A Better Life

A Story

Back in the 1980′s I participated in an evangelism outreach on the streets of Richmond Virginia. Around sunset on Friday nights, a team would assemble, pray that God would send those whom He willed into our path, set up some speakers and lights, play loud Christian rock music, and talk with whomever God sent. For those familiar with Richmond, we set up on Broad Street, one block north of the fan district.

I remember overhearing part of one such conversation. One of the team members said something like, “If you are not worshiping the God of the Bible, you are worshiping a dead god.” The person to whom he spoke this took offense, and I heard him very clearly refute: “MY GOD IS NOT DEAD! YOUR GOD IS DEAD!” Everyone within a hundred yards or so heard him refute our team member.

I do not know the details of the conversation that lead up to the confrontation. If memory serves, the conversation ended with the evangelism team member praying with the gentleman after he had calmed down.

We are all learning and growing. Some of the things we are learning are truth and truth always leads to growing towards God. Some of the things we are learning are not truth and are leading us away from God. It’s easy to confuse the two.

The gentleman in the story was enduring an adjustment in his beliefs. Correction is painful, no matter the source. But correction towards the truth and away from error yields good fruit. the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews states it thus:

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 (New King James Version)

Many resist “chastening” as the gentleman cited above. I sure did. Some do it loudly, as he did. Some do it by debate, as I did. Resistance takes many forms but it produces the same fruit. That fruit is not the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

Why Share?

Christians share the Gospel for many reasons. The Great Commission is a command from Christ Himself to His followers to share the Gospel wherever we go. In fact, we are explicitly commanded to “go” and “make disciples.” To people who do not know Christ, this may sound like a strange compulsion. But many find this an extremely easy command to follow due to an abundance of joy and peace in their hearts. 

Christ gives us a better life. By nature, people seek a better life and most desire to share it once they’ve found it. When someone recommends a recipe they found for a new dish they enjoyed, this is sharing a piece of a better life. When one begins to enjoy the fruits of physical exercise and shares tidbits about the new energy they experience or reduced pain and stress or the weight they’ve lost, this is sharing portions of a better life.

Now we may find people sharing such information annoying. And, no doubt, some may in fact be annoying. But many others just want to spread the goodness they’ve discovered.

the same holds for many Christians: they simply want to share abundant life in Christ. That’s their motivation for spreading the Gospel – their relationship with Christ is so awesome they cannot help but to share!

An Invitation to a Better Life

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on our behalf before any of us knew Him. While we were yet sinners, He died for us. That’s a powerful truth. Because Christ died for us and was resurrected, we can live in a relationship with God. That’s one of the things His sacrifice means for us. But Christ’s sacrifice means so much more.

If you don’t know Christ, I encourage you to seek Him. How? There are many ways. Praying, studying the Bible, attending a Bible study or worship service, or simply talking (or emailing) with a Christian friend.

Christ offers a new life – today. It’s a better life.

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Wake Up, America

I was in South Carolina a couple weeks back. Some friends picked me up from the airport and we had a long lunch, enjoying each other’s company, catching up on family, community, and friends. We left lunch and, while stopped at a light on the way to our next stop, we saw a man wearing a sign that read “END ABORTION NOW.”

He was screaming at the top of his lungs, “WAKE UP, AMERICA! WAKE UP!” as he walked past cars stopped in the left-turn lane, handing pamphlets to anyone who would take one. “One of us is crazy,” I thought, “either him or me.”

So I did some research. The Centers for Disease Control collect statistics on abortion from 52 state- and territory-based centers in and around the US. The CDC’s annual summary references statistics collected by the Guttmacher Institute, where I found this paper dated December 2013 (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html).

The latest year for which there are compiled statistics is 2008 – 5+ years ago. They show a total of over 50 million abortions have occurred in the United States in the past 41 years (not counting the last 5+ years).

50,000,000.

If we look at the populations of the 244 countries of the world listed at this Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population), the number of those aborted in the US alone would populate a nation ranked 27/244 – or roughly the 11th percentile – of most populated countries on Earth.

Taken another way, the US has not experienced the contributions to society of 50 1-in-a-million lives – lives that would have been considered by many to be “winners of the birth lottery” simply because the children would have been born in the US. What would these extraordinary have achieved in the fields of technology, science, engineering, or philosophy? What advancements in medicine are not present in 2014 because of these missing contributors? What stories of inspiration, overcoming obstacles to achieve greatness in sports or business or philanthropy will never inspire our generation or generations to come? What have we lost in these 50 one-in-a-million lives?

