Lessons from Stan.

The guy next to me on the stationary bike could have made a career out of competitive sweating.  I’m not too shabby when it comes to perspiration, but this guy made it an art form.  I had turned to him and made small talk, trying to distract myself from the intense pain in my legs.  At some point in the conversation I mentioned how I’d been watching what I eat lately.

Stan (we’ll call him that because I’ve forgotten his actual name) immediately started helping me think through diets, and some good things to eat for high triglycerides.  He suggested I hand-grind some oats at the beginning of each week, and cook them with a little bit of honey and eat off of them all week long for breakfast.  He went on to describe his regular lunch that included (but was limited to) the words arugula, whole-grain, free range, and unsalted.

I nodded a lot.

After a while, he said a line that rang in my ears.  He said “one more thing, and then I’m done preaching at you about your diet…”

What an interesting way to phrase it.  It’s OK, and perfectly natural for a guy who is passionate about eating healthy (and organic, in Stan’s case) to call others—even perfect strangers beside him on a bike at the YMCA—to do it.  Especially if there’s a window in the conversation that gives him the opportunity.  He simply can’t keep quiet about it.

Initiative evangelism has gotten a bad rap in recent years.  Students regularly tell me that it feels forced and unnatural to approach a stranger with the goal of talking to them about Jesus.  And while some of the bad rap is deserved (loveless “Christians” holding hateful signs at funerals or leaving fake $20 bill tracts on the street), most of the aversion to initiating a conversations with a stranger is based on a faulty view of the message being shared.

Tim Keller rightly says “the gospel is news as opposed to instruction.”  When we share the gospel with a stranger, we ought not be telling them how to change, or how to repent, or how to pray a prayer or walk an aisle.  We ought to be telling them that God became a man to rescue sinful men and women from themselves.  It’s the most amazing truth ever told!  And it affects EVERYTHING!  Why in the world would I not share it with someone, especially if they indicate they are willing to listen?

We should look for opportunities in conversations to share with people, in a natural, respectful way (much like how Stan shared the benefits of organic nutrition).  If we really believe the gospel, and are being changed by the gospel, it is something that we will share with others.  And while it’s true that sharing with a close friend is natural, it shouldn’t be forced or awkward to share the gospel with a sweaty stranger beside you on the cardio machine.

Peace, Now! COEXIST! Make love, not war!

I’ve seen many of these types of bumper stickers and signs, lately.  And I agree, we should work toward peace, now.  But what these stickers and the sentiments behind them fail to take into account is that, essentially, all of the war-mongers out there are thinking the same thing.

“There would be peace, if everybody shared the same worldview, (mine.)”

So the ones who aggressively push for peace and the reconciliation of the different worldviews are doing the same thing as the radical fundamentalists.  Pushing their worldview (that no worldview is more correct than another and that all of us need to pursue coexistence above all else) on others.

One problem is that the peace-mongers have the elevator music of worldviews.  Take out anything that could be potentially offensive, and ignore the fact that only a very small minority of people like what you are left with.

The other (more fundamental) problem is that the peace-mongers have something to lose.  If people don’t reconcile, and come to their way of thinking, they have failed.  Their personal peace (especially in the primarily-agnostic worldview in which they live) is inextricably tied into the proliferation of their philosophy.

Jesus came with a worldview that, though unpopular, actually works toward bringing about real—no strings attached—peace.  His worldview?  That God is King (not president) of all kings, and that all of us have actively and passively rebelled against his kingdom and authority.  Instead of executing justice (something along the lines of a universal flood, minus the ark) he sent his Son, the second person of the eternal trinity, to substitute himself for the rebels, and take our penalty, by dying a gruesome death, and raising from the dead. As Christians we call the content of this paragraph the “gospel” or good news of what Jesus has done.

Now, instead of having to earn God’s favor (and therefore ultimate peace with Him), we are gifted it.  And therefore we no longer have to fight to be right, or to protect our cause (though many well-meaning “Christians” have fought and continue to—because they don’t understand the gospel I just shared above).  One of the things that marked early Christianity was the care for the poor, and not just the Christian poor, but all of the poor.  Pagan kings were flabbergasted that the Christians would even take care of the pagan poor and hungry.

Only in the gospel do we find a true reason to not be selfish (the beginning of peace).  In the gospel we see that we are the rebel, the outcast, who was brought into the family, by grace.  We have all the acceptance, hope, love, and joy that we’ll ever need—in Christ.  That means that we can truly work toward peace, with nothing in it for us.

Hope-Accosted Waiting.

Can I be honest?

The past week has been a struggle.  We are facing an elephant-sized amount of financial support to raise, and despite having been off campus working full-time on developing additional support, we have a net gain of around (negative) 100 bucks per month this month.  It has felt insurmountable at times, and we have struggled with trusting God.

