Monday, May 25, 2015

The Assumed Gospel

A recent study by the Pew Research Center reveals that the percentage of adults in America who would describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just the past seven years.  Over the same period of time the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points.

I’m not really sure what to make of all that; other than it seems to me the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ seems to be diminishing.

How could that be?

I don’t really have an explanation, but I can’t help but wonder if we assume too much when it comes to the Earth shaking, death defeating, sin breaking, eternal life-saving power of the cross at Calvary.

I’ve had two conversations not too long ago that have caused me to wonder if we assume the Gospel too much.

The first conversation was with a young man who grew up in a local church.  This 20-something year old had attended “Christian” services regularly and gone on international mission trips to provide clean water for the impoverished.  Real life-giving ministry, wouldn’t you agree?  When I asked this guy, “To you, who is Jesus?” his reply was, “Uh….I’m not really sure.  I guess a really good teacher?”  In that moment I prayed and attempted to share the Gospel just as clear as I could.  When I finished he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I’ve never heard that before.”

The second conversation was with a guy around 50 years of age.  He described himself as a Christian and as we talked I began to wonder what he knew about Jesus.  I asked, “Do you know why Jesus had to die?”  He thought for the briefest moment and said, “Not really.”  I prayed and attempted to share the Gospel just as clear as I could.  When I finished he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I can’t believe that God would give up his Son to die for anybody.”  I said, “I know.  That’s why it’s amazing grace.”

All of this has me thinking.  Are we assuming the Gospel of Christ too much?  Are we telling people to be good, give more and serve others all without providing the most real and compelling reason why?  Do the diminishing percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians even know the message of Jesus?

Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

I think we need to assume less and perhaps use words more.

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life.  And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  1 Peter 3.15 (NLT)

~ Kevin Baker

Monday, May 18, 2015

Fatigue in the Journey

Daily demands seem to be a constant stream of things that I never have quite enough time to fully accomplish.  Life’s continual movement forward can be an exhausting endeavor with cleaning, cooking, work projects, kid’s projects, small group…well, you get the drift.  As this never completed list sits in front of me, I often find myself sensing an oppressive fatigue settling in.  My eyes are quick to narrow in on what I am unable to do, despite my best efforts.
Thinking of my failures reminded me of the Israelites during their time of wandering in the desert.  Reading this can be so infuriating to me!  Here was a group of people that were lead of out Egypt by miraculous plagues, walked across a sea on DRY land, and were lead around by a pillar of fire or a cloud during the day.  Food that had never existed on Earth astonishingly appears in the morning to fuel their bodies.  Seriously, the miracles go on and on and on.  Why couldn’t they see these incredible blessings? Why couldn’t they recognize that their God was faithful in His provision?  Why couldn’t they see that God was more than enough for them and through Him all things were obviously possible?

Maybe, just maybe, they were distracted by the daily fatigue of human life.  Maybe these incredible miracles were clouded by a daily task list – a list that never seemed to be quite finished.
I often think that if I had the luxury of seeing my story and the faithfulness of my God written out before me in text, this exhaustion I feel would be significantly diminished.  In the distractibility of my humanity, I fall into these traps Satan sets before me to tell me that I am not enough.  He lies to me and strives to deceive me into believing that my focus needs to be on temporary responsibilities and my success in life’s to-do list is directly related to God’s provision and favor.  I need to be reminded that these are lies from an already defeated creature.

God’s provision is not based on what I do, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.  If knowing that I could never be less than desirable to the Creator were not enough, He gave us help, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

Patient Lord, when we remember these astonishing promises allow us to be energized.  When we are so tired, beyond exhaustion, and weighted down by “never enough” it is often because we forget to invite you into this life.  I pray that we would be rejuvenated by our acknowledgment of your favor and we would seek the power of your Spirit. Let us remember that we can take on this world not because of our strength, but because you have overcome the world. Amen

~ Ashley Van Dam

Monday, May 11, 2015

Remember the Sender

I attended a graduation recently where I heard two messages that hit me. The first message was from a seminary student, speaking about his time at the institution and all the things that he learned. During his speech, he said one phrase that I took note of and it struck me, and still strikes me, as profound. He used the phrase, “celebrate the ordinary,” speaking about taking time to enjoy the little things.
 The second message came from a good friend and professor, speaking on the importance of remembering whom it is who called us, and whom it is who sent us out. His message was entitled, “Remember the Sender.” He preached with passion and conviction as he remembered seasons of being addicted to alcohol, and seasons being dependent on drugs. He spoke of God’s grace to not see him as he once was during those seasons, but to see him as a loved son, called to move forward and share the gospel. His challenge was in all things, both good and bad, to remember the Sender. 

