I just read a guest blog post on a blog that I subscribe to titled, “Dispelling the Darkness: Why The Gospel Without Justice Isn’t The Gospel” by a guest blogger, Dana Bruxvoort. Please take a moment to read this post (it isn’t long) before you continue reading mine. You can get to it by clicking this link.
Dana starts out with a confession: “I never wanted to be a missionary.” She grew up going to church wearing pastel dresses to Sunday school, an angel costume in her second grade Christmas pageant, and memorizing volumes of Bible verses along the way. Boy, can I relate. Sounds much like my own experience growing up in the church here in America.
Several years later, she had a “heart to heart” talk with God about all the holes in her faith concerning the things in the Bible that she always considered “inconvenient.” As she stated in her post, they were things like “sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” “care for orphans and widows in their distress,” “loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free,” and she thought “these things surely couldn’t apply to me, could they?”
Well, they did . . . as they do for all of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And it changed her life (now go back and read her post if you haven’t already read it to find out how).
In a society as prosperous as ours, whether or not we are prosperous on an individual basis, it’s easy to get lulled to sleep in the excesses of our culture and even in our Christian communities. If we grew up in the church, it’s easy to yawn at the stories in the Bible that once ignited a fire of excitement in us when we first came to know the Lord. And then life gets in the way, too. Establishing a career, raising a family, doing “church” stuff; becoming a part of the status quo. It’s so easy to fall into that trap. And every culture offers its own traps.
I’ve spent my entire life in and out of the church. As I got older going to church and being involved in church activities became just one more thing I did in my life, like getting up and going to work everyday. While I never raised a family because I never married, my life was still full of “stuff.” And there’s always been plenty of “stuff” in our culture to fill any void in our lives. And, I read all the latest “best sellers” by Christian authors and kept up with the latest “goings on” in all the different segments of Christianity (Charismatic and non-charismatic). I grew up in a Baptist environment (hence, the strong focus on scripture memory as a child) and to this day lean towards Baptist or non-denominational churches. As a child, Jesus was as real to me as my mom. Maybe even more real.
Like Dana, the author of the guest blog post I mentioned above, one of my greatest fears as a child was that God was going to make me become a missionary when I grew up–sending me off to a foreign land to be forgotten on some deep, dark continent. The church I attended as child had annual “Missions Conferences” and the missionaries that the church supported would come and speak to us when they were on furlough. I remember listening to their stories and knew that was not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Mind you, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up but I definitely knew I did not want to be a missionary. It sounded dull, boring, lonely, and, well, more than anything else, scary. No, I begged God to please not do that to me with all the childlike faith I could mustard at the ripe old age of five or six or seven or eight or maybe even ten. Yuck . . . to me being a missionary and going off to some deep, dark land was like entering “The Twilight Zone,” a somewhat scary sci-fi TV series (circa 1959-1964) back when I was young.
As my life progressed through my teens, my twenties, my thirties, and my forties, it took many different directions. In my late teens, I tried being a hippie (I wasn’t very good at it as I didn’t like drugs or a free-wheeling lifestyle) and my home church at the time hired two new pastors who opened the church doors to the hippies (much to the chagrin of the established crowd at the church) and the church grew to becoming one of the very first mega-churches before the term was ever coined and popularized in the media. I even tried being a “Jesus freak,” (hippies who were turned on to Jesus) and listened to all the music back then by “The Second Chapter of Acts,” and “Andraé Crouch and the Disciples,” and many other groups that began the modern Christian music movement.
My twenties were filled with joining the U.S. Army on a two-year enlistment so I could get the G.I. Bill and go to college, and I got to see a small part of the world when I served in South Korea, where I met my first fiancée who, as it turned out, was still quite married to his first wife. (Well, life can and does get complicated, doesn’t it?) He forgot to mention that little fact when we met at Camp Carroll Army Depot in Waegwan, South Korea, where we were both assigned. It was also at Camp Carroll that I noticed a cross high atop a church in the village right outside the depot and I felt it’s tug on my heart–a yearning to “come back” and discover more than I had previous experienced in my Christian life to that point. However, the “tug” was not strong enough to change the direction of my life at the time.
