Take a moment to think about your life as a circle. Not necessarily as a sequence of moments or a series of consequential events, but as a circle of influence. Yes, influence. Imagine for a moment every life that you have the opportunity to invest in on a daily basis: maybe your first thought is about your spouse and children or your best friend or a coworker. The point is that everyone has a circle of people that God has placed in their lives that they can influence positively or negatively. However, for many of us and myself included, we have never considered the thought that as Christians we are accountable for and to them. We are accountable for them in the sense that God has placed us in an influential position, where we can either leverage all the He has entrusted to us to proclaim His glory to them or we can choose to live in well mannered indifference. In the same way, we are also accountable to them because whether they see their need for God’s grace or choose to ignore His immeasurable kindness, the impetus for living with gospel centered intentionality has been entrusted to us, and for this we will all have to give an account.
The first time I heard of this concept was in a conversation with a mentor of mine, and to be honest, I was initially resistant to the idea of a personal responsibility for the lostness of people in my circle of accountability (COA) for one very specific reason: the idea of a ‘burden’ for the lostness of the nations as the first cause or primary catalyst for missions and evangelism inevitably leads to despair or pride as this view of missions is driven by a man centered focus. I believed at the time, and still do to this day, that the primary foundation for missions and evangelism is not the lostness of man but the glory of God, and a desire to proclaim his glory unto the ends of the earth. In other words, the driving force calling us to serve God’s purpose among the nations must be worship: first, the proper worship of God that leads to our service and second, the misdirected worship of the roughly 4.7 billion people that creates the need for workers in the harvest.
Despite my initial misgivings, the idea of a circle of accountability entrusted to me by God the Father continued to bear down on my soul. So much so, that I began to search the Scripture for answers and a biblical basis for a ‘shared accountability’ and concern for those I live, work, and interact with daily that would harmonize with a God centered approach to missions. As I began to search the Bible for passages to confirm or condemn a concept that I was daily being persuaded to believe, I happened upon two specific passages that stood out above the rest: the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the parable of the shrewd manager. Little did I know at the time that these two parables would not only harmonize my thinking on these two subjects, but also would challenge me personally to reorganize my life, family, time, and priorities around the hope I have been given in Christ Jesus. If you have taken the time read this far, then I would hope I could persuade you to read on a little further. Every monday morning for the next several months, I will continue to publish more and more of our developing thoughts on how to draw a circle around our lives, dreams, and relationships - starting with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31. Looking forward to having you join us on this journey
By His Grace,
by Andrew Blalock, Christian Philosophy and Religion Teacher at First Baptist School, Charleston, SC
We see them constantly on television shows and in movies: Christians who are Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs! Perhaps my favorite such character is Kenneth Ellen Parcell (hilariously portrayed by Jack McBrayer), the NBC page on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. Kenneth is a backwater redneck from Georgia who has come to New York City to fulfill his lifelong dream of working in the television industry. His religious and political views are depicted somewhere on the spectrum from harmlessly strange to repressive and harmful. Perhaps my all-time favorite Kenneth moment is when he exclaims, “Science was my most favorite subject, especially the Old Testament!” No doubt his statement is a witty commentary on the debates that have surrounded Christianity and science during the last couple of centuries.
But does Kenneth Parcell actually represent Christians? I mean, I know we’ve all met people who remind us of Kenneth in some way, but is it fair to say that all Christians are intellectually bankrupt, basing their beliefs on blind faith from their upbringing? What if I told you it’s possible to be a Christian and a thoughtful person? Consider Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and former Director of the Human Genome Project. Collins has written a book about his own story of coming to faith in God called The Language of God. In the book, he recounts an encounter between himself and one of his dying patients that led him to undertake an investigative journey that ultimately led him to faith:
“My most awkward moment came when an older woman, suffering daily from severe untreatable angina, asked me what I believed. It was a fair question; we had discussed many other important issues of life and death, and she had shared her own strong Christian beliefs with me. I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words ‘I’m not really sure’ … I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief.“
Hear Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God here:
But is Francis Collins just some kind of aberration or fluke? (Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?) Instead, consider that many of the founders of modern science, including Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and Francis Bacon, share Collins’s perspective. Bacon, considered the father of the Scientific Method, in his essay “Of Atheism” admitted, “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”
Christian intellectual tradition includes science but also extends into the arts. Actor Tony Hale, who is best-known for his portrayals of Buster Bluth in Arrested Development and Gary Walsh in Veep, often speaks about the importance of faith in his life and in his art. On NPR’s Fresh Air, Hale talked about his faith and his doubts, saying:
“I think anytime in someone's faith journey, my faith journey also, you go through doubting ... I think you kind of have to go through that, honestly, just to ask the tough questions. ... I mean, life is crazy, and to know that honestly a loving God is walking through it with me is very comforting for me. But yeah, I've been through my own times of just, What does this mean and how can this mean this? And ask the questions. I've thankfully had a lot of people around me who have allowed me to ask those questions, and we've talked about it and walked through it together and struggled through it, and that's very, very important. And it's important to have those people around you can be honest with.”
