The Heart Follows What It Treasures Most

Have you ever been flipping through the channels or scrolling through Netflix only to find yourself caught up in a show or movie that you’ve seen a thousand times before? What makes our old standbys compelling? There’s a plethora of new content out there. Familiarity? Maybe, but I suspect it’s something more subtle — the payoff. We know exactly what we’re going to get: tension, drama, resolution. It’s cathartic. In other words, we go back to familiar stories because they satisfy something in our hearts. So, what’s the connection between story and the heart?
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Reflections on Send 2015

IMG_20150804_190654Mrs. J and I attended the Send Conference presented by the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The conference was sold out and well-attended. Overall, I was encouraged by what I saw and heard.

(Affiliate links in play.)

In no particular order, here are my Reflections on Send 2015:

Embrace training up and sending out leadership. J. D. Greear described the need to let go of our best and brightest as God calls them. He reminded us all of God’s faithfulness to empower and replace leadership that is sent out. He spoke anecdotally about how God raised up new leadership threefold for each one that left Summit Church. Greear recently published Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send. Mrs. J and I are both looking forward to reading it.

Unquenchable Life Permeates the Gospel. Life springs forth wherever the Gospel takes root. The Gospel transforms lives because that is its nature — it brings life to the lifeless. What was once dead lives.Removing the Gospel from our words and actions strips them of meaningful, eternal value. They are lifeless. That old nature nullifies our activities when they aren’t focused on Jesus and building up His Kingdom. Meditating on the Gospel quickens our hearts and hands. We remember again the unquenchable life that flows from Jesus.The preaching seemed electrified. I’m not talking about a frenzy of emotionalism; the crowd was calm and confident. The preaching was zeroed in on the Gospel, and it was compelling. As a preacher and minister, I found myself challenged to recognize how the Gospel actively saturates each corner and crevice of our lives, and then to preach about the activity of the Holy Spirit and how nothing is untouched by the effects of new life.

We Don’t Like Taking the Gospel to Samaria. I sat in on a breakout session about Christianity in the city. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant. I had so many thoughts and feelings — some good, some tense, all edifying. It was the first time in a long time that I could not identify with the speakers on stage from the same cultural vantage point, but I could identify with them in a spirit of oneness. I could dedicate an entire post on thoughts from this session alone. But for now, I want to rest in one place: Samaria.The Jews hated Samaria and Samaritans. To paraphrase the session, the call to spread the Gospel into Samaria meant going to a place that the evangelists hated and offering the gift of eternal life to a people they hated. We can identify and work in our Jerusalems and Judeas — they are like us. We have no problem with the uttermost parts of the earth, because we’re not around them. But Samaria? But the people around us who are not like us and we despise them for it?I sat. And I listened. The message was clear and compelling.We don’t like taking the Gospel to Samaria. In cities, where the majority of people are or will be living, Samaria is right next door. It’s time to figure it out.

The Glory of God Cannot Be Impeded. Our obedience to the Great Commission is our prime directive. Making disciples marries the two great commandments of Scripture to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as ourselves. If we fail to follow God, He is not frustrated. However, He may move on to other, more obedient servants, or drag us along kicking and screaming into the present reality. We can no more frustrate God’s glory or His plan than a vapor can stop an elephant. As Russell Moore reminded us, we are not relics from the past — we are pilgrims from the future where the Kingdom is fully realized.

Fervent Prayer Works. Vance Pitman told a story of a woman who emigrated to the US as a housekeeper for an American family. This woman grew up in the Philippines, and did not truly know Christ until she heard the Gospel preached by Johnny Hunt. When her family moved to Las Vegas, she prayed fervently for years that God would send someone from Woodstock Baptist to Las Vegas. When she first met Pitman, she came up to him to specifically ask what church sent him… I’ll give you one guess who sent him.

Thousands of people are coming to Christ in Las Vegas.
Prayer Matters. Prayer Works.

Which leads me to…

I Need To Pray More. Specifically, I need to pray more in faith. One speaker challenged us to run towards the tension in our lives and society with the Gospel. Only the Gospel can truly permeate our broken relationships and the tensions in our society and infuse them with new life.

New life should lead to a new perspective which makes all the difference in our responses. Hitherto, I fear that my prayers are mostly an advanced form of spiritual whining. However, prayer is like a long game: the effects aren’t usually immediate. And yet, eternally speaking, prayer and waiting on God are extraordinarily expedient — we shall not have to wait forever to for God to act. Praying in faith will turn our frustration into expectation, but only if we remember the truth: The Gospel is active. The Kingdom of Heaven advances. God fulfills His promises.

 

Remembering on Memorial Day

Iwo Jima Memorial Photo by Jim Linwood, Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Photo by Jim Linwood, Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Remembering on Memorial Day

Members from each generation of my family have served for as long as I can remember. Most came home. Some did not. Some served for glory. Some served for duty. Some served because they had to. They are our fellow countrymen who have loved us.