But as I was driving back from Fall Getaway (the only on-campus activity of the semester), I was confronted—no, accosted—by a strong sense of hope.  See, I’m more sure than ever that I am called to be on staff with this organization.  I am so excited about what God is doing on campus, and how He is continually, relentlessly, mercifully taking me to the gospel.  I have a clear vision for where we are going, just not how we are getting there.

These economic times (a phrase I wish were retired, or at least made past tense) have meant a sense of panic in America.  To compound that, the predominantly fiscally conservative culture in which I have most of my doings has reached fever pitch over the national transfer of power to the left-minded.  People are terrified, if that’s a strong enough word.  And the news media is loving it.  The more they stir up the blood pressure, the more their advertisers pay to put their logo just to the left of the “Meltdown” graphic.  (This segment of panicked rhetoric and over-dramatization is brought to you by Sears.  “Come experience the softer side of Sears.”)

Listening to conservative talk radio is baffling to the point of humorous, as you’ll hear minor-key melodramatic advertisements urging investors to buy gold, or seed packets, or underground bunkers.

What drives the panic?  Lack of perspective.

When I panic over how we are going to stay on staff in light of our current financial support, it means I’ve lost perspective on who is in charge.

When you panic because you fear the ramifications of a liberal policy (or a conservative policy), or because your 401(k) is looking more like a 200.5(k), it means the same thing: you’ve lost perspective on who is in charge.

Despite what some politicians (or marketers) might have you believe, the office of the presidency was never designed to save you.  Free market capitalism governed by personal moral restraint, though I think it’s biblical, is not designed to save you.

A full bank account, and a surplus of money coming in each month is not designed to save me.  As soon as we give saving power to anyone or anything in our lives, we’ve missed the gospel.

Let me be clear and say I am not suggesting a carefree, naive approach to what are certainly weighty issues.  I am not suggesting that I should stop aggressively pursuing raising support, or that you should ignore the politicians and what’s going on in the country.  Issues like public healthcare are worth discussing and debating.  They are just not worth panicking over.  Panic indicates that you are trusting in that subject to be your salvation.

As Christians, we should only panic if God is in danger of no longer being sovereign.  Hope, for the believer, is not some wishful thinking where we cross our fingers and think positive thoughts.  Hope (that force that accosted me on the road back from Lake Wylie) is based on who God is, and what he has done.  Jesus didn’t say “it is almost finished, except for that part that will be finished once _____________ happens” (fill in the blank with things like a full bank account, your particular brand of legislation making it through congress, your kid turning out to be a preacher, or doctor, or fisherman…)  He said “It is finished.”  As believers, we can be assured that, no matter what happens in the meantime, it is all going to be all right in the end.  This life is as close to hell as we will ever get.

When we have weeks that are a struggle to latch onto God, we can rest assured that it wasn’t his grip that loosened.  He’s never let go.  And praise the Lord his saving me isn’t based on my ability to keep my grasp on it.

Sabbaths are a Sign.

I was reading in the book of Ezekiel (as per the YouVersion “daily reading” plan which has regrettably looked for me more like an every-other-daily plan at best) recently and was struck by Ezekiel 20:12.

Did you catch that?  (mouse over the verse to read it)  God gave us the sabbath (a day of rest at the end of the week) to be a sign that he is the one that sanctifies us (makes us holy)!  What a profound thought, that the sabbath, as opposed to being a religious formality where we stop working for fear of God punishing us, is in fact supposed to remind us that all of our striving and work could never save us.

God longs for us to come and sit at His feet, and cultivate a relationship.  He’ll do all the fixing, the working, the chipping away of the old self.  All we have to do is rest.

The subtlety of Self.

It’s so easy to share even a message about Jesus and not share the message of Jesus.

Take Matthew 4:1-11 as an example.  It’s a fairly well known passage about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan.  Every single time I have ever talked or meditated on this passage I have made the action point something like, “and you, when you are tempted, can be like Jesus who answered the temptation with Scripture…” or some other vague encouragement to be a better person, like Jesus.  While that is partially true, in that scripture memory is important and beneficial, it totally misses the bigger point, and places the emphasis of an otherwise Ben-free passage on, well, me.

In fact, that’s a pagan point.  Pagans appease their god by doing enough good, and cleaning up their act, and memorizing enough mantras.

The bigger emphasis of this passage is that, as the writer of Hebrews says, we have a high priest who was tempted in every way just as we are, but didn’t cave.  Jesus fulfilled all of the law, even on the level of motive, so that sinners like me can have life.  In this passage Jesus is more than our example (because that would be an insurmountable load of pressure, now that we consider it), He’s our substitute.  Far from being a passage where I walk away feeling bad for not having memorized enough of the Bible, I am instead encouraged that Jesus memorized enough Bible, and followed all of it perfectly enough, to save me.

If you walk away from any sermon in any Christian church feeling like you need to work harder or do better in order to make God happy, you’ve either missed the point of the sermon, or the sermon was a pagan, non-gospel sermon.