How to be a Strong Christian

This is the fourth message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Other messages in the series include “What’s it Mean to Invite Jesus into Your Heart?” “It’s Not My Gift” and “Let Go, Let God.” 

Think about the strongest Christian you know. What is he or she like?

When we think about strong Christians, we think about someone who knows the Bible inside-out, who is bold about sharing their faith, whose prayer-life is something we could only imagine having. Essentially… we think about a Christian ninja. And we know that does NOT describe us!

But what if being a strong Christian is about something else? What if you don’t need to be a Christian ninja for God to use you?

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Think About It… Let Go, Let God

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but cliches make me as sick as a dog! People who use them need to wake up and smell the coffee. I don’t mean to open a can of worms, but we really need to think about all these cliches.

Cliches might communicate something true, but most of the time they’ve either lost their meaning or they’re just plain confusing. Sometimes we need to stop and ask the question, “Is this even true?” This is the first week “Think About IT!” taking a second look at Christian cliches.Think about it

 

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I’m Christian But I’m not…

Have you ever been asked a question and immediately thought, “That’s a stupid question!” Then you realized that you actually had to give an answer, and it suddenly becomes a really hard question. In those situations we often answer and then walk away thinking, “Ugh! I have a way better answer now. I want a re-do!” I wonder how many of us would feel that way if we were asked the questions in the video below.

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Jesus as Friend

“The Many Faces of Jesus”
How do you even begin to answer this question? There are so many ways to describe Jesus. Have you seen “The Dress” this week? Is it white and gold or black and blue? We’re looking at the same thing, but we’re describing two different dresses. Sometimes I hear people talk about Jesus in a way that makes me think, “They must be talking about a different Jesus!” For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the “Many faces of Jesus,” to encounter Jesus as Friend, Miracle Worker, Servant, and Shepherd. These four “faces” give us a good picture who Jesus is, why he came, and why we talk about him so often.

Many Faces of Jesus

When I was on the football team in high school one the leaders on the team took up a collection for some new carpets in the locker room. I gave him $5 and never heard of the carpets again. Later on I found out he used the money he collected to buy beer for the big weekend party. Trusting someone who’s not trustworthy makes you feel pretty foolish.

Who hasn’t been there before? Some of us trust people way too easily and we find ourselves being taken advantage of. But other people seem to never trust others and are so skeptical they refuse to trust people who are actually trustworthy.

“Can we trust God?”
This might sound like a weird question to ask, but it’s absolutely honest and worth asking. How do we know he’s trustworthy? How do we know if he even likes us?

John 3:17 says, “God sent his Son into the world to judge the world but to save the world through him.” Jesus is not God’s warrior sent to slaughter sinners for their rebellion. Instead, He is God-in-flesh, the Son of God who came to RESTORE our relationship with God. Our sin made us enemies of God. Through Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are made FRIENDS of God. 

John 15:13-14 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is how Jesus loved us. Sometimes we talk about the Christianity in a way that makes forgiveness sound free. But it wasn’t free. It was actually really expensive… it cost Jesus his life. 

For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to do what he did: honor God and love others. He’s obviously not saying that you need to die for your friends and you’re not able to forgive them of their sins, but do you love them enough to put them first? Do you love them enough to sacrifice for them? Do you love Jesus enough to love others the way he has loved you?

Look to the CrossIf you aren’t a Christian, I want to kindly tell you that you’re missing out. You’re missing out on the amazing love of God who loves you so much he became a man who suffered and died in order to rescue you from sin and death and judgment. I want to make sure you hear from Jesus the reason he came: to lay down his life for his friends.

If you aren’t a Christian, I want you to know that you can trust Jesus. If you ever doubt that, you only need to look at the cross to see how much he loves you. Jesus not only tells us, but he shows us what godly friends do – they lay their lives down for each other. Jesus is so much more than just a friend, but that’s not a bad starting point to describe who he is!

