What God Asks of the Christian


I think most Christians are overburdened.

busy, frantic, moving peopleBeyond needless guilt and shame that were instead eliminated forever by Christ’s finished work on the cross (“Christian, you are free!”), I think too many of us are crushed under the weight of all the religious work we think we must do—and some religious moralists can’t cease telling us we should be doing.

When you examine the actual lives of Christians in the early Church, little is said about what ordinary Christians actually did. Sure, the apostles seemed to be active and involved in missionary voyages and church management stuff, but for the most part, Joe Christian just went about his daily tasks.

Daily being key.

Jesus showed his disciples to pray thus:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
— Matthew 6:9b-13

What was the bread? Today’s.

Later in that same chapter, Jesus adds this in verse 34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”

What is the focus on? Today.

He also said this in Luke 9:23:

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

When is that cross taking-up? Daily.

The more I study the Scriptures and live them out in this life, the more I am struck by the truth that what God asks of us is to live in today. Leave tomorrow to tomorrow.

The immediacy of the Christian life is an attention to this moment, this present, this person before us, this situation now, and these resources we have in hand. By forcing Christians to live in the present moment, God becomes more real, and our dependence less on what we have stored up and more on what He can do through us, despite our lack of preparedness.

This is not to say that Christians should never prepare. Only that our preparedness be rooted in the now, in the daily putting of one foot in front of another based on where God is leading us at this present time, even if we cannot see the desitnation. That is the essence of walking by faith, not by sight.

What we can always do in the moment:

  • Pray
  • Love others
  • Have a good word at the ready
  • Use our spiritual gifts
  • Use our natural gifts
  • Commune with the Lord
  • Be faithful

You and I can always do those things. And we should always be ready to do them.

But beyond that, we can say little about where we will go and what we will do.

In many ways, what I have learned of God is that He expects nothing more of me than the use of the natural and spiritual gifts with which He has given me, used in conjunction with the resources currently before me, for the purposes He has put before me in this moment. When viewed that way, the life of the Christian gains an immediacy that keeps us rooted in the present and the now God has placed us within. So much of the weight of doing great things for the Kingdom falls by the wayside in light of the immediacy of what is before me at this second.

The cashier at the grocery store who seems harried—can we speak calm joy into her life in this present moment?

The elderly women who can’t wrestle the bag of cat food into her car—can we do it for her?

The youngster who is crying—can we listen to her story?

The door left open on that person’s car—can we close it?

The customer service rep who deals with hotheads all day—can we be the one respite of peace in his day?

The angry arguers—can we be the mediator of their battle?

Can we?

And what about our own families? In what ways are we serving them in the present? In the little things. In what way is doing our job well a help to them? Or attending to their needs in the now?

I find that so many of us Christians are so geared to do ginormous things for God that all the little things right in front of us go ignored and forgotten. And yet that is sometimes the only thing asked of us.

Amid all this doing is grace. God is full of grace for us, his broken, flawed, clueless people. He is always giving us opportunities, and sometimes we get them done right, and other times we blunder on. He loves us nonetheless.

Christian, I believe that what God asks of us is simply to live in the here and now. The day’s own trouble is sufficient for the day. Do what you can in the moment with what you have been given, and do not second guess or lament missed opportunities. You are dust. That dust can do anything at all is miracle in itself.

Rest in God. Lay down all your troubles. Do what you can, when you can, with what you have, and leave the rest to God. Know grace. Be at peace.

9 Reasons Why Today’s Books on Christian Living Are Terrible


Bad, terrible, lousy, shallow booksI was sent an advance reader’s copy of a Christian book set to debut next week. Part-way through and I just want to toss it.

Anymore, I read little contemporary Christian nonfiction. Though I graduated from a Christian college with a degree in Christian Education (now called, trendily enough, Spiritual Transformation), I find most books in that field and in general Christian Living written today border on the insufferable. As a result, it’s all I can do to make it past the first few pages with my sanity intact.

