So, my challenge this week is just this: When you act differently than you know you should, ask Jesus to help you shape and change your wants. Because that’s where transformation resides.
Earlier this year, after we got up one morning, Asher asked me, “Daddy, is it school day?” I said, “No Asher, it’s church day!” And, immediately he ran around yelling “YEAH!! Thank you Daddy! It’s church day, Hudson!”
Then I asked him why he loves church so much and he said, “My class, Dad. We talk about Jesus. I love my class.”
Now, I know right off the bat that this seems like a made-up pastor’s story or that our kids are wonderfully spiritual. But, just so you know, our kids are just like your kids – not perfect. In fact, one day when we had a family over, Asher came to supper without any pants on and then yelled through grace. So, perfect we are not.
So, I mention this story not because my kids are spiritual superstars (they are just kids), but because of what Asher said. He said he loves going to church because of Jesus and, for me, this matters so much.
Because, there is a temptation in church ministry to just get people to want to come to church, regardless of why they come. But, what I truly believe is this: What you draw someone with is what you draw someone to. While it is certainly easier to draw people to church with others things, I just don’t think it’s better. Because what you draw them with is what you draw them to.
This is so important in our current culture because it’s easy to fall into the temptation of catering to consumerism – to get used to whatever is “relevant” or “cool” to get people to church, hoping that once we get people there, we can convince them of Jesus. But that switch rarely happens, and is mostly actively resisted. Because, as I’ve said, what we draw them with is what we draw them to.
So, what made me excited about Asher’s comment? He didn’t mention the amazing fun songs (which we have), the great community (which we have) or the playground (which we have). He mentioned Jesus.
While I’m certainly not against great extras in church, I am cautious that our extras don’t ever overshadow Jesus. Because, for me, Jesus is simply the main thing. Asher reminded me of that. In church, Jesus is the main thing. Certainly not the only thing, but He should always be the main thing.
Normally, we think of apologetics as seeking to convince someone of the reality of God. And, in many ways, this form of apologetics has a huge number of benefits and is really effective, especially in our modern world. It also has some drawbacks, but it is still an important area of thought in Christianity.
If we are honest, though, many of us would love to convince people of the reality of God, and their need of God, but we just don’t feel comfortable having those conversations. Maybe we feel like we’re not “smart enough,” don’t know the lines of reasoning or it’s just not our personality.
So, when it comes to apologetics and evangelism, many of us feel like that’s something for the “professionals” – the pastors, the theologians or Ravi Zacharias.
But today, I want to encourage you, because you can be part of sharing God to others, whether or not you know any apologetic argument at all. Because, in today’s postmodern world, you don’t need to talk about God. Rather, you can actually introduce people to God.
Tony Kriz puts it this way: “For the most part, we talk about God… Most people speak as if God is just an ideology: a set of concepts, arguments, guidelines and categories. God is presented as something that people need to be convinced of, as opposed to someone they can be introduced to.”
And, here is the beautiful thing: God is a person. So, if you know God, you can introduce people to Him. You can share about what He is like in your life. You can share about the difference He has made in your life. You don’t need to know every philosophical or rational argument about God. You can simply share the God you know.
My point with this short little post isn’t that apologetics or good reasoning isn’t needed. It is, and it’s incredibly valuable, deep and rich. It gives us confidence for our beliefs. And, it helps immensely with our questions and doubts.
But, my main point is that you don’t need to know every argument for God to start to share Him with people. God isn’t just a concept to know, but a person to share. And, you can do this if you know Him.
So, my challenge is to share the God you know – the God who is changing your life, the God who is active, the God who is real. Share what He is doing in your life and then, as more questions come up, that’s fine. Because, there are lots of great resources for why we believe what we believe.
But, don’t be intimidated by the idea that you need to know everything to start sharing. Because, if you know God personally, you can introduce Him to others. Right here, right now.
I’ve recently been convicted of something in my life by God and it’s this: I’m often tempted to use God for godly outcomes. And, here is what I mean by that…
I have noticed a consistent temptation, and even posture, of me using my relationship with God to ensure godly or good outcomes. And, that last part is important. I’m not seeking to use God for bad outcomes – sinful things – but rather for good and holy things – Kingdom things. And, here is what that might look like in the practical, tangible ways I’ve noticed in my life…
1. I spend time in prayer to ensure my preaching is good, but not to connect with God.
2. I serve to see God’s Kingdom grow, but not to find God in the serving.
3. I fast, but do it to ensure that a new project goes well, rather than as a way to sacrifice and focus on God.
4. I rely on God when I need Him, but rely on my gifting and skill at other times.
Do you see how subtle the shift is in practical, but real life ways? And, do you also see how dangerous it can be? Because prayer, serving and reliance can quietly shift from God to the ourselves or the good things God calls us to do. But, the truth is, as soon as the focus shifts from God to ourselves, we’ve lost the point.
Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “Along the way, the primacy of God and His work gives way ever so slightly to the primacy of our work in God’s Kingdom. We begin to think of ways to use God in what we’re doing. The shift is barely perceptible… We continue to believe the identical truth. We continue pursuing good goals. It usually takes a long time for the significance of the shift to show up. But, when it does, it turns out that we have not so much been worshipping God as enlisting Him as our trusted and valuable assistant.”
That last sentence is what stopped me in my tracks and caused me to really reflect on my motives, not just my actions.
And so, I write all this because this is the season of Lent – a season when we are to take a hard and reflective look at our lives, and reveal any subtle shifts that have happened. Because, they can happen and they can be hard to notice, but they need to be revealed and repented of. And, I use that word in the proper way – repentance is not about feeling bad, but about changing direction. We need to repent of our tendency to use God, and move toward worshipping, loving and appreciating Him.
So, I write this because, my bet is, I’m not alone in this temptation. But, becoming aware of it is the first step to changing it. And, it’s something worth changing. It’s subtle. It’s a small shift. But, it can change everything.
After my sermon this past weekend (March 11/12), I got a huge amount of feedback about how helpful it was. Which is always encouraging – it was a good Sunday afternoon! Thank you!
But, I’ve also received this question a few times since then: How can you tell the difference between the voice of the accuser, and the voice of God convicting you of sin? Well, the answer is actually pretty easy…
Accuser: “You are wrong.”
God: “That choice was wrong.”
Accuser: “You are so bad.”
God: “That wasn’t right.”
Accuser: “See, you’re so worthless. Why bother trying?”
God: “You are pure, holy and blameless. You don’t need to live that way anymore.”
Are you seeing the difference? Satan accuses you – of you. God convicts you – not of you, but of sin and your calling to live into who you really are.
So, when God convicts us, it’s of our actions, not of our personal value or worth to Him. When the accuser accuses us, he takes our actions and then says that they are what determine our value and worth.
God doesn’t guilt, He convicts. So, when you feel weighed down with guilt, shame and worthlessness, that isn’t from God. The difference is, when God convicts me of my sin (which is often), I know I’ve done something wrong. When Satan accuses me, I feel that I am intrinsically wrong.
The other thing to watch for is the outcome of the “conviction/accusation.”
With the accuser, his voice always leads to depression, shame, silence and despondency (or inaction). With God, His conviction leads to repentance, which literally means “changed behaviour” – a different way to live. With the accuser, his voice causes us to run from God – we hide (i.e. look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). With God, His conviction leads to a greater reliance on Him and a desire to follow Him, knowing that He is faithful and just to cleanse us from every single wrong.
So, Satan tries to tempt us into believing our life is based on what we do (or fail to do). But, Christ has already done everything and so God’s conviction is based on living fully in that reality, not trying to earn it.
May you hear God’s Spirit this week clearly, closely and personally, and may you not give the voice of the accuser the time of day.
We are currently in the season of Lent. This is a time when we would traditionally pay more attention to themes such as confession, sin and sacrifice. This is an important area of our lives because, as I’ve often even wrote here, sin kills things. That’s simply what it does. But, the flipside is that salvation heals things.
Here, though, is what I want to unpack today: Sin isn’t just what we do (actions), it’s also part of our systems and relationships (systemic).
Pentecostal theologian, Amos Yong at Fuller, puts it this way, “Sin itself is undeniably social in character. … Because all creation labors under the bondage of sin, human creatures struggle with sinful relationships, life systems and environments from their conception. But, if sin has this inextricably social dimension, then so has sanctification.”
He goes on to write that “the purification from sin and the consecration to holiness therefore inevitably have to involve the reconciling of alienated relations, the redemption and renewal of social structures, and the healing of the world.”
What this all means in theological jargon is this: Salvation isn’t just about you and your sins; it’s about everything in the world – that in and through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, He wants to save not only us from our personal bad actions, but also the broken relationships we have in the broken social structures around us.
What this means is that salvation isn’t only individual, it’s also relational and cosmic. Meaning it involves everything. And, this is really really good news.
Jesus is not just interested in saving you, but also in saving your broken relationships, and the broken systems in and around us. Jesus is about a salvation that involves all the different aspects of “us.” Sin has a social dimension to it, and so does sanctification or salvation. Jesus wants to save every area of brokenness in the world, including our relationships and systems.
I write all this to remind us of one thing at Lent: That, yes, the world is broken and we can see it all around us – we don’t need to deny it. Instead, we can work against it, because Jesus is interested in saving every bit of creation.
Of course, we should confess our sins and brokenness during Lent. We absolutely should invite Jesus to work in our lives – to convict us, heal us and transform us. But, we should also ask how we might partner with Him in the healing of the world, because salvation has never been about just “you,” but about all of “us.” Sin does have a social dimension to it, but redemption does too.
So, during Lent, as we focus in on our sin and brokenness, let us not forget the broken systems of the world and the relationships around us that need to change. Because, while we might sometimes forget this, Jesus certainly does not, so neither should we.