While I didn’t marry my first fiancée because I couldn’t (after all, he was still married), I did go to college for two years on the G.I. Bill while working a 3-11 shift at a local hospital where I continued to work for several more years as a secretary on the day shift after I received my associate’s degree. I was also very involved in my home church (which became one of the largest churches in Iowa). When I turned 30 I met my second fiancée (a man who, unfortunately, made lying a big part of his profession but at least he wasn’t still married to his first wife). It was also at this time my mother’s health took a turn for the worse (she was diabetic) and she died three months shy of my 31st birthday. At this point I cancelled the wedding about six weeks before it was scheduled to take place, broke up with this fellow, and quit my secretarial position at the hospital to move to Ames and go back to college to finish my bachelor’s degree at Iowa State (I also worked as an editorial secretary at Iowa State during the two years it took to finish my degree).
As I completed my bachelor’s degree and moved through my thirties, I wasn’t very active in church during that decade. I call them my “prodigal years” because while Jesus was still very real to me, my previous experiences in church didn’t fill the void and while I knew something was missing, I didn’t know what it was I was searching for and I wasn’t finding it by attending church. After completing my bachelor’s degree I worked as an assistant editor for a small regional fishing magazine (the owner died suddenly at 41 and the company closed) and after that I worked for two curriculum directors (both were women just a little older them me) in a K-12 system and got inspired to go back to college and work on a master’s degree at Iowa State. A few months after completing my master’s degree I applied for a one-year doctoral fellowship at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and was awarded one of two administrative doctoral fellowships for the 1992-93 academic year.
My forties opened with a bang when I landed in Fort Lauderdale to start the doctoral fellowship. It was a whirlwind year full of activities and I was able to complete all of the coursework and research projects with the exception of the dissertation within that year. After completing that year I continued to work in a grant funded position at Nova in Orlando until the grant ended, at which time I accepted a position at Barry University (in Miami at first and then I was promoted and sent back to Orlando to manage an off-campus site) for just under four years. After that I worked at the University of Central Florida for over four years; and I was active in two churches during this time (and into my early 50’s)–a small church in Miami for just under two years, and a large mega-church in Orlando for seven years.
It was during my forties that I felt a strong pull to get back involved in the church again, which lead to my church activities. Still, I felt something was missing in my life, even thought I knew Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord and I had since I was a child. Like Dana in her story, I felt like there were holes in my faith. I’d read the portions that she mentioned in her story plus a lot of others and wondered where they fit into my own life. Much of the Christianity I had been presented with in recent years seemed to focus a whole lot more on us and what we could expect or hope to get from knowing Jesus instead of what Jesus expected from his followers. It seemed that nobody ever talked much about all those “inconvenient” verses that we mostly just ignored.
This issue was not resolved in my forties. In fact, it followed me well into my 50’s even after I started working at a Christian university when I was 52 where I worked for over four years. Many conversations over lunch tables and among work colleagues focused on the blessings (as in materials blessings) we could expect from God but rarely about the cost of truly following after Jesus Christ. It added to my confusion about what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but at the same time I wondered if I was missing out on some of those “blessings” (e.g., material blessings–possessions, wealth, even status) because of a lack of faith on my part.
At that point I tried to have more “faith” to believe that those blessings could be mine. Well, things didn’t improve. In fact, they got worse. About six months into my third year my division was suddenly dismantled and while a few of the people working in my division (there were eleven of us) ended up losing their jobs; I did not lose mine but my whole reason for working there had been dismantled with that division. At that point I began an active search for a new job . . . which eventually landed me in Houston.
