Christianity 201

October 8, 2015

Cowardly Christianity

Regular Wednesday contributor — yes, a day late, that’s my fault — Clarke Dixon returns with advice for those lacking courage in their faith.

Being a Christian and Not Chickening Out

It can be easy to chicken out as a Christian. Or at least to chicken out from the difficult bits or the bits we do not like. Such as when God says “go therefore and make disciples” and we say “send someone else for that is not my gift.” Or the Lord says “you will be my witnesses” and we say “I love witnessing your goodness, but for goodness sake, don’t ask me to take the witness stand.” Or the Lord says “keep in step with the Spirit,” and we wince when we realize this will put us out of step with the people around us. It is easy to chicken out of the difficult bits of Christianity, which in our society means we tend to be chickens when it comes to evangelism and sticking to Biblical ethics. We would rather be chickens than those kinds of Christians.

We have good news, there is an entire book of the Bible written for people who would potentially chicken out. God’s people had been rescued from Egypt but had spent the last forty years wandering in the desert. They were not yet in the land promised to their forefathers by God, but they were close. All that needed to happen now was to go in an take the land, but therein lies the problem. What if they encountered resistance? What if there were giants in the land? They had faced this situation before, and had chickened out. So here they are again. Will they chicken out this time? Perhaps they might have been wondering “Wouldn’t it be easier if we go into the land but just blend in, adding our Lord to their gods?” History would reveal that despite a good start such blending in fact later happened. The temptation to blend-in is not peculiar to us today.

This time around Moses takes the time to preach a series of sermons for their encouragement. This series has come down to us as the Book of Deuteronomy which begins with a bit of a history lesson and a call to Covenant. But in chapter four verse thirty-two there is a shift in tone, and a question, actually a series of questions:

32 For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other:has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? 33 Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? (Deuteronomy 4:32-34 NRSV)

There are three questions here which can be summed up under one question: “Do you really understand just how awesome this really is?” Standing beside the promised land they know how scary a thing it is. But they need a reminder how amazing a thing it is. Notice that they are to think back as far as possible, back to the creation of humanity, and to think as widely as possible, to all lands and peoples: “Has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of?” The answer was of course “no.” So don’t be scared, be thrilled!

35 To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. 37 And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. 39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35-39 NRSV)

Moses encourages the people to not chicken out but be thrilled by the opportunity to serve the living God, the only Creator God who has revealed Himself to them, and Who will work out His purposes through them.

Moses asks the people “Do you really get it, do you understand just how awesome this really is?” We can ask the same question when we are tempted to chicken out as Jesus followers. Sometimes we need to stop and remember just how awesome it really is to know Jesus. Sometimes our failure to be thrilled as Christians comes from a  failure to grasp the enormity of:

  • the greatness of God
  • the incredible joy of eternity spent with God
  • the dire horribleness of eternity spent without God
  • the gravity of our sin
  • the depth of God’s love in Jesus
  • the incredible fantastic opportunity before us in Jesus to repent from our sin and turn to God and experience grace.
  • the wonders and delights of God’s Kingdom marked by justice and love.

Sometimes we fail to have any passion over such things and instead demurely mention something like “I go to church because religion can be good for you.” Actually religion can be bad for you, particularly when it keeps you from the truth. And here is one area where we tend to chicken out. When the topic of different religions comes up we take the easy road of comparing them all to Christianity as if we are comparing apples to oranges, or worse, McIntosh apples to Granny Smith apples. We tend to want to make them all the same somehow. The problem with comparing religions as if we are comparing apples to apples or apples to oranges is that it comes down to personal taste or where you were brought up. It needs instead to be about the truth. If what the Bible teaches is true – if the central affirmation of Christianity, that Jesus is Lord  is fact – if God’s salvation of sinners through grace is real – then comparing other religions to such truth is not comparing apples to oranges, but rather comparing dust to the sun.

Do we really get that? Do we really understand just how awesome the truth of God’s love really is? When we get it we are more likely to step up to the plate in following Jesus than to chicken out. We will think more about Jesus. We will talk more about Jesus. We will think more of Jesus. We will walk more with Jesus. We will live more for Jesus. Martyrs throughout history and throughout the world today have and are showing us how to follow Jesus with courage. Those who give their lives for Jesus know just how awesome He really is. Do you?

