Four Reasons

Sometimes I wonder why things are the way they are. I question why people do the things they do in the ways they do them. This questioning has led me to a great understanding of many things in my life as I don’t take things merely at face value. But what about Christianity?

What makes Christianity so great? Here are four things I see as invaluable about Christianity.

1. Eternal Life

This week a good friend of mine died. It was hard to watch him go, and now that he is gone, I miss him. Yet, to watch him while he lived, and to listen to him, was inspiring. He couldn’t wait to be with the Lord in heaven – face-to-face with Jesus. He couldn’t wait to see the Garden of Eden. He couldn’t wait to be healed of his cancer.

Eternal life is a central belief of Christianity. We believe that when we are saved, we are granted eternal life. This life allows us to have direct access to the Creator of the universe who above all things and in all things. We believe that through Jesus there is no longer separation between God and man necessitating a human mediator like a priest, for we are all priests, through Jesus, who have direct access to God.

This access begins when we are saved. At that time, the Holy Spirit is given to us (Acts 2:38) – God’s Spirit living inside us – and that Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14). This promise of heaven gives us hope beyond this life. It is a hope for something more than simply becoming dust again to a purposeless end.

This hope allows for a perspective shift among Christians. This world is not all there is, so everything is temporary.

2. Family

When you receive salvation, you are granted entry into not only the presence of God but also his family. He created all of us, but we chose to live our own way like runaway children. Through Jesus, he invites us back into the family along with other believers. What this means for us each day is this: we don’t have to live this life alone. When we try to live life alone, it is very easy for temptations to overcome us, and we walk away from God again and again. But when we are doing life together with other people who are trying to live the ways of Jesus in their everyday life, it becomes easier to stay on the narrow path ourselves. Some people claim they don’t need the church to be a Christian. This is totally in contrast to what the Bible says (Hebrews 10:25). The greatest commands are these: Love God, and Love Others (all others – even your enemies). In fact, in 1 John 4, John says that we love God BY loving others. The Bible also says we are to do good (read: love) to all people, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:10). I know that some churches are filled with Jerks. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. At times everyone can be mean – even you and me. The church is full of broken sinners in need of the grace of God through Jesus. Hurt people hurt people. Latch onto the good people. Do life with them. Let God sort out the bad, but don’t cut yourself off from the family because of one or two. And in today’s culture, if you are in a church that isn’t loving, you can probably find one that is loving just down the road, or maybe across town.

3. Purpose and Direction

Of the things I have mentioned so far, this may be the one not understood the most by well-meaning Christians. When you give your life to Christ, you are pledging devotion to be His follower, His disciple. That means you are pledging to live according to His teachings. You don’t have to live life haphazardly. Through the teaching of Jesus, there is a direction for your life – a code by which you should live. This code gives a standard. It allows us to evaluate our lives to see whether we are doing good or bad. In atheism, there is no standard of good or bad – those ideas are subjective to the person. In Christianity there is a standard (2 Timothy 3:16).But this direction isn’t just a set of rules to govern our lives. It is meant to help us live out our purpose as well. What is that purpose?We are called to help the kingdom grow through evangelism (Matthew 28:12-20). Every. Single. Christian. Is. An. Evangelist. Or at least they should be. Here is where Christianity is falling by the wayside. The majority of Christians don’t live out their purpose. We are supposed to love other people, and through that love, we show them the way TO Jesus and the way OF Jesus. When you don’t understand your direction and purpose, it is easy to become the kind of Christian people run away from rather than toward.

4. It’s free

So many religions around the world expect you to do certain things to achieve relationship with their deity of choice. Christianity is not this way. The purpose and direction of Christianity are there to help you live a better life and enjoy life more. They are meant to help this world become a better place. They are not meant to help you achieve some sort of status before God.

We are all sinners. We have all walked away from God and His ways. We have all broken his commands to love. So what can we do to undo what we’ve done?

Nothing.

