Thursday, December 31, 2015

Seeing life as Jesus Christ sees it

During this wonderful season, we often like to read great literature, watch a great movie, or hear a great story—and be deeply moved. 
            
Yet what moves us?

Among other things, point of view (POV) strongly effects how we’re moved. 

To the very finite, limited extent that a story’s POV reflects God’s POV, we can be moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our lives.

POV can be omniscient or all-knowing. It doesn’t mean the narrator tells us everything he or she knows. In fact, the best narrators tell us only what we need to know. During His public ministry, Jesus certainly didn’t say everything He knew. In fact, most times He refused to answer the direct questions darting His way. He did that on purpose!

POV can be omnipotent or all-powerful. In most stories, the narrator isn’t directly making this or that happen. Then again, that sometimes happens, especially in fantasy and mythology. Outside of the days of Moses, the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, God doesn’t directly cast down plagues, blind armies, perform miraculous healings, and bend the laws of nature. Or, does He?

POV can be omnipresent or all-present or, as we might more commonly say, everywhere present. Among other places, this is seen in movies with rapidly changing points of view during epic battle scenes. Classic examples include The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars series. 

POV can be omnibenevolent or all-good. This is the classic happy ending that we love and love to hate. In the midst of a story, we want to deeply fear that all could end terribly. That terrible fear moves some to tears when all ends well. 

This last POV seems to be hard-wired into our DNA, but the term omnibenevolence wasn’t coined until the mid-1800s, and would-be theologians love to argue whether it can be properly used to describe God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The fact is, the Bible doesn’t offer a happy ending for everyone. In that sense, it’s more true-to-life than any great work of fiction. Still, you’ll find this POV permeating most stories. Just don’t equate it with God somehow promising happy endings for one and all. Reality is far different!

Again, any story’s POV is only a small inkling of the Lord’s unlimited POV. So, don’t get too carried away! Still, look for these four points of view the next time you sit down to enjoy a great story and feel deeply moved. 

The best? Being deeply moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our own lives, here and now. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

Davidson's magnum opus

Jolyn Davidson has been a dear friend of our family since, well, before Renee & I started dating! :-)   

We can't begin to express our joy and delight announcing that Jolyn's magnum opus has just been published. 

I sincerely wish every friend of mine could read it as soon as possible. Yes, it's THAT good! 

No matter how bad some of your earlier life chapters were, this book will make you wiser and stronger (and happier) for each new life chapter ahead. 

You'll find it at https://www.createspace.com/5806726 and at http://www.amazon.com/Transforming-Wounds-into-Wisdom-Attitudes/dp/0997083700/

Saturday, December 19, 2015

This Christmas, which part will you play?

Courtesy of Medical Teams, http://www.medicalteams.org/micro-sites/syrian-refugee-kits


What is Advent without a little Christmas drama? For children, the plethora of casting options includes sheep and camels. For adults, the choices narrow a bit, and some parts admittedly have become more favored than others.
So, in recent days I’ve wondered, “Which part do I want to play this Christmas season?” Not in a largely imaginative church drama, however, but in the current and all-too-real Syrian refugee mega-crisis.
Let’s not forgot that Joseph and Mary’s hometown of Nazareth was part of Ottoman Syria less than a century ago. With that in mind, do we really want to play the “favored” role of Joseph or Mary this Christmas? Or volunteer a child or grandchild to play baby Jesus? Or do we want to play the innkeeper of Bethlehem, who — like more than 30 U.S. state governments — insists, before a watching world, that he or she has no room?
Then again, do we want to play one of the Magi, who risked everything, seeking the Christ child for many months? They traveled perhaps 1,000 miles or more in a small camel train to find “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). These wise men may have come from a prestigious city of the ancient Medes, Persians or Chaldeans. Why then their intense dedication to find Jesus Christ and present him with exquisite gifts of great wealth? Braving extreme heat, sandstorms and the constant threat of thieves, these Magi traveled through foreign lands to the far west — within a day of the great Mediterranean Sea.
No, we reject such options, and by default find ourselves living in ease and plenty, like King Herod, who feigned reverence for the one born King of the Jews, yet was driven by the cold calculus that a slaughter of the innocents now might, possibly, someday, save his own neck.
Yes, with such a clear-cut calculus, I too am more than eager to raise my hand and voice, saying, “Pick me! In this real-life drama, I want to play the part of King Herod.” Yes, it’s me. True, I won’t take their lives myself, but I’ll demand that the Syrian refugees die somewhere else, off stage, if only to make sure that I still get to take the final bow and accept the applause of my fellow Americans.
After all, King Herod has the best of all lines: “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8).
So, this Advent season, please join me in seeing through the gimmickry of the newly active “charities” raising money to aid the refugees. Our donations, regardless of size, won’t make a difference anyway.
If the Syrians are going to die, Charles Dickens was right: They had best hurry up and do it and decrease the world’s excess refugee population.
Of course, I’m being satirical. Yet I fear many people will accept this as gospel truth. After all, what is Advent without a little Christmas drama?
David Sanford of Salem is the author of the forthcoming book, Loving Your Neighbor (Kregel, 2017). 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why Snoopy is (still) right

