5 Symptoms of a Contagious Christian

contagiousIn 2014 fear struck West Africa and the rest of the world with the outbreak of the ebola virus. Officials scrambled to get a handle on this monstrous disease. Thousands died as the virus spread quickly. The ebola virus is spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids. The danger lies in the reality someone isn’t contagious until they begin to show symptoms. By then it is often too late. They have already infected another person.

What if Christianity were that contagious. What if the news reports of West Africa and Western North Carolina included stories of how Christianity was spreading rapidly, thousands being converted as they come into direct contact with other believers. What “symptoms” are necessary for Christianity to once again be an outbreak? Here’s my list:

  1. Passion.  So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:39-42 ESV) The apostles rejoiced that they were beaten for preaching the gospel!
  2. Compassion.  And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV) Jesus was touched to the spleen (the word “compassion” is derived from the word “spleen”) by the harassed people around him.
  3. Mission.   And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48-49 ESV) Jesus looked at his earthly mom and dad and told them he had to follow his heavenly Father. He was a boy on a mission even at the age of 12.
  4. MessageAnd I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV) John Newton stated this succinctly, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
  5. Method.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 ESV) There was a method to Paul’s madness. Every effective ministry has an effective method. While the message never changes, the methods must change.

If you were examined by the Center for Disease Control for being a contagious Christian, would you have all the symptoms?

3 Questions to Ask Before You Act

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

  1. Will this help the other person? Will what you are about to do satisfy a need (not necessarily a want) of the person for whom you plan to do it? Meeting every “want” someone has ultimately ends up hurting, not helping. Helping requires discernment. Sometimes people around you view wants as needs. Your “no’s” may be as critical as your “yeses.”
  2. Will the other person be better because of what I am about to do? To build up literally means to “build a house.” Will what you are doing add to the other person? This requires having a vision for the other person that sees them not only as they are but as who they can be. In parenting, Smalley and Trent call this “picturing a special future.” If you’re a leader at work, you see your staff member as a supervisor, shift leader, or vice-president. If you’re a teacher, you see your student walking across the stage and graduating one day.
  3. Will this glorify God? A simple non-theological way to approach this question is: will God’s reputation be enhanced because of what you are about to do or say? Will your actions make his name greater? When all is said and done, will people talk more about you or about God?

You’d Better Run!

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

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Dictionary.com defines flee as to run away, as from danger or pursuers. Idolatry is dangerous. Fleeing is the only sane response. Making it practical, here are five ways to flee idolatry:

  1. End ungodly relationships. The right relationship with the wrong person is still the wrong relationship.  Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)
  2. End ungodly habits. Stephen Covey said, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) What you do today will determine who you are tomorrow.
  3. Don’t just run from–run to. If you flee idolatry without running to God, you will replace your old idol with another one.  The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10 ESV)
  4. Begin godly relationships. You are not designed to walk alone. From the beginning, God knew Adam should not be alone so he made a helper for him. John called this walking in the light:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)
  5. If you fall down, don’t freak out, ‘fess up.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV) God is faithful when you fail. Run to him.

A Prayer for Saturday

From The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers:

My God, I bless you that you have given me the eye of faith to see you as Father, to know you as a covenant God, to experience your love planted in me; for faith is the grace of union by which I spell out my entitlement to you.

Faith casts my anchor upward where I trust in you and engage you to be my Lord.

Be pleased to live and move within me, breathing in my prayers, inhabiting my praises, speaking in my words, moving in my actions, living in my life, causing me to grow in grace.

Your bounteous goodness has helped me believe, but my faith is weak and wavering, its light dim, its steps tottering, its increase slow, its backsliding frequent; it should scale the heavens, but lies groveling in the dust.

Lord, fan this divine spark into glowing flame.

When faith sleeps, my heart becomes an unclean thing, the fount of every loathsome desire, the cage of unclean lusts all fluttering to escape, the noxious tree of deadly fruit, the open wayside of earthly tares.

Lord, awake faith to put forth its strength until all heaven fills my soul and all impurity is cast out.

How To Change

changeStudy God’s Word

On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”

Obey God’s Word

So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. (Nehemiah 8:13-16 ESV)

Obey God’s Word With Others

And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. (Nehemiah 8:17 ESV)

Do the Right Thing Again and Again

And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule. (Nehemiah 8:18 ESV)

Go Bananas

Put five monkeys in a cage. Put a ladder in the cage with a bunch of bananas at the top. As soon as one momonkey-bananav2nkey starts to climb the ladder, spray cold water on all the monkeys. When another tries to climb, spray cold water on all the monkeys again. Soon, no monkey will attempt to climb the ladder.

