Christianity

(Ab)Normal Christianity

Photo credit: unsplash_RBenad Moving to Indonesia I thought I would learn how to live a normal Christian life, an ordinary Christian life. A lifestyle that instinctively turns to God for guidance. 

A mind-set where, above all, my heart was set on Christ in all things. This would be my default.

I thought my time in Indonesia would reprogram my brain so my natural instincts were for God, a pretty noble desire if I do say so myself.

A noble desire

Now, I am not so sure it's how things work. Of course, I think it is good, possible, and appropriate to place God above all else in our hearts and minds, and have our actions follow suit.

However, I am not convinced that Lordship and obedience are as natural or instinctive as I hoped, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

If, indeed, there is no greater love than a man laying down his life for a friend (John 15:13), then love requires sacrifice, a non-instinctive sacrifice.

We are self-preserving creatures. To lay down our lives, to give up control, hand over the reigns, to love, all these actions are in direct opposition to our instinct of self-preservation.

If our worship is offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) and loving Jesus is obeying him (John 14:15) despite what our flesh (selfish nature), our society, our instincts are leaning towards.

Maybe Christian living is never normal

Maybe Christian living is denying what is normal, despite emotions, desires, instincts, or conventional wisdom.

I see this in the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. He pleads with God to take the "cup" of the cross away from Him (Mark 14:36). Everything in Him, including His instincts, scream for another way. 

Instead, He refuses to give in. He is obedient to the Father, not his instincts as a man.

Christ's amazing love

How much more do we feel Christ’s amazing love because of his obedience instead of giving into an alternate route?

When everything in Him said no, He said yes—yes to the Father. He said yes for us! What an amazing sacrifice!

I also believe the reciprocal is true. When we are obedient to the Lord through the Holy Spirit, though everything in us is saying no and looking for an alternative, I believe the Father receives a little bit of that same love his Son poured out on the cross 2000 years ago when we deny our self.

Maybe we should view our battle against the flesh, our instincts and our desire, more as a platform to show our gratefulness to our Saviour and to love Him in a fraction of the way he loved us.

Maybe I was defining the term normal Christian life more as an easy Christian life. Maybe such a life does not exist, because it is contradictory to our nature.

To oppose our selfish nature, our instincts, and have victory in the Holy Spirit is our way of loving God just as Christ loved us. Obviously, on a much different scale, yet, what a privilege it is to return a fraction of that amazing love.

Not by our own strength

By no means do I believe we are to oppose our flesh (selfish nature) by our own strength, that would be ridiculous!

How are we to oppose the flesh with our own strength, which is by nature selfish? It is counterproductive. Rather, our greatest weapon is surrender. Surrender to the Spirit.

Therein lies the battle. The Spirit defeating our selfish nature is the easy part. The Spirit of God conquered death—by knockout in the first round. It wasn’t even close. God beats anything and everything else, every time. He is the heavyweight champion.

The battle is surrendering our spirit and our will to Him. Yielding ourselves to God. Nothing about this is normal.

Anything but normal

Normal is popping on a pair of overalls every time I face an obstacle and going to work. If I am too weak, I go to the gym, not smart enough, I head to school. But I will overcome. Me.

Victory in Christ is completely opposite. Victory in Christ is admitting defeat in the natural, surrendering, then saying "I am incapable on my own, but with Christ the victory is mine." It is counterintuitive to our instincts, it is contrary to conventional wisdom, but it is Lordship in motion.

Surrendering our self to Jesus recognizes who our King of Kings really is and allows Him to take His rightful place in our life. This is worship and victory all rolled up into one package.

Now, I am not trying to obtain a normal instinctive Christian walk, I am allowing Christ in me to oppose the norm. Now what I see as normal Christianity is anything but normal.


This is a guest post by Cole H who is a missionary with YWAM in Indonesia.

Tolerance and Intolerance

Photo credit: lightstock.com Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don’t get into an argument over differences of opinion. Some people believe that they can eat all kinds of food. Other people with weak faith believe that they can eat only vegetables.

