You Said It, Part III

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From time to time, I like to share with you quotes I’ve found in my research that have sincerely challenged me. In most cases, these timely quotes point me to the relevant scriptures they are based on. I hope you enjoy these, and more importantly, that they challenge you also.

 

“No man has a right to be idle . . . Where is it that in such a world as this, health and leisure, and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate?”

                                                                                                            William Wilberforce

Have you ever acknowledge how boring and vain life can be? Have you ever concluded life can’t just be about seeing the next movie, playing the next video game, or going to the next thrill whatever it is? And then, have you ever wondered what is your cause to fight for?

William Wilberforce, the 18th-19th Century British politician and reformer who steadfastly worked twenty-six years for the abolition of slavery in England, is your medicine for finding that encouraging word. I love to read and learn from trendsetters, who although they may face persecution, lead others to where we need and should be as a people.

That is what Wilberforce demonstrated, and that’s why I love this quote from him. He chastises those who would think we are here merely to consume entertainment, and he reminds all of us that part of the reason we’re here is to make a difference. As Wilberforce says, certainly there is:

  • Some ignorance to instruct;
  • Some wrong to redress;
  • Some want to supply;
  • Some misery to alleviate.

So go, and make a difference, even if it takes twenty-six years! (see Galatians 6:9)

“I had always thought that a lost soul referred to the soul’s destination, not its condition . . . We are not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.”  

                                                                                                                        John Ortberg

This profound quote is from Ortberg’s Soul Keeper, which came out last year. When I first read it many months ago, this statement just lingered with me, forcing me to ask a series of questions:

  • What does it really mean when we say someone is “lost”?
  • Can the lost know they are lost?
  • How can we best help the lost?
  • Is the worse part about being lost where you’ll end up, or how your life is now?

After much prayer and study, I came to realize the best and most effective way to help the lost is to stop trying to “get them to heaven” but focus more on helping them to realize how lost they are right now without Jesus!

That seems to be a better strategy, and I believe one that began with Jesus. (see Luke 19:10)

“Nearly all that we call human history . . . [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

                                                                                                C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I was reminded of this somber yet candid quote from Nancy Pearcey’s new book Finding Truth. In her book, which I’m still reading, she presents the claims of the Christian worldview and delineates a five-fold criterion in which to measure and evaluate competing worldviews.

Lewis’ quote should be a stark reminder of how much we actually have in common with each other. All of us are simply searching for a purpose and happiness – or better, true joy. We just don’t know how to find it!

And then . . . “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son . . .”

Were there ever any more beautiful words said or written?

RA

You Said It, Part II

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As I did a few weeks ago, occasionally I’ll share with you some great quotes I’ve come across during my research. All of these memorable quotes have inspired and encouraged me, and I hope they do the same for you. Enjoy!

“We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone.”   Martin Luther

As you may know, Martin Luther was the German reformer who was tormented for years in his quest to understand and earn the righteousness of God. In fact, during his struggle to obtain this as a young Catholic monk, Luther admitted that far from loving God, he actually feared and hated God because of his vain attempts at becoming righteous before God. Luther felt nothing but condemnation and despair as he labored to become righteous.

But one day about a year and a half before he would ignite the Protestant Reformation, Luther came to understand by studying the book of Romans that the righteousness of God wasn’t to be feared and especially not earned, but received as a gift by faith. So in Luther’s discovery, nothing anyone could do – all our futile works – could ever garner God’s attention towards us, or especially the bestowal of his righteousness. The glorious breakthrough was that God’s already done all the work: we just receive it by faith in Jesus! And now, since I am righteous according to God, works are needed more than ever, but not to garner God’s attention, but now works born of my faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Another quote from Luther further reveals this even more:

“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

Of course the Bible sums this up best:

“But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18 (NASB)

So although we are saved by faith alone, that faith should never remain alone as it brings forth works of righteousness that in turn can help others to realize an awesome truth: God loves them so much that he’s already done all the work!

“Faith can’t be forced, but unfaith can be challenged.”   N.T. Wright

I love how the British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reminds us of our role as we share the Gospel with others. At times, we may feel like forcing others to accept Jesus, since we can’t understand why anyone would resist all that God offers, but we know it is a decision that each individual must make on their own.

So, while we can’t and shouldn’t force others into a decision, we must always be ready to share and persuade others as they are investigating the nature of God and faith. That’s what 1 Peter 3:15 states:

“. . . but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV)

In order to challenge, or as 1 Peter 3:15 says “make a defense”, we must

  • Always be prepared!
  • Let the hope that is in us shine forth!
  • Respond with gentleness and respect!

What a challenge before us! Let me reiterate these in more practical terms:

  • Are you prepared to share with others who Jesus is, and articulate the Christian position on an issue?
  • Can people see you’re a Christian before you speak?
  • As you start to share, does it usually prompt more conversations, or anger and withdrawal?

Please know I am not proposing, and neither does N.T. Wright, that everyone has to become scholars with numerous letters after their last name. But unfortunately it’s become empirically evident today that the average Christian is woefully prepared to “make a defense” of his or her faith. And invariably, I believe the responsibility does reside with Christians, in that only 19% admit to reading their Bible daily, but also with church leaders for not equipping and urging Christians to be better prepared!

The needed remedy is multifaceted, but any remedy should begin with a commitment to abide in the Word of God, and also becoming savvier in the art of persuasion, making the most of every opportunity we have to share the reason for the hope within us. Otherwise, “unfaith” will not be challenged, as it must, but continue to actually flourish, gaining perceived support from faulty and meager worldviews.

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This could not be said any better! Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who refused to capitulate to Nazism, and eventually was executed by order of Hitler, beautifully captures the truth of God, and the tension that will always exist in culture.

