When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

5 Dec

Image result for thoughts and prayers are not enoughIn the morning, my family has a routine.  Our two kids still at home, one middle schooler, one elementary, get ready for school while we are watching the local news.  Then at 7am we switch over to CBS for their morning show.  A few days ago, we were surprised to hear that CBS fired one of their anchors, Charlie Rose, because of sexual misconduct.

Then a few days after that, we were watching the same program when they reported that NBC had just fired one of the Today Show anchors, Matt Lauer, for the same reason.

It seems like a new allegation and firing occurs every day.  That the truth is coming out and people are being held accountable is incredibly important and good.  A necessary purging, hopefully leading to deep change in our society.

But on top of the reports of sexual misconduct there have also been mass shootings pretty much every day.  In malls, schools, movie theaters, at concerts, in churches.

As we hear about these abusers and tragedies, we can’t help but think that the world is a dark place.  We can become despondent, confused.  How do we respond to darkness, to tragedy?  What should we think and feel?  What should we do?

One of the first responses to tragedy that we hear is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Praying for people is good thing.  You see it on Facebook, in the news, on the lips of politicians.  Prayer rising up out of the ashes of tragedy.

In that sense, “Thoughts and Prayers” is a good thing.

But after one of the recent shootings, the idea of “thoughts and prayers” was called into question. The shooting happened, and almost as soon as the news was reported, people started posting “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook.

“Las Vegas, our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

But this time that sentiment, which is a good thing, was called into question.  Why?  Maybe people had reached a point where things had gotten so bad, that they had enough.  Maybe some people felt that “thoughts and prayers” was nice, but other action needed to be taken.  “Thoughts and prayers” has been called into question many times before, especially when “thoughts and prayers” are uttered by people who could potentially do something to stop or decrease the tragedies, but don’t.  And that makes people very upset.

I am going to agree with them today.  Other action does need to be taken.

Hear me out.  The critique I’ve heard says that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough because something additional needs to happen around gun laws.  Lives are so easily cut down by guns, thus  motivating the critique of “thoughts and prayers.”

I’m not going to talk about gun laws today.  Might be a topic for another time!

Today, though, I am going to agree with the critique of “thoughts and prayers.” I’m going to say that “thoughts and prayers” are good, but not enough.   There is another form of prayer that is so often missing.

That prayer is called lament.

Do you ever pray prayers of lament?  I rarely do.  I hardly even know what lament means.  And yet, lament is very much a common kind of prayer in the Bible. There is a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations, for goodness sake! Lament is especially prevalent in the Psalms.  One scholar I found claimed that more than 50% of the Psalms are lament.

And yet, I suspect many of us do not know about lament.  What is lament?

I suspect that we confuse lament with regret over a bad choice.  If something is lamentable, we mostly, I think, mean that we feel someone made a bad choice.  A error.  The words “lament” and “regret” are related no doubt, but they have different meanings.  Regret is when you are upset about a bad choice you made and you wish you could change it.  Lament is a bit different.  And I think the difference is why we so often have regrets, but we don’t lament.

Lament is defined as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow; mourning.”

We know about this when we mourn the loss of loved ones.  But lament takes things further.  And that is what we see in these psalms that we will study in Advent.

As I said earlier, when there is a tragedy, we often respond by saying “our thoughts and prayers are with you.”  Prayer for those going through tragedy is good.  I think, though, that we need to add lament to our thoughts and prayers.

Lament is something that we don’t hear about in the face of national tragedy.  How is lament different from “thoughts and prayers”?

Andy Crouch in an article in Christianity Today says: “An equally valid and instinctive form of prayer in the face of tragedy is lament, which calls out in anguish to God, asking why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Lament confronts God with his seeming inaction and distance. This is a profound response of faith. Far from being unchristian, it is actually the prayer offered by Jesus himself on the Cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

So this Advent at Faith Church we are going to learn about lament in the psalms.

In our next post, the first psalm of lament we’ll be studying is Psalm 80.