SOURCE: http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1976/08/09
In a classic Peanuts® cartoon, Charlie Brown hears that Snoopy is writing a book of theology, and tells him, “I hope you have a good title.” 

Snoopy lifts his hands off the typewriter, closes his eyes, and thinks to himself, I have the perfect title. He then types, “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?”

As a descendant of a long line of atheists, I’ve always felt I still have so much more to learn. I haven’t thought of even 1% of the questions I should be asking. Still, I know and have experienced so much that is true. Truths I can’t review too often!

Truly transforming? Reviewing the dozens of “Who I am in Christ” faith affirmation statements compiled and popularized by Neil T. Anderson, and more than doubled in size by others. Untold thousands have experienced spiritual healing, health and hope by reading them. They certainly have been transformative in my own life and experience. 

Lately, however, I have turned the equation around. What would happen in my heart and life if I began affirming what’s true about “Who Jesus Christ is in me”?

When we ponder “Who Jesus Christ is in me,” what immediately comes to mind? I’ve come to the place where I thank God daily for His sovereignty (greatness), providence (goodness), holiness (glory), love (graciousness), and mystery (God alone knows). Yes, we can rattle off a lot of other theological (and biblical) terms, but these are delightfully immense reminders of who Jesus Christ is in me. I love to ponder each and hope that will become your experience as well.

What else is true? Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry gave the men and women, youth and children around Him amazing foretastes of what is eternal for each of His followers. Those foretastes cover a wide horizon. To name but a few: seeing individuals raised from the dead, seeing other persons healed spiritually, seeing still others healed physically, seeing yet other persons healed psychologically.

Let’s not make the mistake, however, of thinking that wonderful foretastes of heaven aren’t ours to experience today. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my sins past, present and future already are all forgiven, yet I experience it anew each time I confess my sins. Immediately afterward, I want to slow down and savor that specific experience of being forgiven. If I do, I enjoy a delicious foretaste of heaven.

In contrast to some (certainly not all!) of my holiness friends, I believe we still sin. Even though our salvation is all-encompassing, it doesn’t mean we don’t sin—any more than it means we never get sick, never suffer trials, never wrestle with temptation, never fail, never fall, never fear cancer, and never end up dying. Aren’t these means, while on this planet, helping us to continue longing for heaven?

While some speak of the already/but not yet dichotomies of our faith, I like foretastes of heaven and think Jesus just might (?) agree. Then again, Snoopy is right: We’re all in for some major theological adjustments some day! 
   
What we don’t want to miss, here and now, is slowing down and savoring specific foretaste experiences this side of eternity. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jesus Calling This Un-Thanksgiving

“I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11).

May I make a radical proposal this Thanksgiving season? 

Instead of counting your blessings one by one, I recommend that you:
            1. Make a list of everything you’re not thankful for. Include anything you’re tired of, frustrated about, or worried over.
            2. Review every area of your life—family, school, work, church, neighborhood, friends, finances, schedule, hobbies, activities, interests. Make sure you don’t forget anything you’re not thankful for.
            3. Include as many specifics as possible. Don’t simply list “current job.” Specify exactly what’s bothering you about your place of work (or whatever).
            4. Review your list with your spouse or a close friend. Again, try to think of everything you’re not thankful for.
            5. Once your list is complete, congratulations! That was quite a bit of work, wasn’t it? But don’t stop yet.
            6. In the tradition of the psalms and other great prayers of the Bible, take your list to God. Pour out your complaints to Him.

