Evangelism Shouldn’t Be Hard: It’s Just Telling People Good News

Evangelism.
The mere word seems to send otherwise mature Christians running for the hills.
Potluck. “You know I’m in.”
Worship. “I hope we sing 10,000 Reasons again.”
But, “evangelism?”
“Uh, I’ve got something else going on.”

What is it about this word?

“Evangelism” is a Christianese word, but it shouldn’t be scary. When the New Testament was written, the word simply meant “the declaration of good news.” It was mainly associated with news about the king. The birth of a prince was good news. The coronation of a new king was good news. A king’s victory in battle was good news.

In our Christian context, evangelism is merely telling people the good news that the King was born. The good news that He died on behalf of messed up people like you and me. The good news that He rose again and is going to restore all things to their original, good design.

Telling good news isn’t a special skill. People don’t get degrees in “Delivering Good News.” Little kids, with no training whatsoever, are some of the best at telling good news: “Dad, dad, dad! You won’t believe it: I found a quarter!” “That’s great.” “No, it gets better: I bought, wait for it, a gumball with it!”

Somewhere along the line, we shifted things though. Evangelism went from being simply sharing Good News, to formulas, memorized outlines, and asking terrifyingly awkward questions. Moreover, it went from being something natural, like a kid excited about finding a quarter, to something you had to have specialized training for, a unique calling for.

Somewhere in the course of Christian history, evangelism moved from being the joy of every disciple to being the responsibility of a few specialists.

Reset

We need to reset the dial, regain the joy of every Christ-follower being engaged in telling the good news about the King.

To do that, we need to be reminded why it’s Good News in the first place. Jesus himself gives us a sketch of the Good News in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Such a familiar verse, but one whose message has been lost in our evangelism-averse era of the faith. However, if we can regain an understanding of evangelism as simply telling good news…well, there is all sorts of good news here for us to share!

1. God’s unearned love is good news

The fact that God loves the world is a massive dose of good news. It’s especially good when you consider what Jesus means by “the world.” When he says that God loves the world, he’s not saying that God loves the penguins, and God loves the pandas, and God loves the butterflies. When he says that God loves the world, he’s talking about you and me. He’s talking about humanity, sinful humanity.

God created everything and has the right of creation to outline laws for his domain. He says, “here’s the way you ought to live. Here’s this good world that I’ve created.” And we throw it back in his face and say, “no thanks. We’re going to do it on our own.” We rebelled, and we continue to rebel.

We’re not worthy of God’s love.

And this verse tells us God loves us anyway.

He loves people who reject him. He loves the world, the broken, sin-ridden, filthily-foul, curse-riddled mess that we call humanity. He’s not waiting for us to love him: he loves us and invites us to encounter his love.

So, God’s love is good news, not because we love him and then he loves us, but because we hated him and he still loved us.

2. God’s gift of his Son is good news

People throw out the statement, “God is love” all the time. And, based on the context, many people never try to define that love. It’s like, to them, God is this big, amorphous blob of love, just oozing out everywhere with rainbows and cotton candy.

However, God’s love is clearly defined in Scripture. God loves in a very particular and a very costly way. It’s all right here in John 3:16: “For God SO loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

So.

We tend to interpret that “so” as meaning “God loved the world so much” as if Jesus was merely emphasizing the size of God’s love. Nope.

It means, “in this way.” God loved the world. How do you know? He gave his only Son.

God did something very specific to demonstrate the nature of his love because we needed at least two things to recognize his love: we needed to know who God really is and we needed someone to solve our sin problem.

Jesus reveals the true nature of God by being God. His birth, teaching, life, death, and resurrection show us God’s character and attributes more clearly than was ever revealed before.

That’s an act of love because we were created to know God and be known by him. When we rebelled against him, we lost that knowledge and humanity has been stumbling around in the dark, desperately creating gods in our own image, hoping to find the relational satisfaction we were created to enjoy but always coming up empty.

And when the scales fall from our eyes, and we see Jesus, our hearts leap and shout: “Here is the one who made me, who loves me, who calls me! Now I understand!”

But if all Jesus did was reveal God to us, our hearts would cease their exulting as our minds caught up: “But he’s so perfect, so right, so true and I’m so flawed, so evil, so false: I’m unable to relate to him because my rebellion has dug a chasm between us.”

So.

So, God didn’t just send Jesus to reveal himself: he sent Jesus to heal us. Jesus shows God’s perfection and then dies for our imperfection. The punishment that our sin deserved, death, Jesus takes into himself on the cross. He dies in our place. And because the punishment for our sin is accomplished, the guilt of our rebellion is done away with. That chasm is bridged, and all who will may walk across, back to fellowship with their Creator.

That’s good news.

3. God’s grace is good news.

So how do we walk across the bridge? Because it’s not enough for us to know who God is, that there’s something in us that’s broken, that has to be fixed. Somehow, it actually has to get fixed.

It gets fixed by us believing in Jesus. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s only by believing that Jesus is who he said he was and confessing him to be the Lord he is, that we can be saved.

Not, “work as hard as you can and hope that I’ll make up the difference.”

Not, “do x number of good deeds, pray y number of times, and never wet the bed, and I’ll let you off the hook.”

None of that. Believe.

You can’t earn God’s love, you can’t earn the solution to your sin, you can’t earn anything from God. Earning suggest owing and God owes his creation nothing. However, he offers everything to those who believe.

“It’s too easy,” we think. “Surely there’s something we have to do. Surely there’s something we have to contribute.”

Jesus says, “no, no, believe in me.”

That is God’s grace. God’s grace says you can’t earn it, you don’t deserve it, and yet God offers it anyway. This is why Paul tells us that the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews. We want the good news of God’s forgiveness to require something of us, up front. We want it to require us to be smart, to work hard, to earn it somehow.

However, we can’t, we don’t, we won’t. It’s grace through faith, a simple act of faithful obedience, not to a list of rules, but to the call of our Lord: “believe in me.”

That’s good news.

4. God’s offer of eternal life is good news.

Too many people, including the one writing this post, are tempted to think that this life is where we need to find our satisfaction, happiness, and joy.

And every single one of us is going to die disappointed unless we change our minds on that subject. Because the fact of the matter is that this life is too full of brokenness, too full of heartache, too full of disease and death and sadness to ever be what we need it to be.

Whether you have $2,000,000 in the bank or you don’t have two pennies in your pocket, you’re going to face hardship in this life. Money’s not going to solve the problem.

Whether you’ve got a spouse who loves you and completes you and is your soulmate, or you’re stuck in a marriage and think that getting out is the answer, or you want to be married and you can’t seem to find anybody, a relationship is not going to give you the life that you expect.

Money won’t. Relationships won’t. Stuff won’t. Fame won’t. Power won’t. None of it is going to outweigh the difficulty that inevitably comes by continuing to breathe. Humans live in a world that is marked by sin. We experience the effects of both our sin and the sin of the people around us. We deal with hard times day by day by day, and if this life is meant to be our fulfillment, we got a raw deal.

Jesus says, “Here’s the deal: you don’t have to believe in me. You don’t have to take the love that God offers. You can seek fulfillment in this life, and you may come close, but you’re not going to find it because, in the end, you’re going to perish.

