Toward a Christian Worldview

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Part of the reason we attend school is to learn how to think critically. The better we are able to reason, to answer deep questions and solve problems, the more our maturity develops, and we become capable of handling a future of responsibilities. I would like to put this same idea in a Christian context. Christians profess thinking with a Christian worldview in order to better solve spiritual problems and answer deep moral questions and to grow spiritually mature and capable of meeting life head-on. I think this is a reasonable assumption.

Now why would we not learn to think for ourselves? Even our earliest ancestors had to think, naturally so, just to get food in their bellies each day, not considering their self-awareness to ponder their role as humans in the world. The truth is that civilizations arose, some faster than others, according to people’s ability to think. We are much further along today in most places. The Stone Age is now the Information Age. We know more in this age than in all the earlier ones combined, consequently owning a quality of life inconceivably better than the earliest humans.

I often grow concerned that I do not observe this priority and progression of thought with many of my fellow Christians. Christianity, they would say, defines their approach to life morally, ethically, and religiously; however, many don’t seem to think with a Christian worldview.

When I say “think with a Christian worldview,” I mean to think through the deep meaning and implication of their Christian heritage and doctrine tackling the easy and difficult issues therein. I mean to approach the entire sphere of life, its various ideologies and moral dilemmas, with the guidelines they claim God has revealed in life and through Christ. I mean to read between the lines of scripture to find where life situations then might corroborate with life situations now to support authentic answers about what the Lord requires. So to me a Christian who does not think Christianly turns the point of learning on its head.

The apostle Peter wrote that we should make every effort to add to our faith various godly virtues in order not to become ineffective and unproductive (2 Pet. 1:5-9). I think what we should first assess in his words is the possibility that we can march along the Christian path without a clue that our way does not please the Lord. Peter charges this person with having “forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins” (v. 9).

The stew of religions, cults, and immorality that the fledgling church faced in the first century was much tougher to deal with than what we face in the Western world today. The Roman world was highly polytheistic and without dogma. Religion was personal and unorganized. There was no need for heretics or martyrs because it was unthinkable to deny another’s god or way of worship. One was free to worship, as he pleased and what he pleased. Many religions came with perks, especially those with gods whose identities were associated with vice, like sex, debauchery, or revelry.

We should also take from this that the church would have been comprised of an array of converts that now served Christ with the pangs of sinful appetites reverting back to their former days. Imagine it—a church of former gambling addicts located in the greatest casino city in the world! Think on it though: Men who patronized temple prostitution in Ephesus or Corinth would have still lived in town. There is something to learn from our spiritual ancestors and scriptural admonition.

What we learn is that if we don’t take Peter’s advice and continually build onto our faith—like adding onto a house—we risk taking our cues from the prevailing worldviews around us and our former lifestyle will resurface. This is why the New Testament writers warned the churches about sliding back into sin: It was easy to do without clinging to Christ. So Peter continues his exhortation: “If you do these things, you will never stumble” (v. 10).

I believe that God gives us a faith worth having that profoundly addresses every area of life. Therefore, it ought to guide our practice in word and deed. For example, it assures me that God is providential. Part of what this means is that God has not flown the coop but is present among us guiding and controlling all things to achieve his will even when we don’t understand him. This is built into my Christian conscience, into the worldview by which I evaluate life, and grounds me so I don’t fly apart when things aren’t going well. To put it another way, it prevents me from doubting God. Sometimes, however, it seems that I am overrun by people whose faith has never informed them of such basic knowledge of God and the faith, at least their behavior tells me so.

The point is we must be aggressive with the ideas that vie for our attention and watchful of the words we speak. What enters our minds and hearts should support and add to our faith in Christ. We are less Christian when we allow carnal ideas dominate our thinking and decision-making.

I should also extend this to any Christian music that elevates plight and hardship and keeps us living at the mercy of life. Christians aren’t excluded from the troubles of life, yet the abundant life Christ offers inspires and assists us to overcome everything oppressive life can throw at us. A dirge just isn’t helpful.

