What Is Cultural Christianity?


I heard a pastor on the radio talk about cultural Christianity, but I thought his answer was fairly incomplete. Basically he said that in the US many years ago most people knew about Jesus, and a lot of people were saved, even people you thought maybe you could share the gospel with.

Well, that was only partly right, I think. I think Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus explained cultural Christianity more correctly.

Growing up as a Muslim and as a second generation American, Nabeel understood Christianity more from what he learned at home than he did from any personal encounter with Christians.

Eastern teachers have taught the Muslims that the West is Christian, that its culture is promiscuous, and that the people oppose Islam… I remember pointing out to [my parents] that the people dressed provocatively on television might not be Christian, and their response was, “What do you mean? Don’t they call themselves ‘Christian’? Don’t you see them wearing crosses?” If I argued that some of them may be Christian in name only and might not even believe in God, they responded that this simply meant they were Christians who don’t believe in God. They did not categorize religion with belief but with cultural identity. (pp 80-81, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus)

Those who are culturally Christian do things that Christians do such as celebrate Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving. They might even go to church from time to time. They might pray at meals, like the Reagan family does in the TV program Blue Bloods. They might wear crosses and even send their children to a parochial school. These are traditions they keep because they’ve been raised in tradition, but they have no personal understanding or belief in Jesus and His saving power over sin. Their “Christianity” is only culturally deep. It doesn’t reach their heart or change their life.

The radio pastor is an evangelist and I respect him a lot, but he was talking about cultural Christianity as if those who have the Christian tradition were in a better place than people who have no familiarity with who Jesus is.

I think the opposite is true. People who think they know about Jesus, who picture Him perpetually as a baby in a manger or as a bloody figure on a cross, don’t understand the gospel. But they think they do. So they don’t have a grasp of the fact that they need to listen to someone who teaches what the Bible really says.

Many cultural Christians actually deny Christ and turn their back on Him. Oh, I’ve tried that, they’ll say, and it doesn’t work.

Doesn’t work? What did they think a relationship with God was supposed to “do for them”? They are behaving like consumers. They went out shopping for religion, bought the one that seemed to promise the most, then found it wanting.

Christianity isn’t like that, but cultural Christianity is.

That’s the problem. Too many people, and not just Muslims, but atheists, too, think they know what Christianity is when they only have a nodding acquaintance with cultural Christianity. I like to refer to cultural Christianity as pretend Christianity, though the latter term also includes false teachers and cults and “progressives” who say they believe, but who deny Jesus in one way or another.

Christianity has become a kind of catch-all term and it breaks my heart that one aspect of it is culture that is permissive, greedy, immoral. Those things have nothing to do with God’s holiness and goodness and righteousness. It’s as Nabeel said: a great travesty that Muslims—and I would not be surprised if other people groups made the same mistake—associate Christianity with the American culture they see on TV.

The thing is, I think we in the Church need to make an effort to “come out from among them.” We need to be different, not by being weird, but by being more like Christ. No one should be surprised to learn that someone is a Christian. By our good works, by our speech, by our love, people should recognize that we not only have been with Jesus but that He lives in us.

FYI, you can pre-order Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, 3rd edition, from now until Aug. 20 and receive some bonus material at the website set up for Nabeel, who died of cancer a year or so ago.

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Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Salt


Table_salt_with_salt_shaker_V1
I’m pretty sure I could spend all day, without success, trying to write an intriguing first line to make people want to read what I’ve written about salt. It’s just not a “sexy” topic.

But I came across something in Scripture that I think is cool, so bear with me.

In Exodus Moses has gone up the mountain to meet with God. There he receives the Ten Commandments but also instructions about the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, the priestly garments, and the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons before they begin their service.

Among all those instructions is a recipe for the incense that they were to burn before God–a recipe that was not to be used for any other purpose. Tucked between the list of ingredients and the warning not to use it like a common perfume was this:

With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. (Ex. 30:35 – emphasis mine)

Salted. And it’s not grouped with the ingredients but with the quality of the incense—the pure and holy mix that would be placed before God day in and day out.

I’m no chemist and have no idea what effect putting salt in with the other ingredients would cause. Would it act as a preservative? Would it enhance their natural aroma? Would it kill off bacteria?

In context, I lean toward the latter, but the fact is we don’t really know. Later, in Leviticus, we read that God commanded salt to be included with every grain offering, and there it is tied with the covenant of God (see Lev 2:13).