But then he says, “Wait. Those who do believe in me will be given eternal life.” And not life like it is now: life like God intended things to be, forever. No more pain, no more cancer, no more dying, no more rape, no more starvation, no more brokenness.

That’s good news.

Tell The Good News

Evangelism is just telling people, “Hey, good news: this world isn’t all there is. It’s broken, I’m broken, you’re broken. But God wants to fix the world, and me, and you. So he sent his Son. Want to learn more about him with me?”

That’s not so hard. Evangelism, in the traditional, churchy sense might be hard, but telling good news: that’s easy.

So, let’s do it. Let’s start telling people the Good News.

John 3:16 is a pretty good place to start.

The Miracle of Transformation

For a brief moment, James stopped and stared at the miracle, transfixed by a reverence that seemed to have materialized in his heart out of nothingness. He was late for his next appointment, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Or, at least not in such a hurry that he didn’t have time for admiring a miracle. After all, miracles were in unusually short supply these days.

“The leaves are beginning to turn,” James noted consciously, as his mind caught up with his soul. He loved it when the leaves turned. He liked to watch the slow, steady, and incomprehensibly-instantaneous transformation from green to gilt-edged, to gold and crimson and ripe barley. Something in the death-process of the leaves stirred that part of him which was still capable of feeling anything without first being exposed to a glowing screen.

It was good to feel.

Musing on nothing but feeling something, he reached the door that marked the entrance to the next scheduled block on his calendar: an appointment with his counselor.

As far as counselors went, so far as James knew, Mike Smith was decent enough. Mike’s office, which was also his house, which was also his cat’s house, (an order of descriptive priority that the cat, a tabby whose purpose for existence, it seemed, was to provide a perfect and living definition of the word “supercilious”, would undoubtedly have taken exception too if he could be bothered to give his opinion on the matter) was pleasant enough.

But James had about had enough. He was sick of counseling. He was sick of scheduling blocks on his calendar for being counseled.

And he was sick of the cat.

So, James’ presence on the stoop that day was not an exuberant one, his reverence pouring out from a hole somewhere near his elbow as he raised his hand to knock on the door. The steps he took inside, the return greeting he gave, and the manner with which he undid his coat’s zipper, could have been described as lackadaisical if they had not so effectively communicated his doneness with it all.

And James was done, he told himself for the umpteenth time.

And he was tired. He didn’t typically walk as far as he had to come here today. Mike had somehow gotten the idea that James’ walking to their next counseling appointment would benefit James somehow. James wasn’t entirely clear on the concept, but it included a great many words from Mike about “fresh air” and “change of scenery” and “consciousness” and other worn-out clichés about the benefits of eschewing convenience.

But James was not one of the iron-willed, self-deterministic members of society. Indeed, James was part of that significant subset of humanity that seems to exist for the sole purpose of doing what other people tell them to do. He liked to pretend that he was capable of independent existence. But he wasn’t. Like many others, James was only happy when he had someone telling him what to do. That way he could mentally complain about them while he did whatever it was that they wished him to do and thereby give meaning to his otherwise meaningless existence.

So James had walked to his appointment today.

And he sat down in the austere fabric chair across from Mike’s plush leather one. Mike Smith was one of those counselors clichéd enough to recommend walking to appointments, but he wasn’t clichéd enough to have a chaise lounge for his counselees to lay upon while he asked them about their childhood. And he certainly wasn’t one to scratch illegible notes on a yellow legal pad and mutter insightful “uh-huhs” at appropriate intervals while James was speaking either. He used a phone with a large screen and was strictly silent except for when he was talking.

It was James who supplied the “uh-huhs.” Mike was prone to long speaking fits. He would break out into one after every few answers James gave to his questions. James would maintain eye contact with Mike, nod appreciatively on occasion, and utter appropriate “uh-huhs” whenever Mike delivered some rehearsed line that he thought was smart and seemed to be trying out for the book he was writing. Mike fancied himself an expert on some esoteric branch of some field or another and, like most self-fancied experts, couldn’t resist at least a small amount of preening in front of the less-informed members of society.

James fit the bill. In fact, he barely qualified for “less-informed.” Like a boulder levered out of rest by external force and bounding down a hillside, James operated less on information than on sheer momentum.

He was in counseling because the sentencing judge in his drunk and disorderly conduct case had told him to be in counseling, along with completing 30 hours of community service.

The reason the case had been one of drunk and disorderly conduct with a sentence of court-ordered counseling and community service instead of the more serious charges of public nudity, defacement of government property, and drunk and disorderly conduct was because he did what his lawyer told him to do and pled guilty to the lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence and having the other charges dropped.

The reason he didn’t also have to negotiate a charge of assaulting a police officer was that he had done what the police officer told him to do and stopped peeing on the officer’s car instead of swinging at the officer like his friend Joey had.

The reason James had been peeing on the car that night was that he had been doing what Joey told him to do: namely, to go out on the town, then to drink more than he could handle, and then to urinate on a parked police car while Joey filmed the incident.

And the reason he was out drinking with Joey was that when James’ girlfriend, Amanda, had replied to his request for her to join him out on the town with an “I’m busy. Ask someone else,” he had.

“Uh-huh,” James mumbled, not because anyone had told him to, but because it felt like it was time.

After the hour was up, James left the chair, zipped his coat, replied to Mike’s farewell, and stepped back outside. He mindlessly groped around his pockets before realizing that he had walked here and would have to walk back now.

Grumbling vaguely to himself, he set back off in the general direction he had come from earlier. He crossed wide sidewalks and narrow streets before coming to the path through the park that stretched out across the lane from his apartment. He stopped there, ostensibly to catch his breath.

Instead, he pulled out his phone. No badge icons to indicate a new message or notification. He pressed the calendar icon and stared at the screen blankly while a swirl of colors in the center indicated that it was thinking about his request. After a few heartbeats, his schedule finally swung into view. Nothing. It was blank until tomorrow morning’s shift at the shop.

He hit the home button and then gently tapped the icon for his favorite social media app. It leaped at his touch, springing to into action and almost immediately flinging updates from friends, both real and digital, against the glossy glass screen. He scrolled for a moment, saw nothing going on that captured his attention and pressed the lock screen button.

He looked up at the trees lining the park, marshaled like barbaric champions pressing back against the encroaching urban hordes.

A bit of reverence slid down from the crook of a branch, entered just at the top of his spinal column, and suffused his being. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. He had time for a walk in the dying woods. After all, today was a day for miracles.

5 Tools For Fighting Sin & 50 Ways To Use Them

Fighting Sin

Admit it: you’re a sinner.

So am I. In fact, the Bible says that we’re all sinners.

That’s why we need Jesus. Because we can’t seem to get out of our own way when it comes to sin. We’re like the dog in Proverbs, repeatedly sticking our noses back into the putrid results of our half-digested attempts at finding nourishment in the garbage heap of our desires.

We need Jesus to beat sin for us, to show us that true nourishment comes from God, to clean up our mess so we quit going back to the same old stuff.

And he does that. But he asks us to put some effort in as well.

Contrary to the assumptions of some, becoming a Christian won’t automatically get rid of sin in your life. In fact, it makes you even more aware of your sin so that you begin to feel its effects even more keenly than before.

