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Monday Motivator – December 11

Scripture commands it. Jesus and the apostles modeled and practiced it. And it works. Three guesses what I’m talking about? Defending the faith, or apologetics.

A decade or two ago, WWJD appeared in a lot of places. Bumper stickers, wristbands, sermon series, even billboards. “What Would Jesus Do” became a watchword and popular culture trend. If Jesus were standing beside you, not just spiritually, but physically, what impact would He have on how you live? Would He fill you with boldness and rid you of your timidity? Of course!

One reason is the presence of Jesus would dispel the negative thoughts some of us carry to this day about who we are and our inherent value. Do we really belong and matter to anyone? Many of us wrestle with places of uncertainty “inside” about our values, calling, identity, and Christian practices. We say we believe the right things because they are true, but often wonder if they are actually “true,” and not just for us? Is the truth we believe really true? If it is, it would have a profound influence on how we think and live, right?

Sadly, that is not the case for some in the Body of Christ. Some consider apologetics peripheral or even non-essential. Yet my experience in 3.5 plus decades of campus ministry have borne out the reality that most men and women leave home for college ill-prepared to understand, articulate, and defend their faith, hope, and trust in King Jesus.

Having to face critics of Christianity at the secular college or university is challenging for all Christ-followers, but I have noticed the toughest critic most of us have to face is ourselves. Our own doubts and questions tend to derail our faith journey more than a skeptical roommate or agnostic professor’s claims the Bible is irrelevant, outdated, and not trustworthy in its contents.

If you are not confident the message of Scripture is true, it is hard for you to trust in it. Trust is hard to manufacture and does not work well if you have to squeeze it out by sheer will. But if you get your head, heart, and hands on valid evidence that is substantiated with compelling reasons, your confidence grows, deepens, and it strengthens your faith.

That is why the four Gospels about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written and became the best-selling biography of all time. In one example, the apostle John wrote that he presented evidence that the central purpose of his Gospel was to give hardcore evidence for faith in Jesus as the Christ (read John’s words in John 20:30-31 of the New Testament).

Spiritual growth involves increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Truth, who is a Person. We need confidence that the things we learn are actually true. In Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship chapters across the country, students are helped to know what to believe, but just as importantly, why they should believe it. Our staff and student leaders help students study and learn about the powerful evidences supporting Christianity. Increasing their knowledge about Jesus strengthens faith and doubts begin to fade. The critic’s voice in your own heard starts to lessen. Spiritual confidence in Jesus and his teachings translates into spiritual action for him.

Serve globally. When doubts shrink, it changes your prayers (more aggressive), your sense of trust (it is anchored in the Father’s character and care of you), and you’ll work harder, knowing your efforts are not in vain. Apologetics can turn shaky faith into Christ-centered confidence.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – December 4

True or false? The prophets of the Old Testament were ordinary people, like you and me. The men and women mentioned in Scripture lived centuries ago. Like people in today’s world, many struggled to make sense of life, worked hard to make a living, raise families, live out their values, be productive citizens, overcome difficulties, and make a difference for good.

I have taught the Older Testament to college students for decades and often asked them what person was their favorite character. As you imagine, the responses have come from all over the 39 books – Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Esther, David, Hannah, Daniel, Jonah, even some more obscure or rarely mentioned men or women like Gideon or Abigail. One of my favorites has been Jeremiah, because he was inspired to write and deliver some rather difficult material.

Read Jeremiah 1:4-12.

Here is a young guy, chosen and called by God to live out a new calling to be a prophet in very challenging circumstances. He started out not sure if God knew what He was doing by selecting a young person like Jeremiah for a transformational role of leadership. Yet he begrudgingly stepped out into a life of faith (spelled r-i-s-k) by choosing to trust the Lord, again and again.

Jeremiah served in the context of three major kings (Josiah, (640-609 B.C.), Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), and Zedekiah (597-598 B.C.). Under Josiah he was free to preach and call for reforms. Under Jehoiakim, he was not received well and frequently put in prison. And under Zedekiah, he was treated a little better but still had to fear for his life. The judgment Jeremiah preached came to fulfillment in and through Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, whose army destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and resulted in a total exile of Jews to Babylon (see Daniel).

He was treated poorly by those he brought God’s Word to, yet Jeremiah did not second-guess God too much or back down from delivering the pronouncements of God. He suffered, was ridiculed, ignored, threatened, and thrown into cisterns (deep holes in the grounds).