Now, remove one monkey and put a new monkey in the cage. The new monkey will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. Not wanting to be sprayed with cold water again, the other monkeys will quickly pull him down. Remove a second monkey and put a new monkey in the cage. Again, the new monkey will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. Not wanting to be sprayed with cold water, the other monkeys will quickly pull him down.

Repeat this process until all five original monkeys are gone, and five new monkeys are in the cage. None will try to climb the ladder, and none will understand why. Now, remove all five monkeys and put a brand new monkey in the cage. The monkey will quickly climb the ladder and eat the bananas. Don’t spray any cold water. Put the five original monkeys back in the cage with the one brand new monkey who has tasted the delicious bananas. Replenish the bananas.

The brand new monkey will again climb up the ladder. Despite the efforts of the older monkeys to hold him down, the brand new monkey has tasted the bananas, he will strive again until he succeeds. When he succeeds, the other five monkeys will realize that bananas are worth the climb, and worth the risk of some cold water. They, too, will climb the ladder and enjoy the delicious bananas.

And so it is with grace. God’s grace is attractive, we want grace but many of us have spent years being sprayed by the cold waters of performance. Robert McGhee calls it Satan’s big lie:

My performance + The opinions of others = My value.

Corporate America is built around this idea. If you perform you advance. If you don’t you’re fired. This is so ingrained in us that God’s grace catches us by surprise. At the core of one’s value as an athlete is this idea: If I perform I’ll keep my position. If not, I’m fired.

We are in a performance-driven society. And when we come face to face with the grace of God, we’re like the proverbial monkeys who’ve been sprayed with water. Thoughts like, “you mean I just get something for free?” go through our minds. “It’s too good to be true.” “Nothing good is free.” “Don’t I have to do something to earn God’s favor?”

Romans 8 says no. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that sink in…and enjoy the banana. If you are in Christ Jesus, you’re free.

The God Who Connects the Dots

Steve Jobs said…

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Tucked in Steve Job’s convoluted idea of whom to trust are some kernels of truth: you can’t connect the dots looking forward. Ruth looked back at Moab and saw a comfortable past–she looked ahead to Bethlehem and saw an uncertain future. God did not allow her to connect the dots. He seldom does.

Steve Jobs’ second kernel of truth: You have to trust in something. He’s right. Everyone trusts in something. Even if you don’t believe God exists, unbelief in God is a belief system. You are trusting that your lack of faith in God will have no dire consequences. The assertion that there is no God reduces life to the here and now and eliminates the possibility of heaven and hell. You are still trusting something: unbelief.

So here’s a question: as you look back over your life, where do you see dots connected now that seemed nothing more than fuzzy lines at the time? This is the story of Ruth.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Ruth moved forward trusting that God (whom she had not known before now) would somehow make crooked lines straight. After all God promised Israel this is what He would do:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16 ESV)

God kept good on His promise to Israel and little did Ruth know that God would keep good on that same promise to her–and she was a foreigner! John the Baptist preached about this characteristic of God:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

It is likely that many of you reading this are dizzy from trekking down the crooked road of the last 24 hours of your life. You don’t know why things are happening the way they are. You don’t understand decisions being made around you. God seems strangely silent. Life isn’t fair. In those moments trusting God is paramount. You cannot connect the dots looking forward. One day you will. I remind you of John Oxenham’s poem:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–His way was right.

Your 3 Greatest Needs for 2015

I’m always hesitant to reduce the Christian life to a formula. Here’s why. Christianity is not a religion–it’s a relationship. Christianity is possible because God invaded our space with His Son, Jesus Christ. The very stories about Jesus’ life (called the Gospels) are not a list of dos and don’ts–rather, the stories are Jesus’ encounters with everyday people like you and me. When they met him, He changed them.

Yet on New Year’s Day, the nagging question some of you have is, “How can I live for God in 2015 better than I lived for him in 2014?” It’s a legitimate question. If you’re asking it, you have already won half the battle. Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” If you’re reading this blog on New Year’s Day 2015, my assumption is that you want 2015 to be different–you want to grow significantly in your walk with God.

Consider Titus 1:1-2…

for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.