Becoming a Christian, however, does give you access to God’s power and God’s tools for fighting sin. The Bible doesn’t promise an easy road; it encourages us to join the battle, to fight against the all-too-pervasive presence of sin in our lives.

Here are some of the tools it reveals that Christians can use to overcome sin:

Read The Bible

At the risk of stating the obvious, you’ll never know what tools Home Depot offers if you don’t browse the website or walk into the store. Same with the Bible for Christians: if you don’t go to the Word of God, you won’t find the Wisdom of God for your fight against sin. More than that, the Bible itself IS one of the tools that God gives us. Look at what Psalm 119:9 says:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word.

The Bible, God’s Word, is like a sword put in the hands of a traveler: it’s protection for the journey! And, make no mistake, the Christian life is a journey. If you’re on it, you better be guarding yourself, using the Word to dispatch any creeping sin that confronts you.

Here are some key starting passages to read as you fight sin:

  1. Read Genesis 2-3
  2. Read Proverbs
  3. Read Psalm 1
  4. Read Psalms 38
  5. Read 2 Samuel 11-12
  6. Read Hebrews 6, 10
  7. Read Matthew 5-7
  8. Read Romans 5-6
  9. Read 1 John 1-2
  10. Read Revelation 20-22

Pray

One of the biggest mistakes I make in my Christian life is thinking that I can handle things on my own.

Not a chance. I fail every time.

I need God’s strength if I’m going to fight sin. Like Jesus’ disciples on the night he was betrayed, I need to pay attention to his words:

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41

So often, we Christians have spirits that are willing to fight sin, but we are weighed down by our fleshly desires. Jesus says don’t try to fight on your own strength: depend on God by admitting your weakness in prayer. We “watch” out for those things that tempt us to sin and “pray” for God’s intervention when we seHere are some ideas of what to pray for:

  1. Pray For Grace
  2. Pray For Strength
  3. Pray For Humility
  4. Pray For Peace
  5. Pray For Focus
  6. Pray For Others
  7. Pray For Wisdom
  8. Pray For Love
  9. Pray For Truth
  10. Pray For Joy

Meditate on Jesus

“Meditate” is one of those words that can have a wide range of possible meanings depending on someone’s background. When I use the word here, I am defining it as, “thinking deeply, clearly, and intently about something and its implications for one’s life”.

That’s a mouthful but, to put it another way, as Christians we are to focus our attention on Jesus and form our life’s off of his. Hebrews 3:1 urges us to,

…consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him…

Consider Jesus and the implications of his life for your own:

  1. Meditate On Jesus’ Deity
  2. Meditate On Jesus’ Birth
  3. Meditate On Jesus’ Promises
  4. Meditate On Jesus’ Teaching
  5. Meditate On Jesus’ Temptation
  6. Meditate On Jesus’ Miracles
  7. Meditate On Jesus’ Trial
  8. Meditate On Jesus’ Death
  9. Meditate On Jesus’ Resurrection
  10. Meditate On Jesus’ Return

Get Accountability

Reading your Bible, praying, and meditating on Jesus are good, individual disciplines. But the Christian life isn’t designed to just be “Jesus, me, and a cup of tea”.

It’s meant to be lived out alongside other people who are following Jesus too.

That’s why there are so many “one another” commands in the New Testament: “love one another,” “serve one another,” and “forgive one another”. These all point to the fact that we’re expected to be accountable to other believers for how we are living as Christians, both in doing good works and in avoiding sin.

For that matter, even non-Christians can help us because we want to avoid sin that would make them think less of Jesus.

Generally speaking, other people provide accountability that helps us overcome sin.

  1. Get Accountability With A Church
  2. Get Accountability With A Pastor
  3. Get Accountability With A Small Group
  4. Get Accountability With A Christian Friend
  5. Get Accountability With A Non-Christian Friend
  6. Get Accountability With A Calendar
  7. Get Accountability With An App
  8. Get Accountability With A Dumb Phone
  9. Get Accountability With A Journal
  10. Get Accountability With A Budget

Serve

I think I missed this one earlier in my Christian life, but as I grow I am beginning to see that one of the best antidotes to sinning is serving. When I am serving others, I don’t have time to think about how to serve my sinful nature. When I’m focused on the needs of others, I don’t have the attention to devote to my own sinful desires.

That’s the goal of the gospel: that we would learn to love God and love others and deny ourselves.

Paul addresses this reality in Galatians 5:13:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Jesus Christ has freed us from our sin, not so that we can continue in it, but so that we can serve others. Here are some practical ways to serve that will help you get the focus off yourself:

  1. Serve In A Local Church
  2. Serve Your Neighbor
  3. Serve Your Family
  4. Serve Your Coworkers
  5. Serve Your Friends
  6. Serve Dinner At A Local Shelter
  7. Serve In Children’s Programs
  8. Serve On A Mission Trip
  9. Serve In A Prison Ministry
  10. Serve As A Hospital Volunteer

Your Choice

Overcoming sin is hard, but if God has redeemed you through his Son, Jesus Christ, he’s given you tools to help.

It’s up to you to pick them up and start using them.

Even The Dog Knows: Five Ways To Beat Your Phone Addiction

Was it this one? Or this one? Or this one?

What about this one? Maybe this one? Or it might have been this one?

I don’t know which article first made me aware of my phone addiction, but I’ll tell you what really brought it home: my kids. It wasn’t that they had to keep interrupting my train of thought to get my attention.

It was that they had stopped trying.

Oh, sure, they’re kids and occasionally couldn’t help themselves. But, generally, if my cell phone was in my hands, they would ignore me as completely as I was ignoring them.

Yes, that’s terrible. But I’ve started to change. I’ve tried to conscientiously keep my phone in my pocket or on a shelf when I’m at home and the kids are awake.

And I thought I was doing great until recently. We had friends over for dinner and stayed up later than normal. After we realized what time it was, our friends hurried off with their kids and we rushed to get ours in bed.

Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down at the table, held each other’s hands, and, maintaining eye contact the whole time, had a deep and meaningful conversation before retiring to our own rest.

Wait. No, that’s not what happened. It actually went something like this:

Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down…and I pulled out my phone.

Yes, I did.

After a day in which I’d been away in meetings and concerned with my own projects; during which she made sure the kids were cared for, educated, and getting plenty of fruits and veggies; ensured the house was spotless for our guests; planned and prepared a delicious meal for the evening; took care of the ever-growing menagerie that is somehow accumulating on our property; and was a pleasant and gracious hostess…

I pulled out my phone.

Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention but I’m sure that if I had been I’d have seen the look of resignation on her face as she, following my lead, did the same. Not because she’d rather do that than have a conversation with me, but because I wasn’t available for that conversation.

I realized my mistake while waiting for another article to load. But by that time, it was too late to do anything but go to bed and try again the next day.

I woke up the next morning, ready to put the phone down and lift my family up.

Not so fast.

I typically get up earlier than the rest of the crew, so it was just me and the dog. I took her out, wandered around the backyard while she, well, you know, and went back inside. Got her kibble bowl filled, made sure she had fresh water and plenty of toys, and…pulled out my phone.

Do you ever get that feeling that someone is watching you? I got it about five minutes later.

I glanced down from my screen and there’s the dog. Staring at me. With those sad, puppy eyes.

