Moving Past Spiritual Stagnation

Image result for spiritual stagnationWe mature and we develop.  At least that is the plan.  In our school classes, our teachers set goals for us and then teach us to achieve them.  Our parents, if they care, look for our developmental goals.  When did we walk?  When did we complete sentences?  How did we develop our motor skills?  Why, then, does the church so often not communicate developmental goals for those it oversees?  We tend to have some mild suggestions from meek pastors, but very few churches meet with the congregation and develop a plan.

One assumption might be that there are no markers of spiritual growth.  The New Testament contradicts that lack of direction.  We are meant to grow in knowledge and depth of insight. There is the milk we drink as spiritual infants and there is the meat we chew on as mature Christians.  Some lack of growth is due to the passivity of the congregation.  It is easy to watch ministers working hard with Jesus, rather than to get out of the pews and grow in ministry ourselves.  It is easier to watch athletes on TV rather than train hard and become an athlete ourselves.

Children’s ministries often entertain rather than develop.  Christian schooling often develops rigorously math skills, literacy skills, and even sports skills.  These skills are seen as essential for life.  However, if Christianity is true, Bible study, prayer and  godly character are at least as important as reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic. The home is too busy to think.  We mindlessly produce and consume.  Nothing develops in that kind of lifeless environment.  We may find that we have not really grown spiritually since we became a Christian as a small child.

This is why retreats are so successful. This is why Christian camps can help us.  They move us away from the day-to-day and help us to refocus.  A healthy home is one where the family works from a place of rest rather than exhaustion.  A healthy school is one where God is worshiped in each class.  A healthy church is one which provides tie for reflection, assessment, and accountability.

We are not saved because of our performance, but we are saved to grow and do better works.  If you take time to assess how you have been growing, what do you need?

Do you need to get away to a Christian camp in the quiet countryside for a retreat?  Do you need to study God’s word to bring it up to par with your other competencies?  Do you need to connect with a church which will encourage you to the next step?  Do you need your children to grow closer to God in their schooling and worship him in each subject area?  There are options – the only wrong option is to choose to do nothing.

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What is in 1 Thessalonians?

Thessaloniki is in Greece.  When the apostle Paul went there, he was soon chased out of town.  That made him concerned that the faith he shared there would soon die out.  When, finally, he got word, he found that the faith had taken root and was flourishing.  What would this new, enthusiastic group of Christians need from Paul?

After reading 1 Thessalonians and starting on the second letter, a few points jump out.

  1. Paul wanted to encourage them for their faith, hope and love.
  2. Paul wanted to encourage them about life after death.
  3. Paul wanted to encourage them about the second coming.
  4. Paul wanted to encourage them to live up to the gospel calling.

Encouraging people is still accepted as the way to start conversations.  Leaders who start with tasks, bad news, or criticism often demotivate people.   Finding positive attributes and talking them up forms a platform of acceptance to which one can later return if things get rough.

One of the biggest fears is fear of death.  The Thessalonians were afraid that the loved ones they knew who had died would not be taken with Jesus to paradise. This was coupled with concerns about when and how Jesus’ return would take place.  Paul sends answers to both concerns.

There is a way of life which is central to Christian faith.  There is a code of conduct God calls people to follow.  When a Christian repents, they turn from their old ways to new ways.  The Thessalonians were ignorant of the details of their new way of life.  In the 21st century, many in The West are also ignorant.  The gospel we preach has been divorced from behaviors and so some of the most poorly behaved people in the room may claim to be Christian.  In church on Sunday, we had a conversation about nominal Christians – people who are Christian in name only.  We realised that, rather than celebrate a shared faith, we might first look at whether the faith is exercised.  If there is no evidence of faith, maybe it is not there.

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What Happens After We Die?

Image result for the book of the deadShort answer is, “We don’t know.”  A slightly longer answer is, “We don’t know much.”  Most people in North America would still like to think they go on to somewhere better, but why?  In England I hear stories of people who never believed in God being placed with the stars, the angels, or with Jesus when they die.  Why should they go to be with a God they never knew?  In the common psyche, it seems to be God’s job.  He is to remain at a safe distance while we live, but He’ll scoop me up and bring me to heaven when I die.  It seems like He is at our whim.  He seems small in this retelling.  Why not be more consistent and be done with God altogether?  Why not join the growing band of atheists who see no point in God in this life and no role for God in the afterlife?  Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead – we had killed Him in the 19th century.  However, the crippled and impotent God of middle America today is more horrific and insipid than the mighty God of the 18th century cathedrals whom they killed.  I believe we lack courage to kill off God, in middle America, because we are afraid.  Who wants to walk into the night without hope?  Who wants to travel across Styx just to find the ferryman drops us off the edge of reality and into a unexpected abyss?

Some say heaven was invented to allay mankind’s fears of death.  We have a modified strategy to deal with our fears today.  We don’t want to think about death.  We shun people who do and call them ‘morbid.’ We move faster and faster – mindlessly – in this life, so that death will come in an instant.  Suddenly we will be gone.  If our story ends at death, so be it.  We don’t want to see the car before it hits us.  Let our death be like a band-aid ripped off swiftly – a bullet to the head – and then, hopefully, the end.

But the ancient Greeks thought an afterlife was necessary to complete justice (Plato).  Ancient eastern peoples completed justice with a karma rebirth tailored to repay each previous life.  Ancient Jewish people wrote about Sheol and Abaddon.  They declared that no-one praised God from the grave (Psalm 115:17; Isaiah 38:18).  From their own observation, the wise people of ancient Israel encouraged us to enjoy the spouse, the house, and food (I was tempted to write grouse) that God has given (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  But the Jewish philosopher watched a dog die and watched a person die and saw no difference (Ecclesiastes 3:19).

Many today believe their eternal destiny rests in the balance.  The scales tip one way or the other based on whether they have been good enough in this life.  The ancient Egyptians weighed the heart against a feather to decide the course of the journey into death.  This thinking has slipped into the common psyche, but is it Christian?  Is it the way of the Bible?

The Bible says that the dead will rise again at the coming of Jesus.  It says that all people will be raised up on The Last Day.  It says after that comes the judgement (Hebrews 9:27,28).  Then it says that all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s standards.  The scales, according to the New Testament, weigh every person and find they fall short.  God allows a substitution.  He allows Jesus to pay the price for the unrighteousness of each life.  This is a free gift, but like any free gift it must be received.  In this life, the gift of eternal life is offered.  It is not a life of vacation by the pool – it is a life of fellowship with Jesus and his followers.  It starts when a person becomes a disciple in this life – and it never ends.  A loving God does not force people to come to His party.  A loving God does not make people dwell in His house forever.  He allows an alternative.  We call that alternative Hell or Hades.  It is the eternal dwelling place of those who do not believe in God, who have no love for Jesus, and who wish to follow their own path.  Of course, this path leads eternally to frustration and torment.  Some Christians want God’s mercy to annihilate those who do not walk with him.  The Bible doesn’t really allow for that option.  The language the Bible uses for Hell, is that of a fiery pit whose smoke rises forever (Revelation 14:11).

On the surface it is comforting to think of an alienated God who reveals himself at death and brings you home to his bosom.  But what if that loving God is repulsive to you?  What if the company in the eternal resting place is unbearably obnoxious?  Wouldn’t you long to escape?  Wouldn’t you long for Hell?  On the surface, belief in a judgement where we are all basically good is something to be looked forward to.  However, the anxiety, the shame and the guilt we carry in our hearts may be a sign that the ending will not match our optimism.  In these cases the sudden ending of the atheist would certainly be preferable.  The atheist embodies the strength of being able to embrace the pointlessness of life.  They are beyond good or evil.  There is no judgement.  There are choices and consequences in this life – perhaps.  In the end the slate is wiped clean – the candle goes out.  Shakespeare shows the draw of such thinking in Hamlet’s soliloquy.  That sleep of death, from which no man returns, provides a consummation devoutly to be wished.   But then he acknowledges  that no man has returned to tell us of whether the dreams of death are pleasant or horrific.

The assumption, in this modern age, is that no-one has returned from death (Except in the T.V. show Arrow where people return from death with annoying frequency).  There are flatliners who are dead for moments, but truly dead people do not come back to life.  And this solid assumption causes people to reject the narrative of scripture where people like Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, and Jesus himself come back from the dead.  Our unbelief causes us to dismiss these stories as myths and fairy-tales.  But what if the accounts in the Bible have had so much enduring power because they are true?  What if they gained so much traction because eye-witnesses saw the risen Lazarus and then the risen Jesus?  What would that require of us?  We would have to ask what made these people different?  With what beliefs and truths did they align?  How did they live?  How did they die?  Then we would have to consider whether our stories needed to be stories of a life lived for God rather than self.  A life so-lived would give us reason to expect the fate promised of believers in the Bible.  In that case Heaven would not be tedious and obnoxious.  In that case, when death came, heaven would be the easy step into the arms of the one for whom we had lived.

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These thoughts are written after reflection upon 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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Strategies for Walking Away from Sexual Immorality

Image result for sexual addiction disorderThere are those who would say I am the last person who should write anything about sexual immorality.  I, like many men before me, have struggled to keep my thoughts and actions pure.  In recent years I have made improvements in the area of sexual purity, and I don’t think it is just because of a decreased libido.  In all the years I have been married to my wife, I have been faithful to her – in the literal sense.  In my mind, I have become more faithful to her.  I have lost much of the lust that would have captured my thoughts early in our marriage.

There is a different mind-set I have now.  When I consciously think about the area of sexual immorality, I acknowledge the following six truths.  At the same time there are three actions I consider taking.

  • Acknowledge what sexual immorality delivers

Sex is attractive because it delivers positive feelings.  Of course, there is the rush of sexual stimulation.  Beyond that, there is the intimate connection of being accepted and known.  If we pretend sex is ugly and delivers nothing, we create people who are phobic about sex.  Sex is a wonderful thing.  It is a gift to be opened within marriage.

  • Acknowledge that sexual immorality exploits

Sexual immorality exploits on a number of levels.  The man in the back of the car manipulates the woman into performing sex acts by telling her what she wants to hear and making promises he will not keep.  A woman mocks a young man for being unmanly because he won’t sleep with her.

The exploitation reaches its crescendo with sex-trafficking.  Modern slavery moves victims around the world to be used sexually by people who care little for them.  The porn industry uses trafficked people.  Porn sex is becoming more aggressive and lacks any of the gentleness and care sex was created for.  In some ways the exploitation is unmasked, but people don’t seem to care.

  • Acknowledge that sexual immorality is a pathway

Jesus once said that people should not congratulate themselves on abstaining from adultery when they have no problem looking at each other lustfully.  He was outlining that sexual immorality is not a single act but a pathway.

There are many on-ramps to the sexual immorality highway.  Magazine racks in England were a problem for me as a teen.  Recently, adult magazine covers in Europe have been covered so people don’t have to see them.  When I saw them, as a teen, my mind would race.  I would imagine exactly what the producers of the magazines hoped.  I would imagine what was inside.  I had to be careful whenever I was near a news stand.  I had to be aware they had an on ramp for immorality.

Understanding that sexual immorality is a pathway and not an act provides an answer to the frequent question asked in youth group.  “How far can I go?”  The answer is that the question itself is wrong.  There is nowhere to go down the wrong highway.  The right question is “How can I respect, honour, and cherish my date?”

  • Acknowledge that sex is for a relationship

The movies acknowledge that sex is for a relationship.  In the movies the first or second date ends with sex.  Subsequently the couple attempts to build a relationship on the back of the sex.

It is better to establish a relationship without sex first and to add sex later.  If the relationship lasts forever, there will be periods when sex is not available due to sickness or distance.  A relationship entirely predicated on sex will fail at these times.  However, if the relationship is built first, and sex is reserved for a committed marriage, the security of the marriage relationship provides a basis for great sex.

  • Acknowledge that sexual immorality addicts

Addictions provide a high and they compensate for what is lacking in life.  Addicts self-medicate because something in life – wellness, emotions, acceptance – is not available.  Sex is often used to fill an emptiness in a person’s life.  When sex is used this way it provides a rush of excitement, but it ends in sadness, isolation and despair.  Like any addiction, the problem is that the addict needs increased fixes for ever diminishing returns.

  • Acknowledge that sexual immorality consumes

In our production-consumption society, sex has become a commodity.  Unfortunately most of the products that we consume and don’t ‘need’ eventually consume us.  ‘Sex sells,’ we are told.  However, we are now sold on sex.  Advertising campaigns cheapen sexual attraction and create sex-objects for us to idolize.  It is a trophy to be a sex-symbol.  New ideas are promoted as ‘sexy.’  Sex enters the daily routine as part and parcel of ordinary life.  We are saturated with sexual images on T.V., billboards, and movies.  We hear sexual innuendo on the radio or on our iPod.  The saturation causes some kind of indifference.  To make sex so common is to make it vulgar.  In fact, the way we use sex as the basis of our swear words and coarse joking is the definition of vulgarity.

So how do we address our behaviors in the light of these acknowledgements?

  • When tempted refocus

To focus on sex in order to defeat sexual immorality doesn’t work.  Many well-meaning people spend a lot of time talking about sexual immorality and wonder why their minds are so full of it.  The way forward is to focus on something else.

Isn’t there anything in our lives which grabs the imagination as much as sex?  For me, it has been sports and computer games.  The immersive nature of these activities consumes my mind.  I can’t think about sexual immorality and catch a cricket ball that has been hit toward my head.  I can’t fend off waves of mutants in a computer game and also let my mind wander down other paths.

Ideally, sports and computer games might give way to heart-deep conversations with God or family.  We don’t want to replace one potentially destructive addiction with another.  However, in the short run, try to identify what might be something powerful enough to help you refocus.

The power of habit is strong.  To break a habit the trigger for the habit, and the common response, need to be identified.  Either the trigger is consciously avoided or the trigger needs to lead to a different action.  Addicts call a sponsor when temptation comes.  Which leads to the next point.

  • Talk to a mentor about sex

Sometimes we need a person to talk to about sexual immorality.  We need someone who isn’t horrified and contemptuous at the very mention of sex.  We need someone who can be sympathetic with our cause and who has pathways and strategies to get to healthier living.  Such people exist in our lives as pastors and counselors.  If you are confused about sex in your life make an appointment to talk it out.

  • Look to honour the opposite sex

If you want to date my daughter, I will want you to honour her.  She is a beautiful girl and she will be a beautiful woman.  That I allow you to date her is an act of grace and trust on my part.  If you abuse that trust and use her for your own pleasure, expect grace and trust to be replaced by justice and pain.

Seriously, though, my daughter is created in the image of God – and so is my son.  If my son is manipulated by a girl to take away his innocence, I will not be pleased.  If a girl comes into his life who sees his potential for service to God and draws that out of him, I would be delighted if they got married.  I would love to see the kind of children their union would produce.

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These thoughts were written upon reflection on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

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What Is Lacking in Our Faith?

Image result for salvation prayerTo be a Christian, in North America, is often to have said a certain prayer.  This prayer is sometimes called The Prayer of Salvation, The Prayer of Repentance, The Prayer of Acceptance.  One example of it is given in the illustration.  Another example, below, is taken from Larry Hutton.  On his website, Larry Hutton says that if you pray this prayer you have entered God’s family:

“Dear God, I want to be a part of your family. You said in Your Word that if I acknowledge that You raised Jesus from the dead, and that I accept Him as my Lord and Savior, I would be saved. So God, I now say that I believe You raised Jesus from the dead and that He is alive and well. I accept Him now as my personal Lord and Savior. I accept my salvation from sin right now.

I am now saved. Jesus is my Lord. Jesus is my Savior. Thank you, Father God, for forgiving me, saving me, and giving me eternal life with You. Amen!” 

This prayer may have credit as a starting point on the Christian life.  However, it is a starting point and not a destination.  It can also be prayed with an insincere heart, and God looks on the heart.  What kind of life is a new convert committing to?

When they become a Christian, a Christian knows very little of what comprises enduring faith, true doctrine, and godly love.  However, to become a Christian means to commit to growth in these areas.  We lack information, we lack understanding and we lack will-power at the outset of our faith.  A mature Christian needs to be better informed, more wise, and more loving than someone who has just reached out to Jesus to save them from sin.  This maturity is the result of a life lived in repentance, a repentance which was stated in the Salvation prayer.

Christian in North America often lacks any sense of maturity.  Christians get saved to take care of sin, but often not with any distinctly Christian life in mind.  This falls short of God’s ideals.

Marriage provides a some good illustrations.  As anyone who is married knows, you do not know your spouse before you are married as well as you do afterwards.  You are often committing to spend life loving someone you hardly know.  On dates you provide some information to each other, but it is limited.  A proposal of marriage is usually made on somewhat limited information.  We hope the intel is a fair representation of everything we do not know.  Life together is about exploring the other person and committing to the pursuit.  What if we got married just for the wedding day and not for the life it brings?  Marriage was not designed to save us from celibacy.  Marriage was given to us to do life in a different way than we can alone.  Salvation is give to us, not just to save us from sin, but to raise us with Jesus into a new life.  In this new life we grow in maturity and become more like Jesus.  Because Jesus is perfect, and we are not, we are always growing.  We always lack love, knowledge, and wisdom.  God provides his Word, he provides pastors, he provides churches, and he provides Bible colleges to help us to grow.  We need to learn in fellowship with each other.  We were not designed to learn in isolation.  The Holy Spirit illuminates God’s Word, guides us into learning experiences, and counsels us in our troubles.

If we have stagnated in our faith – if we feel like there is nothing more to learn about Christian belief – we deceive ourselves.  This life is a quest.  We need to understand how little we understand and we need to press on to more.

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, wanted to return to the church and give them so much more.  They were saved, but salvation is just the beginning.  There was so much they did not know and he wanted to be their teacher.  Who are you doing life with?  Who is doing life with you?  Who are you teaching?  Who is teaching you?

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

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5 Traits of a Good Mentor or Teacher

As the new semester starts, people will be entering new schools for the first time.  In a new school, or a new job, or a new town, it is important to find a mentor.  As we advance in years it is important to mentor those who are younger, or less experienced, than ourselves.  Here are 5 traits of a good mentor or teacher.

  1. Desire for face time.  A mentor does best when they make time to speak face-to-face.  The mentor can not only follow the words of their protege,  but they can read the body-language.  How much more than mere words is an appropriate touch from someone who understands!
  2. Desire for achievement.  A mentor has an idea of excellence  the novice lacks.  Because each person in the relationship desires success, they can set goals and make a plan.  This is a difference between a mentor relationship and a normal friendship.  A mentor is leading their charge on the path to competency or maturity.
  3. Desire for frequent updates.  Often desired personal goals have stages of development.  The mentor does well if they state the expected stages or obstacles that will occur on the pathway to success.  These signs become helpful markers, which give evidence of progress.
  4. Desire to strengthen.  When a novice hits an obstruction, he or she often lacks a strategy or tactic to succeed.  Although the mentor knows strategies, it is their responsibility to encourage their protege.  The protege must develop an  inner fortitude which sticks to the task during trials.  The word for this inner fortitude, with regard to problem solving, is grit.  The literature advocates development of a ‘growth mindset.’  Teachers do well if they develop growth mindset in their students over a lexicon of solutions to different tasks.
  5. Desire to encourage.  Positive words which reframe negative situations can be life-giving to someone who is struggling.  The simple act of listening can convince a discouraged person that they are not alone.  Notes, phone calls, or texts are always welcome, but sometimes they come at just the right time.  Naming strengths and previous successes can pick a person up and aid them toward the finish line.

Image result for mentor teacherOf course, the repeated word here is ‘desire.’  If we have no desire or passion, we will not be a good mentor.  A mentor who has all the skills, but just doesn’t care is going to de-motivate because of their apathy.  A mentor who is passionate about a shared vision is going to be the best help.  Who do you have in your life who shares your vision and helps you toward your goals?

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The above principles are drawn from the Apostle Paul in his relationship with one of his churches.  He developed his mentoring skills in the power of the Holy Spirit.  His goals for his proteges was that they would know God.  You can see the principles in the following text:

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:8

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

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Problems with the Phrase ‘Accept Christ’

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A. W. Tozer first made me question how we use the term ‘accept Christ.’  He wasn’t a fan.  In evangelistic campaigns many preachers plead with the congregation to ‘accept Christ.’  They might ask people to raise their hands and come to the front to pray to ‘accept Christ.’  When this goes well, the new convert accepts the message they have been given.  They take it to heart and a seed is planted that begins to grow.  As they accept Christ, there is a full surrender to the message.

In the gospel of the New Testament, the message of the evangelist is one of repentance and surrender.  To accept the gospel means to relinquish an old way of life and take on a new one.  It also means to surrender all resistance to Jesus and to follow him as a willing slave.  This kind of unconditional acceptance has been missed in the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century is picking up where the twentieth century left off.  At this time, the gospel is presented with very little call for change.  To accept Christ has become a mental assent to Jesus coming to wash away my sin.  The lordship of Jesus is lost in the message.  A person accepts Christ like one might accept a bid from a window-washer to wash the windows.  Jesus comes cap-in-hand into the life of a proud human being.  He does a little dusting around the new believer’s heart and then sits in a corner waiting for any opportunity to be useful.

This is in stark contrast to the acceptance of the message in the New Testament.  The Thessalonians, for example, were commended by Paul because of the way they accepted his message.  They accepted it not as the word of men but as the word of God.  This turn of phrase contains the fear of the Lord.  The Thessalonians subsequent submission to the word of God was based in a high reverence for what they were hearing.  The works that poured out of the Thessalonians were a result of the strength of their belief.  They did not accept the arguments of Paul as a rational debate where the strength of the opponent’s argument had to reluctantly be admitted.  The Thessalonians accepted and received the word of God (the gospel) like a shoreline receives a tsunami – never to be the same again.

We must therefore beware of the ‘easy believism’ which has become part of our communication of the gospel.  Our winsome easy-come-easy-go communication has led to a casual, non-committal acceptance of Jesus.  It has also led to an easy forgetting of Jesus.  We do not communicate clearly the demands of Christ, we do not communicate the wretched condition of the human heart, and we do not communicate the majesty of God.  We sound like peddlers who lack confidence in their cheap, plastic toys.  We should sound like envoys of the conquering king.  Let’s be careful of encouraging this generation to ‘accept Christ.’  Let’s encourage people to receive a message where they humbly plead with God to accept them.

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The above post was drawn from reading 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

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