happyfaith3

A Happy Faith

Allow me to make a bold suggestion. I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic.

Of course, you might then assume that my view of Christian optimism is rooted in my own eschatological perspective, particularly the belief that I am postmillennial – that I believe things are going to get better before Christ’s return, not worse. If you assumed that, however, you would be wrong. I’m not postmillennial. In fact – putting all my cards on the table – I’m premillennial. So how does a premillennial Christian, with a strong view of the depravity of humanity become strongly convinced that optimism is intimately connected with genuine faith, and that we are, in fact, holding to a sub-Christian view of the world when we walk around with pessimism as our default posture? Trying to maintain transparency here, it should be noted that I am naturally an optimist. I see the glass half-full, as the saying goes. Even still, however, while I am inclined toward optimism, I do believe there is something about our faith that necessitates an optimistic view from the mature believer. Consider these four realities.

1. Our belief in the sovereignty of God evokes great optimism.

Psalm 24:1, The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord

We serve a sovereign God. By definition this means that God is over all things – both natural and supernatural. This confidence that God is sovereign and authoritative over all things gives me great confidence that, even when life seems to be spiraling a bit, God has not lifted his hands off the wheel. In the end of Job, we are reminded that God has told even the oceans, You may come this far, but no farther. Not only do the oceans obey his command, though, in Job we see that Satan himself obeys the same command that God has given to the oceans.

Over and over in Job Satan requests to wreak havoc on Job, and God gives him clear permission, but permission with clear restrictions. Amazingly enough, Satan does exactly what God tells him to do. The lesson here is unmistakable, and so important. Satan is powerful, but in the end he is little more than a dog on God’s leash. God is in control. Satan is not.

2. Our belief in the victory of God promises great optimism.

1 Corinthians 15:57, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

As Christians living in the 21st century, we have the benefit of theological hindsight. Looking backwards to Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection, we can see his destruction of sin, death and the grave. Not only that, but 1 Corinthians reminds us that we share in that victory. Obviously this does not remove the pain of challenging circumstances, nor the danger of sin, but it does mean that in the midst of the most debilitating of moments – can you imagine anything worse than God’s moment as his son was murdered on the cross – that in these moments, God is yet victorious and his purposes are being accomplished. Acts 4 reminds us of this.

Acts 4:27-28, For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.

The son of God was murdered, and yet even then the death of Christ was accomplishing God’s long-before-determined-plan to redeem humanity. Christians should walk with optimistic confidence that even our worst moments are able to be used for God’s redemptive work.

3. Our belief in the grace of God fosters great optimism.

Colossians 2:14, He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.

This is grace. On the cross of Jesus lies hanging the tattered remnants of my sin. As I contemplate the depths of my sin, the depths of God’s grace astonishes me more and more. Paul understood this too, of course. He called himself the “chief of all sinners” at one point. The closer he walked with Christ, the more acutely aware he was of his own sin. The more he was aware of his own sin, the more alive God’s grace became to him. We are told in Luke 7 that those who have been forgiven much, are those who love much. Implicit within our experience of grace is the transformation of our lives from self-focused to being people of deep love, affection and hope for others. What’s more, this certain belief in God’s grace gives us great confidence that no one is too far away from God that God cannot make them new. This truth gives us great hope that even the people who appear most evil are capable of being transformed through God’s grace. Once again, optimism must remain.

4. Our belief in the kingdom of God displays great optimism.

Matthew 4:23, Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Jesus came, inaugurating his kingdom and he will one day return and culminate that kingdom. The coming of the kingdom, as he described it in Matthew, was to bring the rule and reign of God in very real and present ways. We see spots of this through Christians and churches today, but we see this kingdom as through a dark glass. Someday Christ is going to return and that eternal kingdom will be fully established and there will no longer be pretenders trying to claw at his throne. Until that time, however, we can look across Christendom and see remnants – pictures – of that kingdom being displayed for us. These momentary glimpses remind us that Christ is returning and bringing a better day with him. This is what passages like Jeremiah 29, and the entire book of Revelation, are meant to accomplish. They are a reminder to a church who is in danger of giving up – of no longer optimistically viewing the world and our collective future – to stay the course, and believe that the best is yet to come.