Of great concern to me is that so many Christians in 21st Century America don’t see much of a difference between the Christian lifestyle and contemporary American culture. In their eyes, the tension between God’s truth and present culture has vanished, but in reality, the two are diametrically opposed to each other, as Bonhoeffer beautifully articulated.

And, notice what else Bonhoeffer stresses: what the culture seemingly holds in high esteem, is “infinite worthlessness”, and what is truly of value, is deemed by culture “worthless”. May we learn from Bonhoeffer that there are things worth standing up for, things of infinite worth, and even worth dying for!

Didn’t Jesus also teach us that?

RA

You Said It!

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For years now, I’ve kept a research journal. As I work on different projects and do research, occasionally, I’ll come across a quote that has nothing to do with the current project I’m working on, but it’s a great quote that inspired me.

Here are a few excerpts from my research journal that I’d like to share with you. I hope they inspire you as they have me.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Edmund Hillary

I love this quote from Edmund Hillary, who along with his Sherpa climbing partner Tenzing Norgay, in May of 1953, became the first people ever to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

I have always been fascinated with Mount Everest. It is the highest point on earth, with the summit being 29,028 feet above sea level. And yet, people have been climbing, or attempting to climb Mount Everest for years. Just think about that! At its summit, there is 66% less oxygen to breath, and, if that alone doesn’t tell you how gargantuan that mountain is, remember that jet planes typically fly between 30,000 and 35,000 feet! Yet, every year, people pay up to $100,000 and more to climb it.

How do they do that? How did Edmund Hillary do that? Technically, as Hillary explains it, he didn’t conquer the mountain, but he had to conquer himself: the physical pain, mental battles, the fears and doubts, and many other self-imposed obstacles.

It reminds me of Romans 8:37 and that startling, though often misunderstood verse:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (NIV)

Honestly, I’ve yet to find a good English translation of this verse because of that phrase “more than conquerors”. In the original Greek, it’s just one verb deriving from a word that means “exceeding victory”. Have you ever bought a pair of Nike shoes? Well, the Greek word nike is used here, just with a prefix attached to it in order to intensify its meaning. So what this verse is undeniably teaching is that followers of Jesus are “incredibly victorious”, or “super-conquerors”. 

Really? You and I are “incredibly victorious” or “super-conquerors”? Yes! But here’s the key, and what I appreciate about Hillary’s quote. We are “incredibly victorious” not because we will it, or because we try hard, or because we’re just lucky. We can overcome mountains because “through him” we can be “incredibly victorious”: in other words, it’s the power of Jesus, his strength, his ability, and the fortitude of the One inside of us by the power of his Spirit that enables us to conquer whatever challenge lies before us.

I think the best translation of this passage I’ve seen to date is the New Living Translation:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (NLT)

So, what mountain are you climbing? Do you realize the obstacle is not the mountain?

“Those who stop believing in God do not then believe in nothing, they will believe in anything.”                                                                                  G.K. Chesterton

This famous saying from the English author and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton is profound in what it reminds me of – everyone believes in something! Oftentimes I hear people say, “I don’t believe in God; as a matter of fact, I don’t believe in anything.” That’s just not a true or precise statement.

Here’s why. There are two incontrovertible truths regarding humanity: we love, and we worship. It’s been said many different ways – we crave relationships and meaning, community and wonder, the immanent and the transcendent – but they all point to the same reality: we were created for each other, and our Creator. Yet, we’ve messed that up, and instead of honoring God and respecting him, we’ve replaced him. Observe carefully that previous choice of words – we don’t just reject God, and believe in nothing or no one: we replace God. That’s why Calvin could accurately describe the human heart as an efficient idol-making factory.

The prophet Jeremiah reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of such a course of action. The horror of our sin is not that we just reject God, but we put something in his place. Notice the analogy Jeremiah used to express this:

“For my people have done two evil things:

They have abandoned me—

    the fountain of living water.

And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns 

that can hold no water at all! (NLT)

Fresh, nourishing, life-bearing water is offered, but instead we choose to get our own water, and seek to be satisfied with the dirty, stinky, infected, harmful water-like substance, that is also in limited supply! Why do we do it? We have to believe in something. We have to love something. We have to dedicate our lives to something, even if it’s broken, putrid and worthless.

What do you believe in?

“The bottom line is that we [Christians] have been called by God to be the church, not simply to go to church.” George Barna

Will you join me in making a promise? Let’s change our vocabulary; instead of saying this weekend “I’m going to church”, let’s start speaking more accurately and biblically.

We can start speaking more accurately by saying, “I’m going to New Hope Community in such-in-such a city”, or “I’m going to First Baptist” in wherever you live, but we must stop treating the word ‘church’ as a thing.

In the entire New Testament, the word church never refers to a brick and mortar building like what we mistakenly call a church today. The closest you come to it in the New Testament are passages like Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 where Paul says to “greet also the church in their house” or “Aquila and Priscilla greet you . . . together with the church in their house”. At the most, the word ‘church’ could refer to a home where Christians gathered, but even then, as the two Pauline passages demonstrate, the term still refers to the people gathered in that house.

Biblically we can start speaking better by embodying this truth: if you are a Christian, you are the church! And the more pressing task before us is not to find time in our busy schedules to go to church, though it is important and commanded for us to gather with local Christians on a weekly basis and fulfill the functions of the church (Hebrews 10:25), but the preeminent issue is to daily exhibit the presence of God in our lives. I love this impactful quote from Mark Dever that summarizes this beautifully:

“The Christian proclamation [the sermon] might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.”

Consequently, let’s stop telling people where we’re going this weekend. Instead, let’s just be the visible church today, wherever we are.

RA