After reading scores of stories describing how my Christian brothers and sisters are suffering and dying for their faith, I had to stop and ask, doesn’t God see this? Doesn’t God care? How can the good, loving God I know let such horrors happen to His chosen people?
I was having a hard time getting around these thoughts when I came across an article written by a contributor from the Middle East, and adapted for INcontextMinistries by Mike Burnard. (You can see the original adaptation here.) That article has provided the inspiration for some of my thoughts here.
We in the West are too comfortable. We have a hard time acknowledging that our God might ask us to suffer social ostracism, ridicule, or insult. Even more abhorrent is the idea that we might suffer physical loss for following Jesus. “Sacrifice” means getting up Sunday morning and going to church instead of lying around in bed reading the newspaper. (And our pastor had better finish the sermon in time for the afternoon football game!) While we hope that we would be willing to die for our faith, in reality we suspect that that level of commitment will never be put to the test. Thus, our theology can’t accommodate the true suffering of others.
I was reading yet another article on the travails of Mark Driscoll (a whole separate topic) when I came across this statement:
It seems that these are the three areas where Christians most likely to fall into sin—pride, sex, and love of money.” … First John 2:15-17 calls them, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh [sex], the lust of the eyes [love of money], and the pride of life.” In other words—passions, possessions, pride.
It’s true that we tend to consider these the “Big Ones.” Most sins can be placed into one of these three categories. For example, we’re told not to covet our neighbors’ goodies. That would fall under “lust of the eyes.” We’re not to covet his wife either, lest we succumb to “lust of the flesh.”
Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate the birth of a nation dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve been mulling over just what that means, particularly in an age where our liberties seem to be diminished more and more. We read that we’re under surveillance by our own government, we trade our rights for an illusion of safety, and our elected politicians don’t obey the laws they’re sworn to uphold.
When telling someone else about your faith, what do you think is most important? A clear, concise presentation of the Gospel? Good theology? Answers to all their questions? An exciting testimony?
No question, all those are important. As the church, we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure we can explain the Good News in a way a non-Christian can understand. We have tracts, websites, and billboards. Churches and neighborhood Bible studies describe themselves as seeker-friendly. We take classes in evangelism, learn the “Roman Road” verses and memorize John 3:16. Fans hold up signs at ball games and players tattoo Scripture on their arms, crediting God with every win.
With all the witnessing going on, you’d think the church would be growing by leaps and bounds—but it isn’t, at least here in the U.S. Why not? Could it be that we’re going about evangelism all wrong?
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
I think about that verse often… what about “those who have never heard”? How did God clearly show his power and divine nature? Yes, we often say that the beauty of nature, as seen in a sunset or a baby’s first cry, is ample evidence of the existence of God. Is that what this verse means?
Then I read Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson*. I realized that God didn’t stop with showing himself in his creation. He placed a part of himself in every people group on earth. It’s up to us to discover where the gospel hides in every culture. It’s absolutely amazing, the “coincidences” that missionaries find on the field. That’s what this book is about.
One of the blogs I follow is SkyeBox, written by Skye Jethani. All his posts are insightful and worth reading (or listening to). This one is even better than that!
He recently posted:
Last month I spoke at the Lumen conference at Mariners Church in California. They asked me to talk for 18 minutes about why there is an exodus of young people from our churches. Rather than focusing on the sociological data, I used my time to talk about how the way we understand the gospel may actually be inoculating young people to genuine faith.
When the church presents a less than biblical understanding of how to relate to God, it leaves young people with a powerless form of Christianity predicated on fear and control. When this way of life proves ineffective, they may abandon both their faith in Christ and the church. So, our first job is to get the gospel right. Check out my talk and the brief Q&A afterward. Much of the content you see is based on my book, WITH.
His talk was so good, so right on, so insightful, that I am hoping everyone will listen.
I’ll be back next Tuesday with some thoughts about good deeds and orphans.
Our church just announced this year’s Christmas Eve “Experience.” It will truly be an event, with an official title (for promotional purposes, I assume), a huge cast, handcrafted costumes, well-built scenery, lights, carols—even ice skating!—plus a reenactment of the nativity and a candlelight service. Thousands of people will come to each of the three performances, and I’m sure they’ll be impressed.
The church we attended when our kids were young was much smaller—350 people instead of 10,000. There was no way we were going to compete with the huge productions of much larger churches. Instead, our Christmas program was pretty much the complete opposite.