Provocative Bible Verses: Give Thanks In All Things

give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Does God really mean that in every circumstance that we are to be thankful? How can we possibly be thankful when things go horribly wrong? It’s easy to understand that we are to give thanks for all the blessings that come our way. Today is an entire holiday in the USA set aside for doing just that. People will gather with family and friends all over the country, have a big meal, and give thanks to whatever or whoever they think is the force behind their good fortune. But what do you do when it is hard to see the blessing in the midst of the tragedy?

I have noticed two approaches to the verse. One is hardly worth mentioning but the other is commonly thought to be the answer to the dilemma of being thankful in hard times. The first is to put on some almost other-worldly expression of thanks that totally ignores the reality of the situation. It is the person who is smiling in the midst of tragedy saying, “well praise God and give thanks in all things”. They come off as being on some sort of “spiritual ignore reality drug”. As to the second approach, often in the midst of tragedy there is some ray of hope that allows us to be thankful, like when you totally destroy your car in an accident but no one is seriously hurt. Certainly we can be thankful for that. But it still qualifies as an easily recognizable blessing that has come your way.

There is a great deal that is right and good in the second approach. In fact there is something that is very provocative about a faith that allows you to see the blessing in the midst of tragedy. It means that your focus is more on what God is doing for you than it is on what has gone wrong. It has a similar feel to Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said that he had learned to be content in all situations. He learned that because he kept his eyes on the sovereign Lord whom he served and not on his own expectations or desires or comfort.

But what do you do if the tragedy outweighs the blessing. It’s easy to give thanks when the car is wrecked but you are not. You and your passengers are worth far more than the car. What if two people died and you lived, then what? How do you give thanks then? How does a parent give thanks when a child dies? How does a young man give thanks when after just over a year of marriage his wife dies, having battled cancer the entire eighteen months? How does a city give thanks when airplanes crash into buildings and leave more than 2,000 dead? How do you give thanks when you are sitting on a bench in an African hospital praying with a 12 year old boy who is homeless, has AIDS, and is so malnourished that you can count his vertebrae through the thick jacket on his back as you place a hand on him while you pray. Does God really expect us to give thanks in situations like that? The short answer is yes.

Such situations may be the ultimate test of our ability to trust God no matter what. They bring us to the same place as Job when after the most unbelievable series of tragedies said, “Even though the Lord slay me, still I will trust Him”. There can come a point in our lives when we can’t find that bit of blessing in the hardship, when the pain far outweighs the good we can see. It is at that point that we must trust a sovereign God.

Whenever we gather for a time of corporate worship at Northland Church we remind people that we gather in order to worship God for who He is and for what He has done. We worship God for His character just as much as for the amazing things He does. Giving thanks in hard situations must follow that same wisdom. Even if we find it hard or impossible to thank God for some specific thing in our lives we can still give thanks for who He is. Paul did not say to thank God “for” every circumstance, but “in” every circumstance. The distinction is crucial. It means that even when you can’t find anything about the circumstance to be thankful for, you can and must still thank God that He is sovereign. You can still thank God for His love and mercy, even in a time when it feels so distant. You can still trust him as Job did. That trust will be evident in thanking God for who He is even when what He is doing makes no sense, is painful, and leaves you bewildered.

Today is a good day to begin to give thanks, not just for the good things in your life, but to give thanks to God for who He is. Ultimately that should be what we are most thankful for, that God is the kind of God we can trust no matter what our circumstances and not matter how limited our understanding of what He is doing in those circumstances.

Christians in Ukraine: The First Generation Grows Up

As a republic of the former Soviet Union, the people of Ukraine lived under the forty-year domination of a communist system that worked relentlessly to destroy the church and any belief in Jesus Christ. With the fall of communism and the break up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine suddenly found itself free to determine it’s own future.