Even the dog knows when a set of glowing pixels is more important to me.

And the fact that even the dog knows that makes me want to radically rethink my relationship with my technology.

I hope that I’m the only one who struggles with this problem. It’d end up being a pretty terrible world if more than one person were walking around giving more attention to a hunk of glass and metal that beeps occasionally rather than to the living, breathing, feeling beings surrounding him.

But in case I’m not the only one, and to avoid that terrible, distracted world from being our reality, here are some tools that have been helpful to me in cutting the umbilical cord attaching my face to my screen. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.

Accountability

Like just about every other life change worth making, overcoming a phone addiction is easier when you don’t try to do it alone. In a previous post, I mentioned a statistic: 8 of 10 commitments fail without some means of accountability.

We need accountability. I need accountability. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article. That’s why I’ve talked to my wife about my commitment. I shared my intentions with my small group at church. I’ve enlisted others who will bolster my commitment to changing.

You should too.

Freedom App

You know that device you’re carrying around that you’re addicted to? Did you know that it can be fooled into actually helping you break your dependence on it?

There are apps that will remind you to not be on your phone so much. There are apps that help you slow down from time to time. And, if you’re like me with the self-control of a single-cell amoeba, there are apps that will block your use of those apps that are most addictive to you.

My choice was the Freedom App which I use to block social media access on my phone, but there are others out there. Find the ones that put the power of your smartphone to work for you, instead of against you.

Friends, IRL

One of the addictive aspects of your phone that is often billed as a feature is the virtual friendships you can have on social media. People get a high from interacting with other people’s online personas through likes, retweets, shares, etc.

Did you know you can get the same endorphin rush, and an even better one, from interacting with friends, in real life?

Invite some people over for a phone-free evening. Commit to one another that you won’t check up on your digital friends when your flesh-and-bone friends are hanging out. Play games. Eat dinner. Make something. Listen to a music album from start to finish together. Do something that doesn’t involve you being in the same room looking at different screens.

Try it. You just might end up liking it.

Read Books

Phone addiction is built on hundreds of tiny bits of focus being diverted to “just check it real quick.” One way to combat this segmentation of your attention stream is to focus intently on something else.

I recommend books.

Books require you to engage your attention both deeply and over longer periods of time. They require the ability to not just get caught up in the moment but to simultaneously retain previous statements even as you anticipate future developments.

A good book is a great antidote for your phone’s poison.

Let The Battery Die

Turn your phone off. Unless you’re reading this post on it right now, then just pretend. Look at it without the glow of the screen. It may have a nice cover and sleek lines, but I bet you wouldn’t be tempted to stare at it for hours on end, right?

I didn’t think so.

You can achieve this same effect by not charging your phone from time to time. Let it die on occasion. The first time it happens, you will panic, but it gets easier with practice.

Eventually, you’ll want to remember to charge it, but letting it die can help cut the tether it has attached to you.

Your Turn

These are just five ideas for breaking a phone addiction. I’m clearly no expert here, so what is working for you?

Eschatology And Evangelism: Closer Than You Think

Ok, your first thought at seeing that title might be, “what is eschatology?” Basically, it’s just a fancy Christian word for “the study of the end times.”

And, confession time, for most of my Christian life, I hated eschatology.

As a pastor, I feel bad for saying that.

Maybe I should rather say that I hated the omphaloskeptic approach to eschatology that pervaded my introduction to the subject.

But I don’t hate it anymore. Something changed when I, you know, actually read what the Bible had to say on the subject.

What Caused The Change?

I discovered that eschatology is not a matter of chart-making, headline-chasing, or navel-gazing. Instead, eschatology is firmly entwined with THE task of the church: make disciples.

My previous frustration with the subject was grounded in a certainty that the “man on the island” couldn’t care less about the second time Jesus came when he had never heard about the first time.

Eschatology seemed altogether too isolated and ivory-tower for it to make any difference in my life. I proudly declared myself a pan-millennialist (someone who believes everything will pan out in the end without me having to figure it all out) and moved on with my life.

But time spent in the Word of God made me see that the end of all things is intimately connected with the proclamation of the King of all things. There are three passages of Scripture that flipped the light switch for me.

2 Peter 3:9

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

I had always read this verse isolated from its context. I thought it was a philosophical statement of the Lord’s patient mercy towards unbelievers. I never realized that it was an eschatological statement of his patient mercy towards believers.

But it is.

Note the object of his patience: “you.” Peter is not writing his letter to unbelievers. He is writing to the church, to believers, to those who are waiting for God to fulfill his promises.

Not only that, but the context moves this statement from being a nice thought about the nature of God to what it really is: a challenging thought about the nature of God as seen in the coming eschatological reality.

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 2 Peter 3:8-10

The statement is clearly set in an eschatological context! The impact is this: the Lord is delaying the dissolution of all things because he is patiently waiting for his people to spread the good news that perishing is not the only option given to humanity: we can choose repentance and eternal life because of God’s mercy to us in Christ Jesus!

God is merciful to those who are under his condemnation and he’s patient with those of us who have had 2000 years to make sure everyone heard about that good news but who haven’t taken it seriously enough to finish the task.

This text began to spark in my mind a sense that eschatology wasn’t as divorced from the evangelistic task as I had imagined.

But God wasn’t done opening my eyes yet.

Matthew 24:14

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

If Peter connected the dots between eschatology and evangelism for me, Jesus picked up the line and smacked me in the forehead with it.

Matthew 24-25 speak to the coming of Jesus and the events of the eschaton. I knew that. But what I didn’t realize was the Jesus connected the eschaton to the Great Commission. I was used to quoting that “no man knows the hour” regarding the Second Coming, but I was blithely unaware that we had at least a hint at a prerequisite for that event.

Go back and read it again: Jesus says that the end won’t come until the gospel has been proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations. Then read Matthew 28:18-20: Jesus’ last command to the church is to fulfill his prophecy of the gospel being proclaimed everywhere.

Now, I don’t claim full knowledge of where all the gospel has been preached and, yes, I know that many claim that Colossians 1:23 says it has (it doesn’t necessarily say that), but I do know this: Jesus isn’t back yet. And as long as there’s a chance that the reason he hasn’t returned is that the Lord is patient with his church who are slow to preach the gospel in all the world, eschatology is firmly connected to the evangelistic mandate. In other words, if we want Jesus to come back, we should be evangelizing and making disciples.

All this was warming me up to eschatology as immediately applicable and important, but it wasn’t personal yet. That came in the next passage.

Daniel 12:2-3

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Daniel is talking about the end of all things. And I was struck this last week by this passage’s connection of evangelistic effort with eschatological joy. When the dead are raised from the dust it is those who are wise and who have “turned many to righteousness” who shine most brilliantly.

There is a call wrapped up in the Bible’s language of the end times for me to get serious about obeying the Great Commission, both from a conditional and a personal standpoint. We shy away from teaching and thinking this way, perhaps for honorable reasons, but the Bible is clear: our experience of personal reward at in the Kingdom of Christ will be tied to our faithfulness in making disciples.

If I want to truly experience the joy of the eschatological New Heavens and New Earth, I need to be evangelizing now.