When I applied for the director position in Houston, I honestly didn’t think I would get it, and it scared me to think about starting all over again in a new city in a different state when I didn’t know anyone there (not to mention that I was also 56 at this point). However, I was very excited about this particular job because it was in a very creative environment. In fact, I was so excited about this job that I knew I wouldn’t let my fear of having to start all over again in a new city where I didn’t know anyone get the better of me. The interview process began in May and ended in August when I was flown to Houston for an on-site interview, and a week after the interview I was offered the position at the highest salary on the salary scale (and I didn’t even have to negotiate the salary), and it was almost $15,000 more a year then I was currently making at the time.
At this point I was thinking there really was something to this “blessings” thing that I had missed out on all my life. I thought that perhaps this is what I felt I had been missing in my Christian walk, although I have to be honest when I say I still had my doubts because many true followers of Jesus Christ living in other countries around the world have far less then even some of the poorest among us here in America and they didn’t experience these material “blessings,” either. And in many of those countries Christians were and are persecuted to include torture, imprisonment, and death just for following Jesus Christ. And I knew there could not be two distinctly different types of “Christianity” on this earth.
I arrived in Houston on September 25, 2008, a few days before I started that job on September 29th. It was during these few days when I was recovering from the long drive and unpacking my stuff to make a home for myself in my new apartment that I woke up one morning with a distinct feeling that God was giving me a “wake up” call and that I absolutely needed to heed it. It was every bit as clear as what Dana describes in her blog post. And I knew that if I didn’t heed the call that it would be the last “wake up” call I received. I could either choose to give my life back over to God and let Him show me what this life in Jesus Christ is really all about, or I could keep going down my own path thinking I was following after God (disguised as material blessings).
At that point it was still a couple of days before I started that job and I had no reason to believe that the job wouldn’t be a good one and that my life wouldn’t be materially blessed due to the significant increase in salary and also from working in a very creative environment that I knew I was going to love being a part of. However, I did not let that deter me from God’s wake-up call. I did an immediate “about face” from a lethargic spiritual life mixed up with the desire for some of the material and cultural excesses we’ve gotten used to here in America to allowing God to have full reign in my life without any hold on anything. In other words, God had my full attention. And as Dana stated in her blog post, suddenly the holes in my own faith were filled in. She states:
My black and white faith became full of color. It was as if with each word I read, light bulbs went off. I devoured the gospels with fresh eyes, observing the character of Jesus – what He said, the way He acted, how He treated people, how He righted wrongs, how He approached injustice, how He truly cared about people, how He loved the least of these. And my heart was burdened by how poorly my life reflected His.
I made this decision just two days before I started that ill-fated job which turned out to be the worst work experience of my entire life. Materially, I lost just about everything I possessed at the time including that job and big salary, but I gained more than I ever could have imagined as I came to know Jesus Christ in a way I had never quite experienced before. And God protected me all during those incredibly difficult seven months that I was employed there and all during this time I’ve been unemployed since that time. And if you’ve been reading my blog posts over these past almost two years, you’ll know just how much He has opened up my life in ways I never could have imagined.
We live in a culture that has embedded itself and its lifestyles in so many of our churches today. And we look at (and seek after) material blessings as proof of God’s blessing in our lives–so much so that we’ve totally lost our focus on what the kingdom of God is really all about. And it’s not about us, our status, or material possessions.
I believe that God is giving Christians all over America a “wake-up” call. It’s a call back to Him and away from all the material excesses, greed, and personal desires that fill our lives up with the superficial and finite instead of the eternal and infinite. In some cases, like it was in mine, it is a “last call” to get very serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ. He never forces His way, but if we don’t heed the call, we may never get another chance. He’ll let us have our own way, but the consequences, in the end, will be costly.
Hebrews 3:12-15 states:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
So consider this your “wake-up” call . . .
Just don’t roll over and hit the snooze button . . . .
YouTube Video: “Days of Elijah” sung by the Northland Church Worship Team:
In our world today if you get outside of Christian circles you’ll find a lot of folks out there in society who think that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is crazy. That’s right . . . crazy. Even during Jesus’ time on earth there were folks who thought he was crazy. And the “religious leaders” of his day absolutely hated him. Such venom is still around today, yet the gospel of Jesus Christ still rings out to a lost and dying world.
