Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Preaching Grace

Teachable. A word used to describe whether one can learn from someone else or if they are too proud to humble themselves in the learning process.

Over the last 4 months, I have grown in many ways as a Christian, a husband, and as a man. But I also have been on a journey to understand, as someone who has been called to preach (at least on occasion), something that I did not even know I was trying to understand ...have you ever felt that way?

Last January, I was in a conversation with a much more experienced minister than myself and he said, "We have got to reclaim what it means to preach grace from our pulpits."

I politely nodded my head and thought to myself...I wonder what exactly he means?

Since that time, I have thought about it here and there. Overall, I assumed he was kinda being a softy. One of those run from the word sin kinda guys but given what I knew about him that was inconsistent so it just kinda bugged me.

Then I had a conversation with one of our youth at the church. He was highly upset about a pattern he had seen repeated at the churches he had gone to. In general, as we were talking, I thought he was simply expressing the heartbeat of our culture.

"We shouldn't judge other people."
"Who are we to decide what is right or wrong for other people."
"Our God is a loving and awesome God. Why can't we just talk about that?"

But as our conversation went on and I was gently trying to redirect him and challenge him to think about things a little differently, I began to realize that the heartbeat of what he was saying wasn't so much culture driven as it was Gospel driven. He began asking me,

"Does tearing down someone else's faith or beliefs really move them towards the Gospel?"
"Is that what the Sunday morning sermon should really be all about or should it be about showing them just how amazing Jesus is? How much God loves them? How much they need Him in their lives?"

All of a sudden, I began to realize what preaching grace was all about.

It's not about skipping over sin. It's not about believing, teaching, or supporting the idea that all religions are equal, all worldviews are good, or that all philosophies are wise.

It's about the making much of Jesus.

And that brings me to today.

This morning, as I was beginning to wake up, the Lord and I were continuing to talk all of this over and this question came to me,

"What do I want people to be thinking as they leave a Sunday morning worship service?"

Do I want them thinking about the deep truths I unpacked?
Do I want them thinking that I really showed the differences between Christianity and ______?
Do I want them thinking that I was a good communicator?
Do I want them thinking about a certain illustration or point or application?

Honestly, I admitted to the Lord I wanted people thinking about all those things...then He said, "But is that what I (God) want them thinking about?"

I paused and rethought the question from God's perspective and came up with this answer:

As they leave, I want them thinking, "I may not believe what that pastor, church, or faith believes but what I heard, saw, and experienced today at this place with these people was amazing and like nothing I have ever experienced before. I can't wait to hear, see, and experience more next week."

As I pondered that this morning, I met with my discipler again, and this is what we studied:

1 For we know that if the tent (our bodies) that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Second Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5 ESV)

This whole chapter applies to this blog post, but can I just highlight one part? Verse 19. Specifically, "...not counting their trespasses against them..." and then all of verse 21.

How often have I held people's sins against them in a sermon? How many times have I been and have I put a stumbling block (2 Cor. 6:3) in front of people? Because if I have made a point of religion, worldview, or philosophy then I almost certainly have done so.

I have not preached grace. I have not made the presenting the wonder of Jesus my chief aim. So, I write all of this to tell you that I am endeavoring to do better. I will think more carefully. Consider more wisely. Lean on the Spirit more heavily.

I am sorry for not preaching grace as clearly as I should have. There is a time for comparing and contrasting. For upholding what is true in light of what is evil. What is right in contrast with what is false. But I no longer believe that Sunday morning worship is that time. I believe the corporate worship service must be where we, as the Church of Jesus, make much of our Savior. Oh, that the world may see and hear us do so and be struck with wonder.

Teachable. I will preach grace. Amen.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Equality #2

2) I, Jesus, am a big fan of equality but not at the expense of design.

This statement is simply a logical next step in our understanding that, just as Jesus promoted equality but also authority, so He also promotes an overall design.

Now, I am not trying to drift into the "origins" debate with that statement but take it as you will. What I am trying to say is that there is a design to it all, and by all, I mean all. There is a design to our universe, to the creation we observe within it, down to the smallest particles which we can not see. Within all things is a design. So, we shouldn't be surprised when we read that "in Him all things hold together (The letter to the Colossians)." Indeed, Colossians also says that "all things were created by Him, and for Him, and through Him." So, if anyone was a plan, a purpose, a design then that person is God Himself.

So, if God has designed all things in the known and unknown realms, then why would we assume that he doesn't have a design that is at a more emotional, relational, and rational level? Since I believe He does have a design for every single part of creation (whether that be biology or anatomy or psychology and sociology), I would lay forth the idea that, while a fan and a promoter of equality, He would not put the virtue of equality above His overarching design.

