Archive for April 24, 2012

Possibility or Promise?

 

God’s plan for our redemption didn’t begin with Jesus’ birth.  It started with a promise made to his great37-grandfather, a guy by the name of Abraham.

Back when he was still called “Abram,” God promised him that a son coming from his own body would be his heir.

The thing about God’s promises, though, is that they don’t always come to pass right away.  About 10 years later—still no baby.

At this point, Abram is about 85, and his barren wife Sarai is 75.  She believed God’s promise up to the point of Abram fathering a child, but not as far as her being the mother.  So she suggested that Abram get with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar.  Abram and Hagar were the parents of Ishmael, so God’s promise was fulfilled, right?

Wrong, actually.  God had promised a miracle.  Ishmael was not a miracle, because he was the result of Abram and Sarai taking matters into their own hands.

In other words, Ishmael was possible.

God’s plan all along, though was to establish his covenant with Isaac, the child Abram (now Abraham) had with Sarai (now Sarah) at the appointed time.  The Bible says that Ishmael was mocking toward Isaac, so Sarah cursed him, saying, “that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac (Genesis 21:8 NIV),” even though Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn.

So what’s the big deal about this promised inheritance?  Well, Isaac was the father of Jacob, later renamed Israel.  He was the heir of the covenant promise made to Abraham, which was to inherit the land of Canaan, known today by his own name of Israel.

And Ishmael?  He became the father of many Arab tribes, including one who had a descendant named Muhammad.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.  He started a religion called Islam.  A lot of people that practice it think they ought to be living in the land of Canaan.  So thousands of years later, there’s still war and stuff over this same strip of land.

And all because Abraham, the father of our faith, didn’t even have enough faith himself to go all in on God’s promise.

So what does this mean to us, the people halfway around the world who only read about the Middle East in our newspapers (or whatever it is that people read today that isn’t a newspaper)?

Well, 37 generations after Isaac, the child of the promise, a boy named Joseph was born.  He had a wife named Mary who had a child named Jesus.  He made a few promises of His own, not the least of which was, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16b NIV).”

Now here’s the interesting bit about that.  In saying this, Jesus extends the promise made to Abraham to “whoever” believes that he is the son of God.  “Whoever” can even include the children of Ishmael, because the inheritance is now for any individual who believes, regardless of their bloodline.

In other words, Jesus is where the promise meets the possible.  He didn’t come just to save white, middle-class Americans like me.  He came to save the Arabs and the Jews too.  As John wrote in his vision of the throne room of heaven:

. . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  (Revelation 5: 9b-10 NIV)

Some believe that peace in the Middle East is possible.  I wonder how a lasting peace could be possible when “possible” was what created their situation in the first place.

God’s promise seems like a better deal to me—a kingdom and royal priesthood made up of ALL who believe.  In heaven, there will be no white, black, Arab, Jew, male or female.  All people will have found their ultimate common ground in the person of Jesus Christ.

Until that day, seek the Truth of God’s promise in your life.  Don’t settle for what is possible by your own efforts.

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE

 

            So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.

            We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives by visibly living out or faith. 

            But let’s face it, all that service can be tiring.  If we put too much emphasis on pouring ourselves out for others, it can be all too easy to neglect the refilling process.

            Fortunately, we don’t need to look any farther than the Ten Commandments to find out how to solve this problem:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work . . . (Exodus 20:9-10a NIV)

God gave us the Sabbath for a reason.  He knew we would need the rest.  To paraphrase Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,   you can’t sharpen your saw if you never stop sawing.

            Now I don’t want to get into the legalistic argument of what constitutes “work.”  Keeping the Sabbath is not about following the letter of the law.  That’s religion.  Jesus came to set us free from that.

            The point is that we were created to love God, love one another and serve the world.  We can only do that effectively if we take time to chill out and recharge.  With the concept of the Sabbath, God gave us a simple template to follow to make sure that we stayed refueled in order to carry out His ministry effectively.

            Paul knew that he would need this refueling when he wrote:

…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.  (Philippians 3:13b-14 AMP)

If life were all about pressing on, with no time for resting, we would burn out.  Thus, we would not complete our mission and win the PRize.

                So what is this PRize of which Paul speaks?  It can’t be the salvation of our souls.  As we already covered back in Part 5, we are saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, and not through our own efforts.  In other words, we don’t earn our golden ticket to Heaven by “straining forward” and “pressing on.”

                So what is the PRize then?  Would you believe, more rest?

                I’m not talking about the Sunday-afternoon-nap-on-the-couch-with-the-ball-game-on-after-killing-the-all-you-can-eat-buffet-after-Church kind of a rest though.  This PRize is much bigger:

So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered into [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own.  (Hebrews 4:9-10 AMP)

                The PRize that I am pressing on toward is to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and enter your master’s happiness.  Take the free gift of the water of life and enter into my rest.”

