A Faith Worth Dying For

You don’t realize the value of what you have until someone else is willing to die for it.  This is how I feel about my faith in Jesus Christ. 

When I boarded the plane headed for Indonesia by way of Dubai, I was captivated by the joys of travel.  We hadn’t even left the airport and I was already relishing the various languages around me, preparing my palate for different foods, and basking in the bright colors of national wardrobes.  When we landed, my eyes couldn’t take the sites in fast enough as we whizzed by landscapes covered by huge rustic buildings and small shanty homes.  By the time we arrived on the conference site, I had already met participants from South Africa, Serbia, Jamaica, Niger, and Barbados.  I was overwhelmed with everything around me and overjoyed by the fact that it was a love of Jesus that brought us all together.

Yet, as the week progressed, I realized that I was there for more than just an international Christian party.  As an American Christian, God placed me there to remind me of what faith should be.  It wasn’t until I listened to their stories, heard their perspectives and understood their struggles that I realized the deep faith gap between Western Christians and the rest of the world.  I was struck with the reality that I don’t always live like I believe God.

As a Christian living in a religiously free nation where wealth can be easily gained, I admit that I have subtly and slowly subscribed to the notion of the “God of the Gaps.”  I depend on God when there is a gap in my own ability or in the abilities of those around me.  If I can do it or if I can get someone to do it, I rarely depend on God.  Some critics could call this Christian atheism: believing in God, but living as if you don’t.

One night, as I was wrestling with these ideas, Becky Pippert, a world renown speaker on sharing your faith, made the following statement: “The greatest weakness of the Western Church is her lack of dependence upon the Holy Spirit.”  With her words, I felt a deep sorrow, not only because of the state of the church, but because of the state of my own heart.  I recognized in that moment that my greatest desire is to live a life dependent on God through the Holy Spirit; a life that looks like Jesus.

This does not mean that we are called to abandon the gifts that God has given us in good doctors, quality education systems, or well-paying jobs.  But, it does mean that we must constantly deny their power over us in an effort to reaffirm God’s sovereign power over them.  We must live in a mindset that acknowledges that doctors don’t heal, God does.  Jobs don’t provide, God does.  Education doesn’t give wisdom, God does.  While these are tools that God can use, we must learn, by depending on the Holy Spirit, that God is still in control of all things and all things come to us through Him.  While I have been gifted, I cannot fall into the trap of depending on myself more than I depend on God. 

These notions came to clarity while listening to the story of a participant who shared that he was not sure how long he would live after leaving the conference.  He had come from a Muslim country and his conversion would very well cost him his life.  Yet, knowing what was on the line and understanding the risk of coming to the conference, he boldly declared that he was not afraid of dying for Jesus.  He believed so deeply and understood God’s grace so fully that nothing would keep him from following Jesus in this life and into the next.

I stood with the crowd, clapping in standing ovation as tears rolled down my face.  I want to have a faith worth dying for.  I want to be bold in sharing the Gospel.  I want to depend on God as if my life depended on Him.  As my mind whirled through clarifying statements, a song bubbled up in my soul that my grandmother used to sing:

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.

The day we stop singing that song, the day we stop praying that prayer, is the day we loose the core of what it means to follow Jesus.  This is what faith is all about.  Through the stories of my sisters and brothers from around the world, I was reminded that faith is not just about what you gain from following God, but more so about what you’re willing to give up to do so.  Lord, make us Christians in our hearts.

Ever find yourself at a crossroad between your faith and doubting in God?

“Sometimes, I question God. Sometimes, I doubt that God is even there and I feel so bad about it.”

I listened as my well-respected friend in ministry poured out his heart. He was going through a tough time and needed a safe place to share his troubled faith.

Sam was always the one with the answers. He preached every Sunday, taught Bible study every Wednesday and did everything in between. During funerals, he provided strength for grieving families. On numerous occasions, he served as a refuge of God to people who needed the assurance of divine presence. He was and is the “go to” person for anyone who needs a Word from God.

Yet in this moment, away from the traditional sanctity of the altar and the pulpit, Sam confessed that he struggled with doubt. Through tears of pain, he described nights when he considered walking away from his vocation only to wake up realizing that he had too much faith to quit. He felt like he didn’t have enough faith to believe everything, but he had too much faith to believe nothing. He was caught in a quandary between doubt and belief.

When you think about it, we will all find ourselves at the crossroads between doubt and belief when it comes to faith in God. In fact, many people begin their faith journeys at this very intercession. Yet, somewhere along the road, we start believing that doubt has no place in a true relationship with God. We buy in to the notion that once you believe that Jesus died for you, you are supposed to believe everything without an inkling of doubt.

Somewhere along the journey of Christianity, we subject ourselves to always trusting, always believing, never questioning and leaving no room in our lives for doubt. As a result, we become intolerant of those who have questions and shun anyone who expresses doubt.

The story of Thomas, affectionately referred to as “doubting Thomas,” serves as a refreshing reminder of what God does in the face of our doubt. John tells us that Thomas was the one who said, “If I don't see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” (John 20:25, HCSB).

God could have easily put this doubter out of the sacred circle of disciples. He had power to remove Thomas from the story and turn him into a lesson of what happens to those who dare question the Lord. But he didn’t.

Instead of shunning or dismissing the doubting disciple, Jesus embraced him. In fact, Jesus boldly gave Thomas the evidence he was looking for. Rattled with doubt and probably quaking with fear, Thomas had the opportunity to do what none of the other disciples did: he touched the wounds of Jesus. Instead of pushing the doubter away, Jesus drew him in closer.

