The Most Convincing Evidence

We have all come in contact with someone who has rejected Christianity primarily because of the unconvincing actions or even blatant hypocrisy of Christians. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That sentiment pains me, and it should sicken any of us who wear the name of Christ and claim to worship him.

At the same time, if lack of spiritual fruit in believers can turn away people from the Church, the opposite is also true: a contagious, authentic faith can prove compelling and irresistible to nonbelievers.

Take the following story as an example:

“One Sunday evening a drunk woman came to our church and was converted.  The co-pastor of the church went to visit her husband the following day and saw he was a very intelligent mechanic, but opposed to religion and very skeptical.  He was disgusted by his wife’s conversion and said he had no doubt that she would soon return to her old life.  

Six months later, the same man came to see the minister of the gospel, and was greatly perplexed by his own spiritual situation. He said, ‘I have read every book about the evidence of Christianity, and I’ve been able to resist every argument.  But in the last six months I’ve had an open book in my home that was impossible to refute in the person of my wife. I’ve come to the conclusion I must be wrong, and there must be a holy and divine power in this religion if it could take a drunk woman and change her into a holy, singing, friendly, patient and pious person like my wife is now.’”

Glory to God! Truly, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

Jean David Larochelle wrote about this reality in his book The Natural Development of Faith:

“Truly the best books about Christianity have stories of the transformed lives of men and women in communion with Christ.  If we all gave our testimony of the work God has done in our lives, other people near us would also have many simple and some amazing stories of the power of God. More than that, if believers or those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus would live integrated, transformed lives, it’s very possible there would be fewer doubters” (p. 56).

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It all brings us to the well-known question: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? In other words, would your colleagues, family members and neighbors say, without a doubt, you live like Jesus Christ?

 

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Faith: It Isn’t An Insurance Policy

*A reflection from the book The Natural Development of Faith: A Personal Adventure With Jesus

By Jean David Larochelle

“There are some noxious beliefs, like: ‘If you are sick, it is because you don’t have faith,’ or ‘If you suffer poverty, you have not taken hold of the riches of the King.’  None of this could be further from the truth of the Word of God.  Faith from God’s perspective is not an insurance policy . . .

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To be a Christian does not exempt us from pain, crisis, illness, or loss, even to the point of death.  The Christian life is not a life of extraterrestrials.  Our world is a real one in which everything exists.  We do not fool people with a superficial gospel or Savior.  We offer a good, solid message, not a temporary and mental drug.  We offer ‘the whole will of God.’ (Acts 20:27)

Right now if you are passing through difficulty or everything is stacked against you, if you are at the point of losing hope because of a difficult or painful circumstance (because such moments will come as a part of life), I encourage you to see those difficult circumstances, if that’s what you are experiencing, as opportunities to take a step forward in your faith.  In general, difficult times do not come by chance or without purpose.  They are to grow and mature us in our faith.  That’s why, when everything seems lost and everyone abandons us, we are always left with Christ.  There are moments when every bit of hope is exhausted and you feel helpless to carry on, powerless to keep fighting, powerless to keep moving forward.  When you look to the heavens in search of relief from loneliness, rejection and abandonment. When all you want to do is cry. When you keep fighting but see that the odds are not in your favor. Know that God is with you and will reward perseverance and faithfulness.  Faith develops when circumstances are not in our favor.” (Larochelle, pg. 15-16, 33-34)

Attuning Ourselves to the Life of Jesus

Reflections on the Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

As I mentioned in the previous article, I have recently been reading a book that has proven impactful in my understanding of the Christian calendar. It’s written by Joan Chittister and entitled, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life.  As we near Ash Wednesday, I think it will be helpful to allow some excerpts from that book to challenge us to view the entire Christian calendar through new eyes…

“The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus.  It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life.”

“The liturgical year is the year that sets us out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.  The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening.”

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“It is in the liturgy that we meet the Jesus of history and come to understand the Christ of faith who is with us still…It is, in fact, the life of Jesus that really guides the church through time.  It is the life of Jesus that judges the conduct of the time.  It is the life of Jesus that is the standard of the souls who call themselves Christian in every age, however seductive the errors of the age itself.”

