Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Mar
28
2014

Faith at Work: More than Evangelism

A recovery of the doctrine of vocation is one of the most encouraging things I see in the evangelical church. In the last few years, there have been some really good books written on the intersection of faith and work. Work Matters by Tom Nelson and Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller are two notable ones. Recently, pastor Greg Gilbert and businessman Sebastian Traeger coauthored a book, The Gospel at Work that promises to further equip the church to think holistically about the workplace.

I had a chance to interview Greg Gilbert for today’s edition of The Friday Five for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

I’m guessing the typical Christian, when hearing “the gospel at work” thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?

That’s right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We’re actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.Most Christians fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs.

Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God’s purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn’t be the center of our lives, but it also isn’t merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It’s God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.

You can read more here: 

Mar
24
2014

Pray for Hobby Lobby

Tomorrow is a consequential day in the history of religious liberty. The United States Supreme Court is taking up a case involving two Christian-owned businesses: Hobby Lobby Stores and Conastoga Woods. Hobby Lobby, of course, is the most prominent of these two companies. The conflict is this: can the government compel a business to endorse things against conscience? Hobby Lobby is being compelled by the government to pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate the deeply held beliefs of its owners.

The the center of this argument is a long-cherished virtue: that the government should not trample on the conscience. We should support Christian businesses, not only because they often help fund Christian mission, but also because they are living out the gospel in the marketplace. So I’m hoping you’ll the ERLC and other followers of Christ to pray specifically for Hobby Lobby tomorrow. If you do, use the hashtag: #prayforhobbylobby. Here’s a sample prayer guide you might use;

 

  1. God wants people to be free to seek him and to serve him (Acts 17:24-28). Pray for a favorable outcome. The cherished principle of religious freedom should receive the strongest constitutional protection it deserves.
  2. God is Lord of the conscience, not government (Acts 5:29). Pray that the justices of the Supreme Court will understand the importance of the separation of the state from the church.
  3. God can give understanding to make sound decisions (Prov. 2:6-8). Pray for those who disagree with us, that God would help them understand and respect the consciences of people of faith.
  4. God can turn the hearts and minds of the justices to do his will (Prov. 21:1). Pray for the Supreme Court justices, that they would be receptive to the arguments being made passionately before them.
  5. God can guide the mind and speech (Exod. 4:11-12). Pray for lead attorney, Paul Clement, who will be arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Ask God to give him clarity and wisdom, for his arguments to be persuasive, and for God to give him favor before the justices.  

Here are some more excellent resources:

 

Feb
14
2014

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, but came to faith in Christ after a search for meaning and truth. He tells his conversion story in a new book,  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityI had the chance to interview Nabeel today for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. This is one of the questions I asked him:

What finally drove you to a point of decision between Islam and Christianity? What was holding you back—and what finally drove you forward?

The first thing that had to happen was that someone had to show me the truth about Christianity. Only when I saw the truth would I be able to assess whether I would follow it or not. David didn’t just tell me why he believed in the gospel, he showed me how we could be confident it is true and therefore everyone should believe it. The historical evidence he provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.

Read the entire interview here:

Oct
30
2013

Jesus and the Digital Pharisees

It’s kind of ridiculous to ask, “What if Jesus were on Twitter?” But indulge me for a second, anyways. I’ve noticed something about our generation’s engagement online and with those we consider “Christian celebrities” – famous pastors or church leaders who have big platforms. There’s a tendency among those of us who blog, tweet, write, post, instagram, etc toward a subtle kind of Phariseeism. Our generation prides itself on not being legalistic, of casting off the sort of religious, rule-making paradigm we didn’t quite like about our parent’s version of church. But in our zeal to not be like those we think are bad representations of Christianity, we’ve adopted a legalism of a different sort.

In Luke 18, Jesus shares a haunting parable about who is justified in the eyes of God. I’m struck by a few things in this passage. First, Luke gives us a vague description of the audience.  The NIV puts it like this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” I”m guessing everyone in the audience thought that they were not in this self-righteous group. It was everyone else who needed to work on their pride.

