Attractive Christianity and Questionable Lives

We rightly warn about those people who “tickle itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) and water down faith, but we shouldn’t let this warning confuse us about another Biblical teaching.

Paul told Titus that the church should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our savior.” (Titus 2:10 ESV)

That phrase might not be immediately clear. Let me show you some other translations:

  • “in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything” (New English Translation)
  • “in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (NIV, NLT)

All of the commandments in Titus 2:1-10 have an eye towards how outsiders will perceive them. Young women should live in such a way “that the word of God may not me reviled” (2:5). Young men should be “in all respects” a “model of good works” (2:7), in a way that will put opponents of Christ to shame.

How Christians behave either makes Christianity attractive or unattractive. Our lives cause outsiders to ask questions. “Why is that slave being so kind to his master?” “Why is that mom so patient with her husband and kids?” “Why is that college kid acting so differently than everyone else at the frat party?”

Our lives should make Christianity attractive and cause people to ask big questions. What do they have that I don’t? How can I get it? How is she at peace in such a difficult time? Let’s make Christianity attractive by living questionable lives!

All Hands on Deck

In 2019, the school calendar drives our lives. It determines when we take vacation and travel. In the 1800s, life drove the school calendar. Classes met during the summer and winter, not during the spring and fall, because in an agricultural society, every single person was needed to plant and harvest. Planting a little too early or a little too late could have disastrous results. Every day longer that it took to complete the harvest meant the produce was a little less ripe and the work was a little less profitable. Every worker was needed. Too much delay could cause the loss of the entire crop.

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at the incredible task in front of him. He preached and taught and healed and loved. He felt compassion for the people, because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Then he spoke to his followers and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus said that the harvest is huge—but it will be lost without workers.

Let’s obey Jesus and pray that prayer. Let’s ask God to send us workers and helpers and people who can get the job done. God has answered that prayer at Burns time and time again. Let’s pray it some more!

Let’s be the answer to the prayer, too. Let’s pray that God makes us into workers. Let’s look past our excuses and our fears and step out and become harvest workers. People are depending on us!

President Roosevelt

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School classes?

One Sunday, one of his students came to class with a black eye. He confessed that he had been fighting—and even worse, on a Sunday! Roosevelt asked the boy what happened and the boy explained that a bigger, older boy had been pinching his sister, so he stood up for her—and ended up with a black eye.

Roosevelt told the boy that he had done well defending her and gave the boy a dollar. The Sunday School superintendent thought this was inappropriate, so they relieved the future president of his Sunday School teaching duties.

I certainly want our kids to learn to solve problems with their words more than their fists. (“A soft answer turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1)

I want them to be willing to turn the other cheek when they are insulted or abused (“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)

But I also want our kids to know Psalm 82:3: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

It’s not wrong to defend the defenseless. It’s exactly what God himself has done.

What We Need

We don’t really need more technology, better educational systems, or more promising politicians. Do you know what the world really needs? Christians!

We need people who are called to a radical simplicity of lifestyle, to remind the rest of us that we don’t need what we think we need.

We need people committed to celibacy, to tell us that sex is neither a necessity nor a god.

We need people who are lavish in prayer and spiritual disciplines, in order to remind those of us with harder spirits of where our real help comes from.

We need communities of Christians willing to commit themselves to support each other in risky, venturesome ways, to goad the rest of us out of our autonomy.

We need Christians willing to resist the many ways in which the dominant in our world crush the weak.

We need Christians who find a thousand joyful ways to take the screwed-up values of this world and turn them upside-down.

“The greatest need for our time is for the Church to become what it has seldom been: the body of Christ with its face to the world, loving others regardless of religion or culture, pouring itself out in a life of service, offering hope to a frightened world, and presenting itself as a real alternative to the existing arrangement.”

(Excerpts from Van Gelder, Confident Witness, 139, and Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus)

The Art of the Small

Humankind loves huge displays and dramatic moments. We are moved by stories of incredible sacrifice or the image of one man staring down a line of tanks. We like the bold!

Because we’re so moved by the “impressive” – sometimes we don’t recognize the power of the little and the individual. Remember that Jesus stood at the temple and saw the rich people with their 6-figure checks, but it was the poor widow and her pennies that earned his praise. “She gave more than all those rich people,” he said (Luke 21:1-4 ERV).

Don’t discount the power of the little!

No drop of rain believes it is to blame for the flood. But without each drop—there would be no flood!

