Tag Archives: Gospel

When Following Leads to Opposition

Close-up of fire and flames on a black background (Huge file)

Current Sermon Series

I want to take this post to clarify/ elaborate on something I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday. In Acts 10-11, we read the account of Peter and Cornelius. Peter, a Jew, goes into the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and preaches the message of Jesus to him and he and his family believe and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is an awesome event! God has opened the gospel to Gentiles.

But not everyone is happy. When Peter returns to Jerusalem, some of the leaders in the Jerusalem church are not pleased that Peter went to the house of, ate with and (presumably) shared Jesus with Gentiles. Peter obeyed God. Peter got to be a part of an amazing work of God. And when he got back to church, he faced opposition.

In my talk, which you can listen to here,  I said that if you want God to start a holy fire in you, then you will face opposition. In the talk I define “holy fire” as having a passion to know God, to know God’s movement in the world and a passion to be a part of that movement. If there’s a holy fire in you, there’s a chance that you’ll face opposition from some Christian-people, church-people, people who you would think would be the most excited about what God is doing. Where I want to clarify/ elaborate is why?

Why will you face opposition?

  1. You’ll face opposition because people don’t know the context. The church leaders in Jerusalem only heard part of the story. They didn’t know that God had spoken to Cornelius or that God had spoken to Peter. All they knew was that Peter had broken the social norms by associating with this Gentile, Roman military officer and his family. But when Peter explained everything, the whole story, and placed it in the context of Jesus’ words, the church leaders understood, changed their position and began glorifying God.
  2. You’ll face opposition because you’re different. Let’s be honest, for most  Christians and most people who attend church, God is not their utmost passion. God is a passion but not their utmost passion. God’s plans are not their utmost concern and being a part of God’s plan isn’t their utmost desire. There are a lot of other things that get in the way- some of them are good things but God’s desire is for us not to have anything before him. Being passionate about God (while it’s how we all should be) makes you different and when you’re different you’ll face opposition.
  3. You’ll face opposition because you’re making others uncomfortable. The Jewish-Christian church leaders were uncomfortable that Peter would go to the house of a Gentile because it broke a social taboo. For you and I,  opposition could come from those who think that talking to “him” or “her” or inviting “those” people to church is breaking a social taboo and it makes them uncomfortable.

Now that we have seen potential reasons why opposition could come our way if God has begun a holy fire in our lives, what can we do about the opposition. We’ll take each in turn.

  1. Don’t keep what God is doing in your life to yourself. God could be working in your life in very personal ways but be willing to let others know what God is teaching you. Let them know the context and the Scriptures that are speaking to you. This is important for two reasons. First, your pastors, small group leaders, friends can help you and encourage you. Two, you may inspire them to want to God to work in their life as well.
  2. Walking with God and putting God as the utmost thing in your life doesn’t make you different. It makes you exactly who God wants you to be.
  3. God’s way naturally challenges the status quo. In God’s kingdom the last are first and the first are last. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous but the needy. In God’s kingdom, the poor are blessed, the gentle are blessed, the peacemakers are blessed. Read the Sermon on the Mount and see how God’s kingdom makes the status quo uncomfortable. Making people uncomfortable, if it’s for the sake of the gospel, is good- that’s how movements and revivals begin.

God wants us to be passionate about knowing him. God wants us to be passionate about what he’s doing in the world and passionate about how we can be a part of it. Sometimes that will bring opposition. But our faithfulness to God’s calling in our lives can lead, like those who opposed Peter, to change their hearts and glorify God because of the amazing things God has done.

A Beautiful Gospel

The message of the gospel is beautiful. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Especially for those of us who are ministry and church insiders, by that I mean pastors, ministers, teachers and volunteer leaders, we need to be reminded that the message of the gospel is the most beautiful message there is. Often we get too busy to see its beauty. Or maybe we get too close and, like zooming in on a human face, we see the unevenness, the pours, the oil and the imperfections. Sometimes we need to zoom back out and see the full picture once again. And in seeing the full picture again, we can re-see, reconnect and re-appreciate the beauty of the gospel.

