It’s Time For Some Radical, Crazy, End-Times Living

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If you knew the world was about to end, what would you do? I mean, seriously, if you knew that it was all going down in just a few months, how would you live? I’d probably quit my job, sell all my stuff, and try to get really radical for Jesus. You know, maybe some street corner preaching, maybe some 30 days fasts, maybe some crazy mission trips. If I knew Jesus was coming back, I’d want to get down to business.

In recent years, there have been a slew of books published which encourage Christians to be more radical for Jesus. To have crazy love for Jesus, which leads us to do crazy awesome things for Jesus. To be world changers for Jesus. To do hard things. To push the Jesus envelope.

And while I’m all for being radical for Jesus, we need to think carefully about what being radical really means. Fortunately, it’s spelled out pretty clearly in scripture.

In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter tells his readers that the end is coming. He says that, “The end of all things is at hand…” He wants his readers to be ready for the return of Jesus. He doesn’t want them to be caught off-guard. After all, Peter was very familar with Jesus’ promise that he would come like a thief in the night, or like a master returning to his servants late at night. Peter wanted his readers to be living radically, because the end of all things was (and is) at hand. He wanted to awaken the sleepy and provoke the apathetic.

So what does Peter tell his readers to do?

…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Dang son. That doesn’t sound too exciting. What about forming communes and doing crazy evangelism and fasting for weeks at a time? Where’s all that stuff?

It turns out that radical, passionate, end-times living, looks pretty ordinary. Being radical means being self-controlled and sober-minded. It means earnestly, zealously loving your fellow brothers and sisters. It means showing hospitality with a cheerful attituded. It means using the spiritual gifts God has given you to serve those around you.

The reality is, being radical for Jesus usually takes place in the context of your home, community, and local church. Is there a place for mission trips, long fasts, and hardcore evangelism? Of course. But if you want to be consistently radical, you need to be aware of what is taking place right around you. Who can you serve in your community? Who can you love in your church? How can you use your gifts to serve your fellow Christians?

If the world was going to end in a few months, I would want to throw myself even more zealously into the lives of those around me. And given the fact that, “The end of all things is at hand,” I should be radically involved in my home, community, and church every day.

The end is coming. Are you ready?

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The Power Of Godly Example

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Nothing stinks like hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy disillusions those who have listened to us and trusted us. Hypocrisy renders our words useless and empty. It makes our children cynical and undermines all we try to teach them. There’s nothing more empty than “Do what I say, not what I do.”

On the other hand, words backed by actions are powerful. Our actions can prove we really believe what we say and that others can believe us too. When we can say, “Do what I say AND what I do,” our words will have power and influence.

Paul unashamedly encouraged others to imitate his life.

1 CO 4.16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

In fact, he told the Philippians they should model their lives after him, and observe and imitate the lives of others who lived like him.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. PHP 3:17

Paul knew that example is a powerful teacher. A picture is worth a thousand words.

What examples are you leaving for others? What stories will others have to tell about you? What will they recall about how you react to pressure, or how you respond to someone’s anger? About your faith in the fire or your endurance and joy in tough times? About your generosity or your mercy to others?

What stories will your children have to tell about you? They’ll probably have funny stories about your quirks and botched projects. My kids have lots of stories they relish telling like about time time I made 20 pizzas hoping to freeze them for future meals, then having to throw them all away because of how bad they tasted. Our kids will most likely have plenty of funny stories to tell about our blunders and mess-ups. But hopefully they will be able to tell others about our joy in Christ, our patience with them, our treatment of those who were unkind to us, our commitment to Christ’s people, our mercy to the poor.

All this means that we need to be with other believers. We can’t just read about the Christian life or watch videos. We need to live our lives with others. Both so we can observe the lives of others for our own imitation, but also for them to see and imitate us. Paul commended Timothy for following his example:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness (2 TI 3:10)

Paul encouraged Timothy for following his teaching – for doing what he said. But he also commended him for doing what he did. For imitating “my aim in life” – Timothy had picked up Paul’s passion. He’d picked up Paul’s goal, Paul’s aim. He imitated the example of Paul’s faith – not simply the truth Paul believed, but the application of that truth. He’d watched Paul live out his faith. And because he had observed Paul in many situations with other believers, he was able to imitate Paul’s patience and love. Because he’d seen Paul joyfully persevere through affliction he could imitate Paul’s steadfastness.

People are watching us. Our children are watching us. Our fellow believers are watching us.  Let’s show them something worth imitating, even as we imitate others.