In the midst of that new freedom, the Gospel of Jesus began to flourish. Tens of thousands began to give their lives to Jesus. The result is a growing church in Ukraine that is filled with first generation Christians. These are people who have no history of a cultural Christianity. They were taught from birth that there is no God and that their first allegiance is to the communist party and the state.  Now they are learning what it means to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.  They are learning what it means to be the church. They are learning what it means to be a fist generation church that is in many ways a spiritual teenager.

During the past week I was able to meet some of the most remarkable members of that adolescent church. At a missions conference outside Kiev for three days I was both a teacher and a student. I taught them about a God who at His heart is a missionary who sent His son into the world to seek after us so that we could find our fulfillment as worshippers of Him. I also taught on how the local church, and every member of it, needs to see itself as called to that mission. What I learned was far more rich in many ways.

I learned again that God is a sovereign King who will do what it takes to reach us with His love. A young woman named Marina who was raised in a very poor Jewish family in Ukraine taught that to me. She told me of being in young teenager with not much more than rags to wear and the embarrassment it caused her. One day she cried out to a God who she was not even sure was real and asked for just one set of new cloths to wear to school. Ask she literally finished her prayer a knock at the door announced the arrival of four large boxes being delivered from America. For the first time ever, relatives who immigrated a few years earlier, sent gifts to her family. Included in the boxes was not just one new outfit, rather an entire wardrobe for young Marina. Suddenly she knew there was a God. Three years later she was one of 22 students chosen from more than 700 to spend a year as an exchange student in America. She ended up living with a Christian family who demonstrated the love of Christ. In short order she was added to the family of Jesus. Today she is a missionary to her mother country helping start churches all over Ukraine.

Nadia, one of our translators, reminded me that worldly success means nothing when you have the chance to serve the poor and broken in Jesus name. She too is in her late 20’s and came to faith in Jesus out of a non-Christian family. She has a Masters Degree in English at a university. It is a secure life that many in her country dream about. But Nadia dreams only about serving Jesus. She is more than willing to give all that up for Him. She tried to spend a year in India among the poor, being the hands and feet of Jesus for them. However God seems to have other plans. She was recently turned down in her visa application. Many would have taken that as a sign to keep her comfortable and secure God or been discouraged and given up; not Nadia. She kept her eyes open for another door to serve and give her life away. Now it looks like God may be leading her to serve orphaned and vulnerable children in Swaziland and other parts of southern Africa.

Nine out of every ten Christians I met in Ukraine are first generation followers of Jesus just like Marina and Nadia. A majority of them have been following Jesus for less than 15 years. That includes most of the pastors and church leaders as well. Truly the church in Ukraine is in many ways an adolescent still trying to figure out who she is and what she will be when she grows up. But in the midst of that teenage search for identity there is an inspiring freshness that is in many ways far more spiritually mature than much of the church in places like America and Great Britain.

They are not “experienced” enough to know that they should not be so excited and sold out for Jesus. I for one hope they never are.

What if Atheists are Right?

I wonder if atheists have really thought through the implications of what they believe. By that I don’t mean the implications for what happens when you die. That is usually the first place Christians want to focus the discussion. Rather, I wonder if they have really thought about the implications of what happens when you live.

I heard a sermon this weekend by Steve Brown in which he pointed out that a group of atheists have spent $40,000 to put advertisements on buses and billboards in Washington D.C. trying to convince people to NOT believe in God. It is a campaign designed to lead up to Christmas telling people that there is no God to be good for. You should just be “good for goodness sake”. Well that might sound great coming from Bruce Springsteen on his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but it makes for lousy philosophy. Do they really want to promote that we be good, simply for the sake of goodness, as if goodness is some universally agreed to principle that is for the betterment of us all? If so, then they are completely violating their own position of atheism.

