The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Evangelism

Why Am I a Christian?

christianHave you ever thought about why you are a Christian?

I’m not asking if you have thought through a list of apologetical arguments that help demonstrate that your faith is reasonable (even though such arguments have their place).

No. I’m asking if you have thought about how you became a Christian. What happened to you to make you believe? Why did you come to faith? Why are you a believer in Jesus?

Why are you a Christian?

Throughout my life, I have thought about this more than a little and continue to find myself reflecting on it quite often. Why? Because it amazes me! Grace amazes me! And grace is the reason that anyone is a Christian!

I am a Christian because God saved me! Why?

Grace.

I am a Christian because God gave this blind sinner sight! Why?

Grace.

I am a Christian because God raised this dead man to new life in him! Why?

Grace.

I am a Christian because God set this prisoner free! Why?

Grace.

grace_logo_whitebackI am a Christian because of nothing in me! It’s not because I’m smart, or wise, or good looking, or moral, or, or, or, or… It is because God is gracious! I have nothing to boast in except the grace of God through Jesus Christ!

I am a Christian because of grace!

And yet… I think about much more than grace when I reflect on the question, “Why am I a Christian?” I do so because the grace of God comes to us through various means… and I find these means most fascinating. The means through which God works his amazing grace in salvation is his Holy Word…the Gospel! Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ.”

It is through hearing the Gospel that the Holy Spirit of God works to open our eyes of faith, give life to our dead heart, and break the bonds of sin! Yet, we can still trace the means of grace further back… for the Word of the Gospel must be proclaimed to us!

Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”

God wills to save his people through the proclamation of his Word! He works through people to save people! God is the one who saves, but he loves to work redemption and reconciliation through his Word being proclaimed by puny, powerless people like you and me. In this way, it is obvious that he is at work and he gets all the glory and we get the joy!

There are countless examples of this throughout Scripture…just think about a few in the book of Acts alone!

Acts 9: Who saved Saul on the road to Damascus? God did! Yet, God used his servant Ananias to proclaim his Word to Saul!

Acts 10: Who saved Cornelius the centurion? God did! Yet, he commissioned Peter to take the Word of the Gospel to him!

Acts 16: Who saved Lydia, the seller of purple clothes in Philippi? God did! Yet, he used Paul’s proclamation to bring her the truth.

Over and over and over we see that “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb…” (Revelation 7:10) yet, he uses his people as the means by which the glorious gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed!

So when I reflect on why I am a Christian… I don’t just think about God’s grace (even though I know him to be the ultimate reason behind my redemption)… no… I don’t even just think about the Gospel (the Word through which I believed)… I also think about the people who brought the Gospel to me.

Such reflection leads me to see so many faces in my mind. Everyone from pastors, to Sunday School teachers, to friends, to siblings, to my mother and on and on. However, one person stands a head taller (literally and figuratively) than all others in that sea of faithful witnesses.

IMG_8849My Father.

When I think about why I am a Christian… I think about my father. The man who, throughout my entire life, has consistently declared the truth of the Gospel and demonstrated the love of the Gospel.

My father grew up as an orphan. Like… think “little orphan Annie” orphan. “The hard-knock life” is an extreme-understatement when you hear his testimony. He grew up in a state run orphanage in Texas. Yes… places like that really exist. I will not regale the countless stories of his upbringing that still make me weep, but suffice it to say I can easily see how he grew from boyhood into an angry, bitter young man.

During childhood, his only real exposure to “the Gospel” came from a “hell-fire-and-brimstone” church that would “kindly” allow the orphans to sit in the balcony. Needless to say, when he left the children’s home at the age of 21, Christianity was not even on his radar.

It wouldn’t be until he met my mother. Through her family, he would discover what it actually looked like to have a family and, more importantly, he would come to know who Jesus Christ really was and is.

224650_1914834717790_5209740_nStill… he resisted.

It would be several years before God used the consistent witness of my mom to break through the hardness of my father’s heart and save him by grace! I’m sure if you asked my dad why he is a Christian… he would talk about God’s grace through the gospel… and then he’d talk about my mom.

Not many years after becoming a believer in Christ, my father felt called to full-time ministry. Over the span of 35 years, he would faithfully serve three churches. It was during this time that I would be born and grow up… always looking up to this giant of a man (if you don’t know… my dad is 6′ 5″ and I’m still only 6′ 0″).

224001_1914835077799_1283029_nMy father was far from perfect… and who could blame him… he had no example to go on when it came to fatherhood. However, despite his imperfections, my father grew into one incredible dad! How could a man with no father figure, become such a great father himself? As a young boy, I knew that the God whom my father called “Father” must be real and must be good if he could transform my dad into this kind of man.