A lot, I believe.

What can one person do? What can I do? I can actively support the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. I can contribute money, sure; but I may be able to do more – like my friend Mike – who serves on the board of a CPC local to him. I can support sensible legislation to limit abortion as a means of birth control. I can support young women – and young men – who find themselves at the crossroads of a decision that appears, at the moment, like a no-win scenario. I caused a crisis pregnancy at age 17, and have some perspective on the immediate vs. the rest-of-your-life. I can find other ways to make a difference in these statistics. I want to help.

As my thoughts return to the screaming South Carolinian, my initial assessment appears accurate. One of us *is* crazy. And it’s the one content to sit in the vehicle. The one satisfied it’s enough to write Facebook posts sharing statistics, no matter how sobering – even when we disregard what the devastation those numbers mask.

I’m awake, sir. I’m awake.

Wake up, America.

Rational Christianity

Rational Christianity

For a while, I thought I believed something I call “rational Christianity.” I searched the Bible for principles in the hopes of learning how God responded to folks in olden times. I searched Christian literature for the same thing. My goal? To get God to do something for me.

I chose the incorrect name for this set of beliefs… they weren’t rational at all. I should have called them “irrational Christianity” (and the “Christianity” part is doubtful, as well).

Relational Christianity

Rational Christianity didn’t work.  No matter how hard I tried I could not successfully manipulate God into doing what I wanted, so I stopped being religious (except about hygiene – bathing, brushing my teeth, etc.).

During this period I learned God is my Father and I am His child.

I am a child of an earthly father. I have five children. To this, I can relate. My children love me. They don’t rationalize that they should love me, they just do. I love them too. If you ask them why they love me, the most common answer is “I just do.” Can you rationalize that? I can’t.

Getting Stuff

I know more about life stuff because I’ve been alive longer and have more experience. It bugs my younger children when I tell them they cannot do something that they want to do. Usually their requests are along the lines of staying up late on a school night or spending too much time playing a video game or going outside unprepared for the weather. I tell them “No” because I want them to enjoy a good night’s rest and get some exercise and not catch a cold.

They could rationalize my responses into “You don’t love me,” but that rationalization would be inaccurate.

Similarly, I realized I could not base God’s love on the stuff to which He says, “Yes.”

I realized later that I was being a spoiled child. I had a lot of things backwards.

What I’ve Learned

God isn’t a mechanism. I can’t “operate” God. I cannot manipulate Him. He has changed me and is continuing to change me. That’s what God does; He changes people. Ultimately, He will change those who love Him into something new.

God changed me into a new person. This process continues. I think “process” is a better word for describing this Relationship. It’s more than an event where I said a prayer, although the process began that way.

What’s Changed? 

I want different things. I want what He wants. How do I know what God wants? Read the Bible; He inspired people to write what He wants. It’s there, all you or I need to do is read (or listen to) it.

I had it backwards, but God changed me.

Has He changed you?

Me and The Man, Part 5

Parts 1-4 are available here.

Part 5

When my first wife was pregnant with our first child, we had two remarkable experiences:

  1. She was tutored the last few months of her senior year of high school. The tutor was a beloved English teacher who reminded many of the character portrayed by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. While he was tutoring, he was going through a personal transformation. He was becoming more alive, more aware, and more connected with God. Being one year ahead of my first wife in school, “Mr. C” had been my English Literature teacher the previous year. We became friends. Late in my senior year, he shared with me his frustration with not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. “You are the best teacher I’ve ever had and you don’t know what you should do with your life?” I asked, a little sarcastically. Now we watched this transformation. He told me, “I know what I’m supposed to do when I grow up. I’m supposed to be a teacher.” It wasn’t just this. He was happy. He was close to God. He even looked… different. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never seen it. I’ve only seen it a couple times. He wasn’t overt in his sharing about Christianity. But it was obvious and he didn’t have to be overt. He simply was. I don’t know a better way to put it. Apologies. But the gist of it all was that God had showed up.  A few weeks after our daughter was born, Mr. C was murdered. We know where he is, even now. And he is one of the first people other than my immediate family I hope to see in Heaven.
  2. As part of our National Guard weekend drills, we were allowed to attend worship services. I went with some of the guys one Sunday to get out of doing more soldier work. The message struck me, but I didn’t respond to the altar call. I told some of the guys with me, though.  Before our daughter was born we didn’t have much money, and I did a lousy job managing what money we had. They knew. And later that week they showed up at our front door with a couple boxes of groceries. Minutes earlier, I’d looked at a nearly empty package of bologna and the few slices of bread remaining in the house and thought something like, “God, we sure could use some help with food.” And here was enough food to last a week or more.  It’s easy (for me) to debate with people. I can see their arguments and – even if I lose this debate – I can cost them a whole other separate issue simply by re-applying their arguments on one issue to another. It’s a gift – or curse – depending on whether we agree. I couldn’t argue with the food in those boxes. My logic fell apart as I remembered my earlier thoughts. God had showed up. Again.