Who are you really? (And how to find out)

4 Dec

In my last post, I mentioned that in Deuteronomy 9 Moses gives the people of Israel an exam, and he has shocking news for them.  Remember the principle?  They are not righteous in and of themselves.  They were in danger of thinking that God brought them to the Promised Land because they were so good.  So to help them see the truth about themselves, Moses reminds them of their nation’s major mess-up, that time they made an idol and worshiped it.  You can go back to Exodus 32 and read the original account.  Here in Deuteronomy 9 Moses just summarizes it.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

The people of Israel had just witnessed the amazing miracle of walking through the Red Sea, as the waters are parted.  That is one of the miracles most people would long to see.  Israel saw it.  If I saw that, I think I would be committed to Jesus for the rest of my life.  I would never doubt him.  My faith would never waver.

Guess what?  A month and a half later Israel is worshiping a golden calf, an idol they made.  How is that possible?  It is tempting to think that something is wrong with Israel. As if they are an especially disobedient and fickle people.  You’d think they’d make it longer than a month and a half trusting in God, after having seen him part the waters of the Red Sea.

But you have to remember that they are still getting to know this God.  And when Moses, their primary connection to this God, leaves them to go up the mountain to meet with God, which is exactly what happened right before they made the idol, what is Israel to think?  They have no word from Moses as to how long he will be gone.  How long do they wait for him to come back?  How long would you wait?  Think about how you would feel after a week?  And then two weeks go by?  Then another week!  I am totally thinking in terms of our impatient American culture where we want everything done fast.  But waiting even a couple weeks for Moses to return seems like an interminably long time.

It does not take long for any people in any era to get impatient.  And the people of Israel at this point are at an especially precarious spot in their walk with God.  They don’t have the benefit of centuries of watching God remain faithful.  They have one and a half months.  It is really hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes, how they must have felt.

And yet, Moses is hard on them here in Deuteronomy 9 isn’t he?  He totally faults them for what they did. As I thought about it, part of me wants Moses to tone it down, to give Israel some grace.  “Come on Moses, they didn’t have the vantage point that you had on the mountain.  They thought you had left them, or maybe that you had died up there.  It’s not like you took food and water enough for 40 days!  Geez.”

I think, though, it is possible that I want grace and mercy for Israel because I know I am like Israel.  I know I need mercy and grace too. We all do.

And yet, Israel did do something incredibly wrong.  They were impatient.  They demanded that Moses’ brother Aaron, who was the high priest, take their gold and make an idol for them to worship. And Aaron did just that.  He made an gold idol in the shape of calf.  The people were impatient, desperate for a god they could see and touch.  They weren’t so sure about this YHWH who was invisible, who had taken their leader Moses away.

So Israel made an idol and worshiped it.  That’s the story of the Golden Calf.

As Moses stands before them here in Deuteronomy 9, that golden calf episode was 40 years prior.  The generation that committed that act of idolatry has passed away.

That makes me question why Moses says to the new generation in verse 7: “Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert.”  Does that strike you as odd too?  He lumps that generation right in with their forefathers.  It could seem unfair.  If I was there listening to Moses, maybe I would be thinking, “Wait a minute, Moses, I didn’t do that. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even born yet.”  And yet Moses goes into detail retelling the story as if they did it, as if they were there.  Why? Moses needs them to face the fact that the Golden Calf episode, though a part of their history that they themselves were not responsible for, still serves as a reminder of how weak their faith can be.

So let’s bring this all back around to what Moses is attempting to do in chapter 9. In Part 1, which is verses 1-6, Moses is teaching a principle which he clearly states in verses 4-6: Israel should not think they are righteous and that their righteousness is why God is giving them the Promised Land.

Then comes Part 2, verses 7-29, where Moses illustrates for them how unrighteous they have been.

What is Moses doing?  He is giving them the truth.  He knows they could easily have a false impression about themselves.  He knows they could become prideful and arrogant, and they have no business being prideful and arrogant considering how unrighteous they have been.  Moses is giving them a dose of reality.