People haven’t changed any in the 2000 years since Jesus Christ walked on this earth. The things that happened to his followers back then (e.g., mockings, persecution, sometimes prison, sometimes death) still happen to his followers today. And some folks who listen to the Gospel message want all the benefits from it without any of the cost associated with following Jesus Christ. Such was the case with Felix, a Roman procurator whom the Apostle Paul addressed during his trial before Felix. Paul was in prison at the time because of the Jews and their hatred for his message about Jesus Christ. Let’s read the brief exchange in Acts 24:22-27:
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way [followers of Jesus Christ], adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
In a short devotion titled, “Don’t Put It Off!” by Ray Newbold in the devotional booklet, Open Windows, on this particular passage in Acts he states:
Felix, a Roman procurator, was interested in establishing a relationship with the apostle Paul, believing the he might receive a bribe to set Paul free. Paul desired a relationship with Felix that he might win Felix to Christ. Paul’s reasoning was so compelling that Felix became afraid and sent Paul away. One excuse would serve as well as another. He chose “inconvenience.” He was just too busy but promised he would get back to Paul in time.
Unfortunately, the case sounds all too familiar. When we are like Felix and expect benefits, we give an ear to the gospel message. But when it gets down to the cost, timing always seems to be a problem. We seem unable to find a convenient time to get serious about our faith, so we put it off.
There is no further account that Felix ever gave serious consideration to the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like so many people who hear it today. However, even though Felix was not persuaded–and even though Paul was still being held in prison due to the charges brought up against him by the Jewish leaders who hated him–that did not stop Paul. In Paul’s trial before Festus (who replaced Felix), we read the following exchange in Acts 25: 8-12:
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”
Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”
The Jewish leaders who hated Paul urgently requested that Festus, as a favor to them, have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, “for they were preparing to kill him along the way” (v. 3). They appealed to Festus and had brought many charges against Paul which they could not prove (v. 7). However, due to Paul’s appeal to Caesar, he remained in prison in Caesarea where he was to stand before King Agrippa and Bernice. Paul’s appeal before King Agrippa and Bernice is found in Acts 25:23 – 26:32:
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Additional note: See commentary on Paul before King Agrippa and Bernice at this link on Biblegateway.com. Here’s the last paragraph in that commentary, “The hearing is over. The dignitaries exit and in private discussion agree on Paul’s innocence: This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment (compare 23:29; 25:18). And as if to explain the anomaly of an innocent Roman citizen in chains, Agrippa adds, This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar. This is not a matter of Roman jurisprudence but of Roman politics. Even though a person could be acquitted and released after an appeal to Caesar (Sherwin-White 1963:65), not to honor such an appeal would be to slight the emperor’s prestige. These declarations of innocence make it clear that Paul and Christianity cannot be charged with sedition against the state. Nothing in the conduct of the messenger calls into question the truthfulness of the message. Luke’s Roman audience and we must come to terms with the gospel and the defining moment it offers by dealing directly with its truth claims.”)
When the decision came down in his case, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment, and they boarded a ship bound for Rome. There was a storm along the way, and they shipwrecked on an island called Malta (the entire story of this account is found in Acts:27 – Acts 28:10). After three months they put out to sea again in a ship headed for Rome and eventually landed in Rome where Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him (Acts 28:11-16).
Paul continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Rome under guard and three days after arriving in Rome he called together the leaders of the Jews. Let’s pick up the story from there in Acts 28:17-31:
Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
At this point the Book of Acts ends, and, of course, the very compelling Book of Romans, written by Paul, follows. Paul never, ever, ever gave up on preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what his circumstances (and he endured many persecutions besides the times he spent in prison). Even when his fellow Jews refused to believe the good news he did not let that sway him one bit. And his appeal all the way to Caesar allowed him to eventually go to Rome and continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of us will never have to endure the opposition that Paul endured by his own fellow Jewish leaders, and that should give each and every one of us who truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ the courage to stand up for Jesus even when the crowds are saying, “You’re crazy!” They called Jesus crazy, too, as well as Paul. And they never flinched.