What would it look like if we all lived as friends of Jesus?
What would your family look like? What would your school look like? What would our youth group look like?

  • I think we’d spend more time with people who are outcasts and left out of groups, and less time so focused on our friend-groups that we end up leaving people on the outside.
  • I think we’d spend more time praying for people and less time talking about them.
  • I think we’d be less materialistic and far more sacrificial.
  • We’d be more willing to risk doing or saying the right thing, even if it would mean some sort of backlash might come our way.
  • And when others hurt us, we’d be quicker to forgive them, because we know that Jesus forgave us.
  • All in all, We’d be way less worried about ourselves and more active about putting others first.

There are times when it’s really hard to trust God. It’s hard to trust him when you’re being picked on and bullied at school. It’s hard to trust him when you feel so overwhelmed by everyone else’s expectations, and you’re stressed out because you don’t want to let people down. It’s hard to trust him when life is really tough and your prayers don’t seem to be answered.

When we consider the many faces of Jesus, I think it’s helpful to remember that Jesus came in order to rescue us from our sin so that we could be friends of God. And whenever we question if we can trust God, let us look to the cross to remember the fullness of his love.

What I’ve Learned About Suffering

I don’t like suffering. I’m not sure anyone does. It would be foolish to want more suffering in your life. But almost everyone agrees that it’s in those seasons of suffering and trial when they have grown and learned the most.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

In many ways I’ve been amazingly blessed. I really have no reason to make my life sound like a dramatic tragedy. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been through difficult seasons. The most difficult of these, by far, came when I was entering junior high and my parents separated and eventually divorced. I won’t go into too much detail online here, except to say that it was confusing, painful, and I’m sure there are still some psychological scars I haven’t dealt with yet.

I struggled with why God would allow this to happen. My parents are both Christians. We rarely missed going to church on Sundays. My dad and I would read the Bible and pray every night before going to bed. It didn’t make any sense. Surely, this wasn’t God’s plan and he could’ve stopped it from happening… but he didn’t.

That was more than 20 years ago now, and honestly, it’s still a bit painful to think back to that season of life. We don’t always know why things happen, but we know that God walks with us through our pain. Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer. He has been bullied for being an “illegitimate” child (remember the virgin birth? People didn’t believe that explanation, but they also knew he wasn’t Joseph’s son!). He has been betrayed by a close friend. He has been mocked and beaten by his enemies. He was abandoned and denied by all of his closest friends (Peter, here’s looking at you!). He suffered a painful death on the cross. Even after he rose from the dead, his friends still didn’t believe in him! My point in all of this: Jesus understands suffering.

There’s no multiple-choice test you can take to tell you the exact reason why you’re going through what you’re going through. I don’t look back at those teen years and rejoice that my parents got divorced. But I do look back and I rejoice at God’s faithfulness and everything I learned about love, about family, and about faith during that season. And I probably wouldn’t have learned those things if I never experienced the pain of my family being split apart. I learned that God’s love is more than something we talk about and get “warm fuzzies” over after hearing an emotionally-heavy story. I still don’t know why God allowed everything he allowed, but I know more about God and more about myself because of it.

When all is said and done, here’s what I’ve learned about suffering…

  1. You don’t suffer alone. God is faithful, he will walk with you… and that’s more than some cheesy “Christianese” thing to say. God understands suffering from the sufferer’s perspective too.
  2. God can do anything. Yes, that means he could have stopped what is hurting you so much. But it also means he can make even more beauty grow out of the ashes of your pain.
  3. Your hope is always as big (or small) as your view of God. If God is small, your hope will be small. If God is only sometimes-faithful, then you will only sometimes be hopeful. But if God is strong and if God is faithful… then you have every reason for hope, no matter how difficult and painful things may be. That doesn’t mean things hurt less, but it does you you live with the hope that in the end, God will turn your pain into joy.