Just as Moses is giving Israel a needed dose of reality, how can we have a healthy, appropriate honest self-assessment, without pridefully or arrogantly thinking that we don’t need it?

We need the correct view of ourselves.  We should not assume that we already have a healthy self-assessment.  We might have the correct view of ourselves, but we should always be cautious about that.

This can go both ways.  Some of us, like Israel, already have or are in danger of having a too-high view of ourselves.  Others among us have a too-low view of ourselves.  Neither are healthy.  We might think we’re righteous when we’re not.  And we might think we’re evil or worthless when we’re not.  I’ve heard a lot of both. People who think they are wonderful, and people who think they are failures.

Instead we need the truth.  We need to be people who actively seek God’s view of us.  What is God’s view of us?  We get a picture of God’s view of us when we look at how Moses finishes Deuteronomy 9.  Moses was so upset at the people during that golden calf incident. But he still prayed for them in verses 25-29. He intervened for Israel. God wanted to destroy Israel and start over with Moses. But Moses pleads with God to show mercy.  God listens to Moses!

What does that show us about how God views us?  God forgives and showers his mercy on us. That is the kind of loving God he is.  God hears and cares.  He listens.  He sees all the rebellion and disobedience we can do, yet he is so willing to forgive.

There is hope for us who have worshipped golden calves.  There is hope for us who have failed.  Because God is merciful and forgiving.  No matter if our opinion of ourselves is too high or too low, we have a God who loves us.

When you look intently into the mirror of God’s word, what will you learn about yourself?  What will you see in the mirror?  You will see a person who God created, a person who bears the divine image, a person who God loves.  That is you.

Therefore, knowing that we are loved more than we can imagine, let us fight hard to have a healthy self-perspective.  Do not trust yourself to give yourself a true perspective of who you are.

Invite others into the process of self-evaluation.

Spend time in the Bible.  The mirror of God’s word, as James calls it (see James 1:19-27). Ask God to speak to you through his word.

Think about how you have annual evaluations at work.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had annual evaluations as to how we are doing as disciples of Jesus?

Evals are intimidating and scary.  I feel that too. Every year our Faith Church Pastoral Relations Committee gives me my annual evaluation.  I’m always nervous going in to that meeting.  But every year it is so, so good to learn about myself.

I encourage you to ask for the eval, invite it, beg for it.  Fight for it.  Become desperate for the truth about yourself.  Strive hard to answer the questions, “How is my attitude?  How am I thinking about myself?  Am I believing any lies about myself?”

As you learn the truth about yourself, there might be things you don’t like.  Things that need to change.  Work on changing them.  Do not only receive the information about yourself, begin to make strides to change.  Remember that God loves you, and that he is a forgiving God.  And he wants to empower us to make those changes.

Why exams are so important for us – Introducing Moses’ exam of Israel in Deut. 9

1 Dec

Image result for eye dilationA few years ago I had one of those eye exams where they put the drops in your eyes to dilate them.  I wear contacts, so first my doctor (I go to the optometrist at Costco) had me remove my contacts. He put the drops in, and then my eyes slowly started dilating. If you’ve experienced this, you know how weird it is.  Light becomes so bright, as your eyes let more and more in.  My doctor said that I had to wait 10 minutes for the drops to take full effect, so I could just walk around the store.  You know what my thought was?  “Cool! Samples!”  Costco usually has a bunch of food sampling stations, so I thought I’d check them out, get a snack.

As I started across the store, I realized I hadn’t planned this out, meaning that I didn’t bring my glasses along.  There I am, stumbling around Costco, barely able to open my eyes because the light is so bright from the dilation, and then when I do try to squint my eyes open, because my contacts are out and I forgot my glasses, everything is blurry.  I would take a few steps, lean on a rack holding computer printers, and then stop.  There was no way I was making it to the samples.  I was thinking, “I hope no one I know is here,” first because I didn’t want to be mistaken for having some kind of problem, and second, because they would recognize me, but there was no way I could recognize them because I couldn’t see!  So I was concerned that would offend someone.  I was a mess.