Here is what I mean by that. If there is no God who is responsible for the created order we see around us, then the only real alternative we have to explain all that exists is a purely materialistic, Darwinian naturalism. That is a position that says there is no spiritual realm and survival is based on the strong survive and the weak die. It is truly survival of the fittest. If it is indeed survival of the fittest then I have absolutely no motivation what-so-ever to do anything good for anyone other than my own family. After all it is my gene pool that I want to see survive. If you and yours get in the way of me and mine, then I need to do whatever it takes to get you out of the picture. You are nothing but competition for resources. Maybe I can find some personal benefit in extending some care to you and yours if you live near me and it will improve my life. But surely I have no reason to even begin to be worried about the starving people of Darfur, or the people dying in the D.R. Congo civil war, or AIDS orphans in Swaziland.

The Russian literary genius and Christian, Dostoevsky said “if there is no God, everything is permissable”. In other words, if the is no God, no supreme moral authority, then we may do whatever we want, whenever we want. Naturalism, Darwinianism, should in fact then rule the day and we should behave only in a way that further secures our own survival and comfort and that our our clan or tribe. Now some will say that all humanity is one large tribe or family and so we need to care for one another througout the world. Sorry, but that is like the situation that develops when someone wins the lottery. All of a sudden a host of never before heard from cousins come out of the woodwork wanting a share. No, if you are not in my immediate sphere of family, those I am directly responsible for, then if I follow atheism to its reasonable conclusion, I don’t care what happens to you. Not only that, but if I can get over on you and improve my life at your expense, then so be it.

But in reality, there is a God and he is a God who is moral and just, as well as merciful and forgiving, then it changes everything. Then, and only then do I have a true motivation to live for others. Then I am called to indeed “Love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and love my neighbor as myself”. Atheists want to experience the benefits of a world that believes in such a God but not the responsibility of submitting to and following such a God. You can’t have it both ways.

Sadly many Christians are functional atheists. By that I mean that we too want the benefits of such a God. We want to have the peace and joy and comfort that comes from His existence. But we reserve the right to live our lives as we want to, as if He really did not exist. Or we at least act like He does not matter when we make decisions on how to live. How many really think through the implications of what they do with their money each day as it relates to God? I suspect most of us only think about God when the money runs short or we are making a major life changing purchase. How many of us really think about God when we are planning our leisure time, or hobbies, or what we will eat, or when we must deal with the hurt feelings we have towards someone else? You see, if there is no God then indeed, do whatever you want, whenever you want. But if in fact there is a God and He is the God of the Bible, then all that we do, at every moment of our lives, must be done and lived out of love for Him and for our neighbor. In doing so, we will indeed be followers of Jesus who did not concern Himself with his own survival and comfort, but instead sacrificed all on a cross so that we could survive. Then He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, sacrificing ourselves daily out of love for Him and others.

Not a simple task.

Maybe that is why atheists dont want Him to be real.

Why America Was Never a Christian Nation

In the wake of the election, all the debates, hype, and turmoil, it is clear that many Christians still do not understand what America is all about and what our place in it really is. I have seen numerous calls for a returning of America to a Christian nation. People; we never were a Christian nation! Was the country in some large way influenced by Christian principles? Absolutely. But it was equally influenced by the philosophical and political theories of European enlightenment which were anything but Christian. Were many of the founding fathers Christian. You bet. But many of them were anything but Christians. But even if everyone of them was a radical follower of Jesus, that is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this is a Christian nation. What matters is what kind of government they established. When we look at that government, established via the constitution, it is clear that when it came to religion they wanted everyone to have the freedom to practice it as they saw fit and that the government would not enact laws that promoted or prohibited that practice. What it means as that all religions have equal standing before the law. We are a country designed to be sympathetic to religion but not adhering to or promoting one above another.

England is a Christian nation. They have a national church and the Queen is technically the head of the church. It is what led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 when he decided to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. You simply could not be head of the church and be married to a divorced woman. So he gave up the crown. It is why there was such consternation over Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. A handful of other European nations are Christian nations. Germany has an official state church that receives funding directly from the government.