We can’t undo wrong by doing right. The merit system doesn’t work that way. In order to undo our wrong, there has to be a substitution for our life. This is where Jesus comes into play. He lived perfectly, and at his death and resurrection, his perfect life was exchanged for broken, sinful one if we would receive it.

We can’t live good enough to deserve to be in the presence of God, but through Jesus, we are granted entrance into God’s Kingdom and into his family in spite of our wrongs (Romans 5:6-8).

Christianity is the only religion where salvation is given freely. All these blessings listed above are free. You don’t have to earn them (Galatians 5:1).

The way to connect with the blessings of God is to be connected to the Cross of Jesus (Romans 6:1-4). That’s it. We ask God to cleanse our consciences (1 Peter 3:21), and we trust that He has saved us. We cannot save ourselves.

I’m glad to be a Christian. There’s so much hope here. I hope you will consider joining the family too.

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R.E.M. Was Right

“It’s the end of the world a we know it…” But I don’t feel fine.

Our world seems to be crumbling all around us. Media shows us atrocities daily stemming from numerous causes. As we watch these things happen, and experience these horrors either firsthand, or through a loved one, we can’t help but feel somewhat hopeless.

But why are all these things happening?

Some want to blame this, that, and the other. Others want to avoid the question altogether. But few are really speaking into the reason for the tragedies we are witnessing daily.

Our world wants nothing to do with God and the hope He offers.

FORGETTING THE PAST

60 years ago, Christianity was thriving. Churches were growing, but it was the beginning of the era of decline for the church. As people began experimenting with the New Age movement during the Hippy Era, and some traded religion for science, skepticism set into our culture, and the church did nothing.

It was easy for the church to do so. She had been the primary influencer in nearly all of society for ages. This understanding allowed people to believe that culture would convert their friends and family. In the USA, Christianity had been a primary influence even in government.

So, when times changed, instead of renewing the vigor for evangelism, the church simply watched. It wasn’t everyone in the church, but it was the majority, and that was enough to begin the decline.

IGNORING THE PROBLEM

Instead of reaching out to the lost with love and grace, the church fought against one another, striving to declare each sect the “right” sect – forgetting that sectarianism (division) is expressly condemned by the scriptures. The church was busy blaming one another as the masses began to leave. Fed up with the hypocrisy of “I’m right, and you’re wrong”, the world turned against the church. And, in turn, it turned against God.

However, instead of identifying the lack of God and His principles in society, everyone continued to blame one another or blame things. We blame God, Satan, video games, guns, science, illegal immigrants, other denominations, other religions, other races, politicians, and many more. The list goes on and on. But we don’t blame free will. We don’t dare take any of the responsibility, either. That would mean we would have to change – if we were the problem.

In the age of the apathy of the church, she began to atrophy.

No longer is the average Christian evangelistic. This has been the case for a long while. Shortly after the church was established, the church allowed the government to be the great evangelist through a partnership of the church with the state. As time went by, we assumed people inherently believed in God because of the cultural influence of the church, so we waited for the preachers to do the evangelism. All the while, we got fat with teaching from those same preachers.

When you eat and eat and eat, but you never exercise, you become fat through your laziness. This is the nature of the church. She, her members, want the preachers to preach and teach and evangelize; all the while the masses in her ranks can feel comfort and connection with God through education and emotional experiences once a week (three times if you’re “devout”). Where is all the action of the church like we read about in the book of Acts?!

FACING THE FUTURE

If the church (THAT MEANS YOU) doesn’t return to her calling according to Jesus in the scriptures, she will die. Sure, God can keep a remnant, like He has done for thousands of years, but should we really hope for that?

Shouldn’t we rather get out of our doors? Shouldn’t we discover how to use this wealth of knowledge that is imparted to us every week? Shouldn’t we return to the mission of the first church – the Kingdom of God and it’s expansion through love?

How many people have you brought to Christ? I’m not talking about inviting people to church. I’m talking about actually sharing the good news of Jesus with someone.