As I look across contemporary Christianity I see a lot of Christians who seem to feed off a pessimistic view of life and even the future. Too many seem to prey on that, understanding that they can even monetize that pessimism, and have been quite successful in doing so. I am convinced that should not be for the mature Christian. Instead, let us be confident in God’s sovereignty, his victory, his grace and his kingdom, and why don’t we march forward, together, as an optimistic body? Why don’t we assume our position as those who have received God’s grace, are dispensing the message of that grace, and who confidently believe the world can be a recipient of that grace? I really believe that if our posture changed to reflect that view, this optimistic church would be a strong and compelling apologetic for the hopefulness of God’s grace and his kingdom.

advent

Advent Antidote

We want Christmas to be focused on things that matter. We want candles, and slow, delightful family gatherings. We want enjoyable parties and leisurely gift exchanges. Most of all we want Jesus, front and center, celebrated and adored, as He should be. Instead we usually get mad rushes and overspending coupled with overeating. We occasionally throw glances Jesus’ way and we give lip service to the manger. What we want and what we get are sadly often at odds with each other. This is why Advent matters. My family will celebrate Advent together, like we always do. Our church family is also celebrating. Starting today, and every day until December 25th, we will work our way through an Advent book, thinking and celebrating Jesus’ coming, in slow anticipation of Christmas morning. We usually work our way through a different Advent book each year. This year we’re using The Expected One by Scott James.

Can I encourage you to celebrate Advent together, either as an individual, with your family or even with your church? Let me offer a few reasons why I think celebrating Advent is important.

1. We need to be still and know that He is God.
Advent is the antidote to a consumer Christmas. Daily remembering the coming of Jesus provides an opportunity to enjoy the slow walk to the manger in the midst of the hustle of instant gratification. You and your family need this antidote. While it’s a reality that Christmas can be stressful, and it’s almost unavoidable that Christmas will be busy, Advent forces us to stop what we are doing, slow down and patiently anticipate King Jesus.

Psalm 46:10, “Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

2. We need to focus.
Essentially every influence you will find during this Christmas season will ask you to look somewhere. Bright lights, well-designed commercials, grocery store sales and more reflect the spirit of the age. Christmas is a hyperactive dream come true. I should know. Hyperactivity is my love language. In the midst of all this, though, there is a desperate need to pay attention to one thing. At Christmas it’s easy to miss the trees for the forest. We see everything else and we miss Jesus. Advent helps us focus on the one thing that matters.

Isaiah 45:5, “I am Yahweh, and there is no other; there is no God but Me.”

3. We need to resist consumerism.
Every one of us reading this is a consumer. In a time when consumerism is universally seen as a bad thing, we need to remember that, fundamentally, consuming things is not bad. What is bad is looking for consumerism to serve as our hope. This is the danger of Christmas. Instead of looking to Jesus as our hope, we can be easily swayed to trust in gifts and family and celebrations and so many other things. Advent pushes back and calls us to resist the swan song of consumerism with the simple chorus of Silent Night.

Colossians 2:9-10, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him…”

4. We need to lead our families well.
Our families are products of their environment. If we do not lead well in the celebration of Christmas, we can claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season” all we like, but our lives will continue to deny that claim. Children don’t do what we tell them to do; they do what we do. When your family looks at your life, do they see a glad celebration of the coming of your true King, or do they see your lip service to Jesus while you practically bow down at the feet of all the other things that fill this time of the year? Advent is an opportunity for you to simply, and powerfully, point your family to Jesus every day this month; to remind them that in the midst of all that December is, it is most importantly a celebration of our King.

Proverbs 22:6, “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

5. We need to savor Jesus.
Finally, we need Advent because we need Jesus. Nothing satisfies like Jesus, and far too often we run through this month trying to be satisfied by a thousand other things. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus every day, drinking in the reminders of his coming. We need to be restored and encouraged by his affection for us, his sacrificial coming, his triumphant crushing of Satan’s head and his victoriously impoverished birth, sounding the note of victory for our God and King. We need Advent because we need Jesus, and nothing I know is more important than that.