Listen to the whole interview of Tony Hale on NPR here.
In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, literary scholar and author C.S. Lewis wrote, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” What did Lewis mean by that? Lewis was trying to express an element of his own personal story. Following the death of his mother as a boy and his adverse experiences at English boarding schools, Lewis became convinced that a loving God could not exist. It was through reading books and conversations with fellow academics like J.R.R. Tolkien that Lewis eventually came to discover God later in life. Lewis had unknowingly been searching for God his entire life, and ultimately both his imagination and his rational mind led him to the conclusion that Christianity is true. The longing that Lewis felt is well described by Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, in her novel Housekeeping:
“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing -- the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.”
When Robinson was asked about whether it is hard to write about faith in her novels, she responded, “Faith is one of the great structuring elements in civilization. It has fascinated the best minds of many centuries.”
Not only have academics and scientists recognized the truth of Christianity, but Christianity has been a source of moral conviction and inspiration for ethical reform in significant ways, perhaps none more significant in America than in the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. The America in which we now live is far from perfect, especially concerning issues related to race, but much of the progress that has been made can be attributed to the work of Dr. King. Because of his Christian beliefs, Dr. King saw the racial injustice in America and was compelled to do something about it. He said, “Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice, and justice is really love in calculation.” Dr. King’s dream and vision for America was racial unity, a dream that stemmed from his Christian convictions about the equality of all people and the importance of justice.
So what can we learn from all of these different stories and experiences? First of all, it’s okay to laugh at comedic portrayals of Christianity in movies, books, and tv shows, but one should recognize that these caricatures don’t necessarily represent reality. More importantly, it’s important to know that you don’t have to cut yourself off from intellectual life to become a Christian. In fact, Christianity can help provide a solid foundation for deep questioning and searching for truth just as it did for Francis Collins, Tony Hale, C.S. Lewis, Marilynne Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr. Finally, it should be said that faith can be a tricky word to define. The truth is that “faith” has many different connotations to different people, but it is vitally important to point out that, in the Christian tradition, faith is not the opposite of doubt. In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller describes the relationship between faith and doubt this way, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.” A strong faith requires the process of experiencing doubt, asking questions, and finding answers to those questions. The invitation for believers and skeptics, then, is to begin to examine your deeply held beliefs and expose them to the light of questioning.
For further reading: Check out Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God or the newly released Making Sense of God.
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After my dad passed away unexpectedly 2 months ago, the Lord changed my perspective on life through one simple truth - this broken world is not my home. And because of my dad's trust in Christ's atonement for his sins, I am confident that he now lives with his Savior. And on the day that my faith also becomes sight, pain will be replaced with wonder as we bask in the glory of our King. Jesus Christ will make all things new for those who trust in Him. And right now, in the midst of the darkest and most excruciating season of my life, I still have joy and peace because of the hope that God has given me in Christ. I can choose to keep that hope to myself, or I can share it with the world. Because the truth is, no one is exempt from the harsh reality of death. We will all face death firsthand and most of us will know the pain of losing someone we love. God loves the world so much that He became man and took the penalty for our sin on Himself through His death and resurrection, so that death would only be a temporary reality for all who trust in His sacrifice. He entered into our suffering so that we could share in His joy. He doesn't want to be separated from His beloved image-bearers, neither now or for eternity. But we can choose to accept His gift or we can choose to reject it. And as Christians, we can offer this life giving remedy to the lost and dying world we live in, or we can lock it away in our hearts - gaining strength from it but keeping it from the world that needs it desperately.