That’s the most natural understanding of Daniel, Matthew, and Peter and the witness of the rest of the Bible from Genesis-Revelation. Eschatology doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is wrapped up with God’s purpose for his people: the proclamation of the Good News that God reigns.

So, don’t divorce eschatology and evangelism. Don’t waste time on fruitless speculation about current events cross-referenced with obscure (and out-of-context) verses supposedly prophesying them. Instead, seek to personally connect the people around you to the life-changing gospel.

And keep doing that until Jesus comes back.

Eschatology and Evangelism https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Icon_second_coming.jpg

Stop Treating Church Like The Olympics!

Ahh, the Olympics! That great quadrennial celebration of dedication, fortitude, drama, and patriotism!

I love the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I have not had much time to watch them this year. I did, however, get to have a conversation last night, though, that got me all caught up on what’s been going on.

But it also got me thinking, which is dangerous.

I began to think of the ways that members of the American church tend to treat church like we treat the Olympics. And, as much as I love the Games, I wish we’d stop using the same approach for our life as the Bride of Christ.

Viewing Worship As A Spectacle For Our Entertainment

The Olympics are entertaining. Most of us are mesmerized by the national pageantry, the dedication of the athletes, and the great human interest pieces the networks put together. We watch the Olympics because we are entertained by them.

And that’s ok.

But what about when we treat the church’s worship the same way? As a spectacle for our entertainment?

That’s a problem.

Don’t think we do it?

Have you ever gone out to eat with someone after a Sunday service? It seems that conversations over these meals inevitably includes at least one of the following statements:

“The atmosphere was so good today at church! When they did that spoken word breakdown in the middle of “My Chains Are Gone” I got goosebumps!”

“The music team was a little off today and I wish they wouldn’t do that one song.”

“Today’s message was so good! Pastor’s story about the fish and the donkey was hilarious!”

While there’s nothing wrong with talking about the service, the music, or the message over lunch on a Sunday, there’s a terrible temptation to evaluate those things on whether or not they “moved us” or whether or not we “got something” out of them.

But church worship isn’t supposed to entertain us: it’s supposed to glorify God and further his purposes in and through our lives. Reducing the worship service to something we evaluate on its capacity for amusing us is to imagine that it occupies the same space as the Olympic broadcast in our lives: something we watch rather than something we engage in.

Leave the Work to The Professionals

Which leads to a second way we treat church like the Olympics: we leave the work to the professionals.

Just like Joe the Plumber doesn’t compete as an Olympic figure skater, the average church-going person in the USA doesn’t serve in the church.

In the American church, we have predominantly accepted a model of ministry that draws a line between “normal” Christians (those who show up to events, throw a few dollars in the plate, and go home) and “professional” Christians (those who get paid to plan, advertise, and pull off church events).

But church is not defined in the Bible as a package of programs put on by professional pastors for the passive masses.

Just look at what Peter writes regarding the church:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, CSB)

He’s talking about the church as a gathering of people redeemed by God, not as a group of plebes sitting on the one hand and watching a group of pastors work on the other. The church as a whole is to be engaged in the task of representing, praising, and declaring the glory of God in the Gospel.

In the same letter, he later writes:

“Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”

The assumption in Peter’s vision of the church is that everyone is engaged, everyone is serving, and that such service is stewardship of God’s grace.

Leaving the work to the professionals is poor stewardship. Every member of the church actively engaged in the ministry of the church is the biblical ideal.

Something That Has No Lasting Impact On Our Lives

Finally, it’s often tempting to treat church as something that, like the Olympics,  makes no lasting difference in our lives.

We’ve all been there: sitting there in front of the TV, munching on our potato chips, watching these lean, controlled, wired athletes accomplish seemingly superhuman feats. Then, it hits us: we’ve got to get in shape. We commit to sitting in front of the TV less, to eating fewer chips, to exercising more.

And then, four years later, we have the same thought as we sit in front of the TV again, eating our chips.

Too many Christians slog through their church years, listening to sermon after sermon, going to Bible study after Bible study, and yet there’s never a tangible difference in their lives. They still hate the same people they did when they started. They still have the same foul mouths they did before. It seems they never change.

Let’s be honest: sometimes “they” are “us.” Sure, we get inspired sometimes. Sure, we make promises of change. But, somehow, we never get around to it.

But church is supposed to be a radically transformative experience. As we interact with brothers and sisters and the Word and the Spirit, we’re supposed to start looking different.

Like the Olympics, so long as church is something that happens around us, in front of us, but not to us and never involving us, we’re never going to change.

The Solution

In all these ways, and more, we treat church like we treat the Olympics. But there’s a better way: get involved. Engage. Plug in. Do something.

Don’t view worship as a source of entertainment. Instead, view it as your joyous responsibility in Christ. Sing loudly, pray fervently, listen expectantly, give joyfully, and wait patiently.

Don’t see ministry as the exclusive domain of professionals. Rather, see it as an opportunity for you to showcase God’s glory through the gifts he has given you. Don’t know where to start? Just ask where you can serve. And even if it’s just by cleaning toilets or rocking babies, give it all you’ve got.

And don’t expect church to not make any difference in your life. Instead, expect your engagement with brothers and sisters to be continually transforming you to look more like Jesus. Expect change, help others change, and allow yourself to be changed.

Let’s leave spectating for the Olympics and jump into being the church with both feet!

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Olympics Church

 

Checking Up On Your New Year’s Resolutions

How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

If you’re like most people, they didn’t last long. Most people fail in their resolutions.

So, don’t feel too bad. After all, you can save paper by just making the same resolutions next year!

My dad shared a quote with me recently that I think he found on Facebook. “My New Year’s resolution was to lose 10 lbs and I’m doing great! Only 15 pounds to go!”

The Resolution Struggle

It seems that we struggle with making our lives match our resolutions. We’re just not very good resolvers.

Or maybe the problem lies with kind of resolutions we’re resolving. So many of our resolutions look good on paper, but when we try to put them into real life, they fail. Real life has a tendency to be a resolution-dissolver.

And, if you’re a Christian, that’s a problem. A resolution is a commitment. Jesus says honoring your commitments is important. So, if your resolutions keep failing, you’ve got to choose between two options: 1) Quit making resolutions, or, 2) make life-proof resolutions.

Life-Proof Resolutions

Kicking the resolution habit may be tempting, but I think that the second option is better for the Christian life: start making life-proof resolutions.

What I mean by “life-proof resolutions” are resolutions that can withstand all that life throws at you. Resolutions that have enough flexibility built in to sway with life’s ebbs and flows.

There’s a phrase that is used three times in the New Testament that can serve as the foundation for life-proof resolutions. It’s found in three different passages of Scripture. The phrase is “whatever you do.”

And each of these “whatever you do” passages adds a unique command (or resolution) on top of the foundational statement.

However you’re doing on your resolutions this year, consider making the following your life-proof resolutions (you don’t even have to wait for New Year’s Eve):

Resolution #1: Whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

1 Corinthians 10:31-33

We have a tendency to make our resolutions about ourselves. Then, when life proves to not be about ourselves, our resolutions fail. A life-proof resolution recognizes our insufficiency by saying, “whatever I do, I’m going to seek to glorify God.” Then if you have to kind of take a step back, if life gets in the way, you are still on track: “whatever I do I’m going to glorify God.” Paul, who wrote this passage basically outlines a “how-to” on glorifying God after urging us to do whatever we do for the glory of God:

  1. Seek peace with those who think they know God, but don’t
  2. Seek peace with those who don’t think they need God, but do
  3. Seek peace with those in the church
  4. Seek to please others, not yourself
  5. Seek to save many

Sounds pretty straightforward. And those are things we can do no matter what happens in life.