Now if you really want America to be a Christian nation I suggest that you first take a long hard look at the church in those Christian countries. How is that working for them? It’s not. The fact is Christianity is a faith best practiced when it is not in power. It is a faith of the exile. For the first 300 years our brothers and sisters living under Roman rule were outcasts. Sometimes being left alone, often times being hounded for their faith, many of them lived their faith to the point of hideous deaths. As they did so, they sought only one thing, to glorify God in their manner of life and death so that others would be moved to fall on their knees and worship Him. And guess what? It worked. They changed the Roman world one heart at a time.

Our faith is to be counter cultural. We are to be a light to the world. That means that we somehow stand apart, show a different way. When we are in power, we have the same tendency as other humans. We let it go to our heads and we become intoxicated with power. Even the briefest of looks at the history of Christendom will show that when in power we will coerce and threaten people into conversion in ways that rival the most militant jihadist. That is in stark contrast to the servant lifestyle that Jesus demonstrated and calls us to.

There is another lesson to be learned from our first century brethren. They were the best possible citizens a ruler could hope for. They served in the military. Even though they could be killed if they failed to burn incense to Caesar. They served in the government, even though that government often killed Christians. They served in the public arena, even in Caesar’s household and did so with distinction. They cared for the poor. They turned the other cheek. They fed the hungry. They clothed the naked. The cared for the sick and dying when their own pagan families refused. And by living as that kind of counter-cultural exile, they brought people to Jesus. They had no prayer in their schools. They had no laws prohibiting commerce on the Sabbath. They had no constitutional assurance that they would be free to worship with no fear of governmental reprisal, just the opposite. They had so much less than we. And yet they changed the world.

America is not a Christian nation. But it is a nation in which Christians have greater freedom and resources to celebrate and live their faith, as they see fit, than anyone ever before. Even in the “Christian” nations of the past, it was only certain types of Christians who had that freedom. If you belonged to the state church you were safe. If not, you could suffer worse than non-Christians in the same country.

In reality, nations are not Christian. Only living, breathing, men, women, and children are Christians. And we must learn to live our faith as exiles in this world, no matter what government we submit to. If we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, then many more will fall on their knees and worship Him and whether or not we are a “Christian” nation will be a moot point. Why? because our provocative lives will have changed the world.

Jesus Must be Weeping

There are few things that can both depress me and make me furious at the same time. This is about one of those things. A headline on the BBC news website is titled Christian Infighting in Jerusalem. The title does not even begin to hint at the appalling nature of the story that follows.

In short this is the story. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed by many to be the place of the burial and Resurrection of Jesus. The church that stands there has been around for 1700 years. Six different Christian groups lay claim to some part of the structure and have done so for centuries. They are highly competitive with one another and argue over everything. Any changes, even needed repairs to any part of the building must be agreed to by all parties. The arguing is so intense that there has been a ladder on the roof above the main entrance since the 1800’s. It is still there because they can’t agree on who has the right to take it down. Probably the most incredible disagreement is over which group should control the keys to the main door. As a result, for the past 300 years, two Muslim families have that job. One family unlocks the door in the morning and the other locks it again at night.

Well as things seem to do at the church every decade or so, a fight broke out a few days ago between rival factions of monks. Now we are not talking Bloods and Crips and rival gains in LA. We are talking Greek Orthodox versus Armenian Monks. It seems that some monks violated the turf of some other monks or disrespected them and their traditions in someway. Then again, maybe we are talking Bloods and Crips here. It certainly sounds the same and at the root it is the same, pride, ego, distrust, anger, and hatred. What makes it more shocking in this case is that the monks are supposed to be followers of the same Jesus. They are battling on the very ground at which He conquered sin and death by rising from the grave.

Jesus must be weeping, especially in light of one of His final prayers in which He asked the Father to “make them one, even as you and I are one”. (John 17:21) And that is without even mentioning His statement that the world would know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another. (John 13:35) It is that statement that really has me broken-hearted. The world will look at that story and have further justification for not believing or following Jesus. Why should they. His own people are punching it out over who has a right to control the space where Jesus rose from the grave. How crazy is that?

