What Do I Have to Do?

In discussing my post last week about our responsibility in sharing Jesus with others, I began to think more about the idea of excuses and then began to think more about how we approach living out our faith.

Often we are happy to let someone else do things so that we don’t have to.

My friend indicated that sometimes folks will respond to a statement like, “You don’t have to lead someone to pray to receive Christ” as an excuse to pass the responsibility off to someone else – a pastor or evangelist.

If you read my post, I hope that you saw that I wasn’t saying that ‘it’s someone else’s job so you don’t have to be concerned about it.’

Every follower of Jesus has an important part to to play in showing God’s love to those around them and being ready to talk about Jesus – is the scriptures I quoted there make clear.

They key word that I was trying to get at is ‘part.’

It’s not all on you.

And yet it’s not off you.

It’s on us.

That’s the point.

What I really want to talk about for a minute today is a question of perspective.

Sometimes people have the perspective of ‘What do I have to do?”   What’s the least that I can get away with and still be ‘okay?’

As if to say, if I can pass something off I’ll be glad to.

What’s the least that I have to do to get most of the benefits?

IF this is the issue, it’s a deeper issue that who’s responsible for what.

It gets to what I believe is the deepest problem in the wider North American church today.

Sometimes we call them ‘consumer Christians.’  People who want the comfort and benefits of the Christian life and church ministry with as little accompanying discomfort and cost as possible.

This topic could be a whole series of books, but I graciously assume something different for my blog readership here.

If you read my blogs, I can only assume it’s because you’re interested in exploring with me what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Disciples of Jesus don’t do continual cost benefit analyses on what God calls them to do.

We realize that we are involved in some way in almost everything of significance to the life of faith that we share.

We ought not to ask, “What Do I have to do.” but rather, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

Disciples of Jesus take seriously the transformed way of life that he calls us to.

We seek to obey everything he’s commanded of us.

But – and this is really important – we don’t add to that.

We don’t create expectations beyond what Jesus does.

We don’t induce guilt over things that Jesus has not commanded us to do.

And yet sometimes Christian leaders do just that.

This blog – and my ministry overall – attempts to look fresh into the Bible to separate what we’ve been told by our Christian leaders and culture from what Jesus actually commands and expects from us.

And remember, Jesus promises that he will give us rest.  His burden is light.

We don’t need a list of things to do in order to to be ‘right with God’

We can rest in his love.  We don’t have to earn anything.

But it’s imperative that we allow his love to transform us and direct our lives.

 

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Excessive Christian Guilt: Evangelism

Sometimes we evangelical Christians exhibit a real gifting at making up expectations that are not really biblical and then criticizing ourselves for not living up to them.

One of these areas is something that in insider language we refer to as ‘leading someone to Christ.’   This involves sharing the gospel message about Jesus with someone in such a way that they respond to the message favorably and pray a ‘sinners prayer’ (more insider terminology).

If you don’t get someone to pray that prayer in your presence, you’ve probably not ‘led them to Christ’ in this line of thinking.

Besides the fact that the New Testament doesn’t say anything about a prayer being THE way to begin the Christian life, it also doesn’t tell us that it’s the responsibility of every Christian to individually guide other individuals from unbelief to belief.

Of course, any time people respond in faith to the good news about Jesus is a big win for us.  I’m not criticizing that at all!!

But here’s the problem.

We often times hear statistics in books and at conferences that only tiny amounts of Christians have ‘led someone else to Christ.’

They often say it in such a way as to shame us, as if we should each feel like a failure if we can’t list off the number of people we’ve personally ‘led to Christ.’

It goes something like this:’Can you believe what a failure we are?  Only 1 out of 100 (or something) have ever ‘led someone to Christ.’

There are two major (related) problems with this perspective, in addition to the already mentioned aspect that the ‘sinners prayer’ is never given as THE way to respond to Jesus in the Bible.

The first is that, the Bible doesn’t assign every Christian this responsibility.   

We are given responsibilities. This post is not about excuses for not bearing testimony to our faith in Jesus.