I’ve heard people lament, “We never know what state we’re gonna be in before we leave this world.” Well we all know this. Wouldn’t it be interesting though to see how our biblical heroes met their end? Who among the persecuted died valiantly and who didn’t die so bravely? Who grew feeble and senile? Who suffered the agonies of cancer or emphysema? Who passed away so suddenly, maybe even tragically, that it sent shock across the land?

Death can be difficult to handle but eventually we reckon it a natural part of life. So why let its somberness distort our Christian perspective? A Christian worldview offers me a splendid hope regarding death. Christ says death is only the beginning. The Fathers explain that death makes an end of sin. The apostle Paul challenges our faithlessness outright—”If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others” (1 Cor. 15:19).

I feel that it’s important for me to qualify my expectation. I am not requiring that we become Christian intellectuals; if that is what you hear me saying, you are mistaken. It is not necessary to be a scholar any more than any of us need to learn Hebrew or Greek to get the real message of the scriptures. I consider myself a follower of Jesus, a student of the scriptures, and an examiner of Christian history and doctrine—in that order. My hope is that every fellow follower would move toward becoming devoted students and researchers, feeling it their reasonable service. And if one day they stand as Christian intellectuals, we should suppose it but one possible result of a life aflame with God.

Our Christian worldview is important in many regards but especially as it relates to those who might become Christians one day. I refer to those who live at the fringes of Christianity, Christian sympathizers and seekers and those who may have deep religious or philosophical questions. If we Christians do not possess a mature, wholesome, life-giving relationship with Christ that thoughtfully addresses life’s questions and issues in superior fashion, why should any outsider want what we have?

Our lack will be evident when we don’t understand Christian ideology ourselves; when our superficial answers only produce more frustrated questions; when we haven’t spent time mining to the heart of our scriptures. Where it will show is in the marketplace of ideas—and are we ready to publicly put Christ to shame?

God of the Process

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“We have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9)

I grew up hearing the old church mothers exhorting that the Lord desires a yes’ from his people. Although I thought I knew what that meant, it has not been until now, many years later in my walk with God, that I understand it. What has become most clear to me along the way is all that it does not necessarily mean. It cannot always suggest that I have turned away from God to seek worldly pleasures. It doesn’t imply that I have refused God’s commands. If it pertains to my willingness to engage in ministry, I cannot be considered slothful.

I have learned that the ‘yes’ God wants from me and us all is the readiness to submit to his plan for our lives and by the path he has chosen. Simply, it is to follow God’s plan God’s way.

The Necessity of Conditioning

We often wrestle with God’s purpose for us despite our sincere desire for it. God may have given us a glimpse of his intent for our lives, but his plan for our possessing that goal may not be as convenient as we expect it to be. In our hearts, we sometimes rebel against the chosen path and, more notably, against it being our Father’s choice for us. We rebel because the way God leads is designed to elicit a faith-filled response from us, and never did we imagine that the way of faith could be so difficult. We will be tested and kept relying on God’s grace.

God promises us, however, that the process will never destroy us and that he has a plan and the power to restore anything lost during that time. But a process it is. The blessedness of the path, however, is that we will be made more efficient in God’s plan.

Among the greatest stories in Scripture are the lessons we discover in the life of Joseph. At a young age, God showed Joseph his life’s purpose, but it was 13 years before it became reality. God knew that Joseph had to be trained and conditioned to carry the vision of God. It is the same for us. There is never lack in the vision. The work of God within us is in perfect condition, like a seed awaiting prime soil conditions. The vision, however, has to be sheltered from the very ones who possess it.

Lurking in the saintliest hearts are all the vices that, under a different kind of circumstance, may halt the purpose of God in our lives. So God must perform a work on the heart that makes the two—his vision and the bearer—compatible. This work is also necessary because without the bearer being conditioned, the weight and demand of God’s vision would simply be unbearable.