Resolution #2: Whatever you do, do it in Jesus’ name.

Colossians 3:17

“In Jesus’ name” is not a magic formula. “In Jesus’ name” means doing everything under his authority. There’s an idea of ambassadorship here. An ambassador is somebody who’s commissioned to represent another person or a group to another group or person. As Christians, when we commit to doing whatever we do in Jesus’ name, we’re representing Jesus as his ambassadors. So how does that work? Simple:

  1. Do what Jesus would do if he were you.
  2. Don’t do what Jesus wouldn’t do if he were you.

It’s not as common anymore, but when I was growing up, W.W.J.D. was everywhere in the Christian sub-culture. And, for all its clichéd status, it’s really a good way to think about your life: What Would Jesus Do?

Then do it. See? It’s life-proof.

Resolution #3: Whatever you do, give it everything you’ve got.

Colossians 3:23

A life-proof resolution is not a workless resolution. Just because I’m encouraging you to build some flexibility into your resolutions doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. Trying to glorify God and represent Jesus is going to be difficult. And if you’re in it for the praise of others who see you, you’re on the wrong track. “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord.” I paraphrased it with “give it everything you’ve got.”

I was in 4-H growing up and they had a great pledge we said at every meeting. “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” The pledge was based on the 4 H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, Health. Get it…4-H (clever, I know). But the idea is that the 4-Her is committing their whole self to the work.

I think that idea of committing the whole self aligns perfectly with the Christian life under Christ and for God. So a modified 4-H pledge works really well under this resolution: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking about Christ, my heart to greater loyalty to Christ, my hands to larger service for Christ, and my health to better living in Christ, for my church, my community, my country and my world.”

Commitment

So, again I ask: how are your resolutions going?

And, may I suggest that no matter the state of your resolutions thus far, commit to life-proof resolutions by seeking to glorify God, representing Jesus well, and giving everything you’ve got for those tasks.

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New Years Fireworks Resolutions
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bratislava_New_Year_Fireworks.jpg

Three Questions That Will Change Your Life

The title looks like clickbait, but it’s not. Seriously. These three questions will change your life (if you let them):

  1. What is the most important time?
  2. Who is the most important person?
  3. What is the most important thing to do?

Those questions, and how you answer them, will go a significant way towards determining the nature of your life.

Of course, I can’t claim credit for them – that belongs to this guy:

Leo Tolstoy - Three Questions That Will Change Your Life
Leo “The Beard” Tolstoy

In fact, you should stop reading this post and go read Tolstoy’s short story, “Three Questions.”

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

*unconsciously hums the Jeopardy Theme*

Ok, you’re back.

Or maybe you never left. Maybe you’re a rebel and don’t do what every random blog post tells you to. Or maybe you’ve already read it.

Whatever the case, I don’t want you to miss the significance of those questions. Let’s look at them one at a time:

1. What is the most important time? 

Most people would answer this one correctly: the most important time is right now. Pop psychology, YOLO, living in the moment, etc. etc. have taught most of us that much at least.

But verbalizing the right answer is not going to change your life.

In order for that to happen, you’ve got to live like you mean it.

We can all say that now is the most important time, but few of us live that way.

Some live in the past.

Some live in the future.

But you can’t control either of those.

The only time you can control is right now. So plan accordingly: is NOW really best spent binging another forgettable series on Netflix? Do you honestly believe that NOW is best given to mindlessly scrolling Facebook?

Instead of wasting it, do work NOW.

Instead of consuming it, start creating NOW.

The most important time is NOW, so changing your life starts with rethinking how you use NOW.

2. Who is the most important person?

Me. Myself. I.

Be honest, that’s how you’d really answer.

How do I know? Because that’s how I’d answer. That’s how every single human being on the face of Planet Earth would answer if they could be forced into a single moment of brutal honesty.

Tolstoy understood that because he saw it played out around him. A member of the Russian aristocracy who joined the army, he saw both the excesses of wealth and the depravity of war. These are both glaring symptoms of humanity’s self-obsession.

But Tolstoy found a better way when he started studying the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Central to Jesus’ teaching was the idea of self-denial.

Practically, that means forgetting about yourself and focusing on someone else.

The most important person is not you, it’s the person you are with right now.

Why? Because in a world of self-seekers, someone looking out for someone else is a major disruptor of the status quo. You don’t change your life by doing what everyone else is: you change it by doing what no one is.

That requires putting your little, self-curated, instant, digital, egocentric universe (your smartphone) down, maybe for more than five minutes (gasp). There’s lots of data on the impact of smartphones on real relationships: read some of it.

It takes intentional questions and actual listening. Most of what we call conversation is simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can start. That won’t fly in this new paradigm you’re establishing.

Deciding that the person you are with is the most important person in the world takes effort. It requires sacrifice. But it’s worth it.

Strangely enough, when you shift from a me-centered focus to an others-centered focus, you’ll find happiness, purpose, and meaning that you never had before.

But don’t take my word for it: try it.

It will change your life.

3. What is the most important thing to do?

“Ummm…”

(See, I told you that you should have gone and read the story.)

This question brings it all together.

Now is the most important time.

The person you are with right now is the most important person.

And the most important thing you can do is…(drumroll please)…

Do good for that person.

Obviously, that will look different depending on the moment and the person.

You don’t engage a gunshot victim in philosophical conversation.

You don’t bandage the mouth of a verbal sparring partner.

But you do in the moment for the person you are with what is going to be best for them. Sometimes that means being nice, sometimes that means being harsh, but it always means that your action is focused on benefiting them.

And it will change your life.

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Two Paths To Success (And Why Accountability Makes All The Difference)

I want to tell you about the two paths to success. But, first, let me make a wild guess: you made one or more New Year’s resolutions.

You may have made them intentionally, writing them down, framing them, and hanging them where you’d see them every day.

Perhaps you’re not that serious. You just cobbled a couple ideas together before the New Year’s Eve party because you knew someone would ask.

Or, maybe, it was almost unconscious. Maybe you’re not one of “those people.” But even you couldn’t help thinking, “this year, I’ll…”

The New Year is a tantalizing opportunity for self-improvement and most of us can’t resist at least one or two stray thoughts in that direction.

But, wherever you fall on the resolution spectrum, I’ve got some bad news: you’ll probably fail. At least 8 out of 10 will, anyways.

Flip The Percentage

You read that right: approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.

And, because we humans are a notoriously proud species, I’d imagine that there are many resolutions and consequent failures that don’t get reported.

Those are long odds when it comes to your personal goals and achievements.

But what if you could flip that percentage? What if 80% or more of your resolutions could come to fruition?

That’d be a slightly more encouraging statistic, wouldn’t it?

And it’s possible. Maybe even a little low. Thomas Oppong writes that by taking one simple step, your odds of reaching your goal can increase by up to 95%.

