Why are you a Christian? What do you “sell” when you attempt to share your religion with others (if you ever do)?
Think of it from the other guy’s perspective. This, I would venture to say, is what many people are thinking when subjected to most “evangelism” methods offered by most “Christians” today:
If all you’re offering me is heaven when I die, then I don’t want it. Why would I want to give my life to a faith that makes me wait till I’m dead to find out whether I’m right or wrong? I can get that “promise” of a better afterlife from just about any other religion on earth. Heck, those Muslims will blow themselves up for it, they believe it so much. Why is your promise of heaven better than theirs?
Oh, so you’re throwing in a holy book, stories of long-ago leaders, and a professional holy man to help me live a “better” life? No, I think I’ll pass. Again, I can get those things anywhere. In fact, quite a few other religions have more credible holy men than you. Don’t your “clergy” get caught with their pants down, or their hand in the cookie jar, all the time? Forget about it. At least those other faiths have some discipline in their ranks!
It’s more than that? So you’re upping the offer with a “house of worship,” a community of like-minded (whatever that means!) people, songs to sing, and a weekly ritual gathering? Well, I can see that you all put on quite a show — fancy mood lights, good quality music, and that speaker guy can sure be motivational. But I think I’ll keep my Sunday mornings for football. Anyway, what religion doesn’t have holy buildings, communities, ceremonies and such? And somebody’s gotta pay for the fancy facilities and the razzle-dazzle show you put on … and I know what’s next: You’ll be trying to tell me your god wants me to help pay for it all, so we can keep the show going. No thanks.
Ok, NOW you’re getting “spiritual” on me. So I can “pray” and spill my guts to some helpline in the sky. And then there’s your “suggested” code of ethics. “Suggested,” I say, because the other “Christians” I know sure as heck don’t follow it! I see quite a few of the folks from your “church” at the liquor store, strip clubs, R-rated movies, divorce courts, etc. The only difference I see is that your religion makes them feel guilty about it all. And that “prayer” thing — you folks have nothing on the Muslims you bash so much. Those folks have the prayer thing down!
No, if you’re just offering me heaven when I die, a holy book with curious historical figures and wise saying, a place of worship, a holy man to lead the way, a weekly ceremony or “show,” a community of folks who share the same whatever you call it, an avenue for prayer, and guilt-inspiring rules for living, I don’t want it! EVERY OTHER “religion” on earth offers the same stuff — and they all point fingers at each other and say they’re wrong. Heck, even you “Christians” can’t agree. There are, what, hundreds of “churches” in my town, and NONE of them seem to do it the same way, or agree on even the most fundamental things. And you want me to pick YOURS? Gimme a break.
To heck with that! Now please, don’t knock on my door again. In fact, you know what my friend? I’ll “pray” for YOU — that you open your eyes and see that if that’s all there is to your religion, you’re WASTING YOUR TIME and THROWING AWAY YOUR LIFE.
You can get real friends from the Rotary Club or Masons, and they do a lot more good works in the community than you guys! Their gatherings are just as meaningful as a yours, and they’re not all always criticizing each other, making each other feel guilty, gossipping, putting on a false front, or asking for money! You can get that spine-tingly feeling from good music at any old concert, and heck, once you pay for your ticket there, they don’t keep trying to guilt you into giving more! You can hear MUCH better motivational speakers at a sales conference, or just buy a DVD set off an infomercial! Any professional association or community group will have a good code of ethics, and why limit yourself to one holy book, when you can have them all? I find meditation is just the same as what you call “prayer” … and that heaven thing? You know, if there is a god, I think he’ll see that I’ve lived a pretty good life, and that’s good enough for me. I sure live cleaner and more generously than most of your fellow “Christians” that I know!
So take your tracts, your oh-so-predictable “evangelism” methods, and your fake smiles – AND STOP trying to GUILT me into thinking I’m a scumbag that your god hates unless I subscribe to your religion – and leave me the heck alone!!