Is God Unfair?

Joseph would never have become rescuer for his people had he resisted Egypt. Now a little common sense offers some explanation here. There is no one who being kidnapped to live in bondage to another person wouldn’t utterly detest his circumstance. There are unfortunate people today—the ones we see on milk cartons or in the news—somewhere living lives that have been forced on them. Joseph’s situation was similar. Our common humanity with Joseph assures us that there were tough days when he cried and became hysterical and longed for his parents and festered with hateful feelings at everyone, including God. There must have also come the day when the tragic reality seized him that he was never leaving Egypt.

It is in times when our situation is formidably colossal and sealed with finality that maturity and faith must be relied on to teach us how to cope with the hand we’ve been dealt. Although Joseph could have never factored Egypt into God’s plan for his life, he would never have survived it without looking beyond the hopelessness of his dilemma. He must have fought himself not to doubt in his darkness what he had once seen in the light.

Is God unfair? Does he want to punish us without cause? Surely he would not contradict his own character to bring about his purpose. No, but the process to God-given greatness, which God carefully controls, is necessary for the promotion he wishes to bring us. The promotion God gives is different from what we see in the world. God’s promotion comes with a righteous objective. He doesn’t raise people just to live in self-absorbed privilege of any kind. Instead, promotion comes as a precursor to righteous judgment that will institute good and halt evil (Prov. 11:10).

Gaining Clearer Insight

After a person has come through the process that God has designed for them, God may bestow a certain abundance or success upon him or her, just as he did for Joseph; only now it is abundance to one for whom it no longer matters. This is because God’s process brings clarity of priority and insight and excises all attachment to things and invention and the frivolous so that what remains is a heart fixed upon the purpose of God.

Thus, those who resist the process resist their own deliverances and those of others in the future who depend on their faithfulness to the process. There is a host of people that only God can see that depend on the process of extraction—the fire—that God desires to lead us through; not only that we may be their teachers, but rather that we might open to them the way into God’s righteous cause.

The point is poignant: Our suffering is redemptive and reaps a harvest we cannot yet see. The vision of God for Joseph, as it is for us, was all-encompassing. Joseph did not merely become prime minister or the architect of a survival plan for Egypt’s devastating famine. He was a spiritual deliverer of God’s people into promise, an intercessor between God and man.

“God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7)

The Unveiling

God’s plan for us is immense and pervasive, but he requires that we be in the place he designates for us. This is what our life is about, calling. The call of God is not a vocation or anything we may presume it to be. Contrarily, it is what we learn by spiritual intuition, as Joseph received dreams from God, and it is the righteous purpose that lures us into position. Our position, the place of purpose, is where God ultimately wishes for us to land. It is unimpeded, Spirit-empowered ministry that was always God’s intent, the life force deeply implanted in the seed. For Joseph, it was as ruler in Egypt.

It is crucial to understand here. The promotion God gives is not the same as the position. Promotion is never a sigh of relief but only a sign that we should proceed to the highest purpose God has chosen for us. What good was Prime Minister or any leadership position to Joseph if, let’s say, he were still micromanaged by a suspicious Pharaoh or caught up in the thicket of political skirmish? The scenarios are endless, although there is no indication of this type of circumstance in the story.

The point is that the fortuity of being taken from prison to the palace within itself could not signal the most important thing God wanted to give Joseph. God’s blessings—true blessings—don’t lend us further grief. It should also be clarified that God’s plan for us is not simply a pain-to-promotion scheme. Why would God punish us just to reward us with plenty? Could he not have given us the plenty without the pain? This is how we know that there must be some redemptive purpose in our suffering. God’s own character safeguards us.

The promotion God gives us guarantees all the authority and comfort with which we may execute his plan that we now understand is no longer about us. This promotion catalyzes, or initiates, the full intent of God in one’s life. So it wasn’t merely a leadership post for Joseph; God made him to rule, to be the chief executor. He was granted unlimited power to act as he saw fit on behalf of all Egypt. Pharaoh took the signet ring from his own finger and placed it on Joseph’s hand telling him, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt” (Gen. 41:44).