Those of us who truly know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should be compelled to tell the good news of Jesus Christ in whatever manner the Lord provides for us to do so, even against the odds and any religious establishment that says otherwise. We are called to be His ambassadors in this world, and nothing or no one should stop us when He opens the door to do so, even if we land in prison for it, or are persecuted because of it.
We are here to follow His lead, and not our own, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world regardless of the cost to us personally . . .
So don’t put it off . . . .
YouTube Video: “Softly and Tenderly” sung by Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt:
In less than two months I will turn 61. I am a product of the demographic known as the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964). There are approximately 75 million boomers in America today, which accounts for 29% of the total population (source here). Just for fun, I’m including a link to a list of 300 famous boomers, like Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Stephen King, Princess Diana, Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, and Sally Ride (see list at this link). And, of course, that includes two former U.S. Presidents–Bill Clinton and George W. Bush–and our current President Barack Obama.
According to Wikipedia.com, “Boomers are often associated with counterculture, the civil rights movement and the feminist cause in the 1970s.” Some of the most memorable events that boomers remember from the past 50+ years include “the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., political unrest, walk on the moon, risk of the draft into the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, drug experimentation, civil rights movement, environmental movement, women’s movement, protests and riots, Woodstock, Watergate, Nixon resigning, the Cold War, lowered drinking age in many states 1970–1976 (followed by raising), the oil embargo, raging inflation, gasoline shortages, Jimmy Carter’s imposition of registration for the draft, Ronald Reagan, and Live Aid.”
One of the more significant impacts boomers have had on society is in the realm of religion. “The boomers relied on love and peace and rebelled against their parents’ values, but many lost their faith somewhere down the road to adulthood” (quote source here). “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” a counterculture phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1967 (source here), became the clarion call for the boomer generation. In 1968 The Beatles took their famous trip to India to meet with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session (source here) and the interest in Indian, Eastern and New Age spirituality took off like a rocket and replaced Christianity as a spiritual focus for many boomers. And in many cases, that spiritual search continues right up through today.
Baby boomers have been known for a lot of things, but religious observance is not especially one of them. As they began to come of age in the tumult that was the 60s, many boomers were more likely to have a copy of “Steal This Book” shoved into the ripped back pocket of their jeans than the Good Book. “Just as the boomers’ parents had been largely responsible for the postwar surge on religiosity, the boomers themselves were largely responsible for the collapse in religiosity two decades later,” notes “American Grace,” a book about American religious practices.
The “collapse in religiosity two decades later” has had a huge effect on their children’s and in some cases, their grandchildren’s generations (Gen X–born between 1965-1979, and Millennials–born between 1980-2000; source here). While boomers were busy “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out” in their younger years and throwing out many of the old “anchors” that held the fabric of society together in previous generations, they eventually turned into the most money-oriented and materialistic generation in all of American society. Talk about a 180-degree turnaround. The “counterculture” has turned into “greed on steroids.” Just look at Wall Street as one of the many examples out there today. With none of that “religious” stuff getting in the way many boomers gave into lifestyles of excess, materialism, and hedonism. The divorce rate alone in the boomer generation speaks volumes about the lack of any type of anchor beyond ourselves and what we want. “If it feels good, do it” is the boomers’ motto and disposable relationships are the result. And 56 million abortions later after Roe v. Wade (1973) and we still don’t have a clue about the value of life except for our own.
The fallout from all of this has landed on the younger generation–the Gen Xers and millennials. And the millennials (born between 1980-2000) are 80 million strong in this country today. Not only have most of them been raised without any real kind of moral anchor or religious belief system, they are also facing the worst economic situation since The Great Depression. In an article titled, “Are the Millennials a Lost Generation?” published in Yahoo! Finance on February 27, 2013, the author, Nicole Goodkind, states:
It’s hard out there for a Millennial. While the national unemployment rate has kept firm at 7.9%, the jobless rate for Millennials (or the 80 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000) continues to increase, reaching the alarming rate of 13.1% in January. Millennials now have the highest generational unemployment in the United States.