                To that end, I will continue pressing on—toward the PRize, and toward His rest.  I’m glad to have you along for the ride.

               

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 6: PRove It!

 

PROVE IT!

 

If Christianity really does have a PR problem, the greatest single source of it may be the perception of hypocrisy.

It is not only possible but common for someone to have a set of ideals that they occasionally do not live up to.

On the other hand, an actual hypocrite is someone who deceptively and intentionally elevates their own outward image while inwardly or privately behaving in a completely different manner.

Unfortunately, throughout the centuries, many people within the church have done just that.  Even more unfortunately, we live in a culture that is equally self-seeking rather than Truth-seeking.

As a result, people who do not want to believe in God, instead of trying to learn more about Him and His followers, will instead seek out examples of why NOT to be a follower.  The most common excuse seems to be, “Christians are hypocrites, so why would I want to be one?”

Even so, our primary concern should not be to defend ourselves against the charges of hypocrisy by merely saying that we are not hypocrites.  Our job is to PRove it.

If anyone is to believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and that we, the Church, are His ambassadors, then it is imperative that our walk matches our talk.

Jesus summed up our mission in this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16  NIV)

Notice that the motivation for a Christian’s good deeds is so that people will praise God, not the doer of the deeds.  Another person could do the very same deeds, praising Jesus with his mouth the entire way, but with self-serving motivation.  The world will notice this, and affix the label of “hypocrite” appropriately.

So here are a few PRactical ways to PRove to a skeptical world that your faith is genuine:

  1. Know your Bible.  If someone twists a Bible quote, you need to be able to call them on it in such a way as to correct the misinformation without condemning.
  2. Show an attitude of gratitude, rather than one of entitlement.  People perceive what you value most by how bent you get if you lose it.
  3. Persevere through trials; don’t be a whiner.  Anyone can complain, but complainers never see the view from the top of the mountain.
  4. Speak only what is beneficial for building people up and meeting the needs of all who listen (see Ephesians 4:29). Hint: the best way to find out what their needs are is to LISTEN before you speak.
  5. Invest time and energy into relationships and consider other people’s needs more important than your own.  People tend not to care what you know until they know that you care.
  6. NEVER COMPROMISE THE TRUTH!!!  Just as we do not serve the world by preaching at them from a judgmental stance, neither do we serve them by blending in.

The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is Christ, but that difference makes ALL the difference.

(Next, Part 7—The PRize)

 

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 5: PRactice Grace

 

PRACTICE GRACE

You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Some of us are blessed with great relationships with our extended families, others not so much.    But we keep going back to the cookouts, don’t we?  Because, well, they’re FAMILY!  It’s always a little easier to put aside differences when you’re tossing beanbags with brats on the grill.

But after the cookout, and the cleanup, and the kisses goodbye, the differences remain.  Every family has them, but the differences are thrown into sharp relief in a family where some of the members are Christians and some are not.

If you, like me, are among the first in your family to come out as an evangelical Christian, it can be uncomfortable at first.  Not only do you stick out like a sore thumb, but you see everyone else differently. 

No matter what your family situation is or what kind of relationships you have with them, there is one thing you must never forget.  It wasn’t anything you did that made you different from them. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9 RSV)

Now I do not want to assume that everyone reading this knows what is meant by “grace.”  Basically, it means “unmerited favor,” or getting something you didn’t earn.

Say for example you’re speeding down the interstate, and you get pulled over.  You know you deserve a ticket.  Getting what you deserve is justice.

What you HOPE will happen instead is that the officer will let you off with a warning.  Not getting what you deserve is mercy.

But what if instead the officer comes up to your car window and says, “You and I both know you have broken the law.  But nobody’s perfect.  So instead of a ticket, I’m just going to give you this Hershey Bar.  Have a nice day!”

 That’s not normal.  Not for a regular person anyway, but Jesus wasn’t a regular person. 

 He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up and be “good enough” for Him before He called us to follow Him.  We’ll never be good enough.  That’s the whole point of grace—we can’t do it ourselves.

Now back to the cookout.  Take a look around the yard at all these people getting on your nerves–these people you feel you have nothing in common with anymore.

Now look at them again, Christian.  You DO have something in common with them—genetic material.  Before God, in His mercy and grace, saved you, you were just like them.  In more ways than you care to admit, you still are.

So PRactice grace by loving your family for who they are, not who you think they ought to be.  PRactice grace by appreciating them for what they do, not for what they can do for you.  PRactice grace by looking past the rough edges to the heart inside—the heart that has a God-shaped hole in it just like yours once did.

But most of all, PRactice grace by simply hanging around with them.  Look past the differences and find the common ground.

After all, they’re family.  And you’re stuck with them.

(Next, Part 6—PRove It!)