Which brings me to the take-away nugget from this verse in Exodus. Thousands of years after Moses met with God, Jesus calls us—His disciples—the salt of the earth. What did Jesus mean by this? He was speaking to a Jewish crowd who most likely knew about the place of salt in worship. According to Strong’s Lexicon salt as a symbol in an agreement was, and is still, common:

Salt is a symbol of lasting concord, because it protects food from putrefaction and preserves it unchanged. Accordingly, in the solemn ratification of compacts, the orientals were, and are to this day, accustomed to partake of salt together

Perhaps the best understanding, then, especially considering the context and what Jesus next said about us being light, is that, as salt, presented before God day after day, pure and holy, we are to stand as a witness to His faithfulness. We are the sign to the world that God has changed the course of things. Destined to face judgment, Man can now be reconciled with God, and we are the proof this is so.

Unless …

Salt loses its saltiness.

SaltInWaterSolutionLiquidReminding you again that I’m no chemist, I’ll suggest the one way I know that salt can become unsalty. It can be diluted, particularly with liquid. I suppose heat or cold might also break apart the basic elements and the salt would cease being salt, but I don’t know.

Anyway, that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is saying. Apparently the salt He referred to was still salt, just not salty. Without the quality that characterizes it, salt is worthless, Jesus said (see Matt. 5:13). Salt that isn’t salty could no longer be detected by those looking for evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Some years ago, author and speaker Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a book about lifestyle evangelism entitled Out of the Saltshaker & into the World (IVP). The premise is that Christians should “let our lives provide the witness to our faith.”

It’s a great concept . . . unless we’ve lost our saltiness.

This post originally appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on July 8, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Unprofessional Prophet


Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professionals, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news — Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news — the way of escape from judgment and the hope of an eternal heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to do the work of evangelism.

This post first appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on May 2, 2016 at 6:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians And Proselytizing


HollywoodStreetPreachingFrom what I’ve gleaned, people who don’t recognize Jesus Christ as sent by God to provide a way of escape from a bleak spiritual condition don’t like to be the object of proselytizing. In short, they don’t like someone trying to bring them over to the Christian’s way of thinking.

And yet, proselytizing seems to be a mandate from God for His followers. For instance, Jesus stated before He returned to Heaven

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19)

Luke records Jesus’s final comments to His disciples also, and they included either a prophecy or a command:

and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8b)

I think most Bible scholars interpret Acts 1:8 in light of Matt. 28:19.

Of course, Christians also have the example of those first disciples who preached Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, starting right there in Jerusalem, followed very soon by those believers sending out “evangels” throughout the Roman empire and beyond. The point and purpose was to convert or persuade others to the Way.

I have to wonder if Greeks and Romans and Samaritans were any more eager to be converted than are Americans or Britons or Australians today. The New Testament record would seem to indicate they were not. How many places were Paul and his supporters driven from by disbelieving Jews or by idol-worshiping Greeks? And yet, though he was thrown in prison, beaten and left for dead, in threat of his life, he did not stop proselytizing.

Today we’re given . . . if not rules, advice about how we ought, or more correctly, ought not proselytize. First off, we aren’t supposed to—not on street corners or door to door or in fiction or in the workplace. Second, we are to let our lives do the talking. Apparently people are supposed to see Christ in us without us saying a single word.

I’m not sure the Apostle Paul would follow those strictures. I’m not sure Jesus would say, Well done, you ambassadors for my kingdom, to those limiting themselves along those lines.

Today I think some of our problem is that many people think they know what Christianity is all about already, and they don’t want to listen to a sales pitch. I get that. I don’t want to listen to a sales pitch either, which is why the new type of pop-up ads on the Internet irritate me.

Here’s where I think Christians don’t understand how to be witnesses, how to be ambassadors. We think making disciples is delivering a message, period. Sort of like recording a phone message ending with, Press one if you’d like us to mail you more information, press two if you’d like to speak to someone about this message. That’s not what the apostles did. They engaged people personally by answering questions, participating in dialogue, and preaching to crowds who came for healing.

Today the popular term is “incarnational.” The apostles were with the people they wanted to convert. Their preaching wasn’t dump and run. They stayed until they were driven out of town; even then they wrote letters to those who believed, and returned whenever possible.

Most of us don’t want to be driven out of town. Or told at work to stop with the Jesus talk. Or to be pigeon-holed as a novelist who preaches.

Regarding the latter, we’re told often that readers want a story, not a sermon. And that’s true. Nevertheless, there’s no shame in a writer deciding to put truth in his stories in hopes that someone may read it and convert—that when confronted with Truth, they may start to question and examine their beliefs and consider the claims of the Christian worldview.

Such was the experience of the Samaritan woman who was going about her daily chores when she bumped into Jesus. “There’s such a thing as living water? I want some of that.” And the conversation led to her conversion and to that of many from her town.