What Sort of Man Is This?

photo credit: cpboingo via photopin cc

“What sort of man is this, the even the winds and sea obey him?”

This questions, on the heels of Jesus calming a storm, rings through the gospel of Matthew. It comes from those who know Him, not from a stranger. What sort of man is he? A good one? A powerful one, certainly. A wizard or a prophet? Self-serving or benevolent? Many of us call ourselves disciples of Jesus, but have we ever been stunned enough at Him to rock back on our heels and ask “What sort of man is this?”

This is a man who makes blind eyes see and crippled legs straight and strong. He cools and soothes feverish bodies and minds. A shriveled hand straightens and flexes under his touch, or even at a word. And a rotting corpse inhales and is made whole and alive, not undead, but living.

And He is the sort of man who would do these same miracles today. He is the sort of man who would make crippled hope strong again. He would soothe those minds and hearts fevered by temptation and bring them back to reason and reality. The blind eyes of a soul are made to see truth and know it for what it is. A shriveled marriage feels the circulation flow, it flexes, and has purpose and life again. And those who long ago committed their souls to the mortician quicken and live.

Every miracle Jesus did, every healing, was more than just a kindness to the needy (though it was never less). Each one sought to raise people’s eyes above mere humanitarian goodness to something greater: himself. We cannot lose ourselves in the activist Jesus or be wearied by the Sunday school Jesus, for if we do we have lost Jesus altogether.

“What sort of man is this?” is not just a question for those who have never met Jesus but one for everyone to ask. At every turn we will find out something more about what sort he is. It is never ending and always wondrous. Unless we stop asking, at which point all we’re left with is what little we know of him and even that soon starts to fade. Ask this question and let him answer it from the pages of scripture and in the wind and seas of your heart.

photo credit: cpboingo via photopin cc

Nobody Will Remember Me, And That’s A Good Thing

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Remember that immensely popular rap song from a few years back that had the lyrics:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

That song was everywhere! Football commercials, video games, the radio, movies! And yet, without using Google, can you remember the name of the artist who performed the song? I couldn’t (it was “Fort Minor”). Kind of ironic isn’t it? An entire song devoted to being remembered, and yet no one can remember the artist.

I tend to read a lot of history. I recently finished reading a biography of Truman Capote, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Truman was constantly hobnobbing with famous people – the movers and shakers and news makers of his day. He was friends with movie stars and authors and politicians and socialities. And yet what amazed me as I read the book was that I had only heard of one or two of the big name celebrities.

The reality is, very few people will remember me. This is not some sort of macabre, self-pity, nobody likes me, I’m a loser, gather round for a group hug, kind of statement. It’s simply the truth. Unless I assassinate a world leader (which I don’t plan on doing) or invent a cure for cancer (which I don’t forsee happening) I will simply fade into the mist of history.

Only a few people will remember me. I want to make sure I leave behind the right memories.

But there are a few people who will remember me, and I want to live my life in light of those people who will remember me.

So who is going to remember me?

THE LORD

In Matthew 6:6 Jesus said:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In Matthew 6:19 Jesus said:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

These verses, as well as hundreds of others, imply that God will remember every good thing we do in the name of Christ, and will reward us for those things. We will forget many of the good deeds we do in the name of Christ. Other will also forget those good deeds. My grandma, who was one of the most godly, gentle, servant-hearted people I ever knew, got Alzheimer’s late in life and forgot just about everything.

But the Lord will NEVER forget any good work done in his name.

When I stand before the Lord on judgment day, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, he will remember my name. He will remember every good deed and he will reward me for those good deeds. In light of this reality, I want to live with all my might while I yet live. My name will be lost to history, but it will not be lost to the Lord.

MY FAMILY

The only other people who will remember my name after I die will be my family. My grandma died when I was only thirteen years old, but I remember her very clearly. What do I remember? I remember how generous she was with us. I remember how she loved to sing and dance to worship music. I remember how she constantly served my dad and mom. She left a legacy of godliness behind.

Charles Spurgeon said:

It is a blessed thing for some of us that we can look back on a father’s example and a mother’s example with nothing but unalloyed gratitude to God for both. But there are others among you who, in looking back, must say, “I thank God I was delivered from the evil influence to which I was subjected as a child.” Do not let your child ever have to say that of you, but ask for grace that in your own house you may walk with a perfect heart.

I can look back on my mom and dad’s example with unalloyed gratitude to God for both. Were they perfect, flawless parents? Of course not. But they were godly, generous, affectionate, prayerful, and devoted to God’s word. Most people won’t remember them, but I certainly will.