You know what, though? That exam showed me something about myself.  It showed me how I think, how I feel, and especially how dependent I am on corrective lenses.

Then there was the time years ago, when I went to my family doctor for an annual physical.  After getting my height and weight checked, I was alone in an exam room waiting for the doctor to arrive.  I looked over to the counter and noticed a body-mass index card.  With my new height/weight data fresh on my mind, I thought I would check my BMI.  The results I found couldn’t be right!  I double-checked.  Sure enough, I was in the obese category.  I was shocked.  Like the eye exam, that physical taught me something about myself I needed to know.  I would have told you before looking at the BMI chart that I needed to lose a few pounds, eat less, exercise.  But I never would have said I was obese.  I was obese though.  And I needed to be confronted about that.

How about you?  How have tests told you the truth about yourself?

It might be a test a school.  It might be a driver’s test. Maybe an annual job performance evaluation.  These things all tell us the truth about ourselves.  That truth might hurt, and that truth could be wonderful.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses is examiner and he is about to give Israel an exam.  The truth Israel will learn in that exam is not pretty.  

Looking at this chapter structurally, there are two parts.

Part 1 – 9:1-6 – The Principle.

Part 2 – 9:7-29 – The Illustration.

Today we’ll focus on verses 1-6, looking for the principle that Moses wants to share.

To find that principle, it will be helpful to remember what we studied in chapter 8, especially because it has some similarities to chapter 9.

In chapter 8 Moses warned Israel to beware of the possibility that they would start believing that their own strength and ability are the reasons they were able to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land. (You can review the posts we discussed this here, here and here.)

Now in chapter 9 Moses is giving them the results of an exam.  He is warning them to beware of the possibility that they might believe their righteousness enabled them to eject the more powerful Canaanites out of the land.

And so the principle that Moses wants the people to learn is that they do not have righteousness in and of themselves.

Scholars tell us that the language of righteousness is actually legal terminology.  Who has a right to the land?  Moses says that Israel is in danger of believing that the land is rightfully theirs.  Why else would God fight for them?  They were the rightful owners.  They were righteous.

Moses cuts this thinking off at the pass saying “Do not think like that!”

In contrast to the Israel’s proposed righteousness, Moses says that God is giving them the land because of the Canaanites’ wickedness.  The Canaanites, therefore, do not have a right to the land either.  So God is giving the land to Israel, and Moses knows that it could be very tempting for Israel to think they are something special.

We know what this is like.  When we are blessed, it can be easy to think “I must be doing something right!”  What is the right perspective, though?  Think about it.  We can do things right.  And often, when we live simply, live righteously, and work hard, we will experience blessing.

There is a general proverb of life that if you work hard, live honestly, practice kindness, you will most likely see blessing in your relationships, financially.

Same goes for health.  If you exercise and eat right, generally-speaking, you will experience health.

I’m speaking proverbially here.  Proverbs are ideas that are generally true.

That means they are not always true.  God does not guarantee us a perfect, easy, comfortable stress-free life if we obey him.  Life is filled with the unexpected.

But when we live the way God wants us to live, generally we experience blessing.

So we can do things right.  It is important to affirm that.  We’re not total rejects.

But as we affirm that we can do things right, we also need to remember what Moses is warning the Israelites about. When we do things right and experience blessing, we can be tempted to think we deserve the blessing, or that we are entitled to the blessing, or that we are somehow better than other people.

Moses sees this kind of thinking in Israel’s future, and so he takes them to their annual physical exam.  He has some shocking news for them.  More on that tomorrow.

Why we need a wilderness mindset, even when we live in the promised land

30 Nov

Image result for have a wilderness mindset even while in the promised landHow can we remain faithful to God when life is good?  How do we remain faithful in the Promised Land?  When we are in the wilderness, we feel like we are going to die, and we need God to rescue us, we know that there is nothing we can do, and God has to intervene.  At those moments we are desperate and we know that we cannot save ourselves.  And when we make it through the wilderness with God’s help, we are quick to give God the credit, and we thank and praise him because he stepped in and provided.