People who eat all foods should not despise people who eat only vegetables. In the same way, the vegetarians should not criticize people who eat all foods, because God has accepted those people.

Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.

One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord.

When people eat all kinds of foods, they honor the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honor the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God.

It’s clear that we don’t live to honor ourselves, and we don’t die to honor ourselves. If we live, we honor the Lord, and if we die, we honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Christ died and came back to life so that he would be the Lord of both the living and the dead.

Why do you criticize or despise other Christians? Everyone will stand in front of God to be judged. Scripture says, “As certainly as I live, says the Lord, everyone will worship me, and everyone will praise God.”

All of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God. (‭Romans‬ ‭14:1-12‬ (GW)


Jesus said His followers are to be known for their love for one another (John 13:35). Sadly, Christians have a reputation for being self-righteous and judgmental, not to mention hypocritical.

Why? Because of disputes about beliefs and practice, and other petty disagreements. This tends to create an "us versus them" mentality towards believers and nonbelievers.

As Paul points out, this has gone on for years. Intolerance towards others is nothing new. Christian believers get outraged by the intolerance of non-believers towards us, but we don't realize the log in our own eyes (Matt 7:1-5).

How we live out our faith shouldn't be focused on what we do or don't do, but how the Lord shines out through our lives towards others.

We are to be examples of the cross—the Lord Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection—by walking the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

One day, sooner than expected, we will be held accountable for how we live. Everyone. That Day will reveal how we've honored the Lord with our daily lives now. ©Word-Strong_2016

Projects and Posts

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon Projects. I like working on projects. However, I've learned it's easier to start projects than finish them. That's probably true for most of us.

One of the reasons I like projects is my tendency to lose interest in doing just one things for a long time. I like new things, different things, and I like challenges.

Recently, I've been working on a new project. It's connected to a couple of other projects that are revisions of previous projects I've completed. I hope to make it available next week.

What's make these popular?

For this week's post, I've collected a few of the more popular posts on my blog. I'd like to get some feedback on what makes them interesting or engaging.

Is it the topic? Is it the title? What is it a link on social media? What is it recommended by someone?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to know. So, here's the list of the top 5 posts, let me hear your feed back and thoughts.

Top 5 posts

  1. The Art and Value of Encouragement
  2. 5 Basic Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith
  3. Acronym-ically Speaking
  4. About the Beginning of the Story
  5. Who Needs Fellowship?

Again, as you check these posts out, let me know what interests or engages you most about them.

  • Is it the topic?
  • Is it the title?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What is most valuable or helpful for you?

Thanks! And please feel to comment on or share any of these posts!

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

A Dilemma

  ©word-strong.com

 

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity.

One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, which is the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift only brings insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach.[i]

Adjustment needed

Christian believers need to understand this cultural change, and make necessary adjustments to address it. More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? This is an important question to answer.

Christians need to have a much more global view of the world around them and of God's kingdom. Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language.

A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii] Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

The problem of Christianese

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, these words become foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study. They're called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings within a certain field, or a subculture.

Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

A language of its own

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—or so they think. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently.

Many Christian believers can't explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

Christian clichés and what I call Bible talk,[v] used outside their field of reference (the church), are unfamiliar and difficult to understand.

Subtitle interpretation needed

I've traveled to many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I'm expected to respond. Though I want to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand this language.

The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, yet doesn’t understand the terms themselves. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words but can’t.

Experience—the great teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. If a person can put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words, then they understand them. If not, they don't.

There's a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways.

Learning curve

As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually. I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started.

My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services, which prompted questions. They often asked dad (me) these questions at inopportune times. It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, or so I thought.

With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself unable to explain them in simple, clear words. More than a few times my oldest daughter would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as on my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner.

The reality is, it challenged me, and this changed my whole approach to teaching.

On the job training

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this, while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But, I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases. I got a partial clue early on, while settling into Filipino culture.

Slow to learn

We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained that they sang in English because that's how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of their dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

No more coded language

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, it does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. Although it may seem clear to the speaker, unless the person can explain these same things in simple words, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated.