Doubt can be a doorway to revelation. Our questions can be the foundation for answers we never expected from God. When we bring our doubts to God, His grace will draw us in and allow us to experience the assurance of His presence.

Whatever doubts, fears, or questions you may have, let them drive you closer to God. He is not afraid of your questions and, in fact, He welcomes them. As Jesus did for Thomas and Sam, he will do for you as well by drawing you into His embrace. Don’t be afraid. Doubters are welcome with God.

 

Four tips to help you end 2015 in a good place

The end of 2015 is here. While this time of year can bring great joy, it can also bring great anxiety. For, while the New Year brings new possibilities, it also forces us into the reality that some things will come to an end.

Somehow, perhaps in our childhood, we are taught to despise endings. With every ending comes a hint of sorrow, knowing that what we have grown to accept is about to change. This is true even when the ending is necessary, like the ending of a year. We have been trained to avoid endings at all costs, so much so that we don’t even know how to do them well.

When we don’t know how to end well, we can get stuck in vicious cycles of regret, disappointment, and despair. We regret all that could have been, become disappointed in ourselves for what wasn’t, and begin to despair what is to come.

So, what does a successful ending look like? Here are a few tips that can help you end well:

▪ You can end well when you accept the unavoidable. In short, there’s no use trying to fight against something that you cannot avoid. Whether in the ending of a termed relationship or even death itself, healthy people understand that some endings just have to be.

▪ You can end well when you embrace what was. There is nothing wrong with savoring the joys of the past and remembering the good things that took place in that which must end. Cherish the memories, embrace the positives and go back to them as often as you can.

▪ You can end well when you learn to let it go. Queen Elsa in Frozen knew what she was talking about. Letting go specifically refers to releasing the hold that it has on you and that you had on it. It is the process of opening your hand and heart in total surrender.

▪  You can end well when you anticipate what is to come. When you think about it, every ending is also the beginning of something new. Rather than dwelling on what was, you can focus on what will be. When endings create open spaces, we can anticipate the filling of those spaces with something refreshingly new.

Life is filled with endings and beginnings. Every new day, every new job, and every new relationship requires that we learn how to end well. Jesus understood the importance of this discipline. When it was time for his earthly ministry to end, he told the disciples a parable about the process of sprouting a grain of wheat.

I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message Bible.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.” John 12:24-25

Jesus used the parable about a grain of wheat to describe the process that he would endure. He would die and be buried, but just like a seed, his death and resurrection would produce a harvest that would live in each of us. His life had to end so that resurrection and new life could begin.

Before you despair over what must end, think about what God wants to produce from your ending. Don’t get caught holding onto a seed when you could be enjoying its harvest. Reflect, release, and receive the great things that the Lord has in store for this New Year.

The Rev. Nicole Martin is executive minister at The Park Church.


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/health-family/article49923715.html#storylink=cpy

What powerball reveals about our faith

“Powerball is over a billion dollars. Let’s get tickets. Text me ASAP if you want in.”

I read this text message from a friend at least ten times before I knew how I wanted to respond. Isn’t it wrong for Christians to play the lottery? Would it be okay if I promised to give a tenth of my winnings to the church? Imagine what I could do with all money!

My mind went back to the story in 2013 of the woman in Florida who decided not to go in for the lottery ticket that won her coworkers $83,000 each. “I don’t want to be that person,” I thought to myself. Could I rely on the generosity of my friends if they win?

With a world of questions swirling through my mind, I decided to go the logical route. I decided to check out the odds. With $10 going into this potential venture, I figured I should know exactly what I was getting into.

Odds of winning the Powerball: 1 in 292,201,338.

Odds of being struck by lighting: 1 in 700,000

Odds of being killed by a meteorite: 1 in 250,000

Odds of getting pooped on by a pigeon in New York: 1 in 76,876

As outlandish as some of these instances may sound, the fact remains that someone will always fall into the category of “1.” Someone will always beat the odds in every circumstance, which in the case of the lottery is what adds to the intrigue of the game. You never know if the odds will be for you or against you.

The Bible makes no explicit statements about playing the lottery. We are left to interpret the scriptures for ourselves and determine how we can best glorify God in the choices that we make. But, the lottery does reveal something important about faith.

Every week, against enormous odds, hundreds of thousands of people invest time and money to purchase a lottery ticket in hopes that something good may happen for them. The only reason why one buys a ticket is because of the possibility of a win. At the same time, there are still hundreds of thousands who refuse to put their faith in God through Christ. Perhaps they feel the odds of this kind of belief won’t work in their favor.

The good news for all of us is that God has given us a pathway to hope and wealth that is far more secure than a random drawing. Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (NIV). When you make Jesus the Lord of your life and have faith in the resurrection, the scriptures affirm that you will be saved.

Being saved is like winning the lottery; only one hundred billion times better! By embracing Jesus and what God has done for all of us through him, we experience the joy of forgiveness, the peace of God’s protection, the love of his sacrifice, and the grace of God’s presence. Of all the risky, crazy things we do in life, accepting Jesus and walking in salvation is the very best, most trusted decision we can make.

If you are reading this and you’ve never invested your faith in Jesus, today can be the day that changes everything. Accept the invitation and get connected to a faith community where you can grow in your relationship with God. While you may never win the lottery, Jesus makes it clear that he will be everything that you need.

Here’s the best part: The odds of your faith resulting in eternal wealth are 1 in 1.

The Rev. Nicole Martin is executive minister at The Park Church.


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/religion/article55828685.html#storylink=cpy