Many husbands promise that they would die for their wives. In reality, they don’t really want us to die for them. They’d appreciate it if we’d do the dishes, though!

Little things add up.

Little things matter.

Never forget that one person can make a difference.

Never forget that one straw can “break the camel’s back.” One pebble in the shoe can cripple the strongest mountain climber.

Don’t sit on the sidelines because you can’t do much. Remember that little is much when God is in it!

Caged Birds and Freedom

Once there was a beautiful bird who spent his life inside a luxurious cage.

One day, another bird from outside flew in, when the bird’s owner had accidentally left the cage opened.

The second bird asked the first, “Why don’t you fly away with me to freedom?” But the caged bird answered, “Each day I receive wonderful food from my master. Each day my home is cleaned. I am safe and secure and happy. And when I see my reflection in the mirror, I sing! I am free!”

“But you are a prisoner!” said the second bird.

“I think not!” said the caged bird. “How could I be a prisoner when I enjoy all of this?”

At that, the second bird flew away to freedom while the caged bird remained happy, singing in his cage, unsuspecting his true condition.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Our world is full of birds, fat and happy, unaware of their cages. We come to announce the good news of the liberating king!

A Serious Reason for Silly String

Have you ever shot Silly String at someone? I have memories of camps and birthday parties with silly string fights and the annoying cleanup that always followed.

Silly String is one of those accidental products. The inventors were trying to formulate a hardening foam that could be sprayed on a broken leg to form a cast in the field. The medical product didn’t pan out, but the researchers noticed how much fun it was to shoot—and so the product lives on as a kid’s toy.

In 2006, a soldier named Todd Shriver wrote home asking his parents to send him some Silly String. He didn’t want to ambush his friends, though. He wanted to save their lives from ambush.

Shriver and his unit realized that silly string made the prefect booby trap detector. When entering a suspicious place, the soldiers could spray the silly string across the room. If there were any tripwires to IEDs, the string would land on the invisible wire harmlessly and identify its location. There’s no telling how many lives this silly invention has saved.

I wish there were a spiritual version of silly string that could be sprayed across our lives. Real dangers surround us. Forces of evil are at work in our world, and too often we walk around totally blind to their destructive potential, until we trip the trap and it is too late.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Continually…

There are some things in life that we hope to only once: graduate high school and get married are two examples that come to mind.

Some things happen occasionally. I go to the dentist every 6 months. Each year, I have a birthday and I pay my taxes.

The Bible says that some things should happen continually, or all the time. Here are a few of those things:

“Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” (2 Timothy 3:14)

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)

“Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

Let’s keep these things in front of us not once or twice or occasionally, but every moment of our lives.

Want to make some kids cry?

Two Extra Fat Chocolate Sandwich Cookies With Frosting Isolated on White Background.

There’s a simple recipe. Place three Oreos in the middle of a room with four 5-year olds. Tears will ensue.

Even as children, we default to selfishness. The things we do initiatively are the things that are self-gratifying or self-preserving. We don’t teach kids to be selfish. We teach them to share.

Youth is temporary. Immaturity can last a lifetime. There are an awful lot of grownups who never got taught that the world does not revolve around them. Too many adults throw temper tantrums and feel justified in gratifying every impulse they have. If we assume that our kids will grow out of impulsiveness and selfishness, we’re probably going to be disappointed. We need to teach self-discipline and generosity.

That’s why the early church is so impressive to me. Listen to how Luke described them:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

None of this is “natural” or “normal” human behavior. They learned it from someone. I wonder who that might have been…

The Pursuit of Happiness

Did you know that the average American home is now more than twice the size of a home from the 1950’s? But the average American family is smaller than it was in those days.

Did you know that the average American income is higher than it was in the 1950’s, even when you account for inflation? In 1950, the average American had less than $2,000 in total personal debt. Today’s average is $10,168, not including mortgages.

Despite the fact that we enjoy the highest standard of living on the planet, the best technology, and incredible access to opportunities, “it has been over fifty years since Americans described themselves to pollsters as very happy.” (See David Myers, The American Paradox)

Hear me well: I’m not asking to go back to the good ol’ days. Solomon said not to ask that question (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Here’s what I am asking: what has gone wrong? Why are we unsatisfied?

Perhaps, in our pursuit of happiness, we have traded the things that bring us real meaning for things that are hollow. Only after we bite into the promises of our culture do we find out that they are empty and unsatisfying. The antidote is simple: focus on the simple things that matter most. Invest in your faith, your family, and your friends. All the other stuff is just stuff.