As Christian believers, we need to speak in simple, clear, non-Christianese words.

What's your experience with using or not understanding Christianese?


This post follows an earlier one called— The Search to Know God

It is another excerpt from my book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book (see sidebar).


[i] There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo

[ii] With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/

[iii] Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.

[iv] Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp (also see “Christianese_glossary” in the Glossary)

[v] Christianese comes in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible, or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

Christianity Is Not About Moral Goodness

Photo credit: lightstock.com We Christians—genuine followers of Christ—need to stop moralizing the Christian faith.

We need to quit portraying the face of Christianity as moral goodness. Because that's all it is—a face, a veneer, an appearance of goodness. But this misrepresents genuine Christianity.

If you ask most people to describe Christianity, believer and non-believer alike, you'll get a reply related to some form of moral goodness...

I try to be a good person, who does good things and is kind to others.

But is this what Christianity is all about?

A caricature of Christianity

When we try to establish our own moral goodness, we are doomed to failure. We may look good on the outside to others, but inside we'll remain corrupted by our selfish nature. This is what self-righteousness looks like.

It's what condemned the Pharisees. Jesus saw through their veneer of religious goodness, and saw into their heart. But they couldn't see past themselves, their form of religion, and their own caricature of moral goodness.

Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matt 23:28 NLT

The problem of pursuing moral goodness

No matter how hard we try to be good—whatever the description—we can't change our selfish nature from the outside in. It just doesn't work. This is what the apostle Paul spoke of in his epistle to the Galatian believers.

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. Gal 3:21b

So, what is Christianity?

Over the centuries, Christianity as a religion has morphed into the pursuit of living according to a biblical moral code of goodness. Someone might ask, "So, what's wrong with that?" The short answer—a lot!

Should we discard any desire for moral goodness? Not at all!  We just have it backwards when we see Christianity as living by a moral code of goodness, rather than a trust relationship with God based on faith.

When we try to live by moral goodness alone, we are trapped in a squirrel cage of behavior modification—"Don't do this... do this," and so on.

So... how are we to live?

We are to live by faith (Gal 3:11). Is that too simplistic? Yes and no.

Let's face it, we like a good set of parameters to tell us when we're doing ok, and when we're not-so-ok. It's easier that way... sort of.

When we have a certain code to live by things are defined, right and wrong are delineated and there's no guess-work, if you will. But a life of faith, like the patriarch Abraham for example, is not so defined.

Faith, real faith—an implicit trust in God—is messy. Yet, with God, faith is necessary (Heb 11:6).

The Christian faith as a way of life

At its core, true Christianity is not about a life that follows a prescribed moral code. It's about following Jesus the Christ (Messiah). Of course, it's also not to be a life void of a moral compass.

The issue isn't about moral goodness, but relationship. This becomes easier to see when we look at those God esteems, and as we focus on what God says (the Bible).

Some examples

Abraham was considered "a friend of God" (James 2:23) and declared righteous because he believed—he trusted in God. But he presented his wife Sarah as his sister, not just once but twice, to save his own skin (Gen 12:11-13). So, he wasn't a model of moral goodness.

The Lord called King David "a man after his own heart" (1 Sam 13:14) and chose him to be king of Israel. Yet, he also was not an example of moral goodness, especially with his infamous affair with Bathsheba that cost Uriah, her husband, his life (2 Sam 11).

Even the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament, denounced his own goodness (Phil 3:4-7 NLT)—

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Cor 15:9 NLT)

How can we gain an understanding of true Christianity?

I hope to start looking at this next week, and perhaps further down the road. But in the meantime...

What are your thoughts about this?

What do you think Christianity is all about, if it's not about moral goodness?

I'd like to hear from you!

Review of A Christian Survival Guide

Photo credit: Kregel Pub This week a writer friend, Ed Cyzewski, released a new book titled, A Christian Survival Guide. I had the privilege of getting a pre-release copy to review it, so here’s my review. I posted an interview with him earlier this week, so this is a follow-up to that post. At first, I thought, "do I really need to read this?" I’ve been a Christian believer for a few decades and done ministry most of my adult life. As I dove into the book, I found myself getting more and more drawn in by Ed’s writing style and content.

