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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Short Rant on Christian Positivism

Warning: this is a rant… not against anyone in particular, but against some things I’ve generally observed and read lately.

Has anyone else been noticing a recent upswing in “Christian Positivism?” I don’t think that’s a real “thing,” but that’s what I’d call it – Christians emphasizing the positives in life, telling you to be happy, smile more, laugh more, be more hopefull.

Most people who know me wouldn’t be surprised to know I’m not a big fan of Joel Osteen. Well, Osteen has a new book out called “I Declare.” From what I understand, it focuses on you declaring God’s promises over yourself.

I really hope I’m not a depressing (or depressed!) Christian, but let’s be honest here – there’s a huge audience for Osteen’s book because so much of life is challenging and difficult. Think about it: Buddhism and Hinduism are two entire religions whose entire goal is to escape this world of suffering and pain!

Scripture time and again teaches that we live in a sinful, fallen, broken world. As sinful people who live in a broken world, we shouldn’t be surprised when we endure seasons of great suffering, pain, and general difficulty. It’s not that there’s something wrong with how I’m thinking about things, and the problem isn’t even in the broken world I live in – I’m a part of the problem! This is simply biblical. There will be good day and bad days, and, as Christians, we don’t need to pretend otherwise or risk being people who lack faith in God’s power and goodness.

It’s in the midst of admitting this reality that we come to the place of Christian hope. My Christian hope is not found through declaring God’s promises over myself, but rather, through confessing my own sinfulness and complete inability to save myself, through confessing that I believe that Jesus Christ (who is God-made-flesh, the second Person of the Trinity) lived perfectly and died innocently on the Cross as my substitute, that Jesus rose from the grave in victory over sin and death – making it possible for me to share in the results of his victory.

Christian hope is completely built upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ and his victory over sin and death through the cross and empty tomb. If Jesus’ victory took him through rejection, suffering, and persecution then why should we expect a different fate? Did Jesus endure those things so that we wouldn’t have to? I think the lives of the Apostles and the story of Church History should be a clear and resounding “Duh, no!”

So please forgive me if I sound like a mean-spirited Christian kill-joy, but I’m very skeptical of this Christian Positivism. I’m not skeptical because Christians aren’t supposed to be filled with joy (indeed, they are – so much so that I’d encourage you to ask some hard questions about your Christian faith if there’s no joy in your life!), instead, I’m skeptical because God promises joy through suffering. (If I wasn’t testing out writing this blog post on an iPad and was more comfortable on it then I’d offer a collection of Scripture verses to back this up.)

Please don’t ask me to declare God’s promises over myself. Instead, I’d rather read the Bible and cling to the promises I read in there, and allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen my hope and joy and confidence in God’s faithfulness in the midst of tough days.

As a broken person who is being repaired bit-by-bit and day-by-day, I have great reasons to remember the solid hope and joy that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, but I need those most because I know how deeply I need them.

Religion Among the Millennials

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released “Religion Among the Millennials” back in February, but I just came across the study this morning.  I haven’t had time to read through the full report yet, but there’s a very helpful 1-page overview I’ve embedded below (also available at the link above).

Here a few observations that I’m noticing off the bat:

  1. More people are “Unaffiliated” and yet the same amount attend a worship service “nearly weekly” as in the 90’s… but more people pray on a daily basis than ever!
  2. I’m not too concerned about the statistical change in those who say they are “certain God exists.”  Yes, the number has gone down since the 90’s, but it’s about the same as in the 80’s.  I could easily imagine someone answering this question differently depending on the day or week you ask them, since faith among Millennials is so subjective (rather than objective).  If anything, I’m surprised the number of those who are certain God exists is as high as 53%!
  3. So 53% of people are certain God exists… yet 82% believe in life after death?  This tells me that people are desperate for hope.  This is pure conjecture, but I imagine someone’s inner dialogue saying this: “Nothing I see or experience today tells me there is a God.  There might be, there might not be… but I believe things will somehow get better than this someday, even if it’s after I die.”  What a giant inroad to holding out the hope of salvation to a generation in search of hope!
  4. The Bible has held up pretty consistently despite everything else.  I hesitate on this question’s use of the word “literal.”  Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d answer this question.  I would probably answer “Yes,” because I’d assume that the question isn’t intended to have precise theological accuracy.  While I fully believe the Bible is the fully-inspired Word of God, there are many portions of Scripture that are intended to be read metaphorically or symbolically.  I’m not pointing this out to nit-pick details over the question, but the option “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word” sounds to me like it could be taken either as I have state above or to insinuate that the Bible as a whole is inspired, but not every part of it is inspired.  This is a theological issue, and I’m not so sure it’s right or fair to lump this crowd in with those who say the Bible is “a book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.”  These are two very different groups being lumped in together.

I hope to write a followup post next week after giving time to work through the full report.  Until then, what are the ministry implications that flow out of this study that you see?