But in the Promised Land, we are working, and we see the fruits of our labor.  It really seems like it was we ourselves who produced our success.  As a result we can have a hard time seeing how we need God.

In Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses reminds the people that it is God who gives us the ability to produce wealth.  So how can we let that truth sink in to our lives deeply?  God is the source of our wealth.  How can we keep that in the forefront of our minds no matter if we are in the wilderness or if we are in the Promised Land?

I believe at least part of the answer to that question is found in a thread that Moses sews through his teaching in this chapter.  Go back and read Deuteronomy 8, and see if you can notice the thread. After I name the thread, I think you’ll see it over and over in this chapter. Here it is: God wants to show his father heart for his people.

Let’s scan through Deuteronomy 8, and see if we can see the father heart of God.

  • Verse 1 – he wants them to live and increase, he keeps his promise.
  • Verse 2 – he led them, he wants to know their hearts, to have a close relationship.
  • Verse 3 – he fed them, taught them.
  • Verse 4 – he provided for their physical well-being.
  • Verse 5 – he disciplines them (and the intent of this word is loving discipline).
  • Verses 7-10 – he is bringing them to a bountiful land.
  • Verse 14 – he brought them out of slavery.
  • Verse 15-16 – he led them through the dangerous wilderness.
  • Verse 18 – he gives them the ability to produce wealth.

Look at all those ways God is a loving Father to them!

I know that not everyone had a good example of a loving father in your earthly father.  Because of that I believe those who say that it can be hard for them to view God as father.  That is legit.

I encourage you to take a look at a chapter like Deuteronomy 8, and soak up the picture of your heavenly father. It may be something you need to return to many times to learn the true heart of the father.

When we do that, what kind of father’s heart do we see in God in Deuteronomy 8?  We see a Father God who watches out for us, who sees the potential for trouble we can get into.  We do that as parents and grandparents!  We want to warn them, say “beware”, and sometimes our kids and grand-kids respond, “No way, that will never happen. You are wrong.”  And the kids don’t listen.  Sometimes they do get into trouble.  We can be like that with God, too.   Therefore, let us know the father’s heart of love for us, whether we are in the wilderness or in the promised land.

So you who are in the Wilderness:

  1. Look at it as a privilege.
  2. See the beauty of being in the wilderness.
  3. Be careful not to be addicted to the desire for the Promised Land.

So you who are in the Promised Land:

  1. Know that the Promised Land is not better than the wilderness.
  2. Know that God gives you the ability to produce wealth.
  3. Commit acts of sacrifice that show that you are not depending on our own wealth and abilities.
  4. Willingly re-enter the wilderness.

In other words, like I said yesterday, see the Promised Land through the lens of the wilderness.  Have a wilderness mindset, even when you are in the Promised Land.

We can become negative about the wilderness, so hateful of the pain and suffering that we get addicted to the Promised Land, fixated with ease and comfort of the Promised Land.  The Promised Land can become an idolatrous fixation.

The wilderness, Moses says, is God’s classroom. A time of teaching and training.  A time to learn and grow.  God intends, therefore, for us to see the wilderness as a positive thing.

Has God ever allowed a wilderness discipline in your life?  How did it change you?  What is your wilderness?  It seems we all go through a wilderness at some time, that God allows it.

But maybe you are not in the wilderness.  Maybe you are in the land of bounty.  How will you be faithful in the Promised Land?

The surprising danger of the promised land

29 Nov

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The Promised Land is a dangerous place.  Dangerous? Really?

In yesterday’s post, I asked whether you are living in your own personal wilderness, or are you experiencing a promised land?  In Deuteronomy 8 Moses is talking to the people of Israel who have just journeyed for decades through the wilderness and are set to enter the Promised Land.  You’d think Moses would be celebrating, but instead he has a dire warning.