Ed has a great combination of genuine openness about his own struggles with faith, and self-effacing, sometimes biting humor. It makes what could be heavy reading into a thought-provoking exploration of some areas of faith that are difficult for many.EdCyz

Even the book’s chapter titles and subtitles are engaging. It starts off with “Prayer: A Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems,” where Ed shares some of his issues with prayer shared by most of us. "Violent Bible Stories: Deliver Us from God?” is one of my favorites. Especially as we look at the world around us today, it’s relevant in both a personal and cultural sense.

“The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets,” is another favorite of mine. It deals with literalism and culture in a humorous way. The book has two parts—Christian Beliefs and Practices. I like that there’s a practical, as well as, theological view of the Christian faith. In the practical part, issues such as sin, money, church community, evangelism, and the Holy Spirit are looked at.

Although I don’t struggle with the Christian faith in general, I appreciate the insight gained in this book. For those of us who have been believers a considerable time, it’s easy to get into a rut or become oblivious to what others may struggle to understand about God and faith.

This isn’t just a book for young believers. It’s a genuine look at the Christian faith, and questions or issues that get debated, yet aren't always discussed with openness and honesty. I believe Ed does that in this book.

He does not give trite nor clichéd answers. In fact, he makes a point of encouraging discussion and reliance upon God to gain answers. Ed doesn’t skirt difficult issues, but lays them out to consider, perhaps for some of us, in a new light.

I’m glad I read A Christian Survival Guide. It’s given me a fresh look at things I’ve set aside, and given me a new outlook about the faith struggles I once had. It’s also a good reminder of how to encourage others in their faith. Coupon Blogger ad 450x150

A Lifeline to Faith and Growth

What enables some to survive as Christians when so many others falter?

Would you like some guidance on hard to understand issues with the Christian faith, but without cliché or pat answers? I think there's a lot of people in that category. But where does that person turn? The Bible? Well, that's a great starting point, but what if you don't understand all that you read, or even get confused by what you do read?

There's a new book, just released this week, that doesn't resort to empty answers, clichés, relativism, or smug certainty. Does it answer every and all questions a person might have about God, faith, the Bible and what it says? No, but it gives you a starting point for thinking things through from a fresh vantage point.

Something new

This is something new for me and my posting—an interview. Originally, I wanted to do a "live" interview on Skype, but that will have to wait for now. So, this is a written interview, you know, like you see in magazines.

So... pretend you're reading a magazine at a dentist or doctor's office, and hopefully it will take away some of the anxiety that scenario brings up.

I'm interviewing Ed Cyzcewski, a freelance writer and theologian-for-the-times. The last description is my own, not Ed's, but I think it fits him. Ed speaks to issues of our times from both a theological and cultural framework.

Ed is married and the father of two children, the youngest is, well, really young, hence the need for a written interview.

Interview with Ed Cyzewski

TK– Ed, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and how you got into writing Christian books?

Ed– Thanks for hosting me Trip!

I grew up Catholic, got "saved" in a Baptist church, and married into a charismatic family. I suppose it's not shocking that we've ended up in a Vineyard church that has a little bit of each. I never really knew what to do with myself, but in retrospect, I was always writing or journaling or reading. In searching for a "career," I settled on ministry because I at least liked the Bible. So I went to seminary, worked at a church, and realized halfway through that I'd made a huge mistake.

Nevertheless, I'd always wanted to write a book. It was that annoying pipe dream: "I've always thought it would be cool to publish a book." I had no idea how much work it would be, not did I know how emotionally taxing it would be. However, when I gave up on the ministry as a career, I started looking into writing full time. My seminary degree helped me get started into Christian publishing with my first book Coffeehouse Theology.