Jesus then sets up a story of two people going to the temple to pray, a common occurrence in that culture. You first have the religious person, the spiritual one, who enters a time of prayer with pride. He wants to be seen as being prayerful and utters a public declaration, “I thank God I’m not like . . . . .” The people he names are people held in contempt by the culture, people who are “safe” to mock for their sin. Easy targets of ridicule and scorn. These are the people we might mock on Twitter and seek to distance ourselves from with heated denunciations or humorous take-downs. You can even envision the hashtags from this Pharisee’s prayer: #robber #evildoer #adulterer. Then the Pharisee, wanting to squeeze out every bit of public praise, narrows his focus to “and even this guy, the tax collector.” Here he is calling out the other man to enter the temple to pray, the guy with the worst reputation in the community, the easy target for manufactured outrage and public scorn. You can even envision this in a tweet, “So glad I”m not like @taxcollector who preys on the poor and betrays his own people.”

But Jesus, poking holes in the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, turns the narrative focus on the tax collector, who enters the temple, head down, full of remorse. Unlike the Pharisee he has no illusions of his own righteousness. He’s overcome with guilt and sorrow for his sin. He knows he doesn’t deserve anything from God but punishment and so cries out in mercy, even beats his breast.

This man, Jesus said, walked out more justified than the Pharisee. Why? Because it wasn’t others’ sin that so gripped his heart and soul, it was his own.

Now most of us would hear a story like that and shout “amen!” because we don’t think we’re the first guy, the self-righteous Pharisee. Those are the people with all the funky religious rules and weird clothes. Those are the fundamentalists of another generation or the obnoxious guy on Facebook who doesn’t celebrate Halloween or the celebrity pastor who keeps saying dumb things.

But I think Jesus would beg to differ. Remember he addressed this parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” That cuts both ways. What’s more, if the tax collector in Jesus’ day was the easy target, the hated person in the culture, the one that reasonable, middle-of-the-road, kinda spiritual people are free to mock, then maybe it’s us who are the Pharisees.

Jesus words to the Pharisees of his day and to the Pharisees of our day is simple: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” (Luke 18:14). Empty, vacuous declarations of self-righteousness bounce off the ceiling. But desperate, humble cries for mercy and grace reach the throne room of Heaven.

Today, social media is our “public temple” in a way. It’s where we declare who we are and what we stand for, for better or for worse. And I’m afraid we’re so quick to make sure everyone knows that we’re “not like that other guy who keeps getting it wrong.” You might substitute “obnoxious celebrity pastor” or “outrageous Hollywood entertainer” or “corrupt congressman” for tax collector. Our generation of Christians seems too eager to “not be like those other kind of Christians.” We all think we are among the most reasonable people we know.

In our lurching attempts to not be Pharisees, we become Pharisees of a different stripe. But Jesus’ words to the self-justified should haunt us and then drive us to our knees in humility and cries for mercy. These may not be the stylish prayers of the digital world. But they are the prayers Jesus seems to answer.

Oct
18
2013

Don’t Offend One, Don’t Despise One, Don’t Lose One

Today for Leadership Journal I speak with Larry Fowler, the executive director of global networking for Awana and Kidzmatter. I’m a huge fan of Awana, having grown up in it and now seeing my children through it. It’s a powerful ministry that helps ground the truth of Scripture into the hearts of children.

Today I talked with Larry about children’s ministry.

Your newest book talks about seven principles of effective children’s ministry, and they are all based on Scripture. So give me an example—what would change if we used Scripture as the designer?

If we did children’s ministry according to Scripture, then parents would be primarily responsible for their child’s spiritual growth, and we would assist them, not the other way around. Parental spiritual leadership is pretty much on everyone’s radar right now. A concept that ministry leaders aren’t thinking about is what I call the significant “one”. Jesus, in Matthew 18, repeats the word “one” in this passage about children: don’t offend one, don’t despise one, and don’t lose one. Individuals were always important to Jesus, and if we are not careful, we can minister to groups of children and think we are doing okay, when in fact we are not.If every single child is significant, and we are concerned that we don’t offend or despise or lose one, then our registration and record-keeping processes will not only be used to see who comes but are used as tools to follow up with those who stop coming. Our structure will provide opportunities for our teachers and leaders to develop deep relationships with children (they come for the fun, but they stay because of a relationship). And we will train our volunteers to have a shepherd’s mindset toward every child they minister to.

Read the rest of the interview here:

Aug
21
2013

The Lord’s Prayer and the Self-Made Man

In America, we pride ourselves on our rugged independence. We’re a self-made people. There is much good in this kind of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of life. Hard work and ingenuity are hard-wired into the Creation mandate by a God who gave man the gift of work in the garden and who commanded him to “subdue” the earth. When man works hard with his hands and his mind, when he takes the raw materials God has given him and makes something, he images God. God creates. And God created special creatures to create.