IF God were to do so then all of creation would be different. The stars would all give off the same amount of order to be equal. Everyone's hair would grow at the exact same rate of speed, length, and order to be equal. All the dogs in the world would be able to bark exactly the same volume, eat the exact same amount of food, and run the exact same order to be equal.

Now, I have strayed into kind of ridiculous illustrations to prove the point that the diversity of design is all around us every second of every day and yet we don't seem to find fault with its reality. Why? Because it is part of the design. Even in our own attempts at creation as humans we don't create in order to promote the virtue of equality. If we did, then, every burger would have the same number of calories with the same ingredients. Every car would use the exact same amount of gas and hold the exact same number of people. Every TV would show the same number of pixels and use the same amount of energy and be the same 32 inches (and we certainly know that isn't true!).

Again, by our own efforts we clamor and strive for diversity as well as equality.

I propose that we do so because we are not only wired to be imitators of our creator but because it is what we see and understand from all that is around us. So, when I say that Jesus is a big fan of equality but not at the expense of design it is because to say otherwise would be to not only reject everything that is around us but to simply live in a constant state of denial.

God is a designer. He has a design. The design is all around us. Equality is a part of the design. It is not the chief virtue, goal, or root of the design.

The same could be said of humanity.

Humans are designers. We have designs. The designs are all around us. Equality is a part of the designs. It is not the chief virtue, goal, or root of the designs.

Notice the key difference between humanity and God. We have many designs with many purposes. God has one design with one purpose.

So, let us not kid ourselves into thinking that equality is the virtue that must be striven for over all else. To believe that is to deny all of creation. It is to deny the One who holds all things together. It is to deny the One who gave us the ability to design in our own way.

It is to deny God. And that is quite simply the most foolish thing of all.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Veil

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord(or reflecting the glory of the Lord), are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18, ESV)

Yesterday, during my discipleship time, I was asked this question by my discipler as it relates to the above passage.

"What veil do you have over your face that stops the world from seeing the glory of God?"

At first, I answered the world. By that, I explained, I meant that often times we, as followers of Christ, don't look very different from those that don't know Jesus. We like the same movies, the same foods, the same clothes, the same music. We walk like the rest, talk like the rest, and act like the rest in almost every way. Now, this is kinda a blanket statement but if you strip out cussing, alcohol, and horrifically R rated movies then it is basically true.

I could spend a good bit of time there but I didn't. My discipler was starting to move on, but I was still back on the veil question. I have struggled with identifying with the world for a long time now and I wondered if it was a cover for a deeper answer. I kept re-reading the above passage as he was talking until I finally just said that I think the biggest veil over my face is that I simply don't believe and understand the Holy Spirit like the early followers of Jesus did.

And that became the answer I couldn't escape. I mean...I've read Francis Chan's The Forgotten God (great book) so why wasn't I more like those early followers?????

I shared that some of the guys I had been discipling had asked that if the early church could pray for people to be healed and they were healed then why didn't we, as Christians, just go to the hospitals and pray for the people inside of them? I had always responded to the guys that while I believe we could...we should wait until the Lord moves us to do so.

I still believe that my counsel is correct....but...

the Spirit showed me that in most of my Christian life, as opposed to the early disciples, I tend to ask for permission or denial from the Spirit instead of guidance. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

When faced with a choice, I believe most of let me just speak for myself...I KNOW that when faced with a choice I ask the Spirit, "Do you want me to....(do x, y, or z) or (do this or do that)?" 

This is good, on one hand, since I am seeking the counsel of the Lord and in my life He has been very faithful to answer those prayers. On the other hand, I very rarely, if at all, ask the Spirit THIS question,

"What do you want me to .... (do, think, say, etc.)?"

Can you see the difference? One question is a question choices...that I present. Now, I don't always have good clear choices but they are still choices. Take the hospital example. I am relatively comfortable asking, "God, do you want me to go to the hospital and pray for people?" The choice is there because I have laid out the parameters for all the options. 

The other question is one of total abandon. Whatever you want me to do today...I will do. "God what do you want me to do (with these few minutes, this morning, today, next month, next year, etc.)?" In that question I have no parameters. In that question, I am not in control...I am only in obedience or rebellion.

I don't like that kinda question. But then again....I am wearing a veil. 

Did the early disciples set out the parameters or did they live with abandon? History records that they were a "peculiar people." That they "set the world on fire."

So, maybe I should be less consumed with my question of how can I be different than the world and more focused on living without parameters. 

