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Posts Tagged ‘God’

The Science of God

As a pastor living in a college town I run into skeptics, doubters and unbelievers regularly. One of the most common objections I hear about the Christian faith is in regards to science. People just can’t seem to wrap their minds around God.

I get it.  I really do. I have a degree in biology and psychology.  I’m more than familiar with naturalistic evolution, evolutionary psychology and the behavioral sciences than I’d like to be.  I’ve taken physics, chemistry and genetics.  I, like many of my peers, appreciate hard facts, empirical evidence and measurable results.

In a world of scientific questions, factual evidence is our friend. Measurable outcomes are important, but when it comes to God I’ve learned that they just aren’t enough.

theosophical.wordpress.com

theosophical.wordpress.com

When Science Isn’t Enough

Science is built on the premise that what can be known is measurable.  It can be quantified with empirical evidence. This is true to an extent.

When it comes to the natural world we can use natural means to measure natural outcomes.  The problem is, God is not natural.  He is supernatural. He is beyond that which is natural and is therefore immeasurable by natural standards.

It is absurd to conclude that a supernatural God does not exist because he cannot be measured through natural means. How can what is limited measure that which is unlimited?  That’s like concluding that the ocean doesn’t exist because it doesn’t fit in a five gallon bucket.

The famed physicist Albert Einstein is credited with rightly saying, “What’s measurable isn’t always important and what’s important isn’t always measurable.” He, a self described agnostic, understood that even the most skeptical among us should have “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”¹

Scientific Limitations

The infinite God cannot be defined by that which is finite. He who is limitless cannot be comprehended by that which has limits, unless he chooses to reveal himself within the context of those limits.

Imagine that we live in a two dimensional world with a three dimensional God. If this three dimensional God were to stick his finger into our two dimensional world we would describe his cylindrical finger as a flat circle because we wouldn’t have any way of accurately seeing his finger for what it is.

Our two dimensional science just doesn’t have what it takes to measure this three dimensional God. The limitless God is beyond the limits of science. Furthermore, to say that God must submit to the laws of science is to make science God.

Giving God His Rightful Place

The very definition of God refers to a supreme being who retains ultimate authority over the world he created.  By definition he cannot be bound by science, since he the Great Scientist is the one who put it’s laws into effect.

Just like a software developer has the power to by-pass the codes he put in place to make a software function in a particular way, so God also has the power and authority to by-pass the natural laws if he so chooses, and sometimes does. You cannot say that God must be measurable by science because that would make science God, which it by definition cannot be.

A Window Through Which to See the Creator

What does science tell us about God, then? A great deal actually.  In Romans 1:19-20, the apostle Paul explains that God has made himself known to us in part through creation.  We can learn about his attributes and enjoy his glory through that which his hands have made.

Jesus himself also used creation to teach his disciples about the Father, particular in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7). In them he used plants, animals, agriculture, seasons and weather to help his followers better understand the nature of God. It was from this very notion that many of the first scientists, who happened to be Christian or influenced by Christianity, pursued the sciences, because they believed that the study of science would better help us understand the Great Scientist

Science cannot, however, tell us all that there is to know about God. It is just too limited. The only way for man to fully know God is for God to fully reveal himself to man. The remarkable truth is that God has chosen to make himself known to us through his Son Jesus Christ.   John 1:18 tells us that “no one has ever seen God” but that “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

We don’t have to stress over how to scientifically prove God. He validated and vindicated himself in Christ. He can be known and enjoyed through Jesus and Jesus can be known through the Word of God.

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*For more on the historical Jesus and the Bible check out “Simply Jesus: Does the Church have Him Wrong?“, a sermon series from Living Hope Church about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

¹ Isaacson, Walter (2008). Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 390.

² Driscoll, Mark (2010). Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, pp. 97-104.

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Creation Care: Why Climate Change is not the Issue

There seems to be an ever increasing concern among both Christians and non-Christians on the topic of climate change.  This hotly debated topic has been controversial in the minds of Christians for quite some time, but in recent years there are an increasing number of Christ-followers giving more attention to the subject  Some Christians still deny that climate change exists, while many are beginning to accept it’s legitimacy to one degree or another.

Generally speaking, climate change is a change in the weather conditions of a particular geographic area as a result of the high use of fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide/monoxide/methane producing products and procedures.  Bill Nye, known as “the science guy,” in a debate on CNN’s “Crossfire” called climate change “our most urgent, number one priority right now.” Some Christians, however, are not convinced.