So, what’s the one thing to do to help your resolution not end up on the wrong side of the statistical graveyard?

Don’t try to do it alone: invite someone to hold you accountable for results.

That’s it. Get somebody to check on your progress and your odds of success increase by approximately 175% (no, that math doesn’t work in real life, but you get the idea).

What Works For Resolutions Works For Life

It’s not just New Year’s resolutions. Most people want to succeed year-round.

So let’s broaden the point out a bit: the secret to success is to not seek it alone. Instead, get some accountability.

Unfortunately for most of us, the common narrative on success hamstrings us before we even start. Our fairy tales, our independence-obsessed culture, and our heroes whisper that success is the product of gritted teeth and gumption. The collective assumption is that the path to success is a lonely one, reserved for particularly special individuals.

The lone wolf, striving against all the forces of nature and against all odds.

The great man, shouldering great burdens that would crush anyone else.

In this view, what separates the successful individual from the failing one is intrinsic motivation. Success is ultimately self-centered, finding both its beginning and end in the individual. There is no need for others, really no consideration of them except as objects of usefulness to or beneficiaries of your success.

In this view, the path to success is simply a matter of getting up enough intestinal fortitude to get yourself where you want to be.

Trouble is, that won’t work for everyone. If New Year’s resolutions are any indication, it might work for about 20% of the population. But I’m guessing the actual number is much lower.

And that’s why accountability is such good news: it’s an alternative to our cultural assumptions. There’s a second path to success.

The Second Path To Success Is Just The First Path With Company

This second path requires every bit as much effort, but it’s much more likely to succeed. Accountability is no substitute for hard work. But not being alone on the journey makes it much easier to reach the destination.

Humanity has always known this, we just seem to always forget it. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, written hundreds of years before Jesus Christ’s birth flipped the calendar from B.C. to A.D., we read this:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Accountability is not weakness and it’s not the admission of an inability to take the individual path to success. It’s also not shirking hard work. With or without someone, you can’t succeed unless you put in the time and effort required for the goal. Accountability simply the wisest way to use your hard work. It’s optimizing your life by opening it up to another’s input, criticism, and assistance.

When you invite someone to hold you accountable for success, you’re radically improving your chances of actually reaching it.

And it gets even better.

Success-Stacking

A major problem with the self-centered path to success is that it is just so…self-centered. Sure, you might (20% chance) get ahead. But that doesn’t help the person next to, behind, or in front of you.

But we’re naturally selfish creatures. So, really, who cares if you help anyone else as long as you get where you were trying to go?

Let’s look at it another way, then. I’ve already told you that both paths require the same work. But, if you do it right, the path of accountability gives twice the return on investment. Because when you invite someone else to help you reach your goals, you can simultaneously help them reach theirs.

And that doubled success is a good deal. If you could double the return on every investment, why wouldn’t you?

But the results of accountability can be so much greater than that. Because doubled success can lead to success-stacking.

Let me show you:

When you both succeed at your goals by working together, you’re both incentivized to tackle your next goals together. And the next ones and the ones after that. Seeing the results that come from holding one another accountable, you both start moving quicker, reaching higher, hitting goals and setting new ones.

That’s success-stacking: continually piling successes on top of one another.

You might be able to beat the odds traveling the individual path to success once, twice, maybe three times. But you’ll never get to a place of stacking success after success together unless you’re traveling with someone else in an accountability relationship that benefits both of you.

So, How Do You Get On (And Stay On) The Right Path?

Because the cultural bias towards solo self-improvement is so strong, it’d be helpful to have a roadmap for the path of accountability. After all, if you’re heading to Seattle, WA you don’t want to follow a GPS giving you directions to Key West, FL.

Here are simple, turn-by-turn directions for walking the path of accountability to success:

1. Directed Discontentment: “I’m not satisfied with where I am because I want to be over there.”

2. Engage Someone Else: “You’re not satisfied with where you are and want to be over there.”

3. Mutual Agreement: “Let’s help one another achieve our goals.”

4. Move Intentionally: “Here’s how we’re going to do it.”

5. Real Consequences: “Here’s what happens if we don’t.”

6. Evaluate Continually: “Here’s how we’re doing so far.”

7. Celebrate Success: “We made it!”

8. Stack Successes: “Here’s what we do next.”

That’s it, in a nutshell. You identify where you want to be, engage someone else who’s trying to get somewhere, and hold each other accountable until you make it. Then you do it again.

And that simple path boosts your chance of success exponentially.

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Two Paths To Success
By Carsten Tolkmit from Kiel, Germany (crossroads) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Waiting For God’s Man

“It doesn’t take long for everything to go wrong.”

You could be forgiven if that is your initial thought when reading the Bible and starting in Genesis. It is a thousand-page book and everything is broken by page three.

It was off to such a good start, too. Genesis 1: God creates everything and everything is “very good.” Genesis 2: Mankind is given the tremendous privilege of filling the earth with more of God’s goodness and love. Genesis 3: Mankind listens to one of the beasts they are supposed to be reigning over and rebel against God, breaking everything for everyone.

It’s a tragedy and not a very long one.

The Promise Given

Or, it would be a tragedy if not for a promise that God makes in the midst of speaking his judgment against the snake, the woman, and the man.

In Genesis 3:15, a verse it is tempting to merely glance over as we read, we see a ray of hope for the future:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (ESV)

It’s tempting to read that and interpret it as a vague antagonism between women and snakes, and between humans and snakes. Except for the last clause: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is a singular, masculine pronoun.

And that is important. God is making a promise that one day, a man will come along who will gain victory over the serpent. To be sure, the serpent would get his blow in and bruise the man’s heel. But the man will bruise the serpent’s head.

The implication is that the man will suffer, but that it will not prove ultimately fatal. The blow to the snake’s head, however, will lead to his demise.

Hope!

See? We may merely glance at the statement, but it is pretty important: God is giving humanity hope! When Adam and Eve heard this promise, they understood that while the serpent’s deception had led them to lose everything, God’s promise would one day restore everything.

As they were clothed by God in animal skins, they understood that God was going to make a way for their lives to be redeemed.

As they were driven from the Garden of Eden, they understood that God would someday grant them safe passage back into his presence.

They understood these things because of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15.

Looking For God’s Man

How do we know? Because of what follows. In Genesis 4, we’re introduced to Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. Cain is born first and Eve’s reaction is telling: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (ESV)

Why did it matter that she had gotten a man? Did Eve, a woman, believe that a man was inherently better than a woman? Maybe, though God had created both man and woman in his image. Did she merely rejoice because a man would be more useful in the labor of daily sustenance? Maybe, but not necessarily as women can be just as resilient in providing for their families.

It is far more likely that Eve was remembering God’s promise of a coming male offspring who would break the curse of sin by triumphing over the deceptive serpent, Satan.

But Cain wasn’t the promised one. Nor was Abel. We know that because of what happens next.

We see them worshipping God by each giving an offering to him. Abel’s offering to God is in line with what God had revealed in Genesis 3 by killing animals and clothing Adam and Eve: a blood sacrifice. Cain’s offering is the fruit of his labor in the fields: vegetation.

Both worshipping God. Both making an offering. But God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. There may not have been anything wrong with Cain’s offering, but we quickly see that there was something wrong with his heart.

