Monday, July 27, 2009

Touchdown Jesus Leads Us To The Promised Land?

If I follow Jesus, will I get a promotion at my job? If I trust in God, will my company make more money? Will I be successful in what I do here on Earth, if I am obedient to God's calling?

The other day, I was reading a Sports Illustrated article on Tim Tebow. Tebow is the Heisman Trophy-winning Quarterback of the Florida Gators. He is one of college football's best and most recognizable athletes. He's famous. He's also a Christian, a guy who is outspoken about what he believes. He goes to prisons and talks about Jesus. His father is a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

I'm a huge fan of world-class athletes that also are willing to talk about Jesus. Kurt Warner does it. Reggie White. A.C. Green. Orel Hershiser. There's an abundance of professional athletes who have talked at length -- and even written books -- about their faith.

I'm also a fan of players and teams that reach out to the community, and to each other. Many teams have a chaplain, and many clubhouses have Bible studies and church services that are well-attended. People like Tebow take the time to work in third-world countries or to meet with guys on death row. That's awesome.

So I read the SI cover story with great interest. The story focused on Tebow's Christianity. Two thirds of the way into the article, I read about how before last year's BCS title game, Tebow called 15 players into his hotel room and read a passage from Matthew to them. The words of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

How can you not love this guy?

Then Tebow told his teammates that they would beat Oklahoma "not because we're the better team or because we've worked harder," although he believed those things were true. "We're going to win because we're going to handle it the right way, we're going to be humble with it, with God leading us."

That sentence made me stop and think. What? Is that really how God operates? "We're going to win, with God leading us"?

I'm used to seeing players point to the heavens or even kneel for a moment in prayer after scoring a touchdown. Practically every player you see in a post-game interview thanks God for the win. Kurt Warner, at one point, said that "The Lord has something special in mind for this team."

In fact, most of our churches preach a similar mantra. Obey God, and he will bless you. The Prayer of Jabez idea seemed to blow up into an entire institution. Enlarge your territory! Increase your impact! After all, the more football games we win, or the more companies we own, the more people we can help and win for Christ, right? Why WOULDN'T God want us to have all of that success?

Hmm. I think about Stephen. Peter. John. Pretty much all of the apostles. Ignatius. Justin. Origen. Jim Elliot. Millions more people crucified, stoned, burned at the stake, boiled in oil, ripped apart, or eaten by lions. Man, weren't THOSE guys missing out on "Christ's blessings!"

I wonder if Paul's tentmaking business really took off, and he ended up owning a whole string of tentmaking franchises. He probably just never mentioned it.

All of this makes me think of one of my favorite passages in the Bible, three kids on death row, speaking to the king, in Daniel 3: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Did he say "even if he does not"? What's that supposed to mean?

One could easily find scriptures saying that God will bless us if we follow him. But what exactly does that "blessing" entail?

If we follow Jesus -- a homeless guy who was jailed and then killed by the time he was 33 -- should we expect a life of successful earthly endeavors?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Only Way?

Is Jesus "the only way?" Well, as the humble swordsman Indigo Montoyo famously said in "The Princess Bride": "You keep saying that...I do not think it means what you think it means."

Below is a brief article from the blog of pastor Brett Nicholson of The Edge @ Bethel Temple, Evansville IN. I cannot kick off this discussion any better, so let him begin for us:

"Core to our calling as a church is to “make the case for the faith” to our generation. This is inspired by a study of the book of Acts and how Paul went about the task of missions. In that spirit, July is dedicated to equipping us to answer the question: “Is Christianity fact or fairy tale?”

We’ll begin with the question I think is the toughest.

“What makes us think Jesus is the only way?” Without question, of all the claims we make as believers, this one gets under people’s skin the most. Or, to put another way, “So if I don’t believe what you believe, I’m going to hell?” Ever heard that one in a conversation with an unbeliever? In the age of tolerance, it’s a pretty hard sell to say ours is the way and others are just out of luck. How do we answer?

There’s no question the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the only way. But, I guess my goal is to fully appreciate and embrace the beauty of it rather than succumb to the temptation of grudgingly accepting it (in the back of my mind thinking God is too narrow). Better yet, I need to be able to articulate a solid answer when the question is posed. Therefore; my goal is to take a deep, hard look at Jesus’ claims to being the one and only way to eternal life."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yankee-Doodle Diety

Not sure you're into following Jesus? What's the matter, don't you know the future of America depends on it? I mean go ahead, be a it for the old Red, White, and Blue, and for our boys in Baghdad.

Recently I got a well-meaning chain e-mail that sounded like this:

“Our nation has been on a slippery slope for a long time. If you look around you will find corruption, greed, moral decay, and a steady move away from the things that made us great. The principles upon which this nation was founded are no longer our backbone. However, we can reverse this trend.

“2 Chronicles 7:14 In God's word HE states, "If MY people who are called by MY Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land".

I am convinced that we must pray for our nation and its leaders and ask for forgiveness. So I ask you to join me in this plea to our Lord. If you feel led to do so, would you please send this to people in your address book; ask them to pray EVERYDAY. (25 to the only the 5th power is 9,765,625 people.) IMAGINE if each person reaches TEN others...or all TWENTY FIVE!

If you do and they comply, we will lift up millions and millions of prayers a day to our Creator. He will hear us and in faith will answer.”

A counterpoint:

First of all, let us not mistake who God was speaking to in 2 Chronicles. He was speaking to his chosen people -- the Jewish nation in Palestine, 450 BC. Is that the same as Christians in the USA, 2009? I am not saying this does not pertain to us at all, I am merely asking HOW does this pertain to “us”, the 9.77 million people envisioned in the would-be chain letter above?

The “we” in 2 Chronicles is not “America”, neither does it refer directly to any odd conglomeration of souls who pray. Does that mean it doesn't apply to us? No, that's not what I mean. It just means that we need to look at what words like "us" and "land" mean in that context. So who are God's people today?

Well, I suppose that would be Christians. This passage is interested in His gathered people, His followers, His church. The “us” referenced is all the Jesus-lovers in Iran and Israel, Mexico city and Vatican City, Angola and America. Not political entities, but the “one holy ethnos” he’s gathered from every tribe and tongue.

So if CHRISTIANS, who are called by God's name, will humble themselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from THEIR wicked ways, God will hear and forgive THEIR sin, and bless THEIR land. However, the popular myth of this e-mail suggests that “we good guys” should be praying against “those nasty OTHER guys”. Those greedy people, those corrupt people, and their moral decay. Those for whom we vote and cheer; those whose CD’s and DVD’s we collect. Them…the ones that have pushed America down such a "slippery slope."

This seems to run completely contrary to the verse we're referencing. God says that WE must humble OURselves. Us! Our churches. Our Christians. WE must turn from our wicked ways, not bow in smug false repentance for the sins of others.

Then he will heal our land, right? And America will "turn around", and be restored to her greatness, to her manifest destiny? But He's not talking about America. God has no more interest in America’s success as a nation, nor for the souls of its citizens, than he has in Congo or Cambodia or Costa Rica. If you do not understand this, you do not understand God and his kingdom.
Joe B