It was a staggering turn of events that must have sent shockwaves throughout the region, amazing Joseph just as well. But God was still getting his way with Joseph. As prime minister (the promotion) God gave Joseph the means and clout to rule (the position and purpose) and not just a reward for his suffering. This led to him engineering a rations strategy for the famine whereby he saved and sustained Egypt and God’s chosen people and, thereby, God’s plan for them. Ultimately, he delivered the Hebrew people into God’s promise and helped pave the way for Christ. How important was Joseph in the plan of God—and his suffering.

More on this topic: God, You’re Killing Me! and New Strength is Coming! 

Seeing Clearly

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I encountered a person who, after discovering my religious training and work in the church, found an opportunity to ask some long-standing questions of his. The main question dealt with Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden: What was the nature of Eve’s temptation? Was it intellectual or was it sexual with the serpent or Satan himself? Surely there was more reason to Eve’s “hanging out” at the tree for other than mere conversation. Eve was “giving something away.”

If you’re reeling right now from the flagrant implications, then just imagine me staring blankly into the face of my interlocutor trying not to spill over with amazement. This gentleman went on to explain some of his background. He was an avid reader of the scriptures as a young man and, at twenty-one, he formulated his idea that Eve’s temptation could only have been sexual, considering human relations and the “nature of a woman.”

Thirty-four years later while watching what he supposed to be the History Channel, this topic was featured and lent credence to his supposition, thus stamping it as truth in his mind. I was not previously familiar with this particular theory, but I did a small research on it to know what he was talking about. Evidently he didn’t listen long enough because the legend is that Satan actually impregnated Eve, but it is all irrelevant to the case at hand.

I don’t care to go into the drawn out conversations, arguments, and rebuttals we went through over our time together because it got so silly. At best I found it incredibly foolish to base one’s conviction on something trivial as an unfounded supposition and a TV episode confirmation. Then, as was part of my point to him, I couldn’t imagine being so staunchly sure about the remotest ancient history without some deference to the overwhelming mystery that clouds the very time and text. I’ve always admitted that the best theology begins with some measure of mystery. After all the theory and analysis and reasoning, sometimes we just don’t know.

My friend also didn’t seem to understand that there are interpretational rules to the scriptures. To be funny and supposing his foregone conclusion about Eve was true, I asked him why couldn’t it be any less true that Jesus hung around street people because he was attracted to their way of life and not the opposite. “Well they wanted to be like Jesus,” he replied sincerely. Can we be so sure if we are allowed to self-approve our interpretations of the Bible?

There was a second gentleman present who himself had questions about the opposite end of the Bible, namely, Revelation and the apocalyptic writings. He was more logical than the first and actually sided with me against him. Laughably, I was lucky enough to get one questioner who knew everything that happened at the dawn of human history and another who eagerly wanted to know what was at the end of it!

I explained to the first man over breakfast that, although I may have a degree and have done some teaching in the church, I am ever only a student of the scriptures, learning and relearning and working within the rules of interpretation, offering my faith where mystery obscures what more there is to learn. In fact, any good preaching will steer any true seeker to study and put down the imbalance and sensationalism that attends the Aha! I gotcha! type of reasoning.

I see the condition of these men’s hearts even better now when I look back on it. Both were conservative men with very strong Christian upbringings and sentiments. The first man told me that his mother expected him to be a preacher; the second man confessed that he was a backslider and didn’t go to church because of hypocrites but needed to make a change. Between the questions of the two men, I took away a significant point. Christian spirituality is not about the technicalities of the Bible and not about how this all started or will end. Instead, it’s about the living to be done in the middle, for it is possible that when the questions are all answered as best they can be, we will have still not lived for God. We will have still not loved and enjoyed him and fulfilled our call in creation to simply be his joy and he our pleasure. Devout spirituality is nothing short of wholeheartedly pursuing the disciplines that bring us to union with our Creator and make us the best persons we were made to be.

