look around, he quickly became soaked.

Maybe there’s a principle in there for those of us feeling the tug of cynicism.

When we struggle with cynicism, perhaps we need only to check on which direction our eyes are pointed.

Every Christian Must Learn to Bend

Growing up in elementary school, I learned about something really mind-boggling. It was in an oceanography class. The teacher was describing something that happened to deep-sea divers when they came up to the surface too quickly. It was a malady known as “the Bends.”

Here’s the official description of the Bends:

The Bends is an illness that arises from the rapid release of nitrogen gas from the bloodstream and is caused by bubbles forming in the blood when a diver ascends to the surface of the ocean to rapidly. It is also referred to as Caisson sickness, decompression sickness (DCS), and Divers’ Disease.

The teacher also told stories about fish quickly being pulled up from the deep that surfaced with bulged eyes and deformed bodies…all a result of the Bends.

All I know is that when I was swimming in the deep end of our pool, I made sure not to rise too quick.

But this blog post isn’t really about the affects of aquatic decompression.

The topic on my mind is the fact that as a Christian, we all must learn to bend.

Meaning, we must learn to compromise and think of others ahead of ourselves.

Paul wrote as much in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

For some of us, the challenge given in this verse is just that…a challenge.

We don’t like to bend or adapt for others.

But, simply put, it’s the way of the Master.

Why do I say that. Consider the verses that follow Paul’s instruction:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-9 ESV)

Jesus bent for you and me. Not just a little, but a lot.

Rather than stand up for His rights, He laid down His life for our salvation.

Rather than claim power, He released His to become a servant.

He chose humility and obedience over status and the serving of self.

And one way we acknowledge our understanding of what He did on our behalf is treating others in the same fashion.

Deferring instead of demanding.

Letting others go first or letting others take our place.

It’s so hard, I know.

Though it was not God’s original design, humanity has a strong desire to look out for number one: ourselves.

But the mandate of scripture is to consider the needs (even the wants) of others.

I’ve heard it said (though I don’t know who said it) that The measure of a man’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves.

That only happens when we bend; when we flex to accommodate another human being.

My strange brain wonders…when a man comes to the surface of the ocean too quickly, he is physically affected in a negative way. We call it the Bends. And the Bends are to be avoided at all costs.

But perhaps it might be said that, in regard to our human relationships, we must pursue “the bends.” If we don’t develop a lifestyle of flexibility and willingness to defer to others, perhaps we may not look any different on the outside, but on the inside, spiritually, we may suffer greatly because we’ve put too much of the focus on ourselves, and not on those around us.

 

 

 

Christianity and “Cool” are Incompatible

I admit it. From time to time I want to be viewed as “cool.”

Its the desire to be “with it.”  A longing for cultural acceptance. A sense that others think of me as relevant and culturally savvy.

In short, it’s wanting to be hip.

Now, I don’t think there are any special points awarded for going out of our way to be socially awkward or culturally inept.

The struggle I have within myself is when I’m so in tune with my desired hipness, I automatically tend to look down on others. In some cases, my feelings of coolness cause me to judge or avoid people who I see as NOT cool.

When I was younger, this often showed up in ageism.

Simply put, it was cool to be young and energetic. Hence, to be older meant that it was time to turn your “cool card.”

Oh, how much better and hipper I was than any out-of-touch senior citizen!

My pride and my contempt for the aged was palpable.

(Thankfully, God helped me grow immensely in my attitudes toward the aged by having me work for four years at a restaurant right next Southern California’s largest retirement community.)

For me, a preoccupation with all things cool reeks of pride. And smells of elitism.

Which are two attitudes completely antithetical to Christianity.

The call of the Christian is to humility and inclusiveness.

When I focus on my desire for coolness (of which I possess very little!), I automatically am setting my heart in a wrong relational direction.

I could list hundreds of verses that clearly show that the call of the Christ-follower is to humility of heart and lowliness of Spirit. These concepts are not found in just a few, random places of scripture, but are in fact an overarching theme of the Bible.

Bottom line, I believe a desire to be cool is not from God, but has its roots firmly planted in the shifting sands of this planet.

And, it seems such struggles to be cool and matter more to men than to God are nothing new.

Thus, the apostle John was moved to write these words some 2000 tears ago:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. Whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

The world tells us to be cool we must dress right, like the right things, have the right haircut, buy the right brands, and associate with the right people.

I wonder: how much does a preoccupation with all of the above cripple my ability to truly serve?

To be cool means we focus a lot of thought and energy on ourselves.

Which really is bad for the business of doing ministry.

Paul wrote these applicable words that I believe cut at the core of the Christian who chases after cool:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phillipians 2:3-4 NIV)

If I’m at all concerned about being cool, it reveals a lack of understanding about my identity and security in Jesus.

Not only that, it will put limits on how I love and serve others.

Coolness will keep me from loving the aged, the maligned and the unlovely. It will keep me at arms length from the outcast and the person society views as useless.

Coolness and Christianity have little in common. The former is about preoccupation and exaltation of self. The latter thinks only killing the flesh and glorifying God.

My post is not a call to pursue weirdness. Being socially inept can be a threat to demonstrating the gospel as well.

No, it’s simply a call to not take ourselves so seriously, and instead get more serious about God and others.

Whoever will labor to get rid of self, to deny himself according to the instructions of Christ, strikes at once at the root of every evil, and finds the germ of every good.”

– Francois Fenelon