Then, I might one day look up and find that I am bold (verse 12), living in freedom (verse 17), and transformed (verse 18).

How can I do that, God? Do I trust you enough? Can you offer me something to cling to?

"Sure, Chris, how about this...

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7 ESV)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV84)

...Is that good enough my child?"

Yes, Father...thank you. Please remove the veil so that others might see I am yours and yours alone.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Equality #1

1) I, Jesus, am a big fan of equality but not at the expense of authority.

What would Jesus mean by such a statement? Well, for those that have ears let them hear this: No other faith...NO other faith has done even close to the same amount towards raising every human being...EVERY human being to a place of honor and respect and equality as Christianity. It's just a fact. Go and study it for yourself. Don't take this ol' history major's word for it, but know that it is a simple fact.

In Jesus' day, women were second class, children were to be seen (sometimes) and heard only when spoken to or old enough to have the right to speak. And slaves...yes there were tons of slaves. Slaves from war, slaves from economics, slaves based on race...tons of slaves. Racism? Absolutely. Elitism? Without a doubt. Class warfare? Of course. And then one day there was the sound of a baby crying and the world began to change.

In our day, we hold up the virtues of tolerance and equality as our ultimate goals. We as a culture honestly believe that if we would just be tolerate of everyone and everything and if all people in all places would be allowed to be equal in every way possible then we will reach some sort of utopia and peace will reign forever and always.

So have we, in our day, reached the point that Jesus' birth was pointing to? Have we arrived on the edge of the great change that His life, ministry, death, and resurrection all pointed towards? No. We have not.

We do not just hold up tolerance and equality as goals. They are our modern day gods. It is they that we seek after with all of our hearts. And in so doing we take a good and make it an evil (as C.S.Lewis so rightly notes) by placing it above the giver of the good.

We must understand that equality as Jesus saw it, lived it, practiced it (see the woman at the well in the Gospel of John chapter 6), and taught it (see the woman caught in adultery, also in John chapter 8) did not in any way eliminate or compromise authority. Jesus said "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Why? Why didn't he just say, "Keep for yourself what you make because Caesar is no better than you. He is no less than you. He is your equal. All are equal in every possible way before God." Jesus didn't say that because it wasn't what he was about. He wasn't negating authority. He was establishing equality.

Whee we try to equalize all people at the expense of authority, then we undermine all of society. When we try to force authority at the expense of equality then we undermine society. Jesus understood this (I mean He is God so that is understandable) yet we struggle with getting this balance right. In Jesus' day, equality was not a virtue is was a vice. It was a weakness. It was a failing. Jesus and the followers of Jesus after His resurrection changed all that. Equality became a virtue of the Church. Once someone becomes a follower of Jesus. Their very self worth becomes equalizes with every other follower of Jesus. There is no person that is better than any other person in the family of God (See Paul's letter to the Galatins chapter 3 verses 27-29).

Yet within the equality that Jesus has paid for on the cross remains authority. It is God and God alone who is the supreme and final authority but under His rule God places people, gifts people, calls people to different levels of leadership, different styles of life, different occupations and jobs. To not have this sense of authority within the contexts of Christ bought equality is to not understand the reality of sin. For Jesus did not come to die on a cross to make us all equal. He came to deal with sin and the author of sin. And it is sin and its author that longs for authority to be supreme and equality to be destroyed. Such a corruption God would not and will not tolerate but neither will he tolerate a society in which all authority is stripped away because it is not God that would be destroyed in such a society. It is humanity.

Humanity would fail because equality without authority is unsustainable without the power of God at work through His Spirit in the people He has redeemed and equalized. There is grace and there is sin. If grace does not reign in peace then sin will reign in destruction. There is no ideal world of equality and tolerance without the "confines" of authority. Such a world would be doomed from its creation because sin and the author of sin would doom it.

What is my Biblical proof for such a statement? Genesis chapters 1, 2, and 3. In the beginning God created the place we all long for. It was good. There was a man and a woman and they lived together in a most wonderful world in a most wonderful relationship with a most wonderful God. A God that walked in fellowship with them. And then the author of sin came as whispered, "Why don't you simply become just like God?" And thus sin entered the world as Adam and Eve sought to become equal with God and deny His authority. So you see, we don't have to look very far in the history of humanity to find that equality without authority is a very dark place. And, if we are real honest with ourselves, we know that on our own we have the same craving of authority and control our ancestors did.

So let's stop kidding ourselves and pretending that we have advanced to some new and great place. We aren't in the days of Jesus anymore but our day isn't a whole lot further along.

Jesus is a big fan of equality but not at the expense of authority.

Let the comments begin...