What if the greatest threat to American Christianity isn’t legislated morality but our own apathy?

I’m not breaking any new ground here, but recent events have gotten me thinking about the state of Christianity in America today. And I’m convinced that the biggest threat to Christianity in America isn’t abortion or gay marriage or any other hot button issue you’d like to argue on Facebook about, but instead our own tepidness towards actually doing the business of following Christ¹. You know, like Jesus Christ, that one guy whose name actually is the basis for the word “Christian”?

We live in a world filled with distractions, sports and entertainment being chief among them. Our children have games on Sunday mornings so we skip services to attend. Our sermons are boring (have you ever listened to one of mine? Guilty) so we’d rather just stay at home and veg out than make the effort to come all the way to church. It’s too much of a strain to come to a mid-week Bible study so we stay home to have “family time.” Pick a reason or excuse and we’ll use it to not read our Bible, pray, or gather together with other believers.

But don’t you dare say anything we disagree with on social media because we will come after you with guns ablaze. We’ll spend hours refreshing our feeds to participate in online debates with people we don’t even know but we won’t spend time engaging in the messy lives of people we actually do know.

I find the story of Daniel and the Lions Den, as told in Daniel 6, fascinating as it relates to legislation and piety. Daniel lived in a nation that made it illegal to pray to anyone or anything other than the king² and what was his first reponse? Run to his social media platforms and proclaim that the Medes and Persians needed to get back to God? Lambaste anyone that disagreed with him? Nope. Daniel 6:10 tells us what he did. “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”

What would happen if we just decided to spend some time in prayer before we got on our social media? Or skipped it altogether to spend time in the Bible instead? What if we devoted ourselves to God’s Word, to spending time in authentic community with other people, and to being engaged in prayer, as the early church did? I think God would be pleased and I think that we’d see our world around us start to change, very likely beginning with our own hearts.³

What if the greatest threat to Christianity lies within our own hearts and our uncommitted, half-hearted following of Christ?

¹I’m not saying that these aren’t important issues worthy of our time or energy, but instead that we seem to have given the issues priority over the Savior.

²All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. – Daniel 6:7-9

³I say all these things fully recognizing that I’m as big of an offender for these things as anyone. Probably worse.

Undesired Consequences (or paying the price for other people’s actions)

As my wife and I neared the end of a week filled with tantrums and misbehavior from our foster son, we’d both pretty much had enough. As we were right in the middle of another meltdown she looked at me and said “Why? Why is this happening?” I immediately responded without thinking and said “Because we’re paying the price for other people’s actions.” And as soon as I said it, I stopped.

I stopped because I immediately realized that suffering the consequences of other people’s actions is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death¹ and that he who knew no sin became sin for us². So all of my sinful actions (and trust me, there are plenty) ended up in Jesus dying on the cross and paying the penalty that I deserved, which was death.

But it doesn’t just stop there either! Not only do I not reap the consequences of my sin, but I also receive the free gift of eternal life. Jesus paid my debt and then turned around and gifted me something I never could have earned for myself. So while I’ll still suffer temporal consequences of sin and death (after all, we still live in a fallen world), I can rest secure knowing that my eternal life is paid for. What a glorious picture of God’s redemptive work in our lives!

It’s true, we’ve signed up to parent someone else’s child and to deal with all kinds of baggage we didn’t bring on ourselves. But before I get too self-righteous, I need to remember that I bring plenty of baggage to the party and ultimately someone else paid the final price for my sin, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

 

¹For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  -Romans 6:23 (ESV)

²For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  -2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Why? (Or things that a 4 year-old is teaching me about my relationship to God)

whyMy wife and I recently welcomed a 4 year old foster child into our home. It’s been an adjustment for all of us, but the biggest thing we’ve had to get used to is the questions.  The constant questions.  Of why?

Why?

Why?

Why?

Everything is why? Why this, why that, why is it raining, why isn’t it raining, why?

So the other day, in the middle of a why chain, my wife looks at me and says, “Do you think we sound this way to God?”

And you know what? I think she’s right. Far too often I find myself asking God why.  And I think it is a legitimate question, but I think that sometimes I sound like a four year-old to God. Why? Why didn’t I get that job? Why did my friend get cancer? Why do I have to do this? Why can’t I do that? And then my questioning of God becomes something more than just questioning, it becomes idolatry.

Idolatry?

When I’m questioning God about everything, mostly I think it’s because I think I know better than God, and when that’s the case, I’m telling Him that I should be god and not Him, and that’s idolatry. So questions of why are fine, but they should be firmly grounded in a view of God’s sovereignty and trust in His goodness.  The road may not always be easy and I likely won’t always understand, but this I do know, I can trust God with my life.  He’ll never fail me, even when I don’t understand.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

– Isaiah 55:8-9

A Theology of Interruptions (Or What God is Teaching Me Lately)

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth”

I’ve recently finished reading through the Gospels and as I read God has really impressed upon me how Jesus did His ministry. Jesus was constantly walking around and going from place to place and all four of the Gospels are filled with lines like the above, where Jesus was on his way to something, or going to see someone, or eating dinner somewhere, and then someone came up to him, or he saw someone there, or someone was brought to him. And it never resulted in Jesus saying “Hey man, I’m eating here” or “I’m sorry ma’am, I’m on my way to Judea”, but instead resulted in Jesus taking time to heal the wounded, soothe the grieving, and love the unlovely.

