As Christians seeking to mature in our walk with Christ, most of us occasionally go through the exercise of making a resolution. Something short, perhaps, of the OT Jew's vow before God, but for us as Christians, we usually make this resolution in the context of Christian growth. We grow in our walk to the place where we realize this new goal is important, worth while, and right. So, we resolve to commit to this new objective.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Go with me to the great Olympic stadium – a 100,000 spectators getting quickly to their seats – they see the runners going to their places. This is no ordinary race, but the final challenge of the day, a race these chosen few have prepared for with years of discipline and determination. A mother sees her son, number 23, and shouts his name into the roar of the crowd. A coach watches his prodigy stretching, focusing mentally, and has to turn away so that he doesn’t see his coach’s look of anticipation in his eyes.
This is no ordinary race, but the race of a lifetime. Not to be compared with the little sprints that children challenge each other with in the school playground. Even the more demanding contests faced in later years don’t come close. Yet think again, and the runner realizes that all those previous events have combined to bring him to this place. He has always had it in his heart, from birth it seems, to push away from the blocks and move cleanly down the track and cross the finish line. He can see how those lesser contests have combined to prepare him for this great day, almost as if they are part of this same race.
He looks at his fellow competitors. Each has a look on his face that expresses a remarkable combination of anticipation and concern, just as he surely senses himself. Anticipation? The finish line! What glory! What exhilaration to stretch that tape with his own chest! He has run this track a 1000 times, and he has no doubt that he can conquer it once more, and with a time that can be the best of the field. Concern? He knows all too well of what lays ahead. This race is the epitome of testing the endurance of the Olympic champion. If failure is to occur, on any number of levels, it will occur here. A mistake in timing as he works through each leg of the race – allowing himself to watch his competitors and be influenced by their progress or lack of it – maybe his physical preparation isn’t perfect and a muscle will cramp up – how will he handle it when he hits the wall? -- when his lungs start to scream, is he prepared to keep running? – does he really want to win this race?
He looks out around him. He realizes he hasn’t even heard the deafening cheering of the crowd. Look at these people! He knows that many out there in the stands have a sense of what he’s going through. They’ve been through the races of their own life in the past. They know how hard his heart is pounding, how he seems not to be able to get his breathing in sync, how his mind is spinning with a 1000 what-ifs. He realizes that they’re cheering because they want the race to go well. They want someone to win – some of them are yelling for him! Incredible! There’s even a group over there with a banner with his name on it! He can’t let them down – and he won’t.
But – what if he doesn’t win? What will they say? How will he face them? No! He has already dealt with that. He knows his competitors are skilled, and any one of them could take the tape. Indeed, it is such an honor just to be a participant in this race that it takes his breath away. He also knows the threats of the course and he has prepared well to handle them. All he can do is his best, and he will. He already knows that conquering the course is the first and foremost concern of the champion. Confidence that he can do that, and do it with skill is what will carry him through, win or lose. Truly, there is no loss for the one who conquers the course. And listen to that crowd!
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12:1-2
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Today's Christianity seems to work on the basis of not wanting to disrupt a person's lifestyle. The evangelical church seems to take the approach that everything has to be"comfortable" and "appealing" to the "seeker". We apply Paul's axiom of "all things to all people" so enthusiastically that it clouds the banner call to "hold fast to the faithful Word".
Today's evangelical church seems to want to be accomodating to the culture around it. We want to have "appealing" programs, which means we want to run our worship services with the same coolness as the world does when it puts on a program. Heavy duty sound systems, incredible stage lighting -- I mean, let's put on a show... right. Pandering to personal convenience takes precedence over a truly biblical lifestyle. We don't want to push people away by preaching too hard on sin. Did God intend for the church to be a center for self-indulgent activity? Don't think so, but my personal sense is that it's happening more than we want to admit.
In the 60s and 70s, the youth culture overran society - it was the coming of age of the baby boomers. I was there - I know. Anti-war emotions were rampant, but that led to an even more pervasive anti-establishment, libertarian mentality that was allowed to indulge itself in every self-centered inclination that came to mind. Rock music exploded with the Beetles, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin. Drugs and sex became a normal part of life for this generation. It was scary to see how determined this youth culture was to have its own way. You may recall that the "me" generation followed close on its heels.
This era was just as major a turning point for the evangelical church as for society in general. The church was rightly burdened for the desperately needy flower children wandering the streets of their neighborhoods. Many dynamic youth ministries, such as Campus Crusade, came to the fore and were reaching these youth for Christ. But something amazing happened -- as these youth came to Christ and began attending church, the church decided it didn't want to "make them uncomfortable". We don't want their sandals and long hair to keep them from being able to worship with us.
And that's true, we certainly needed to welcome them as they were. But here's the rub: the church started hesitating at being distinct. We shouldn't use hymnals because they haven't used one before. And the words of these hymns are so deep and convicting - maybe we need shorter songs with lighter lyrics. Maybe we shouldn't dress in our "Sunday best" because it makes them uncomfortable. And let's start accompanying our music with the same style they are used to with the music they're listening to on the radio. The idea that accepting Christ should have a dramatic impact on your lifestyle, even on music tastes and clothe styles, was pushed aside for the sake of not wanting to make them uncomfortable. Let's not preach too hard on specific sinful habits because that might put them on the spot.
