Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What are Christians Really Concerned About

We arrived in Haiti last night, January 15, 2013, to begin  our three year stay here.  More about that later, but now, Chapter 8 of "Peace on Earth."  If you have not been following along, Chapters 1-7 appear as earlier posts on this site.  Eventually, hopefully, the whole book will be here, saving you the $8 to buy a copy or the $5 to download an electronic copy from Kindle.  Click here to buy a copy:  

What are Christians Really Concerned About?

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[1] 

Awhile back I asked a group of Christian friends what they are worried about.  One of them (a researcher, perhaps) was worried that my sample was small and was not random.  But it is what it is and I would like to mention some of the responses here.

Are we busy enough?
A major group of responses was about whether we are doing enough.  And that is a hard one for me as well.   Even if we can quote the scriptures about it, like Ephesians 2:8-10, we still have a hard time putting them into action.  Paul told the Ephesians in four different ways in verse 8 that we are not responsible for our salvation.  1) It is a gift; 2) it is not something we do ourselves; 3) it is not the result of anything we do; 4) we have no room to boast about it.   But then he said we were created for good works.  So he took the burden off with one hand and put it back on with the other.  What are we supposed to do with that?

Here’s what I’ve figured out about it.  God wants us to fully understand that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation.  No matter how good we are, we are never good enough.  Therefore there is no room for pride, and when we present the good news of salvation to those around us, we are telling them of a gift we have received, not of something we have accomplished. 

 Jesus wants all of us.  He wants our heart, soul, mind, and strength.[2]  Can we ever give Him enough? No.  Does it make sense that we are concerned about not giving him enough?  Yes.  Can we take an afternoon off to play golf, go fishing, or read a book without feeling guilty for not knocking on doors, preaching on the street corner, or helping at the food pantry?   I'm going to say a qualified, "Yes, we can take some time to ourselves."  Let’s look at the life of our example and teacher.

We don’t know much about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life.  We do know that after the brief view we are given of the 12 year old boy Jesus, he grew in favor with men.[3]  That indicates at least that he was not a boring preacher who was always serious about everything.
During the first miracle that John recorded, Jesus was at a wedding feast[4] and he attended several other feasts.[5]  He invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner,[6]  he was chastised for eating and drinking with sinners,[7] and he often used feasts in his illustrations.[8]   But at the parties that found their way into the record, he did something significant with regard to his ministry.  For example we would assume that he went to Zacchaeus' house to continue the discussion about the Spirit and baptism. 

If we truly adopt Bill Hybels' "Just Walk Across the Room" strategy[9], we can go anywhere there are other people and assume that the Spirit will use us to help him move someone a little closer to the Lord that day.

So what about sitting under a tree or on a beach just thinking, or even choosing not to think?  Or reading a novel?   I really want to justify this one, because I love to be alone some of the time.  I guess I'm technically an introvert because I get my energy more from being alone than from being with others.  But as I searched the scripture I did not have to go far to discover this passage: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[10]  And this one: "Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?"[11]

Most Bible references to people being alone are of negative situations and being alone is a part of the negative situation.  Jesus was alone a lot, but he was usually praying.  And he said: “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. [A negative connotation to being alone.]  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."

The Bible seems to say that we should not strive to be alone.  At least not for the long term or consistently.  God intends for us, with the help of the Spirit, to be a support and a help for others. 

On the other hand, if we are alone, God wants us to know that we are not alone.  God is with us: "For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord."

It is okay to "recharge" from time to time by being alone, but to seek to be alone through most of our lives is a waste of what God has given us.  He intends for us to share with others.

What about Facebook and Twitter and other such means of interacting with people?  If you are truly being interactive and not just spouting out your own thoughts, I would guess that God is okay with that, as long as it is in the context of a holy life.

Similar Worries
Reproduced here are other responses from Christians about what bothers them.  Many of them are serious concerns related to how we represent the church and God to the world around us.  My answer to most of them is "God bless you for thinking about these things, and may his Spirit guide you as you work to improve in the areas you have identified.  Please pray that I may be as serious as you have been in thinking about these things."

My message to you about these concerns is a hope that they will trigger in you a similar look inside your soul, an examination of your motivations, and a resolve to become more like Jesus day by day.[12]

1.  “I worry most often that I am not representing Christ as a positive ambassador that will draw people to him. I am disturbed by my tendency toward legalism instead of love."

2.  “All the things the Lord tells us not to worry about.  Mostly mammon.  The economy, the environment, our health and health care, inflation and interest rates.  For boomers - retirement; mostly stuff related to our own interests and wants.   I would include the decline of morals and religious sentiment. Stagnation in our churches.   Politics and the future of our nation.”

3.  “I have been thinking about your question. I assume (perhaps wrongly) you want the questions we are asking about our lives. In which case mine would be, ”Am I where I am supposed to be or should I have already moved on? Should I be taking more initiative in determining what comes next in my life?  Or should I sit back expecting that God will do with me what he wills?”

