Tag Archives: evangelism

Death is Still Dead.

Death is still dead..png

I love Easter Sunday. Every Easter, I attend church with my family and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There’s no shortage of singing or dancing (although there may be more or less of the latter depending on the denomination you may or may not associate with… Alright, bad joke). The point is: there’s hope. And there should be. Jesus defeated death, and we’re stoked about it. The resurrection is a fact of epic historical proportions that carries epic present and future implications. It’s the turning point of human history. Death has died. We are free.

But why did death come back to life after Easter dinner?

Many of us don’t actually feel free. We celebrate on Easter with our arms held high, our hearts captivated with the joy of the fact that Jesus ripped apart the chains of death and gave us true eternal freedom. But we soon recede back into the chains that bound us: chains created by sin, depression, and failure. Chains created by success, self-righteousness and earthly treasures. We drag them around in routine fashion as we re-trod back into the grave.

“Easter will come back next year,” we think.

Jesus has risen, and we know it. We sang about it on Easter Sunday. However, many of us quickly descend back into the everyday struggle of trying to earn salvation, a struggle that knows no success.  We try to make life better. We try again. We try harder and harder. The chains still bind us.

Maybe you’re one of us. I’ve been one of us. Sometimes I still am. Somewhere along the line, somebody told you the Gospel. It saturated your heart and mind, and you felt FREE. You had never known a joy like the one Jesus created in the entirety of your being. The Gospel had changed both you and your eternal destination. But somewhere in the more recent past, the Gospel became more like good advice than the Good News it is. You knew the facts, but they didn’t always seem real, or didn’t carry much weight anymore. The big, almost-exploding balloon of joy that you used to carry around had deflated. The resurrected life became a good idea rather than a reality. You longed to sense the real Gospel again, to feel real and pure freedom again.

You waited for next Easter. Next Resurrection Day.

I’ve got good news for you and for me. Good News, actually.

Every day is resurrection day. Jesus never went back into the tomb. He’s still risen. He’s risen on Easter and the day after. He’s risen next Sunday when church feels mundane and you’re feeling more fulfilled by the restaurant lunch you ate after church than the sermon you heard during it. He’s risen when death is all too real. He’s risen when depression chases your joy away. He’s risen when you accomplish something great, only to come crashing down from the temporary high success brings. He’s risen. It’s just a freaking fact.

So why do we forget it? Why is “He is risen” just an Instagram hashtag people use on Easter? Or even worse, just a bumper sticker? Why is the pure joy of Easter reserved for 1/365th of the year?

For me and many others, it’s because we simply have a hard time believing that the Gospel is unshakable truth. As we slip away from the understanding of our forgiveness, we begin to believe that God’s love is based on our successes and failures. In doing so, we shun the very Gospel that caused our Easter dancing. Our actions and feelings say it’s too far-fetched. We’re really forgiven? We’re really loved? Our sin taunts us, begging us to answer no to such questions and turn away from God rather than turn toward Him and repent.

On Easter Sunday my pastor quoted Brennan Manning, who once said “I am now utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question, and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you?”

It’s a painful question to ask, but it reveals why many of us confine Easter’s truths to one 24-hour holiday. We simply have a hard time believing that the resurrection means we are truly free, free indeed. We simply struggle with accepting the truth of the Gospel.

What, then, should we do?

In John 6:27, Jesus says “The work of God is this: to believe in him whom he has sent.”

We should return to the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer to our failure to understand the Gospel. Sounds foolish, but doesn’t the Bible say the Gospel is foolishness? Foolishness of the absolute best kind. Life-saving, eternity-altering foolishness.

We must let the Gospel saturate our minds and hearts by the minute. How do we do that? By repeating it to ourselves relentlessly. By constantly informing others of its life-altering truths… even those who could produce a list of 10 literary differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even to those who have chapters and books of the Bible memorized. Even those who outwardly appear to be poster children for good Christianity, seemingly epitomizing holiness. Those people struggle to believe the Gospel, too. They’re in dire need of the Gospel every single day. They’re just like you. In fact, we’re all in the same boat. Each one of us desperately needs the redemption of Jesus Christ on a perpetual basis.