The Pew Center calls Millennials the “boomerang generation,” because nearly 40% of all Americans between the ages of 18-34 still live at home with their parents; numbers this high haven’t been seen in over 70 years. And the boomerang trend is expected to continue or even worsen. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that those who graduate during a recession will earn 10% less over a decade of work. Unfortunately for Millennials, research shows that 70% of overall wage growth occurs in the first 10 years of one’s career.
But those who do manage to find jobs are also struggling. Young people with high school degrees have seen their inflation-adjusted wages decline by 11.1%; college graduates have seen a smaller, yet significant, decline of 5.4%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
While the immediate future looks bleak for millennials, they are also the most tech-saavy folks in our society today. They came out of the womb with a cell phone in their hands, yet they have been raised for the most part with no clear moral values or anchors beyond what they get from technology and their boomer parents. In the meantime, their parents (the boomers) are now facing mortality issues that may or may not be bringing them back to church as stated in the following quote from the article, “Why Am I Back in Church?”:
What may explain why a boomer would become more religious? Part of it may be simply a function of maturation. “Marriage, having children, home-ownership, and simply having roots in a community are all factors that nudge people toward religion,” David E. Campbell, the Notre Dame professor who wrote “American Grace” with Robert D. Putnam, said in an e-mail.
Then there is that other little matter: mortality, said Wade Clark Roof, a professor of religion and society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has written extensively about baby boomers.
“They have all been through it, or are in the middle of it,” he said. “Their parents are dying off. So the reality of mortality has hit them. When they were young, they thought they would live forever. But they know better now.”
Okay, so now they know better (maybe) . . . but what about their kids who are now struggling to make a life for themselves?
There’s a line in the movie, “The American President” (1995) by Presidential aide Lewis Rothchild (played by Michael J. Fox) that states, “People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” That statement relates not only to leaders and leadership in government, but also in businesses, churches, and all other organizations and settings including the home.
There are at least 80 million of our citizens who wonder what the future holds for them. The leadership they have seen and experienced so far has failed them, and they have been raised, for the most part, with no other anchor to guide them by parents who have little or no other anchor then a materialistic lifestyle. Any type of “religion,” at best, is often relegated to Sunday morning with little impact on how we should live our lives for the rest of the week with any kind of real meaning beyond what we can personally get out of life.
In Psalm 78, the psalmist was aware of the possibility of God’s mighty works being forgotten and a generation being lost, so he called God’s people to never tire of telling the old story of His redemptive acts to future generations (v. 4). The goal of this perpetual rehearsing of their history wasn’t just for memorizing historical data; it was to inspire faith, obedience, and hope in the Lord (v. 7) and to keep future generations from groping in the darkness of unbelief and rebellion like the generations before them (v. 8).
Because of God’s mighty power and grace in our lives we desire to be faithful to tell His stories that we might inspire faith and obedience in future generations.
“A generation being lost . . . .” Those of us who are Christian should never tire of telling this world and future generations about Jesus Christ–not if He has truly changed our own lives. If the only time we mention Jesus’ name is in a church setting or around other Christians, what good is that to the rest of the world who doesn’t even know Him? And if our lives are focused on ourselves and what we want all the time what kind of witness is that to others? No, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
For every generation there is hope and life through Jesus Christ, regardless of the circumstances going on in our society at any given time. But if we don’t tell them, how will they know? And if the reality of knowing Jesus Christ isn’t apparent by how we live our own lives, how can they see the truth in action? They won’t.