And as I read these scenes over and over and over I realized how many times I get so caught up in my plans, my destinations, my goals and I don’t even notice the people and opportunities around me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have plans or goals, as Jesus was quite intentional with what He did. But I do think that we (or I) get so caught up in what we’re focused on that we might miss something that God has for us to do right in front of us. Or we might choose not to engage a ministry opportunity because it just isn’t convenient, it doesn’t fit our expectation, or it’s a little (sometimes a lot) messy.

What would our churches look like if we spent our days actively looking for God’s work for us? What would our Christian lives look like? Jesus interrupted His existence to come to earth for us¹, are we willing to interrupt our lives for service to Him?

1. Philippians 2:5-7 “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.”

Love Lost

Seems to me there have been a lot of weird things going on within the world of the Christian church and Christianity in general lately.  I’m not one that is going to glorify the past and send out a call for the “good old days” as I really think that those times are mostly misremembered and the stain of the sins of past generations fade with time.  But I do think we’ve somehow lost our way.  And yet while saying that, I also recognize that I am as guilty as anyone else, and probably even more, so I am trying to come at these things in a spirit of humility and not one of judging and finger-pointing.  Lord knows we have enough of that in the church already.

What concerns me is that the Christian church seems to have lost the words of Jesus from John 13.  After washing his disciples feet Jesus, in the midst of predicting the most gut-wrenching betrayals, says to the twelve, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

Love is a funny thing.  Sometimes it springs up immediately, like the weeds in my garden.  Other times it is carefully nurtured and cultivated and it is a struggle each step of the way.  Love makes people do things they wouldn’t do otherwise.  And in the greater Christian community today, I think we’re largely loveless.  Oh, there are likely small pockets here and there but those people don’t make magazine covers and have thousand of twitter followers and giant speaking platforms.  And a loveless church scares me because I think it is then it becomes capable of terrible things, all in the name of God and religion. 

I don’t pretend to know what God thinks but I do know this: God created each person and thing in the world because He loves all of humankind.  Love is the driving force of God and His action and I can’t even begin to fathom why bad things happen except to know that God loves me.  The Bible, for all of the books and chapters and writers, is a really long love story.  God loves me, God loves you, and God desires that we reciprocate, replicate, and reiterate that love for all the world to see.  And if God sees what I see in the church today, I think he might be sad.  I know I am.

I John 4:7-12 tells us as much.  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

So friends if you’re reading and you’re a church-goer and consider yourself a believer, see about making love a more vital part of your life and your church.  If you’ve walked away from the church or haven’t ever been or don’t believe in God, I’m sorry.  Not for any of those things, but because I think you’ve been given a distorted image of what God is like from the church.  I can’t tell you what the full picture of God is like, and no one else can either, but I can assure you that it is more loving than you could ever imagine.  So let’s see if we can love lavishly and show the world a better way.

Misrepresenting God

Others have probably said this in more intelligent and eloquent ways, but here’s my stab at it.  I just finished watching the movie Blue Like Jazz.  I highly recommend it.  I loved the book by Donald Miller and I’m not sure why it took me so long to see the movie.  But I did, and near the end, the main character Don says something about misrepresenting God.  And I realized then that this was the phrase I’ve been looking for to express my feeling for quite some time now.

You see, I’ve gone to seminary and I’ve spent all of my life in churches and leading Bible studies and preaching and teaching and reading.  And yet I still see how skewed my view of God is and how badly I show Him to the world.  And while I won’t confess the shortcomings of others, I suspect I’m not alone.  Because here’s the thing: God loves people.  All people.  Whether they want to be loved or not.  The Bible is a love story. A love story about a God trying to love His people.

The book of Hosea is a weird book.  There is this prophet, a man who speaks for God, and God tells him to go marry a prostitute.  That’s weird.  Like kick you out of the church weird.  And I wonder about stories like this in the Bible.  How did Hosea know it was God telling him to do that?  What did he say to his friends and family?  But Hosea did it and loved Gomer the prostitute.  But she didn’t want to be loved.  She wanted to go prostitute herself.  And get herself sold into slavery.  And so Hosea had to go rescue her; buy her back; bring her back.  He loved her.  I don’t know how.  I don’t think I could have done it.  But he did it, and you know, I think he did it because he loved God and he knew that God loved him.  And God loves me.  And you.

I don’t love people like I should.  Not like God would, not like Jesus did.  And so I misrepresent God.