God used those occurrences to make Himself known to me. He made me aware that He was real. He showed me He loves people and changes them. He showed me He cares for our needs. And that He loved me and cared for my needs.

Like Mr. C, I’ve grown to know and love God more. He means more and more to me each day. I love Jesus Christ. Without Him, nothing you read in Part 2-4 would have happened in my life. I would have remained a bitter punk until death, and then I would have spent eternity separated from God in Hell.

Like the folks who showed up with food, I’ve been privileged to obey Christ by helping others. From experience, I can share that it is blessed to receive, but it is more blessed to give. That’s not a cute platitude. It’s a fact.

If you don’t have a relationship with Christ today, I hope you will seek Him. He is not part of the solution to life’s woes, nor is He part of the answer to your questions. He is the entire solution and answer and way and truth and life (John 14:6, paraphrased). Placing Christ on the throne of your heart is a daily thing (Luke 9:23). It’s not a moment. It’s a life. But it starts with a moment.

Is this your moment?

 

Good Causes

This time of year, many folks seek to contribute to good causes. And there are many causes worthy of your support, energy, prayers, and (yes) money. I mention these causes because they are on my heart at present.

There are lots of other worthy causes. Lots. And most are doing awesome work. I encourage you to find a cause and help in some way. Money can help, sure. But I encourage you to do more than just send money. There is no substitute for volunteering your time and energy.

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One Thing

 Picture the scene: Jesus has been tested by the Pharisees regarding the lawfulness of divorce. Then He rebukes His disciples for not allowing little children to come to Him. And then this guy chases Jesus as He leaves town. When the rich young ruler catches up to Jesus, he kneels. (I love that he kneels!) He asks Christ what he needs to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus responds with a list of commandments. The unnamed ruler responds that he has kept all these commandments. Jesus looks at him and loves him (I love that He loves him!). And then Christ says:

Mark10_21

Verse 22 records the ruler’s response: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

The ruler’s problem wasn’t possessions. It was priorities. He loved his possessions more than he loved God. It may have been a close call for the ruler, we don’t know. He may have struggled with the decision, weighed it out. But in the end, he chose to hang on to his stuff. Perhaps he found security in that stuff. Maybe he was sentimental.

It wasn’t fair, either. Others were rich. Why wasn’t Jesus telling them to give away all their stuff, take up a cross, and follow Him?

It gets worse. Jesus told others to pluck out their eye or cut off their hand if either caused them to sin:

Matt5_29-30

What is the one thing today between you and a more committed relationship to Christ? Is it a habit? An attitude? Unforgiveness? Greed? Hatred? Addiction? Laziness? Fear? What is it?

I don’t want to know why it’s there, or how it got there, or what it is, or how you think you should be allowed to hang on to it. I encourage you to aim to resist. I implore you to realize this thing was nailed to the Cross. I challenge you to daily ask Christ to take this thing out of your life. I dare you to practice Luke 9:23.

“For how long, Andy?” For as long as it takes. “…for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” Proverbs 24:16 Don’t count to seven failures and then stop. Keep getting up until you stop falling. Stop pulling out the nails holding this thing to the Cross. Let it die there. Jesus is stronger than this thing.

Change your one thing, starting today.

My Schedule

My friend Brian Kelley (blog | @kbriankelley) has been challenging me recently with posts and tweets. The most challenging snippets deal with our schedules and what they about our priorities. He has me thinking…

One thought: What would my day look like if I lived it according to my stated priorities? That begs another question – what are my stated priorities? Oh, I rattle those off almost without thinking: “God, family, others and other stuff (work, church, etc.), and then me.” You may disagree with that list or its order. I disagree with it, too.

I can hear you thinking, “What?!”

