“No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.” John 3:27
I was sitting in church the other day when the pastor read this verse from John. Naturally, I respected his sermon by immediately tuning him out and writing my own notes. As most of you know, there are usually two sermons we hear on Sunday—the one the pastor preaches, and the one we preach to ourselves on the way home. For my own rude reasons, I didn’t even wait to get into the car before I was preaching to myself.
For me, the dilemma isn’t that I don’t know my assignment, but how to say no to those things I know are close to my assignment. For example, I know my God-given gift is to teach Scripture, but that’s a very broad canvas, so I’ll focus it. My gift is to teach Scripture to believers. That’s better, but let’s focus it further. My gift is to teach Scripture to adult believers. Ahh, that’s even better. But let’s go a step further. My gift is to teach Scripture to adult believers who have a passion to become sold-out disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.
Because I understand my gifts, I don’t have to say “Yes” to teaching children’s church or the invitation to be a youth minister. I’m not interested in going to China as a missionary, starting an inner-city work, or teaching social studies in the local middle school. Those are all close, but not close enough. Knowing my assignment means I can say “No” to those things that are not my heavenly gifts. Continue Reading
“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” — Mark Twain
When I read the story about about Naaman in 2 Kings 5, two things stand out and cause me pause. First, why is an entire chapter in the Old Testament given over to this one character and his leprosy? And two, why am I so familiar with just how Naaman must have felt when he was told to wash in the Jordan River?
First, I haven’t a clue as to why an entire chapter is given over to this story. However, I am truly bothered by Naaman’s response to Elijah’s directives to go wash in the Jordan. Here is a highly regarded warrior whom the king of Aram knew to be a great man, “because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram” (vs. 1). Aram, by the way, is also known as Syria, whose capital is Damascus. But I digress.
Here’s the picture: Naaman is a great warrior, esteemed by all, adored by the masses and rich enough to own a slave girl imported from Israel. His only problem seemed to be a small case of leprosy, which is a bit more distressing that acute acne by not as bad terminal cancer.
So Naaman is a great warrior and respected by his peers. He’s a bit like me, if you will – a warrior with words and respected by the dozens of people who know I like to write.
Now comes the crisis (leprosy, or cancer or something tragic in my life like another rejection letter from an editor) and the solution (go bathe in a muddy stream, or bow to God or apologize to your family for being selfish or something equally mundane). “Wait!” I want to shout, “I’m a SOMEBODY. Elisha, you can’t be serious. Don’t just send out your maid and tell me to do something mundane. I’m special and I want special treatment!”
“Mary took . . . an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. . . But Judas Iscariot objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?’ He said this because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what as put into it.” – John 12:3-6
Reading this passage reminds me of why I hate Christian clichés.
Judas, in his desire to line his pockets with the disciple’s money, says the religiously acceptable thing when he talks about giving the money to the poor. However, in order to hide his true motives, Judas mouths a frequently used yet thoughtless statement that sounds good to the listening ear but betrays the truth.
To the casual observer, Judas’ statement appears to be closest to the mission of Jesus, but in reality, his motive is furthest from the heart of Christ. That, to me, is the definition of a Christian cliché.
I’m confessing to you that I’m bothered by how many “religious” statements appear full of compassion and dedication, but are actually self-serving and furthest from the loving kindness of God. After sharing my crankiness over Christian clichés with some Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a short list of our least favorite Christian sayings. Feel free to add your own, but I warn you; just thinking about some of these can put you in a bad mood.
- “Bless her heart.” This is the quick follow-up after sharing some bit of gossip about “her.”
- “I’ll pray for you.” It sounds so religious and spiritual, but we can all count the number of times we’ve said that and failed to follow up on it. When someone asks my wife to pray for them, she stops what she’s doing, looks them in the eye, and prays for their need. I like that, because the person prayed for knows they’ve been prayed for, knows what has been said about them, and knows they’ve been in the presence of someone who means what they say.
- “He needs Jesus.” This is code for, “That guy’s a real jerk.” Continue Reading
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?—James 2:19-21
I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that addictions can be harmful to your spiritual health. I’ve heard preachers rail against different addictions for over thirty years, telling me to keep my mind and body pure from evil, worldly pleasures. But now that I’m middle-aged, I think I’m spiritually wise enough to enjoy an addiction of my own choosing without too much harm. I mean, what’s it going to do? Kill me? Heck, I’m closer to death now than when I first begun.
The question is: What kind of addiction to I want to take up?
How about smoking cigarettes? No, that’s out. I don’t like the smell of stale smoke on other people’s clothes, much less my own. Besides, smoking and being the lead pastor of a church still doesn’t settle well in people’s minds.
Maybe drinking? Then the question arises, “Drinking what?” Most churches still condemn even a glass of wine in the evening, as simple as that is, but have nothing against drinking three liters of Coke a day, as awful as THAT is. However, I’m not a big fan of carbonated drinks, so that’s out. How about milk? I used to like milk. Then I see a gallon of milk is almost as much as a pack of cigarettes, so I figure there has to be a less expensive addiction to get involved in. And my Lord knows I don’t need to put on any more weight.
How about gambling? That’s an easy “No.” Not that I don’t gamble already. Continue Reading