Responding to Tebowing

This post is a follow up to last week’s post on Tim Tebow and was requested by my wife… so how could I say no?!  She’s a teacher in a local middle school and has been dealing with students “Tebowing” in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the middle of class, etc.  Just last week a few teenagers at another local school got suspended for Tebowing in the hallway.  So here’s the question: Is Tebowing Good or Bad for Christianity?

First, for those who are unfamiliar with “Tebowing,” UrbanDictionary defines it as, “To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”  Tim Tebow, the QB for the Denver Broncos, is a very devout Christian and is outspoken about his faith, and his “prayer posture” has become something of a cultural fad that’s sweeping the nation.  There’s even a website devoted to pictures of people Tebowing in public, Tebowing.com.

As usual, I see some good to the Tebowing craze, and bad.  Here we go…

The Good:

  • Maybe people actually pray while Tebowing.  If it gets people who don’t pray to start praying (even trite prayers) then you never know how God might use that.
  • Tebowing has people talking about prayer and Jesus in (mostly) positive ways. Sure, most people are saying “God doesn’t care about stupid things like football, doesn’t he have more important things to do.”  We won’t agree with what everyone has to say about prayer and faith, but these conversations don’t usually happen in such public and open ways.  I’ve heard people everywhere talking about their faith openly, and in New England that simply never happens.  So if Tebowing get people to start talking about faith and religion and Christianity in particular, then I’m thankful for it.

The Bad:

  • Mockery.  This one’s pretty obvious.  It’s clearly a mockery of Tebow’s faith in particular, and Christians in general.  I personally don’t think Christians should get offended over it and should take it the same way Tebow does: It’s good-natured mockery.  If we can’t laugh at caricatures of ourselves, then we have a pride problem to deal with.
  • Tebowing can communicate that prayer is for show.  I don’t think Tebow prays so that the cameras catch him praying, and therefore gets a certain public reputation or celebrity image.  I get the impression from Tebow that he legitimately wants to pray in order to thank his Heavenly Father for the opportunity and gifts to play football.  But we need to keep in mind that Perception Isn’t Everything, But It’s Close.  Jesus taught the value of private/secret prayer as opposed to the Pharisees who loved to pray in public so they would be seen.  Again, I give Tebow the benefit of the doubt, but people could easily accuse him of this (and I’ve heard people accuse him of this).
  • Tebowing trivializes prayer.  I often say “There’s no such thing as a small prayer.  We measure prayer by the One we’re praying to, not by the words we use or our ability to pray well.”  If that’s true, then Tebowing represents prayer in a laughable, cheap, and completely ridiculous light.  I don’t think they intend to trivialize prayer (some do, but I think most are blissfully ignorant), but that’s just the reality.  Again, let me repeat my encouragement again, don’t go to battle against Tebowing and I’m not personally offended by it, but I do think we should take the opportunity it opens up to us in order to discuss what people believe about prayer and faith and God, etc.

All in all, I think the Tebow phenomenon is a really positive thing: people who never discuss religion/spirituality are doing so openly and are interested in hearing from Christians about their beliefs.  I’m still amazed that I can’t remember hearing anyone say to me, “I think Tebow’s a fake and a hypocrite.”  People are fascinated by him because he seems to be so genuine and real, and that’s a wonderfully refreshing thing for me to see after all the Christian leaders who are usually in the news for one scandal or another.

I’m confident that Tebowing is just a passing fad, so if you’re someone who’s thinking, “But you just said it trivializes prayer!  Rally the troops, we need to fight this!” then I’d encourage you to settle down… by the time you get the troops rallied the Tebowing trend will be on its way out of our cultural consciousness.

Instead of protesting because you feel offended or mocked, take the opportunity to ask some questions like these:

  • If you could ask Tebow a question, what would it be?
  • Do you think people are rooting against Tebow because of his religious beliefs?  Do you think that’s right, or should that be a non-issue?
  • What do you think of Tebow being so outspoken about his faith?  Are you offended, or are you ok with him talking about his faith in Jesus so frequently?
  • Why do you think Tebow is so open and public about his faith?
  • What do you think about prayer?  What sort of things do you think God cares about?
  • Do you think God listens to Tebow more than he’d listen to you when you pray? Why?

Time for Tebow: What I Love & What I’m Concerned About

This is my first post on Tim Tebow.  Honestly, I simply haven’t known what to say!  Personally, I’m torn about him as a quarterback (although he’s starting to make me look foolish when I say things like, “Don’t you need to be consistently accurate to be a good quarterback in the NFL?”), I don’t know many who could even attempt to question his character.

Especially after his latest come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Bears, bringing the Bronco’s to a 7-1 record as their starting QB, it seems that Tebow-mania is in full swing.  I’ve been holding off on writing about Tebow until now, but since he seems all the rage I figured it was time to put some thoughts to writing.

So far, Tebow is a living example of Titus 2:7-8

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

Here’s what I love about Tebow:

  • He seems so genuine.  I don’t know him personally, but I haven’t yet heard of anyone who does know him from college coming out from the woodwork saying that he’s a phony.  If he’s a phony or a hypocrite, surely someone would’ve surfaced by now to let us know.
  • He’s not ashamed to give Jesus the glory.  Sure, you can debate whether or not he should “tone things down” about his faith, but everyone knows what he believes.  I frequently cringe when musicians give Jesus the glory for their Grammy (often, for a song that glorifies violence, sex, or drug-use), but when Tebow does it he seems totally genuine and humble.
  • He’s a great role model to look up to.  When we look around at people who are frequently named in magazines and the news, Tebow stands out among the rest.  In the midst of our fascination of all things “Rich and Famous,” Tebow stands out for being so drastically different and mysterious.  He keeps on winning, even though he shouldn’t.  He doesn’t fit the mold for anything.  He doesn’t really fit into any box that anyone tries to squeeze him into.
  • He wins, and he inspires those around him to win.  It’s not always pretty, but he wins even when the odds are stacked against him and people are hoping that he fails.  I’m not so certain that he’s “God’s Quarterback,” but he doesn’t give up when others would.  People point to the Bronco’s defense as the reason why they’ve started winning, but they have the same defense they had when they were losing all those games before Tebow started as QB.  Not only does Tebow win, he makes those around him winners too!

Here are a few things I’m concerned about:

  • Idolatry.  I’m not concerned that Tebow would become an idolater as much as I’m concerned that he’d become an idol.  Criticizing Tebow’s form or game-performance is fair, but there are some Christians out there who refuse to hear it.  Tebow points to Jesus, not himself – let’s follow his lead.
  • Persecution & Tebow.  I’ve heard people say that Tebow is being persecuted for being so vocal about his faith.  Persecution is intentional harm done to someone because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  Gossip and slander isn’t persecution unless they bring about actual harm to the person.  So far, I simply don’t see any cause for making Tebow a martyr.
  • Failure.  If Tebow fails, will my faith in Christ be shaken?  No… but I fear that many people could be placing faith in Tebow that doesn’t belong there.  If he fails as a NFL Quarterback or if he fails morally, we will be disappointed, but we should be  careful to not place our faith in Tebow but in Christ.

I’m not convinced that God is making Tebow win.  If you watch the games and know a bit about football you can see a lot of things seem to happen for Tebow late in the fourth quarter that he’s capitalized on.  He’s a good, smart football player.  Do I think it’s possible that God has chosen to give Tebow success so that Christ would receive the glory?  It’s possible.  The Gospel Coalition posted a fantastic article written by Owen Strachan today on this very issue, please take a few minutes to read it (yes, it’s very theological, so it’s not really “casual reading,” but it’s a great article to chew on):  “Tebow, Calvin, and the Hand of God in Sports”

If you haven’t watched the video embedded above, do yourself a favor and take two minutes to watch it.  Bob Costas did an excellent job highlighting Tebow in a very honoring and fair way.  The script to what he wrote can be found here.

The most clever article I’ve read on Tebow comes from Jason Gay in the Wall Street Journal, “What Tim Tebow Can’t Do.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Despite all of these issues, people still like Tim Tebow, which is mystifying. It’s as if they can’t recognize his flaws. They’re blinded by hype. They’re willfully ignorant. They want to believe in a myth.

One day they will see all of Tim Tebow’s shortcomings. How he’s never once sang O Canada at a Vancouver Canucks game. How he’s never captured a live dinosaur. How he’s too chicken to run for President.

Tim Tebow never, ever makes everybody happy. He can’t really do anything besides win football games. Since when did anyone care about that?

Here are two more good Tebow posts I’ve come across:

LWAYG: Religious Tolerance

Many people believe that all religions are ultimately the same because they all teach you to love your neighbor as yourself.  If you want a clear example of this, take a look at this video: Religious Tolerance: The Golden Rule.

However, just because different religions all share a version of the Golden Rule, that doesn’t make them the same.  Saying this makes all religions the same it extremely disrespectful and negligent since this basically finds a “Lowest Common Denominator” between the different faiths and intentionally ignores everything else that is different.  If we would not treat other cultures that way (afterall, all cultures have a version of marriage and basic community laws… so can’t we say all cultures are the same?), then why would we treat religion this way unless there’s a hidden agenda?

I came across the following video about the high school in Modesto, CA.

I know that some people might say that teaching our kids about other religions might tempt them to leave their Christian faith to follow Buddhism or some other faith.  I believe that God is not afraid of religious education, we just need to be wise about it.  The more I learn about other religions and the more I read and listen to people who I disagree with the more I find myself growing in my faith as a Christian.