SEEKING HELP

You know what? If you went to your preacher, or some other evangelistic leader in your church, and asked them how to share the gospel with your friends, I think you would find them more than willing to spend one-on-one time training you in the ways of evangelism. But that’s going to require you to do uncomfortable things and spend valuable time on others. Is that any less than what Jesus has already done for you?

Do you want to change the direction of this world? This change begins with you finding one person who is willing to listen to how love, through Christ, can change their heart.

Immorality is a choice made from free-will. It is sin. It is not the will of God, and it doesn’t have to rule us or our friends. But until someone is given the choice, how can they begin anew?

Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Discipleship Marathon

I hate running.

Even as I type those words, I’m not sure they’re strong enough to express the emotions I associate with that self-inflicted “sport” (read: torture).

Yet, I know that running is good for me.

So, in order for me to run – to do that which is good for me – I need motivation. For some people, good health is motivation enough, but I’m too stubborn for logic. I love to eat sumptuous food, and I love to be busy with other things, and I love to be comfortable. None of that will help me achieve the healthy body I need for high quality of life. So I need motivation.

When I have a goal set before me, I run. I’ve done a marathon, a Tough Mudder, and numerous other runs including, most recently, a long journey through the Grand Canyon. I trained for each of these events, and the training served me well each time. The upcoming events motivated me to do that which was uncomfortable in order to achieve success in an endeavor I had yet not attempted.

But when the race or hike or journey was over, I went back to laziness. Because it’s easier.

We all have areas in our lives where laziness, a lack of motivation, keeps us from training for upcoming journeys, whether physical or mental.

So many Christians live lazy Christian lives. There is little knowledge of the book they claim to live by. They aren’t exercising their evangelistic muscles. Their faith is weakened by their trust in their finances. It seems there is no motivation to step out and do the uncomfortable to achieve a greater reward.

In our grace-desiring Christian culture, we want God to give us grace, and we relish in that grace, so we reason that the grace we’ve been given entitles us to a lackadaisical approach to our Christian lives. Grace is good, but we are called to not only receive grace but also train ourselves to live “worthy of our calling” (Ephesians 4:1-2). We are called to continually train in the ways of Jesus to achieve the prize of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14).

Does this mean we don’t have salvation if we aren’t working? We like to say we don’t earn our salvation by what we do, but James, the brother of Jesus, tries to clarify that concept. He expresses, in his treatise on faith, that it is impossible to have faith without deeds (James 2:14-19). Faith without action is dead (James 2:17).

We are called to train daily. It’s like living in an apprenticeship. We are trying to be like our Rabbi, Jesus. We can’t do that on our couches and hidden away in our church buildings. We can’t do that in ignorance of the scriptures and without talking to the Father. We can’t do that alone.

So we need to fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). We call that “going to church”. Yes, it’s required.

We need to study the word of God, for that is where we will learn who God is and how we should live as His children (Matthew 22:31; 2 Timothy 3:16). That requires reading.

We need to tell others about the goodness of Jesus and the Kingdom of God the way Jesus did (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires engagement. Introversion is not an excuse.

We need to spend time with the Father the way Jesus did (John 5:19; 10:30; 15:5). Prayer is essential.

We need to give generously, trusting in the Father for sustenance (Mark 12:44). He wants to provide more, the more we trust Him.

So will you train? It will mean reading. It will mean time spent. It will mean giving financially in order to learn faith in the Father. It will mean uncomfortable situations and conversations. This is discipleship. It’s what you signed up for when you were baptized. Are you in? The prize is much bigger than a medal at the end of a marathon – it’s eternal life.


Dinosaurs and Epilepsy

When I was a child, the world looked so much differently than it does now that I am older. My education and experience grant me a perspective that a child cannot fathom. As a child, this perspective of the unknown, which was way bigger than the known, created a dependence on our parents, who knew much more about the world than we did.