This song and video have done that for me. It has allowed me to once again see and hear the beauty of the gospel. As you watch it, I think that it will do the same thing for you.

Is Jesus Like God? Or is God Like Jesus?

How would you describe God? Perhaps as holy, transcendent, loving or good.

What about Jesus-like?

Recently I was reading J.I. Packer’s Praying the Lord’s Prayer and in the opening pages, Packer writes an illuminating sentence. He begins by stating that people who find it hard to believe that God exists and that God is personal will find it difficult to pray. He continues: “But if you believe, as Christians do , that Jesus is the image of God- in other words, that God is Jesus-like in character- then you will have no such doubts, and you will recognize that for us to speak to the Father and the Son in prayer is as natural as it was for Jesus to talk to his Father in heaven, or for the disciples to talk to their Master during the days of his earthly ministry” (13-14).

God is Jesus-like in character. To be honest, I’ve always thought about it the other way around. Scriptures like Hebrew 1:3 which says Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature. In other words, Jesus is God-like in character. It’s as if Jesus is the mirror that reflects God. The mirror show us the nature of the image it’s reflecting but we would’t say that the mirror and the image being reflected have the same character- they aren’t the same thing.

To put it another way, it’s easier for us to say that Jesus is like God than to say that God is like Jesus.

Packer, however, is asking us to think about the latter. Just as easily as we say that Jesus is like God, we should be able to say that God is like Jesus.

It may seem like splitting hairs and it may not seem like a big deal to anyone but me but it might just reframe how we think about God and God’s character. Too often God is seen as the great unknowable, the great Other and to ascribe any attribute to God is simply a guess to know what is ultimately unknowable. Philosophers can spend their time debating if a person within time and space can truly know a being that exists outside of time and space but for this discussion but if Jesus is the incarnate God, if they are the same substance and if they are, in fact, equal they why can’t we say that God stands as Jesus-like in character?

What does this mean practically? It means that the character we see in Jesus, as displayed in the Gospels, is the character of God. Jesus is not the mirror that reflects God but ultimately isn’t God or has a different nature than God. It also means that if we want to know how God acts, reacts, thinks, behaves, speaks (if we use human language to describe God) we can apply what we see Jesus doing, thinking and saying to God.

What’s God like? Jesus-like.

 

 

Walk: How to Remember

I left last week’s post by asking the question, why do we forget? We looked at Paul’s call to live lives as prisoners of Jesus. But, whereas an inmate in a prison does not wake up one day and forget that they are a prisoner, I (and maybe you too) do forget (many times a day) that I am a prisoner, a slave, a bond-servant of Jesus.

Why do we forget? And what can we do to remember?

I mentioned in my previous post that one possible reason we forget is that, unlike an inmate in prison, we are not completely surrounded by reminders of our status as prisoners of Jesus. Literally everything in the life of a prisoner exists to remind them that they are not free and that they are under the control of the one to whom they are a prisoner. Is that idea something we can copy within our lives as followers of Jesus? Or would that take leaving our lives and our culture and moving into a monastery? Should we only listen to worship music and keep Fireproof in the DVD player? Are those the only ways to remember? I sure hope not.

So what do we do? Going back to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul devotes all of chapter 2 to our very question. We can summarize his thoughts in three main points.

1. Remember who you were. Paul calls us to remember who we used to be. We were dead, lived to the lusts of our flesh, we were children of wrath, we were separated from Christ, strangers and aliens. Remembering who we used to be should help us to remember that that’s not who we are anymore.

2. Remember what God is like. If we desire to be prisoners of Jesus and slaves to God, we should know what God is like. Paul tells us that God is rich in mercy and that he loves us with a great love. God is the one who has made us alive and has given us the riches of his grace and the very faith it takes to trust him. God is our peace, our cornerstone and the preparer of the good works we are able to walk in. Reflecting on those attributes of God should cause us to grow in our desire to serve, surrender and give God all of ourselves and all of our affections.

3. Remember what God has done for us. Here Paul dives into the heart of the gospel. God, in Jesus, has made us alive and raised us up to the place where Jesus is. Not only that but God has, through the cross, broken all the walls that separate us from God, given us hope and included us in the promise. We are now fellow citizens of God’s house and the very house/temple itself, through the church, as the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

Based on Ephesians 2, remembering who we were, what God is like and what God has done for us, you and I may be able to better live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus on our lives. In this season of Lent, even if you have made a commitment to give up something, let’s make the commitment to add something- that being to read Ephesians 2 every opportunity we have between now and Easter.

An Un-Advent-ful World: Peace

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

2015 will go most likely go down as the bloodiest year for gun violence (although Congress has placed a ban on the collection of fully accurate gun violence statistics. Read an Washington Post article about that here.) Around the world we hear about the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS, the fight against Boko Haram, tensions in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

The political left mercilessly attacks the political right. The political right mercilessly attacks the political left.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

National politicians, political candidates and state governments battle over immigrants, refugees, use of the military, gun control, the LGBT community, the environment and healthcare.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

In an un-advent-ful world, peace is achieved through conflict. That statement, while being full of irony, is also full of truth. Peace is achieved when the strongest voice removes all traces of the voice, or voices, of decent. Throughout history this has typically been accomplished through violence, murder, coercion, assassination or imprisonment.Peace under those conditions is not really peace.

Jesus came not only to make peace between God and humanity but between humans ourselves. Jesus demanded that the Kingdom of God (which he announced had, in fact, begun) could not advance through violence or coercion. The Kingdom of God couldn’t come via Peter’s sword. It couldn’t come by James and John lording over the other disciples. It couldn’t even come by Jesus calling down legions of angels.

The Kingdom of God could only come by way of a cross, a broken body and a bleeding Son of God.

That cross, the Apostle Paul tells in Ephesians 2, not only made peace with God but it made peace between people groups because now all people have access to God. It is also because of the cross that Paul can write, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

How do we advance the Kingdom of God?  We advance it through truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, salvation and the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).

The question remains, even in the midst of Advent, if we are called to a gospel of peace, where is peace and where are the peacemakers? Will be be people of peace and peacemakers within the world?

[This song really isn’t about Advent but it’s theme is very similar to what we have been discussing.]

 

Living Grace: The Ragamuffin Gospel

9781601428684One of the foundations of the Christian faith is God’s freely given grace. Many Christians know the word grace and may even understand the concept of grace but fewer know how to live out grace. It is to this dilemma that Brennan Manning speaks within the pages of The Ragamuffin Gospel.

Brennan Manning began writing while working for the newspaper of the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he was enlisted. After the Marines, Manning ended up attending Saint Francis Catholic seminary. It was here that Manning meet God and had “a powerful experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ.” After completing his undergrad, Manning spent four more years studying theology and creative writing. He was ordained as a Franciscan priest in 1963. Through his many ministry assignments, Manning was drawn to those who had become outsiders to the church. Manning could have become one of those outsiders himself when he fell into the depths of alcoholism. After his recovery, Manning began writing. In addition to The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning was the author of Abba’s Child, All is Grace as well as several other books. Brennan Manning passed away on April 12, 2013.

I mention Manning’s biography because his life was a life lived by grace. This is what Manning wants for those who choose to follow Jesus and it is the reason he wrote The Ragamuffin Gospel. Throughout the book, he focuses on two major themes. First, is the fact that we are all ragamuffins and there is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more than God already does. Manning writes that when Jesus hung out with the poor, destitute, impoverished and the sinners, Jesus was really hanging out with us. The beauty of the ragamuffin gospel “reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit” (57). When we understand who we are, it is only then that we can recognize that there is no personal effort that we can bring before God.

Manning’s second major theme is that grace is supposed to be lived out as much as it is to be believed in. This idea really sets the stage for the themes discussed throughout the book. For Manning, “our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter” (77). Manning sees grace within our desire to and ability to love. He finds grace in the truth we see in the world and within ourselves and he sees grace in our freedom from fear.

The Ragamuffin Gospel was first published twenty-five years ago but it remains a pointed work for Christians today. While some of his examples from contemporary life twenty-five years ago may not be relevant to younger readers (he uses The Cosby Show, for example), most of his stories about authors, Rabbis and philosophers are easily accessible even though they may not be familiar. Perhaps Manning’s ability to tell a story comes from his background as a newspaper writer. In fact, Manning’s writing style reminded me of newspaper journalism- with short sentences that quickly get the point. It is a style that makes the book assessable to a wide range of people. After diving into Manning’s work, it is easy to see why The Ragamuffin Gospel is considered a classic work and it’s one that should be on your radar as well.

I received this book from Blogging for Book for this review.

Read more about Brennan Manning on his website.

Apply to Amaze: Theological Vision

We’ve been talking about the words of Jesus and if we are still amazed by them- as the crowds in the gospels were when they heard the words and message of Jesus. I ended the last post with a series of questions and I want to address two of them here:

Would those around us, if they heard the words of Jesus, be amazed?

If those around us are not amazed at Jesus’ words, why?

When it comes to the words of Jesus, a majority of those around us fall into one (or more than one) of three categories. First, they simply don’t know anything that Jesus said. Second, they don’t care to know anything that Jesus said. Third, they have the wrong idea of what Jesus said.

A brand new study released by the Pew Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans over the course of seven years. They found that over the seven year time period, the number of Americans who said that religion was “not at all” important to their life grew by 5.3%. The study also found that those who classify as “religiously unaffiliated” grew by 6.7% (from 16.1% of those surveyed to 22.8%). [Here are links to two articles on the Pew study: one from NPR and one from Christianity Today.]

Another recent survey conducted by the Church of England found that 25% of those ages 18-34 believe that Jesus is purely a “mythical or fictional character.”

These studies show the growth of people in each of the three categories we mentioned a moment ago. Seeing that reality, how do we engage people with the word and message of Jesus? And engage them in such a way that they come away amazed?

In trying to answer these questions, there are two different directions we can go. Either we can say that what we need is more evangelism; we need more people telling more people Jesus’ message. The logic goes like this, “If people don’t know what Jesus said, we need to go and tell them what Jesus said- whether they like it or not, whether they are ready or not.” I’m purposely taking a cynical view of evangelism because I think that this is how it comes across to those people around us.

The other direction we can go is application. This is the direction that I believe we need to travel. If those around us either don’t know what Jesus said, don’t care what Jesus said or have the wrong idea of what Jesus said, instead of approaching with a list of things Jesus said, we need to be able to show the effects of Jesus’ words within our own lives.

This direction makes sense and it’s what we do in other aspects of our lives. If I buy a new TV and I am trying to convince you to buy the same TV, I could read the owners manual to you or I could show you the TV. That’s the difference between purely evangelism in the manner we have historically done it and showing people the effects of Jesus in application.

The problem is that most of us don’t know how to apply the words and message of Jesus into our lives. I’ve become convinced that application is the most important aspect when we come to the study of Scripture. I’ve also become convinced that application consists of more than simply what to do in Situation A or Circumstance B. Application must consist, in the words of Timothy Keller, of theological vision. Keller defines theological vision as “a vision for what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place.” He goes on to elaborate,

We must discern where and how the culture can be challenged and affirmed…Those who are empowered by the theological vision do not simply stand against the mainstream impulses of the culture but take the initiative both to understand and speak to that culture from the framework of the Scriptures…The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed…So what is a theological vision? It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich impulses for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history. (Center Church, 18-19). 

Changing our idea of application from what to do in Situation A or Circumstance B to a theological vision for the culture we are in takes way more work than brainstorming a few examples of common problems. It takes work to see culture, understand culture and see how Scripture speaks into the culture so that the culture can be transformed.

The Pew study shows that 46.1% of Americans see religion as “somewhat” or “not at all” important in their life, the way we can re-engage them in spiritual things is to apply to amaze. Apply the message of Jesus in such a way that those around us who don’t know what Jesus said, don’t care what Jesus said or have the wrong idea of what Jesus said are amazed to the point where they have a desire to know the words of Jesus for themselves.