So I’m back! The last couple of months have been some of the craziest and most intense I have ever experienced. My wife Charmaine and I spent over two weeks in Thailand, meeting with refugees and pastors, learning more about the Karen people and about international missions work with our friend Joanna, a missionary that we support. We came back in the middle of July and, 4 days later, I took a group of teenagers to Colorado for our summer trip. We worked with a local church that does outreach to several local apartment complexes, including a couple of locations that are filled with very low-income residents. Then, about a week after we got back from that trip, I had the honor and privilege of officiating the wedding of a former student and his now-wife. I may be recovering from this for a while.

Throughout my two trips, God kept bringing the idea of hope into my mind. The history of the Karen people is very interesting, and several times in my trip it was paralleled with the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The Karen people were evangelized early in the nineteenth century by Adoniram Judson – a small people group called by God surrounded by nations that served other Gods. The Karen people were tempted to stray from God. Eventually, as was described by Karen pastors in Thailand, they strayed from the path God had called them down and God judged them, exiling them from their homes. But, like Israel, God has not done this simply for the sake of punishment or out of anger; I believe he has done this out of love and a desire to have these people reconciled to Him. It is my prayer and my belief, sparked by the prayers of the Karen pastors and leaders that I met in Thailand, that the Karen will again one day be reestablished in their homes in Burma and that they will be a shining light for the one true God in a region where they are surrounded by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The biggest struggle for the Karen leaders, as well as the biggest difference between the Karen who are showing signs of life and those that have given up, is hope. Pastors like Henry, Weelapong, and Edward (I’m changing some names for their protection) show a great deal of excitement and anticipation for what God is going to do, and they desperately pray for His will to be done. Many others, however, have given up; and who can blame them. They have been driven from their homes (some several times) by a government that hates them because of their race. They have seen friends and family members killed. They trekked through jungles barefooted, avoiding poisonous snakes and spiders and dangerous animals. They live in terrible conditions in refugee camps in a foreign land, run by foreigners that are teaching them ideas that do not mesh with their heritage. Where could anyone find hope in the midst of that?

These are homes of refugees behind barb wire; there are tens of thousands of refugees living in Mae La, making it the largest camp in Thailand.

While working with the students in Colorado, there was one apartment complex in particular that we struggled with, a place called Green Gables. Not only was Green Gables the largest of the locations that our group worked at, it was the worst off. The kids that live here spend very little time at home during the day, and the parent (almost none of the families have 2 parents) is typically happy to not have to deal with the kids. Problems that we typically expect from inner-city teens, like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and extreme attitude problems, start here around ages 7 or 8. Few kids here reach the 8th grade. When the sun goes down, almost everyone makes their way indoors because they know it isn’t safe to be outside there in the dark. Where can you find hope in that?

…look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
-2 Cor 4:18 (ESV)

The truth is, an honest assessment of any life can lead us to struggle to find hope, apart from the one thing in the universe that can give us a future worth living for – Christ. Those pastors in Thailand look not at what is currently happening or what seems likely but at what God can and will do, and they have hope. They know what God has promised for those who follow Him. In Colorado, we were told of a group of girls from Green Gables that had found hope in the Lord. They were entering High School with great grades and with optimism for what was in store for their future. They were looking past the struggles in their lives, their families, and their community to see that God has a plan for them.

God is doing amazing things, and the future is only going to fill us even more with awe and wonder at God’s amazing power. God told His people through the prophet Habakkuk;

Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told. (1:5)

God said this leading into the judgment of Assyrian and the exile of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. God was showing His people that justice would come, even when it meant judgment against Israel. God’s plan is good and, in the end, works to bring Him the glory He deserves. He will fulfill all the promises He has made, and we can live knowing that He is in control, even when life seems out of control. Justice will come, and God is going to do absolutely astounding things right before our eyes. So, despite what we see in our culture, in our economic situation, in the political situations around the world, or in our own homes, we can have hope that God is in control and that He has a plan for each of us, ultimately ending in an eternal rest with Him in glory!