The bottom line as I see it is this: Christians are to be about kingdom business as ambassadors. We are to represent God before those who do not know Him. That’s our goal and that’s our priority. As we accomplish this, we may make some tents to pay our way, and we may read some inscriptions on altars to unknown gods in order to speak knowledgeably to those we wish to reach.

We may travel to other places and we may stay at home in order to reach across the street. We may host an ice cream party and we may approach someone God brings into our path who “just happens” to have questions about spiritual things.

A friend recently told me a story she heard from some other source—perhaps R. C. Sproul. This individual was driving home from a speaking engagement. At some point he felt convicted that he hadn’t told anyone about Christ. He determined he’d talk to the next person he saw. A short way up the road, he spotted a burly man hitchhiking. Not that one, he thought, and kept driving. But he couldn’t get away from the feeling, that yes, that one was the person he was supposed to talk to.

He made a u-turn and picked up the guy, a former Marine. They talked—about this and that and everything except spiritual matters. Finally as they approached their destination, with maybe a mile to go, he felt so convicted that he must talk to this man about Jesus, he started in. His question was simple, a little straightforward, and he was uncomfortable asking. But the Marine sat up straighter. Turns out, he’d been wanting to know about Jesus but didn’t know who to ask. That night before they parted the Marine came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to be a sacrifice because of the lawlessness in the hearts of humans, so that we can stop warring against God.

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Comments (12)  
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Christians In A Non-Christian World


Peter006I know it’s hard for many Christians outside the US to comprehend, but believers here have lived for decades under the illusion that we’re in the majority. With the changes in our culture in the last seven years, and particularly in the last seven weeks, we really cannot deny the truth any more: we are in a post-Christian society and are in the minority.

This realization has caused great concern for many who have held out hope that the US would return to the ideals of our founders—that we would again recognize our Creator who, our Constitution tells us, endowed us all with certain unalienable rights. Barring a great movement of God’s Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of our people, we will not see a shift toward the things of God.

Changes once made are rarely rescinded. I don’t see same-sex marriage being disallowed by the Supreme Court or a Constitutional Amendment enacted returning marriage to its historical definition. Even with the Planned Parenthood scandal, it’s improbable that abortion will ever again be outlawed. And schools are already not allowed to teach creationism as one possible means by which the multiverse came into being.

How, then, will children raised on evolutionary theory as if it were fact, come to faith in a Creator God?

Let’s just say, Christians have our work cut out for us.

But shouldn’t that excite us?

I mean, did we think God put us on earth for a vacation before heading off into eternity? Who do we thing Jesus was talking to when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me”? And who is on the receiving end of the great commission? Aren’t we, believers in Jesus Christ, to be the ones who make disciples?

But in a society of “everyone’s already a Christian,” none of us has to step up boldly and declare our faith.

I was reminded the other day of one of my greatest failures. In sixth grade (I would have been twelve) I attended a school in a rather exclusive part of Santa Barbara, a rather exclusive part of SoCal. Not everyone was rich (we weren’t), but I’m sure a number of my classmates were. Further, I was in a group ear-marked for college. So these kids were bright, hard-working, well-behaved, their parents involved.

I, as a Christian, was trying to figure out what my beliefs had to do with everyday life. The year before I’d made a woeful attempt to be the loving Christian. At that time we lived in an Italian ghetto in downtown Denver. When a new boy came to school and everyone started picking on him, I decided the loving Christian thing was to be nice to him. I hadn’t foreseen two consequences. The new guy took to me like I was his life raft, and my friends started teasing me about him because of it.

In a very un-Christ-like decision, I reversed my original “be nice to him” mode. Surprise, surprise—he didn’t respond so well. Being betrayed was probably harder on him than the original bullying. We ended up at loggerheads which led to fisticuffs. And eventually a trip to the office.

So much for putting into practice Christian principles.

And now I was in California, the exclusive area with well-behaved children. No fighting or cussing or bullying. One day I was riding home on the bus next to one of the sweet girls in my class. She was a pretty girl, too, well liked, and kind, but on that day there was a sadness about her. I don’t remember what it was we were talking about, but I do remember that the conversation opened up so that I could naturally say something about being a Christian or trusting in Jesus, or having faith. And I sat there. Said nothing. Stared out the window. And the moment passed. To say something after that would be forced, awkward.

But, I reasoned, Trudy was probably a Christian already. I mean, she was such a nice girl.

Flash forward another year when we were in junior high—1500 seventh through ninth graders from all over the city, packed into the school. I didn’t have any classes with Trudy, and the first time I saw her on campus I almost didn’t recognize her. She’d made it big with the “in crowd” known for . . . a lack of virtue. I don’t know that we ever spoke again.