When we became teenagers, we began to stretch our wings and try things with an attitude of invincibility, figuring that we knew enough of the world to get by. This attitude of independence led many of us into trouble and poor decisions that we still deal with the consequences of to this day. Once we survived through a few years of this ignorant independence, we began to realize that our parents knew so much more than we did, and we turned back to them for advice and perspective. This was a healthy turn in many of our lives.

When we read the Bible, we get a glimpse into a culture that is far removed from our own. So much of what we understand due to the maturing of the world and cultures was not know when the Bible was experienced and then explained in writing. The Bible speaks of dragons and monsters, but they didn’t have the word, dinosaur, to describe these large beasts, nor did they have the scientific understanding of their natures that we do. The word, dinosaur, wasn’t coined until the mid-1800s.

They also didn’t know how to explain certain ailments. When a person fell to the ground in convulsions beyond their control, they said the person had a demon or an unclean spirit. Jesus healed a few such issues when he walked around Palestine. However, today we know this ailment as epilepsy. Our scientific understanding allows us a perspective that is greater than that of the ancient near-east.

[I am not denying the supernatural events that happened in scriptures. Jesus raised the dead. Samuel was summoned from beyond the grave. The epileptic was completely cured without medicine, so were the lame and the blind. Yet, there is still an understanding today that differs from that of the Bible-times.]

It is amazing to consider how humanity has grown in their understanding of the world around them and how it works. Science is a blessing, and through science we have made tremendous advancements in technology, medicine, and psychology. Some of the science we understand today, like water cycles, underwater springs in the ocean, and the solar system, were hinted about in the Bible long before they were discovered. Science and the Bible are meant to accompany one another – not oppose one another.

There is one thing that science has caused, however, that is not healthy. When the world was immature, like a child, the people looked to God (or other deities) for help with the unexplainable. There was a general faith among people that brought peace and help in time of need. There was a trust that God would help in the ways needed. And He did.

Through science, much of the world has come to the conclusion that the unexplained is explainable, therefore we do not need God. In our daily lives we rely on ourselves and our understanding to make it through the day without much thought of our relationship with the Creator of the universe. Even Christians, who pledge their devotion to God through Jesus, live daily more like atheists than Christians as they exercise their independence from the Creator.

This is not to say we should go back to the ignorance of the dark ages and before. We live in a grand age of understanding.

Yet, we must not be so arrogant in our education that we assume independence from the One whose foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.

In your daily life, how often do you pray? How much do you know of God through the Bible? How many times per day (or year) do you make a decision based on faith rather than an educated guess? How much trust do you put in the promises in the Bible and the personality of Jehovah?

Our knowledge of the world has puffed up humanity to the place of humanistic atheism. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar had just such an attitude, and he had to be humbled by God. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) May we enjoy and grow through science, but may we not be so puffed up by our knowledge of science and the workings of this world that we forget there is so much more we don’t understand that can only be explained and controlled by God. And may we not forget that God wants to work in our lives, for our good, everyday (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 13:5-6) – He’s that personal.


Seasons

File Sep 30, 9 39 51 PMFall is a beautiful time of year.  The transition between summer, where plants are alive and temperatures are uncomfortably warm, and winter, where plants are dormant and temperatures are uncomfortably cold, is a window of pleasantness that can inspire the soul. To see the trees go from green to yellow to red and watch the animals scurry along getting ready for the bleakness of winter is, in many ways, rejuvenating.

This weekend I went up to the mountains to see the colors of the aspens and scrub oaks in all their autumnal glory. My family and I saw such colors and many deer and even a bear. We witnessed the grandeur of new places with majestic views and rushing streams.  We saw waterfalls and quaint towns. And everywhere was the feeling of fall – that transition to get ready for another busy mountain season.

Normally, such a trip this time of year into the mountains would provide opportunity to go where we want to go with comfortable (borderline chilly) temperatures and dry roads inviting us to explore the kaleidoscope of color that awaits.  This year, however, we were greeted by mountains capped with snow and temperatures that were downright cold.  The roads that usually invited us were wet and slick.