Suffering and Serving

As you are probably aware, we are preparing to go to Thailand very soon (11 days from today – see the above Thailand Trip Info tab). One of the most intimidating aspects of this trip for me personally is a request that has been made that I teach a 5 hour seminar on living for Christ through suffering. I’m supposed to be teaching this to a group of refugees who have been driven from their homeland by a genocidal controlling political faction in their home country who, among several other factors, hate the Karen Christians for their faith (they are equal-opportunity faith haters, since they also kill the Karen Buddhists). And I, Mr Comfy-Christian-America, am being asked to talk about suffering. Phew.

As I have thought and prayed about the idea of what our lives should look like as Christians when we are suffering, one thought has kind of stuck out – they probably shouldn’t be dramatically different than when we aren’t suffering. Christ commanded us to obey his commands, to love others, and to preach his Gospel to the world. These are imperative-mood verbs (a shout-out here to Pastor Bob Culbertson for teaching me Greek verb forms when I was a kid); they are not conditional statements. We are required to do these things no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether we are rich and living off of Lake Minnetonka or poor and living in north Minneapolis. It was just as true for early Christians whether they were living under the threat of death under Nero or in a Christian empire under Constantine.

We are called to obey and follow no matter what – the only differences are in the context under which we follow these commands. We probably aren’t being called to stand on a box in the city center shouting John 3:16 if we know that the government will kill us if they find out. That would be really dumb. However, it doesn’t mean we sacrifice what God has called us to do in order to stay out of trouble. Daniel was once ordered to pray only to Darius. What did he do?

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
-Daniel 6:10 (ESV)

Daniel loyally served King Darius, but that was always secondary to serving God. When persecution came, his service to God didn’t change.

The story of Job is a really interesting one. Job was a righteous servant of God, but Satan questions Job’s conviction. What was the charge that Satan brought?

Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.
-Job 1:9-11

Job served God well when life was good. What would Job’s reaction be when things were not good?

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
-Job 1:21

Job’s response is tremendous; he recognizes that everything he had came from God as a gift, and God had the right to take it. Whether or not life was good, God still deserved worship and praise. This is true for us, whether we are blessed with an abundance, we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or we have to daily rely on God to provide our needs for that day. He loves us and has a plan for our lives.

Dirt and Coffee

A news item caught my attention yesterday. In an effort to compete in the “sleaziest TV network” competition, NBC has announced it will begin airing a show this fall based on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Clubs from the 60’s. The news item that caught my attention was out of Salt Lake City; the NBC affiliate there has announced that it will not be airing the program on its station. According to KSL-TV station program director Michelle Torsak,

Our intent is not to tell people what they can and cannot watch, but rather to share programming with our audience in accordance with our mission.

The station is currently promoting a project it has started called the “Out in the Light Campaign,” where they are seeking to educate the public on the negative effects of viewing pornography. They have decided to take a moral stand based on their principles, something that seems exceedingly rare today.

One of my favorite books is Charles Sheldon’s novel In His Steps. In it, the characters are confronted with 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV);

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

The story then follows several characters as they seek to fulfill the call to follow Christ, regardless of what is common or popular in others’ eyes. It is convicting to realize how little we actually seek to do this with our own lives. We take the passive approach to life, following the patterns we see all around us. God calls us to engage-to actively examine whether or not our actions are in line with what He has commanded.

I was inspired when I heard the story and testimony of Glenn Coffee. As a rookie third round draft pick for the San Francisco 49ers in 2009, Coffee played a key role as a fill-in for the injured starting running back. By most accounts, he had a very promising NFL career ahead of him. Then he retired at the ripe old age of 23. According to Coffee:

I feel like it’s His will. It’s something that I really felt like I shouldn’t have entered the NFL in the first place. I don’t know what call God has for my life, but it wasn’t football. … I’ll be happier, not necessarily because I’m without football, but because I’m letting Him do his work. Whether it was leaving football or leaving something else, another job, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be happy because I’m following His will.

Coffee gave up fame and fortune for a future filled with unknowns simply because he believed it was what God wanted him to do. What are you willing to do to follow God’s call on your life?