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21  

Those two messages were so profound to me that day, and they continue to be today. As I think about my own journey in the Christian life, it is marred by mistakes I’ve made, stupid choices, pettiness, anger, cynicism, and so many other things…but God has been so gracious and merciful as to stand me back up and encourage me to move forward from my past. He has given me so many good things, whether it is opportunities, friends, family, you name it. So I am challenging myself now in all things to celebrate the ordinary, and to remember the Sender.

I think often times we expect God to show up in huge ways all the time, and get frustrated when He doesn’t seem to show up the way we intended. That frustration often gets in the way of us celebrating the ordinary, and praising God for the way He did and does show up, even if it isn’t through a mind-blowing revelation every time. For many of us, we go through the day-to-day grinds of work, raising kids, going to school, etc. and it may seem that we’re going it alone, or that God is just a passive observer of our lives.

I want to challenge you (and believe me, I am including myself in the challenge as well), to look for the ways God shows up every day. Take time to celebrate the ordinary, the small things, the little ways God takes care of you or is providing for you, and in all things remember the Sender. Remember that He is calling each and every one of us to go out.

Who knows? Perhaps He’s calling you to be the blessing in someone else’s life…and maybe that person will take time to give thanks and celebrate the ordinary way that God used you in their journey. He is calling us all, so I challenge you to celebrate the ordinary, and remember the Sender.

~Jake Houf

Monday, May 4, 2015

God-Sized Good

We all know that in this life we will have trouble, but that doesn’t prevent us from being blindsided when that trouble comes. Such as it was with me 3 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with incurable cancer.  And then, 18 months later, my life was completely uprooted when that cancer took his life.  I’m only 32, and now I’m a single mother of two young girls, tackling life partner-less.

I’ll admit that even though I trust God, I get caught up in day-long (sometimes week-long) bouts of self-pity where I appeal (okay, maybe whine) to God with these questions: 

Don’t I deserve happiness? 
If God wants to give “good gifts” where are mine? 
Does God want me to be in this kind of pain?

But here’s the good news:  I’m getting better and better at recognizing lies the more I grow in Christ.  And unfortunately, these self-pity sessions are a great big one. When I ask myself these questions, I’m operating under the belief that God owes me something.

But wait a minute:  surely God wants me to be happy, right? 

When I asked God this question recently, the Spirit led me to this verse:
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

I don’t know about you, but I tend to default happiness into the “good” category, and into the “bad” category go things like cancer, widowhood, and fatherless children.  But is this also how God thinks about good things?

We can provide a pretty solid answer to that by considering God’s plan of redemption for mankind--his son, Jesus Christ.  This is a very good plan, but was it a pain-free and happy experience for Jesus?  Definitely not (actually, I’ve heard crucifixion is one of the absolute worst ways to die).

Could it be that perhaps God’s definition of good is much, much bigger than my feelings or current situation?  What if God’s definition includes things like: furthering his kingdom, preparing hearts for eternity, glorifying his name on earth, and deepening his relationship with his children?  And this verse contains something else important.  This good is only for those who love him--not because God is punishing everyone else--but because those who truly know and love God will accept all circumstances for what they are:  a good thing done for his purpose. 

When I switch my point of view from God existing for my pleasure, and place it on how I can better exist for his good, long pity parties don’t even stand a chance.

 We actually rob ourselves of the joy that is offered to us during a trial by not understanding God’s definition of our good.  Oh, yes we will feel the pain and suffer; but don’t let these temporal and fleeting feelings rob you of the glorious work God has set into motion.  He has a purpose for it, and it is God-sized good! 

~ Kristin VanZanten