Today, three decades later, the Church is, to put it mildly, different. It's really difficult to nail down what exactly the difference is, but it is different. And I'm not really sure this is good news. Bottom line: the church made the decision to let the youth of the 60s and 70s define the new evangelical church experience - we swallowed it all, never hesitated. Never mind the fact that these were new, immature believers, saved out of some really bad stuff. Let's just go with what they like.
It just seems that the mainstream of genuine, Bible-believing churches in America and perhaps around the world are seriously distracted. Let me quickly acknowledge that I know I have a limited perspective, I haven't attended but just a few of the thousands of wonderful Christian fellowships we have in our country. I know there are some absolutely marvelous churches that have high quality ministries and services and true depth in biblical teaching.
But if we could take the pulse of all these churches, where would the meter go for passion for biblical Christlikeness and depth in God's Word? Does today's church have genuine spiritual passion? Not sure. Of course for me to get away with saying that, we would have to agree on what "genuine spiritual passion" means, and that's likely not going to happen. Suffice to say that what comes to my mind does not include waving hands, clapping, jumping up & down, getting my ears blown out by heavy contemporary music, or singing a worship song with 15 words in it and repeating it eight times. But I think in a lot of places, those things have come to equate spiritual passion.
John MacArthur says it right, our culture tends to dull our sharpness. "Our culture obscures legitimate goals and would rob our faith of its fiery power if given the chance. Indeed, some Christians are a cold bath for the fiery heart. "
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
I was a mess until Jesus found me! I was working hard, the family was doing ok, but I was struggling inside. Oh, my wife loved me, and Dad liked my work. I enjoyed working with him & my brother Andrew, and the fishing business was doing pretty well – especially once Andrew and I had begun working with him! Dad felt I was really getting the hang of this fishing thing, and others agreed, I had become quite the well-known fisherman. How I loved the feel of holding those nets, the water blowing in my face, the weight of a good catch straining every muscle in my body!
Andrew was really a good guy – as brothers go. Oh, there were times! When we were younger, I could sneak up on him when he was on the roof looking at the stars and he would almost end up over the edge! HA! But then HE could spin a tale that would have me believing anything! Oh my! Andrew put up with a lot from his older, rambunctious brother. I think sometimes he was kind of glad to have me around to hide behind!
As we grew up, we found we complemented each other. He was always amazed at my enthusiasm, and I always sat in wonder at his patience and gentleness. So as we grew into our teen years, surprise, we really enjoyed working together. Good thing too – Dad had to let us take over the business when his body began to fail… sometimes I think he saw himself in me…
Life was ok but it was hard too. My wife and I had a good home, but – you know me – I could get noisy, and fussy, and demanding, and… well you get the picture! She must have been getting coaching from Andrew, because she was putting up with a lot. She told me I needed to spend more time listening to God – ha! And then who would be casting the nets?! I knew I loved God – the awesome Lord Jehovah of our people. It’s just that, well, I was busy making a living. He knew I agreed with Him – wasn’t that enough?
But there were times, after a hard day of work, sitting quietly up on the roof, looking at the stars, thinking about how remarkably stable it all was. Look around anywhere in the sky – nothing was bouncing off of something else – a big difference with how things were going in my life! You sensed a great Hand at work, a strong hand, yes, but also a calm, peaceful one. It wasn’t often that I felt calm and peaceful…
Andrew & I were out on the shore working on our nets, getting ready for another long day out on the Sea of Galilee. I wanted to go out into a different part of the lake, not used as much – but I just knew there was a good catch waiting for us there! Andrew thought I was crazy, so we were engaged in one of our quiet, thoughtful little discussions – which everybody up and down the shore could hear!
We were so busy “discussing” that we didn’t notice the Stranger. He had quietly walked along the shore from out in the distance, and had just quietly gone to the water close to where our boat was moored. He was tossing stones in the water, but before He would toss the stone, He would examine it as if He wanted to know, or already knew, something very special about it.
He looked over at us – His eyes… Why is that what I remember most? His eyes met mine. I sensed right away, He didn’t need to know, He already knew – all of me, how I hurt, how I needed direction in life. It was remarkable. Andrew sensed it too.
Now, I must tell you -- He wasn’t actually a stranger – Andrew & I had met Him a couple of days ago. Andrew had been with John the Baptizer, and John had announced that this Jesus was the Son of God and the Lamb of God. After spending some time with Jesus, Andrew had come searching for me with this unusual sense of urgency – and he blurts out “We have found the Messiah!” Somehow I knew this wasn’t one of his tales trying to trick me.
So, quiet little Andrew took me to Jesus! -- Jesus seemed not to need to figure me out, to already know me. And it was here that He gave me the name Peter – how about that! I think He had in mind some amazing things that He would do in my life, but it took me a while to pick up on that…
So, here He was again, out here on the shore – looking at me…
And then He simply said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Talk about getting my attention! No doubt I could have fished circles around Him – hmmm. But anyway – I knew He was talking about a different kind of fishing. And a different kind of life.
When Jesus found me, and called me to be His disciple, I followed Him – I put down my nets, gave my life to Him, one step at a time. The journey became difficult at times, and sometimes, I was really at my impetuous worse – but He loved me through it all, gave me a mission in life and ended up consuming me and fulfilling me at the same time. The mess had become a miracle.