John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.”

If you are looking for an Advent devotional to use with your family, I would highly recommend The Expected One by Scott James.

DesiringGod is also offering a free download of Advent readings.
The Billy Graham Association is also offering this free Advent download.

shalom

#TheNines 2014 :: Creating a Shalom Culture

I enjoyed the opportunity to submit a video for The Nines, a conference hosted by Leadership Network that features a series of short videos, offered by a variety of church leaders, and is viewed by an audience of more than 20,000 people. The video below is the video that I submitted. In it we look at Jeremiah 29, living as exiles and bringing Shalom. It’s only 5 minutes, so check it out.

thank

36 for 36 : An update & a thank you!

On Monday I posted and asked people to consider donating $36 for my 36th birthday so that we could take the next step in our adoption. While the adoption will obviously require significantly more money, our immediate need was for $1,400 so we could take the next step in the process. As I settle down to write this tonight, I am so excited that we have hit our immediate goal! Thank you so very much! We have been amazed at your generosity.

So, what does this mean? This means that we will be able to file our I-800a with the US government, and prepare and file our dossier with the government of Lesotho. This means that they will be able to “match” us with a specific child, and soon we may know the name, age and particular details of the child who will soon become our son. We could not be more grateful that we are able to take this next step.

The next obvious question is, what comes next? It’s a good question, too. ;-) We still must raise a significant amount of money, and we still have a mountain of paperwork to go through, but we are getting much closer.

The final question, after today, is what else can be done. Allow me to mention a couple things.

1. You can pray. We would love to have you join our prayer support team. If you are interested, you can sign up by using the form at the bottom of the page.

2. You can give. We have met our immediate need, but we still have a pretty sizable need to complete the adoption. If you are interested in giving, financially, you can click on the button below. As always, remember that your gift is tax deductible!

Thank you so much for your generosity. You will never know how humbled and grateful we are.

36for36

36 for 36 : Help me celebrate my birthday

My birthday is this week. I’ll be 36 years old on Tuesday, October 28th. A friend gave us a great idea about how to celebrate, and I want to share it with you. You can help me celebrate in a really big way. Some of you may be aware that we are in the process of adopting a child from the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho. We have invested pretty heavily to make it happen, and cannot precede any further without help from people like you. So, here’s the crazy idea to help me celebrate my birthday. We would like to invite at least 36 people to partner with us in our adoption journey by donating at least $36 this week.

We currently need enough money to pay for our dossier fee. This is our next significant step that will allow us to matched with a specific child. This specific cost is lower than most countries, but is still $1,400.

Because we have partnered with a great organization called AdoptTogether to help us raise money, anything you donate will be tax deductible. That makes it a win/win, right? ;-)

If you want to donate, you can click on this link and go directly to our AdoptTogether Fundraising Page.

If you want to give by check, you can do that too by mailing a check to the address below:

AdoptTogether
251 W Central Ave.
#278
Springboro, OH 45066

One last request. Would you take a minute and share this with your social media accounts? We need all the exposure we can get!

Thank you so much for considering this. We are genuinely grateful for your partnership!

faithofanother

The Faith of Another

Living in an area where one is in the religious majority changes the way you see the world. In America, those of us who are Christians often feel like the world is changing, and not in a way that is positive for us, but the truth is we are still part of the largest religious segment in our culture. Often, one of the most difficult things for a member of the religious majority to do is to accurately understand the faith of religious minorities. I see this happen all the time in the US as Christians struggle to understand those of other faiths. When I travel overseas I see the same scenario play out, only in those cultures it is someone else’s faith that often struggles to understand my own. In a US context, this is often played out as Christians attempt to understand Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, and so on. However, nowhere is this lack of understanding more prominent than Christian’s relationship with Muslims. This lack of understanding is problematic for Christians, in particular. As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we rightly understand and portray the faith of those we disagree with. There are two significant reasons why this matters.