In Christian circles today we hear a lot about telling our own story, but our own story means nothing if it isn’t anchored in His story. And it’s His story that matters. There’s a whole generation out there now that hasn’t heard it except maybe on a very superficial level. They haven’t witnessed changed lives–they’ve witnessed indulgent lives. Only Jesus Christ can change a life–yours and mine. And they are watching to see if it is true. So let’s show them it is true by the way we live our own lives . . .
And tell His Story instead of our own . . . .
YouTube Video: “I Love To Tell The Story” sung by Emmylou Harris & Robert Duvall:
Grace is at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember as a child being told that “grace” stands for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Indeed, Jesus Christ paid our sin penalty on the cross, but it is not a blanket pardon for all of humankind that requires nothing from us personally. While John 3:16-18 states that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ]” . . . it is also makes it clear that we must personally believe in Him. Read it with me:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already . . . .” Believing in Jesus Christ starts with salvation, but it doesn’t end there. Jesus Christ’s parting words to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 after His resurrection at the time of His ascension ring out just as clearly today as they did back then:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
“Make disciples of all nations . . .” Disciples, not just converts. We hear a lot about “getting saved” in our churches today but not so much about how to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us some pretty clear instructions in His “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 5-7), and the New Testament is full of instructions on how to live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, not just converts who go on living just like we did before we came to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
On the matter of grace, Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is only by grace that we have been saved, through faith . . . not by our own power or our own works but as a gift from God so that we cannot boast that it was accomplished by anything we did or do. But why are we saved? Ephesians 2:10 gives us the answer. We are saved to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. And in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus called it “making disciples.”
Okay, here’s a question for you (well, at least for folks who are true believers in Jesus Christ). If we are saved to do good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do which includes making disciples of all nations, can a true follower of Jesus Christ do anything they want without any repercussions claiming it all falls under “grace”? That notion has been floating around Christian circles throughout America for sometime now. Sometimes known as “hyper-grace” (although I’m not fond of labels as they can confuse the issue), it is a message that basically states that we can continue to sin (as an ongoing lifestyle without repentance) as a believer in Jesus Christ because it’s all covered by the grace of God. If that is true, then there is really no difference between someone who does not believe in Jesus Christ and someone who states that they do but continues to live like the rest of the world. Dr. Michael Eaton at Greenleaf Ministries has provided a much better explanation of “hyper-grace” and you can read it at this link.
The Apostle Paul gives us the clearest definition regarding grace and sin in Romans 6:
Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Slaves to Righteousness
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God” (and not of ourselves or what we want) and “the benefit we reap leads us to holiness resulting in eternal life” (v. 22). That is not to say that there is not still a very real struggle with sin as Paul discusses in Romans 7. As he states in Romans 7:21-25:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
However, Paul does not leave us there but goes on to write about the wonderful answer found through Jesus Christ in Romans 8. Let’s look at some of the 39 verses in that chapter by starting with Romans 8:1-17:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Paul clearly states that “. . . we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (vv. 12-14). When we as believers look to anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ to set us free from the sin that entangles us, we are losing the battle. Our lives and actions should reflect to the rest of the world that we belong to Him. And if there is sin that has taken hold of our lives, we need to heed the words found in I John 1:5-9 which state:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
If we are true believers in Jesus Christ, we want to please God and not live according to our own fleshly desires that war against the Spirit of God living in us. If our desires are focused on this world and all that we can get while we are here or making excuses for the sins we hold dear, who do we really belong to?
I’ll end this post with the words of Paul from Romans 6:11-14:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace . . .
Yes, God’s amazing grace . . .
YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” by II Divo:
It goes without saying that we live in difficult times. The degree of difficulty ebbs and flows with the circumstances we find ourselves in and/or the trauma currently experienced in society and the world at large (such as “The Great Depression” and more recently during periods of acute recession and unemployment). When the going gets rough, the greatest temptation is to take the easy way out if we can find one and even if that means compromising what we believe (well, what we say we believe).
