Real Christian Life–And Why Americans Are Missing It


Synchronicity is a funny thing.

Been wanting to write this post for a few days, but put it off. Then, on a “lark,” I listened to the podcast of Phil Vischer (of Veggie Tales fame). Having never heard the podcast before, I hoped it might nonetheless prove enlightening, especially since it talks about contemporary issues in the Church. And hey, so do I.  😉

Phil and cohosts Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani discussed a Hell House, the Christianized version of a haunted house, and how kits are now available to help churches use this “evangelistic tool.” Jethani notes that when we see the Gospel presented in Acts and Paul’s outline in 1 Corinthians 15, the apostles “fail” to mention hell or heaven, nor is sin discussed in the majority of presentations, yet what we preach today would focus on all three. Why is our presentation so unlike that of the apostles?

That in itself is a loaded question, but then Jethani hits my issue.

A speaker from Gospel for Asia came to my church Sunday. I support that organization (see the sidebar) because it’s doing a great work getting native missionaries to remote areas in Asia untouched by the Gospel. The numbers the speaker quoted regarding how many are coming to Christ in Asia were staggeringly large. And yet, all the while this man spoke, I kept wondering how it is that America never sees anything like that kind of explosive growth despite having so many “native” missionaries. How is it that we can’t preach the Gospel in a way that resonates with lost Americans?

The podcast clip below starts as Jethani and Taylor discuss what is not working with our Gospel presentation.

Jethani references the late Dallas Willard’s Vision, Intention, and Means concept to explain how Americans Christians are overloaded with means for growing in Jesus. The problem is that we lack vision for who Jesus is and subsequently have made pale substitutions of practical desires.


If we Christians in America do not have a clear vision of who Jesus is, then we cannot communicate that vision to anyone else. As a result, if people already have a means for achieving personal desires, they won’t consider Jesus at all.

And this is the problem we find ourselves in.

Worse, Christians who default to seeing Jesus solely as a means for achieving personal desires (even the desire of heaven) will be unable to communicate the Gospel to people because that means of achieving those desires may not be as effective as the means chosen by that lost person. In short, we set ourselves up for having to be seen as a greater success in life than that lost person or else our “gospel” will fail. I’ve written about this before, but Jethani puts it all into the proper “lack of vision of Jesus” framework.

If the Church can’t communicate a real vision for Jesus and downplay this mentality of Jesus as desire-granter, then we will never understand what the Christian life is genuinely about.

Note that I did not say that Jesus never grants people’s desires. But any desire outside of Jesus as our unequaled primary desire is going to distort and weaken the Gospel message.

The American Church has got to stop with all the self-help and personal fulfillment junk and get back to raising up Jesus and focusing on relationship with Him. Nothing else matters.

Experience and the Authority of Scripture


A Facebook conversation yesterday discussed the problem of experiences in the Christian life and how those experiences must be made to conform to Scriptural authority. In other words, Scripture must determine our understanding of experiences.

Now I’m going to write something controversial: That previous sentence is not entirely accurate.

Certainly, Scripture must be a bedrock for understanding experiences, but there’s a weakness inherent in that fact: Us. Because we are human, our understanding is not always complete. While we may think we understand the depths of a Scriptural injunction, it may only be through experience that we can understand it more completely. And in understanding it more completely, our understanding may flip 180 degrees.

An example of how one apostle got his understanding of Scripture altered by experience:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
—Acts 10:9-20 ESV

'Peter's Vision' by Doug JaquesPeter knew the Scriptures and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then he experienced this vision.

Notice how Peter answers, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” He was responding using the Scriptures as he understood them and practiced them.

Notice too how God makes it clear that there is a deeper meaning to the Scriptures that Peter must understand. God uses an experience to alter and expand Peter’s understanding.

This led to a problem:

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
—Acts 11:1-3 ESV

The circumcision party had the same understanding of the Scriptures that Peter had. They accused Peter based on that understanding.

Peter explained his experience of the vision and replied:

And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
—Acts 11:11-17 ESV

Peter experienced a vision.

Peter experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to Him.

Peter experienced that same Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles.

Peter had his understanding of the Scriptures altered by those experiences.