Don’t forget, however, that prayer isn’t meant to be a monologue.
            7. Listen to what God says to you: “Yes, I know what you’re going through (Heb. 4:15). But, listen, rejoice! In your trials? Yes! (Romans 5:3, James 1:2). When your health is greatly diminished? Yes! Even if (worst case scenario) others turn against you? Yes! (Matt. 5:10-12, 1 Peter 4:12-14).”
            8. Listen to what else God says to you: “My son, My daughter, My child, I know how you feel. But, listen, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything, for this is My will for you (1 Thess. 5:16-18).”
            9. “Yes, rejoice always! Again, I say, rejoice! Let your mind dwell on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:4, 8)—not on what you’re not thankful for.”
            10. “Yes, make a list of what you’re not thankful for. But don’t let that list become your focus. Instead, look to Me. Dwell in My Word. Spend time in My presence. Remember, My joy is your strength (Neh. 8:10)—today and always.”

“Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). 

5 KEY QUESTIONS THIS UN-THANKSGIVING

1. What am I not thankful for?
2. Have I told God about everything on that not-thankful list?
3. What does God have to say about each item on that list?
4. How can I specifically, even tangibly, give each to God?
5. What else do I need to do to feel ready to thank God?

 
 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What "Loving Your Neighbor" Is All About

Pray. Care. Share. It's what "loving your neighbor" is all about. 

Sometimes, though, the Share part requires new approaches. Even Jesus Himself used a wide spectrum of approaches. A "different" approach also was needed with a Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) Hindu student named Ahbi.

I had encouraged my oldest son, Jonathan, to invite three or four of his new friends to go out with us for pizza. Ahbi and two other friends said yes.

After the pizzas were ordered (including a large vegetarian), I deliberately created an inciting incident. How? I turned to Ahbi and asked him what he thought of Christianity. Ahbi railed on and on about Christianity’s faults (mostly parroting what he had heard his parents and professors say).

Instead of correcting Ahbi’s obvious factual errors and misperceptions, I encouraged Ahbi to keep railing against Christianity. Why? It was an inciting incident of my own making. I let Ahbi vent his anger (and ignorance) by being an active listener, by not correcting Ahbi’s mistakes, and by not being judgmental.

Then I started asking my son and two other new friends what they thought. It turned out both friends were fairly strong (but shy) Christians.

In the end, I didn’t address one of Ahbi’s issues. Finally, Ahbi started admitting he really didn’t know that much about Christianity, and he started asking questions.

In response, I called it a night, encouraging Ahbi to consider reading the Jesus story in the Bible with one of his three Christian friends. Why? To see how Jesus addressed Ahbi’s questions.

Before anyone gave Ahbi the “right” answers, Ahbi needed to discover them for himself in Jesus and the Scriptures.


You can imagine my joy when Ahbi got back in touch with me. "Did you hear the news?" A few nights earlier he shared his testimony with 300+ Cru students. Pray. Care. Share. It's what "loving your neighbor" is all about!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"When you're already broken, what do you have to lose?"

Blind Bartimaeus wasn't always blind.
A penetrating question I didn’t expect to hear today: “When you’re already broken, what do you have to lose?”

Pastor Ken Engelking at Morning Star Church (Salem, OR) preached today about blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10:46-52.

The truth be told, I have felt a lot like blind Bartimaeus. I used to take “seeing” for granted. Now? I feel loss, pain, poverty and deep brokenness. “Seeing”? Sorry, that’s not going to happen again. Not in this life.

Still, I didn’t expect Pastor Ken’s penetrating question, a question he said applies to each and every one of us today: “When you’re already broken, what do you have to lose?”

So, what did blind Bartimaeus have to lose? The goodwill of the crowd, who heckled and harassed him and yelled for him to shut up. Still he cried out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” So much for anyone giving the blind man a few coins today.

What else did Bartimaeus have to lose? A dusty, dirty, filthy old cloak. A cloak so ragged he couldn’t bear the thought of meeting Jesus in it. So he tossed it away, something a blind man back then would never, never do. That cloak, that rag, was his only shelter, his only umbrella, his only blanket, his only semblance of security.

What else did he have to lose? Faith. When Jesus heard Bartimaeus crying out, Jesus stopped in His tracks. Immediately Jesus called to Bartimaeus, who now had an urgent decision to make. Believe Jesus was the Promised One, stand up, ask people to point him in the right direction, walk to Jesus, and pray for a miracle. Or sit there where he always sat, begging, the only way of life he had known for many a year.