We clearly need to be examples for the world around us to see:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

We need to know what we believe and be able to share Jesus when we are asked, which might be a legitimate concern about us at times:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6

Yes, we should be willing to talk about Jesus and excited to do so when given the opportunity.

But I don’t read any of these passages as saying that we are expected to (regularly?) see people converted to following Christ through only us as individuals.

Which brings us to the second problem: individualism.

This to me is a major issue because it’s so ingrained into our thinking in the Western world.

The New Testament certainly does speak to the individual, but the ministry focus is on the collective and the local church bears the collective responsibility for reaching and growing people in the faith.

Paul said “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:6.

We could (and probably will) talk more about how the ministry gifts (like evangelist) fit into this discussion, but…

I don’t see a biblical foundation for the expectation that every Christian is responsible for ‘leading others to Christ’ or ‘Making a decision for Christ.’ all by themselves.

Let’s focus on the responsibilities (some of which are listed above) that Jesus and the other authors of the New Testament letters give us.

Let’s seize every opportunity to share the multifaceted good news about Jesus whenever and wherever we can.

And if we’re privileged to have the opportunity to invite a friend to trust in Jesus, it will be a blessing like no other.

But let’s not make ourselves and others feel like losers unnecessarily.

 

 

 

What My Israel Trip Did and Didn’t Do

Several friends and I recently took a trip to Israel.  It was my fist time there and I want to share a few reflections, primarily for those who have not yet been.

First, since there are some people who have made the trip and get pretty excited, let’s do a little bit of a reality check.

You don’t have to travel to the Holy Land to understand the Gospel and Christianity.

I can’t think of anything relating to the fundamentals of my Christian faith that was radically changed because of the trip.  I can’t say that I was blind but now I see.  My understanding of core theology, the gospel and the overarching narrative of the Bible were not transformed.

To me, it’s telling that as the gospel went out into the Roman world and beyond, Christians weren’t required or even encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem or Jerusalem.  Paul took up a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, but I don’t recall him telling the Christians that they should go there to visit the places Jesus walked.   Even later, theologians like Augustine seemed uninterested in such a journey.

All that to say, having been there, you don’t have to make a trip to Israel to be a good Christian.

So. what did my trip to Israel do for me?

Here are three major things that the trip did for me.

First, being in Israel gave me better context for some of the Bible.

One of the most important concepts in the study of the Bible is putting verses and passages into their proper context within the overall story of the Bible as well as the particular intention of the authors.

Reading these bible stories in the locations they likely occurred offers a different kind of context and thus a unique type of understanding.

The caves we visited around Bethlehem that are similar to those Jesus might have been born in…

The amazing topography of the land, realizing how long and hard many of the journeys we read about in a couple of words of the Bible might have been…

Walking down the Mount of Olives…

It gives so many things context.  Understanding.   Not life changing moral stuff, but something that I can see in my mind as I read the stories.

Second, there is something deeply spiritual about the most authentic locations.

This is one of the aspects that’s tough to explain and different places hit people in different ways.

When we were in the lower level of the high priest’s house that Jesus might have actually been imprisoned in…

On the steps where Jesus likely taught…

On the street level of the fortress where Jesus would have been tried before Pilate…

On the Sea of Galilee…

Although theologically I don’t believe God’s presence dwells especially in any of these locations, some of the places do seem to give a sense of depth to the journey of Jesus.

Finally, I have an increased appetite to learn about things that previously seemed dull.

Maps used to be kind of boring to me.  Now that I’ve been to the places, seeing how all the towns and cities locate in proximity to each other is fascinating.

I’m interested in learning more about all of the places that we visited.  Biblical archeology was always somewhat interesting to me, but not like it is now.  I’m reading articles about discoveries and interpretations and locations.

I’m also curious about the history of the land.  I’ve been reading books about the Crusades, about the establishment of the modern State of Israel, about the history of the tensions between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.

Things on the news make more sense now.

Pictures of the sites mean more.

I want to go back one day.  To spend more time lingering and learning.

Researching and reflecting.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I First Believed

I suppose there are two ways to answer this question.

There’s a more theological lens that I can use to look back on what happened to me.  I can see that God the Holy Spirit was drawing me to himself and enabling my response to the good news shared with me.