Questions

TK–  How much do you think your eclectic background plays a part in your writing, and was there anything in particular that prompted or stirred you to write, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– One of the key messages of the Survival Guide is the broad range of beliefs among Christians that speak to many different people with varying experiences and backgrounds. I see the diversity of belief and practice in Christianity as a real asset for survival. Having seen Christians thrive as Catholics, Baptists, and charismatics, I'm hopeful that person who finds liturgy constricting can find life in a church like my Vineyard. However, the person who finds my Vineyard chaotic will perhaps find life in the order of liturgy.

A Christian Survival Guide doesn't aim to shut down conversations or to fully answer questions. Rather, I'm pointing people in several helpful directions so that they can seek God in their communities. This is a book for people who feel stuck or at a dead end. They need to know that there are so many answers and options within the various Christian traditions.

TK– Ed, I've enjoyed your humor throughout the book, which prompted a couple of questions for me. So, this a two-part question...

In light of the difficulty of these topics, which chapter or topic was the most difficult to work on and why?

Ed– The chapter on suffering (Is God Late?) was really tough because it's hard for me to imagine God sitting back and watching horrible things happen that he has the power to prevent. I am not a Calvinist, so I don't believe God orchestrates every tragedy in the world. I believe in free will, and I believe that God imparts his Holy Spirit as a way of changing the world relationally, from the ground up.

So while I struggle with the thought of God watching suffering unfold, I think God's solution is a grass roots, relational path to change. I want a quick fix. When I shout, "God, why aren't you doing anything?" God turns that question around. "Good question, Ed. I gave you my Spirit. Why aren't you doing anything?"

Was there any chapter or topic that was easier or more fun to write than others?

Ed– The chapter on the Bible and culture, (titled Less Lobsters, More Bonnets) has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and teasing out the quirky ways we apply the Bible selectively proved to be both fun and challenging to write about. I mean, if we're honest with ourselves, following the New Testament "literally" would result in a church planting manual that depends on sending letters and preaching short sermons. We all know from Acts that preaching a long sermon killed someone.Dealing with the inconsistencies of strict biblical literalism is like shooting fish in a barrel.

A brief summary

TK– I know you cover this in your introduction to the book, but would you give us a brief summary of your primary hope for those who read, A Christian Survival Guide?

Also, who do you hope will read it [other than everyone, because that's a no-brainer (lol)], and what kind of feedback have you gotten so far, good or bad?

Ed– This book intends to help Christians who are struggling with doubts or feel unable to move forward in their faith. However, I've found that most Christians have questions simmering in the back of their minds, but they've been avoiding them for fear of what they'd find. This book attempts to address both the doubts and struggles of the first group and the pressing questions of the latter group.

I don't set out to give neat, final, conclusive answers. Rather, it's a book that starts a discussion and helps people take the next step. In fact, many of these readers, I think, would put the book down immediately if I started offering, neat, tidy, and definitive answers. I've also heard from people who left the faith and found my book helpful to begin exploring a return.

All that to say, people who love old school apologetics and who believe the Bible provides simple, definitive answers for all time will really, really hate this book. I already have a one-star review on Amazon, and while I have not read it, I presume this person found my book too wishy-washy and prone to compromise.

Wrapping things up

TK– Ed, I really appreciate you taking time out for this interview since I know you're busy with your writing, and life with a young family. So, tell us what else you've written and what you're working on now. Also, are there any special offers connected to the releasing of, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– I have written several other co-author books, including The Good News of Revelation with Dr. Larry Helyer. It's a brief commentary on several themes of the book that asks what we can learn from Revelation today if we read it through the eyes of its original readers--readers who actually saw it as good news. I also write short fiction to introduce each chapter and to help undo some of the misconceptions we've gotten from the Left Behind books.

I've also recently published a book called Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus that asks what kept people from following Jesus and whether the same things could be obstacles to our faith today.

This week a bunch of my other books are on sale for $2.99 on Kindle, so this is a great time to pick up a bundle of books for the price of one.

Thanks so much for hosting me at your blog. I'm really grateful that you took the time to ask about my books!

All the best, Ed

TK– Hey Ed, it was my pleasure to host you on my site, and hopefully we can do a face-to-face interview in the future!