What else did the blind man have to lose? Words. When Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” He wants an answer. Yet most of us don’t pray because we don’t know what to say. Jesus wants us to ask Him to meet our needs, even in our utter brokenness. Thankfully, Bartimaeus knew what to say! 

Read for yourself...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What’s Going to Happen (or, Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Future)

Outside of the Bible, no other sacred writings contain detailed prophecies of future events. After all, only God, who spoke the universe into existence, can accurately foretell what’s going to happen at the climax of history. 

In one hundred twenty-five words, here’s a summary of what we learn from biblical prophecy:

You and I should never be surprised by the phenomenal (albeit short-lived) success of evil, Satan-inspired men. Until the climax of history, many evil men will triumph for a time. The 20th century was no exception. There’s no reason to believe the 21st century will be an exception either. But you and I never need fear that evil will triumph completely. Why? Because God controls the day they ascend to power and the day of their downfall. This will be true of even the most wicked, Satan-inspired man of all, the Antichrist. In the end, God will crush his enemies. No matter what happens this century, you and I need to keep the end of God’s story clearly in view—and never lose faith.

Let’s not fool ourselves about who our real enemy is. Most of the time we aren’t privy to what’s really going on in the spiritual realm. We’re engaged in a war of a much larger scale than we see day-to-day.

After recruiting his first disciples, Jesus takes them to the synagogue in the city of Capernaum, where that unseen war became visible for a brief moment. When a demon-possessed man tries to tell Jesus what to do, he immediate rebukes the evil spirit and tells him what to do. To everyone’s astonishment, the demon has to obey what Jesus says.

The reality is, we all have to obey Jesus. We may shake and scream. We may try to tell Jesus what to do. But in the end, we have to obey him. The question isn’t, “Is Jesus Lord of your life?” The question is, “Have you acknowledged that fact?”

According to the Bible, one day everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will have to bow the knee and proclaim that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. How much better to gladly acknowledge his place in the universe, and in your life, here and now.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Did you miss the big news? Did you catch the latest breaking story?

One of my all-time favorite columnists, Russell Baker, won a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, "Growing Up," but he's best remembered for writing satirical commentary and self-critical prose for the New York Times. Twenty summers ago he wrote a particularly biting column I've never forgotten. It was his gut-wrenching epiphany after returning to work post-vacation. 

Even though Russell Baker was a professional news junkie, he went cold turkey for the duration of his vacation. He didn't touch a newspaper, listen to radio, watch TV, or go online for three full weeks. His first morning back at the office, Russell buried himself for two hours all the newspapers he hadn't had an opportunity read yet. His searingly honest conclusion? "Little of consequence really happens in three weeks."

Those are rather sobering words in this day and age of instant communications. If you stop and look critically at any number of national news sources, it's amazing how much of what's hyped as news is quite trivial. Much has almost nothing to do with real life.

Russell Baker retired years ago, but I've never forgotten his alarming revelation. It's why I often ask myself, "Is anything I'm doing of consequence?" Thankfully, I often answer in the affirmative, but that's because I'm in a leadership role that's a good fit for my life passion, which is showing the relevance of Jesus Christ in each major sphere of life (Athletics, Business, Church, Education, Literature, Music, Nonprofits, etc.). 

Of course, not every job offers such opportunities, which is why I've happily commuted 2.5 hours to/from work daily for the past four years. Then again, we're moving from Portland to Salem two weeks from Saturday. What will I do with 2.25 extra hours daily? Anything of consequence? I honestly don't know. The best I can say, at this point, is I hope so. I honestly hope so... 

Monday, July 6, 2015

With the End in Mind

Marty Trammell, Ph.D., Chair, Humanities, Corban University.
Marty and I have been good friends since we were 12 years old.
Our promise? To always follow Jesus Christ and finish well. 
I’ve found it helpful to meditate on Kempis’s hauntingly beautiful question, “How do you want to meet God?”

Thomas à Kempis’s first book, The Imitation of Christ, especially the closing three chapters, speaks of the importance of beginning with the end in mind. That is, think deeply and often when alone about the day of your death.

To do this, not once, but as a habit of life, in union with several others, creates a sense of excitement and mission about all that we do. Our thoughts, feelings, energy, and choices matter.


Yet how many never give serious thought to the end of their life? Oh, they think they do so—they give thought, often excessively, to the way they would like to finish their years in some supposedly blissful retirement. Then, they tell themselves, I’ll do what I really want—live in a nice home, travel, write, invest, whatever. Yes, we must wait for all good things. But why wait until the end of life, when the body is frail and the mind may not be as sharp?