He sets before the people the images of wilderness and promised land.  Here is a quick walk through the chapter:

First, Moses reminds them of the Wilderness in verses 1-5. Moses encourages them to follow the commands of God, and remember how God provided manna in the desert to teach them some important lessons, lessons of humility, of depending on him.

Next, he turns their attention to the Promised Land in verses 6-14.  Again he encourages them to observe the commands of God. God is bringing them into a bountiful land.  Moses says that they should walk in God’s ways and fear him. Why? Because they can become satisfied with that bountiful promised land and forget the Lord and fail to do his commands.

So in verses 15-16 he returns to the Wilderness.  He once again wants the people to remember God’s provision (manna & water) in the desert.

Finally in 17-20 he brings them back to the Promised Land, warning them to not be fooled into thinking that they created their Promised Land wealth of their own ability.  It is God who gives the ability to produce wealth.

In other words, he is saying to Israel, “See the Promised Land through the lens of the Wilderness.”

Wilderness and Promised Land.  Both are very important.  Both are a part of our lives.  What does it mean, therefore, to see our own promised land through the lens of our wilderness?

To attempt to answer that question, let’s go back to how Moses warns Israel.  He is saying to them, “People, when you get settled in the Promised Land, you are going to eat your fill.  No more manna and quail every day.  It is going to be Shady Maple.  But watch out.  Because if you eat at Shady Maple every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you are in danger of forgetting the Lord.  And you will become proud, and you will be tempted to think you don’t need to obey the Lord, even though he brought you out of slavery and cared for you in the wilderness.  And what’s worse, you will start to deceive yourself, and you will think that you did this. You will think ‘Self, I have made it. I am so smart and capable and strong…and I know how to get wealthy’.”

That’s the danger of the Promised Land, isn’t it?  That life will be so good, so abundant, and we will feel so satisfied, that we will start to think that we did this.  And when we start to think that we did it, we have already gone down the road of forgetting that it was actually God who did it.

This is so applicable to us Americans.  We live in the Promised Land.  Literally.  I know it can be very hard for us to see it when the bill collectors are calling, when our credit card debt is rising fast, when our jobs are not paying enough.  This is why I highly, highly recommend that you go on trips outside your own culture.  When you travel to other cultures, it can help you open your eyes to who you really are.  When you are in inner city Philly, for example, you can see hopefully a bit more clearly how Lancaster is the Promised Land.

We Americans, and in particular we Lancastrians, are in danger of deceiving ourselves into becoming so satisfied with our comfortable lives that we can believe we did this.  Let me repeat, that is the danger of the Promised Land, forgetting God, forgetting how he got us through the wilderness, and how we need to depend on him, live for him, even in the Promised Land.

Do you feel like you’re walking through a wilderness? Or living it up in the Promised Land?

28 Nov

Recently our high school Booster club had the Harlem Wizards at the school for a fundraiser event.  A selection of teachers from the district played a game versus the Wizards.  It was a great mixture of comedy and trick shot basketball, including a bunch of amazing acrobatic slam dunks.  At the end of the game, they called all the kids out onto the floor, grade by grade starting with the youngest first and this happened:

It was so much fun.  As we drove home, my daughter Meagan said to me “I wish every day could be like that.”  It was two hours of life in the Promised Land, when everything was laughter and fun and games.

I know what Meagan means.  I remember thinking at my sister’s wedding day and reception, “I don’t want this to end.”  There have been many such experiences in my life.  Our close friend Becka lived with us for 6-7 months, and during that time she and Derek got engaged.  I’ll never forget when they arrived back our house to drop Becka off.  We knew that Derek was taking her to Philly to propose, but we didn’t know what time they would be back, so we went to bed.  We texted Derek saying “feel free to wake us”, and when we heard that knock on our bedroom door?  We were up in a flash, excited as could be.  Then soon after that we had an engagement party for them and then months later their wedding day…oh my…why can’t life be like that every day?  The unstoppable joy, and the dancing.