By God’s grace, I want to leave the same legacy behind for my children. I want my children to remember that I pursued and loved Jesus. I want my kids to remember that I delighted in them. I want my kids to remember how much I loved Jen.

Most people will forget me, and that’s okay. But a few people will remember me, and I want to make sure I leave behind the right kind of memories.

What Does It Really Mean To Cause Someone To Stumble?

You really shouldn’t watch that movie. You really shouldn’t listen to that music. You really shouldn’t read that book. You really shouldn’t drive a car that expensive. You really shouldn’t wear a purse like that. You really shouldn’t allow your kids to read Harry Potter. You really shouldn’t go to that bar to eat wings.

Oh I didn’t realize. How come?

Because other people think it’s wrong. You might be a stumbling block to them.

This kind of exchange happens pretty often between Christians. We tell other Christians not to do certain things because they might become a stumbling block to someone else. Or we refrain from doing certain things because we are afraid we might become a stumbling block. The only problem is most of us aren’t exactly sure what it means to be a stumbling block.

So what exactly does scripture mean when it talks about causing someone else to stumble?

Let me start by saying what it does not mean. Doing something which other people think is wrong does not necessarily make you a stumbling block. I’m talking about areas not clearly spelled out in scripture. Lying, cheating, slandering, stealing, and sexual immorality are all clearly sin. I’m talking about gray areas here.

Paul clearly addresses the whole idea of being a stumbling block in 1 Corinthians 8. The issue at hand is food offered to idols. The Corinthians, with their “superior” knowledge, knew that idols were not the true God. This knowledge led them to insist that it was perfectly fine for them to eat food offered to idols.

Paul, however, was concerned for those who had been saved out of idol worship. For these people, eating food offered to idols was akin to idol worship itself. And so Paul says to the Corinthians:

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:9-11)

Paul’s concern IS NOT that someone may see the Corinthians eating meat offered to idols and then assume the Corinthians are in sin. Paul’s concern is that a fellow believer may join the Corinthians in eating food offered to idols even though it goes against his conscience. Paul is ultimately concerned that the Corinthians will encourage fellow believers to act against their consciences.

Let me put a modern day spin on it. Generally speaking, I do not think it is wrong to smoke cigars (within reason, attending to all the appropriate health concerns, making sure you don’t get addicted, etc.) You however, are convinced that smoking cigars is wrong. Do I have to stop all cigar smoking because I know you think I am doing something wrong? No. Scripture doesn’t forbid smoking cigars. My liberty in Christ is not restricted simply by what other people might think of me.

But (and this is really important), if I smoke a cigar around you and that in turn leads you to smoke a cigar even though you think it is sin then I have become a stumbling block. My liberty in Christ has actually encouraged you to sin against your conscience. When our “rights” lead others to act against their consciences we have become stumbling blocks.

This is why Paul says:

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Love for my brothers in Christ guides and restrains my liberty in Christ. If smoking a cigar or watching a movie or listening to an album or reading a book will lead you to violate your conscience then I will cheerfully give up that right when I am with you. Love always triumphs over liberty. Unity always triumphs over personal rights.

We are free to enjoy whatever scripture does not forbid. If a person thinks we’re wrong, so what? However, our freedom must always be wrapped in concern and care for others. If our freedom actually leads someone else to violate their conscience then we have become a stumbling block.

So let’s eat and drink and not eat and drink for the glory of God.

+photo by katerha

Don’t Be A Bible Pharmacist Be A Bible Doctor!

There are two ways to get medicine. The first is from a pharmacist. I call in my prescription, the pharmacist counts out the pills, places them in a bottle, and hands the bottle to me, no questions asked. Pharmacists rarely ask about symptoms, medical history, or current medications. It’s not their job. To put it simply (and I’m sure this is oversimplifying), they fill prescriptions.

The second way to get medicine is to go to a doctor. Going to a doctor is a vastly different experience. A good doctor asks me questions about my symptoms. He explores my past medical history. He asks me what medicines I’ve taken in the past. He asks about the medical history of my family members. He feels my limbs and muscles. A good doctor spends a significant amount of time listening before he actually dispenses any medicine.

Too often I’m a Bible pharmacist when I should be a Bible doctor. 

