Archive | December 2011

Praise God for Religious Tolerance in America!

I don’t know that I could be a Christian in a country where it’s illegal to believe in God.  In fact, after my experience tonight, it’s obvious that I would be a martyr after a short amount of time!

I have been involved with a particular organization for the last 9 years.  The organization, itself, is not religious, nor anti-religious.  But, it’s a group that has always respected our personal freedoms, set out by America’s founding fathers.  We say the Pledge of Allegiance, and even the words “Under God”.  Some groups have an invocation, others reference God or faith from time to time; never would it have crossed my mind that there was any problem with any of this….Never!

At the end of the meeting, I was asked to give my thoughts as a visitor.  I talked about how great this group was, and how it was one of the best meetings I had ever attended from this particular organization.  I said before I can commit to joining, I would need some clarification regarding their rule that “politics, sex, and religion” were not allowed to be discussed, as my faith in God is an integral part of my life and my source of inspiration.

The cascade of what happened after my comment left me speechless; in fact, I’m still shaking and it’s been a little over an hour.  I did not intend to open such a can of worms, but I wanted to be completely honest in my response.  Never in my life have I been told that mentioning God is offensive to those who don’t believe.  If other people want to talk about their faith in Mother Nature, Santa Claus, or Barney the Dinosaur, I would not agree with them, but I would never see that as offensive!

I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  I just never knew that applied to everything except for Christianity!  Well, at least not in the Bible belt….

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Is That Your Hand Out, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

I mentioned yesterday that when I first joined my former church, one of my greatest fears was that people were being nice to me only because it was “Christian” to do so. I could not discern if people liked me for me. Luckily time proved that many of the people I met were, in fact, genuine.

Were my fears unfounded? I don’t believe they were; in fact, I see similar patterns in almost every area of my life. Maybe I’m naive, but I really wish I had the pleasure of being in a society where everyone looked out for everyone else, and there were no impure motives.

Unfortunately, we lived in a society filled with idolatry….and the number one competitor for our Godly affections is greed! Matthew and Luke both warn us that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).

Several years ago, I interviewed for a sales position with a company whose product I personally believed in. During the interview, I was asked by the VP of Sales what motivated me. I told him that I enjoyed helping people, and was quickly told that was the incorrect answer. As a salesman, I learned, money must be my primary motivator. I tried to explain that by caring about the person, and recommending products that truly met their needs, I would have customers who trusted me and the sales would follow. However, that was not the “pit-bull”, achieve your sales goals “by any means necessary” attitude the company desired.

I have interacted with salesmen throughout my life, and flee from the slimy salesman who sugar coats reality and tells me what I want to hear. But, lately, it seems they are incredibly difficult to avoid. They’re proactive, too! I can’t even work out at the gym without someone telling me I need “personal training” to meet my fitness goals. The trainers (like car salesmen) try to seclude you in an office, bring in the fitness manager, and lead off with “How much money do you have budgeted to becoming fit?”

Even telemarketers seem to have upped their game. I generally avoid answering cold calls, but I happened to pick one up right before Thanksgiving. The “Welcome Wagon” was calling to offer me my “free water test” for moving into the neighborhood, and tried asking me all kinds of personal questions before setting up the appointment for someone to visit. Never did they ask if I was even remotely interested in purchasing a water softener for my home. They just hoped to visit my house and prove to me that I needed to purchase a water softener to improve my quality of life.

I can even include guys interested in ummmm romance (eye roll) to this list. It’s amazing how some men will say all of the right things until you either give into what they’re looking for, or make it clear that you have no intention of doing so. At that point, the flattery completely disappears and you’re left wondering how someone so educated could be so stupid to fall for those lines!

I hate to be so skeptical of people and their motives… I really do; it’s not my nature! But, just like everything else these days, the manipulators of this world are spoiling everything for the sincere. Personally, I want to go back to a time where I could truly appreciate Paul’s words…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8)”.

What is our Mission as a Church?

Today’s church service was essentially a pep rally about our church’s great success in the area of missions, and has left me with a lot of thoughts that I may or may not be able to share coherently… but, I’ll try.

Matthew 28:19 tells us “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. I get this; I really do. We are supposed to share the gospel with nonbelievers. But, “The Great Commission” was not just about telling people about Jesus – it’s about making disciples. Sometimes I think we focus more on the “of all nations” part more than we do “making disciples”. I was excited to hear that our church does train pastors in other countries; that’s very encouraging! But, there are plenty of opportunities for disciple-making within the walls of our church, and definitely in our local area.

The pastor made a comment about how the church doesn’t do anything for people without sharing the gospel. I think that comment, more than any other, really got my mind going. I know the pastor meant nothing negative by what he said. In fact, he was trying to encourage people to give to missions groups by ensuring that their donations would be spent wisely. But, if you think about the implication of what he said….it implies motive. There are strings attached…and I don’t know that there should be.

I remember when I first started attending church. People were nice to me, nicer than I’ve ever seen at a church (of course, this was a different denomination than I had attended previously). I remember when the pastor asked me about joining the church. I told him I wasn’t ready, as I didn’t know how people would treat me once I had things together (I was a mess when I started attending). I assumed people were just being nice because they were supposed to and wanted me to accept Jesus. I worried that some people were “Jesus salesmen” and once they got my notch on their belt buckle, they would move on to another lost soul in need of salvation.

I think it makes some people feel good to bring other people to Christ; it gives them purpose – they’re fulfilling “The Great Commission”. Maybe by focusing on helping others, especially others far away, they can ignore the emptiness they feel in their own heart. Or, maybe some people really do have it all together, so much that their joy is overflowing and they want to share Jesus’ love unconditionally with the rest of the world. Maybe I’m just cynical… But, if we really had it all together, why is the family unit crumbling? Why are we overworked, overextending our credit, out of shape, stressed, and frustrated? Why aren’t churches thriving? And, the ones that do seem to be doing well, why are there so many lost people, both in the surrounding areas, and even in those churches?

I certainly don’t have it together. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely hanging on. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ love, mercy, and incredible patience for me, I would probably have given up a long time ago. I don’t always get things right, and my logic here may be flawed. But, personally, I think in order to successfully share the gospel, we need to be completely transparent to others and especially to God. If our lives “showed” the gospel, rather than our mouths “telling” it, why, that would be beautiful! The greatest testimony anyone can give is showing Jesus through your own weakness. I don’t believe we can ever be successful if we follow steps to win souls locally or internationally.

What’s your motive? Is it loving others unconditionally, or winning souls for Jesus? You might say that they’re the same…but, I don’t think they are. Sure, we don’t want anyone to perish in hell, so loving could mean winning souls….but, I think the difference is in the motive. Loving is unconditional, completely without motive; doing something to help someone, even if that person never develops a relationship with Jesus, but praying with all your heart that they can feel His love and desire Him as much as you do. When you’re doing something completely in love, it becomes nothing about you, and all about Jesus. You step out of the way, and let Jesus’ love shine though you. We are called to love; let Jesus take care of salvation!

The best part about unconditional love, is you don’t have to go anywhere to practice it. Smile at strangers in the store; hold the door for someone; be patient when you’re in a particularly slow line; give someone an anonymous gift; be aware of your surroundings and you’ll always see people who need to see God’s love through you. No motives, no strings, no Jesus sales pitch; just love, pure and simple…

“We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19