Because when God rejects Cain’s offering, it reveals jealousy and rage that drive Cain to kill Abel. God deals with Cain, but we need to see his mother’s response to understand, again, how Adam and Eve understood God’s promise. Genesis 4:25 records Eve’s reaction to the birth of her third son, Seth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (ESV)

Eve was still looking for the promised “offspring.” She trusted God and knew that Abel couldn’t be the promised one because he was now dead, unable to strike the blow to the serpent. And she knew that Cain, though he was still alive, couldn’t do it either: he had sullied his hands with the blood of his brother and was no longer worthy to spill the blood of the snake. The promised one would have to be pure, unstained by the lies of the serpent and rebellion against God.

But she had another son, by God’s hand, so she had hope.

But Seth wasn’t the promised one. Nor was his son Enosh. Nor was his grandson Kenan.

But mankind kept looking for the fulfillment of God’s promise. That’s what the genealogies in the Old Testament are there for: to help God’s people, those who trusted his promise, in their search for the promised one.

Generation after generation, name after name, there was hope for humanity because God had made a promise. And God always keeps his promises

Some stand out from others. A descendant of Seth, named Lamech, thought he had the promised one identified. He said about his son, in Genesis 5:29, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (ESV)

That son was Noah. Noah was important and God used Noah to preserve the human race through the judgment of the flood, but Noah wasn’t the promised one. His deliverance of humanity from sin didn’t last: he himself fell into drunkenness after the flood.

The promised one would be like Noah in that he would provide sanctuary for all who would take refuge within his protection, but he would have to be better than Noah.

So, the search for the promised one continued. It zoomed in on the land of Ur, on a man named Abram. God called Abram to leave and to move to Canaan. God promised to bless the whole world through Abram and renamed him Abraham. But Abraham, for all his obedience, struggled with letting God’s promises come about in God’s way: he continually manipulated the situation to try and bring about the promise on his own. So, Abraham wasn’t the promised one, merely one through whom the promised one would come.

The promised one would be like Abraham in that he would do whatever the Lord told him to do, but he would have to be better than Abraham.

At least the scope of the search was narrowing: the promised one would be Abraham’s descendant.

But it turned out not to be Abraham’s son or his grandson.

Years down the line, however, Abraham’s descendants found themselves slaves in the land of Egypt. And God called one of them, Moses, to lead them out of slavery and out of Egypt and back to the land of Canaan. But Moses had a problem with his temper: he killed an Egyptian and disobeyed God in leading the people towards Canaan. He wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like Moses in that he would lead God’s people out of captivity, but he would have to be better than Moses.

God’s people make it into God’s promised land, but the promised offspring doesn’t appear. The people get into a cycle of ignoring God, falling into the hands of their enemies, repenting and being rescued by a judge raised up by God to save them, only to ignore God again as soon as they were safe. Each of these judges had potential to be the promised one in the eyes of the people. One, Shamgar, killed 600 enemies with no weapon but a wooden ox goad. But his victory didn’t last and God had to raise up another judge after him. So, Shamgar wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like Shamgar in that he too would use an instrument of wood to conquer his enemies, but he would have to be better than Shamgar.

Eventually, God’s people grew tired of the never-ending cycle with the judges. They asked God to give them a king. God warned them that they wouldn’t like it, but they insisted. The first king, Saul, didn’t work out very well, but the second king was promising. His name was David and the Bible tells us that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” Surely, he was the promised one. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. David failed to keep himself pure, committing adultery with a friend’s wife and then arranging to have that friend killed. David wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like David in that he would truly be a man after God’s own heart, but he would have to be better than David.

And on and on. God’s people, those still clinging to his promise of the coming one who would be God’s man, grew weary of watching, weary of waiting. A hundred years was a long time to wait, but thousands were passing. Every time a potential promised one appeared, he failed.

A Man Was Required But A Man Wasn’t Enough

It was becoming clear: no one was good enough. The best and the brightest of humanity had tried and failed. If God’s promise was going to be kept, God was going to have to do something remarkably different than what people had seen before.

One group of God’s people realized this quite clearly. The Sons of Korah were servants of God and helped to write some of the Psalms that we find in the Bible. These were worship songs, sung by God’s people as they praised and trusted him. In Psalm 49, the Sons of Korah realize something very important: the promised one couldn’t just be a man. In verses 7-9 of that Psalm, they write, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (ESV)

The Sons of Korah looked at this dismal record of failed promised ones and recognized something vital: a mere man wasn’t going to be enough to fulfill the promise. In order to ransom humanity from their enslavement to evil, the promised one would have to be someone who wasn’t under the curse, who wasn’t bound by the lies of the Father of Lies, Satan, that old serpent.

But in order to fulfill God’s promise, the promised one still had to be the woman’s offspring. In other words, he couldn’t be merely human, but he had to nonetheless still be human.

The Sons of Korah suggest a solution, whether they recognized it or not, in verse 15 of Psalm 49: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” (ESV)

They recognized that a mere man could not ransom another man, but they rightly discerned that God could, and would, be able to ransom them.

God’s Not Surprised

God knew that too. All the “failures” that happened along the way weren’t God’s: he allowed the hope to build and his people to look expectantly at each new candidate. People may have been surprised by the failures, but God wasn’t. God wasn’t crossing his fingers as David’s eyeing Bathsheba, thinking, “Man, I hope he doesn’t do it!” God wasn’t biting his fingernails as Moses is standing in front of the people at the rock, whispering, “Please, oh please, don’t hit the rock!” Their failures aren’t God’s failures. God knew that they weren’t the promised one, he knew they weren’t good enough. But he was preparing us for the one who would be. He was preparing us for the GodMan.

See, God’s promise could be fulfilled only if the promised man was also God.

The Promise Fulfilled

Many missed it, but that’s exactly what eventually happened.

After thousands of years of delayed hope, of waiting and watching kings and prophets and judges, of praying for the promised one, God sent his promised one.

He was a man, born to a young peasant girl named Mary. His birth was just the same as every other human’s: messy. His first breath was like every other human’s: a prelude to a newborn’s squall. He grew. He learned. He got hungry and he ate. He got thirsty and he drank. He got tired and he slept. He was human, an offspring of the woman.

He was also God. In the beginning, he was with God and he was God. Before Abraham was, he is. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega. He receives worship as God and does not correct the worshippers. He is God, able to ransom us from sin and death.

God’s man is the GodMan.

Jesus Christ is the only name given among men by which we may be saved because he is the only offspring of the woman who is also the one who created the woman.

Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man in order to finally fulfill the promise of God and reconcile mankind to himself.

Jesus Christ was the only one who could fulfill Genesis 3:15. He was wounded by the serpent, dying on the cross. But he struck the serpent’s head by rising through the power of his divine perfection.

Jesus Christ opened a way for humanity to return to the presence of God, not by setting a good example for us, but by bringing the presence of God to us and taking the punishment we deserved.

Time and time again, we fail. But the GodMan, Jesus Christ, invites us to put our trust in him, in his incarnation, in his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Will you trust him? Will you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?

Because that’s the only way that you can see God’s promise fulfilled in your life. That’s the only way that you can be redeemed from sin and death: trust in God’s Promised One.

Put simply: trust in God.

Incarnation God Man Jesus Christ

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