Promised Land.

The reality is that life also has wilderness.  The bleak times.  When our bodies break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  When our cars and computers and cell phones break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  First world problems?  Sure.  But there are also relationship breakdowns, job loss, financial crises.  You name it.  Sometimes the wilderness is inside our hearts and minds.  We feel dry, distant from God, depressed, anxious, stressed out.  Cold.

School can be like that.

Work can be like that.

Wilderness.

If we had to count them up and classify each day of our lives as Wilderness days or Promised Land days, I suspect many of us would be lopsided on the Wilderness category.  I told Meg, that’s what makes the great days, the special days, so good, because they are in contrast to the normal, right? You party every day and the partying loses its appeal.

You know that song “Working for the Weekend”?  It conveys the idea that we just need to get through the week so we can enjoy the weekend.  We just need to get through the wilderness so we can get to the Promised Land.  That seems pretty normal, right?  Deal with the junk of like so that one day you can enjoy life. But is that the way it is supposed to be?

As we continue into Deuteronomy chapter 8, Moses sets before the people of Israel these two visions.  Wilderness and Promised Land. They have just wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and now they are beginning to taste the Promised Land.  Finally!

Surprisingly, Moses is very, very concerned.

In our next post, we find out why.

How to talk about God (and how not to)

26 Oct

Image result for conversationA friend of mine was at Park City, the big mall here in Lancaster, at a department store jewelry counter.  Just down the counter stood a couple girls looking at crosses.  One of them wanted to get a cross necklace.  My friend overheard one girl say to the other, “Oh look, this one has a little man on it.”

It was a moment of awareness for the girl (some crosses have a little man on them), but much more so for my friend. He knew that some crosses have little men on them. They’re called crucifixes, and they are depicting Jesus on the cross.  For my friend, this was a moment of awareness for a different reason.  It was an “aha!” moment that our culture has moved farther and farther away from an understanding of the Gospel.  Years ago you could assume that most everyone knew about Jesus.  No more.  It is highly likely that at least some of your neighbors and co-workers have no idea what the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is all about.

During the month of October at Faith Church we’re talking about the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation because this month marks the 500th anniversary of that world-shaping era.  The Five Solas we have looked at are Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and this week, Christ Alone.  My posts so far this week have focused on whether or not God is fair by mandating that in Christ alone is found salvation to abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven.  But I think there is something even more important than that discussion.  What could possibly be more important than that?

We know the story of Good News in Jesus. 

We can get so focused on God’s fairness to those who can’t hear the Good News.  But let us remember that we already know the story.  And here is the kicker, we also know there are people who have never heard the story. In other words, the story of Good News has a missionary impulse behind it.

That should fill our hearts with excitement.  There are people who we could share that story with.  Yes, I am talking about tribal people, and I am talking about translating the Bible in languages so people can access the story of Jesus.  Yes, I am talking about taking the Good News to Muslims.

Maybe you would take a step of faith and seek becoming a missionary yourself. We have a story of amazing Good News to tell, and perhaps God is calling you to step out in faith and take the Good News to people who might otherwise not be able to hear. Maybe it is a one-week trip.  Maybe it is a one-day trip.  It doesn’t have to be to a jungle tribe or a Muslim country, but it could be.  It also could be to an city neighborhood.

It could also be right here in Lancaster.  It could be in the community where you live. I am talking about sharing the story of Good News of Christ Alone with our neighbors and friends.  We have a message of incredibly good news, but are we sharing it?

Imagine that vasts deposits of gold were discovered underneath your neighborhood.  A mining company wanted to purchase the rights to dig deep under your property, as they did with all the other properties in your neighborhood.  All the neighbors are so excited, getting huge sums of money by selling digging rights, paying off their debts, helping those in need, and even purchasing new vehicles or upgrades to their homes.  Now imagine if no one told you about the gold or the lucrative digging rights.  How would you feel if many of your neighbors were walking around in newness of life, while you were left in the dark?