So if the promise of heaven, membership in “church,” and all the trappings of the Christian “religion” don’t cut the mustard, then what IS there?
(link to Part Two:
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Lately God has been showing me some heavy stuff about relationships, and about myself, and He’s challenged me to view (and do) things differently. Today I’d like to pass that challenge on to you.
Many years ago, God showed me a picture of how He seeks to connect the world to Himself, using His children as conduits. God is pure love, hope, grace, mercy, truth, power, and peace; these are the hallmarks of His Kingdom. The world is parched, starved for these things. The good news is, God longs for His Kingdom to saturate every corner of the world. In His grand design, however, He does not desire simply to pour Himself out over the world. Instead, He desires for His sons and daughters to serve as conduits for His Kingdom, to connect the lost world to His fullness.
To put this in simple terms, God is like a water tank, the world is a drought-parched field, and He desires that we serve as the hoses that bridge the gap, carrying His Living Water to those in need.
This is a consistent theme through the New Testament: We are to build a relationship with God, build relationships with others, and then get ourselves out of the way, as He works through us to meet their needs. I could point out a mountain of Scripture verses to back this up, but let me just mention a few, in the writings of the Apostle Paul:
Romans 15:18, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God…”
Galatians 2:20, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”
Paul wrote frequently on the topic of dying to self, of diminishing himself, of crucifying his flesh — in effect, to make sure he was a clear, clean hose for God to flow through. He didn’t seek to be strong, but weak, because, he said, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. He understood the first rule of serving as a conduit: that there is nothing we can add to what God is doing, nothing we can do for God. Instead, God desires that we cease from our own works and get out of His way, so that He can flow through us, untainted and unhindered.
When we inject our own desires, ambitions, ideas, perceptions, intentions, fears, doubts, logic, etc., into what He is doing, we only get in the way – and either contaminate the flow of His Spirit, or cut it off completely.
So … back to the challenge. Like I said, God showed me this picture of the hoses many years ago, and lately He’s brought it to another level of clarity and specificity, challenging me to bring this principle to my relationships.
Here’s what He’s set before me, in three “easy” steps. I call it the God Hose Challenge:
1) When I look at another person, my first objective is to ask God, “What do You desire for this person? What do You want to do for, in, and through them?” In other words, I must seek to see them with His eyes, and feel for them with His heart.
2) Next, I need to ask Him, “What do You want me to do about it?” In this, I need to look soberly at how He has equipped me to serve them, to help fulfill His desires for them. It may just be words, but it may much more. At the very least, for everyone I encounter, it will include specific prayer.
3) Finally, where I am not equipped or called by Him to fully meet their needs, I am to ask, “Who do I know who can help, and how can I get them connected?”
Simple, isn’t it? In concept, maybe, but let me tell you, if you embrace this challenge and let it change the way you get through your day, it’ll prove to be quite tough. If you’re like me, you’ll begin to realize how very selfish you’ve been. I’m willing to venture that even the “best” and “most righteous” of us, when we accept this challenge, will find how downright manipulative, self-seeking, petty, standoffish, and lazy we are, even with the ones we love most. I’ve been doing this just a couple days now, and I gotta tell you, I thought I was a pretty good guy, but I’m convicted about how many times, in how many ways, I’ve engaged others with “what’s in it for me?” somewhere in my mind.
The cool thing is, if you really embrace this as the core of how God wants us to live in relation to others – and not as some Dr. Phil quick fix, to be “tried” for a while – I think you’ll find that it gives you new hope for your future. Relationships that may have degenerated over the years, or that have become conformed to bad patterns, will start to revive. When we allow God to lead the dance, great things happen.
This challenge is the opposite of elbowing your spouse during the tough sermon, saying, “I hope you’re listening to this one!!” Instead, this challenge allows God to, lovingly, elbow YOU and purge you of all the bad things you’ve contributed – maybe even with good intentions! – to your relationships.
