Pocketing, Cookie Jarring, and Jesus
Pocketing, Cookie Jarring, and Jesus

Pocketing and cookie jarring. To paraphrase a line from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” One thing is for sure: neither phrase means what I thought they meant!

Both terms are now used to describe dating trends.

Pocketing occurs when the relationship seems as if it’s progressing, but your partner has not introduced you to family or long-term friends. They’re enjoying the fun relationship, but they don’t see a future with you. In the words of the owner of a matchmaking service, “Why get friends and family involved?”

Cookie jarring occurs when the person you’re dating keeps you as a back-up, while they’re pursuing a serious relationship with someone else. They consider it to be a practical back-up plan “just in case.” Sort of like keeping the cookie jar full in case you experience a snack-attack.

So who are you pocketing and who’s in your cookie jar?

I’m not talking about someone you might be dating. (And no, I’m not dating!)

I am talking about your relationship with Jesus.

How many professing Christians keep Jesus in our “pocket”? We hesitate to be open about our beliefs because friends and family wouldn’t understand. Even worse, there might be open hostility. The result is a compartmentalized life, keeping Jesus separate from other areas.

Or how many professing Christians treat Jesus like a cookie jar: dipping our hand in when we have a need. The rest of the time, we go merrily on our way pursuing people, interests, and activities that have little to do with a life committed to being a Christ-follower.

Commitment.

It’s a term used in describing relationships with other people and with Jesus Christ. Are we committed Christians or Christians in name only? Is Christ Lord of our whole life or do we limit His reign to certain “pockets”? Do we only seek God’s hand when we need something, or do we pursue His heart?

I’ve been studying and teaching from the book of Acts recently. And I’ve been impressed by the difference between the early disciples of Christ and many of us today. In Acts 4, Peter and John were imprisoned for their faith, yet afterward they prayed, “Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29 NIV). They did not pray for safety, they prayed for boldness!

A short time later, these same men are jailed and flogged for proclaiming Christ again, yet they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41 NIV). Can I say the same thing?

If I’m honest, there are times when I’m less like Peter and John and more like someone who keeps Christ in a pocket or a cookie jar. Times when I hesitate to proclaim Jesus Christ because I don’t want to be that person—the one people avoid because she’s a religious fanatic. Times when I pursue things that are convenient, comfortable, and safe, rather than speaking up about the One who people need even if they don’t realize it.

Then I think about persecuted Christians today. In places such as China, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere Christians are imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. These Christians understand Peter and John. What they do not understand are the people who are pocketing and cookie jarring the Savior.

Every Christ-follower has the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives boldness when needed to proclaim Jesus Christ. Let’s not keep Him in a cookie jar.


 
Everyone Gets to be God …Except God
Everyone gets to be God except God

I’m confused.

I understand atheists who say there is no God. I don’t agree with them. But if they choose to hold a position contrary to what the Bible says, they’re free to do so.

I understand Muslims who say Allah is god and Mohammed is his prophet. Again, I don’t agree with them. Still, if they choose to hold a position contrary to what the Bible says, they’re also free to do so.

And I understand Jewish believers who say the promised Messiah has not yet come the first time. Once again, I don’t agree with them, given the mountain of evidence found in their Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the fulfilled prophecy recorded in the New Testament. But if they choose not to believe what their own Bible says, that’s their choice.

What I don’t understand is when a professing Christian seminary denigrates the Christian faith by equating the creation with the Creator, and still claims to be Christian.

Did you miss it last week?

Prayers to Plants

Union Theological Seminary in New York City recently held an event in which seminary students prayed and confessed the sins of humanity…to plants. Yes, you read that right. They prayed to plants.

Think I’m making this up or perhaps exaggerating? Here’s the announcement on their official Twitter account:

“Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”

When that announcement caused a backlash, the Administration dug in even deeper, defending the chapel service in a series of additional tweets.

I began by saying I’m confused. But a more accurate statement would be that my heart is breaking over their confusion.

I get it. Overall, humanity has not been a good steward of the creation that was entrusted to us. We bear the guilt and shame of such irresponsibility. But the shame is in our failure to obey the Creator, not His creation.