Not everyone will agree that what we think is good news is good news to them.  We Christians (and especially evangelicals are guilty of this) have been too quick to try to force feed our good news to anyone and everyone.  Years ago I worked in an office with cubicles, and if you have ever worked in cubicles, you know that everyone in the cubicle grid can hear what everyone else is saying.  No privacy on the phone.  No privacy in cubicle to cubicle conversations.  No privacy on what music is being played.  People didn’t even try for privacy.  You would sit at your desk working on your computer, and if you wanted to talk to a person four cubicles down, you just started talking to them.  Everyone else could hear.  I tended to play lots of music, but at one point I started listening to podcasts from one of my favorite speakers, Ravi Zacharias.  That dude is incredibly smart and engaging.  I encourage everyone to listen to him, just because he is so interesting, and also because he is perhaps, in our era, one of the best communicators of Good News.  I remembering playing his lectures, and playing them loud.  There was no doubt other people in my cubicle grid could hear them.  But did they want to?  I was not so subtly attempting to share the Good News with them.  One day, after hearing what I considered to be a particularly compelling lecture by Ravi Zacharias, I said out loud, knowing exactly what I was doing, “Anyone who doesn’t believe that would have to be stupid!”

I’m sad to admit that I had what I considered (and still do) very good news, but I was trying to shove it down my co-workers’ throats.  Jesus once called that trying to feed pearls to swine.  In other words, though it is valuable to me, it won’t nourish the people.  I took good news and turned it into something offensive.

My point in sharing these stories is that too often we have either kept the Good News to ourselves, which leaves people wondering if we really care about them, or we have tried to abruptly force it on people, turning it into bad news.  And that is so sad, because the good news of salvation in Christ alone is actually really, really wonderful.

The message of Solus Christus, salvation in Christ Alone, is a message that God is love – more loving than we could ever imagine. It is a message that God is just – fairer than we could ever imagine.

God’s love is so clearly seen in Christ. Consider these verses:

  • John 3:16 says it so well, and that’s why it might be the most famous verse of the Bible: “For God so loved the World that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
  • Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 says that “God desires all men to be saved.”  Doesn’t mean they all will choose him. But that is the scope of God’s heart of love.  The whole world!
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Again, not all will repent.  But God wants all to repent.

God loves all, and he has gone to such great lengths to show that love in Christ alone.  The story of Jesus is a story of incredibly good news.

You know what that means?  Let us not be silent!  Let us share the story of Jesus with gracious gusto so that all may know. If you are thinking, “Yeah, I have people in my life that need Jesus.  And I want to share the story of good news in Jesus with them.  But I don’t know what to say or how to say it.”  Or maybe it feels a bit scary or awkward, and you don’t want to be offensive.  If you feel that way, please don’t keep that to yourself.  Talk about it.  I know that I myself often feel guilty or like a failure, thinking that I could do so much more to share the good news about Jesus to my friends and neighbors.

To rectify this situation, one very practical step I would encourage you to take is to begin praying for the people that God has placed around you.  Pray that God would break your heart for the spiritual lives of those around you. Ask yourself whether you have a callous heart when it comes to the salvation from sin of the people in your life.  If so, ask God to break your heart.  Pray for a tender heart.  Finally, pray for God to give you opportunities to share about Solus Christus.

We had a wonderful training here Saturday a week ago.  It was discipleship training, but it was all about the outreach part of discipleship.  Disciples reach out.  Disciples make more disciples.  Disciples tell the story of good news.

At the very end of the training, I was so encouraged by what some shared that God was speaking to them about being disciples who reach out.  Here were some of the comments:

  1. I want to get out of the pew and go.
  2. What neighborhood can I reach?
  3. Be yourself. I am too worried about what other people will think.
  4. I want to make time to walk the neighborhood.
  5. Wait for God’s timing.

Who are you praying for?  What will it look like for you to reach out to them with the love of Christ?