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Archive for July, 2010

Uh-oh.

The Barna Group just released a report on Christian teens, age 13-17.  2 big “wows” stand out to me:

1.  Current Christian teenagers are much less inclined to have a spiritual conversation about their beliefs with a non-Christian, in the hope that the unbeliever might accept Jesus as their Savior.  In 1997, 63% of teens said they’d done that in the past year.  Today, that percentage has dipped to 45%.   A drastic decline in 12 years.  Why?

Barna group says:  Christian teenagers are taking cues from a culture that has made it unpopular to make bold assertions about faith or be too aggressively evangelistic.   Some of the Barna Group’s other research shows that the vast majority of these students agree with the statement [that] it is “cool to be a Christian.”  Yet fewer young Christians apparently believe it is worthwhile to talk about their faith in Jesus with others.”

2.  Six common religious activities are at their lowest levels ever among Christian teens, since Barna began their surveys many years ago.  These six activities:  small group attendence, prayer, Sunday School participation, giving to church, reading Christian books outside of the Bible, and evangelism.  All %’s in these 6 categories are at their lowest levels among Christian teens.

Perceptively, David Kinnaman (President of Barna Group) says: Teenagers view religious involvement partly as a way to maintain their all-important relationships.  Yet perhaps technology such as social networking [think Facebook, Twitter, Texting] is reconfiguring teens’ needs for relationships and continual connectivity, diminishing the role of certain spiritual forms of engagement in their lives [think Prayer, Meditation on Scripture, Evangelism]. Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook.”

Boom.

Let me ask you a blunt question:  Do you spend more time on Facebook than you spend with God?   For that matter, do you spend more time on Facebook than you spend face-to-face with friends?  (If so, you really need to read this fascinating short article, entitled, “Is True Friendship Dying Away?”)

Ok, everyone who knows Jesus has a big job to do.  First, we need to spend time with Him and learn how excellent He really is.  After all, we’ll never pass along what we do not possess.  But secondly, we need to assess the reality of our culture, and let it know that Jesus is unique.  And that He is really the only way.  Only.  Solely.  Exclusively.  Not other ways.  Only.

Jesus is the only way.  That’s what He said (John 14:6).   That’s what Peter said (Acts 4:12).  That’s what I’m saying.  That’s what American Christian teenagers are increasingly afraid to say.

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Ok, this is the kind of guy I am:  I got to thinking about 6.5 Billion people on the planet, and God knows every one of them.  It overwhelms me to think about.  In fact, the Great Commission can overwhelm me in the sheer numbers of people who need to hear of Jesus.

Though the numbers are staggering, and though some places on earth are very crowded, the earth is really a big, big place with vast open spaces.  I did some calculating….

My research showed that, if every single person on the planet were given a 3′ x 3′ square to stand in, the entire population of earth could fit into the state of West Virginia.  I know, hard to believe, but the numbers bear this out.

If we are more generous, and give everyone 4′ x 4′, every one fits inside Virginia.  5′ x 5′, everyone fits inside Illinois.

So, 6.5 billion people boggles my mind.  But so does a planet that could contain them all (albeit rather uncomfortably, nearly like sardines) in the confines of West Virginia.

Just something random to think about.

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I’ve come up with a simple definition for Faith: “Trusting what God says, despite strong or even common-sense reasons to do the opposite.”

As I’ve been reading through Genesis, I’ve seen 2 clear examples of Faith, (though God’s commands to them were exactly opposite!).

God told Abraham, “GO!” from all his wealth, comfort and status, to an unknown land.  And he went.  (Genesis 12:1)

God told Isaac, “STAY!” in the land that was stricken with famine, while everyone else was leaving to find food (which seems common-sense to do).  And he stayed. (Genesis 26:1-3)

When I put myself in Abraham’s and Isaac’s sandals, it feels very risky to trust God’s commands to alternately Go! or Stay! under such circumstances.  My life, and my family’s lives, might be utterly jeopardized.  This is Faith, when we choose to do it God’s way, despite the likely consequence that it will cost us our lives.

So, Lord, what are You commanding me today?  Will I obey You in Faith, despite the strong or common-sense reasons to do the exact opposite?  O, make me such a man!


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(I’ve been to the top of one of these — you’ll have to guess).

The Sears Tower, of Chicago.

The Pearl Tower, of China.

The Empire State Building, of NYC.

The Tower, of Babel.

You’ve heard the story (Genesis 11).  Post-flood, people on a Babylonian plain build a city, the central attraction a Tower that “reaches to the sky.”  Their motivation: “To make a name for ourselves.”  The Rabble at Babel built a Tower for Power. This was:

  • an act of independence from God, as direct disobedience to His clear command.
  • an act of pride that says “Look at me!  Look at me!” instead of  “Look at Him!  Look at Him!

God’s command in Genesis 9:1 (to Noah and his descendants) is unambiguous:  “Be fruitful, increase in number, and fill the earth.”  Essentially, God is saying “spread out, fill the earth, go everywhere, populate it, tend it, explore it, find it all, enjoy it, sustain it, learn to manage it, … now go!”

Instead, the people at Babel determine “not to be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”   Strict defiance of God’s clear command.  To wish this is to wish against the will of God, to rebel against Him, and to tell Him he’s unimportant.  God says “scatter over all the earth and fill it,” but they say “we will not scatter over the whole earth.”

This is rebellion with a capital “R.”

It began when they fired the first brick in the kiln.  Instead of building a tower with unearthed, irregular stones, they shaped rectangular blocks (probably an architectural advancement to build to a greater height).   (Disclaimer: I live in a brick house.  I like bricks.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a brick.)

