Sometimes we need someone to cut through the fog and say what should be obvious, but got lost somewhere along the way:
Friends of ours asked various people to offer their counsel to their eighteen year old son. Here is what I wrote:
I was not a Christian at eighteen so you are blessed to know the Lord at an early age.
There are many things I would like to offer by way of counsel, but let me highlight a few.
It might get confusing at times determining whether something is God’s will or simply the desire of well-intentioned Christians. You will need discernment and courage to be able to decipher which is which. I have found meditating on the book of Proverbs very helpful.
A few years back I had an unexpected stroke. The doctors don’t know why as my arteries were clean and I have a strong heart. Then I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and shortly after that was back in the hospital because I have a problem with the electrical current for my heart.
Seeing others suffer around me in the ER was sobering and gave me a greater compassion for them. Being sick and keenly aware of your own mortality can produce good fruit. You are wise if you prepare now for unexpected twists and turns. I have seen many Christians get bitter at God, and I have seen many trust Him in deeper ways. Developing strong roots now will help you be the second person.
It is too easy to get caught up in good things which are not the best. I have many interests and am curious about many things which are not bad things per se, but they can keep me from focusing on the few things which are truly necessary. Make primary things primary.
Be grateful for family and friends. They know you best and will be loyal in ways others won’t.
One of my all-time favorite books is The Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan understood better than most that Christians are individuals. Some people struggle more with doubt, some more with worldliness, and so forth. Read widely and read the best books. Bunyan’s book certainly helped me through my stroke.
Most of all, remembering that God is merciful, loving, and good no matter how the circumstances turn out. Mine turned out very well, but God is good irrespective of the outcomes of one’s circumstances. Notice how often people attach the words “God is good” to prayers where the desired outcome occurs. Well, God is good whether you get healed or not. The cross of Christ settles once and for all that God is loving. Looking back at Christ’s work on the cross is what gives stability to the Christian’s life.
Determining God’s goodness based on whether He is fixing my circumstances in the way I deem best is what an older believer in the faith calls a spiritual cul-de-sac. If we measure the goodness of God by how well He fixes our negative circumstances, we will find suffering a constant threat to “growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.”
Sincerely in Christ,
Watching the video I posted yesterday reminds me of a simple, yet widely neglected truth: Christians must wrestle with the beliefs of their faith. We are now embarrassed to say doctrine and theology. Sounds too impractical. If people come to that tragic conclusion, it is either the teacher’s fault or it could be the student’s fault. But it is never the subject of vibrant and life-giving theology. And notice how I felt compelled to modify theology. Maybe I am too defensive!
What happens when we mainly attract people to church with the social benefits, yet they don’t really understand much of what the Christian faith is about? Well, if they get troubled and want to ask probing questions, they might be told good Christians don’t struggle with such things. I’ve heard my share of such horror stories.
Christianity is true, but rightly understood it is beautiful, compelling, worth everything we are and have.
Fascinating interview with the renowned chef, Thomas Keller, and one of his “disciples.” There are important things to learn about Christian discipleship from this interview:
The Dodo, of course, is well known for two things: being ugly and being extinct. Discipleship where you invest long-term in a few relationships seems to have gone the way of the Dodo.
On Scot McKnight’s blog, he posted a poll on what top ten things pastors like about their calling. I list them here with the comment I posted over at Scot’s Jesus Creed:
- Seeing lives transformed.
- Preaching. Frankly, I expected this response to be number one, but it was a distant second. Preaching is very important to these pastors, but transformed lives are the most important. Of course, some of them noted that preaching transforms lives.
- Personal evangelism. Though distant to number one, sharing the gospel one-on-one was a clear number three. Here is a fascinating facet of this study to me: Over 85 percent of the pastors named one of these first three as their response. The next eight were named by less than 15 percent of the pastors.
- The people/members.
- Developing new relationships.
- Ministering in the community.
- Ministering to members.
- Casting a vision.
- Staff relationships.
- Mentoring or discipling one-on-one. (Study by Thom Rainer)
As a former full-time pastor and now itinerant, I find it disheartening (if this poll is any real indication) that discipleship is tenth and no comment made about that changing lives.
My own interaction with many pastors does reflect what the poll is saying. Few pastors seem interested in the non sexy work of long-term discipleship. Thankfully, I know some notable exceptions to what may be the general rule.