Still, there’s a bigger issue here than a rogue seminary. It’s the issue of letting God be God. These days it seems anyone or anything can be worshipped as God except for the God of the Bible.

Everyone Gets to be God Except God

Want to be your own god? Go right ahead. Believe in Allah? Have at it. Want to believe God is not separate from creation, aka pantheism, or as someone has said, “God is everything and everything is God”? You’ve got lots of company.

But dare to claim God the Father redeemed humanity through God the Son, Jesus Christ, and then applied this salvation by indwelling Christ-followers with God the Holy Spirit. Such a statement is vilified as bigoted, narrow-minded, and uneducated.

Everyone gets to be God except God.

  • We can confess our sins to plants, but not to God.
  • Morality is fine, as long as we’re the ones who define it, instead of God.
  • Science is the altar at which humanity worships…until science itself becomes inconvenient:

> Ultrasounds reveal the baby in the womb, so don’t look.

> Biology reveals two genders: male and female, so let’s dismiss the evidence of our own eyes.

The bottom line? The only god we want to worship is ourselves. And once again everyone gets to be God except God.

It Was Predicted

Ironically, the very Bible dismissed by our culture predicted this would happen.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”
~ Romans 1:21-22

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” ~ Romans 1:25 NIV

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
~ II Timothy 4:3 NIV

How sad that these things have come. And how sad that those who chase these pursuits fail to recognize their ultimate end. Stephen Covey once said, “We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”

Does it break your heart to hear these things? Are you shedding tears at the folly that will have eternal consequences? Don’t rejoice that such people are facing the torment of eternal separation from their Creator. Instead, pray for softened hearts. Plead for eyes to be opened. And always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have, doing it with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15).

Regardless of what the world does, in your own life will you let God be God?


 
Is It a Conviction or a Preference?
Convictions and Preferences

I’m a person of strong opinions. It’s a rare occasion when I don’t have an opinion on a subject.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering about the art of disagreement. Without meaning to, I’ve come up against passions that run high and emotions that run deep. The subjects cover everything from the national debt to exercise preferences to application of Scripture. While I understand the strong feelings—I have them myself—I don’t understand the hostility that targets and denigrates anyone who believes differently.

A few examples…

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post describing my observations about yoga. Do I have strong feelings about it? Yes, I do. However, what surprised me were the comments that went far beyond thoughtful agreement or disagreement (which I welcome). Many comments attacked those in the opposite “camp.” I found it necessary to delete some because of their uncontrolled vitriol. By the way, the hostility came from both sides—Christian and non.

On another note, friends, acquaintances, and strangers have been posting scathing denunciations of Republicans or Democrats, depending on which side of the aisle they identify with. Hyperbole abounds in an effort to portray the opposing party as unintelligent, elitist, or communist. And those are some of the more civil terms!

Finally, I had a conversation with a young lady who disagreed with something I taught from Scripture. The position I hold is one supported by many well-respected Christian denominations. The position she holds is held by many well-respected Christian denominations. Unfortunately, rather than agree to disagree, she gave vent to vehement indignation at what she pronounced to be “false teaching” simply because she did not have the same view. I should add this was not a matter of interpretation, but simply a matter of application.

These three experiences cause me to wonder: have we lost the ability to disagree without attacking those who hold an opposing view? These days disagreements quickly deteriorate into ad hominem arguments, where the person is targeted instead of the position they hold.

Convictions and Preferences

I am not saying we should compromise our convictions. But perhaps the issue is that we don’t understand the difference between a conviction and a preference. A conviction, according to Webster’s Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary, is “a fixed belief.” A preference is “the choice of one thing or person over another.” A conviction is something we would die for. A preference is not. A conviction is something we would stake our reputation on. A preference is not.

Before we engage with others on everything from politics to shampoo brands, perhaps we should spend some time—and prayer—determining our convictions and our preferences…and deciding which is which. And most importantly, listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say to us about both.

Then we have a series of choices to make.

We need to choose our motive. When we respond to those who disagree with us, are we doing so out of anger, self-righteousness, or love for others caught in error?