Image via thestandard.org.nz

Image via thestandard.org.nz

Is Climate Change the Issue?

Regardless of whether or not you take Bill’s claims seriously, the truth is climate change is not the issue, creation care is.  Climate change is the symptom of a much broader and more personal problem.  Creation care, or lack there of, is the root cause of much of the climate change debate.  It doesn’t account for all of the climate change factors, but it does account for many of them.

Creation care refers to the responsibility that God gave to our first parents, Adam and Eve, to “have dominion” over the earth and that which God created on it. (Genesis 1:28-31) To have dominion doesn’t mean to dominate, but rather to steward or care for something that belongs to another person.  God was giving Adam, Eve and the rest of mankind the responsibility of caring for that which belongs to him, namely the world we live in.

Creation Care: Our Responsibility

It doesn’t take a scientist to see that, until recent years, we as a culture have punted our responsibility to care for God’s good creation.  This is because sin has turned our hearts away from God, causing us to become self-centered consumers of our world, rather than responsible caretakers of it.  As a result, we dump waste hazardously, consume materials relentlessly and produce damaging bi-products extensively.

Our sin has wreaked havoc on our world.  Thankfully, God has made a way for us to return to him through Jesus Christ.  By dying on the cross, Jesus took our sin and gave us his Holy Spirit to overcome the damaging affects of sin on our worldviews, actions and lifestyles.  As 1 Corinthians 6 says, Jesus purchased believers for God, we belong to him and he gets to determine how we live our lives.

Christians would, therefore, do well to look past the controversial topic of climate change to the deeper issues of the heart.  Regardless of our perspective, we have a responsibility as God’s image bearers and his redeemed people to rightly care for that which is his.  Are we caring for creation in a way that honors God as our Creator and Jesus as our Lord?  Do we take responsibility for what we consume and produce?  Can we say with good conscience that we are being good caretakers of that which is God’s?

It’s a sad day when many of our non-Christian friends care more about stewarding the earth and caring for our God given resources than God’s people do. We don’t need to worship the earth by obsessing over it, but as God’s people we should worship him by caring for it. 

In reality, climate change (though important) is irrelevant in the argument for responsible stewardship. We should take care of the earth because it belongs to God, not just because we fear impending environmental doom.

The Cross: God’s Love Magnified or His Wrath Satisfied?

April 18, 2014 7 comments

This post is in defense of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  It is written as a response to specific misconceptions about what Jesus accomplished on the cross. This post is exceedingly long and it is intended to be for the sake of a thorough defense of an important doctrine. Be advised. 

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

The cross and resurrection are the culmination of Christ’s ministry.  It was here that Jesus would die for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2; John 1:29)   It was here that sin and death would be defeated.  (1 Corinthians 15:56-57; 1 Corinthians 15:26) It was here that the Lord would have his victory over Satan and hell. (1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelations 12:11; Revelation 20:13-14; Revelation 20:6)   It was here that sins would be forgiven and those who believe would be made right with God. (Hebrews 8-10)

Because of our sins, for our Benefit

On this topic Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” To die for our sins means to die because of our sins.  Elsewhere Paul says, “for our sake [God] made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Here Paul indicates that Jesus not only died because of our sins, he also died for our benefit.  Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 3:18 when he says “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

This exchange is known as penal substitutionary atonement; penal meaning penalty, substitutionary meaning in our place because of our sins and atonement meaning to make those who believe right with God. In other words Jesus died on the cross in our place to take the penalty we deserve for our sins so that those who believe in him can be made right with God.

The Wrath of God

The Bible clearly states in both the Old and New Testaments that God’s wrath is against those who do evil.  God’s wrath is his just anger against sinners. We see this in the passages below as well as many others:

1) Psalm 78:21-22:Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and trust in his saving power.”

2) Ezekiel 25:17: The Lord said, “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”

3) Nahum 1:2:The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.”

4) Romans 12:18:Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

5) Ephesians 2:1-3:And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

6) Revelation 19:21:He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Basically, God is loving, gracious and kind. He is slow to anger, wanting all to turn from sin and be saved, but he will not withhold his wrath from those who continually refuse his loving kindness. (2 Peter 3:9; Exodus 34:6-7)

All Have Sinned

Scripture is also clear when it states that all people have sinned against God and face his wrath.