Worth Your Time 2/13/15

Each Friday I try to provide a few articles that are worth the time of parents and youth workers. These articles span a number of issues, and not all are written by Christians, but they are all “worth your time.” Here’s the latest edition:

The Real Abuse at the Heart of ’50 Shades of Grey’ Kristen O Neal
“Far from ’empowering,’ Fifty Shades seeks to remove agency. Even though it’s supposed to seem ‘sexy,’ the book even includes several instances of rape, where Ana is coerced into or outright forced to have sex. The BDSM community itself has been outspoken on the issue, distancing itself from the horrific lack of safety or consent in the novel: ‘Fifty Shades is not about fun,’ says BDSM practitioner, Sophie Morgan, in The Guardian. ‘It’s about abuse.'”

Sexual Integrity Initiative Walt Mueller & Jason Soucineck
This isn’t a blog post, but a new ministry website that launched today. This site will prove very useful to parents who are looking for resources to help their teenagers develop sexual integrity. My recommendation: Bookmark the site and check it often.

God, Protect My Girls Tim Challies
“As a dad, I pray for each of my kids just about every day, and I take it as both a joy and responsibility to bring them before the Lord. Praying for the kids is a helpful way of training myself to remember that they are his before they are mine, and that any good they experience will ultimately find its source in God himself. And I believe that prayer works—that God hears a father’s prayers for his children, and that he delights to answer those prayers. One of my most common prayers for my girls is a pray for their protection. Here is how I pray for God to protect them.”

You’re Never Going to be Fully Ready Shauna Niequest
“What have you been over-thinking, wiggling like a loose tooth? Are you hiding, planning, and information gathering, because you’re scared to plunge into something new? Are you letting your desire to do it flawlessly keep you from doing it at all?”

Yeah, Well, But What About the Crusades Kevin
“We are right to deplore the cruelty meted out by crusading Christians, but should not ignore their plight.  Christians lands had been captured.  Surely, they thought, this could not stand.  For an American, it would have been as if Al-Qaeda sacked Washington D.C. following 9/11, set up shop for Bin Laden in the White House, and turned the Lincoln Memorial into a terrorist training center.  It would be unthinkable, cowardly even, for no one to storm the city, liberate its captives, and return our nation’s capital to its rightful owners.  We should never excuse the atrocities that occurred under the banner of the cross during the Crusades, but we should, at least, take pause to understand why they set out on what seems to us to be a fool’s errand.”

365 Fear Not’s in the Bible?

Yesterday my wife was reading a book that mentioned the Bible saying “Do not fear” 365 times… once for every day of the week.  As kindly as I could, I responded, “That’s not true. I read a blog post about that and it said it’s not true.”  She kindly did not smack me for being a know-it-all.  But she did respond by saying, “So you think this writer didn’t research it at all before writing it in her book?”

This morning I was curious and re-read the blog post (A “Do Not Be Afraid” For Every Day of the Year?) I remembered debunking this “myth” and then did some homework myself (even though I should’ve been finishing my sermon for Sunday).  I pulled up Accordance Bible Software (which I very highly recommend, and is available for both Mac and PC) and did a basic search in English with “not <and> fear” and got 327 hits, then did another with “no <and> fear” and got another 65 hits. Not all of these quite fit the criteria to support the “365 fear nots” since some are like Lev. 25:36 (“Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.”) have a different root word and meaning for “fear.”

To be honest, I was looking to debunk this “one fear not for each day” statement but after doing some research and changing up the different ways the “fear not” statements could be said, I think it could actually be mostly true.  I doubt the Bible says  “Do not be afraid” exactly 365 times, but the number of times the Bible makes some variation of that statement does seem to be in the 300’s.  Thankfully, we don’t need one “Fear not” for each day in order to live with confidence and courage.

Jesus has received all authority in heaven and on earth, and he has promised to be with us always, even to the very end of time (Matthew 28:18-20).  That is reason enough for us to live without fear.