I will still address the issue of these questions. One day we will all have the chance to speak to God face-to-face, but it will not be a fact-finding opportunity then. Yet we now have the privilege to learn of him through the scriptures and within the context of a glorious journey and life of faith. (Yes, God is the point of our lives.) I refer to Augustine’s words often—“Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” Perhaps one day we will have all the answers and know as God does and acquaint those that actually lived the stories we read. We often use the expression “seeing is believing,” but with God it is the opposite: believing is seeing.

Why I Am Not Saved

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When I lived at home, I had a phone conversation that annoyed me but also provoked and enlightened me. I was washing dishes when the phone rang. It was a former neighbor who wanted to speak with my mother about some job papers. I told him she was not in; she was at church. And with that, his rant began about why he had no need for church.

He said that he was made to attend church when he was young and didn’t like it then for the same reason he didn’t currently go: hypocrites. He tired of people who were supposedly holy while secretly being the transgressors of everything they preached against. He felt that if being religious is how one wants to lead his or her life, fine; however, if a person desires to be free of religion, fine again.

He said he wanted to be able to dance and drink as he pleased. He even brought up homosexuality, that if he wanted to court other men—if that were his M.O.—then he should feel free to do so. It is every person’s right to be happy according to how he or she deems necessary. He was a good man, after all, and did no harm to his neighbor. In the end, he could serve God at home.

I stood there listening and not saying much of anything because I know when a person doesn’t care to hear the contrary, although I wasn’t afraid to challenge him. Honestly, with the way the conversation was going (me holding the phone to my ear with him spewing against everything holy), I affirmed his answers to help me get rid of him quicker! I also knew that if I tried to express my belief, an argument would have ensued; however, the scriptures warn against falling into this trap.

So he continued stating and restating his spiel. Maybe it wasn’t a moment to make a convert or to plant a seed, but it was a teaching moment from the Holy Spirit to me.

I have read those Christian worker aides on how to witness to others. Sometimes they’re found in the back of Bibles with faith-sharing messages to counter specific arguments. In seminary, I really benefited from an apologetics course I took. But all that I had ever learned took a backseat to this moment. What I gathered from this man was the real reason why he didn’t serve God. The hypocrite argument is the first one many will throw in the faces of devout people, but the hypocrite argument is a fallacy.

We all know how distasteful it is for a person to claim Jesus and all-things-holy only to turn the corner and get down with the Devil. But for a person to say he or she doesn’t serve God because of rotten apples doesn’t remove righteous responsibility from his or her shoulders. This man had missed the point: spiritual conversion. If you mean to serve God, then God you will serve.

Furthermore, when God gives you a command, his concern is not with a thousand other people and how they are living. His concern is with your obedience to him. You may be the one he desires to bring light to all those walking in error. It is simply illogical to say you don’t serve God because Persons A, B, and C aren’t living right

The real reason why this man didn’t serve God was because he refused to live his life God’s way, even with a God-fearing wife. Unfortunately, factored into his obstinance might have been many incorrect expectations and examples of what holy living entails, which would require good teaching to correct. But his defiance of God was not due to another person, as he had convinced himself. It was just what it was, a defiance of God. Sorrowfully, this man passed away about a month ago.

Character for $1300

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The snow was a good thing that Thursday morning for a few reasons. I was still getting over a nuisance head cold. Work and customers had been rough all week. I was also in a slump, experiencing one of my moments of frustration with my own failures. So when about two-and-a-half inches of that blessed white freeze surprised everyone and blanketed the region the previous night, I knew then that work was going to have to wait in the morning.

I must have been excited because I couldn’t sleep through the night. I got up constantly: 11:15—1:18—4:35—6:20, until it was finally time to get up at 6:55. I had been calling the weather hotline to see if the facility would be closed, but I didn’t expect concrete answers until I would, more than likely, make the 20-minute drive there only to be told, “Um, they’re closed.”