Here’s why:

1. Paid, professional pastors who write books about how normal people should live are NOT normal people. Anymore, the disconnect just seems more and more glaring. When paid, professional pastors who have gestated for decades in the safe womb of institutional Christian ministry write about how the everyday working man should live his life, those pastors have no idea what the world is like outside their artificial womb. And that naiveté actually seems to be getting more pervasive not less.

2. Really, I don’t care about all their credentials either. Read a book on Christian living from 100 years ago and I can promise you the author did not spend page after page talking about his credentials or casually dropping on the page all the wonderful things he has done that should convince you he’s an expert worthy of following. Authors of 100 years ago let the Holy Spirit establish credibility through the spiritually astute words on the page.

3. Drawing on illustrations that apply to only 0.01% of people won’t help anyone. So you’re writing a book about drawing closer to Jesus, but every illustration comes out of your life in a Christian commune. That may be great if the point of the book is how to start a Christian commune, but for everyone else who doesn’t live in a Christian commune, well…

4. Do I really need to have sectarianism and branding/marketing ever before me? I don’t recall Christian books from yesteryear constantly shilling for the author’s brand of Christianity. Books back then seemed to focus on Jesus more and less on this denomination or that. And even if an author had a clear denominational background, it wasn’t so pervasive on the page. Today, in cases where the author started a nondenominational, unaffiliated church, the constant on-page marketing campaign for the church doesn’t help either. Same goes for conferences or parachurch ministries.

5. To the shallow, all things are shallow, including the book they just wrote on how to be deep. Maybe it’s me, but today’s books on Christian living seem obvious. I know I’m not a babe in Christ anymore, but too many of those books ramble with stories about how the author did such and such, and they never get around to pressing in deeper. I’m always startled by how much more reasoned and filled with rare wisdom older Christian books are. Maybe Christians of 200 years ago were just deeper people and knew the Lord more intimately.

6. Christian publishers give too many book deals to callow dudes who haven’t lived. Yes, I am getting older, but I find it wrong that so many authors of bestselling books on Christian living are young hotshots running a trendy megachurch everyone is trying to emulate. Give me someone with some life experience instead. A guy who has buried a quarter of his congregation has a lot more to say about life than some 35-year-old dude who wears bowling shirts, can quote The Big Lebowski, and loves to drop in casual conversation what microbrews he drinks.

7. And why is it that all the young dudes always quote each other? Sometimes it seems as if Christianity started 30 years ago, if many of today’s books are any indication. This is especially true of books that discuss ministry models. It’s as if no one before today did anything worthwhile in the name of Jesus. In addition, a friend noted that the only way to make money blogging is to write a blog about making money blogging, and I wonder if that circular focus afflicts too many Christian nonfiction titles today. The way to sell Christian books on a topic is to get all your buddies who also sell Christian books on that topic to refer to your stuff in their books. The incestuousness of it all bugs me. That’s also a recipe for not only multiplying errors but also for believing too much of your group philosophy’s press.

8. Stop with the constant reference to your other books. If you’re going to publish a new book, don’t spend half of the new book referring to to something you wrote in a previous book that I’ll have to read before I can make sense of what is written in the new book. I get that you need to make a living through your writing. Great. How about achieving that noble goal by writing better books?

9. Where’s Jesus? We know Waldo is hiding amid the crowd, but why must Jesus be reduced to lurking amid the plethora of words in a book on living the Christian life? People are dying for Jesus. They’re not dying to hear an author ramble about his favorite video game and what life lessons can be drawn from playing Master Chief in Halo. I don’t care how big that pastor’s megachurch is or how fast it’s growing. Jesus’ Church is bigger. Tell me and everyone else about Jesus. Christian books from long ago did.

The Christian life deserves better. I wish I could find more of that better in the pages of today’s bestselling books on Christian living.