But man is not self-made in any way. Man begins with the earth’s substance that God provides. Man is born into a world not of his choosing, a time and place ordained by a sovereign God. The social structures, educational opportunities, parentage, even the obstacles you overcome on your rags-to-riches journey–these were all ordered by a God. You did not conceive yourself nor build the world into which you were created.

This reality–acknowledging our dependence on God even as we work hard and advance–seems important to Jesus. When offering the disciples a theological template for prayer, he used the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That phrase, so oft-repeated in the 2,000 years since they first came off Jesus’ lips, are at the heart of what it means to live by faith.

Yes, we work hard. We toil. We demonstrate integrity. We move against obstacles. But in all of our activity, we are not our own providers. We are not our own creators. We are not our own gods. We need daily bread to be given to us.

We are dependent on God. This is why prayer, while simple, is such a revolutionary act. To bow the knee and request something from God, something as simple as bread, acknowledges that He is God and that you are not. It reminds that there is a King, a Sovereign, a Lord of all. It reminds us of our humanity, our dependence, our gratitude for the Giver of all things.

We pray before our meals, not because if we don’t, we’ll choke on the steak or that somehow the calories in the casserole will magically disappear. We don’t pray for protection from poisoning or out of fear that if we forget, God will strike us.

We pray before meals as a simple act of faith and a bold declaration that there is a King who provides for His people. We pray before meals as an act of humility, recognizing that for all of our effort, the food only got to the table, primarily, because God in His Fatherly goodness, willed it to be there.

So Americans who work hard and pay their bills and put food on the table are best served by recognizing that there is really no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We’re all under the mercy and care of the only One who can make something out of nothing.

Jun
12
2013

5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. For good reason. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of 5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To:

1) Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV)

Yeah, that’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians (and not just in the snarky Psalm 19:8 way) is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority. And here’s a tip. Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2) People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to . . . pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3) People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus. Bill Mahr, Jon Stewart, Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4) Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, of brokeness, of a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5) That person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness–the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts–is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in His image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.

 

Feb
05
2013

If There is No Sin, There is No Grace

Be of sin, the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure – Augustus Toplady

There is a hesitance, actually more like a firm resistance, to calling any behavior, “sin.” When the issue of sexual lifestyles are discussed, even evangelicals are wary of labeling any one behavior as sin. It’s the word we want to run far, far way from. Nobody sins anymore. They make mistakes. They were born that way. They are misunderstood.

The Bible, however, has clear categories. And some things are sin. Sexual license is sin. Murder is sin. Libel is sin. Gossip is sin. Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t just say that humans commit sin, but that humans are actually, by nature, sinners. That is they aren’t naturally good people who sometimes fall off the wagon and sin. We are sinners by nature.

But what about grace? Isn’t the church supposed to be about spreading the good news that God has accepted sinners by grace? Isn’t the message of the church that God’s grace covers even the vilest of sins? Yes, it is. And this is a message we should shout from the rooftops. It should be the core of what we evangelicals do and say.

Here’s the rub. If you stop acknowledging that some choices are sinful, you stop needing that wonderful thing called grace. In other words, if everything is okay, is just a different lifestyle, but not actually a gross violation of the righteousness of God, then why would you need grace? You wouldn’t, because nobody is doing anything wrong.

This is why the Church must talk about sin and about grace. At times, followers of Jesus have talked more about sin, as if God was violently angry at sinners and they have no hope. As if we were gleeful, like the Pharisees, to catch someone abusing God’s standard. This is the wrong message and denies the gospel.

And yet, we seem to be in a moment in the church when we want to talk about grace in a way that acts like sin is no big deal. Let’s not talk about sin, after all we’re suppose to be the people of grace. Wait a minute, though. If there is no sin, there is no need for grace.

The point I’m making here is this: Unless I realize I’m a sinner deserving of God’s just wrath against sin, I cannot experience the richness and fullness of His grace. If I deny my sin, I shut the door on grace. This was Jesus’ message to the woman at the well. Yes, you are a woman who is living in sin. Yes, you are just the kind of person I came to save. 

We have to acknowledge both realities. This is why talk of the word, “sin” should not frighten us who believe in the gospel. Because it was not mistakes or missteps or misunderstandings that Christ came to conquer and defeat. He came to defeat sin and sin’s awful child: death.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I’m glad to recognize that I’m a sinner. Because sinners are the only people eligible for Jesus’ unlimited grace.