Maybe we need to read again what Paul wrote to the Philippians when he said, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit. But in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 Paul goes on to tell us that in this way we will be just like Jesus who counted us signifcant enough that he gave up His place in glory to become a man who would be our humble servant. As that servant He would suffer and die for us on the cross.

It is easy to point at some dueling monks and see how wrong they are. Yet in less dramatic ways selfishness, pride, and conceit are evident in the lives of followers of Jesus everyday. Why else would Paul have to write what he did to the Philippians? Why else would God has preserved it for us to read? I know that I must wrestle those things to the ground on a regular basis in my own life and suspect that you must as well.

Part of the reason for that is sin in general. Our nature leans that way. But more specifically it comes out of a culture that says look out for yourself first. Make sure you are happy and fulfilled. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. If your marriage is not fulfilling, get another one. If your in competition with someone for a promotion, cut their legs out from under them if you can. The list goes on and on of the ways that we are told to have a wonderful life by putting ourselves first. But then there is Jesus who says, “if you want to gain your life, then give it up. If you want to be great, become a servant, if you want to be first, then be last”. We have been made with a purpose, to glorify God in all we do. Serving others, thinking of them before ourselves, being more like Jesus, helps to fulfill that purpose. Only then will we be satisfied. Only then will be find fulfillment. Only then will we be truly happy. Only then will Jesus stop weeping and instead smile on us. Because in our oneness, the Father is glorified and the world is provoked, not to ridicule dueling monks, but to be in awe of a God who can have followers who so love one another that they consider others before they think about themselves.

Being a follower of Jesus is about becoming more like Jesus. That means being willing to suffer wrong, even when you are right. That means being willing to serve those who do not even like you not to mention those who hate you and even persecute you for Jesus name. How much more should it mean loving those who also call upon Him as Lord?

Striking a Nerve About Barack Obama

At 7am on Wednesday November 5th I posted “Why God Had Obama Win”. Up until that time this site averaged less than 20 hits a day for the two months that it was up. In a little over 48 hours 800 people have accessed the site and I have been told of hundreds more who have read it because people have copied the post and put it on their Facebook page, on other blog sites, and in one case even translated one of the posts from the blog into Russian to post on a site in Ukraine. As you can well imagine it has left me rather astonished. I thought I had something to add to the discussion but never figured that it would attract that much attention.

Well being the kind of person that God has wired me to be I have spent a good bit of time wondering why so many people have been compelled not just to read it but to keep passing it on to others. As I look at the responses that I have received at the blog as well as in emails, on other blogs, and Facebook walls it seems that there are a couple of reasons for this mini-viral blip.

For the first presidential election in my life time, and I can remember Goldwater running against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 so that covers a few elections, the evangelical church has shown solid support for two different candidates. In the past there has nearly always been a single candidate that a vast majority of evangelicals rallied around. This year that was not the case. A purely unscientific poll of people I know revealed an even split between Obama and McCain supporters. I think that this lack of consensus on the part of Christians has added to the anxiety. McCain supporters just can’t figure out how a fellow Christian can support Obama, and to a lesser degree the reverse is also true. I say to a lesser degree because McCain fits the more typical profile that evangelicals have historically supported when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, and other similar social issues.

I believe that this lack of consensus in the church has added to a sense of dread. Some people are worried that we are somehow being deceived. It is hard for them to imagine that God’s people could disagree so much without there somehow being the hand of Satan behind it. Certainly that is always a possibility, but it may also simply be that the landscape is changing and the the monolithic power block of evangelicals is no more. Christians have woken up to a host of other issues, including care for the poor, and the sick, and creation. The issues we care about are growing and as a result, no one candidate seems able to address them all. Depending on what your hot button issue is, you will support a different candidate. A couple of conversations with people who wrestled long and hard over who to vote for demonstrated this. Many who I have spoken to who voted for Obama truly admire McCain and agree with many of his positions. They made a decision for Obama based on his approach to other issues that they also cared about.