1) Romans 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

2) 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”

3) Romans 3:10-12, 23: “None is righteous, no, not one; no on understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.  no one does good, not even one… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

4) 2 Peter 2:9:Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”

Jesus, therefore, substituted himself for sinners at the cross.  He would die so that we could live.  He would be condemned so that we could be forgiven.  He would absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive the mercy of God.

A Necessary Substitute

This is called propitiation, which means to appease or deal with a persons anger by diverting it to someone or something other than the person who deserves it. In other words, the offense is actually dealt with by someone or something other than the person who committed the offense, it’s not just overlooked. The following passages illustrate this clearly:

1) 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven,whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

2) Romans 5:9:Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

3) Romans 3:23-25:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift,through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

4) 1 John 2:2:He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Scripture is clear: all people are sinners who deserve the wrath of God.  God, in his kindness and love, sent Jesus to the cross as our substitute to absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive his love.  God is holy.  It would be unjust for him to simply overlook our offenses.  The cross is where God can execute justice against sin, while simultaneously showing mercy to sinners.

Naysayers and False Teachers

At this point, many progressive Bible teachers speak out against the truth of God’s Word.  These are the men who would rather tell the gospel as they’d like for it to be than as it actually is. (2 Peter 3:14-18) Their arguments are as follows:

1) Modern Bible translations have misinterpreted the word propitiation used in places like 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.  They argue that the word translated as propitiation doesn’t actually mean to “pacify wrath,” but that it should be translated as expiation which means to “remove sin.”  The truth is that Jesus both pacifies wrath and removing sin.

Let’s assume however that you’re smarter than I because you know Greek and Hebrew (or can quote the first website that agrees with your opinion) and that the word for propitiation is incorrectly translated.  There are other Scriptures that do not use the word propitiation and still communicate that Jesus saves us from the wrath of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:10, for example, states that “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come.” Likewise, Romans 5:9 clearly states that we are “saved from the wrath of God by [Jesus].” Finally, John 3:36 explicitly says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that  Jesus saves from God’s wrath.

2) The second argument against Jesus’ substitutionary work is that Jesus never stated that he died to save sinners from God’s wrath.  This is simply not true. In John 3:16-17 Jesus himself says that “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Jesus is referring to a person perishing because they are condemned, but condemned to where?  The answer is hell, the place of God’s wrath as we’ve already seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. At the cross Jesus was condemned so that those who believe wouldn’t have to be. 

Furthermore, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7), Jesus states that it is better to enter life maimed than it is to be thrown into hell for one’s sin. (Matthew 5:27-30)  If a person is thrown into hell because of his sins, then for Jesus to save a person from his sins means that Jesus has saved him from God’s wrath in hell.

Lastly, John the Baptist stated that Jesus died to take away the wrath of God (John 3:36). Jesus had personal interaction with John and many of John’s disciples became Jesus’ disciples. (John 1:35-37) Surely the Lord would have heard of John’s teaching, yet no where in Scripture does Jesus refute the teaching that he is to die for our sins to take the wrath of God.  If it were not true, Jesus would have most certainly corrected the man he regarded so highly. (Matthew 11:11)

3) Those who disagree with the doctrine of propitiation also argue that this stance does not fit with the rest of the New Testament.  Hogwash.  Jesus said at least three times that he came to fulfill the Scriptures (Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 24:27)   and Paul echoes Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3.  The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, that means that he fulfilled the Old Covenant with it’s laws, rights, rituals, practices, traditions, customs and requirements.

Leviticus 16 illustrates penal substitution when it describes the responsibility of the high priest to slaughter animals as a substitute, or sacrifice, for the sins of the people.  The animal would die, so that the people could live.  The animal would be condemned, so that the people could be forgiven.  If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, then he fulfilled this requirement by becoming the substitute for us, which is also confirmed in Hebrews 5-10.

This would also mean that Jesus fulfilled the Passover in which the death angel, executing God’s judgment and wrath against Pharaoh’s rebellion, passed over the homes of those who had the blood of a Lamb painted over their doorposts.  (Exodus 12:12-13) In Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus indicates that his blood is the blood of the covenant, indicating that he is the Passover Lamb, through whom the wrath of God passes over those who believe.

4) One final argument that is commonly made is that penal substitutionary atonement (propitiation) is too judicial.  It pits God the Father against Jesus the Son.  Those who make this argument must have removed passages like Romans 2:1-52 Corinthians 5:10, Acts 17:31 and Revelation 20:12 from their Bibles.  These passages clearly teach that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God to be judged for our sins.  You can’t get much more judicial than that.

