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A Good Ambassador

Cromartie
Do you know this man?  I was not aware of him until I read an article regarding his passing. I would have liked to have met him and been able to “intern” to watch how he represented and bridged Christ/Christianity to journalists.
 
What exactly did this man do?  Michael Cromartie was his name.  And he was “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence,” according to Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama. “I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear.  “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life and my faith.  In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”

Scripture tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20). From reading about Mr. Cromartie’s life and work and from the encomium’s from journalists across the political and ideological spectrum, it seems Mr. Cromartie was an excellent ambassador of Christ.  

 
Said one, “Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others. He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
 
If that could be said of me, then I would be much more excited about meeting my Maker because I would be a much better ambassador for Christ.
 
Over the past year as I’ve been on a personal sabbitical, as I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, the lives of those I admire and tried to assess myself against God’s truth, I realize I fall well short of the standard Michael Cromartie set. He ran the race set before him well. What was said of him in terms of how he represented Christ could not be said of me.
 
It is (or should be) every Christian’s goal, upon death and entering the presence of Christ, to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). I believe Michael Cromartie heard those very words on August 28, 2017.
 
My time of introspection has not been easy, nor always pleasant in facing some unwelcome realities about some aspects of my character, personality and actions. Don’t get me wrong, God has also shown me times and areas where “I’ve gotten it right.” But I also see much to improve on as I make my calling sure (2 Peter 1:10).

What I’m most grateful for is that God is making me aware of the areas where I must grow and improve; that He has not abandoned me, but rather I realize that in His lovingkindness, He has been blessing where I don’t deserve, working in circumstances and decisions to bring me to the point of serious Spirit-led self-assessment from which I fervently hope and believe He will make a new path/work for and in me.  I am amazed at His patience and His continued work in me.  He, I believe, through love and discipline is preparing a way that, in the end, I too can hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant….”  What a marvelous God indeed — the He continues to be mindful of me!

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I was in a Target retail store today walking down a main aisle to get to school supplies (looking for a graphing calculator for one of my boys).  As I looked ahead, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping cart stop and begin to eye me.  I could tell she thought I might be a Target employee.  Sure enough, when I was close enough for her to make herself heard, she inquired as to whether I worked at the store (as I was wearing khaki slacks and an orange-red shirt, her thought was understandable).

However, how she phrased her question caught me up short — and has had me thinking ever since.  She asked, “Are you a customer, or are you a real person?”

After confirming with her I was a customer, I began thinking on the latter half of her question — “are you a real person?”   Oh, I’m definitely flesh and blood, but that simply means I’m existing.  In looking for descriptions of a “real person,” I came across words like genuine, authentic, giving, loving and vulnerable.  If those words characterize a “real person” (and I think it certainly encompasses those things), then I sometimes struggle.

I naturally lean toward a “type-A personality,” but I’m also introverted by nature.  The results of such a combination are often stoicism (lack of showing emotion) and introversion.  I can often seem unapproachable, difficult to talk with, interested in people only in terms of how they can contribute to tasks at hand (a commodity).  When emotion does come out, it can often be in the form of impatience and/or frustration.

As I’ve reflected on this, I can think of many times when I’ve not been a “real person,” but rather a brooding, self-absorbed person.  Times when I’ve gotten frustrated and impatient with my wife or boys because they haven’t gotten something done or because they don’t get what I’m trying to explain after they’ve asked me to help them with their homework.  Times when I’ve “withdrawn” rather than drawn close.

I remember a time awhile back when a friend from work and I were talking.  This friend was trying to help me see why sometimes I could be intimidating or thought to be unapproachable.  As she was talking, I remained impassive.  I offered no words or facial expressions/body language.  Exasperated, she said, “See, this is what I’m talking about.  I have no idea what you’re thinking and wonder whether you care at all.”  I wasn’t being a real person.

As I’ve continued to think, the apostle Paul’s words on the fruit of the Spirit keeps coming to my mind:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”  A real person is one who exhibits these characteristics.  Such a person is genuine and values people as people (versus a commodity useful in accomplishing tasks).  Such a person is one who enriches others’ lives simply by how they interact with others – exhibiting the fruit outlined above.