We just can’t believe the Gospel on our own. We’re simply helpless to do this without those around us. So I have a challenge to you. The next time you meet with a Christian friend, look them straight in the eye and tell them “God loves you so much that no matter how bad you’ve messed up, time and time again, you’re still forgiven. He will never fail you. He is so proud of you. He lavishes His grace on you. You are a child of God. You are infinitely cared for and worth it. You are seen. You are heard. Your sins are dead. You are free.”

I tried this recently. I tried this with a friend who is a model of Christian leadership and moral behavior. I mean, this dude has it put together…

But wait. He doesn’t. He needed to hear the Gospel in that very moment. And just as badly, I needed to hear myself preach it to Him. It refreshed both of our souls and we walked away feeling free of works-based righteousness, free of good advice, free of prescriptive behavioral fixing (should I get that term copyrighted?), free of what Matt Chandler calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or more simply, a lifestyle of upstanding moral behavior that we stamp God’s name on, but that ultimately serves to make us feel better about our sorry selves.

So have a Gospel conversation with yourself: “Jesus loves me. I am free. I can never be separated from His love, no matter what I do.” Then, do it again tomorrow. Repeat it to someone else. Before you try to fix somebody, look them in the eyes and tell them God loves them abundantly and infinitely and eternally. Heck, why shouldn’t every conversation be a Gospel conversation? We are ALWAYS in need of people to refresh our souls with the truths of the Resurrection.

Every day is Resurrection Day. The freedom brought into this broken world by the resurrection of Jesus is available to you now (and tomorrow, and on November 24, 2023). You are forgiven. You are free. God is too good and too loving for you to live in shame today. The Gospel is too freeing (and too REAL) for you to live in bondage today. Your life has been resurrected from the grave. If you believe in Jesus, you’ve been taken care of.

You, believer, are free. Yes, you. YOU. ARE. FREE.

 

Death is still dead. There’s a reason I titled this post “Death is Still Dead.” and included the period after ‘Dead.’ The period represents completion. The end of something. The end of a sentence… in this case, the death sentence of sin.

Death is still dead. He is still risen. Time to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be Everything Right with our Christianity

Syria Blog Post

This morning, I went to church. This is a typical Sunday morning activity for me and for other people who follow Christ. It’s kind of just what we do. I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I was younger, it’s because, by the grace of God, I had no choice (which I’m now very thankful for). Now, I choose to spend Sunday mornings worshipping with other believers and learning from God’s Word.

This particular morning, the guest speaker at our church spoke about The Gospel, which is a pretty great topic for a Sunday morning if you ask me. He delivered an inspiring, convicting, and grace-filled message about moving from a posture of consumption (a conception of Christianity in which we merely partake in Christian activities to “get filled up”) to a posture of faithful presence (following the call of Christ into the surrounding community and bringing the Gospel to the lost and broken through word and deed). I was inspired and moved throughout his message as he beautifully articulated the recent meditations of my mind and heart. One of those, you know, “this guy must have read my mind before going to the pulpit” kind of sermons.

He slipped in one phrase, though, that really captured me.

“A Gospel that doesn’t interact with strangers and outsiders is no Gospel at all,” he said gently.

This is a hard and inconvenient truth. It implies the risk of my safety, my security, my comfort. But it’s true. To experience the fullness of the Gospel, we must risk. We must defy social norms. We must travel beyond the borders of what we already know.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption in order to salvage some type of control over our own security, I fear we won’t see the good news reach the poor, or the captives set free, or the bound escape their shackles.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll stare at our own reflections as we look down into our wells full of “the oil of gladness,” wishing we had poured it out when the time was right.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, to whom will we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor but ourselves?