Jesus said, "Unto whomever much is given, of him shall much be required" (Luke 12:48). If you know Jesus Christ personally, you have a responsibility, just as I have a responsibility, to share His message and make disciples. What an honorable, joy-filled charge we have been given, to tell others about the inexhaustible love and grace of our Savior! We must not hide this Good News. His offer of salvation and eternal life is for all mankind. Time is running out - share your hope with those who have none.
Our family [Identities disclosed for security reasons] has been called by God to serve as international missionaries. Our passion is that there be no place left where people have not had an opportunity to respond to the gospel in an understandable way, and it is this that has led us to pursue a career of lifelong missionary service. We will be moving overseas in in the middle of October. This is an extremely exciting but difficult season for our family. There are many goodbyes happening. There have been many moments during which we have realized we are maybe saying goodbye for the last time, and we may never see many of these people again. We are coming to grips with the reality that we will miss many of our close family and friends' births, celebrations, weddings, funerals, and more because of the call God has placed on our family.
With this in mind one might ask, "Then why move away from these close family and friends for your last 6 months in the states to help with a new church in Charleston, SC?" This is a very valid question and the answer is two-fold. The first part of our answer is our calling. The same call that is leading us to serve a lifetime as missionaries internationally is what has driven us here to serve at Uptown Church. A call by God to reach the people that are far from God is not limited by any governmental boundaries. Our call doesn't begin when we get on a plane to a foreign land. Our call is in the DNA of our family. It is who we are, and we know no other life to live that honors our Lord and God.
The second part to our answer is preparation. What better way to prepare to engage people who are far from God in an international setting than right here at home? When people move overseas they already have many new things to learn. They have to learn the language, the culture, how day-to-day life works in their location, and how to establish relationships in a completely new environment. So why would one want to throw learning how to reach people who are far from God and starting churches into the already stressful mix? This season is meant to allow our family to implement this calling, learn more, and prepare more for reaching the lost.
Photo taken from redzenradishphotography.com
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
- Matthew 6:12
1. To grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
2. To give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
3. To grant pardon to (a person).
4. To cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one's enemies.
5. To cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
Here is the truth of the gospel- God designed the world so that we would live in a joyful, peaceful existence, unified to each other and to our Creator. We turned away from God's authority and goodness and the result was the broken, messed up world we live in now. But God loved humanity so much that He made a way to fix what we had broken and offer forgiveness through Christ. God was under no obligation to forgive us. Further, it cost Jesus greatly to forgive us. Jesus, fully God and man, experienced the wrath of God in our place by dying the death we deserved and then He rose from the dead. So doing, He is able to forgive and reconcile us to Himself.
Since we have been forgiven an immeasurable debt, how can withhold mercy towards those who have wronged us? When we hold onto unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment in our hearts, it costs us greatly. It has been said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to harm the other person. By withholding mercy, we think that we are punishing another person but we are really punishing ourselves. Forgiveness can be painful for a time but withholding it confines you to live in a prison of unrelenting bitterness and eventually hatred. Why not bear the wrong as Christ bore our wrongs?
Unforgiveness is evidence that we do not understand grace. Someone who cannot forgive may see Christ's sacrifice as a good thing, but they may not understand the necessity or greatness of Christ’s work. If we understood how much mercy we have been given, then we would not hold onto unforgiveness and bitterness.
Perhaps the greatest example of the capacity to forgive that has ever been displayed in Charleston was evident the day that the families of those killed in the Mother Emmanuel shooting offered forgiveness and grace to their loved ones' cold blooded killer, Dylann Roof. Their example helps us to remember two crucial facts about forgiveness - it is costly, and it can change the world. The actions of these followers of Jesus are the collective result of their commitment to act like their Savior who in the midst of hatred said these words, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Are you holding unforgiveness in your heart against someone?
Do you TRULY understand how much you have been forgiven of?
The result of forgiveness is freedom, why choose to stay in chains?
For today, ponder these questions in your heart, and read Matthew 12:9-14 and Matthew 18:21-25.
Chris and Dorothy Blalock