November 8, 2013

You Will Receive Power; You Will Be My Witnesses

Acts 1:8 But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.” (CEV)

Acts 1:8 But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.” (The Living Bible)

Other than the two translations quoted above, most other Bibles retain the word “witness” or “witnesses.” The word is fully entrenched in Christian thought and teaching. Here are some other thoughts on this; I’ll explain the source of this at the end.

– o – o – o –

You Will Be My Witnesses

If you’re wondering how to fulfill your role as a witness for Christ, look at his example. He is always witnessing: by the well of Samaria, or in the Temple of Jerusalem: by the lake of Gennesaret, or on the mountain.

He witnesses night and day; his words testify to God every bit as much as his actions. He witnesses under all types of circumstance; Scribes and Pharisees can’t stop him; even in what we might call his worst moment — standing before Pilate — he does not back down. He witnesses so clearly, and distinctly that there is no mistaking him.

As believers, we need to make a clear testimony. We need to be like a brook where you see every stone at the bottom — not like a muddy creek, of which you only see the surface — but clear and transparent, so that our heart’s love to God and man is visible to all.

You don’t just say, “I am true:” but be true. Don’t brag about your integrity, but be upright. In that way your testimony will be the kind that people cannot help seeing. Never, for fear of other people, restrain your verbal witness. Your lips have been warmed with a coal from off the altar*; let them speak as like heaven-touched lips should do.

Eccl. 11:6 Sow your seed in the morning,
    and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
    whether this or that,
    or whether both will do equally well.

Don’t look for signs or check the weather — be a witness for your Lord and Savior in season and out of season — and if it should happen that for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s sake you have to endure suffering in any shape, don’t back down, but rejoice in the honor placed on you, that you are counted worthy to suffer with your Lord; and rejoice also in this: That your sufferings, your losses, and persecutions will give you a platform, from which more energetically and with even greater power you will witness for Christ Jesus.

Study your great Example, and be filled with his Spirit. Remember that you need much teaching, much support, much grace, and much humility, if your witnessing is to be to your Master’s glory.

[Paraphrased from Morning and Evening by Spurgeon as accessed at]

– o – o – o –

*Reference to Isaiah 6:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

– o – o – o –

I want to encourage you to consider taking a short excerpt from a classic writer and doing what I did here. The communication style is quite different and you need to slow down in your reading in order to transcribe it faithfully. I’d like to think that in our context, Charles Spurgeon would see this as a consistent rendering of his original writing.

October 16, 2012

When Bible Verses are Coupled

I have to confess that I’ve always read this verse:

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

In the light of this verse:

Luke 12:11-12
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

But then on the weekend I was reading the former verse and realized I was reading it as “always be ready,” when in fact it is saying, “always be prepared.” These verses may find themselves coupled into the same sermon — and rightly so — but they are dealing with two very different things.

Being prepared requires preparation.

As someone who has spent the majority of his time in an Evangelical environment, I know that sometimes we tend to “wing it.” Some Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics even abhor the idea of printed prayers or scripted sermons.

Make no mistake, there is a time for that. The second passage indicates that when you are suddenly thrust into the spotlight; when you suddenly find yourself defending your faith; in those times you have to lean on the Holy Spirit for supernatural help.

This happens to me in my particular ministry. People arrive without warning and I am suddenly in the middle of a conversation that I had no forewarning about even thirty seconds previous. At those times I have to breathe a quick, silent prayer, “Holy Spirit help me.”

Actually that’s the short version. The long version is, “Holy Spirit help me to say only what you want said, and not to say anything that is of me. Help me not to get in the way and screw things up!”

But even those situations are grounded in preparation that has taken place before. It involves study, for sure; but that study will be motivated by a passion for the subject matter at hand; a passion for the unknown, potential person with whom you might share any given insight.

That passion is often missing among Christ-followers. In our town, we’re currently having a series of five “discussions” with the atheist and agnostic community. Several of them have come, and there are many people there from the organizing committee and what you might call the host church (even though they’re using a public space). But there are entire churches not represented at all; and without being too judgmental, it disturbs me that there isn’t one person in those churches who would turn up out of passion for apologetics.

I can’t finish unpacking the I Peter passage however without underlining that it says, “do this with gentleness and respect.” I think of some of the people who gain much U.S. media attention who have missed this whole aspect of witness. You have to display a loving kindness and a respect toward the people you want to reach. It’s not about winning an argument, and even if it were, nobody wins a debate based on the volume of their words.

In this case, it’s more about the gentleness of their spirit.