Thoughts to drive us

God’s guidance is more about what He does (guiding our steps even when we can’t see it) than what He gives.
-Tim Keller, @DailyKeller

You will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.
-C.S. Lewis, @CSLewisDaily

[Jesus] is both the rest and the storm, both the victim and the wielder of the flaming sword, and you must accept him or reject him on the basis of both. Either you’ll have to kill him or you’ll have to crown him. The one thing you can’t do is just say, “What an interesting guy.”
-Tim Keller, King’s Cross

There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.
-Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

Maybe you’ve heard the old adage, “Where God guides, he always provides.” We made up a new saying: “God often guides by what he doesn’t provide.”
-Craig Groeschel, It

The apostle John, by the Spirit, wrote, “God is love,” and some have taken his words to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God. This is a great error. John was by those words stating a fact, but he was not offering a definition.
-A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

Big Tent

I still vividly remember the reactions people had to 9/11. People were shocked, horrified, angry, and scared. They were looking for anyone who could make some sense of what was going on; Rudy Giuliani stepped forward and showed both grace and resolve as leader of New York City. George W. Bush brought encouragement, comfort, and a promise of action from Washington DC. Church leaders wanted to find a way to support their congregations, so many opened their doors that night and that week to gather together for support and prayer. I was attending Northwestern College and working with a youth group at the time; Northwestern canceled classes and opened the chapel all day for students to gather together for support and prayer, and that evening I gathered with my church and youth group for prayer.

Billy Graham officiated a service a couple of days after the tragedy in New York City, and one of the most striking aspects of that service was that it was not only attended by leading politicians as well as church leaders, but the scope of this religious service expanded broad enough to encompass multiple religions as well as multiple denominations, even being co-lead by a Jewish rabbi.

I am certainly not opposed to working with others; I believe one of the failures of the church for several decades has been a bunker mentality that shuts out far too much of the world around it. However, we sometimes tend to overreact and overcompensated for a perceived failure without considering the consequences. What we believe is important – we are all seeking the truth that God is showing us; bit by bit, day by day. If we believe in the Bible, we believe that absolute truth is there for us to find and that God wants us to understand it. Sometimes, we systematize the truth God has taught us about Himself in theology, primarily so we can better fit the pieces together and continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18, ESV) This is typically where our denominational divisions come from – disagreements on various aspects of theology.

When we come together across denominational lines, we can truly accomplish some great things. For eight years I have put together an outreach event we call Marked Men. It is a guys paintball trip – we get together for a couple of days, go out into the woods and shoot each other (as a youth pastor, it can be extremely therapeutic to have an opportunity to shoot your students). What started as a group event among 3 Baptist churches has grown to include something like 15 churches over the years, including Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical Free, Covenant, Presbyterian, and non-denominational churches. It has been great; we have seen students come to know the Lord through the event as well greater connection by other students to their churches. However, when diverse theological groups gather together like this, one of two things has to happen. Either some churches will need to accept that not all theology will be agreed upon, or all of the churches will have to be willing to move to the lowest common theological denominator. What I mean by “lowest common theological denominator” is this – we each start with our system of theological beliefs. We certainly aren’t going to agree on baptism, so that gets tossed out. The Lord’s Supper is going to be tricky too, so we better not talk about that. Church government does not fit, nor does requirements for church membership. We can all agree on salvation through Jesus Christ, but the means and method of justification (becoming a follower of Christ) and sanctification (growing to be more like Christ) will be disagreed upon. When you acknowledge a breadth of belief even within individual denominations, these differing groups may not even be able to agree upon whether or not the Bible is true.

For our paintball trip, theological discussions on things like church government don’t often come up, but in other settings they may become more significant issues. My point is this; when our tent becomes so big that it accepts everybody, it no longer means anything to be under it. I have almost completely given up on the term “evangelical Christian.” That phrase, which nearly everyone would apply to me, refers to so many people whose beliefs I strongly oppose that I almost cringe when it is applied to me. I do not want anything to do with those who twist the Bible to give approval to the sin they do not want to give up or to make themselves feel good about a faith that they are culturally embarrassed by. I do not want to be lumped in with those who want to say that Christianity is just one path to God so that they do not offend others. Those people do not have the same beliefs that I have, and they do not accurately represent God’s truth to the world. We need to be distancing ourselves from the false teachers who are changing scripture and the gospel, not only as individuals but as churches and denominations. It does not mean that we do not love them, but the world should see God’s people strongly opposing false teaching by pointing to a faithful view of His Word. For those who are faithfully seeking God’s truth given to us by divine revelation in the Bible, there is room under the tent for all of us.