It matters, first of all, because we are Christians. Our faith calls us to love those who are not like us, and even those who are against us. This is a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity. When we fail to rightly understand others, we fail to show Christian love by believing something about them that is not true. We fail to view them as God’s image bearers, as part of God’s creation, by not working to rightly understand who they are and what they believe. Beyond that, our integrity is at stake as followers of Christ. Perpetuating mischaracterizations of others may be popular on social media, but it fails when held up to the test of Christian character. Secondly, however, this matters because we are not just Christians, we are Christians who are on mission. Make no mistake about it. We desire every person on the planet to hear the message of Jesus’ gospel, and to believe in Christ for salvation. In fact, we believe this is the only way to be reconciled with God. We believe in the freedom for every person to believe as they wish, but we also desire to have the freedom to share Christ with them so that they might believe. When we fail to rightly understand those we disagree with, we impair our ability to be on mission and damage the possibility of leading others to faith in Christ.

So that begs the question, in a world that is swimming with misinformation, how do we rightly understand what others believe? Let me suggest four simple ways that have helped me.

1. Don’t use the media as the primary source of your information.
It amazes me to see Christians who loudly reject mainstream media portrayals of their own faith but who are then quick to embrace the same mainstream media portrayals of the faith of others. If, for instance, the media regularly gets it wrong about Christianity, why would we think that they’re getting it right about Islam? Stop using news channels, Facebook, Twitter and the like as your source of information about the theology and practice of those with whom you disagree. Your tendency will be to embrace anything you read which feeds your impression of their faith, and this will regularly be inaccurate. A helpful test as to the accuracy of reported information is this; if a majority of those who embrace the faith in question, disagree with the popular portrayal, the portrayal is probably a mischaracterization.

2. Read liberally from those who are in that faith. 
Often, when we desire to learn about those of other faiths, we will look to find an author from our faith writing about other faiths. This is probably not the best option. As Christians, we would be suspect of a Mormon, or Muslim, authoring thoughts about Christianity. Just so, we ought to consider that those who are in another faith are probably the most appropriate experts about their own faith. Even better, however, would be to get a copy of that faith’s holy book, and study it yourself.

3. Attend a service or two of the faith you are trying to understand. 
As I was trying to understand Islam better, one of the healthiest things I did was to begin attending a Friday prayer service at the local mosque. I obviously didn’t participate in their prayer time; I would sit in the back and just watch, but those who were part of the mosque were incredibly gracious and welcoming. I continue to learn more during these opportunities than I could in just about any other setting. If you want to understand another faith, and the faith allows visitors into their gatherings (and most do), attend a few and listen. You might be surprised what you learn.

4. Befriend and learn from those who are in that faith.
Finally, the best way I know to rightly understand the faith of those we disagree with is to become friends with those who are in that faith. This has been one of the healthiest exercises in my Christian walk. Like Jesus, who consistently spent time with those who were outside his faith community, we ought to be quick to be friends with others who might not agree with us. My experiences, gathered around a table, learning from those who are in another faith, have been among the most helpful and instructive times I have experienced. I am rarely more encouraged than these interactions with those who believe differently than I do.

As I have tried to rightly understand those who I disagree with, I have found that it has helped me to love others the way Jesus loves me, without condition, in every state possible. What’s more, it has opened up innumerable opportunities for me to share the gospel of Jesus. As I show genuine interest in their faith, those who I spend time with have, in turn, shown genuine interest in my faith. What is more, they trust me to share with them my faith, understanding that I’m sharing with them as a friend, not just someone who wants to sell them a bill of religious goods and services. Finally, let me encourage you to clearly call out other followers of Christ who are spreading mischaracterizations about other faiths. It is harmful to our collective witness, and does violence to our faith, to treat other faiths dishonestly. It is not a threat to our own Christian faith to stand up in defense of those who may disagree with us, in fact, it is often exactly the opposite. We can regularly be like Jesus when we are willing to defend those who may rarely agree with us.