Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review - Good Faith: Being a Christian when Society things Your'e Irrelevant and Extreme

Extreme is a word that used to be reserved for people who would fly planes into the World Trade Center or strap a bomb onto themselves and detonate it in a bus full of school children.  Those people are extremists, aren’t they?  Would it surprise you that a growing number of people in our society have lumped faithful Christians in that category as well?  In increasing measure, biblical Christianity, especially as it runs counter-cultural to the direction of society, is being labeled as extreme.
In addition, more and more people are convinced that Christianity is also irrelevant.  While they might believe that spirituality could be comforting, spirituality based on a 2000 year old book is considered to be completely out of touch.  They have no inkling how Christianity matters or that it could matter to them.  Thus, Christians and their faith are irrelevant.
How do we respond to those cultural trends?  To seek to answer that question, authors Gabe Lyons and David Kinnamon have written Good Faith: Being a Christian when Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.  While staying true to Scriptural teaching, Lyon and Kinnamon seek to help believers navigate the trick waters of being a faithful Christian in a hostile society, while continuing to seek and take advantage of opportunities to impact that same society for good.
The authors begin by spending the opening chapters analyzing today’s cultural attitudes and perceptions regarding faith, especially the Christian faith.  The picture is rather depressing.  But their goal is not to depress the reader, but to issue a wake-up call.  This is not your grandmother’s world, or even your parent’s world anymore.  Their goal is to call believers to what they label as “good faith.”  Good faith Christians seek to hold true to Scripture, but also seek impact and engage the world through love and compassion.  Good faith Christians seek to be people who, rather than being defined only by what they are against, are also defined by what they are for.  Good faith boils down to three essential ingredients:  love for God and others, belief in biblical orthodoxy and translating our love and belief into everyday life.
With those key ingredients, Lyons and Kinnamon direct the reader toward some of the hot button issues of the day.  Politics.  Marriage.  Sexuality.  Religious Freedom.  These are the issues where Christians are increasingly taking a stand.  And these are the issues where believers are increasingly being labelled irrelevant and extreme.  As they journey through these issues, the authors continually prompt the reader to think about how a good faith Christian could and should respond.  Their own responses are not exhaustive – this is not a how-to book to cover every situation.  And they are very clear that different Christians will have very different, biblically-educated responses to these issues.  But all in all, this is a valuable tool for Christians to have to think through and ponder how we can love, believe and live in the midst of a society that is increasingly negative toward faithful belief.

The authors end the book by focusing an even more direct gaze on the challenges of the church and Christian faith.  The chapter on societal trends in faith is especially good, pointing out why the Christian faith itself seems to be in decline.  They encourage churches to be both inwardly focused on growth and discipleship, as well as outwardly focused on being ambassadors of Christ to the world. 

The book concludes with this thought:  “We believe our faith community today faces an emerging social context that demands we learn to be Christian in a new way, described best as being ‘faithful in exile.’” (pg. 254)  Drawing lessons from the book of Daniel, the authors leave the reader with a challenge.  God is still sovereign.  He is still purposeful.  And the Christian church may face some sort of exile in today’s society.  But exile for God’s people was ultimately a good thing.  It was an opportunity for purification and reorientation toward God.  And it can be the same for us, as we look at new ways to love, believe and live out our faith in Jesus Christ in today’s world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Are you Bored with Jesus? God isn’t!

As a pastor, I try to regularly talk about Jesus.  I talk about his love.  I talk about his death for our sakes.  I talk about his resurrection.  I talk about the grace and peace and forgiveness and new life Christians have in him and through him.  Over the past few months, I have found myself becoming increasingly captivated and in awe of Jesus.  And yet, sometimes I wonder whether my excitement for Jesus is making a difference.

Why do I say that?  Because it seems like there are Christians all over who are increasingly bored with Jesus.  Now, before you speak up and say, “Jeff, I am not bored with Jesus,” think about it for a minute.  When I suggest that some Christians are increasingly bored with Jesus, what I am getting at is that we are generally much more captivated by the things of this world than we are captivated by Jesus.

After all, ask yourself the question – what gets you most excited?  Going to church to worship Jesus with Jesus’ followers?  Spending time in prayer and meditation with your Savior?  Contemplating the wonders of the gospel Jesus came to offer us?  I am guessing for most of us, those things don’t even make the top ten things we get most excited about.

I suspect the list of things we get most excited about would include shopping or golf or hunting or fishing or cars or sex or a good meal or a vacation trip or any number of things that are not Jesus.

Now let me put this all in perspective.  Last week, during our vacation in Yellowstone, I began to read Michael Reeves’ book, Rejoicing in Christ.  In the first chapter, as he is discussing Jesus and how his identity changes the gospel, he noted that Jesus is infinitely precious to God the Father.  He states, “If there is nothing more precious to the Father than him, there cannot be any blessing higher than him or anything better than him.”  (pg. 21)  That makes you think, doesn’t it?  And then, a few sentences later, “Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for all eternity.  Our boredom is simple blindness.  If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.  In every situation, for eternity.”  (pg. 21)

Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of God for eternity.  Can you imagine that?  In my weakness and worldliness, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that.  Like most of us, I am constantly dissatisfied with something.  And not satisfied nearly enough with Jesus.

Are you bored with Jesus?  Are other things infinitely more satisfying to you than him?  I challenge you to spend time each day contemplating the wonders of his power, his grace, his eternal nature, his love and his gospel, and you will find yourself increasingly captivated by Jesus and less and less satisfied by the world.