So I decided I’d leave a message not to expect me and, then, maybe to expect me when the streets cleared. Alas, I thought of those whiny women who nagged the heck out of me about their $800 strollers and car seats that were not the right color or some other ridiculousness that was but an illustration of how money made them think they were better than anyone else—and I made a change of decision decision: There’s a first time for everything, including missing an only day of work in eight months. It could wait.

Hello…It’s God.”

By 10:30, however, the streets were nothing more than wet, sand-gritted, brine-throwers. I could take care of some errands that I was unable to handle otherwise due to business hours, and then I’d go to work. Moreover, I discovered that my IRS return, which was abnormally large this year, in addition to my work check, had been deposited. I could get to slashing away at my debt in a plan I had created days earlier.

I was excited to get started. Slash! Slash! Slash! and SLASH! It was the biggest day in my recent financial history since a year earlier when I foolishly terminated a job and delivered myself straight to financial hell. A sizeable chunk of debt was now relieved, and the remaining portion of my money would be used to start a much-needed emergency savings fund.

So when I paid the final bill of the morning, I headed out of the building and heard these words sounding from behind me: “Sir, do you believe in helping people?” Before I had the chance to become annoyed by whoever this was, in my heart I recognized a familiar, jabbing, divine, shoulder tap. (Really. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was God and it was a test.)

I turned to see who it was: a less fortunate woman, fairly attractive with bad teeth, wearing a red jacket. She was probably in her mid-fifties by the gray hair. “Yes,” I said. Well I do believe in helping others, said the stuffy part of me that was eerily similar to those ladies who called me each day. She went on: “I need something to eat. I haven’t had anything all day. I’ll go with you if you want me to. I have diabetes and I’m getting weak.” She must have known I wasn’t about to fork over any cash.

Passing the Test

So she got in the car and I asked her name. I still don’t remember it. I asked where she lived; I knew the place. Then we decided on KFC just down the street, a place I figure she frequents often because she walked in greeting the little old cashiers by name as they eyed this newbie (or maybe catch of the day.)

She got what she wanted and I paid: $6.55. Then I patted her arm and told her to take care. She looked at me and thanked me, then smiled what little dental glory she possessed. But right in front of everybody, she grabbed me and hugged my neck. There was a different energy emanating from her. What I had done suffused her with a happiness I didn’t see coming.

I left there stunned and so dazed that I had to get to my favored meditation spot in a nearby park. Here was the first time a beggar truly needed from me, and my charity passed the test.

Who doesn’t know what it feels like to really want to help people but to also feel afraid because to do so is to potentially become the victim? We wrestle ourselves over having the right balance of caution and throwing that caution to the wind over right causes. We do it because the days have grown evil and because the matters of life, as Maslow’s chart so lucidly conveys, all too often become the contingencies for death.

I was proud that I had sensed the divine glare watching and waiting for me to do the right thing, to see if what I was worth that day—my debt relief—was really worth anything to anyone else, for just maybe much more money and relief are ahead of me to help someone else.

I remain gratified to understand that the questions are always more important than the answers because they embody all the motive and quality any answer or action could produce. The questions lead the dance.

So later that day when I got out to go into Piggly Wiggly grocery store and this very frail old man with an empty basket, having just loaded his car, saw me coming, I knew it was another opportunity presenting itself. And, yes, another question: “Young man, are you going inside?” Sir, I’m just going places.

The Christian Brand

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The preaching of Jesus explained that a loving God has entered our sinful world to bring spiritual hope and life to all humankind. It was a simple message that remains profound when we understand how Jesus breaches the disparity between our woeful, lost state and God’s lofty, holy nature. Now Christ commands believers to proclaim his good news so that we all can be saved from eternal death and embark on a journey of sanctification that results in our enjoyment of God and everlasting freedom in his service.