Throughout my years at home, my father taught me the Gospel, spoke it to me, and demonstrated the love that flows from it over and over. He was not afraid to admit his mistakes, humble himself, and ask for my forgiveness when he needed to do so. He loved me, my siblings, and my mother unconditionally and through many difficult waters (and she did the same).

As far back as I can remember, I’ve watched my dad love other people deeply. I’ve seen him spend countless hours by hospital beds, in homes, comforting those weeping, and even holding those who are dying. I’ve listened to him counsel, pray, weep, rejoice, encourage, preach, teach, and comfort. I’ve watched him give to those who could never repay him as he housed the homeless, fed the unemployed, paid taxes for those in debt, carry addicts through recovery, talk people down from suicide, adopt the elderly as his own family… I’ve seen him walk beside families for decades as they struggled, fell apart, we’re reconciled, and on and on and on.

Even through all this, I’ve watched some people whom he has loved reject him, ridicule him, and spread lies about him at various points throughout his years of ministry. This is perhaps when my father has amazed me most. In any difficult situation, I have never heard him speak ill of those who would do him harm. Even at times when my own anger has flared up on his behalf, he has calmed me down and taught me to forgive, to love, and to suffer in silence… counting suffering itself as a grace from God for his ultimate good and ultimately…for God’s glory.

I have never known another man like my father. I would speak the same words of him which Jesus did of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11 , “…among those born of women there has arisen no one greater…

Needless to say, God used my father to pierce my heart with the truth of the Gospel because he spoke that truth, breathed that truth, and lived according to that truth. He always has… and I believe he always will.

So… why am I a Christian?

393701_10150600247774199_1812445521_nGrace.

Grace coming through the Gospel.

Grace coming through the Gospel declared and demonstrated by my Father.

I am a Christian because God brought the Gospel to me through Tony Haefs.

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We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Noah

I love the Bible.

I love movies.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that when movies and the Bible come together, the combination is, most often, less than stellar. Whether it is due to being produced with a ridiculously low-budget or the narrative being altered beyond the point of recognition… things just never seem to go well when the greatest story ever written attempts to become the greatest story on the silver-screen.

MV5BMjAzMzg0MDA3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzOTYwMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_So, by this point, you are expecting me to denounce Hollywood’s latest attempt at a Bible to film adaptation… Noah. Yet, if that is your expectation, I’m afraid you are reading the wrong blog.

Now, perhaps you think I’m going to defend the film and decry the “overly conservative” people who have been in an uproar all over every form of social media. Again… you’d be wrong.

For several days now I have been watching the back and forth between those who are so upset over the inaccuracies in the film that they literally want to burn the master copy… and those who think that is not only an over reaction, but detrimental to the reputation of the Church. The battle between both sides has left the blog-o-sphere battle ground quite bloody… and this whole time I’ve been constantly thinking…

…we are having the wrong conversation about Noah.

Let’s be honest, do we actually think that Hollywood (or even independent Christian film-makers) will ever translate a story from text to screen in a manner that satisfies every critic? Will they ever be able to get all the details right? No. They couldn’t even if they tried. Further still, we should expect by now that the more mainstream a film, the more it will depart from the Biblical narrative. We should know the Bible is going to viewed as inspiration for a film loosely based on it’s account, instead of being looked at as a screenplay in and of itself. These facts should not shock us.

Also, we know that we cannot stop Hollywood from making films like Noah. No amount of protests, angry blogs, or boycotts will bring the money making movie machine to a halt. In fact, bad press will ultimately only help the box office numbers as no one wants to be left out of seeing this year’s “most controversial film.”

In light of this, I wonder why we pour all of our conversational energy into things we know will not change. Why do we fixate on how inaccurate a film is or how we should boycott it? The primary problem with these conversations is they do not have the power to change anything. I’m interested in conversations that transform and I think that is exactly the boat we are missing as the Noah film sets sail in our theaters (all puns intended).

The beauty (and yes, I meant to use that adjective) of all Bible based films, no matter their inaccuracies, is that they open doors to conversations to which people are typically closed off.

That neighbor who thinks your faith is wack, your family member who avoids everything except surface level conversations, the co-worker who will never accept your invitation to worship with you… all of them are willing to talk about movies they’ve seen. People who would never look at a Bible or listen to anything you have to say after you mention the name Jesus, will sit and discuss Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah over lunch. How are we missing the opportunity to have these conversations?