We also need to choose our venues. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A social media venue such as Facebook is not the place for Christians to unleash a torrent of negative comments about non-believers, and then expect to be a witness to our unbelieving friends! Come to think of it, Christians shouldn’t be doing that anywhere!

Finally, we need to choose our words. Some words are more emotionally-charged than others, igniting fires and leaving charred remains in their path. Certainly not what we want to do if our goal is to persuade others to our views.

The art of disagreement does not require compromising our convictions. It does not even entail parking our preferences. It does involve respecting those who disagree with us. Who knows? Someday, they may even be won over to our way of thinking…or we may be won over to theirs!

Your turn:
How might distinguishing between preferences and convictions help you better handle disagreements?


 
After 9/11…or any Tragedy: Where was God?
Where was God on September 11?

This week we commemorated a horrific event in our nation’s history. Social media feeds once again overflowed with posts and photos from September 11, 2001—a day that (please excuse the cliché) will live in infamy.

Whether it’s 9/11 or another tragedy, personal or national, responses tend to move to two extremes: we either run to God or run away from Him.

We saw it 18 years ago. Some people asked “Where was God?” almost derisively. As if the tragedy was proof God did not exist. Meanwhile, others recounted how they had a strong sense that God was intimately present, helping them through the worst day of their life.

For a time during and after 9/11, there was a surge in spirituality. Talking about God was suddenly more acceptable in mixed company. Houses of worship were packed as people sought comfort in the midst of confusion. Displaying a spiritual perspective was not just accepted, it was admired and applauded. For a while it was even okay—barely—to include the name of Jesus in conversations, as long as you didn’t make any exclusive claims about Him.

But spirituality and Christianity are not the same thing. Spirituality accepts that there is another world—a world we cannot see. That spiritual world contains many ways to god…and many gods. However, the biblical belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior is an exclusive belief that says Jesus is the only way.

In fact, Jesus said this about Himself. “I am the way, the truth…” (John 14:6 – emphasis added). Not one way among many. Not one truth among many. For those who disagree, they are not disagreeing with us, they’re disagreeing with Jesus’ own words.

So it’s not a surprise that the surge in spirituality has dissipated over the past 18 years. After all, feel-good spirituality offers nothing of substance. It’s often a composite of beliefs chosen from a wide spectrum of faiths, cobbled together with nothing more than personal preferences.

And once again, Jesus is left outside our culture. A culture desperate for answers to the meaning of life, yet stubbornly running away from the Giver of Life.

Personal preferences make a poor foundation for beliefs about eternity. For your preferences will be different from mine, and mine will be different from the next person. And we can’t all be right.

Christians are told it’s okay to believe what you want, but only if you acknowledge that Jesus is not the only way. Problem is, if we acknowledge that, then we’re no longer followers of Christ. We would become followers of yet another belief system comprised of empty promises. A belief system led by a god of our own making.

So how can we justify a belief in a sovereign God who allows tragedies such as 9/11 to occur? Perhaps a better question to ask is, why does God get blamed for all the bad things that happen, but those same people fail to give Him credit for the good that occurs?

Or why does our culture demand total freedom to do what we want, when we want it, and in the next breath, demand to know why God doesn’t intervene and stop all evil from occurring?

Why do tragedies keep coming? It boils down to the reality that this is a broken world and all of us are broken people in need of a Savior. And it helps me to remember that in light of eternity, our troubles are temporary. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

This world—on its best day or on its worst day—is not all there is. But this life does give us opportunities in the midst of tragedy. For when people ask, “Where is God?”, we can be the vessels He uses to display His grace and kindness. We can be the ones to meet a need in Jesus’ name. And we can love in a way that gives others a taste of the love their heavenly Father has for them. A love that was willing to provide the way—the only way—to restoration, healing, and wholeness.

The darkness of a broken world is the backdrop which allows God’s light and love to shine most brightly. Don’t blame God for tragedies. Be His hands and feet to love people in the midst of their suffering. Give them the answer to their question:

Where was God in the tragedy?
He was right here all along.


 
Next Page »