A friend comes to me and tells me he’s having trouble trusting God. I turn to my Bible dispensary, pull out my Romans 8:28 pill, and tell him to take it twice daily for three weeks. That should take care of all the symptoms. Very few questions, very little dialog, way too many assumptions. The problem with my approach is that people can’t be easily categorized and the Bible is not one size fits all.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

This implies that we must minister to people in different ways depending on their spiritual condition. We can’t simply slap a verse on a person. We need to understand and sympathize with their spiritual condition before we can effectively minister to others. We need to be Bible doctors.

If I’m going to truly help my friend I need to spend a lot of time listening, exploring, and understanding. I need to know some things before I can effectively “prescribe” the Bible. Does he need to admonished out of his unbelief? There are scriptures for that. Does he need to be encouraged in the midst of his faintheartedness? There are different scriptures for that. Does he need to be helped in his weakness. There are different scriptures for that. I would be an idiot to prescribe Pepto Bismol for a migraine headache, yet so often we “prescribe” scriptures without fully listening and understanding.

By God’s grace, I want to grow in being a better Bible doctor. I want to learn from the Great Physician. Too often I’m quick to speak and slow to listen, quick to dispense and slow to diagnose. I need to stop being a Bible pharmacist and start being a Bible doctor.

+original photo by KB35

God Doesn’t Care What You Eat, He Cares How You Eat

Once upon a time nobody cared about what they put into their body. We ate TV dinners, smoked cigarettes, drank carbonated beverages packed full of high fructose corn syrup, ingested mass quantities of hot dogs, spam, and other semi-processed meats, slathered things with mayo, and generally didn’t give a rip about what went into our bodies. Then people started noticing that the more junk we ate the worse we felt and looked. Doctors began telling us about eating balanced meals. The food pyramid was invented. Everyone began eating organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, superfoods. Large sugary drinks were temporarily banned in New York City.

In recent years churches have jumped on the health bandwagon. The Daniel Diet was invented, modeled after Daniel’s insistence on eating only vegetables in Babylon. There is also The Eden Diet, The Maker’s Diet, and numerous other diets claiming biblical support. Rick Warren recently led members of Saddleback in a church wide fitness program.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fitness and eating well. Our health determines our ability to effectively serve the Lord. I try to exercise regularly and eat semi-well.

But does the Bible tell us what to eat? Does God have a divinely inspired diet plan we should all be following? Are some foods more spiritual than others? I don’t think so. In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. In Mark 7:18-23 we read:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Jesus’ point is that food in and of itself is not spiritual. It goes in the mouth and comes out the other end. Eating a particular food does not make us more or less spiritual. Vegetables are not more godly than meat. Organic is not more godly than processed. Oreos and Cheez-Whiz are just as holy as homegrown basil. An Eden diet is not more pleasing to God than a Paleo diet or South Beach diet. All foods are clean and can be eaten and enjoyed.

Why does this even matter? Do I care if you are on The Eden Diet or The Daniel Diet or The Maker’s Diet? Nope, not one bit. If a particular diet helps you lose weight, great! But, we Christians have a tendency to moralize our preferences and create artificial spirituality. If we say that God wants us to eat a particular food group we are on the verge of creating spiritual cliques in the church. The most godly people follow a particular diet, the less godly people eat processed food. A diet can become a stumbling block to the gospel and a source of spiritual elitism.

The reality is, God doesn’t care what we eat he cares how we eat. The Bible lays out several clear principles for how we are to eat.

  • Every meal is to be eaten for the glory of God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) Everything we do, including eating and drinking, is to be done in such a way that God will be honored.
  • All of our eating or abstaining is to be done with thankfulness to God. “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:6) If we eat we should thank God for the wonderful, delightful, delicious gift of food. If we choose not to eat we should thank God that he has given us the power of self-control. Eating is to be done with thankfulness. Dieting is also to be done with thankfulness.
  • Our eating should serve other people. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) The way we eat should be a blessing to other people. This is a wonderful motivation to take care of our bodies. The food I put into my body directly effects my energy levels, which directly effects my ability to serve my wife, my kids, my church, and my neighbors. All my eating should be done to serve others.

In one sense, God does not care what we eat. All foods are clean. But he does care how we eat. The way we eat can bring glory to God, be a blessing to us, and even be a blessing to others. Let’s eat for the glory of God!

What Did You Sign Up For?

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Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 ad in London’s Times, recruiting a crew to sail with him on his exploration of the South Pole:

Wanted. Men for hazardous journey.
Low wages. Bitter cold.
Long hours of complete darkness.
Safe return doubtful.
Honor and recognition in the event of success.

Sounds like another ad:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (LK 9.23-24)

We didn’t sign up for easy lives.  But afterward there will be glory.