With such a controversial message in his day, we can doubt that Jesus had much need to insist on the handling of his message. He died for it and so did the apostles. Only serious, sold-out persons would dare confess him, much less preach in his name. But today, amidst social pressures and conflicting interests, there may be the need for his further instruction.

It is not hard to flip television channels and walk through stores and grow increasingly concerned about Christian wares and media. I am often turned off by much of it and understand how wanton it could appear to the non-Christian community. Let me come clean, too: Christian media has been a formative part of my Christian life and remains a support to me, although in a minor way. Still, I have deep concerns about a Christian commodity that seems to have taken root in the church.

Nothing is important in the world system if it doesn’t channel market forces. Stated another way—what is important is what can be understood in capitalistic terms. With the advent of radio and television and now nanotechnologies, a dilemma arises as it relates to the gospel message: 1) Should the church use the media as a platform for spreading its message only to 2) allow the message to be molded by market pressures? Mass media has developed more in one century than it ever existed in the history of the world, and it has been a marvelous opportunity for the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the medium has in some ways become the message and is producing a certain brand of Christianity that threatens to diminish the true message.

Although a conterminous existence of gospel and media does not automatically indicate a weakening of the message of Christ, media unquestionably magnifies its subject. Thus, Christian media (spokesperson, presentation, and all) will be for many their first impression of all-things-Jesus and, for some, their last. I recall discussions in seminary about Christ’s expectations for his church after his departure, such as whether he expected the global reach of his message and if he intended to start an organized faith system as the Christianity has become. If he were to now return to the American religious scene, I cannot be sure that he wouldn’t walk through our church bookstores and conference boutiques and overturn tables as he did in the temple marketplace, decrying our houses of worship-turned-dens of thieves.

I say this because, to some degree, the American church—with its misinformed notion of being the embodiment of ideal Christian spirituality—has succumbed to media conformation and capitalistic trivialization. A once powerful voice for Christ is becoming an ignored one in the milieu of televangelism, megachurch superstardom, book deals, conferences, salacious teaching, and gimmickry. These things have sometimes caused us to lose sight of purpose and led us to catering our conviction.

We must focus again on the message of Christ, always potent and viable, and question where the line is drawn that signals a loss of efficacy. We must be clear about who is served by what we do: God’s kingdom or our own? We must also examine the gifts we endeavor to offer God. Having large ministries and books and TV programs is fine, but why do we have them and why do we view such as the ideal? Our gifts to God can sometimes assume what he may not desire and only exist to satisfy our wants.

I would never criticize what God is actually doing among his people. Some churches will grow large and have a global reach; not all will. But it is not for us to exaggerate God’s ministry. God’s ministry. If he is truly growing a ministry, growth may be in numbers or scope or effectiveness, but it will first always be in the lives of the people. The rest is peripheral. Satan took Jesus up a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth and told him that he would give him everything he saw, if Jesus would only bow down and worship him. May it never be that Christ’s church falls to its knees.

The Joyful Journey

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I find that the longer I live the Christian life the more the journey itself brings me joy. In my opinion, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has done the most to depict the winding path early Christians called the Way, full with its many frights and thrills. In the classic allegory, Pilgrim makes his way to the Celestial City and encounters several characters and places that alternately serve to buffet and aid him. What I can never escape when reading the story is the intimacy that characterizes Pilgrim’s relationship with his Lord as he progresses, a friendship that sustains him before he ever reaches the eternal city.

I’ve met Christians in life that concern themselves too much with getting to Heaven or, surprisingly, are unsure about what awaits them on the other side. This is not God’s desire for us: Heaven is his promise. Our concern now should be accomplishing his will and developing the wonderful relationship he has given us to share. We will discover this relationship to be an ever-evolving fellowship. It is our privilege to hear God’s voice, watch him answer prayer, and work through us to heal and redeem the wretched. But it is also his loving care of us to let the heavens close at times, forcing us to trust him. Our character is perfected as we learn to confidently rely on the promises we already know. With time and progress, through good and bad situations, that relationship becomes incredibly real and dynamic.