Part of the reason I disagree with the order of the items in that list is because some of them overlap. For instance, taking care of my family means exercising regularly to maintain (and improve) my health. So I run semi-regularly. Now here’s the thing: Since I started running, I’ve learned to enjoy it. Immensely. So one could now argue my priorities are out of whack because I am doing something solely for myself and placing that thing above my family.

That’s compartmentalizing and that can get you into trouble.

Getting back to the original question that came out of Brian’s challenges: What would my day look like if I lived it according to my stated priorities?

  • There would be time prioritized for God. These would be moments free from priority pollution – not Jesus And… moments.
  • There would be time prioritized to spend with beautiful bride, Christy.
  • There would be time prioritized to spend with our children living at home.
  • There would be time prioritized to exercise. God provides for our family and we are thankful. By the gifts and opportunities He provides, I work and our needs are thereby met. I need to remain healthy to work, and I’m getting older every day.
  • There would be time prioritized for work, church activities, and farming.

Does my life look like this? Some, but not enough. I am looking forward to reading the book (Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes) that is challenging Brian; looking forward to the same challenges to my life and schedule.

Andy

Compartmentalizing

It is so easy to judge, isn’t it? Wait, I mean it’s so easy to discern, isn’t it? Or inspect fruit. Or whatever phrase I choose to describe the unflattering thoughts that materialize inside my head whenever I see someone who is different.

Why do I do this? Part of the reason is that I compartmentalize. What is compartmentalizing? It’s drawing imaginary lines around people and stuff. For example, in my compartment are people (ok, one person) who is judged discerned according to his intentions and not by his actions. Simply thinking good thoughts is enough for me. People in other compartments must demonstrate their sincerity by actually doing stuff; by action.

There is compelling evidence we think differently in the US culture (and western culture) than other cultures. Because we have written about some of our ideas first, we believe we’re the norm and everyone else deviants. This is compartmentalizing. And when we do it with regard to social studies, it is meta-compartmentalizing (compartmentalizing about compartmentalizing).

This bleeds into our faith. We attempt to compartmentalize God and He will have none of it. We cannot understand that verses like James 2:18 (But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.) and Ephesians 2:8-9 (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.) are saying the same thing: God has done the work in Christ by grace that saves us and we are to demonstrate our faith in God’s saving grace by doing good works.

We make it hard when we break out our hair-splitters and begin compartmentalizing. We run into trouble when we try to categorize and classify the things that are works and the things that are faith. When it comes to faith and works, God’s word doesn’t do that so much.

What does the passage from the letter to the Ephesians tell us? Can one go through the motions? Yes. Does going through the motions save a person? No. Salvation is a gift of God.

What does the passage from James’ letter tell us? Faith works. This is where compartmentalizing fails us. Salvation is “worked out with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12); faith is mashed up with works. One can neither work their way to Heaven nor not-work their way there; it’s not “faith and…,” it is simply faith – and faith leaks out of our souls as works.

Toss the hair-splitters and welcome God’s Spirit. He will change your life.

Andy

SilverChairCover  One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

The quote above is from the character Puddleglum, in Chapter 12 of The Silver Chair. Puddleglum is a marsh-wiggle. Marsh-wiggles have long arms and legs with webbed appendages at the end of each. Puddleglum, Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, and Prince Rillian were being enchanted (successfully) by the Witch when Puddleglum put a foot into the fireplace. Clarity ensued, and he challenged the Witch’s earlier questions in which she questioned the existence of the mighty Lion Aslan, the existence of a world above ground, even the existence of the sun. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will share the Witch next becomes incensed and turns into a green serpent.

So it is with enchantments of deception; they so often begin with questionings.
Consider the conversation between Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Gensis 3 begins with the following passage:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

A conversation ensued, followed by Adam and Eve consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

After this, God conversed with Adam and Eve and disclosed the consequences of their actions. One key consequence is found in Genesis 3:15:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.

This is the first recorded prophecy of Christ in the Bible. Millennia later, this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was born, lived a sinless life, was crucified, died, and then rose to life. For Christians, tomorrow’s celebration is all about remembering Christ’s life, message, sacrifice, and Resurrection.
Some believe this to be true and fact. I do.

You may not believe it to be true. You may believe the real world is this physical existence we now enjoy / endure. I respect your decision, I truly do.

But I ask to consider Puddleglum’s argument, with which I agree. If Christ’s life, message, sacrifice, and Resurrection are made up “all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Andy