But think about the lessons we can learn from this young man. He practiced obedience. He modeled the words to the old hymn, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.” While he had to be concerned about what other people thought about what he chose to do with his life, he pressed on in his commitment to serve the Living God. He just went wherever God told him to go and said whatever God told him to say.

Jeremiah is a great example of living by faith, saying “yes” to God with frequency. He shows us what obedience looks like, including living with the consequences of a surrendered life.

If you are Christ-follower, or contemplating such a decision, here are some questions: Are you willing to do whatever God tells you to do? Remember that “No, Lord,” is a statement of conflict. How would you feel if God led you to remain single? What if He called you to take your career into an overseas marketplace in order to extend the reach of His gospel? Or even serve in an urban setting with underprivileged youth faraway from family and friends in America? What if he asked you to do something way outside of your comfort zone?

Walk wisely. When God says, “Go,” Jeremiah (or faith) says, “I will.” Will you?

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – November 27

I watched an old episode of “Gunsmoke” entitled, “Ex-Con.” The ex-con spent five years in prison for breaking the law. He was caught and brought to justice by Marshall Matt Dillon of Dodge City, Kansas. Shortly after getting out, he announced to his wife he bought a gun because he wanted to “get even” with Marshall Dillon for sending him to jail. His body language and words reflected anger, unforgiveness, and an utter lack of remorse. In the end, his grudge against the U.S. Marshall led to his death, sadly not too long after getting out of prison.

I remember growing up with a lot of boys my age in the neighborhood and we played a lot of sports and games. I recall highly competitive events, contests, and matches played for bragging rights with lots of back and forth “loud” bantering. Voices were often raised, bodies were entangled and shoved, and fist-fights broke out now and then.

Not surprisingly, I do not remember any physical or verbal collisions contributing to long-term conflicts among my friends. I mean we scrapped, jostled, argued, and even fought, but then we stopped, apologized if necessary, dusted ourselves off, and went back to playing whatever game we were involved with. I guess our parents taught us well that you have to resolve your differences quickly and judiciously. And we did. Part of the result was that neighbors and friends like Al, Steve, Dave, and I continued as pals throughout high school and into adult life.

Read Romans 12:17-21. Did you notice verse 18?

I have learned that grudges develop about serious (and not so serious) stuff and often feel (or seem) justified in the moment. When one person hurts or betrays a person, it is normal to feel bad and sometimes humiliated. It is natural to hold hard feelings toward the person, and it is even normal to want to get back at them…sooner or later. We all assume revenge tastes better if served when the other person least expects. But is revenge really better for both parties?

One of my favorite (and sad, but real) stories in Scripture is found in Genesis 27. Older brother Esau is holding a grudge against younger brother Jacob for the blessing he took from their father, Isaac. Jacob was a devious young man in disguising himself as Esau to fool his father for the blessing meant for his older brother. After his father died, Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are over; then I will find and kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob (and his mother who aided him in the first place) both feared for his life, because they worried about what Esau would do. So Jacob ran away. Pain and fear were his companions.

If you pick up the story in Genesis 33:4, we read of Esau’s actions when “he ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his younger brother and kissed him.” And the brothers wept. Esau’s forgiveness has always stood out to me as the action of an amazing man. Esau was cheated out of his birthright, and understandably angry about the injustice (I mean, c’mon mom, you too?). But when the confrontation ultimately happened, Esau chose to forgive his younger brother and offered the gift of reconciliation that only he could.

I know what it feels like to be humiliated because someone hurt me. I certainly wanted revenge, and was tempted to get back at someone for what they did to me. But I learned (Romans 12:19) that vengeance was to be out of my hands. I also had to learn to give up the grudge. Live communally. If you hold a grudge, you lose a friend. Esau shows us there is a better way.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – November 20

Isn’t the cross of Jesus an enigma?

What Jesus received from us – guilt, shame, sin – brought him death. What we receive from him – freedom, salvation, and goodness – brings us life.

The Scriptures call us to remember who the Lord is and what He has done. Jesus was a real person who breathed, walked, ate, laughed, and wept. He was born of a virgin. He entered human history quietly in humble circumstances amidst common livestock. His parents were poor and his first visitors were shepherds, men in the lowest vocation in Israel’s culture.

He was no ordinary child as he was announced as the promised Messiah, the Redeemer of all, and the Savior of the world. Luke records that he grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and men. John the Baptist recognizes him as one whose sandals he is not worthy to untie. John identifies him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Yet he is divisive. And he does not yield to anyone’s agenda. Tensions grow with the Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus is soon arrested, beaten, and crucified.