“In the liturgical year we walk with Jesus through all the details of His life – and He walks with us in ours…Early Christians knew without doubt that all facets of the life of Christ stemmed from one reality, were related to one reality, led to one reality, were aspects of one central reality: the cross.  Jesus was born to confront the cross; Jesus died on the cross to bring us to fullness of life; Jesus rose to defeat the cross; Jesus embodied what the role of the cross was to be in the life of us all. Clearly it was the reality of the cross that defined the life of Jesus, the Christ. And it is the reality of the cross that defines the life of the individual Christian, both then and now.”

“Like the voices of loved ones gone before us, the liturgical year is the voice of Jesus calling to us every day of our lives to wake our sleeping selves from the drowsing effects of purposelessness and meaninglessness, materialism and hedonism, rationalism and indifference, to attend to the life of the Jesus who cries within us for fulfillment.”

Joan Chittister: Reflections on The Christian Calendar

The season of Lent is almost upon us, and every year there are at least some Evangelical Christians in different countries who contact me out of their concern or confusion with this period in the Christian calendar, or the concept of a liturgical year in general.

Phyllis Tickle explains that the Christian calendar has been an extremely important aspect of spiritual formation down through the centuries:

“The ancient practices of the faith are sevenin number, have come into Christianity out of Judaism, and inform all of the Abrahamic faiths.  Three of them – tithing, fasting, and the sacred meal– have to do with the physical body, its work and its needs.  Three of them have to do with the monitoring of time.  Fixed-hour prayer regulates the hours of the day, and Sabbath-keeping monitors the days of the week.  The liturgical year monitors or paces those same days and the weeks into the cohesive whole of basic human timekeeping, the year itself.  The seventh of them, pilgrimage, engages both the physical space of the body and the dimension of time, requiring that we go at least once in a lifetime with holy intention to a place made sacred by the faith and encounters of other believers.” (italics added)

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Those words of Tickle are penned in the foreword of Joan Chittister’s book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Chittister, too, has fielded questions from people wondering why we celebrate Advent or Lent or any of the liturgical year’s dates when we do:

“The real answer to the question of the various dates of the liturgical year,” she asserts, “is that the liturgical year is not, for the most part, about a series of events at all.  It is about the import of those defining events.  It is about the relationship of those events, one to another.  It is about the real meaning, not the historical dating, of the events which, to this very day, shape our spiritual lives.”

In a world that rotates around school and work calendars and secular holidays, Chittister happily proclaims her need for something deeper: “I know that it is possible to grow physically older by the day but, at the same time, stay spiritually juvenile, if our lives are not directed by a schema far beyond the march of our planet around the sun.”

And to those who wonder if observing the Christian calendar would ever get monotonous, Chittister has a wonderful answer: “The liturgical year is the process of coming back year after year to look at what we already know, on one level, but are newly surprised by again and again.”

There is renewal in the ritual!  There is surprise in the “same”!

I will be offering more thoughts on this topic in the coming days, and more observations from this wonderful book as well.  For the meantime, I pray that you would begin to embrace the rhythm of the liturgical year.  And may observing and remembering these events open doors of refreshment and deeper knowledge in your walk with Christ.

Salt of the Earth

By Charles W. Christian

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” — Matthew 5:13

Salt has, in some ways, developed a bad reputation these days. It can cause high blood pressure and heart issues when it is over used. Part of the reason salt has developed its reputation is that it is so accessible. That has not always been the case, of course. In ancient times, salt was relatively rare. Salt that could be used for consumption was even rarer.

In ancient times, salt could be a method of payment, and until the invention of canning and refrigeration, salt was the main way in which food was preserved for storage. While the overuse of salt can have ill effects on health, salt is an essential mineral for human life.

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Jesus calls His followers the “salt of the earth.”

This means we are God’s agents of preservation and health for this world. That is a big calling! God actually wishes to use us to help keep the world from rotting. We are agents that prevent the decay of our world by sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. When we choose not to participate in God’s agenda for us and for our world, we “lose our saltiness” and can actually become part of the problem.

As Nazarenes, we define holiness as both an individual experience and as an ongoing experience of participating with all of God’s people in the furthering of God’s ways in the world. In other words, there is both an individual and a social component to holiness.

Individually, we are transformed by God so that together we may be the “salt of the earth.” May we look for Spirit-led ways to be agents of God’s transforming love in the world this week and always.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, we are Yours. As we surrender to You, may you move us from the ways of darkness to the ways of light. In so doing, may we become your instruments of peace, love, and preservation in the world, so that others can be prepared to receive your Holy Spirit and walk with us in the eternal glory of Your presence. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

*Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.

