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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazingly Adopted

(This is a bit longer post. It’s the text of a recent devotion I gave before a communion service.)

When a person places their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, AT THAT MOMENT a multitude of changes take place.

We may not be able to see those changes, but that makes them no less real or tangible.

Take for instance the fact that when I put my trust in Jesus, I was immediately and fully justified before God.

Meaning, because Christ took the penalty for my sin, I now could be viewed as righteous in God’s eyes.

2 Corinthians 5:21 backs this up when it says:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Here are a few other things that occur the moment we become a Christian:

  • We are spiritually regenerated

In several places in the NT we read that apart from Christ we were dead in our sins, but through Christ we are spiritually awakened!

  • We gain fellowship with and access to God

Paul wrote that the wall that divided mankind from God was destroyed by Christ’s sacrifice, and in turn we are reconciled to God.

Imagine it…before Christ our sin kept us from knowing God or relating with God…but in Christ we can go to the Father anytime we want.

  • We are declared citizens of the kingdom of God.

When I was in the 6th grade, we had to read a short story called THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY. It was the story of a man who in the midst of a court martial trial renounced his U.S. citizenship, and thus spent the rest of his life aboard a ship at sea. As the years went by, the man began to pine for his former land, but sadly died aboard the vessel.

This story struck me because it reminded me of how much each of us desires a place we can call home.

And for the follower of Jesus, God promises him a place in His kingdom and a home in His heaven.

Which I believe is meant to bring us a profound sense of peace and security.

These are all great benefits that come along with our salvation!

But this morning, I’d like to take a little time to focus on another aspect a bit more.

 It’s the amazing reality of spiritual adoption

And to bring this topic into focus, I’d like to let scripture do the talking:

Galatians 4:4-7 says:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Or how about this from Romans 8:14-15?

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

John put it this way as he started off his Gospel letter:

John 1:12-13 (ESV): But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Simply put, God makes us His kids and confirms our place in His family! Which is a really big deal!

Legally speaking, adoption confers upon the person being adopted all the rights as a child born naturally into a family.

Meaning: on paper, an adopted child is just the same as a natural-born child.

The parents refer to the adopted child as being a son or a daughter.

And the adopted child knows their parents as mom and dad.

I believe the way to better understand and appreciate spiritual adoption is to put our feet in the shoes of an orphan.

When I try to connect my mind to the thoughts and feelings of an orphan, several words come to mind. They feel afraid. Alone. Disconnected. Unloved.

On the flip side, what are the thoughts and feelings of an orphan who is brought into a family and finds a home? Some might say they find peace, security, love and a sense of belonging.

Here’s another big thought about what it means to be an adoptable orphan: many of them come with issues.

  • They’ve been through trauma
  • They’ve experienced violence
  • They’ve been neglected
  • They’ve been abused
  • They’ve never known normal

And, thinking on the spiritual side of things, none of us enters God’s family based on our appearance, abilities or accolades.

No, the reality is that we in a natural, sinful state our quite offensive and unattractive.

In Paul’s monumental letter to the Romans, he  made the case that every human being falls short of God’s glory.

And to add detail to that description, Paul wrote these words found in Romans 3:

As it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Paul goes on to write in vivid detail just how offensive and unattractive we are to God.

The bottom line is this:

  • Because of the practice of sin…
  • And because of our propensity to sin…
  • And because we through Adam are branded with sin…

The Bible uses this word to describe our pre-adoption posture toward God: hostile!

Don’t believe me? Take a tour through Romans 8 or Colossians 1 and see if scripture doesn’t change your mind.

That’s what makes the message of Romans 5:8 so powerful:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God KNOWS about our brokenness!

God KNOWS about our sinfulness!

God KNOWS about our rebelliousness!

And yet he puts things in order that we might be his very own cherished children.

A few more thoughts:

  1. Adoption is typically quite costly.

Pastor and adoptive parent John Piper wrote:

There are huge costs in adopting children. Some are financial, some are emotional. There are costs in time and stress for the rest of your life. You never stop being a parent until you die. And the stresses of caring about adult children can be great or greater than the stresses of caring for young children. There is something very deep and very right about the embrace of this cost for the life of a child.

And how about spiritually? Did God’s adoption of us cost nothing?

No, on the contrary, it cost Him His very own son. Our adoption comes at huge price.

  1. Adoption sets us up for future hope

One of the words that goes along with the Bible’s teaching about adoption is the word HEIR.

Not A-I-R, but H-E-I-R

It’s defined like this: One who receives property from an ancestor; one who is entitled to inherit property

When we are adopted in God’s family, we become immovable partakers of his glorious promises.

Meaning, we can confidently count on everything His Word says is ours.

  • We can lay claim to His power
  • We can look forward to being with Him in Heaven

We’ve spent the last 9 months working through the book of 1 Corinthians.

And even though the members of this church we believers in Jesus, they seemed to live like they didn’t really know Him and all that he offered.

Which led Paul to write in chapter 3 these words as a reminder of their family status:

“All things are yours.”

That’s what we say to family members, isn’t it? Whether its access to the refrigerator or keys to the car, we hold a place that others don’t!

Here’s the bottom line takeaway for all this:

Because of what Jesus did for us, we are able to become beloved members of God’s family.