We are so preoccupied with bashing these kind of films that we cannot see the opportunities they create for us. Take Noah for instance… it would not be difficult within a conversation about this movie to begin talking about the nature of good, evil, and justice. You could easily talk about judgment and salvation… and in no time flat you arrive at the cross and the gospel! That is a conversation that has the potential to transform!

I’m not endorsing the movie (or any movie)… I’m not denouncing the movie. I’m not asking you to see the movie (I will, so that I’m equipped to talk about it). I’m asking all of us to see the opportunity to talk about more than a movie. We have the opportunity to talk about the gospel!

Anytime Hollywood and the Bible collide, I don’t see it as a chance for us to proclaim the bad news of the box office… I see it as a opportunity to proclaim the good news of the Bible… the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

A Shelter from the Storm

I sat at my desk typing frantically. I wanted so badly to finish up the days work and head home…after all…

…it was snowing!

Snow in Alabama! This is not a very regular event, and I wanted to have a fun-filled snow-day with my kiddos like any dad should. I knew that sledding, snow-ball fights, and snow-man construction awaited me at home…and so my fingers put my average “words-per-minute” to shame as they flew across the keyboard.

I would get up every now and then to peer out the window at the growing mass of white. This was going to be a snow to remember.

IMG_8218Then I saw it.

A car had pulled into the our church parking lot and was simply sitting there as traffic backed up on the road with all the motorists trying to get home. I didn’t think much of it, until the next time I peered out the window and the car was still there…then again…and again.

After an hour, I figured I needed to go down and see what was happening. Never-mind actually looking at the weather forecast…ain’t nobody got time for that!

I wanted so badly to pretend the car wasn’t there, hop in my vehicle, and go home to my family. Something told me that if I talked with whoever was in that car I would be opening a can of worms and stuck where I was for a lot longer. Still, I walked up to the car and knocked on the window.

I was met with a smile from a kind lady who told me the road conditions were simply beyond her driving ability and she was waiting for her husband to come pick her up. I offered for her to come and wait in our lobby, secretly hoping she would refuse, and she thanked me…and followed me into our comfortably heated space.

I now found myself stuck, frustrated, and not feeling the least bit hospitable. I went back to my office thinking that if I had to be there I might as well get some work done. I would come down on occasion to see if her ride had arrived only to discover quite the opposite.

IMG_8229More people seeking shelter from the storm were filing into the lobby.

The reality of the situation began to dawn on me as I had conversations with those who found themselves stranded.

Birmingham was shutting down!

The “light-dusting” forecast was a slight miscalculation (I love our meteorologists all the same) and iced streets bring an unprepared southern city to a screeching halt…literally.

I-65, 280, and many other streets looked like a scene out of summer-zombie block buster. Cars littered the landscape, simply abandoned as people sought the basic necessities of life…food and shelter.

For a little while, I continued to throw my personal pity party, lamenting the fun my family was enjoying at home without me. This snow might be a problem for everyone else, but not for me! Home was within walking distance and the only thing standing in my way was all these people in need! I know this may sound heartless, but even I’m a selfish human being with a sinful heart that is all too often content to be self-centered. These people shouldn’t be my problem…none of this was my fault…why should I pay the price to provide shelter for them.

And then in the mid-thought my mind froze and my heart melted because of one thought.

dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossThe Gospel.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8

The storm brought about by my sin should have been no one’s problem but my own. I should have been left alone to freeze amidst my failures, but Jesus emptied himself. He didn’t just shelter me from the storm within the fortress of his righteousness, he took my place out in the cold. The love of God was lavished on me in Christ and I was saved from a storm of my own making.

Suddenly, I found my heart filled up with a vision of the glory of Jesus and pouring itself out in love toward those sheltering within the walls of SVCC.  For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross…and that joy was that we may find our everlasting joy in the glory of God!

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, TO THE GLORY of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:9-11

Now, I wanted to shelter these people for the joy set before me, namely, having the opportunity to point them toward the ultimate shelter of love found in Christ!

IMG_8207Over the next 48 hours we had the pleasure and joy of housing around 25 people at SVCC. I didn’t get to talk with all of them at length, but I was able to share food, laughs, stories with most of them…and many of our conversations centered on the Gospel.

May God open our eyes everyday to the reality that people around us are seeking shelter from the storm of their own sin, shame, guilt, etc.  May we not be so consumed with our own lives that we shut out those seeking refuge. May we invite them into our lives and to safety under the mighty wings of our Lord.

I don’t know what effect those two days will have on the lives of those who found shelter at SVCC, and the effect is ultimately up to the Lord, but my prayer is that God would bring them to find ultimate shelter from every storm in him through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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