And so did others:

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
—Acts 11:18 ESV

Sometimes, experience expands our understanding of the Scriptures and alters everything.

Anyone who has had a loved one die will tell you the experience of death alters their understanding of the Scriptures. In fact, it is almost impossible for it not to.

Anyone who has been taught the Bible has had an experience in that very act of teaching and learning that will alter understanding. Raise your hand if you were instructed in a Scriptural truth that altered how you understood it. Does everyone have a hand up? You should.

Every day, our experiences modify our understanding of  the Scriptures. And sometimes those modifications flip everything.

And while those flips may be the work of God in our lives to deepen our understanding of Him and this wild life we live, sometimes the flips aren’t of God. Sometimes, we go off the path.

This is why we must also learn to live by the Spirit.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
—1 Corinthians 2:7-14 ESV

If we live by the Spirit with the Scriptures as our counsel, we will not fall into error. Indeed, our experiences will only serve to help us grow deeper in both.



Between the silence of the mountains
And the crashing of the sea
There lies a land I once lived in
And she’s waiting there for me
But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul

–Excerpt from “Question” by The Moody Blues


In searching for some factoid last week, I stumbled into a piece about The Moody Blues and their top songs, one of which is “Question” (shown in the excellent video above).

I always liked that song. The plaintiveness of the question that erupts from the heart of the singer resonates.

Many people are looking at life right now and asking how it is we are where we are. Beyond the questions that afflict us all comes that one individual query, the one that haunts a lot of us who scout our personal situations and ask what happened to that place of refuge and hope from long ago, that “land that I once knew.”

I turn 50 in a few weeks, and I guess that’s good enough time as any to get introspective. Now more than ever, I run into fellow travelers paralyzed by the search for the land they once knew, for someone to change their lives, for some miracle to happen that will forever alter the inevitability of the road they find themselves on, the road that winds through the grey mists of morning that lead into forgetfulness and loss.

How is it that some people seem to find their mission and fulfill it, while other people look and look and yet the road never makes itself clear?

How is it that some people can clearly see where they have come from and where they are going, yet they never quite get to their destination?

How is it that some people find the opposition to their entire journey so strong that it never truly begins?

Where the trouble for me begins is that I know a lot of Christians who are stuck in these No Man’s Land locations. For whatever reason, they’ve been sidelined. All those things they hoped to do now seem less likely than ever. The vision that lit up their early lives now flickers, a cooling ember inside a broken heart. You can see that cool nostalgia in their eyes and hear the tremor in their voices when they tell their stories, especially when they reflect on what might have been.

Some wonder how it was that they had a yearning for foreign missions, yet every opportunity to do those missions blew up or met with seemingly pointless resistance.

Some wanted nothing more than to work with young people, yet the vicissitudes of life kept pulling them away, and now they no longer understand youth.

Some wanted to change the world for Christ, yet they got drawn into the embrace of the American Dream and saw their youth and enthusiasm sucked dry by it.

And some reflect on it all and wonder if they are the ones who put their hands to the plow but then looked back. And they wonder if there is any redemption for that very human failing, a second chance, a ticket back to that land they once knew, where they could start again and do it all right this time.

I think there are a lot of people who found that Someone who changed their life. And yet the finding somehow didn’t shield them from broken hopes and dreams, especially when those hopes and dreams were to be all they could be for that Someone.

There is no joy being caught in that time of discernment yet unable to tell the difference between the dead and the sleeping.  When the road we take from here seems obscured. I don’t know what to say to people when I see them struggling to find how to move on when there appears to be no place to move to. I hope that whatever words come out of my mouth have some of God’s life in them, but I don’t know myself how to answer the questions of how one finds himself here, because I’m not so sure of my own location.

At this point in my life, I wonder about systems and how people end up mired in them. Government, institutional religion, personal expectations, other people’s expectations– they seem to conspire to cloud rather than clarify. And the “land that I once knew” seems farther off than ever.

What do you do when you tried to do everything right by God and yet it led to this far off place that feels so alien and removed from where you think you should be?

I wish I had an answer to that question. I wonder if it lies back in that land we once lived in, but I don’t know how we get back there.


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