Thoughts to drive us

The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort…If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell – the loss of our capability for giving or receiving joy…Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.
-Tim Keller, The Reason For God

The emerging church is not an evangelistic strategy. It is the last rung for evangelicals falling off the ladder into liberalism or unbelief.
-Kevin DeYoung, “God is still holy and what you learned in Sunday School is still true.”

To believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.
-Ross Douthat, New York Times, April 25, 2011-06-02

I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.
C.S. Lewis, @CSLewisDaily

Bad theology usually sneaks in under the guise of familiar language.
-Kevin DeYoung, “God is still holy and what you learned in Sunday School is still true.”

Lack of prayer says you’ve bought into the lie that life is manageable and you’ve got everything under control.
Lecrae, @lecrae

Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden pemise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.
-Tim Keller, The Reason For God

Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties.
-Rob Bell, Love Wins
I’ll leave it to the art critics and the partygoers to determine if it’s true that, second to blondes, universalists have more fun.
-Kevin DeYoung, “God is still holy and what you learned in Sunday School is still true.”

If we obey the first two commandments, we will not disobey the rest.
-Martin Luther, quoted by @PastorMark

Liberalism: A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
-H. Richard Niebuhr

Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.
-Jimi Hendrix, quoted by @PastorMark

Driven, pt 2 – Nascar and a guy named Geoffry

I view the Christian life like a race. Not like a simple foot race, more like a car race (I’m driving an Audi R8). And it isn’t like some Nascar race:
“Where do I go to get to the finish?”
I picture it like a chase scene in a movie. We’re flying down the road, avoiding potholes and obstacles, not even entirely sure where the finish is but trying to get there as fast as possible. It’s exciting, it’s intense, and it’s dangerous. There are a lot of ways to go wrong, but we have a great Navigator to guide us through.
We are called to be driven; to not live a lackadaisical life floating around without purpose. However, this does not mean that we are driven by or towards just anything. Too often we decide we are going to be driven by ourselves towards a fulfillment of our personal desires for comfort, safety, respect, attention, and power. Our end goals are to achieve a certain status, gain recognition, become wealthy, and to accumulate stuff. This is not the way the Bible calls us to be driven. This is what the Bible calls envy, greed, selfish ambition, vanity; also, sin.

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
-Heb 12:1-2, ESV

If you look at the banner image for this blog, first glance would lead you to think it is a simple stock photo. However, my lovely and uber-talented wife Charmaine subtly adjusted the image – look at the road near the horizon. We are called to be driven by Christ towards the cross. As the writer of Hebrews says, we are to get rid of everything that is slowing us down and distracting us from the race and look ahead to Jesus, who left us a perfect example to follow and who sacrificed himself for us. He is the author and perfecter of our faith – he started us and he keeps us going. It isn’t about us, about our wants or desires or preferences. It’s about God, about His glory and what He did for us on the cross. As Paul tells us:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
-Galatians 2:20

Crucifixion is capital punishment. We have been put to death. Our problem is that we keep trying to climb out of the casket! We keep going back to those old ways, those selfish, sinful tendencies that take over so easily. STAY DEAD! The life we live is no longer that old life, but life lived in and through Jesus Christ, our savior and sustainer, our author and perfecter, our navigator and our destination. The NIV says it well in its translation of Heb 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…”

Earlier this year, Geoffry Mutai did something that got him a lot of attention. He ran 26 miles in the Boston Marathon. I could run 26 miles, so that doesn’t impress me a lot. What impresses me is that, while I would take several days to run 26 miles, Mutai did it in 2 hours and 22 minutes. That’s an average of over 11 miles an hour for over 26 miles. Slow and steady may be ok, but fast and steady is even better. Are you locked in to Jesus, and how hard are you running the race toward him?

Fake Relativism and Lessons on Sex

So I’m reading this post-apocalyptic novel (I like those things…if the world comes to some fiery end before Christ returns, I’ll be ready!), and one of the odd little things the characters in the story talk about is time.  One night one of the characters asks several others what time it is, and she gets a different answer from each person she talks to – they had all lost the standardizing sources for their clocks and watches when they lost access to power and communication systems, and now everyone’s clock said something different.