But how many times I wished I could go back on that bus and tell Trudy about Jesus Christ who wanted to rescue her from the dominion of darkness, who wanted to be her Redeemer and Friend.

All that to say, the illusion of a Christian world can make believers complacent. It’s a little uncomfortable to talk to people about such a personal thing as their belief in God, and as long as we think (or rationalize), as I did, that they’re probably already Christians, we won’t step out in faith and be the ambassadors God wants us to be. After all, you don’t need to be an ambassador among your own citizens.

Today the illusion is gone. Our neighbors and co-workers look at the world very differently than we do. They believe truth is relative; that humankind evolved from a primordial soup; that there is no god or if he does exist, he’s disinterested or unknowable or weak; that the Bible is full of myth and not authoritative but outdated; that humans have the ultimate say about their own body and their own gender and their own sexuality and whatever else they believe they can or want to control; that “sin” is passe; that humankind is good.

The thing is, our task today to bring the gospel to this foreign culture with their opposing worldview, is not so different from what the apostles faced as they went about making disciples in the first century.

May we step out in faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, as they did, to move the mountain of unbelief that oppresses our neighbors and associates. May we seize the opportunity to be ambassadors for Christ in the non-Christian world in which we live.

Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

The Unprofessional Prophet


The book of Amos in the Old Testament is one of the smaller prophecies. Hence, Amos is considered a minor prophet. In truth, he wasn’t a prophet at all.

Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professional preachers and missionaries and evangelists, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news—Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news—the way of escape from judgment, new life in Christ, and the hope of an eternal, heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to tell the good news.

This post, with some minor edits, first appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (9)  
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Salt


I’m pretty sure I could spend all day, without success, trying to write an intriguing first line to make people want to read what I’ve written about salt. It’s just not a “sexy” topic. But I came across something in Scripture that I think is cool, so bear with me.

I’m reading in Exodus. Moses has gone up the mountain to meet with God. There he receives the Ten Commandments but also instructions about the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, the priestly garments, and the process for consecrating Aaron and his sons before they begin their service.

Among all those instructions is a recipe for the incense that they were to burn before God–a recipe that was not to be used for any other purpose. Tucked between the list of ingredients and the warning not to use it like a common perfume was this:

With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. (Ex. 30:35 – emphasis mine)

Salted. And it’s not grouped with the ingredients but with the quality of the incense—the pure and holy mix that would be placed before God day in and day out.

I’m no chemist and have no idea what effect putting salt in with the other ingredients would cause. Would it act as a preservative? Would it enhance their natural aroma? Would it kill off bacteria?

In context, I lean toward the latter, but the fact is we don’t really know. Later, in Leviticus, we read that God commanded salt to be included with every grain offering, and there it is tied with the covenant of God (see Lev 2:13).

Which brings me to the take-away nugget from this verse in Exodus. Thousands of years after Moses met with God, Jesus calls us–His disciples–the salt of the earth. What did Jesus mean by this? He was speaking to a Jewish crowd who most likely knew about the place of salt in worship. According to Strong’s Lexicon salt as a symbol in an agreement was, and is still, common:

Salt is a symbol of lasting concord, because it protects food from putrefaction and preserves it unchanged. Accordingly, in the solemn ratification of compacts, the orientals were, and are to this day, accustomed to partake of salt together

Perhaps the best understanding, then, especially considering the context and what Jesus next said about us being light, is that, as salt, presented before God day after day, pure and holy, we are to stand as a witness to His faithfulness. We are the sign to the world that God has changed the course of things. Destined to face judgment, Man can now be reconciled with God, and we are the proof this is so.

Unless …

Salt loses its saltiness.

Reminding you again that I’m no chemist, I’ll suggest the one way I know that salt can become unsalty. It can be diluted, particularly with liquid. I suppose heat or cold might also break apart the basic elements and the salt would cease being salt.

That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is saying. Apparently the salt was still salt, just not salty. Without the quality that characterizes it, salt is worthless, Jesus said (see Matt. 5:13). Salt that isn’t salty could no longer be detected by those looking for evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Some years ago, author and speaker Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a book about lifestyle evangelism entitled Out of the Saltshaker & into the World (IVP). The premise is that Christians should “let our lives provide the witness to our faith.”

It’s a great concept . . . unless we’ve lost our saltiness.

Published in: on September 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Unprofessional Prophet


Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professionals, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news — Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news — the way of escape from judgment and the hope of an eternal heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to do the work of evangelism.

Published in: on May 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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