I think a second factor involved in why people gravitated to the site is that there has been so much doom and gloom predicted by Christians over an Obama presidency that many people were looking for hope. Yes, I know, kind of ironic isn’t it, looking for hope after the candidate of hope gets elected? But from what people have expressed to me it is clear that many Christians who supported McCain were genuinely worried about how this was going to change the world. One women even expressed fear that since we had a “Muslim” president, Christians were going to be persecuted terribly. I don’t even know how to seriously respond to that. (Well I do but that would take too long at the moment) What it shows me again is what this site is all about. Followers of Christ are generally not following Jesus very well. If, and this is a huge hypothetical “if”, we do start suffering persecution for our faith, the biblical, dare I say provocative response, is to praise God for the privilege of being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus name. Read Philippians 1:29, Matthew 5:10-12, and Acts 5:40-42 for just a few examples of how our forefathers in the faith rejoiced in their persecution.

What all of this forces me to do is go back to our roots in scripture. remember the word for “root” is the same for “radish” and “radical”. So getting back to our radical roots of a provocative life means that we must be the best posible citizens who not only pray for our president-elect, but live the Great Commandment to love God with all out heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do that even if, especially if, we think that neighbor is an enemy. In that way, we will change the world, just like that first generation of Christ-followers did 2,000 years ago.

Why God Had Obama Win

“for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” Romans 13:1

If Romans 13:1 is right, then Barack Obama won the election because God established it to be that way. If that is true then there are many Christians today who did not want Obama to win, who must be asking themselves what is going on and why God let this happen. There are two basic reasons why God has someone in authority as it relates to His people, the Church. One reason is to give us a time of peace and blessing and freedom to do what He has called us to. Think of David and the golden age of Israel. But another reason God puts a governmental leader in place is to teach His people a lesson regarding their failure to fulfill the mission He has given them. Think of the Babylonian rulers conquering Israel. It is the second of these two reasons that I want to focus on as why God had Obama win.

First, Obama has offered people hope. From his book, “The Audacity of Hope”, to his constant message of a better future, he has spoken of hope. I am convinced that the hope he offers is incomplete at best and counterfeit at worst. It is a hope built on wishful thinking and not built on the assurance of a relationship with Christ. True biblical hope is founded on the character of God and the salvation we have in Christ. The fact that people have so embraced the nebulous hope that the president elect offers is an indictment on Christians. We have not lived with Provocative Hope. We have not demonstrated a biblical hope that reaches out and grabs people. People who do not know Jesus need hope. They know they need hope, they want that hope, and they will take it where they can find it. Maybe God is saying to the Church, “You have not lived in the hope of the Gospel and now people are clinging to what little hope they can find”. When Christians live in fear, proclaim doom at every turn, and seem anxious and angry, then we have failed to show the hope we have in Christ. So our first lesson must be that we have failed to live a provocative hope.

Second, Obama offers to have the government alleviate the economic suffering that so many are facing. There is a promise of better financial times for the poor and the middle class. It is a promise that the government would step in and make sure that people who have more, will share with people who have less. It is a message with great appeal to people who are nervous about their finances or who are currently in crisis. Again this is an indictment on the church. If the Body of Christ had been taking care of the poor and people in crisis in the way that Acts 2 demonstrates then people would not be looking to the government to meet their needs. The failure of Christians to live out the generosity of Jesus means that people are turning to the government to force what the Body of Christ should have been doing willingly.