It not your job to “fix” your spouse, or friends, or anyone else – it’s God’s! It’s our job to fix ourselves, and let Him work through us as we do. It’s not a ploy to eventually get more stuff or improve things for myself; it’s a permanent conviction to fully serve the needs of others — all the time, in every way, with no thought for my own interests. Maybe I’m showing my absolute ignorance here, but to me, this really has been a revolutionary revelation.
Maybe coolest of all, I’m learning that “what goes around comes around.” Fact is, there are others in the world whom God has assigned to do the same thing for each of us! Just as God desires to work through us to build up others, He seeks to work through others to build us up. When we get ourselves out of the flow, it allows God not only to flow more through us, but also to flow more to us. When we stop seeking and worrying about our own needs and desires, and start focusing 100% on His Kingdom and righteousness – that is, on serving and loving others according to God’s desires for them – then He can and will truly provide for us, beyond our comprehension. If we instead seek to serve ourselves — even a little — we block the flow.
Are your relationships all perfect? Does the power, peace and love of God flow through you one hundred percent, unhindered and untainted? And, are you finding that God is daily working through others to build you up and provide for your needs? If not, I hope you’ll join me in the God Hose Challenge. I believe it just may revolutionize your life.
(Now imagine if everyone functioned this way. Talk about heaven on earth!)
Try it out for a week, and then come back and post a reply and let us know how it’s going.
EPHESIANS 4:29-30 (my own translation from the Greek): “Let no worthless reasoning, motive or intent come out of you, but only what is good for building up others, according to their needs, for their benefit.”
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
“Remember the reason for for the season,” is a catchy phrase Christians often use to try to remind themselves and others that the commercialization, consumerism and comfortable traditions related to Christmas are not what it’s really all about.
Unfortunately, most Christians don’t know the real, REAL reason for the season. It’s not just about sweet Baby Jesus in a manger, or even about the fact that we can now go to heaven when we die because He came to earth.
God clearly spelled out the real, REAL reason for the season in Isaiah 9:6-7. (You’ll recognize the first line, from countless Christmas cards. Unfortunately, that’s where Hallmark ends it — yet the meat is what comes next…)
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be on His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice, from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (NKJV, emphasis added.)
This prophetic word was fully echoed by Jesus in Luke 4:43, when He clearly spelled out the reason He came to earth: “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”
(Brief language lesson here: the Hebrew word translated as government is MISRAH, which means empire. This is the Old Testament version of the Greek word BASILEIA, which we tranlate as kingdom, or “the royal power, kingship, dominion and rule” of God. So these verses are talking about the exact same thing.)
Jesus didn’t come to rescue us from earth. From God’s perspective the cross is not just a means of our salvation, it is a means of His invasion!
From Genesis 1, where God’s first words to mankind are “go and conquer,” to Revelation 21, where God says that “he who conquers will inherit all things,” the message of the Bible is about God working through His sons and daughters to establish His “royal power, kingship, dominion and rule” on earth as it is in Heaven.
Where the first Adam failed, Jesus came as “the last Adam” to give us the keys the Kingdom – to show us The Way, to model, equip, empower and enable us to conquer the world as God desires.
The Apostle Paul said that the Kingdom of God is peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. We are called to fight for our fellow man, against the spiritual enemies that seek to kill, steal and destroy. We are called to expand the Kingdom of Love, as led by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the grand purpose of mankind.
From the moment sweet baby Jesus was born in the manger in Bethlehem, the Isaiah passage says that He carried God’s empire, His Kingdom, on His shoulder. And from that moment onwards, the expansion of His Kingdom will have no end — as His ever-expanding Body of brothers and sisters pick up their mandate and zealously follow His lead.