One woman, whose husband’s health was failing rapidly, lamented to my wife and me: “He promised we’d travel the world together after he retired. We’ve taken only one trip, and now he can hardly walk” and would soon be gone. Her sorrow over all that might have been shook me.

Ever since, I’ve made no apology of spending time with my wife, traveling, a day here, two days there, a week in southern Florida, two weeks in Europe, additional weeks trekking in the Alps, the Amazon, the Andes, the Sahara desert, the ever planning (not just dreaming) of traveling together again. We may not traverse the whole planet before my health is gone, but my wife won’t be able to say we didn’t try, throughout our life, not just at the end.

The same goes for other dreams, goals, desires—if they’re part of our mission, our life’s adventure, I see no reason to wait (until it’s almost too late) to go after them, heart and soul.

Pity the person who never decides to live, whose chief excitement is daydreaming, who never dares to passionately pursue his or her plans now, today, this year, the next five years, before it’s too late and our family and friends lament what might have been.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Faith Like a Child (Part 2)

Even as a grown-up, Jesus loved to be with children. Have you ever noticed that some grown-ups love to be around kids, and some people don’t? Jesus loved to be with children. During his three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children, who in that culture were sometimes considered unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.

Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send 12 hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.

Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a 12-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.

In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Listen! My kingdom belongs to kids!” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into My kingdom.”

What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your grandparents send you a birthday card with 5 shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.

The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No! Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says that’s not the way to get into My kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into My kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust Me.

What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, Someone: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, creator of heaven and earth, the One who decides how life—real life—works. And it works in some amazing, sometimes counter-intuitive ways.

*****

Granted, some claim a small child’s belief in God doesn’t really count. But that’s not the case. The apostle Paul could say to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV): “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

True, children can’t understand everything they’re taught. So? There is nothing wrong about a child’s inadequate concept of God or of the Christian faith. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” The Bible doesn’t criticize a child’s way of thinking. The One who made us knows us.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Faith Like a Child (Part 1)

Talk about crazy! I had the privilege of interviewing more than a dozen 3rd to 6th graders. Each child sat on a “hot seat” and answered five questions. The first four answers were easy: name, grade, number of siblings, and how many years they’ve gone to church. The fifth and final answer was a little tougher: talk about when it’s hard for you to trust God. I was amazed at their responses. First, they had a much shorter list of reasons than adults usually do. Second, several of the children honestly and sincerely told me, “It’s always been easy for me to trust God.” You should have seen the smiles on their faces.

What could possibly ruin such wonderful, child-like trust in God?

Sadly, it’s very possible for a child to grow up in a faith community, learn lots of Bible stories, sing lots of wonderful songs, memorize plenty of Scripture verses, say all the right things, look good—very good—and yet lose his or her faith.

Sometimes, it’s the individual’s own choice.

Sometimes, however, it’s because of the sinful, terrible choices of adults the child should have been able to trust.

Scripture couldn’t be clearer that anyone who repeatedly or severely harms a boy or girl or young adult by sinning against them—physically, psychologically, socially, sexually, or spiritually—is in grave danger of God’s judgment. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, verses 5 and 6:
5 And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is
welcoming me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who trusts in me
to lose faith [or be harmed by sin], it would be better for that person to be
thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck (NLT).


Believe me, ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else. Even experienced fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John were scared to death of drowning. Sure, some like Peter could swim. But that wasn’t a given. There certainly was no Michael ben Phelps back then. Even if there were, imagine a judge ordering a crew of Roman sailors to take you 10 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, tie a 100-pound milestone tied around your neck, and send you to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker.

Peter and his fellow disciples shuddered at the thought. It should make us shudder too. Why? Because Jesus warns each and every one of us that such a fate would be much better than causing a child to lose his or her faith in Jesus Christ.

The point Jesus is making is crystal clear: Don’t let your attitudes, your words, and/or your actions soil or steal the God-given faith of a child.

But perhaps Jesus’ warning should also cause us to think of other smaller ways we can cause children to begin to lose faith—by our critical attitudes, hypocrisy, self-centered living—anything that doesn’t truly reflect Christ-like, child-like kingdom living.

I’m not talking about being perfect. Instead, I’m saying that a child’s faith grows, not diminishes, when an adult apologizes to the child for, say, losing his or her temper.