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll be safe. We’ll be secure. We might even be happy. But we’ll never experience the true Gospel joy that floods into the heart when a captive is set free.

It just so happens that right now, the captives are knocking at our door. They’re begging for the oil of gladness to replace the smell of the burning of innocent flesh. They’re begging for the garment of praise to replace the deafening sound of bombs that’s too quickly becoming normal. They’re begging to wear a beautiful headdress to replace the ashes that already cover them in sorrow.

I know we’re scared. I know we don’t have the money. But I also know that if we follow Jesus into the unknown and the impossible, He will show us something we never expected to see. He will turn ashes to beauty. He will provide the oil of gladness instead of mourning. He will cloak us – and others – with the garment of praise.

We’ll suffer along the way. In fact, that’s inevitable (see 1st Peter). Our comfort and our security will be compromised, but our joy – and the joy of the captives – will multiply into eternity.

To my fellow believers: fear is real, but we already have the antidote. In fact, we’ve got an eternal supply. We can choose to simply consume our faith, or we can assume a faithful presence. If the latter becomes just what we do, we’ll hear these familiar words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Then the feast will begin, and we will not merely consume… We will, for the rest of eternity, be fully consumed by the love that risked all of its comfort so that we would truly live.

 

 

 

Hey Christian, I’m Talking to You Now

To my fellow Christians:

In response to the presence of Pharisaical hate in the form of ‘preachers’ in the plaza of the Colorado State campus last week, I did something I do a lot.

I posted on Facebook.

I did what I’m sure many people are tired of me doing… I unleashed a multi-paragraph statement on social media containing my analysis of the situation. It took the form of an apology on behalf of CSU’s Christian community, and, to my surprise, it spread like wildfire. I re-formatted it, sent it to CSU’s newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, and it was published both online and in the paper.

I never thought it would reach so many people, and praise God that it did. I say none of these things for my own glory – all I want is the Good News of Jesus Christ to spread to the entire Colorado State campus, to Fort Collins, to Colorado, across the nation, and beyond.

That’s why I’m writing again. This time I’m writing to my family, the family I don’t deserve to belong to but the family that God has so graciously allowed me to lean on daily. I’m writing to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I come to you with the simple message that God can use you and wants to use you for huge things. You all have a voice. Some of you speak with your actions, using words when necessary. I’m thankful for people like you, because I never shut up. Others of you are like me… you can’t seem to shut up.

Well, don’t start shutting up now. Whether your actions speak first or you have a way with words, speak loudly. There are so many people – at CSU and beyond – who are so hungry for something real, for something more. There are so many people who know the world will never satisfy them. There are so many people who want to hear what you have to say; and whether you feel like it’s true or not, there are so many people who are willing to listen.

You have everything they need, and deep down inside, everything they want. Their hunger begs for your voice to feed them with the love of Christ. You know the Truth, and the Truth has set you free (John 8:32). Why else would you be a Christian? Your heart is filled with a hope and a peace that transcends even your own understanding because the King of Kings sits on its throne.

I challenge you to speak from that heart. Sure, thousands have people have now read a letter telling them that the one true God is not a God who hates and condemns, and that anyone who does those things is not truly representing Christ. Now, they’re looking for someone to prove it. They can be told that God is a loving God, and that He wants to meet them where they’re at, but why would they believe those things unless somebody personally manifests that radical love out of their own belief in Jesus?

So love radically. Be unusual. Do extraordinary things. Don’t blend in and let regularity consume you. Regularity will become complacency, and complacency will become mediocrity. The ultimate example of radical love literally makes His home inside you. Let that love infiltrate every fiber of your being. It will not only satisfy you, but it will satisfy others. You’ll get the questions we all desire to hear… “What is it about you that’s so different? Why are you always happy? What do you have that I don’t?”

If you want to hear those questions, I challenge you to step out and step up.