Yet we would not be undone by this unexpected change.  Instead of retreating and waiting for a better opportunity, we trudged forward and welcomed the unexpected.  Because of our boldness for adventure, we have pictures of mountains vibrant with color yet capped with snow.  We were even snowed on in one expansive valley above 11,000 feet on the last day of September! Coming down the mountain to return home, we were surprised by a magnificent rainbow at the summit of Molas Pass looking back toward the Animas River Valley.

It was totally worth it to brave the cold, wet weather to see what we had never seen before.

All this exploration of the change of seasons made me think about our lives.

We set things up so that we can live a certain way, and unexpectedly, God allows an abrupt change in our lives.  Some people have unexpected children.  Some have unexpected job changes.  Some even have unexpected changes within themselves.

Everything changes.  Everything is supposed to change.  Someone once said something regarding business that relates to all of life, “Change or die.”

But are you ready for change?  Do you handle change smoothly like the changing of the seasons, or does change feel like the severe storm that blows through and leaves you in a different time zone?

Some people resist change.  They want everything to be great, like it always has been, but they don’t realize that it hasn’t always been great.  There are always struggles.  There will always be struggles.  There is no possible way for things to remain the same.

So, the only logical option is to accept that change is coming and jump on board.

Within our very lives, change is expected.  Jesus loves you no matter where you were when you met him, but he loves you too much to leave you there.  He wants you to be changed. Daily. He wants you to become like him.

You have a choice.  You can joyfully embrace and seek after the change expected, and in doing so become the beautiful transition like fall in the mountains. Or you can resist. That resistance will not bloom like flowers in spring.  What usually happens when we resist change is we become more bitter and resentful.  Our trees begin to wilt and die.

How will you encounter the changes in your life?  Remember, you don’t have to face change alone. God has said He will never leave or forsake you.  Jesus said He would be with you always. You don’t have to be afraid of change.  Embrace it.


What Would Jesus Do?

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What Would Jesus Do?

When someone asks you, or your ask yourself this question, consider that overturning tables, beating people with a whip of cords, and yelling at people is an option.

Seriously.

Do you remember the story of Jesus droving out the money-changers in the temple courts? Some scholars believe the stories recorded in the gospel represent not just one event, but two. Imagine that. Jesus, meek and mild, got so beside-himself-mad that he disrupted the church money-making schemes and people’s businesses.

This does not quite fit the idea of Jesus being the Lamb.  If He’s the Lamb, He’s the Lamb who roars like the Lion of Judah.

These religious leaders were allowing outright corruption in the temple courts.  People were having to be fleeced in order to worship according to the Law of Moses.  Church services were overshadowed by immorality of the greedy kind.

Greed is called idolatry in the scriptures, and yet, here it is in the temple courts.

Is this a place you would want to give generously to?  Imagine a church like this.  Would you want to contribute to the work going on there?

Now think of another story.

Jesus gathers his disciples to the side of the temple courts watching the passers-by. Many rich people are coming with buckets of money.  Jesus isn’t impressed.

Then a widow comes, and when Jesus sees her, he tells his disciples to watch.  She barely put anything in – two small coins. Yet, this was all the money she had.

This woman just contributed everything she had to a system filled with corruption which is in complete denial of the presence of the Messiah. If I were Jesus, I might have stepped up and encouraged her to make her donation to another god-fearing charity (if such existed). It’s a good thing I’m not Jesus.

No, Jesus didn’t stop her.  In fact, he praised her.  He loved her heart of generosity and dependence on the Lord.

Would the temple use this money appropriately? Did they believe and teach the right things? No! In many ways, no.  In fact, many of the leaders of this religious movement would crucify the very man praising the woman for donating to the corrupt system.

Does the integrity of the system give value to the intent of the giver?