It’s hard to convey this to the person on the outside looking in, the unsure seeker who needs to own all of his confidence on the front end. Augustine, however, explained, “Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” To put it in a slightly different way, a person should take God at his word and bet on the process. Let me use an illustration.

I enjoy tennis. I have also enjoyed introducing others to the game of tennis. I’m not nearly a pro—I’ve been much better than I am now—but I can strike the ball and control it well. So I can play. If you ask any person who plays tennis decently well, they will tell you that it is frustrating to teach the game to a person who only wishes to get out on the court and bang balls. Tennis requires a moderate degree of skill just to control the ball. So to play with a mere novice usually means that the more skilled person will be the one chicken-footing it around the court after wild balls.

But an aspirant who takes the time to study the game and learn technique; practices intensely and develops hitting with power; works through complex shots and strategies; and wins as many points, games, and sets as he’s lost—in the end (and well before then) that person will have gained a confidence in the game at which he may have thought he was only going to fail. His joy will renew itself each time he steps on the court and displays his prowess.

So it is walking with God. The Lord has buried incredible joy in the instruction of the course. We don’t have to know everything before we embark because all that is necessary will come in God’s time. The surest thing we do need, however, is the knowledge that as deep as our need is for God so is his longing to intimately acquaint us. And, like Pilgrim, that relationship will usher us from earth to glory and last forever.

The Religious Roundtable

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I watched a feature story and listened to a gentleman explain his approach to religion that helped me estimate my own feelings.

The man, a Christian, led an interfaith forum that encouraged dialogue between religions. He highlighted that if people attended the meetings only to brand others as infidels and to banish them to hell, they usually found little meaning in the gatherings. On the other hand, people firmly rooted in their beliefs and sure that their religion was indeed the way but who were also willing to open themselves to discussion—those people greatly benefitted from the meetings.

The gentleman went on to say what brought together two years of intense seminary study for me: to claim that your faith is right is not bigoted fundamentalism, as liberalist and anti-religionists would suggest or goad us toward relativism. It only demonstrates the acceptance of revelation, and many religions are grounded in revelation.

Simply put, we’re supposed to believe “hard,” or fervently. Yet when it comes to coexisting and plainly having to do with one another, we must be willing to meet at the roundtable to communicate and agree to set aside our bibles and other holy texts to simply hear one another. We will discover that our spiritual needs are the same and notice better the rich human diversity in which we partake.

To hear this was like emerging from a slick of religious sludge.

Why can’t we talk? It may happen that a person converts through the communication process, although this isn’t the goal. But arguments accomplish nothing, except the disrespect of religion.

Our Confession

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I believe God: To proclaim this requires trust in a sovereign God who has his purposes with our successes and our failures. Too often our belief is merely our focus on the resolution of problems we require God to solve, when God is attempting to place our focus on him as the priority while we are in our situations.

If in our trials we received all that we asked of God—every quick deliverance and comfort—we might be hard-pressed to differentiate faith in God and magical charm. Obviously, believers are not exempt from life’s tough times; things will not always go our way. But real faith focuses one on God’s character and his purpose and not mere solutions by him. It demands trust in a God who understands our cares better than we do and who possesses the power to use even our trepidation in his plan to make us better people for him.

So when we say that we have faith, we must do so searchingly to ascertain whether we’re truly relying on God or relying on an outcome. Will God come through for us? Indeed he will. Every time? Absolutely. But when how we may need him isn’t apparent or quickly resolved, we must also believe that his help to us is deeper and more extensive than we can presently see. God is providential, thus always at work in the lives of his people bringing about his purposes and for his own glory. Let us also not forget his affection: He is for us.

Our situations have never surprised God and do not hinder his plans. But he wants our confidence resting in his unfailing character regardless of the crisis. Otherwise, our problems become magnified and he is diminished.