I firmly believe that everyone is seeking the Truth, whether they realize it or not. Everyone needs people to walk with them down the road of life, and the people that walk with them will likely determine where the road leads. You know the destination of your road. Invite other people to walk on it with you. You might be surprised at how many people will gladly accept the invitation.

Hey Christian, you carry the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. That Spirit has placed world-changing capability at your fingertips.

To quote a song we’ve all heard…

I dare you to move.

There’s something about cigarette smoke that makes me feel at home.

cigarette

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated cigarette smoke. As a kid, I thought there was something inherently wrong with people who smoked cigarettes. If somebody near me smoked, I figured that person was a bad person. I’d like to think that was a natural judgment from a little kid, but it actually took me a very long time to stretch open the tightly wound walls of my mind to change that judgment. You could say things have changed.

In fact, now there’s something about cigarette smoke that makes me feel at home.

When I’m walking between class buildings on campus, sometimes I catch a whiff of smoke. The smell, formerly repulsive to me, now ignites the flow of a stream of images and sounds in my brain. Every time I smell cigarette smoke, I think of a couple different places at which I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years. Some of the images that come to mind are bad; most are good. Certain sounds go through my mind – very loud sounds.

I know the abstract language is painful, so I’ll get to the point. I’ve become very involved with the metal and hardcore scene over the past couple years. When I first got involved in the scene, I was repulsed by the sheer dirtiness of the venues and the seemingly careless lifestyle of many of the people who attended the shows or even played in the bands I was going to see. Something about the music kept pulling me in, though, and I continued to attend shows regularly. I got used to the mostly dark nature of the scene, and as I began to think more frequently about God’s purpose for my life, my outlook shifted drastically. I no longer saw the darkness as a blanket over the entire scene, but I sought opportunities to be light.

Although I never conformed to the norm of cigarette-smoking, my senses became acclimated to their smell and sight. As I began to look for opportunities to minister to the lost within the scene, I learned a very important lesson that Jesus exemplified better than any other person who has ever walked the earth. In order to attain the listening ear of a lost soul, it is absolutely necessary to meet someone where he or she is at. That doesn’t equate to conformity, it simply equates to love. However, love isn’t easy when it inconveniences our self-constructed standards. I am still a student of that statement, and I will continue to be.

I learned to embrace the scene with all I had. There were parts of it that I didn’t enjoy; the bars, the alcohol, the gangs, the fights, and constant cloud of cigarette smoke that seemed to be blackening my lungs by the second. I didn’t support what I didn’t agree with, but I sought to be a light in the darkness. I learned to appreciate the backgrounds of every person who contributed to what I deemed inconveniences of the scene I was increasingly becoming involved with. People don’t act the way they act for no reason. Every action has a full story that includes unique struggles. I’m not making excuses for people, but I am saying that when we meet people where they’re at and truly appreciate who they are, the ways in which they inconvenience us quickly fade. It’s not about me. Each person is a human and each person deserves to be treated as a human, no matter what their quirks or struggles are, and no matter how obvious those struggles appear to us. In my mind, treating a human as a human means loving them for who they are while seeking to guide them down the journey of Truth found in Christ.

In order to truly love a group or culture of people, one must immerse itself in that culture. Once again, that doesn’t equate to conformity – it equates to sincere and honest participation in the culture with the maintenance of personal values and standards. Paul exemplified this concept perfectly in 1st Corinthians 9:20-22:

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

In order to win souls to Christ, it is important to accept and become involved with the culture of those we are seeking to show the love of Christ. We obviously can’t be perfect to everybody, but we look to the example of Christ to develop sincere compassion for a person or group of people. And if that means breathing in more cigarette smoke than we’d normally desire, so be it.

I was stagnant in terms of advancing the Kingdom when I focused on how the world could be a better place for me to live in according to my own standards. When I truly began to see other people as Jesus might see them, my self-serving standards no longer mattered.

I used to hate cigarette smoke. Now there’s something about it that makes me feel at home.