4.  "Church-wise there is something that disturbs me much. While your question is a good one, I read in several of our magazines the question and answer sections and note that the questions we seem consumed with and I am concerned that they reveal a non-flattering perception of the Lord. I remember the question, Should a teenager with purple hair be allowed to wait on the Lord's Table? The questions that are put forward assume a God that is legalistic, expecting us to jump through a plethora of hoops to receive his blessings, rather than the God described in the Bible who is love and desires that all men be saved.”

5.  "Do I take myself too seriously?  It seems that the more serious we take our selves the less we can understand grace and the absurdity of the world."

6.  "In our materialistic, self-centered society do I look any different?  Am I just "playing" safe church without ever getting drastically, radically, passionately serious about saving souls and doing the hard stuff to make that happen.
What disturbs me is trying to fit God into my world instead of me fitting into His."

7.  "I guess I worry about developing poor health--I think none of us want to be a burden to others [this is probably an age thing].  I think, mainly, I worry about not recognizing opportunities to be of service to others or share with them about our God."

8.  “You asked, 'What are Christians uptight about? What worries us?  Disturbs us?'  There are so many places to start, but I will start with this: Most Christians are uptight with the way the world system has taken over the control of the
universe.  But this does not have to be, because God promised if we would humble ourselves, turn from our sinful ways, He will hear from heaven and will heal our land.  Most Christians do not want to take the time to build a relationship with God to the point that no matter what is going on in his or her life, they know that they are not alone and help is only a prayer a way.  Christians are worried about the economic situation and what will happen to their future.  Again, God promised that he would take care of his children no matter what is going on around us.  Most Christians try to deal with God on a human level and forget that God is spirit and you must worship him in spirit and truth.  As Christians, we are disturbed because we don't get answers to our problems and circumstances right away, so we begin to doubt God and his word.  No matter what happens now or in the future, we must stay true to God and our position as a Christian, we are God's examples to who he really is.  If we fold and give up, some people in the world will never get to know who God is.  Hope I did not go too far off the track of what you were asking for.  :-)"  [Not at all - DMM]

9.  "The worries that we communicate to the world at large are about abortion, gay marriage, evolution, and negative influences on young people (sex, drugs, etc.).  In settings where Christians are sharing their behind-the-scenes worries with each other, I also hear about church growth and - occasionally - Muslims taking over the world.  I'm hoping though that Christians who worry are also concerned about more personal things like sin in their own lives and whether their friends and family are walking with God, but unfortunately, those aren't the ones that are usually expressed."

10.  "I was thinking about this as I fell asleep last night.  I’m not sure if you are doing this by age group, but I would think that matters.  So for the record, I will be 53 in a few weeks.  Here are a few big things that try to bog me down on a daily basis:
a.  We worry about health issues both for ourselves and parents.  Healthcare for aging and dying parents are huge issues for me and my peers.   
b.  Grief and loss.  Doing it and doing it well. 
c.  As Christians, we are confronted with ugly battles.  I think particularly for those of us in any kind of ministry, Satan is working overtime to discourage, threaten, and defeat us. 
d.  I also believe that Satan works overtime on trying to isolate us….he will do anything to destroy relationships especially in the church. 
e.  If you are a member of the church of Christ, then you are constantly aware of the differing opinions about worship.  This wears me out. "

11.  "That the world will end soon and we need to have the sense of urgency to share and live the Gospel message. Another, that Seeking and saving the lost must be the work of the church; its primary work, as it was for Jesus. Another, to restore the New Testament church."

12.  "I've tried very hard to give up worrying.  It's a waste of time and usually the things people worry about don't happen ... something else happens that they didn't even think to worry about.  I don't know that worry is the right word for me.  It's more of a "concern" that I do my best to turn over to God since I have no control of the matter ... but it would be the faithfulness of my children and grandchildren that will ultimately lead them to salvation and keep them in a saved state.  I preface the next statement with the understanding that God is in control and whatever happens in our country, God will ultimately cause good to result.  But the state of our country and the world is worrisome.  If I catch myself worrying (or being concerned) about something, I'll let you know."

13.  "After reading the list….now I am really worried.  I should have mentioned that I worry that I won’t have the energy that I want and need on mission trips!!!"

14  "Some of my concerns are: "Am I doing enough?"; "Will my children be faithful?"; "Am I planting enough 'seeds' that will germinate & grow?".  It is truly difficult to "be anxious for nothing".

[1] Matthew 11:28-30
[2] Luke 10:27
[3] Luke 2:52
[4] John 2:1-11
[5] e.g. Luke 14:1
[6] Luke 19:1-5
[7] Luke 5:30
[8] e.g. Luke 14:7-21
[9] Bill Hybels: "Just Walk Across the Room, Zondervan, 2006
[10] Genesis 2:18
[11] Ecclesiastes 4:11
[12] 2 Corinthians 4:16: 

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