What’s your story? Did adults build up or wreck your God-given faith as a child? 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Stopping America's Greatest Epidemic

More than 42 million Americans have walked away from the church

"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered away from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God" (James 5:19-20, Message).



Let's Go After the Millions Who Have Lost Their Faith

Q. How can I help my friend who has left church and seems to doubt everything he or she used to believe about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith?

A. Since the publication of my book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers), I've heard this question a lot.

Here's how to go after your friend in the love of Jesus Christ...

First, love your friend unconditionally.

Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you're actively listening.

Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we've all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don't react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They're not angry at you, even if it sounds that way. 

Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. While on business in Orlando I met a man who poured out his heart to me. When he was done, I kept looking into his angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn't say anything. After a minute he finally told me, "All I needed was hope and mercy." What a profoundly sad statement. But if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed. 

Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, clarify that list. Make sure you both agree on what was or is needed. 

Sixth, don't promise to meet your friend's needs. Often they want to know "Why?" You don't know. Don't even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility. 

Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in God, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it's often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another gifted Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an "ordinary" but wise individual you both know you can trust. 

Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for them. If they're in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you're still praying for them. Prayer invites God back into the picture. 

Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again. 

Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can't be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in God. That's up to God, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. 

Never give up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

I prayed my heart out last night. Typically I fall asleep fairly quickly, but last night I earnestly asked God for seasons of refreshing for Anna, Ben, Renée and me. 

Don’t get me wrong. Yesterday was a positive, enjoyable and peaceful day, but the four of us have been through so many hard and heart-wrenching life chapters. 

“Please God, oh God please, give us seasons of refreshing.” I prayed so hard I ached. Once I felt God heard me, I felt peaceful and drifted away into a good sleep. 

This morning when I woke up Anna was still asleep and both Ben and Renée were meeting with friends. So, I started my chores for the morning. I often find them relaxing. 

In the midst of unloading the dishwasher, I felt God impress on me that the “seasons” in seasons of refreshing aren’t always long stretches of time. They often come in a series of short seasons. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe an hour.

When Renée got home, I stopped for a late breakfast and told her about praying my heart out and what I felt God impress on me. 

“Yes,” Renée said, “don’t you remember?” She paused. “Remember when Jesus told the disciples to come away and rest awhile? He told them to get into the boat and cross over to the other side. As soon as they arrived on the distant shore, the crowds gathered and they went straight back to work. The ‘rest awhile’ happened while they were crossing the Sea of Galilee.” 

She smiled. “I think I need a relaxing boat ride one of these days!” We laughed. Often just talking with Renée is a season of refreshing for me. Now you know why…



Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Didn't Win the Lottery

Like most posts, this is something I wrote in the past. In this case, I've thought about this post often lately. So, here it is again...

I often struggle with the way traditional Christianity has claimed that “salvation and going to heaven is the greatest deal on earth.”

According to this line of thinking, only the lucky, the blessed, the preordained who agree with me (whoever “me” happens to be) get a country club estate along one of heaven’s finest avenues.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t win the lottery when God gave me the gift of faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Instead, God “won” me by paying the steepest price possible. And He paid that price for everyone (1 John 2:2), not just me.

Please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that in the end everyone will be saved. I’m also not saying that I don’t rejoice that God has promised heaven when Jesus returns (for me when I die or for all of us in one fell swoop, if He so chooses during my lifetime). 

Scripture is clear that Jesus commanded 72 of His disciples to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Believe me, on my good days I find that one of the easiest commands to obey.

But I don’t rejoice in my salvation and future in heaven in a worldly, juvenile sort of way as if I have won the lottery — and as if “you and you and you” haven’t (insert plenty of attitude here).

The same Jesus who said “rejoice” also wept over those who rejected God’s gracious gift of faith, mercy, grace, and salvation from the coming judgment here on earth (at the hands of the Roman Empire) and even greater judgment beyond this life (at the hands of the Almighty Creator and Governor of the universe).

No, I didn’t win the lottery. Instead, I received something infinitely better when God gave me the gift of faith and brought me to my knees. And the same God who saved me doesn’t want anyone else to perish. Instead, He wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

I know many will reject Jesus Christ to their dying day. But I have seen too many saved in their dying days to believe God somehow stops caring about the unrepentant after age 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 90 or 100.

Never give into the fear that one of your loved ones or friends hasn’t won the heavenly lottery yet. No one ever has — or ever will.