As a Christian, I should be, by-and-large, a real person.  None of us is a perfect real person, but as a Christian, being a real person (defined by the fruit of the Spirit) should be the norm.  Christ says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you can recognize a people by how they act — as you can identify a tree by its fruit.  A good tree (real person) bears good fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, etc).  A bad tree, on the other hand, produces bad fruit (self-centeredness, impatience, anger, indifference, harshness, etc).  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer that elderly woman’s question with, “Yes, I’m a real person.”  I can’t do that in my own strength, but only by walking in and with the Spirit of God.  May I, may we all, do so and be “real people.”

bluto-college

As a young Christian headed to, or in, college (and, more and more, even in high school), you will experience (or already are experiencing) significant challenges to your faith and beliefs.  Some of these challenges will be motivated by out-and-out antagonism; others by sincere wonder about why you believe what you do.

As a result, there will be times where you feel attacked, ridiculed and/or singled-out/isolated for your Christian belief.  If you’ve never had your beliefs deeply probed/challenged (whether by hostile or sincere motivations), it can be overwhelming and cause serious cracks of doubt in your faith’s foundation.  This is exacerbated if you’ve left behind familiar family and friends for the newness (and initial aloneness) of college.

To help navigate these times, here are six ways you can ensure not only the survival of your faith, but that you will learn, grow and flourish:

1. Know why you believe.  Scripture tells us plainly to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for “the hope that you have”  (1 Peter 3:15, NIV and TLB).  Young Christians often abandon their faith because they are not prepared to answer the arguments against God that many professors, students and organizations present today.

I’ll never forget when, as a new freshman in college, a new friend and I were  discussing our beliefs.  As this friend probed my beliefs, he eventually said, “Jeff, I’m surprised you don’t know more about why you believe what you do.”   His statement has stuck with me to this day.

That was some time ago — in today’s post-Christian culture, the atheistic arguments against the existence of God and against Christianity are more aggressive, passionate and complicated than ever before.  Seemingly insurmountable and impenetrable arguments are presented as to why religion in general, and Christian belief in particular, is not just ignorant and antithetical to science and basic common sense, but even harmful to individuals and society.

However, Christianity is not simply “blind faith.”  There is sound evidence which leads to faith and buttresses it.  Knowing why you believe; knowing such belief is not crazy; knowing that faith, science and reason are allies is crucial to being able to give an answer for the reason for the hope that you have.  If you don’t know why you believe, if your foundation of faith is based more on feeling than on evidence (sealed by the witness of the Holy Spirit), your faith could be irrevocably shaken later.

Toward that end, there are a number of sources that can help you determine and understand the evidence that buttresses faith.  Some suggestions: 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists by Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman; Why Science does not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis; Know Why You Believe by Paul Little; a variety of essays by Eric Metaxas and others via the internet.  For a taste of how science more and more indicates a Creator and Designer of the universe, watch this.

2. Face Reality.  Jesus told us, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19, NIV).  The fact is, in America, we are living in a post-Christian culture. Our nation’s institutions (education, judicial, media) have ceased to recognize God and the Bible as our national center, as the source of the common good.  More and more, our institutions attempt to force compliance in thought and deed regarding this post-Christian worldview.  Simply being aware of this and facing the fact that your faith will be challenged (either directly or indirectly) is a must.  It will help you think critically about what you’re being taught and told.

3.  Seek out Allies.  Don’t remain in the “aloneness” you may feel/encounter when you initially move to college (or that you may feel in high school). Identify and join campus groups which share your faith and worldview. Examples include Cru, Baptist Student Union, Navigators (for high school, Youth for Christ or Campus Life). Find and join a bible-believing church which faithfully preaches the gospel and submission to it in the form of discipleship. We all need friends and groups that remind us we are not alone in our faith, in whom we can confide and find encouragement and growth. These groups can also help you navigate the politically correct obstacle course that runs through campuses as well as find professors that share common Christian belief.

4.  Avoid needless battles.  It isn’t your personal responsibility to change the administration’s or professors’ views on Christian faith. It is, of course, necessary and a part of our calling to stand for truth, but it is not necessary to start unnecessary and unproductive conflicts in the name of “conversions.” Look for opportunities for people with truly open minds and an environment for real discussion — but if that doesn’t exist, don’t try to force the issue.

5.  Stay cool.  If you do have the opportunity to engage in a discussion of your belief or are answering a question on why you believe what you do stay calm, gentle and reasonable. In that same passage where Peter tells us to be ready to give an answer for our hope, he also states to give the answer in gentleness and respect.  Thinking of things in terms of “I must win/you must lose” and acting/speaking accordingly is not going to help the cause of Christianity. Remember, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5, “we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.”  The person who loses his cool usually loses the debate …. and in our case this can have eternal consequences.

6.  Work Hard.  Professors and teachers value hardworking, enthusiastic students.  That is one way of showing respect. Many teachers will respect you in turn … it is one way to “win the right” to engage in discussion of belief.  This is also the path to success in the classroom.

In the end, if you continue to walk with God, seek Him and apply the above, you stand to get more out of your college experience than most. Why? Because you are exposed to dissenting worldviews much more frequently. These challenges and opposition will sharpen you academically and deepen your faith. You will grow intellectually and spiritually as a result. The secret is to be prepared!

 

 

paradoxa tenet contrary to received opinion; a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet when investigated or tried may prove to be well founded or true

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

— from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

 

Anne Graham Lotz stated:

“It’s not what you say but who you are that catches the attention of those around you … Because problems offer us the opportunity to give relevant witness to the difference faith in God can make. The problems enable us to become a showcase so that the world can look into our lives and see the glory of God revealed.”

Dr Jim Denison: “We are wise to look for ways to redeem the consequences of living in a fallen world.”

 

A witness that is lived is powerful.

“… and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” — 1 John 5:4b

The Silversmith

“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather, you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.”  — St. Sebastian Valfre

“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you…” — St Ignatius Loyola

I read recently from Jeff Smead about a group of folks studying the book of Malachi.

As they were reading chapter three, they came across this in verse three: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver….” (Malachi 3:3a)

They wondered what this statement meant about the character and the nature of God.

One from the group offered to look into the process of refining silver and report back to the group at their next Bible study.

That week she contacted a silversmith and made an appointment to meet with him and to watch him at work.

She did not mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.

He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire ….where the flames were the hottest ….. so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a way over the fire …..then she thought again about the phrase, “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, …… but he also had to keep his eyes on the silver …….for the entire time it was in the fire.

If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment.

Then she asked the silver smith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”

He smiled at her. “Oh, that’s easy, he paused …. “when I see my image in it.”

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Like most people I know, I have no desire to suffer.  Also, like most people, I often think whatever is happening to me isn’t supposed to be happening to me — that is, I wonder why a “God of love” allows suffering.  It’s sometimes hard to trust God for a future outcome that redeems present suffering.

I came across this reminder from Dr. Jim Denison which I am considering and hope you find it helpful:  Let’s consider this statement by the Apostle Paul: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Nearly every word of this remarkable sentence repays deeper investigation.

“Consider” translates a Greek word meaning “to study all the evidence and reach a verifiable conclusion.” “Suffering” is a term for all hardships, generic enough to include your challenges today. “This present time” uses a Greek word meaning not this hour or moment but this present age.

“Not worth comparing” is literally translated, “so meager as not to be worthy of comparison.” “Glory” translates doxa, a word from which we get “doxology.” It refers to splendor, majesty, the brilliance of God’s perfection. “Revealed” means “to pull back the curtain and display all that is on the other side.” “Us” shows that every Christian is a recipient of this astounding promise.

Taken together, these definitions render Paul’s promise thus: “I am absolutely certain on the basis of all the evidence that every kind of suffering in this era of human existence is not worthy of the slightest comparison to the splendors that will be revealed fully to each and every one of us.”

What’s your problem today? What suffering in “this present time” is testing your faith?

I am convinced that God redeems all he allows. However, his redemption does not always take place immediately. Joseph languished for years in Pharaoh’s prison before ascending to his palace. Stephen died without knowing his influence on Paul the Apostle (Acts 7:58). Much of God’s redemption of present suffering lies in future revelation.

But one day you will know what you do not know today: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In the meantime, know that the future reward of your present faithfulness far outweighs its cost. And remember that the world is watching your obedience. As the song says, “May all who come behind us find us faithful.”

Staying Power

“In this world you will have trouble ….”
“The world would love you if you belonged to it…”
— the words of Jesus (John 16:33, John 15:19)

It can be hard to believe in ideals the world rejects. In such circumstances, how do we persevere in faith?

One: Remember what matters most.
It is tempting to value the material over the spiritual. But as Alfred Lord Tennyson so famously noted, “Nothing worth proving can be proven.” Paul succinctly described the Christian’s response to our visible world: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). While we live in the present, it is hard to envision eternity. But one day soon, eternity will be all there is and we will be forever grateful that we chose faith.

Two: Refuse to quit.
Scripture promises: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the chief tempter Screwtape advise his demonic understudy, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

“….but take courage, for I have overcome the world. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”                                     — Jesus (John 16:33 & Matthew 28:20)

with acknowledgement to Dr Jim Denison for the words and thoughts of One and Two above.

Pete Rose and Me

I read that yesterday marked 33 years to the day that Pete Rose joined Ty Cobb as the only players in MLB history with 4000 hits.  A Facebook friend of mine posted this fact and his opinion that Rose deserved to be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rose, as you may know, was banned from MLB baseball and from its Hall of Fame for life because he gambled on MLB baseball games as a player/manager.  My friend insisted that this was irrelevant to his accomplishments on the field.  He also felt Rose had not gambled on baseball games as a player.

I began to respond to this post with the following, “Whether he was a player or not when he gambled on games (Rose was definitely a manager at the time of his gambling) is irrelevant.  Rose knew what was right/wrong, and he knew the consequences.  He nevertheless chose to do what was wrong — not once, but repeatedly.  He deserves his punishment and should NEVER be allowed in the Hall of Fame.”

I finished typing and my finger hovered over the “submit” button.  But I couldn’t send my scathing message.  Why?  Because I realized I was indicting myself — and in a much more important sphere — the sphere of life and my relationship with God Himself.

How many times have I done what I knew to be wrong?  Knowing the consequences, I did it anyway.  How many times have I lost my temper and lashed out at others — even those I claim to love?  How many times have I taken the selfish action, knowing it would bring pain to others?  How many times have I failed to take action that I knew would bring comfort to, ease loneliness of, soothe suffering to others?

I know there is a God.  Creation itself testifies to this.  I know that in doing wrong, there are present and eternal consequences for knowingly sinning (doing wrong) against others and therefore against Him.  And yet, I did the wrong things anyway.  I certainly don’t deserve His love nor to be in any “Hall of Fame” He may have (heaven and right relationship with Him).

As the United Airlines firestorm continues, Dr. David Dykes (longtime pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas) shared this: Regarding the man pulled from the flight, my first thought was, “When they were dragging this bleeding man off the plane, why didn’t someone stand up and say, ‘Let him go. I’ll take his place. Take me instead’?”

“I suppose all the passengers were shocked and stunned into silence. I’m just glad that 2,000 years ago when I should have been the one rejected and bloodied, Jesus stepped forward and said, ‘Let him go. I’ll take his place. Take me instead!’ “

Today is Good Friday.  On this very day, some 2000 years ago, Jesus took my place.  He took my place at enormous cost and enabled me to receive what I didn’t deserve.  To receive what my actions dictated I should NEVER have:  right relationship with God now and forevermore more, and abundant & eternal life.

“What must I do to be saved?” asked a man in Scripture after Jesus’ death.  The answer?  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

On this Good Friday, I remember what Jesus did for me — and for Pete Rose and for you.  And I believe in the Lord Jesus.  And I am grateful (an inadequate word) that Jesus took my place.  May my life going forward reflect this gratitude by reflecting Him.