Paul, in a short letter to Titus, is describing his raison d’être–his reason for being. Paul experienced a dramatic turnaround in his life when Jesus Himself confronted him on the Damascus Road. After that he lived for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. If you know Christ you are God’s elect. In Paul’s personal purpose statement he outlines what you need: faith, knowledge and perspective. Let me explain.

You need faith in God. 2014 may have been the toughest year of your life. In very difficult times you will be sustained by faith. The writer of Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) Simply put faith is believing in what you can’t see because you trust in the God of the unseen.

Then how do you get such faith? Their knowledge of the truth. Romans 10:17 makes it plain. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Paul existed for others’ faith. They way he bolstered their faith was through the Word. You must have a knowledge of God’s Word if you are going to faithfully experience the trials and joys of 2015.

Perspective. In hope of eternal life. If you’re expecting life on this planet to satisfy you, 2015 will be a series of disappointments. You won’t get skinny enough, buff enough, rich enough. Life on planet earth is not ultimate. There’s a brighter day coming.

So here is my commitment to you. Beginning today, I’ll provide daily encouragement. It is no substitute for your personal time in the Word. View it more as a coach on the sideline calling a play. The play only works if you execute.

My desire is for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. I can’t wait to see how you come to know God better in 2015.

What Waiting Is

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (Lamentations 3:25 ESV)

It’s Monday morning and some of you are already anticipating Friday! You’re in “wait” mode. For you waiting is a daily exercise, a weekly routine. To think of waiting on God has no appeal to you. Yet here the writer of Lamentations applauds waiting. The Lord is good to those who wait for him. If that’s the truth (and it is…God’s Word is alway true), then perhaps we should spend some time thinking about what waiting on God is and isn’t.

Waiting on God isn’t waiting on an appointment at the dentist’s office. Waiting on God isn’t waiting on a meeting with your CPA to figure out how much taxes you owe. Waiting on God isn’t sitting outside the principal’s office because you’ve been caught…again.

The word “wait” in the Old Testament describes a longing feeling, a heartfelt desire accompanied by action. As a matter of fact, there’s something at work in the above statement that any of my Old Testament students could recognize (if they paid attention!). It’s called parallelism.  The two statements in Lamentations 3:25 are an example of synonymous parallelism–they mean the same thing.

In other words, waiting on God isn’t sitting idly doing nothing. Waiting on God is seeking Him. Waiting is an active endeavor. Waiting on God is getting dressed for that first date, making sure your hair is right and your cologne is evenly sprayed…because you can’t wait to see your girlfriend. Waiting on God is driving home from college and knowing where the first glimpse of the mountains is while anticipating the aroma coming from your mom’s kitchen. Waiting on God is rehearsing the questions you want to ask your mentor as you fly across the country to meet him for the first time.

So here’s my challenge for this week of Advent: wait on God by seeking Him through His Word. Read one chapter every day this week. Before you read, ask Him to speak to you. Clear your mind and heart and listen for His voice. If you seek Him, you will find Him.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks Him.

Revel in His long anticipated goodness this week.

Unrealized Love

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  Matthew 1:25 (ESV)

I enjoy weddings. I really do! I have a unique advantage. Thirty minutes before the wedding I get to hang out with the groom. I’ve watched them pace, sweat and squirm. I’ve heard them chatter, tell not so funny jokes to pass the time, and wonder how many guests are arriving. Grooms are generally a nervous bunch.

I wonder what would happen if I told the groom that the wedding was on but the honeymoon was off. Many have saved themselves sexually for marriage. Joseph had. Premarital sex was unheard of in his day and punishable by death! Yet when Mary came to him announcing her pregnancy and Joseph was told by an angel to marry her anyway, everything changed. Obedience for Joseph wasn’t an easy road.

He took his wife. He properly married Mary.

But knew her not. He skipped the honeymoon. No sex. No physical expression of his love for her.

His obedience to God preempted his ability to have sex with his wife. Did he desire Mary sexually? Of course! Did he anticipate sexual intimacy with her? Every fiancé does! Was he sexually attracted to her? Absolutely!

He waited. Joseph chose the path of unrealized love because he realized Jesus’ love for Him and the world.

What do you want desperately but God says, “not now?” What are you tempted to do but shouldn’t? What sin entices you, draws you in, calls your name? He is Immanuel, God with you. He’s enough to give you power over sin and over your selfish desires.