I can also see that I felt welcome in that church community and was happy with the friends I was making there.

But as I recall what I was thinking and feeling, it’s quite a bit simpler.

Perhaps oddly, heaven and hell had almost nothing to do with my thinking at the time.

I say odd because this seems to be the primary lens through which the gospel is presented much of the time.

Maybe because teenagers don’t think much about death.  At least I didn’t.

And you might not like this explanation, but…

It just felt right.

The Jesus I was hearing about made sense to my heart.  To my mind.  To my soul.

I knew that I wanted to believe in Jesus, whatever that meant.

I knew that I did believe in Jesus.

Not be get any particular benefit.

Not to avoid any particular punishment.

I just did.

I believed.

The rest of my life is the story of learning what that really entails…

 

My Faith Story…The Beginning Anyway

My family didn’t go to church when I was growing up.  Well maybe once or twice.

I don’t recall thinking much about God one way or the other.  I think I had some vague belief in God.  Maybe.  If I had a thought about Jesus, I don’t remember it.

Some time in High School I started going to church occasionally with my best friend.

I need to explain what I mean by ‘going to church.’  After a short time, we excused ourselves from Sunday School and roamed around the property for the duration of the services.

My mom seemed excited that I was ‘going to church’ and sometime in that season she got serious about her faith again.  My brother also made a commitment of faith and was baptized.

I remember a week of summer youth group activities.  Swimming, games, snacks.  All the good stuff.  And there was a girl I liked at the time.  Sometimes Jesus uses girls to get boys involved in ministries.  🙂

I know we were taught something about God that week, but I don’t remember what.  I was more interested in the games and the girls.

When my mom and brother joined the church, one of the Elders came over to go through some of the basics of discipleship.  I was there and I seem to recall him talking more to me than to them.

I’m sure he knew I wasn’t ‘in.’  I hadn’t made a commitment of faith in Jesus.  I don’t recall thinking I had to.

But he told me more about Jesus.

He asked me if I wanted to place my faith in Jesus.

I deferred.  Politely.

My buddy was there and we didn’t have time for that.  Plus I didn’t feel particularly compelled to make such a decision.

But after that night, I thought much more often about Jesus.

One evening not long after, I remember thinking to myself ‘you’re so stupid.’

Because I did believe.

In Jesus.

In my need to respond to him.

I don’t honestly remember what specifically I knew about theology.

I don’t recall feeling overly burdened by what might be the consequences of my sin.

But I knew Jesus is real.

And I knew I needed him.

That was the beginning.

Not the end.

There has been plenty of sin to repent of and theology to learn since.

But it seems that God took my rocky start and did something with it.

What an amazing God.

 

You Can Share Jesus Without Quoting the Bible

There’s something we sometimes miss when we share the good news about Jesus.

Our approach should change based on who we’re talking with.

When Peter and Paul were sharing Jesus with their fellow Jews, they used a lot of Scripture to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that people should embrace him as such.

Read for example Peter’s address in Acts 2.   He concludes his Scripture saturated message with this conclusion:

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”  Acts 2:36

Notice he says, “let all Israel.”

The people he was speaking to that day accepted all of what we call the Old Testament as inspired and authoritative and thus he could effectively utilize it.

Throughout the book of Acts, Luke tells us that as Paul went into the synagogues to share about the Messiah, he ‘reasoned with them from the Scriptures.’

In most of these synagogues there were both Jews and ‘God-fearing Greeks.’   What both of these people groups had in common is that they looked to the Bible for truth and guidance.

But now flip to Acts 17:16-34.  Paul is in Athens and his audience that day is neither Jewish nor God fearing.

Does Paul pull out the same message that he’s been using in the synagogues?

Nope.

When Paul is talking to these Greek philosophers, he doesn’t explicitly reference any Scripture.

Did you notice that?

What does he reference positively?   Pagan philosophers and poets.

“As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:28

So did Paul compromise his message on that day?

No.

Because his message is Jesus and Jesus is the Lord and King for the everyone who calls upon him. (Romans 10:9)

“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”         Acts 17:31

Here’s what I think this means for us…

We should know who we’re talking to when we’re talking about Jesus.