Do you remember Gethsemane?

Do you remember how Judas betrayed him?

Do you remember how Peter denied him?

Do you remember how the disciples (whom he chose) all deserted him?

Do you remember the beating Jesus suffered?

Do you remember the crown of thorns?

Do you remember the taunts and how he was spit on?

Do you remember his pierced hands and feet?

Do you remember his agony on the cross?

Do you remember his thirst?

Do you remember how he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do you remember the empty tomb?

Read Philippians 2:5-8.

The cross is the center of our faith. At the cross God’s love is clearly demonstrated for all of humankind. It is at the cross that Jesus reveals the heart of God for all men and women, broken and rebellious against their sovereign Creator. He died, he was buried, and he rose again.

The cross is the heart of our salvation. The great trade between the Father and the Son was enacted. Isaiah and Paul agree that the cross is the place where our wounds are healed by the death of Jesus. He did it willingly and purposefully, because it is the reason he came.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). For Christ died also for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Do you realize the impact of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8?

Think theologically. Jesus is the only one who solved the problem of our sin and brokenness. Let us live in humble gratitude of the gift that Jesus provided by his death. Remember.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – November 13

I find myself learning over and over how to walk with God and simply enjoy His presence. Yes, I regularly use the prayer Jesus taught the disciples to pray that Dr. Luke recorded later in his Gospel. I have a daily practice of holy habits. But I realized my relationship with God often mirrors other relationships that need time, nurture, shared experience, and waiting.

I have found that written prayers often help me engage with the Father. For the past year or so I have used “Daily Readings from Spiritual Classics” (1990, Augsburg Fortress) to help me pause and reflect each day on the nature and character of God. The daily readings are contemporary devotions based on texts by people like Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, & Flannery O’Conner. I have enjoyed the daily content from various writers who introduced a reading from an author like Augustine, then offered a prayer and reflection response for me to follow.

Here is a sample prayer that I picked up at the Global Leadership Summit a few years ago.

“God, this a new day. I freshly commit myself to the role you have invited me to play, as you are building your church in this world. I am awestruck again that you include me in this grand, life-giving, world-transforming endeavor. So today, I gladly offer you: My Love, My Heart, My Talents, My Energy, My Creativity, My Faithfulness, My Resources, and My Gratitude.

 I commit all of myself to the role you have assigned me in the building of your church so that it may thrive in this world. And I will “bring it” today. I will bring my best. You deserve it. Your church deserves it. It is the Hope of the World.”  This prayer is posted where I shave.

Read Psalm 42.

Part of my “soul thirsting for God, for the living God,” (v 2) are prayer and worship experiences that help me sit at His feet and feel His presence.

Another one of my spiritual practices is to engage in personal worship. I have found portions of Scripture that I read, reflect on, and even sing back to the Lord. I have also treasured a few songs now and then that seem to help me connect with the Father more readily. One of the songs I have been listening to for months, since I came across it on Pandora music, is called “Clean” by Natalie Grant. Here are the first three stanzas:

I see shattered, You see whole, I see broken, But You see beautiful, And You’re helping me to believe, You’re restoring me piece by piece.

There’s nothing too dirty, That You can’t make worthy, You wash me in mercy, I am clean, There’s nothing too dirty, That You can’t make worthy, You wash me in mercy, I am clean.

What was dead now lives again, My heart’s beating, beating inside my chest, Oh I’m coming alive with joy and destiny, Cause You’re restoring me piece by piece.

I have played the song “Clean” over and over on several occasions. It has helped me “go and meet with God” (v 2), and helped me as “if His song were with me” (v 8). Grow devotionally. Each of can use Scripture, prayer, and worship as ways to taste and see that He is good.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – November 6

What does a pastor and their church need to be reminded of? College and university ministry is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) in reverse. The world is here, represented on a campus nearby your church. If your school has 10,000 students a year for ten years, what sorts of young men and women (not to mention adult faculty and administrators) are coming to and through your town? How can we gain influence?

Let’s start with language. When attempting to influence folks on campus, let’s avoid referring to them as, “lost, non-Christian, pre-Christian, heathen, pagan, etc.” I know the terms have theological meaning to us as insiders, but we need to make connections with men and women on campus, and calling them names is not a good way to start off.

Second, do not be intimidated by the secular university. Brilliant people may not know much about spirituality, or Christianity in particular. Read and study your campus culture to understand who makes up the student body, faculty, and leadership. Read and study cultural shifts to determine whom it is you are trying to get to know. As Christians, we believe truth is a Person. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your (campus) neighbor as yourself. It will take some effort to live out the latter.