If we are to be judged for our sins, then Jesus had to have died to take that judgment.  If he didn’t, then we have no hope but to face the judgment ourselves.  God the Father positioned himself against Jesus the Son on the cross so that he would no longer have to position himself against ill-deserving sinners, which is why 1 John 1:9 calls Jesus our advocate.

An advocate is someone who defends another person in a court of law.  Again, very judicial. How does Jesus defend us in God’s court? By taking the judgment of God upon himself so that he can rightfully defend us at our own judgment. Christ’s judgment is our restoration and without Christ’s judgment there can be no restoration. God is not Judge or Father he is both Judge and Father.

A Glorious Conclusion

Indeed, at the cross God’s wrath is most certainly satisfied.  Jesus absorbed it so we wouldn’t have to.  What then of God’s love? Is he a cold, begrudging deity?  By no means. 1 John 4:10 tells us that “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Other translations say “atoning sacrifice” which is another way of saying “to make right with one through the substitutionary death of another.” In fact the dictionary definition for sacrifice is “the offering of an animal, plant or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.”

The breath-taking reality is this: God would rather pour his wrath out on his own Son than to see ill-deserving sinners get the penalty they deserve. You cannot find a better personification of love than that.  Jesus willingly took the punishment you deserve for your wrongs against God so that you could be forgiven.  That’s love.  God the Father chose to punish his Son for your sins so that he could adopt you as his child.  That’s love.

If the question is whether or not the cross is God’s love magnified or his wrath satisfied, then the answer is that the cross is God’s love magnified through his wrath satisfied.  It is at the cross that love and justice meet.  A holy God is vindicated and ill-deserving sinners are loved far beyond what their sins deserve.

This post was adapted from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Christ Our Substitute.”  This sermon was one of four sermons in a series called “The Cross of Christ,” one of our most popular series at Living Hope.  You can view the series here and the sermon here.

Reflections from a National Champion: An Interview with Trevor Adams

February 12, 2014 6 comments

Interview with Bearcat QB Trevor Adams a week before the Division II National Championship.

The Northwest Missouri State Bearcat football team hosted their championship celebration this past Sunday in Maryville, Missouri.  The celebration commemorated a perfect 15-0 season and the team’s fourth national title since 1998.

Bearcat senior captain (now graduated), Trevor Adams, was one of the top performing athletes of Division II college football last season (2013). Under center, Trevor led the nation in just about every QB stat imaginable: he had a 192.5 passer rating, a 73% completion percentage, 3,000+ yards passing and more than 30 touchdowns.

As if that wasn’t enough, Adams was the MIAA Conference Player of the Year, a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete and a recipient of the Elite 89 Award for the Division II National Championship.  And to top it off, he led the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats to an undefeated National Title victory.  He is easily one of the best athletes in the country.

What most people don’t know is that winning games isn’t as important to Trevor Adams as winning souls.  In an interview with an Odessa newspaper Adams said “Twenty years down the road… I hope people say, ‘Trevor was a great leader for our team and unselfish and showed me God’s love and pointed me to Christ.'”

Surprisingly, Trevor’s biggest opportunity to represent Jesus came during a game against Central Missouri State where he, as the starter, was benched in the second quarter  because of a poor performance.  His backup stepped in to lead the team to a come-from-behind victory and then gave Trevor credit for the win.  A week before the National Championship I was able to speak with Trevor about that game.

The video above highlights Trevor’s responses.  His responses are specifically related to the Central Missouri game, but they are reflective of his entire career at Northwest.  Trevor takes Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12 and makes them real for the rest of us.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10: 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, formy power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

T Adams

Image via scores.espn.go.com.

Dear Christian Part 2: What you need to know about the Christianity you grew up with.

January 30, 2014 13 comments

In a previous post I described the current dynamics of the church I pastor and the tough issues we’ve faced as a result.  We’re a church of mixed nuts.  We’ve got veteran Christians who have known the Lord since the 1970’s and 80’s, post-modern non-Christians who know little to nothing about the biblical Jesus and university students who are escaping the clutches of cheesy, youth group Christianity, bad Bible teaching and fundamentalist Christian worldviews.