I trust your book will help people who are either adrift or struggling to keep their head above water with their faith. I think you did a great job addressing issues that just don't get talked about enough in a genuine way.

_______________________

I do hope you'll give Ed's book a read, especially if Christianity is a puzzle or frustration for you.

Kregel_ad

Speaking of Jesus

Photo credit: www.dvdactive.com It's not often I win anything in a contest. For one thing, I don't enter them but occasionally. As they say, "you can't win if you don't enter."

I casually entered some type of drawing  for a book through a missions newsletter. One day I received a book in the mail that I didn't remember ordering. It reminds me of the dad in "A Christmas Story" who won a lower tier prize and was beyond excitement about it. "Amazing! I won something!"

I won something I wasn't expecting. The bigger surprise was my delight in reading the book.

The book and the author

http://www.carlmedearis.com/

The book is called, "Speaking of Jesus," and is written by Carl Medearis. He is an expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. His expertise comes from experience as a missionary on the field in Lebanon for twelve years, and he continues to work with international leaders to promote cultural, political, and religious dialogue in the Middle East (taken from the back cover of the book).

The book was sent by the author in a manila-colored envelope with his return address. Since I didn't know the author, nor remember why I received the book, I contacted him. I set it aside until I could commit to reading it through.

I'm glad I read it. It was refreshing. (Click to Tweet) The author expresses many things I'm in complete agreement about regarding Jesus and Christianity.

As with other books and blog posts I've read on this subject, the author challenges the use of Christian terminology (Christianese), and the representation of Christianity, in general. Much of it I agree with, though at times, it seems a bit overboard to me. Perhaps I'm just not that dogmatic about it... yet.

But I am passionate about not using Christianese and focusing on Jesus rather than theology. Here, I am in complete agreement with the author, as you might gather from some of my own posts.

It's all about Jesus

The chapter titled "Unfair Advantage" sums up what I like most about the book. Carl tells the story of his involvement with an interfaith dialogue in his hometown of Colorado Springs, CO. He portrays himself as someone who doesn't quite fit on the panel.

When asked, "How do you get to heaven?" His answer was, "Well, it's Jesus. He didn't start a new religion.... Believing in Him and following Him is the way. He takes us to heaven, not a religion." I couldn't agree more.

Carl does a great job of bringing the reader back to the central issue, over and over. Jesus. It's refreshing to see this point made in so many ways without being redundant. He does this with stories from his own experience, and is honest about his own shortcomings.

The book begins with what is missing from typical presentations of the gospel. I'm big on this, as anyone who's read my posts and my book (The Mystery of the Gospel) will know.

Carl tells of a discussion with students in a missions school of a large church. He asked them "what is the gospel?" After about five minutes of responses, and some moments of silence, one student asked, "How come none of us mentioned Jesus?" Carl's response. "Exactly."

I've had similar experiences in classrooms and small group discussions. This is a real issue with Christian believers in America. A big issue.

The book's value and purpose

I see the value and purpose of the book as a big poke. Not in the eye, but in the heart.

There are some things that are likely to offend some, well, many. But that's a good thing. We need to be shaken at times.

Christian believers need to consider what they believe and why they believe it. (Click to Tweet) This won't happen without a fresh processing of what is often too familiar, but not well understood.

Some of my favorite chapter titles are— "What's Missing in This Gospel?", "Unfair Advantage," "Speak of Jesus... Not about Jesus," "You're Under Arrest... for Speaking Christianese," and "Gays, Liberals, and Muslims." That last one should catch your attention, and its content may surprise you.

http://www.carlmedearis.com

The book kills some sacred cows that American Christians hold dear. It stirs things up about matters of faith and belief. Even the subtitle sounds almost sacrilegious, "the art of not-evangelism."

Carl takes an honest look at how we (Christians) go about evangelism and portraying Christianity. I hope you'll read it, ponder it, and allow him and what he says to move you towards speaking of Jesus in a way that attracts others to following Him.

After all, it is all about Jesus and following Him! (Click to Tweet)

 

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!


[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”


This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel