Articles written by PurposeCity which feature Christian insight framed within the popular culture & current events.

Amelia Earhart

What The New Amelia Earhart Can Teach Us About Being A Christian

William Shakespeare posed an interesting question once when he wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” I have often wondered if a name truly speaks volumes about who a person is. Those of you who have kids, perhaps you remember picking out a specific name for your baby because of its meaning. Or, perhaps, you recall not choosing certain names because of who that name was associated with in your past. We place such importance on names in our society, but what role do they play in our day-to-day lives?

As we explore the topic, I wonder if you have heard of the rather fascinating story making it’s rounds amongst internet circles – it’s one that bridges history with the present and it all revolves around the story of a young fearless woman with the very unique name: Amelia Earhart. The historical Amelia Earhart was first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and, today, her name is remembered for the legacy that she left behind which inspires woman to achieve greatness – whatever that greatness may be. However in 1937, as Amelia was bravely attempting to fly around the globe, she never completed her mission as she disappeared,  never again to be found. In fact, that very tragedy is still considered a mystery to this very day. Now, over seventy-five years later, another woman wants to fly the same route and essentially finish Amelia’s original dream. The catch? This new young traveler is also named Amelia (Rose) Earhart… but shares no DNA relationship to the first pilot. Amelia Rose will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft if she completes the flight plan of her role-model’s quest. She explained, “By recreating and symbolically completing Amelia Mary Earhart’s flight around the world, I hope to develop an even deeper connection to my namesake and also encourage the world to pursue their own adventures. Amelia believed that, ‘adventure is worthwhile in itself’ and it is that type of attitude that spurs us to seek the unknown, push our limits and fly outside the lines.” Therefore, truly, a name contains within it the potential to evoke emotion or even inspire average people to do great things.

Amelia Rose was inspired to fly because of her name and I wonder that if as Christians, have we generically labeled ourselves without truly being inspired to  fly outside the lines for the name of Christ? The name Christian means to be ‘of Christ’ and this means that there  is much expected of us when we say we are a Christian. We are, in effect, telling those around us that we are not only connected to Christ, but that we are of the same nature. It should be no surprise to us then that we are often called hypocrites by people far from God as we continually fall short to very definition of our name. Yet, the truth is, we aren’t defining ourselves by one mere act of bravery, such as Amelia is by flying around the world. Rather, we are labeling ourselves after a perfect man, in all His characteristics. It’s no wonder we are called ‘flawed’ so often! Yet, this is no excuse to sour His precious name. Like Shakespeare concluded, a rose is sweet regardless of what you call it and a true Christ follower displays His character despite the label. So, the question begs to be asked, are we living up to the name God has given us as His children? Are we following in Jesus’ footsteps, continuing to pursue the metaphorical flight plans that He wants us to finish? Are we seeking out the adventure He has for us? Are we honoring His name when we tell others that we are a Christian?

I have come to find that there is a lot that goes into a name and while we do come up short, as Apostle Paul also concluded in scripture, this does not mean that we give up. We are carrying the torch, leaving a remarkable legacy as we join our dying flesh with God’s sovereignty. We become a new creature, given a spotless name and a new start. We are Christians, not because we are good, but because we are His. Therefore, we must begin to make a conscious effort to give Christ’s name the honor it deserves, representing it well at all times. Paul encourages the new Ephesian Christians, who were once Gentiles like us,

“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We must remember that our name is tied to a new person, no longer bound by our former sinful ways, but rather evolved from corruptness to holiness because of God’s righteousness. This is the beauty of a name and the legacy that goes with it. While we may never fly across the globe and proudly boast that we have a heritage of adventure embedded in our name like that of Amelia Earhart, I would argue that we have something far greater and extremely newsworthy. We are Christians. We date back to the most remarkable time in history, when a perfect man asked a few average men to follow Him. Through this lineage, we are made into true followers and “Christians” – being of the very nature of God. How fascinating of a story is that? We bridge the history of one spotless man with the present and it all revolves around the very unique name we all share: Christian.

Porn

Porn

Porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how God has brought me healing and restoration in ways I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the notion from 1 Corinthians 12, that God’s power is perfected in my weakness and how His grace is sufficient for me, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how I’ve been able to help others through this affliction because of my own experiences, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the eight years and counting of freedom I have enjoyed from this sin, but that doesn’t give me back the five years I lost before that.

In an age of endless excuses and increased syncretism, where almost any form of sexual behavior has become permissible, honestly dealing with the ruinous effects of sexual sin has never been more important. As a pastor (a vocation I took up several years after having been set free from my own struggles with pornography), I have counseled dozens of people out of addiction to pornographic content and have experienced first-hand the damage that is done to marriages, relationships, and even personal emotional health as a result.  There is real danger and there are serious consequences to being involved with pornography, and pretending otherwise only leads to misery or worse. Matthew 6:22-23 of the New Living Translation says this:

“Your eye is the lamp that provides light for your body.  When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.  But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness.  And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Thankfully, it seems some small parts of the world are starting to catch on to this as well.  In an announcement made by Google two weeks ago, the internet giant will take significant steps in limiting the advertising of pornographic content on its search engine.  Changes that have been in the works since March of this year, and thus, Google ads will no longer be accepted that are sexually explicit, nor will ads be able to link to pornographic websites.

This is an amazing leap forward for a company that has been setting the standard for internet practices for years, and it is particularly important considering the number of lives negatively impacted by the porn industry.  For more on this significant change, you can see Google’s letter to its account holders here.

While limiting access is a good start, more must be done if porn is an area you personally struggle with.  And, if porn is currently ruining your life, here are the things I did, and that you must do, to get free:

Recognize the severity of the porn addiction.

My captivity to internet pornography was extended, in large part, because I fed myself the lie that since “everybody did it,” it must not be that bad.  Believe me, whether you realize it today or ten years from now, it is that bad.  It will destroy your relationships, it will destroy your self-image, and porn will keep you from having a fulfilled life.

Repent and ask for God’s help.

Sexuality is a deeply internal issue for every person, therefore it can only really be dealt with at an internal level through the healing and restoration of the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.  Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.”  Get God involved right now by asking for His forgiveness, healing, and guidance.

Recruit an accountability partner.

The journey to freedom is long and difficult – you cannot do it alone.  In my personal recovery from pornography, God brought specific people into my life with whom I was able to be completely honest regarding my sins and struggles.  They allowed to ask me the tough questions that kept me moving in the right direction.  Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”

Recover intentionally.

You will need a guide and some tools to help you on your way, and one of the best resources out there for working through these issues is the free 60-day online recovery class found at settingcaptivesfree.com.  It’s the course I used eight years ago, and it’s the course I still use today when coaching others to find health and healing from the ruin of pornography and sexual sin.  If you need some additional tools, XXXChurch has some wonderful resources as well.

Porn addiction is something many put off until tomorrow. However, it’s something where you need to put a line in the sand and begin your recovery today. I hope you might consider using some of the tools mentioned here and even consider signing up this very minute on either of the sites mentioned, starting your journey to freedom from porn here and now.

China

Why it’s Easier to Follow Jesus in China than it is in the United States

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a focus on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider this: On Sunday morning we went to Church in Beijing. This Church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees outside, yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service the place was packed, while in most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started singing  the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. The people there were either legitimate seekers, deeply interested in finding out about Jesus, or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

I then had the opportunity to speak with the pastor and received an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the Church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects, or even programs intended to serve the needy, are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the Church can’t do that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no Church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that Churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the Church is packed and growing if it can’t setup programs or ministries for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things themselves. And guess what? They are doing it. Without fancy programs, events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens, you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need, you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it hard to follow Jesus in China? Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to do Church there, but it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing that can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no Church programs to do ministry, I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the Church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly with a passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do Church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

Peacemakers

Blessed are the Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

In a time of revolution and upheaval, and following possibly the most violent century on record, it seems almost laughable that there could possibly be any real hope of bringing peace into this world. Yet Jesus seems to think that there are peacemakers and that they have some special relationship with God. So what is it that these peacemakers do and why such a special relationship with God?

The first thing we need to come to grips with is our understanding of peace. The definition we commonly accept, the absence of war, is woefully lacking in depth and has little to no relationship to the Biblical understanding of peace. We have become so accustomed to wars, both global and local, that we have accepted the absence of bullets flying and rockets falling as somehow constituting peace.  By such a definition the blessed peacemakers would be those who get the bullets and rockets to stop.

When I was a child and through my early adult years, the United States and the Soviet Union were not shooting at each other. Yet there was no peace. We called that time, The Cold War. Nobody really felt that we were at peace. During elementary school we had regular drills on what to do in case of nuclear attack. Our neighbors actually built a bomb shelter in their back yard. It was not a time of peace.

The most commonly known biblical word for peace is the Hebrew word shalom. It means far more that just the absence of bullets and rockets. When you greet someone with shalom you are pronouncing that you pray their world is one filled with the joys, blessings, and contentment that can only come with a right relationship with God. True peace is about healthy relationships of openness, trust, and love

The ultimate blessing of Shalom is when you are at true peace with God. This is not a concept that is readily considered in our world. Most people seem to assume that since they are not in a fighting war with God that they must be at peace with God.  After all, God would never be mad with us would He? Isn’t the idea of an angry God an ancient superstition born out of ignorance? Not according to the Bible – because of our sin we are literally at war with God. We fight against the reign of God in our lives. We worship anything but God. We act as if things are fine because we are not standing on the mountaintop shaking our fist at God and He is not hurling lightning bolts at us from the heavens. Yet the Bible says that:

“since we have been justified though faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:27

Prior to coming to faith in Christ we are not at peace with God. We were still God’s enemies. Yet out of His love for us, while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us so that we can have true peace, peace with God as our Father.

So how does this fit with the blessed peacemakers of The Beatitudes? If you have peace with God you have something that you should be sharing with others. You become and ambassador for Christ. Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God as reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”

So the peacemakers are those who are giving their all to see that people are reconciled to God. Why are they called sons of God? Because they are following in the footsteps of the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was given the ultimate ministry of peacemaking on the cross. There is nothing more important that you can do for someone than to help them find ultimate peace with God through Christ.  That doesn’t mean that efforts to stop the bullets and rockets are waisted. They are extremely important. But we should never settle for the lack of such things as being true peace. We humans are so very prone to accepting something that falls short of God’s best design for us. We accept the good and fail to experience the great.

If you have been reconciled to Jesus, then you need to be a peacemaker and give yourself to the ministry of reconciling others to Him. If you have not been reconciled with God, I implore you to do so. You will never have ultimate peace in your life until you do.

Evangelism

Evangelism Today

I played a lot of baseball as a kid.  I didn’t do any other sports because I’m not terribly big or fast.  I was more of an artsy, musical, drama, book guy growing up, but I loved baseball, and I still do.  Because I lacked athleticism, I wasn’t great, but I did well enough to play for a while as an average hitter and infielder.

There’s something about batting that kept me coming back to baseball.  Every time I would step into the batter’s box to face a pitcher, there was possibility: the possibility of striking out, walking, getting a hit (or getting hit), or possibly belting that elusive home run.  This may come as no surprise, but I struck out a lot and never hit a home run.  Still, I kept standing in at home plate and took my cuts with the hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the swing that sent the ball over the fence.

In my ministry role as an Evangelism Director I am often asked what exactly that means.  On one hand, if you’re familiar with the word “evangelism” at all, your experience with it may only extend as far as the awkward television evangelists whose programs beg incessantly for money while they act out some form of healing ministry.  You’re likely skeptical that they are sincere about what they’re selling.

On the other hand, evangelism may be something you have encountered in your experiences as a Christian as an uncomfortable but obligatory element of Christianity that you would rather not think about.  You feel that evangelism is too “in-your-face”, or that it’s part of a period in the history of Christianity that no longer makes sense to today’s culture and way of life.

On still another hand (in this scenario, you have three hands), you’re of the opinion that evangelism is better done with actions rather than words; that people will respond to the way you “live out your faith” and be drawn to Christianity through your example.  People, after all, don’t care about what we have to say if we don’t live lives consistent with the teachings of Jesus, right?

So why do I do evangelism as a full-time job?  I’m not on TV (you’re welcome, audiences of the world).  I talk with people, strangers and friends alike, about their faith journeys, though sometimes it can be an uncomfortable topic for conversation.  I try to “live out my faith”, but I also talk a lot about it with people in the hope that they might experience the love God has for them.

There’s that word again: hope.  As a baseball player I had hope that I might one day hit a home run, and what I learned from playing that game is that while you have only a slight chance of hitting a long-ball, you have no chance if you never step up to the plate.  If you don’t play because you’re afraid of striking out, you’ll never know the joy of hitting a home run.

Sharing the good news about Jesus with others and the relationship I have with God through my faith in Him has certainly seen me strike out a fair amount, but I have also experienced the absolute elation that comes from praying with someone that started their walk with Jesus as His reborn disciple for the first time.  I would gladly strike out a thousand times or more to see that one home run.

Over the next several weeks I’ll share some of the experiences that have helped me share the gospel with others. in order to participate in the ways God transforms lives. I do this with the hope that you will be encouraged to do the same.

Note: the baseball metaphor is not unique to evangelism literature.  What I shared is 100% true of my personal life story, but there are plenty of books that also employ that same image; notably among them “The Sacrament of Evangelism” by Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie, which I highly recommend. 

Ten Commandments

The Ultimate To-Do List: The Ten Commandments

We make lists, as adults, in attempts to divide and conquer all of life’s demands. We hope that a list will help us remember what really needs to get done versus what we could do if we had extra time. We make lists for the week, the month, the year and we even make lists that we call ‘bucket lists’ to accomplish before we leave this earth. Our time is divided and hopefully properly executed by accomplishing our lists. However, when the list is complete, what do we do? We make yet another list, of course!

I have a love/hate relationship with lists. I see their value, but as a free-spirited type I can’t deny that a list cripples the ability to live in a state of pure creativity. Here’s a common look at a list that I would make on my day off of ‘things to do’:

  1. Email work
  2. Return uncomfortable shoes
  3. Grocery shop for the week (don’t forget to pick up cheesecake ingredients)
  4. Pick up dry cleaning
  5. Schedule check-up for the puppy
  6. Send baby gift at post office
  7. Schedule a dentist appointment
  8. Send order for work  t-shirts
  9. Write an article
  10. Find a wedding gift

Lists are necessary, clearly, but also simply a way to organize inevitable items that might otherwise be forgotten. As I think about creating lists, I often ponder who started the concept of writing out priorities? Surely this person knew the value of being accountable. While, I don’t think of Jesus as a list kind of guy….1. Find 12 disciples 2. Heal some people 3. Tell some parables….there can be no doubt that Jesus understood the importance of getting things done as He knew His time on earth was short.

Likewise, God gave us one very important list that often unfortunately falls by the waste side. I am referring to the most important list of rules that we could ever embrace and follow: The Ten Commandments. So often we have generalized sin that perhaps if it doesn’t fall under a specific rule-breaking list, we can pass it off as a simple moment of weakness. However, this is not how I have come to see it. When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, God knew mankind’s limitations. By this time, He had watched us constantly struggle with obedience in the form of rules and guidelines to live by. Yet God showed mercy even though clearly we proved that our sinful nature would mean that we would continue to struggle with sin regardless of the number of rules we had been given.

Still, I would like to point out the danger in not identifying what commandments we are breaking. Sin is sin and while I have heard that excused given many times, have we unknowingly used this generalization to excuse it? When was the last time you said, “Lord, I repent, I am aware that I broke your third commandment and I will not allow my words to take your name in vain… again.” It seems a bizarre statement, but what ownership shows is understanding. God, in all sovereign power and wisdom, was able to categorize and label the sins we might easily succumb to into a fairly concise list:

1: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
2: ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image….(items worshiped instead of God)’
3: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.’
4: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’
5: ‘Honor your father and your mother.’
6: ‘You shall not murder.’
7: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
8: ‘You shall not steal.’
9: ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’
10: ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…..(items).’

As I re-read through the list, it almost seemed too good to be true. Does all sin occur because one of these commandments was broken? Surely, the answer is ‘yes’ but I’d like to think that sin is so much more complicated. The enemy would love for us to see sin is this way: a huge Mount Everest type of obstacle that we could never climb or overcome. Yet, sin occurs because one of these very important rules on the ultimate list given by God Himself was not adhered to.

As I think back on this week and the things that I have done which have been sins in my own life, I can see the roots of commandments 2, 4, and 10 all being broken.  I encourage you to truly study each one of these commandments.  How do they impact your life in this modern day world? How can we honor the Sabbath when Sunday simply has become about going to church and then getting more things done, off our own list, before Monday starts again? What is stealing? We know we aren’t to take a piece of clothing from a store without purchasing it, but how else do we rob others of what is rightfully theirs? The reality is we often don’t take enough time to dissect these important rules and apply them to our overcomplicated lives. Therefore, we see sin as thousands of little things that we mess up on. Truly, we have forgotten to look back at the basics that God designed to help us withstand sin and avoid the temptation that leads to our own undoing.

As I began this article, I stated that we make lists, as adults, in attempts to divide and conquer all of life’s demands. I think God understood that we would do this and maybe He even hard-wired us with the ability to reason in this way. What if we used the Ten Commandments as a list that allowed us to divide and conquer sin? In the Old Testament, the Jewish race was accustomed to many rules, lists that God put into place, for His people to adhere to. However, knowing that we might never be able to apply all of the guidelines given by God, God created one perfect and ultimate list. If this list was followed and obeyed, we would live in a manner that produced both joy and peace in our lives.

May we, as Christians, take the time to re-introduce this important list into our lives: The Ten Commandments. For me, regardless if my thousands of to do lists get done or stay a little incomplete, my prayer is that the list given by God is always accomplished one day at a time.