Needless to say, we have no shortage of issues to address, doctrines to teach, false teaching to correct and disciples to make. My previous post on the topic addressed some of the common issues we face with those who have no church background.  This post will focus on some of the issues we face with those who have grown up in the church, but not in Christ.

Ned Flanders

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

1. Immaturity is neither attractive, nor helpful (particularly among men). The ’90’s was an era of church gymnasiums, game rooms, festivals and clean Christian fun.  It seemed that the goal was to attract America’s youth with fun, keep them with food and hope they catch the faith.

Sadly, most of that generation came for the fun, took the food and left the faith.  These are the post-evangelical twentysomethings that live in their parent’s basement, play video games 10 hours a day and attend church just to socialize with more freeloaders like themselves.  This lifestyle (particular among young guys) is killing the church.

Thankfully, Jesus took responsibility for himself and for us when he died on the cross for our sins.  If we can connect these guys and gals to Jesus they can experience life change, learn responsibility and start making a real difference. (Colossians 1:28-29; Galatians 4:18-19; 1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

2. Obedience is not optional. In the past 10 to 20 years, the church has been far too concerned with getting people “saved” and not concerned enough with seeing people sanctified.  New converts were rushed to the “sinner’s prayer” and then told to hang on until eternity. America’s Christians learned about faith in Jesus, but they were never taught obedience to Jesus.

Christianity is as much about how we live on earth as it is where we go when we die.  Life with Jesus doesn’t start when we get to eternity, it starts now and continues into eternity.  Our faith in Christ must, therefore, result in obedience to Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 John 2:6; John 14:21)

3. Generosity means first-fruits, not leftovers. In an age of luxury and consumerism, giving has become little more than an after thought.  We might give once we have what we want, but never will we give before then.  This self-absorbed view has long since infiltrated the ranks of God’s people and it’s hurting the church.

When we were spiritually bankrupt and far from God, Jesus generously sacrificed himself so that we could enjoy the riches of God’s grace.  It’s critical that God’s people believe this truth so that we will give generously to God as he has generously given to us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 8-9)

4. Independence hinders discipleshipDiscipleship by nature requires relationships and community.  Our Burger King culture on the other hand celebrates independence.  We’re constantly told to “have it your way.”  The more we believe this slogan, the less we’re willing to involve ourselves with people who will speak into our lives.

The Bible, however, is rich with texts that urge and command us to do life together.  It’s in community that we learn to trust in Jesus and live for God.  We won’t become the people God wants us to be until we are willing to be the church instead of just going to church. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:24-25)

5. The prosperity gospel is demonic. Prosperity theology teaches that the sign of God’s favor is health, wealth and unending blessings.  Hardships, difficulties and suffering are signs that you are out of favor with God.  The false solution?  You just need a little more faith.  The problem is this devastates people when death, job loss, criticism at work or family conflict arise.  This is a demonic lie.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the sign of God’s favor. Through him we can have joy and confidence even in the midst of difficulty, not in the absence of it.  Jesus rules over our pain and is with us in it, but he does not always keep us from it.  Happiness is not found in our prosperity, but in the presence of God. (1 Timothy 6:2-10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

This generation has much to contribute to the advance of God’s Kingdom in our day.  Doing so, however, will mean unlearning a few things so that they can re-learn God’s ways.  It will mean growing up in Christ, not just in the church.

Are you pursuing your career or your calling?

October 28, 2013 2 comments

As a location leader at the Living Hope Maryville Campus, I have the unrivaled privilege of pastoring the people that God has placed under my care.  With this privilege also comes much responsibility.  One of those responsibilities is helping God’s people pursue God’s calling for their lives individually and as a church collectively.

The Living Hope Maryville Campus is predominantly college students and recent graduates.  It’s not uncommon for me to ask Living Hope members what they plan to do when they graduate.  The answer I usually get is that they will go wherever they can get a job.  That’s a heart-breaking response. 

career vs. calling

Serving the Wrong Master

The problem with this response is that it demonstrates that the person giving it is (possibly unintentionally) serving the wrong master. (Luke 16:13) This reply indicates that a person’s career is dictating his life instead of his calling.  It shows that the person is submitting primarily to her job when she should be submitting only to Jesus. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Does that mean that it’s wrong to pursue a career?  Not at all, so long as it’s the career that God has called you to at the time he has called you to it.  It does mean, however, that we should be asking an entirely different set of questions.  Instead of asking “where can I get a job?”, we should be asking: Where does Jesus want me to be?  And, what is God calling me to do next?