Jesus came to give us everything WE need to accomplish this: 1) An open door, through Him, to a relationship with the Father, 2) and everpresent counselor in the form of the Holy Spirit, and 3) as it says in Luke 10:19 (translated accurately) “behold, I give you superhuman mastery over … all the force of the enemy.”
THESE are the gifts we should remember at Christmastime. Praise God, in Christ we have everything we need to live out our victorious destiny! So what are we waiting for?
The Kingdom of God: The real, REAL reason for the season!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
It’s good to pay close attention to the metaphors God chooses. God’s Word is always deep and multifaceted, and word associations He uses aren’t thrown into Scripture simply out of artistic license. When He says, for example, “Consider the ant…” in Proverbs, we really should. Fact is, He made ants (and everything else) and gave them the the traits they have, to serve as an expression of Himself and His truth. We can know Him, ourselves, and our plight more deeply if we study these things in depth.
One God-given metaphor that’s been in my mind lately is where He says that He’s raising us to be “oaks of righteousness.” This metaphor is jam-packed with meaning, and today I’m going to dig into just one facet of it.
When you cut down a tree and look inside, we all know that you’ll find it contains ring after ring of growth. Look closely at these rings, and you’ll see they alternate between thicker, lighter-colored rings and thinner, darker colored ones.
A while back, I studied how to make a bow (as in archery) out of a single piece of wood. For a bow, it’s not the shape that matters so much as it is being mindful of the growth rings. Whittle a stiff piece of wood to the shape of a bow and ignore the rings, put a string on it, and pull it back, and it’ll most likely snap in two. However, if you shave it down according to the internal ring structure, so that the face of the bow is one contiguous ring (one of the thin, dark ones specifically) from tip to tip, you can flex it all you want and it won’t break. That’s because the dense growth rings are strongest part of a tree.
You see, the growth rings in a tree reflect the changing seasons. When external conditions are seemingly ideal, and the tree shows all the outward signs of life, this is when the thick, weak rings are formed. The thin, strong rings grow during the harsh, dry seasons. While it may seem on the outside that the tree is dormant or dead, it is in reality gaining the inner strength it needs to withstand the greatest stress and fiercest storms.
Oaks grow slowly, and strong. And, according to His Word, God is growing us the same way.
When we understand this, and start seeing our lives from God’s perspective, it is easier to rejoice when we face harsh, dry seasons. During our Christian walk, we all face them; it’s part of God’s plan. God is growing strong, seasoned sons and daugthers to inherit His Kingdom!
I wrote the following bit a many years ago during a dry spell, and just stumbled across it yesterday. Somehow it seemed particularly relevant to the season many of us are in right now. I hope it blesses you.
LESSONS FOR THE LEAN TIMES
Quoting the Bible is easy, especially when you’re giving advice to others. Even quoting it to yourself can be easy. Now living it … well, that can be another story entirely, right?
I mean, when Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, drink or wear … Don’t worry about tomorrow…,” He didn’t really mean for us to literally not worry about these things, did He? Was He really speaking to me, as the head of my household, with a mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc.? Does He really expect us to do this, even in a down economy?
My friends, the answer to each of these is simple: Yes.
God is real and His promises are true. No matter how complicated our economic system. No matter who we are, or where we are, or how much we make (or used to make!).
The Lord has blessed me by leading me through some very difficult times. Yes, I said blessed! Blessed because, as the Bible says, it’s through trials that He builds our faith, and through fire that He purifies us. I personally desire greater faith and purity much more than I desire a bigger TV or house. Not that they always conflict, but if I had to choose, I’d pick a closer walk with Him over material things any day. Wouldn’t you?
I also consider it a blessing to go through tough times because later it allows me the opportunity to help others who are going through the same types of challenges. If someone can stand on my shoulders, and not have to go to the depths I’ve had to go, I’d consider my hardships to be worthwhile.
Right now I know many folks are facing some tough challenges, and I’d like to encourage you to seek God through it all. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in faith and purity!
Here are some keys I’ve found for thriving in the lean times:
Rejoice! This is an opportunity to learn and grow. God cares about YOU, not about your things! Let your heightened sense of awareness drive you to His word and to prayer. When you pray, remember His divine guidance and provision are already yours for the taking! He promises them to you in full — you just have to do your part: 1) Trust in Him with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, 2) Seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Don’t keep begging Him for what’s already yours — instead, thank Him … and then do your part!
Focus on righteousness. Only obsess about the things that you can control. When you can’t sleep and are tempted to worry, turn it around and instead ask the Lord to show you areas in your life where you can be more obedient and righteous, where you can better reflect Him. Make good use of those restless nights!
Find the tightrope. We’re supposed to be on the narrow path anyways, right? It can be easy to stray in fat times when the tightrope is laying on the ground and we have the latitude to wander any which way. Now that times are lean, the ground has pulled away and there’s no safety net, let it force you back to the narrow path. Be obsessed with fully honoring God with every step; every thought, word and action. Commit to staying on it when things get “better.” And when you can’t see very far ahead and your chest gets tight, just focus on the very next step, even if it’s just inhale, then exhale, then inhale…. God will get you through it!
Honor the landowner. In many years of taking boys hunting and fishing through the youth ministry I founded, we developed clear-cut rules for relating to landowners: Get to know them, maniacally follow their rules, and leave the place better than you found it. It’s easy to think the things we have are “ours.” But the Bible says otherwise: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything that’s in it.” Start treating God like the landowner He is. The stuff you have (and/or had) isn’t yours! Remember the words to the old hymn, “I am but a stranger here, Heaven is my home.” Get to know the Landowner! Follow His rules! Leave the place better than you found it, every single day! And don’t be surprised if and when He trusts you with more keys to open more gates!
Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There was wisdom in that old Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. If God has given you something to do, do it, regardless of what you see or understand. If you play your chips, when times are high you’ll be careless and wasteful, and when times are low you’ll miss out on all the key opportunities. You can’t lose when you set your eyes on things above, and walk accordingly!
Playing chicken. So you’re staring the monster in the teeth, running headlong into some scary stuff? Great! Time to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Either all we hear and sing about in church is true or it’s not. This is your chance to see exactly what God is made of. Don’t blink, don’t swerve and don’t panic — stay on the narrow path as He leads you, and run the race with endurance! This may be the best opportunity of your life to find what’s meaningful and true! My experience is, the whole world will swerve to avoid crashing into a man of God.
Count the cost. Jesus said we should count the cost of following Him. What if He were to require you to give up all your earthly possessions so that you could remain in a personal relationship with Him? It’s not without precedent! You don’t know God’s plan: These “tough times” may be permanent. You must ask yourself, will you be truly content with simply being in His will? And learn to celebrate, not resent, others’ good fortune.
Focus on fruit. Someday we’ll all stand before the Lord and He’ll ask, “Where’s the fruit?” (I’m reminded of that old woman in the Wendy’s commercial … “Where’s the beef?!”) He gives us time, talents and treasure in this world for one primary purpose: To produce fruit that pleases Him. Have you been doing this? One thing is certain, even if you have less today than yesterday, you can. Be faithful with the little that you do have today! Keep planting seeds and working the soil, and be efficient and effective at it. Then He just may give you more.
Learn all you can! Keep asking the Lord, “What more can I learn through this?” That’s another prayer He’ll always answer!
Be transparent. Don’t act like things are rocking and rolling if they’re not. In being open, honest and humble, you may finally learn what the Body of Christ is all about! Don’t be ashamed — accept help from those the Lord brings your way.
Keep smiling. God is still in control! He still has cattle on a thousand hills! Don’t let others get you down. They’ll try! Remember Job’s source of hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
Take notes. That’s what I did, and now I might just be helping others. Plan to do the same! Be a living monument to the Lord to remind the world of His mighty power!