A Bit of Encouragement

We all need a bit of encouragement each day. This world pulls us down. Wars and rumors of wars are nothing new. Scandal, fraud, and deceit are part of the human condition. It’s easy to get stuck on the bad things going on. But thankfully, the will of men and the work of evil aren’t they only forces at work in this world, which something we must remind ourselves daily.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

-Jesus of Nazareth, John 16:33

Encouragement In Dark Times

One of my favorite passages from The Lord of the Rings is the exchange between Gandalf and Frodo about the nature of the Ring. The Ring was a weapon of mass destruction built by the most malevolent being in middle-earth. Even this dark, cataclysmic power had limits:

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

‘There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur’s hand and betrayed him; then when a chance come it caught poor Deagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and send out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoneed Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!’

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.’
-Gandalf to Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Ring could not be outsmarted. The ring could not be subverted for good. There was no one on middle-earth with the will to control the Ring’s power, save its maker as it was a part of him.

And yet, the will of the Ring and its maker were not more powerful than the One who willed that the Ring should be found by Bilbo Baggins.

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings in a way that reflected his worldview; that’s no secret. One of the greatest themes from this work is not that the good of man will triumph (indeed, it is the weakness of man that furthers evil in middle-earth), but rather that the will of the Creator will not be thwarted or overwhelmed. That theme is a direct reflection of God’ sovereignty.

So, while the strength of our will is little compared to the Evil One, his will is nothing compared to the Lord of Hosts. If we only focus on the activity of evil, we may despair. However, the sins of this world are tiny compared to the grace of our Lord.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
The Lord preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.

-Psalm 145:17-21

We must lift our eyes higher to see our Hope. He is not in the gutter, manger, or on the cross; He is on His throne.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

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FYI: This post contains affiliate links.

What Could Kill Christianity

Don't Blink

We know how absurd our claims sound. The Son of God was born human, lived a perfect life, dead a substitutionary death on the behalf of sinful mankind, and was raised to bodily life three days later, and now sits at the right had of the Father in glory. This is the core of our belief. Without a risen Lord, there is nothing. We fall apart. And we know this. Christian faith without a risen Lord is a pitiable way to live. We’re put to death for stepping outside our societies. We’re ostracized for absurd beliefs. Love, humility, meekness are all silly without a divine order that transcends brutality, survival, and power.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

-1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NIV)

We above all should be pitied.

And yet, I hear stories about amazing things happening in the world. I’ve heard stores of Jesus revealing himself in dreams to tell unbelievers who to go to hear the gospel. The power of the occult is broken. The sick are healed. Chains of addiction are broken. Persons from ethnic groups that have spent centuries killing one another unite in brotherhood. The world cannot comprehend our joy. Our acts of love are baffling. We don’t make sense.

So, What Could Kill Christianity?

Correction, we don’t make sense and the world hates us. Christianity is constantly being deconstructed. A very large portion of the world would love nothing more than to see the Christian faith dismantled and her followers recant or fade from existence.

And it could happen provided two things occur: that definitive proof that Jesus of Nazareth is still in the ground arises and that every story about what Jesus has done is debunked beyond a shadow of a doubt. Then we really would be as Paul said a people to be pitied above all. No resurrection, no real faith — all is futile.

Both of these blows would add up to one effect: our Story is a delusion.

And that delusion isn’t worth the price. We would stop believing and stop telling the stories passed to us. We would stop repeating the stories that we hear from others about the crazy things that defy belief or comprehension. Christianity isn’t the path of least resistance; it’s the opposite. The narrow path cuts across the human grain and installs God as Lord and Master — something we humans typically reserve for self.

The truth is that those who would kill Christianity will always attack the testimony of its witnesses and try to find proof that Jesus is still in the ground. And while there can never be definitive proof that will dismantle Christianity, those who would stir up doubts aren’t in a battle for facts — it’s for the hearts and minds of believers and nonbelievers alike.

Encountering the Skeptic

There will always be the skeptics. Skeptics will always find means to bolster their skepticism. Our claims are truly baffling. But a skeptic is going to find it hard to deal with the stories of my friends who were once murderers, thieves, addicts, drug dealers, egomaniacs, hateful, and racists. Like the blind man healed in John 9, we all can say the same thing: all I know is that I once was blind but now I see. A skeptic may be easily unconvinced by statistics, facts, and ideas, but testimony and radical change is much harder to explain away.

Jesus once replied to the question of who he was to John the Baptist by answering: “The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matt 11:5-6). And this is still our story and song – I’m not who I was.

This is what we do when we encounter the skeptic: tell the Story. We’re called to testify about what we’ve seen and Who we’ve encountered. Our faith is next to pointless if we don’t bother to tell the Story. Because at the core of our faith is change. That is why we must always tell the Story and stories of what Jesus does. Our job is not to prove who Jesus is; it is to tell what He’s done.

We have seen something inexplicable and can never be the same again.

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I wrote this in response to the latest round of ‘Jesus Family Tomb’ stories that have been stirred up in the media. Never mind that Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah were quite common names, radioisotope dating isn’t exact, antiquities frauds are commonplace, there’s no way to reliably DNA test any of the remains, and that the lead geologist (not archaeologist), Aryeh Shimron, has been under investigation by the the Israeli government into claims of forgery and fraud (a government which, at best, tolerates the Christian presence in Israel). In any other situation this would be still be buried as a case of scientific malfeasance due to poor experimental controls, improper data handling, and skewed results, but, hey, this is Christianity, right? We don’t often get the luxury of the other side giving us the benefit of the doubt.