Submitting to Jesus

Submitting to Jesus isn’t always easy.  It sometimes means doing things we don’t want to do, living somewhere we don’t want to live or working a job that isn’t even in our career field.  This, however, is always our best option because it is the option that grows our faith, increases our joy and prepares us for what God has next.  (Luke 9:23-25; Matthew 13:44)

If you’re approaching graduation, retirement or a family move, please submit to God’s calling instead of your career.  Open your life up to a community of believers, ask them to help you determine God’s call for you and to shape you for it.  If it’s not clear, hang tight for a while longer than you originally intended.  Don’t leave a healthy, missional community of God’s people for a career that might deter you from God’s calling.  Stay put until God makes it clear (with the help and consensus of other godly people) which direction to move next.  (Acts 15:28; Hebrews 13:7, 17)

Be willing to make adjustments to your life plan, put your career on hold or even work in a field entirely unrelated to your major. Wrestle with God, identify your calling and submit to Jesus.  Always, always, always pursue God’s calling instead of your career.  It will be more difficult, but I guarantee it will be more rewarding.

Have you ever put a career on hold to pursue your calling?  If so, what did God do?  You can leave a comment here

The Difference Makes the Difference

In our day, it’s common for many Christians to spend their time trying to blend into the fabric of society as if the goal of the Christian life were to hide like a chameleon in the shadows instead of shining Christ’s light in the darkness.  The courageous faith that got early Christians publicly humiliated, imprisoned and even killed has long been sleeping for fear of a little criticism.   The faith that fueled the addition of 3,000 converts in one sermon has, at times, grown silent.  (Acts 2:14-41) It’s time to bring back the faith of our fathers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating for beatings and imprisonment, but I am advocating for the kind of faith that’s willing to take a few risks in order to advance the gospel.  Admittedly, things don’t seem to be going well for Christians right now.  We’ve lost some traction and it’s because we’ve spent too much time trying to argue over tradition instead of identifying faithful ways to be relevant.  As a result, many Christians have become so concerned about being identified with the outspoken, condescending and hypocritical religious types that we’ve stopped speaking up at all, but that’s not a good alternative either.

The Difference

Ephesians 4:21-24 says, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life… and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  The writer to the Ephesians is basically saying, Jesus has made you different, so live different.  Through Jesus our sin is removed, we’re clothed in Christ’s perfection and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a new life.   This new Christ-exalting life is what makes the difference in the lives of others.

Surprisingly, most unbelievers don’t care if you’re eccentric, they just want to know that you’re authentic.  Our culture is starving for the authentic Christian message.  People really do want to hear the good news about Jesus.  They just want it to be from someone who is actually living it.

difference2Different, in a good way. 

My wife and I host a church small group in our home each week.  We connect with members and guests over a shared meal, enjoy quality time with unbelieving friends and discuss the sermon from the previous Sunday.  Unlike most church small groups, ours is predominantly non-Christian.  It’s not unusual for our group of 20 to have 5 to 10 non-churchgoing, unbelievers participating in our discussions.

When asked why they come, most of our unbelieving friends commonly confess that it’s because they were attracted to the authentic lifestyle of one of our Christian group members.  When these unbelieving friends ask about that difference our group members honestly tell them that it’s because of Jesus.

After the shock wears off, our friends find themselves craving our Thursday night gatherings.  They’re blown away that a group of Christians can disagree with their lifestyles and beliefs while still caring for and accepting them unconditionally as individuals.  The result is that a good majority of our unbelieving friends become Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, God-honoring Christians.

Be a Difference-Maker

The truth is, you really can make a difference for Christ in the lives of your unbelieving friends, co-workers and family members, but doing so means both living differently and answering honestly.  It also means taking the gospel serious.  God unconditionally loves, approves of and accepts those who believe because of what Jesus has done, even in spite of our sins and short-comings.  This should move Christians to love and care for sinners in much the same way.

When it comes down to it, being a difference-maker means being able to disagree with the sin in someone’s life, while simultaneously caring for and accepting them in spite of their short-comings, just like God does for those who believe in Christ.  It means emphasizing the goodness of God’s grace instead of the atrocity of their sin.  It means being honest about your own failures and short-comings, while celebrating Jesus as your hope for change.  This is the kind of difference that makes the difference.   This is the kind of faith we must return to if we ever hope to take God’s good news to to a world in need.

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