Third, many Christians are understandably concerned about what an Obama presidency will mean for moral issues like abortion. The problem is, we have been relying on political power, in the hands of the president, to appoint the right judges to interpret laws in a way that forces certain moral behavior. Clearly the government is supposed to pass laws that promote moral behavior. But that is the last resort as far as Christians should be concerned. The problem is, we have abdicated our responsibility to make disciples who honor and follow Jesus. That is change we can believe in. It is a change in the hearts and souls of people that will result in moral change from the heart. We can never put our confidence for change in the hands of the secular government. The command that we have been given to make disciples is how real change will come about. Our failure to do that in reliance on the Holy Spirit is what has led to trusting in earthly powers for heavenly results.

So why did God have Obama win? One very real possibility is that there is a lesson to the church. That lesson is that we must be about the task of living out a provocative faith that is filled with hope in Christ, cares for those in need, and makes disciples who obey all the He has commanded. If we had been doing that all along, the world and even the White House, would be very different places today.

Is Your Faith Relevant, or Provocative?

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

There is a great deal of talk among Christians these days about the need to make our faith relevant. I understand the desire, in fact for a long time I said that same thing myself. The fact is, most people just don’t see a need for Jesus in their lives. The desire to make Christianity relevant, in large part stems from the realization that in this Post-Christendom world in which we live, people just aren’t paying any attention to what Christians have to say. The assumption, probably correct, is that what we are saying just doesn’t relate to their lives. There is a great deal of truth here. The average westerner really doesn’t care about our eschatology, (when and how we think Jesus will return), or about our differences over the physical presence of Jesus in communion, or a whole list of other things we spend so much time talking about.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think having a correct Biblical understanding of these things is important. And I love few things more than studying them and helping others understand them. But that is not the focal point of being a Christian and certainly not what the non-Christian is searching for. So we have properly tried to switch the focus to questions that are relevant to them, things like how to have a good marriage, raise your kids, deal with hardship, and a host of other topics. So we have made the faith “relevant” to their lives.

But I must confess that there is a growing discontent in me over what the result of all the effort this move to relevance has wrought. I get the feeling that a relevant Christianity as it has evolved in recent years is somehow lacking real punch. It just seems way too tame and respectable. It is not a faith that reaches out and grabs people who observe it in others. When I think of the word relevant, I think of people having a discussion about some topic and a point comes up and someone says, “Hey, I think this bit of information is relevant to what we are talking about”. As such, that relevant thing just becomes one more piece among many that helps you reach your conclusion or settle and argument. So I wonder if this relevant faith that we have been promoting isn’t just one more “bit of information” that people add to the smorgasbord of their world view, in order to get by just a little easier? And I wonder of our relevant faith hasn’t become something that the non-Christian is able to take or leave with equal ease.

That leads me to the idea of provocative Christianity. A faith that really rocks is one that like Matthew 5:14-16, provokes a response from people. It is that shining light on a hill that draws people, it compels them to look and see. In fact it is a faith that leads them into a worship of the Father. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.

A truly provocative faith is one that demonstrates itself in service to others in that name of Jesus. It is a self sacrificing faith that looks for ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus for others. It comes out of what Paul says to the Philippians that we are to consider others more important than ourselves and in this way be just like Jesus. It is really what Jesus meant when He said that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we love someone with real action, servanthood exercised in humility, then they will want to know our God and worship Him.

There is a power in living a provocative faith that goes way beyond making Chrisitianity relevant. But it comes at a price. It is the price of sacrificing ourselves for others. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this means some sort of death defying sacrifice where you push someone out of the way of a bus and you get killed instead. It is much less dramatic than that. It is as simple as returning the extra change a clerk gave you that was more than you were suppose to get. It is giving that young couple with the new born baby, two passes to the movies and a coupon for free babysitting on a Friday night. It is inviting that international student to your hme for Thanksgiving dinner and simply setting an extra plate. It is tipping your server 20% and asking if there is anything in their life you can pray about. It is asking your neighbor if you can pick up something from the grocery store for them when you know they are sick. The list could go on and one. But these are the kinds fo things that will eventually provoke a response of worship from people who see your light shine in Jesus name.