A term was coined for this type of behavior back in the 1960’s called “situation ethics.” Situation ethics is defined as “A system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes” (quote course here). With the publication of the book, “Situation Ethics: The New Morality,” in 1966, the author, Joseph F. Fletcher, an Episcopal priest, ignited a firestorm. This book “was hailed by many as a much-needed reformation of morality–and as an invitation to anarchy by others. Proposing an ethic of loving concern, Fletcher suggests that certain acts–such as lying, premarital sex, adultery, or even murder–might be morally right, depending on the circumstances. Hotly debated on television, in magazines and newspapers, in churches, and in the classroom, Fletcher’s provocative thesis remains a powerful force in contemporary discussions of morality” (quote source here).
For the Christian, “situation ethics” is not an option although that floodgate has been opened in the church at large in our society since the 1960’s. Church discipline of any kind rarely exists today except when a “celebrity” type gets caught up in a moral dilemma and exposed by the media. And sin and it’s consequences are rarely topics in Sunday sermons anymore either. We hear more sermons on “learning to forgive ourselves” today then we hear on genuine repentance and getting right with God. When did the focus become “us”? The focus should be on God and Jesus Christ and our response to Him. He is the Potter and we are the clay (see Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-6; Romans 9:21).
There are a number of verses in the Bible that admonish us to “stand firm” (click here for a list). To “stand firm” means to “refuse to abandon one’s opinion or belief” (quote source here). For example, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “. . . stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:58). And several verses later he states in I Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”
“Let nothing move you . . . . be on your guard . . . .” Spiritual lethargy sets in the moment we let down our guard and are swayed by the motives or rationale of others (or our own) who are trying to persuade us to compromise when it comes to sin. Lying is a good example. People don’t think twice about lying nowadays if it will serve their own purpose. And very often, sexual immorality is up for grabs, too. And the divorce rate speaks volumes about the state of Christianity in our culture today. And what about the love of money and all the possessions (and people) it can buy? I Timothy 6: 7-10 has much to say about this, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
The writer of Hebrews addresses the issue of spiritual lethargy in Heb. 5:11-14: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” If we depend on what we get in a sermon on Sunday morning or a quickie five-minute devotion during the week to get us through the week (and this life) without ever taking time to really develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ on an intimate and regular basis, we are in for serious spiritual lethargy and compromise in our lives. And if you are truly looking for a way out of spiritual lethargy, my suggestion is to start by reading all thirteen chapters in Hebrews–a chapter at a time.
We don’t need more sermons designed to make us feel better about ourselves. What we need is a big dose of reality, folks. And if sermons don’t challenge us in that direction (and sermons should only be a starting place leading us to spiritual maturity), we need to get into the Bible and start understanding what it has to say to us about life and living as a true disciple of Jesus Christ (and we should be doing that regularly anyway on top of listening to sermons). We cannot depend on others to do our homework. We didn’t get by with that in school or college and we can’t get by with it in life, either . . . not if we truly want to live lives pleasing to God instead of just pleasing ourselves.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, and we tend to forget that all the time. We react to people and their words or actions and forget about the spiritual forces behind those words and actions that are actively at work in our world. Ephesians 6:10-18 is clear about this warfare:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
There is that admonishment again to “Stand firm then . . .” (v. 14). Our weapons are “truth,” “righteousness,” “the gospel of peace,” “the shield of faith,” “the helmet of salvation,” “the sword of the Spirit” (the Bible), and “prayer.” Read through those verses again. That is the armor that God provides for us to wear.
Don’t let the lure of this world and a case of “situation ethics” throw you off track from running the race and running it well. And don’t let the love of money and all it can buy persuade you to turn away, either, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (I Tim. 6:7).
I Corinthians 10 gives those of us living today warnings from Israel’s history so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes they made. You can read them by clicking on this link. The last three verses, I Cor. 10:10-13, state the following:
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
As the Apostle Paul stated at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
“. . . but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Do you long for His appearing? If so, that’s you and me, folks. I do, and I hope you do, too . . . .
So let’s stand firm . . . .
YouTube video: “The Reason That I’m Standing” by The Crabb Family: