Three Pleas to My Formerly Christian Friends

Many of my friends who once professed to be Christians have walked away from the faith. If you are one of those people, I want you to know that I still love you and deeply appreciate our friendship. But I also grieve for you and pray for you. I know we don’t have the opportunity to go chat at a coffee shop, and perhaps we never will, but as my friend I hope you will take 10 minutes to read what I have to say. I want to make three pleas to you; one to your mind, one to your will, and one your emotions.

A Plea to Your Mind

One of the most common reasons I hear for why friends have walked away from the faith is their experience with hypocritical Christians. Perhaps your parents were considered exemplary Christians in their church, but you knew what really went on at home. Or you listened to preaching or attended a church that was ruthlesslly legalistic. Maybe you experienced a nasty church split or suffered as the church people shredded your dad, their pastor, to pieces. I don’t know what you have experienced, and I don’t downplay it in the least. One person once told me as I walked through deep ministry waters, “God is good, but sometimes his people are bad.”

Hang on to that thought, because we’ll come back to it in a minute. For now, though, would you please consider this simple plea? Please do not measure the worth of Jesus by his worst representatives. I get it, if that’s what Christianity is like, then you want nothing to do with it. But don’t stop there. Find the best imitators of Jesus you can, and then make your value judgment.

If I wanted to persuade you that soccer is an amazing sport (and I think it is), I would be foolish to take you to my 6-year old daughter’s Saturday soccer “game.” It looks more like a tornado of todders than a soccer match. No, I would take you to Spain to watch FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi work his wizardry live. Why? Because he’s the best of the best. And beautiful soccer is a delight to watch.

My plea with you is, even in spite of your experience, to consider there may be brighter fields of Christianity. Seek them out. I say this with sincerity, because I know there are brighter fields. And we have to ask ourselves, “How can people claim to be Christians, but live as hypocrites?” This leads me to my second plea.

A Plea to Your Will

Earlier I mentioned the quote, “God is good, but sometimes his people are bad.” I think that statement is partially true. As born sinners, all of us do bad things, but God’s children have been given new hearts, and their heavenly Father lovingly disciplines them when they do wrong. So if we think God’s people are bad without any repentance or spiritual growth, then we are wrong.

Which leads me to ask this question: when you walked away from the faith, did you really choose to walk away? Or did you simply confirm externally what had always been true internally? God says that when people walk away from the faith, it shows they never really believed it in the first place.

“They went out from us, but they were not of us;
for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.
But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

1 John 2:19

In other words, your will was never enamored with Jesus Christ, at least not in a persevering, saving way. It had always been captured by a different love. More than that, your former experience with Christians may have been no experience with Christians at all, for they too may have never believed. The hypocrisy you witnessed was no true faith at all, but actually a “different gospel” (see Galatians 1:6-9).

So I make this plea to your will. Repent and believe in the gospel, not on the basis of former experiences, baptisms, or altar calls. Believe it on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Believe in his death as a substitute for your sin and in his resurrection as power for your new life. If you do, I can promise you will experience a radically different kind of Christianity than the one you walked away from. This promise leads me to my third and final plea.

A Plea to Your Emotions

As someone who has never actually believed the gospel in a life-transforming way, I plead with you—come, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)! You have never truly feasted on him. You don’t know what he is like. You have never known the God who formed the cosmos with his word, wound the clock of time, called and created a nation out of a barren couple, judged nations who sacrificed their children to false gods, raised the dead at funeral processions, granted eternal life by the death of his immortal Son, turned the world upside down with a handful of stubborn disciples, and now waits to commence the end of this age.

This same God is full of compassion for you. He wants you to know him, delight in him, and be satisfied in him. As Psalm 36:7-9 says,

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

I have hope some of you who read this will come to know the delight found only in Jesus Christ. This gospel which you already know so well is still offered to you freely. And I am always open to talk more. I will always count you as my friend, and I will always pray you hear my pleas to turn to Christ.

~CP

“I Didn’t Know God”

At first when he answered the phone I thought it was a joke. I had reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ten years. But he sounded nothing like the friend I used to know. I even told him it didn’t sound like him. Of course, that made things awkward for a bit. As we did small talk I went back over my phone and reviewed how we had reconnected. Same phone number. Same Facebook page. Same guy. And yet, totally different.     

I slowly was starting to accept the reality that I really was talking to my old friend when he clarified, “You know Cameron, we really haven’t talked in a long time. A lot has happened since then.” He continued, “I think I got saved 4 years ago.” I was shocked.

This is the guy I went to Bible college with. This is the guy who had wanted to preach his whole life. This is the guy who traveled on evangelistic teams to churches and spent his summers sharing the gospel with young people.      

He went on to describe for me his frustration at repeatedly trying to preach, but never being satisfied with it. He came to the point where he gave up on preaching entirely. But that bitterly low point of frustration caused him to realize something incredible. “I didn’t know God,” he confessed to me. “I knew about God. I knew about the Bible. I was drawn to the experience of preaching and the feeling that came with it. I think that is the same reason I was drawn to evangelism. But I didn’t have a real relationship with God.” 

He went on to describe for me how he started sincerely praying to and seeking God. And God changed him. Radically. So much so, he was a different person. Other people in his life began to take notice. “My wife asked me what had changed,” he said. “I hadn’t said anything about it at first because I didn’t know what to make of it.” 

Our unexpectedly awkaward conversation had changed into a mutually encouraging moment as he began to share with me the lessons God had taught him since his conversion. I apologized for being rude, and he accepted the apology, and we had a great time catching up for a bit.

When I got off the phone, I sat on our couch and stared out a window for several minutes. It was so stunning, yet so refreshing and glorious to see God radically transform one man’s life. This is, in fact, how the Scripture describes salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people in this world gravitate towards religion for the experience. They confuse the emotional fervor of a thrilling worship service or shared moments of religious experience with a genuine relationship with the living God. Unfortunately, many church leaders today are guilty of encouraging this kind of behavior. It is a spiritually draining, inadequate substitute for your soul’s satisfaction. If you are in one of those categories, or find yourself in one of those kinds of churches, you can be free from the emptiness that comes with religion apart from Christ. Look to him. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Only he can satisfy the desire in your soul for something better, because he is the “something better” you are thirsting for. 

~CP

The Weak Church: Making Much of Christ

Planted in Weakness

Christianity has enjoyed a position of strength in Western society for a long time. The church once commanded kings, encompassed nations, and dominated the world. But things were not always this way. Before the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Byzantine Empire through the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., Christianity was not known for its strength, but for its weakness.

Christianity was a strange sect to the Roman Empire. Belief in one God, not a pantheon of gods, was like atheism to the Roman mind. Christians also refused to deify Caesar and participate in ritual offerings to him, offerings that were often mandated by the Roman government. Rumors spread, claiming Christians devoted themselves to cultic rituals and incestuous practices at their love feasts. To make matters worse, Christians followed a man who had been publicly crucified as a criminal at the hands of the Roman Empire. Such devotion to Jesus invited scorn, ridicule, and even martyrdom.

No image better represents the reputation of the early Christians than the Alexamenos graffito found in Rome. It depicts the body of a man with the head of a donkey on a cross (presumably Jesus), while a man below raises his hand in worship. Crude Greek letters etched in stone read, “Alexamenos worships his god.” 

Enduring in Weakness

Today, Christians are once again beginning to taste a small measure of the cup of shame that we drink in association with Jesus. How can we, like those early Christians, learn to endure? By rediscovering one simple truth—we were meant to thrive in weakness. We have become so addicted to the luxury of strong institutions, strong cultural influence, and strong political power that we have forgotten and neglected the power of the cross. 

Paul latches on to this concept in 2 Corinthians 12. Since he could powerfully boast in the extraordinary experience of a heavenly vision, God crippled him with weakness.

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, 
a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me,
to keep me from becoming conceited. 

This “thorn in the flesh” could have been a physical ailment or perhaps direct Satanic opposition. We’re not sure. What we do know is God sent it to humble Paul. And, like most of us would respond, Paul prayed for its removal.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 

Paul was not wrong for seeking the Lord in this way. But God had work to do in Paul that he could not otherwise accomplish unless Paul was weak. So God left the thorn.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

What Paul learned, and what we need to grasp as Christians in the 21st century, is the truth that God’s power is perfected in our weakness. We probably wouldn’t say this out loud, but we often imply by our words and actions that a good church is rich, self-sufficient, ecstatic, and strong.

But Paul is telling us God delights to use humble, poor, needy, downcast, and weak people in his plan. Our weakness presents us with an opportunity to make much of Christ, but our strength prevents us from making much of Christ. Which is why Paul concludes,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Advancing in Weakness

What we need today is not a strong church, but a weak one. To advance the gospel in this world, the church must make much of Jesus Christ through our weakness. How can we make much of Jesus when we never need him? How can we make much of Jesus when we refuse the paradox of the power of the cross? The world will continue striving for power, seeking to cover up its weakness with fancy façades that vanish like grass in midsummer’s heat. But it cannot be that way for the church. In Christ, when we are weak, then we are strong.

~CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 17

In an effort to emphasize the season of Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating it all through the month of November. Earlier I explained my 21 Days of Giving Thanks challenge (which you can read about here). Today let’s give thanks for the gift of the Bible.

Day 17 – Give Thanks for Reading God’s Word in Your Own Language

The English speaking world enjoys a wealth of Bible translations unlike that of any other time in church history. Today millions of Americans attended church and clearly understood the words on the page in front of them, not because they are Greek or Hebrew scholars, but because God has gifted the modern church with people serious about Bible translation. Obtaining a copy of God’s Word in your language is as simple as clicking a button to read the Bible online or downloading a free app on your phone. If you want a copy for yourself, you can have it.

Beyond that, we enjoy what has been called “an embarrassment of riches” when it comes to Bible study resources. Scores of competent authors have made their materials free online, besides the volumes and volumes of careful works available for purchase through a myriad of publishers. We, more than any other people in the history of the church, have no excuse for being ignorant of God’s Word.

The reason we enjoy such a wealth of knowledge about God’s Word is simple. Hundreds of years ago men like John Hus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and others dedicated their entire lives, and in some cases died, to preserve and translate the Word of God. They wanted every person to have the opportunity to read the Bible in their own language. Today we enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Challenge: Thank God for being able to read the Bible in your own language. Take time to research the life story of one Bible translator in church history.

CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 16

In an effort to emphasize the season of Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating it all through the month of November. Earlier I explained my 21 Days of Giving Thanks challenge (which you can read about here). Today let’s give thanks for one more aspect of government.

Day 16 – Give Thanks for thed Executive Branch of the Government

As I write this, I realize one of the most divisive topics in our nation may be the role and character of the President of the United States of America. Now, I do think we may need a little history lesson if we think this is a problem unique to our generation. Politics have always been divisive, and particularly the personality of the the man behind the desk in the Oval Office.

But think of this. During the reign of Nero, a pagan Roman emporer who used the heads of Christians as torches for his dinner parties, Peter wrote this to his fellow believers,

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
~1 Peter 2:17

Talk about a radical, turn-the-world-upsidedown kind of mentality. I think God puts before us some of the most extreme examples we can comprehend so that his intentions become crystal clear. There’s no exegetical loophole here. The meaning of the text is plain. If this is how Christians should respond to a tyrannical, maniacal Roman emporer, how much more should we honor our elected officials?

You may be pumped about Trump. You may be sickened by him. But, for every Christian, we ought to give thanks for the opportunity to elect and pray for both our president, vice-president, and their accompanying cabinet. What better way to show honor than to publically pray for them with thanksgiving?

Challenge: Thank God for members of the executive branch of the government by name at dinner tonight. Pray for their salvation and testimony.

CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 1

Walk into about every major retail store this week, and you will find Christmas decorations galore. Why? $$$. Simply put, Christmas sells better than Thanksgiving. But I’d like to make an argument for Thanksgiving first, then Christmas. I’m not going to enter into the “Is it OK to listen to Christmas music yet?” debate because it’s totally preferential. I mean, some people like to listen to Christmas music all year long. And we should be thankful all year long, too. But I think there IS an argument to be made for emphasizing certain holidays within certain periods of time.

As a Christian, I find a lot to celebrate about at Thanksgiving. We are actually commanded to be thankful several times in Scripture, and thankfulness is presented as the cure to much of our spiritual sickness (See Colossians 3:15 and Philippians 4:4-7).

But the only way we’re going to really benefit from Thanksgiving is if we keep it in our mind’s eye for a consistent amount of time. The only way it will impact our children is if we consistently make a big deal about being thankful over an extended period of time. That’s why I think that November should primarily be about Thanksgiving, and December should primarily be about Christmas. We’re losing a lot in our secular moment, and the entire season of Thanksgiving is not the least of them.

So for the next 21 days leading up to Thanksgiving I am going to post 21 reasons for giving thanks. Along with those 21 reasons I am going to issue a challenge. Will you join me in 21 days of giving thanks?

Day 1 – Give Thanks for the Gospel

As I have already written, the salvation we have in Christ makes us new creatures who have many reasons for giving thanks. We don’t have to blaze past Thanksgiving on to Black Friday after our turkey, parades, and football, because we recognize there are so many other reasons for why we can be thankful.

Challenge: Take time to thank Jesus for the gospel and it’s impact on your life. Then commit to the “21 Days of Giving Thanks” challenge.

CP