But before the first brick had cooled, their Tower of Independence (from God) had been erected in their hearts.  Their dream of self-glory supplanted their joy in God’s glory.  Firing that first brick, they declared:  “We’ll do this our way.  His commands don’t interest us.  We will do what we want.”

They simply repeated the original sin of Adam and Eve.  A brick for an apple.

With the bricks, languages landed on Earth, confounding former friends. Compassionately, God prevented their perversion of Independence from spreading. He quarantined the problem (ironically), by scattering them worldwide and thwarting their communication.   God ensured the possibility that some men could escape this rebellious independence movement.

Today, I hate the fact that there are so many languages in the world.  Learning a new language is the the bane of my existence (or, it would be if I tried again).  But God knew what He was doing.

Pentecost (c. 33AD) began the “Great Reversal” of Babel. Now, the nations of the world can honorably come together again… not to build a tower and make a name for themselves … but to worship-honor-and-love the One who is our Great Tower, who has made a Name for Himself.  The Name above all names — Jesus, you are the Great One!

Isn’t He the Greatest? Yes, He is.

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God Shows Up

The beautiful OT book of Esther reminds me specifically that “God Can!”  “He is Able!” even when we think all is lost.  Read this story and be swept away in it’s wonder.  For surely the heart of God is to rescue, often at the last moment, and usually through the courageous faith of simple servants.

The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God by name. Why?  Because He is the great, invisible protagonist of the entire book, breathing behind every word and action!  He is only found by those who dare to search. Omitting his name is the rhetorical device that (ironically) draws greatest attention to Him.

For example, as I read Esther, I made  a list of all the places I saw the Sovereign God “show up” in surprising ways, to steer the improbable storyline along.  Where does God “show up” in Esther?

  • God created Esther (aka Hadassah, in Hebrew) beautiful and got her recognized by the search committee for the new Queen (for King Xerxes).
  • God provided Esther (an orphan) with a parent figure in her older cousin, Mordecai.
  • God caused Esther to find favor with the royal official who headed the King’s harem.
  • God caused King Xerxes to choose Esther to be queen, above all the others.
  • God put Mordecai in the exact spot to overhear (and then, report on) the assassination plot against the King.
  • God delayed the proposed extermination plot against the Jews (by evil Haman) by 11 months, to allow unseen plans to develop for deliverance.
  • God caused the King to spare Queen Esther’s life, when she approached the King in his inner court, without permission (punishable by death, by law).
  • God prevented the King from sleeping on the critical night, which began Haman’s demise.
  • God prompted the King to read the Book of his Reign (during his insomnia), to discover the unrewarded good deed of Mordecai.
  • God (ironically) uses the same gallows that Haman built to execute Mordecai, to execute Haman instead.
  • God moves the King to declare a 2nd edict, allowing the Jews throughout his kingdom to assemble and protect themselves from Haman’s earlier edict of annihilation.
  • In the end, God raises up lowly, faithful Mordecai to the rank of #2 in the Kingdom (behind only the King) … just like God raised up Joseph from prison to be #2 to Pharaoh, and bring about a great deliverance for God’s people.

Wow.  Could it be any clearer?  God, though never named, is the greatest character in the book of Esther.  Though often hidden, He moves in power.  He is able.  He really can.

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A. W. Tozer, in his classic book The Knowledge of the Holy, begins with these penetrating words:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us …  for this reason, the gravest question before the church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

Tonight, LeBron James will tell the world (in a 1-hour special) which NBA team he’ll be playing for next year.  It’s a big deal to a lot of people, especially to LeBron.  But, do you know what should be more important for LeBron than this decision?  It’s what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”  That is the most important thing about LeBron.  And to the degree He misconceives God, regardless of his fame or fortune, we should feel sorry for him.  O! to have the whole world, but miss Jesus Christ, is to be the least pauper of all!  O! to have no bank account, yet have Jesus, is to be the wealthiest of all!

This is not a commentary on LeBron’s conception of God (I haven’t the foggiest idea what he conceives God to be like).  It is, however, a reminder that what comes into our minds when we think about God really is the most important thing about us.

And I wonder, what comes into your mind when you think about God? Is it accurate?  Is it informed by what He’s told us (the Bible) or by your wishes, sprinkled with the idiotic notions of our wayward culture?  There really is a God Who Is, and a god we naively imagine, and they are not the same.  The first is Real, Sovereign, All-Powerful, and (ironically) more willing to sacrifice for your welfare than you could hope.  The second is papier-mâché, a mannequin, a hollow clam shell with no pearl.  He’s not real, no matter how often you invoke his name.

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I’ve noticed in my reading of Hebrews, in the final 4 chapters, that God inspires the writer to say “Let Us…” 7x!  That grabs my attention.  May these 7 thoughts from Hebrews 10-13 impress my heart, and yours, today:

  • Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience …”         (H 10:22)
  • Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”  (H 10:23)
  • Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (H 10:24)
  • Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (H10:25)
  • Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…”  (H 12:1)
  • Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”         (H 12:2)
  • Let us go to [Jesus] outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”        (H 13:13)

Catch those verbs?   Draw near — hold unswervingly — consider — not give up — throw off — fix — go. I like the ‘impulse power’ in those verbs.  The Christian life can’t be lived from a La-Z-Boy recliner.  It’s not a spectator sport.  It demands we sprint onto the playing field and play the game.

Someone has likened American Christianity to an NFL football game:  “22 players competing on the field — desperately  in need of rest; 70,000 posers watching in the stands — desperately in need of exercise.”

So, are you a player or a poser?  Let us get into the game.  Today.

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