Because we are justified and because God’s wrath against sin has been satisfied by the work done on the cross, every person who places their faith in Jesus goes from being a spiritual to being fully embraced as a permanent child of God.

That’s just one more reason the elements that make up the communion meal are so symbolically powerful.

They provide a picture of just how expensive our adoption was.

  • The bread serving as a reminder of Christ’s broken body.
  • The cup providing an image of the blood that washed away every one of our sins.

By means of Jesus sacrifice for us, the wall of hostility and separation was broken down that we might experience light and life, hope and healing, peace and purpose.

Jesus’ Line in the Sand

When it comes to being a Christian, the calling is not to theoretical observation, but rather to active engagement and full involvement.

We don’t just think about being a Christian, we act it out in real life.

Christianity is designed to employ not just the mind, but also the heart, the will, the body and the soul.

In the Gospel accounts, there are many people who were described as following after Jesus, but their motives were mixed. In time, Jesus would say something or do something that would turn them off, and they would in response head in another direction.

And at one point in his earthly ministry, Jesus drew a line in the sand.

He wanted to make sure the people who followed (particularly the 12 disciples) Him knew what they were signing up for.

The incident that brought this about was the time Peter told Jesus that he should not go to Jerusalem to die at the hands of His enemies.

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 

It seems Peter thought protecting Jesus was the highest priority.

(Obviously Peter got this one wrong. Which is sad, because just moments prior to this failure, Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah.)

What Jesus knew (and Peter would later discover) was that His death was absolutely necessary to accomplish God’s purposes.

So that’s the situation. And here’s what Jesus said immediately after rebuking Peter:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)

Essentially, Jesus was telling his disciples that they too were to walk a path of denial and death.

This doesn’t mean that we are all called to sacrifice our physical life for Jesus (although that may happen for some).

What it does mean is that in obeying Jesus, we will often have to say “no” to ourselves.

It means offloading anything that keeps us from an abiding relationship with the Lord.

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a NIV)

File this under the category of “easier said than done.”

But Jesus is resolute in setting his conditions for discipleship.

Calling ourselves a follower of Jesus means we listen and obey Him.

If we say we want to walk in the path of Jesus, we must realize that self-denial is inevitable.

We will have to die to self if we want to experience life in Him.

Nate Bramsen, in his book called “What If Jesus Meant What He Said?” offered the following:

“The journey of denying self is the journey of letting God’s Word frame every area of your life. Letting God’s Word frame your career, you investments, your spending, your relationships, your priorities, your service, your mission, your comfort, your attitudes, your eating habits, your words and your thoughts.”

One thing we can’t accuse Jesus of is being unclear or wishy-washy.

He laid out his demands and his expectations.

All that follows is how we will respond.

 

 

Crossing the Boulevard

As kids, when it came to where we could go in our neighborhood, our parents gave us a lot of latitude.

But, the one thing they would often say as we rode off on our bikes was this:

“Don’t cross the Boulevard.”

Los Alamitos Boulevard to be exact.

That stretch of roadway was four lanes wide and full of speeding vehicles.

We were fine biking and walking along the quiet single lane roads that surrounded our house.

But the Boulevard was a no-no.

Why? Because our parents were concerned for us. They knew that all that traffic was challenging to navigate.

In time we would cross the Boulevard, and later we would even drive on it. (It was the only way to get to our high school!)

But as young children, our parents wanted to protect us from any harm.

I have to be honest though. The fact that I was told no about crossing the Boulevard tempted me think about trekking across it. Just because I wasn’t supposed to.

One time, I did. In my mind I came up with some half-baked reason why I needed to, and followed through on my scheme.

And what I realized was this: my parents were right. That stretch of roadway was more than my mind could comprehend.

Sometimes we look at God’s directives and admonitions from scripture, and we get to wondering why God has such firm rules for us.

We may even be tempted to think he’s spoiling our fun or cramping our style.

But the truth is God is always on our side and looking out for us.

He never gives us commands that are arbitrary, They are always with purpose.

And they are primarily concerned with our protection.

Along this topic, youth speaker and Christian apologist Josh McDowell wrote:

Ultimately, making right moral choices based upon God and His Word as our standard of right and wrong comes down to trusting God. Do we really believe God has a plan to prosper us? If He does, and I assure you He does, then living in relationship with Him is not only right, it is in our long-term best interest.

Some of us need a mental adjustment when it comes to our perspective of God.

If we view Him as a capricious, fun-killing ogre, than we really don’t know Him well.

He is, rather, a loving, caring, mindful God. Anything He directs us to do (or not do) is ultimately for our benefit.

In that moment of decision, we may not understand why prescribes certain actions. But our lack of understanding in no way takes away from the wisdom of what He calls on us to do.

Picture it like an umbrella. When we stay within the confines of God’s commandments we are safe and we stay dry.

But if we choose to wander away from the protection of the umbrella, we have no one to blame for getting wet but ourselves.

God’s Word is like that umbrella. It’s meant to guard our minds, hearts, souls and bodies.

Bottom line: disobeying God’s commands can result in all sorts of bad things even when we don’t get caught (things like guilt, shame, mistrust, broken relationships, unhealthy behaviors, and so on). That’s why God gave us those commands in the first place.

For our protection.