This article was originally published at Holiness Today.

Advent: Four Elements of “Wait Training”

In the previous post, we heard from Pastor Rich Villodas as he taught us about how Advent is a season for “Wait Training.” In part two of his article, originally published at Missio Alliance, we now look at four practical ways we can learn to bear fruit in our spiritual lives as we wait during this season.

By Rich Villodas

Four Important Elements of Waiting

1. Reflective Prayer

Henri Nouwen has said, “Active waiting is waiting that pays attention, is fully present to what is really going on, even when to all outward appearances, nothing is going on.”

One of the primary ways of this kind of waiting that pays attention is in reflective prayer. Prayer is not simply articulating our needs before God. It’s also making ourselves available for God to articulate his movements before us.

Advent is a season of waiting in a posture of prayerful attention. It’s often when we get silent that we can finally begin to trace God’s movements in our lives.

2. Friends on the Journey

Waiting is much easier when done in community. This is one of the reasons Jesus asked his disciples to join him as he awaited his death (unfortunately they fell asleep on him!). Advent is a reminder that waiting is a communal act.

Mary and Elizabeth wait together.

Simeon and Anna wait in community.

The people of God expectantly waited together.

Advent is an invitation to seek out friends on the journey who will help us process, discern and sit in silence with us as we discern God’s activity.

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3. The Hearing of the Gospel Preached

As we wait, our souls need to be grounded in hope that comes from the proclamation of the gospel. We each need a word spoken to us regularly that reminds us of God’s faithful coming in Jesus.

Sunday worship is not a time to get religious goodies and head home. It’s an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s creative word, which is to anchor us in a story that is often at odds with the stories we tell ourselves.

4. Waiting is an Active Activity 

To wait on the Lord doesn’t mean inactivity. It doesn’t mean a refusal to take initiative, or to seek and search for opportunities (a new job, a romantic relationship, etc.). Rather, it’s a refusal to move without connecting our lives to God in prayer and reflection, first and often.

Eugene Peterson has said, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

Sometimes waiting on the Lord means “staying put” in a particular situation until you get further instructions. At other times, it requires us to move forward—but in a way that is grounded in prayer.

Ultimately, to wait on the Lord is a way of life that comes against our tendencies to be impulsive, to be anxiously reactive, and wise in our own eyes.

If decisions are being made that are anxiously reactive and impulsive, chances are we need some practice in waiting on the Lord.

Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s a great opportunity to train our souls in waiting.

This article was originally published at: Missio Alliance.

Advent: A Season of “Wait Training”

By Rich Villodas (originally published on Missio Alliance)

There’s nothing that unites us in the experience of being human quite like waiting. No matter our age, our education, our accomplishments, or time spent following Jesus, we will have to wait.

This is why the Advent season is necessary for the shaping of our lives.

Each of the seasons of the Liturgical Calendar leads us in paying particular attention to Christian themes and practices. Lent reminds us, among many things, to place God’s way—and not our appetites—as the guiding principle for our lives. Eastertide calls us to live a spirituality of feasting and joy anchored in Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost gives us a vision of life filled with God’s power because the Spirit has been poured out on us.

The Advent season is one in which God trains us in waiting.

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Wait Training

This training is oriented towards the formation of our lives because what God does in us as we wait is more important than what we are waiting for.

Many of the stories of scripture point to the excruciating pain and trouble experienced by the people of God because of their refusal to wait for God. This has been our story to this day.

For example, in Exodus 32 (the story of the golden calf), the Israelites, in a moment of anxiety, impulsively fashion an idol to provide security for themselves because Moses was nowhere to be found. This idol creation came days after God informed them that this kind of religious practice was off limits now that they were delivered from Pharaoh.

Anxiety will make us do irrational things.

Their waiting was difficult because they couldn’t see what God was up to. 

It’s hard for us to wait—and not just because we are impatient.

It’s hard to wait because we often don’t believe God is at work in our lives.

But Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s the annual reminder that God is for creation and moves towards us.

Even so, it’s hard to wait. One of the primary reasons it’s hard to wait is because our understanding of waiting has been incomplete.

As a pastor, I’m frequently asked to help people understand what it means to wait on the Lord. In the next post I will share four elements that I have learned along the way about WAITING.