I thought of this as I was reading the book Think by John Piper.  In it Piper says, “God is the ultimate and final standard for all claims to truth-who he is, what he wills, and what he says is the external, objective standard for measuring all things.  When relativism says that there is no universally valid standard of truth and falsehood, it speaks like an atheist.  It commits treason against God.” (p. 105)

To be honest, I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the idea that relativism is spreading.  I didn’t talk about these thoughts much, though, until I had the opportunity to speak to Sean McDowell a couple of years ago, and he echoed some of the thoughts rattling around in my head; that relativism didn’t really seem to be taking hold in the youth we had contact with, at least in the sense that they were rejecting the idea that there could be a universal basis for truth (the idea that a universal basis for truth is unknowable can also be called relativism and is a completely different subject).  Now a couple of years later, I still don’t see the rejection of universal truth in any of the hundreds of teenagers I come in contact with over the course of the year.  What I do see is a lack of willingness to take a stand on a standard of truth because of a lack of confidence in identifying what that standard is.

As Piper puts it, God is the standard – he is the measure of all truth, of good and evil.  Since God created everything, He gets to put a definition on everything; because he is immutable (unchanging), that standard stays put.  If this is the case, our understanding of ultimate truth is dependent on our understanding of Him.  Combine that fact with what seems to be the obvious decline of Christian America, and I think we may be able to better understand where our students and young adults are coming from.  The basic cultural understanding that God exists and that the Bible tells us about who He is no longer is a given.  Because of this, our general knowledge of God and of ultimate truth as a nation and as a culture is declining.  Our students and young adults simply do not want to state that they understand something they don’t.  If they don’t see the universal standard of truth – that God exists, that He is knowable, consistent, and good – then they have no basis on which to take a stand on moral subjects.

So what do we do?  Simple: start acting like Christians.  Talk to others about Him, live what we say we believe, and point others to Christ.  Practice apologetics – give reasons for believing what we believe, be humble and loving, and trust that God is in control (1 Pet 3:15).  Do what God is calling us to do daily, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour.

I was asked by a fellow youth pastor this week how I go about teaching students, what my philosophy of Christian education is.  My response was this; I have a lesson I teach, usually every other year, called, “Why I don’t teach lessons on not drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and having sex.”  I don’t teach lessons about those things, and here is why: I have always believed the positive truth about who God is and what He has called us to do is more powerful that the negative truth about the things we aren’t supposed to do.  In my experience, the message of saying we are called to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8) is more powerful than “don’t lie, don’t swear, and don’t sass your parents.”  With the first, we have the promise of blessings and God’s favor.  With the second, curses.

Don’t get me wrong, the second list is still important and something worth talking about.  Just because I don’t teach lessons on not drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and having sex outside of marriage doesn’t mean we don’t talk about those things.  However, when we are focused on living a life that is pleasing to God, some of those things fall into place prettyeasily.  To talk about not having sex before marriage on its own is one thing, but to talk about it after discussing God’s plan for relationships with each other and with our spouses establishes a better foundation for following God.  The “don’ts” in the Christian life certainly exist (the 10 Commandments are an easy example), but they should be viewed within the context of a real, loving and personal relationship with our Heavenly Father and His desires for our life.

The key is understanding God’s call for our lives, on seeing Him and His truth in the scriptures; on knowing it in our minds and believing it in our hearts.  I feel confident that if knowing God is our focus, our students and our young adults will identify that truth and not only be willing to stand for it, they will proudly proclaim it to a world that, in its heart, desperately wants to hear it.

Thoughts to drive us

Some people make a great many claims, but we should not believe anyone unless their actions align with their words…There will be three effects of closeness to Jesus – humility, happiness, and holiness. May God give them to you, dear Christian!
-Charles Spurgeon

We need to discover for ourselves how to live this day in faithful surrender to God as we “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
-Francis Chan, Crazy Love

The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; if He is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life. It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Dorthy L. Sayers, quoted by Alister McGrath in Heresy

The Holy Spirit makes people repentant long before He makes them perfect, and he who believes what he knows will soon know more clearly what he believes.
-Charles Spurgeon

The world needs Christians who don’t tolerate the complacency of their own lives.
-Francis Chan, Crazy Love

You have the freedom to do what you most want to do. And therein lies the problem. I cannot be anything I want to be. I cannot do anything I want to do. My choices are governed by my heart, and my heart is the heart of a sinner, unless and until it is changed by the intervention of God.
-Colin Smith, “‘The Adjustment Bureau’ Adjusted”

Christ’s throne, crown, scepter, palace, treasure, robes, and heritage are all yours and are far superior to jealousy, selfishness, and greed, which share no benefit to those who participate in them.
-Charles Spurgeon (on Rom 8:17)

There are a lot of things in [the Bible] that I go, “Wow God, you did that, you thought that, I wouldn’t think that, and I wouldn’t have done that.” But when…you come to those passages, does it even enter your mind that maybe He knows something that you don’t?
-Francis Chan, “Hell: We can’t afford to get it wrong.”

Chicken and Fruit

We really like being comfortable.  Each of us defines comfort differently, but the vast majority of the time we will gravitate towards something that puts us in our personal comfort level no matter where we go.  For some, comfort means seeking out that American restaurant when traveling abroad.  Maybe comfort is only listening to our favorite music or reading a particular genre of book.  Whenever I travel, I always want to know where the closest Caribou Coffee (1.5 miles from my current location) and Chick-fil-A (12 miles from my current location) are.  By the way, did you know Chick-fil-A didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich?  What a wonderful thing, that Chick-fil-A sandwich…

Being comfortable makes us feel good, but can also become a distraction.  There is a reason your office chair has a cushion but isn’t a La-Z-Boy – when we become focused on comfort, we cease being productive.  Something Mark Driscoll said during a workshop at the Gospel Coalition national conference inChicagoreally got me thinking; “Some of you have developed a theology that justifies fruitlessness.”  I love Mark Driscoll; I think he has a great balance of a firm foundation in biblical truth and authority with an insightful cultural awareness.  However, my first reaction to this was that this was not a very fair statement.  The gospel isn’t about measurable results; it’s about faith, right?  However, as I thought about what Driscoll said, a couple of thoughts came to mind.  First was the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control (Gal5:22-23).  These are fruit that grow in our lives from the Holy Spirit – and we can see fruit grow!  This fruit is not measurable with a ruler, but if we take time to honestly self-evaluate, we should be able to see the effects of God’s hands on our heart and in our lives.

This lead to my second thought: “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17,ESV)  There is certainly no intent by James to minimize the importance of faith here, but I believe he is emphasizing the importance of faith by weeding out the fakers – if there are no works, if there is no fruit to accompany professed faith, their faith is dead.  Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”  There must be something that changes in our lives, fruit that grows, signs of the changes that God is making in and through us – these are not works that earn salvation, but they are signs of that salvation that we have received in Christ.

We like being comfortable and more often than not that pesky Holy Spirit wants to push us into places where we are not comfortable, and we resist.  Then we stop seeing that fruit grow.  But we are too smart for our own good, so we try to justify the lack of fruit in our lives, emphasizing the evil world in which we live and the depravity of humanity and the decline of our country.  We will spend hours talking about the struggles all around us, of the poor who are in need and the ministries that need support in helping them.  We will add them to our prayer chains and tell the ministry workers, in effect, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” (Ja2:16) because to do anything more would require too much effort and sacrifice on our parts.

By random chance (by the way, I don’t believe in random chance), this week I was reading the chapter titled, “Serving leftovers to a holy God” in Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in preparation for Sunday School with a group of the youth at my church.  In the chapter, Chan decides to just tell it like he sees it (I like it when people do that).  This is what he says;

Churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians.  We will not see them in heaven…Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing.  The thought of a person calling himself a ‘Christian’ without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.

In speaking of the church in Laodicea referenced in Revelation 3:14-22 Chan writes, “They were comfortable and proud.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”  I think reading that should make us pretty uncomfortable.  Not bearing fruit, living lives that lack any actual growth, is not an option for a Christian.  Jesus did not command us to “go therefore and try to make disciples…”  Check out Matthew 28:19-20 and see if you feel as convicted as I do.