Many of the people we might talk to have some relation to the ‘God fearing Greeks.’   What I mean is that there are people who don’t know and follow Jesus who have enough regard for the Bible that it still means something to them to quote from it.

But there are and will be other people who either aren’t compelled by or are skeptical toward the Bible.

Like Paul, we don’t have to spend time first convincing them that all of the Bible is true and trustworthy.  Just it’s gospel testimony about Jesus

Paul took the Bible’s story and without quoting directly from it, he picked up on cultural touchstones and shared the resurrection of Jesus.

He also talks about repentance and judgement.  This isn’t soft peddling compromise here.

It’s wise evangelism.

Keep Paul’s example in mind and remember where the focus lies.

On Jesus.

Theological Distractions

Christians often get caught up in needing to nail down details in areas that the Bible doesn’t seem deeply concerned to do so.

I’ll name three:

Creation and Science.  Are you old earth or young earth?  Are the days of creation literal 24 hour days or periods of time?  Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis?  What about theistic evolution? (gasp!)

These are all valid questions.  They are worth thinking about. Some of them have particular ramifications on other important ideas in the Bible.

But, I would argue, they are probably not worth extensively obsessing about.

What IS most important is the core idea that God created the universe.  It – and we – are not an accident but quite purposeful.

End Times: This is calming down a bit, but some Christians have been absolutely obsessed with figuring out the details of how exactly things will transpire and what that will look like.  Interestingly, most of us who are most interested in it believe that we’ll not be around for much of it…

In the Bible, apocalyptic literature – think Daniel and Revelation – was given to Christians to bring assurance and hope when things weren’t looking good around them.

Essentially the overarching message was, ‘Things seem bad now and it looks like evil is winning, but God is still God and he’s going to take care of things.’

There will be judgement on evil.  There will be victory for those in Christ.

It’s worth studying, but I really don’t feel that we need whole ministries dedicated to it.

Ironically, most of us studying end times are doing so from a relative place of comfort.  Few of us in the USA have any real idea what persecution feels like.

The Inspiration of the Bible:  Somewhere along the way we become absolutely obsessed with nailing down exactly how the Bible is inspired.  We invented a whole host of words to use as a litmus test to see who’ really’ believes in the Bible.

Infallible.

Inerrant.

Inerrant in it’s original manuscripts.

We’ve written many books exploring exactly how it’s inspired.  Did the Holy Spirit dictate the words and the author just write them down?  Was the author more generally inspired?

What’s interesting is that the biblical authors themselves were obsessed with none of these details, but rather were concerned that their readers understood that the Bible is God given, inspired, a trustworthy account about Jesus, living and active, and useful for teaching correcting rebuking and training in righteousness.  (2 Timothy 3:16).

They understood that the Bible is powerful and effective.  That in it we encounter Jesus and are transformed.  That with it we guide and grow our lives and our ministries.

Yet, again ironically, our obsession with inerrancy has led us to spending so much of our time answering questions about why some different details are found here or there.  Why Judas committed suicide one way here and another there.

I’m talking about details that don’t change the core gospel narrative.

Look, all of these things are worth looking into and there are answers to be found.

But they can be a major distraction from what’s really at the center.

Encountering Jesus, his kingdom gospel, and living our lives in loving obedience to him.

Jesus claims that the whole story, the whole Bible is all about him. (John 5:39)

Yes, we need to believe that God created the universe purposely.

Yes, we need to believe that Jesus will return and bring about the consummation of his kingdom.

Yes, we need to believe that the Bible is trustworthy.

But until we return to the Great Commission that Jesus gave us…

and remember that he first reminds us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”

We have no business obsessing about the details of this other stuff.

Be disciples…obeying the commands of Jesus.

Make disciples…proclaiming the good news, baptizing and teaching the commands of Jesus.

Then, maybe, we’ll have more time to dive in further into that other stuff.

But I kind of doubt it.

Because – and please weigh for yourself whether or not this is true –

We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the details of creation, end times and inspiration…

and in the meantime we’ve largely failed at actually making disciples.

Let’s focus most on what Jesus told us to do.