Third, the church must employ the principle of strategic release. The four years of an undergraduate education are prime years to engage a lot of people in a relatively small footprint. Sharing meals, dialogue over homework, hanging out, recreation, and living life in tight quarters are profound opportunities for evangelism and God encounters.

Strategic release means the church should not recruit and mobilize college students for church ministry while they are in college. We don’t even want their money. They best can reach their friends and professors for Christ. Leave them alone to do it. Let them invest what money they have in campus ministries like Chi Alpha. Feed them and bless them. Inspire students to join Chi Alpha or other Christian ministries on campus. Seed their idealism for campus impact and cheer for them. Challenge church raised students to not join the youth group as “youth sponsors” but to get involved on campus. Their time on campus is too short and the Kingdom fruit prospects too large to ignore.

Few churches in college towns actually see much local gain, because students are so transitory. Your goals should be to have a welcoming and equipping service, answer questions they are asking, and contribute to healthy campus ministry staff if they and their families attend your church. You have a front row seat to watch God’s mission unfold on campus. Celebrate their victories as Kingdom advancements.

Healthy and normal church life is critical for them to see and experience as collegians, so they need to hang out with older people, families, and kids, and see real life and faith in action. A student’s positive church experience in college often leads to upgraded (and longer) parishioner participation after graduation and even another tither.

Serve globally. The measure of a local church’s success is not how many students attended, but how many leaders were sent out to reconcile students to Christ, and how they contribute to transforming the university, the marketplace, and the world.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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Monday Motivator – October 30

October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation unwittingly initiated by a Catholic monk named Martin Luther. My friend and colleague, Dr. Charles Spong and his wife Peg will attend the Wittenberg 2017 Congress in Germany October 30 to November 1.

To watch the Congress live from the States, you can register on www.luther.tv. The cost is only $9.95. You also will receive 3 powerful books free with your registration. To view a brief summary of the life of Luther and the Congress speakers, go to www.luther2017.tv. This is a once in a lifetime Congress. Don’t miss viewing this incredible event.

Chuck has supplied me with critical information about the Reformation for months. He helped me understand how the 16th Century Reformation and the 20th Century Pentecostal Movement compared (how alike) and contrasted (how different). For example:

How Alike:

  1. Both returned to the New Testament in doctrine and practice and were Christocentric.
  2. Both movements suffered persecution, but the 16th century endured more upheaval.
  3. Both resulted to division but impacted the whole church world.
  4. Both created new theologies that generated much discussion and debate.
  5. Both started new educational institutions: 16th century primary schools and colleges; 20th century Bible schools (mainly).
  6. Both were dissatisfied with conditions in the church and helped create renewal efforts.

How Different:

  1. 16th Century: No emphasis on the Spirit. 20th Century: Emphasis on the Spirit.
  2. 16th: Baptism, gifts, healing none. 20th: Emphasis on baptism in Holy Spirit, gifts, healing.
  3. 16th: Stress on water baptisms. 20th: Greater stress on salvation.
  4. 16th: Stress on sacraments. 20th: Less emphasis.
  5. 16th: No emphasis on missions. 20th: Emphasis on missions.
  6. 16th: Begun by leaders. 20th: Begun by college students.

Build fide (faith) by reading about movements and leaders that have moved the Church forward the past 500 years. Here are some; without the first three, we would not be reading about the rest: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Reformed, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Tyndale, George Fox, Puritans, Jansenism, Quietism, Pietism, Zinzendorf, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, the Moravians, William Wilberforce, Menno Simons, Mennonites, Henry Ward Beecher, Albert Switzer, Francis Asbury, The Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, D.L. Moody, William Carey, Student Volunteer Movement, Billy Sunday, Pentecostals, Aimee Semple McPherson, A.B. Simpson, Oral Roberts, and Billy Graham.

Read the Luther biography, “Here I Stand” by Roland Bainton (1950). Another is “Martin Luther” by Eric Metaxas (2017). Check out Chuck Norris’ 10/30/17 article on Luther at wnd.com.

Walk wisely. The Reformation of the Church begun in 1517 is more than about one person or an era (1517-1648). It is really about a continuing movement to progress the Church forward to what God wants it to be worldwide (Ephesians 4:11-16), a challenge yet to be fully met. 500 years (1517-2017) of church and contemporary life are reminders of the work still to be done.

Love is a verb,

Mike Olejarz

©2017 by Mike Olejarz

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