Many people want to get a list of all the good things being done with the money in the church treasury before they feel comfortable giving.  If a church isn’t teaching to their liking or doesn’t include the program they deem necessary, they threaten to withdraw their tithe. This currently culture seems to have a strong sense of wanting to know what the money is going toward before the wallet is loosened for giving.

Giving with expectation is tyranny in the same way that love with expectation is tyranny.  Giving with expectation is a form of blackmail. Generosity is a form of love, and love is not self-seeking, so how can one justify not giving because they have no control over where the money goes?

You may not know everything the church does.  You may not even agree with everything the church does.  Are you giving to the church?

When the offering basket comes around, are you giving to people, or an idea, or a cause? Or are you giving to the Lord?

Give. Generously give.  Gratefully give.

You haven’t been perfect in the ways you’ve spent the blessings of God, and you have sinned in spite of the love He constantly showers on you. You then, though you are imperfect, will you expect an organization full of other imperfect people to be perfect?  Will you seek to be in control of “your” money?

The next time the plate or basket or bucket is passed, give according to how you’ve been for-give-n. He has truly blessed you, and you are giving in response to Him – not anyone else.

 


The Distraction of Expectation

Casey Jones has struck out.

I thought this would be the year I would finally kill my first elk, but here I am the day after my hunt with no meat to show for the season.  Yesterday I walked out of the woods with my head hanging low in disappointment.  Sometimes we get so fraught with expectations for ourselves or the situations we find ourselves in, and when these expectations are not met, it crushes us.

Yet, here I am, the day after the hunt, still a bit sad, but reflecting on the experience.

I got to spend hours upon hours out in the woods with nothing but bird song, bugs buzzing, well locations thumping, trees rustling, and the occasional jet passing overhead.  I saw numerous varieties of birds, wild turkeys, coyotes, deer, elk, and even a bear. I even saw mountain lion tracks.

I walked miles upon miles, exploring the countryside, gaining much-needed exercise.  I saw storms in the distance, heard thunder, watched lightening, witnessed rain falling like diamonds, and learned to grin and bear it as I got drenched but couldn’t move.

I saw elk.  Boy, did I see elk! I watched them and heard them and smelled them. I was surprised by them and surprised them. I learned how to pattern them, and I did take a few shots, but it was not meant to be.

In the end, I didn’t get the prize. What a disappointment!

Or was it?

I learned so much over these last two weeks.  It would be foolish of me to think that the money I spent on gear and gas and food was wasted simply because I did not bring meat home.

Here are some of the things I learned this year:

  • Spending time, before season, patterning elk is imperative to the success of a hunt.
  • Spending copious amounts of time shooting your bow is imperative as well.
  • The sunrise is my favorite display of the sky.
  • There are many fascinating species of birds in NM.
  • Deer are super quiet. Elk are not…unless they want to be. Then, this massive animal can turn into a ghost.
  • I’m not too bad at tracking…but I still have room to grow.
  • The wind direction is more important than how little you stink.
  • I can go a long way on foot in a day.
  • Elk and deer will almost always go a way you don’t expect them to.
  • Hiking in the dark with no flashlight is great, unless you’re wearing torn-up sneakers in a field with cactus.
  • The sound of elk bugling is one of my favorite sounds…ever.
  • My family still loves me, even when I fail.

If I simply focused on the disappointment of my failure to bag an elk, this would be a terrible outcome for the hunting season, and I would likely not try again.  Parts of me want to give up and simply buy meat. But I probably won’t.

When life hands us disappointments, we have a choice.  We can focus on the immediate issue that consumes our minds, or we can choose to look at what we can learn from the situation and grow.  This second option is the one recommended to us as Christians.  The Hebrew writer tells us to consider hard times as discipline (Hebrews 12:7).  God is training us for future things like a dad trains his son. If we get so caught up in the disappointment, we will completely overlook the ways in which we can grow, and even find joy, from the experience.

May you find ways to shift your perspective, and may you grow as you do.


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