Ultimately, all other religions are a matter of working your way into Heaven (except for biblical Judaism).  Christianity is a religion of faith: we are not “saved” and made children of God because we are good or because we have done certain things.  We are adopted as God’s children because we have placed our lives under the rule of Jesus Christ (aka: we’re trusting Jesus and have put our faith in Him).  Other religions say DO; Christianity says DONE.

I wish I had time to share thoughts on each of the major religions, but I simply don’t have the time right now.  What I do want to emphasize is the religion of most people today: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  MTD teaches:

  1. God created the world and watches over human life.
  2. God wants people to be nice and good and fair to each other.
  3. God wants people to be happy and to feel good about themselves.
  4. God isn’t actively involved in the world very much and doesn’t force himself on anyone.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This isn’t one of the “World Religions” that is taught formally anywhere, but I think most of us can see aspects of this in ourselves.  Not all of that is bad, some aspects of each of these five points of MTD are true, but believing all of these completely is an absolute disregard of what the Bible teaches.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it. Matthew 7:14

For there is one God and one mediator between man and God, the man Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy 2:5

These are pretty clear statements denying that all “good” people go to heaven.  There’s no way around it: Christianity is an exclusive religion in many ways.  Everyone is invited, but only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will be saved.

Here’s my point: Know what you believe and know what the Bible teaches… but listen to other people too.  Listen to them in order to learn more about your faith in Christ through them, not just to debate or to prove them wrong.  Respectfully discuss theology and faith and spirituality with people.  Don’t be afraid to confess your exclusive faith in Jesus Christ or to disagree with the other person’s viewpoint, but don’t be afraid to actually listen to the person you’re speaking with either.

LWAYG: Relational Tolerance

We all have friends or family who we all have to tolerate for one reason or another:

  • Friends who practice a different religion
  • Friends with a different ethnic/cultural background
  • Friends who have and practice sexuality differently that we believe is good and right
  • Friends who seem to be chronic liars and gossips
  • Friends who just make boneheaded decisions

So here’s the question: How do you, as a Christian, influence your friends who look at life and the world from such a different perspective?

Debates are easy to get into, but are rarely effective or helpful.  Sure, there are times when a good debate is what the doctor ordered, but I think they’re usually just the “easy way” to act Christian by telling your friends you disagree.  Sometimes we just feel like we should make our opinion known, but we don’t know what to say or how to say it so we just blurt out our opinion and the debate begins.  The problem with debates are that you aren’t trying to learn anything, you’re trying to disprove your “opponent.”

Here are my suggestions for how to have a Christ-filled impact on your friends and family:

  1. You keep connected to Christ daily. This should be assumed, but we often forget how important this is because it’s so obvious.  If I’m not faithfully walking with Jesus I’m making it very difficult for God to use me.  Practice the spiritual disciplines, be faithful to Jesus.
  2. Pray for your friends regularly. God actually listens to and answers prayer!  Plus, if you’re not praying for your friends and asking for opportunities to help your friend know Jesus, then you might be walking past opportunities all the time because you’re not really looking for them.
  3. Show your friends Jesus’ love in action. Sometimes I think we live like Secret-Agent-Christians: Follow Jesus and do good things, but don’t let anyone know.  If people ask you why you do what you do… TELL THEM!  If you’re doing it “just because,” then don’t give a “Jesus-answer.”  But if you did what you did because of your faith then say so!  Remember tolerance works both ways – if you’re humbly following Jesus and your friends freak out then maybe they need to work on being more tolerant too.
  4. Talk about Jesus. This goes along with #3 above.  When you do get into conversations about faith with your friends FOCUS ON JESUS, not on evolution or homosexuality or whatever other hot-button topic comes up.  If you convince your friends that God created the world (and people too!), then great: your friend now believes God created everything but they still don’t have faith in Jesus Christ!  The Gospel is central to Scripture and our faith… keep it central to your conversations too.
  5. Remember that Jesus doesn’t approve of or overlook your sin anymore than he overlooks or approves of your friends’ sin. If you’re frustrated that your friend is going going to parties or sleeping with her boyfriend or whatever else, first ask yourself what sin you need to confess and repent of.  That doesn’t mean you need to wait until you’re perfect before you lovingly and humbly confront your friend, but it does mean that you remember there are things about you that you could be confronted about too.  The Bible teaches time and time again that judgment begins with the house of God, meaning that God’s children are held to a HIGHER standard that non-Christians… so we have no reason to be harder on others than we are on ourselves.

I just love Colossians 3:5-14, because it reminds me who I am (who I am apart from Christ, and who I am in Christ).  Read it below here:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practicesand have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Just look at what we’re told to stop and what we’re told to do.  If we could keep this passage in our minds every day I think we’d start to look a lot different… and so would those around us.  I think we’d all start to look a lot more like Jesus.