Reading Between the Lines of Paul’s Letters


'Paul, The Apostle' by Gustave DoréMy son and I have been reading out loud through the New Testament this summer. We’ve tried to read as much as we can of one book in one sitting so that the harmony of the books is maintained. I’m convinced that we too often approach the Bible with a piecemeal mentality that ends up losing the bigger picture. This is especially true of the epistles, which should never be read any way other than in one piece. Reading them this way spotlights the confusion that our over-reliance on chapter and verse markings has created.

While I’ve read through the Bible many times in my life, I’ve never tried to read it both out loud and in the biggest chunks I can manage. That another person is listening as I read makes an additional subtle difference that forces me to be clear in how I pause and phrase the written word. Truly, it makes a difference. Try it.

This time through the New Testament, I’ve focused on most everything BUT the theology. Too often when we read the epistles, we tend to gloss over the credential establishments, the callouts to this person and that, and the real humanity depicted by the writers as they communicate to their readers.

For this post, I want to share a few thoughts from reading through Paul as if I were a long-ago church leader reading to an assembly of new believers who were going against the flow of the age.

A baker’s dozen thoughts on the Pauline epistles:

  1. We tend to see Paul as a dry, driven, exacting, Type A personality, but his emotional life is more rich on these pages than we give him credit for. This shows us that Christians need to be in touch with their emotional lives and bring emotion to our assemblies. Ours is not an arid, intellectual faith, though a quick perusal of Christian blogs and websites often communicates it as such. There is much to grieve—and also much to be joyful over. You can sense Paul’s melancholy and father-heart when he talks about his love for these young churches. His imprisonment weighs on him, and you can feel the sadness in the distance it creates. His writings show how important a solid network of Christian confidants and supporters is to our emotional well-being.
  2. Paul faced enormous opposition, often from people who seemed to be genuine Christians but were slightly off. (Sounds like today, right?) That so much of Paul’s writings consists of establishing his credentials is both illuminating and sad. This Christian life is more fragile than we imagine, and it is easy to go off the rails from simple carelessness regarding truth.
  3. To a modern age we think of as truly connected, Paul’s writings hammer the importance of Christian community, the need for loving, caring community that functions with peace, order, and utter dependence on God for direction. (Are our churches living that way?)
  4. Church hopping isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. Witness the number of companions to Paul who fade in and out of his life, many starting off well but finishing badly.
  5. As much as we look at Paul’s letters as theological treatises, the majority of their text, both opening and closing, is dedicated to connecting with specific people and establishing what Paul is all about.
  6. Personal holiness, perseverance, and a sober understanding of the age are themes in nearly every one of Paul’s books. So is the reality that Christianity is not another religion. The Christian faith cannot be equated with other streams of religious thought because it is not a dry—and ultimately empty—system like those others. Instead, Christianity is a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, based in complete reconciliation, and awash in grace for living each day.
  7. The Christian is to be the most average of people but one who lives an extraordinary, eternal life. Humility, gratefulness, and discipline are hallmarks of that life.
  8. Sins of a sexual nature and those that afflict male-female relationships are extraordinarily prevalent and a major stumbling block for many, but Christ can forgive, redeem, and restore.
  9. Paul’s letters repeatedly note that many people will wash out of the faith, and while we can have confidence in God’s preservation, the number of people who get sidetracked and seduced by the world’s offerings is larger and more common than we understand.
  10. The Christian life is NOT a set of rules and can never be. People who teach a set of rules are false teachers.
  11. Grace in our present age is largely misunderstand and rarely dispensed to the extent that Paul writes that it should be.
  12. Most of what Paul writes about isn’t rarefied, theological ponderings but practical Christian living. He points out how faith translates into real life and how practical our beliefs must be.
  13. A believer not living by the Holy Spirit is not living. The Christian life is less scripted than the religious life of the day, which is what makes it so exciting.

Those are a few thoughts on the writings of Paul from an overarching perspective. I hope they resonated with you. Have a blessed day and week.