Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why Change Rivers?

I am the pastor of a healthy church. I have wonderful friends and live in the part of our state where everyone goes on vacation. Why would I leave it all and move to France? I have been asked that question dozens of times. It does not make sense to people. Things are going well here and I am moving to a place where I do not even speak the language.What am I thinking?

It has been suggested that it is a matter of money. Perhaps the church in France is paying me more and I would stay if I got a substantial raise here. No. A thousand times no. With the cost of travel I am probably taking a pay cut. It is not a matter of money.

It has been suggested that this is a career move up the ecclesiastical ladder. My plan, they say, is to stay a couple of years and then return with "international ministry" added to my resume. No. That is wide of the mark as well. We are applying for a 10 year visa.

Some have talked with me at length about the church here in Minnesota and the church I will become the pastor of in Strasbourg. They are looking for the rationale behind the move. Thinking strategically, they are searching for the reasons that this makes sense. Some have drawn up a list of pros and cons. They wind up scratching their heads as to the wisdom of what we are doing.

The answer is surprisingly simple. I am a Christian.

Unfortunately, the idea of what it means to be a Christian has become so diluted that the word has lost its meaning. Even for those who regularly go to church, the basic gospel message has become so obscured that many are confused about what being a Christian really entails. Evangelists and preachers have presented the gospel as a means of avoiding hell. "You don't want to go to burn in hell, do you? Come up front. We will wait for you," they plead. Then they have people repeat a two sentence prayer and assure those that respond that they are "saved". Most leave the service unchanged and the evangelists crow about all the souls they have "won".

How foreign this is to the Scriptures! The Bible teaches that we are, by nature and deed, rebels against God. The penalty for this rebellion is death and hell. Thankfully, Jesus Christ offered his perfect life as a sacrifice for our sinful lives.His death offers us the hope of forgiveness. But how does any of this apply to us? What must happen so that the gospel is effective for us personally? To put it simply, "What must I to do be saved?"

The Biblical answer to that question is that a person must "repent and believe". It is not simply belief in Jesus, but repentance that is required. Satan himself knows that Jesus is the Son of God and died for sin. Belief is not enough. We must repent. This means we must change our way of thinking or reverse our course. Repentance is turning away from sin and toward God. The gospel is an opportunity to have a new leader. It means that one can leave rebellion and choose obedience. To become a Christian means to leave everything in life to follow Jesus. There is no salvation without forsaking our rebellion against God and His authority. The opportunity to repent and return to obedience is pure grace.

Paul tells us that those who confess that "Jesus is Lord" will be saved. It must be remembered, however, that in the days Paul was writing that the confession that Jesus (not Caesar) was Lord carried with it severe consequences. Perhaps it meant to the loss of life itself. Certainly it meant the loss of social status and income. It meant changing allegiances and changing kingdom loyalties. Following Jesus meant then and means now that we will become enemies of the world.

If Jesus were to step up to the microphone to address those that came forward at the end of most crusades, his words would be different than of the typical evangelist. "You want to be part of my kingdom? Great! I love you! But know this: the world is going to hate you. You are going are going to have choose if you want to be a popular and successful in this world or become my disciple. You have to decide right now if you want to serve me or money. You cannot serve both. I might ask you to sell everything and I will mean it. I might ask you to leave your family on this journey. You want to follow me? Fantastic! Just remember, I have nowhere to lay my head and I am heading for the cross. Still in? Then let's go." And with that Jesus would walk out the door leaving the slick-haired evangelist behind pleading with people to pray his two-sentence prayer. 

If we take the time to read the gospels we will discover that while Jesus attracted large crowds, he had few disciples. When the crowds heard his call to follow him they thinned to a handful. They loved the things of this world more than Jesus. They walked away from Him and the eternal life that could be found through a relationship with Him.

I am convinced that the call to follow Christ is at the core of the gospel. Radical obedience is not simply for the clergy or monk. Obedience is simply the evidence of repentance. All of us are called to follow Christ wherever he leads us. 

Fourteen years ago Jesus called me to follow him to Nashwauk, MN to to become the pastor of the Alliance Church there. It was painful to move away from family and friends. But the joy of following Jesus is incomparable! Now Jesus has called me to Strasbourg to become the pastor of Trinity International Church. It hurts to leave family and friends. But the joy of following Jesus is incomparable!

So why am I moving to France? The answer is surprisingly simple: I am a Christian.


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