Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delightful Holiness

I have been trying to work through 1 John in my devotional reading.  Though simplistic in its wording, it is a difficult book to follow the flow of thought. One verse has hung in my mind since I started reading it. "and we are writing these things that our joy may be complete (1:4)."

Over the past week, through various sources, it has become apparent to me that holy living is not the burden that many have made it out to be. Is it an obligation? Yes. Do you or I actually fulfill this obligation ever? No. No matter how hard we try, no matter what methodologies we implement you and I can never be holy of our own efforts.

This is the oddity of the Christian life. We have an impossible standard that we are to recognize fully as such, because it constantly reminds us that only Jesus has done this perfectly. The impossible standard is there to break us and force us to admit we are mess-ups. It forces us to remind ourselves daily that Jesus has given us His perfect holiness. He alone has fulfilled this perfect standard.

When we gratefully wear the robes of Jesus' perfect righteousness, rather than trying to spruce up our own tattered garments, we are dressed to enjoy and delight in holy living. Christ's commands to love others more than ourselves is no longer a burdensome task that leaves us feeling guilty every time we consider our failure to do so. When we are wearing Jesus' perfect love for others instead of trying to muster our own, we are freed to love others because it is not about ME. Otherwise, in trying to love others more than ourselves we still manage to make it all about ourselves.

We must be forced to recognize at every moment of every day that we are inept. In our strength, we can only flail about, clumsily bumbling through life. Jesus' perfect life is our own. His perfection has replaced our imperfection. The standard has already been met. Now we must become what we already are in God's eyes. We must die to our own self-improvement attitudes and die to ourselves, living to Christ. We strive for holy living because it is our delight to do so, not because it is a list of tasks we must fulfill. This is one of the most freeing and refreshing truths a Christian can grasp. I am not sure that I have communicated it well enough to be understood rightly.

The "Christian" self-help mentality is destructive to Christian living. It will either crush you, because you realize you just can't live up to this holy standard (even when the Spirit is presented as a power source), or you will follow whatever steps prescribed, because you are a rule follower, becoming prideful and arrogant. Holy living is only possible in the realization that Jesus alone has done so on our behalf. Now we live for Him in the way that He lived because we are delighted to do it and Jesus is our delight.

So much for clearly laying this all out. It is a big idea that I am struggling to put into my own words, though I am fully aware that many other men have said exactly the same thing with far more precision. John wrote this letter, 1 John, not out of a duty to this church, but because it brought him joy. May we serve the Lord in gladness!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Boring Faith

Countless people I know are bored with their faith. It seems old, tired  and pointless. I would like to point out that a bored faith = and absence of faith. The Christian/biblical concept of faith is the idea that one is placing their trust in  a person, a living person, Jesus. It is NOT belief-ism, believing for the sake of belief, a.k.a. blind faith.

Bored faith (at its best) exists because people have an intellectual grasp of what they believe, but have no personal relationship with the person of Jesus. Bored faith sees Jesus as a rock (thanks Jeremy Kingsley). Bored faith treats Jesus as if He is an inanimate object, not as a living person. Bored faith is rooted in the misconception that it fully understands Jesus and Christianity. It fails to see Jesus' infinite value. It fails to understand, or fails in the motivation to grow in understanding to see why Jesus is worth centering one's entire life around Him. A bored faith lies in a lack of love for the Lord, Jesus Christ, because it fails to see Jesus' love.

This is a failure to grasp what He submitted himself to for the sake of His people. It is lacking sight to see what He endured willingly out of love. Boring faith goes on endlessly about what a person should be doing in their life, but never consistently revisits what God has done in Christ for the believer. The truth is we live in light of Jesus' perfection given to us, not out of the obligation of obtaining our own.

Living, genuine, biblical faith thrives in the shadow of the cross and what took place there. It does not move beyond it. Churches are dead, people's spiritual lives are dead not because they are stuck in a bygone era! They are dead because deadness is symptomatic of a failure to passionately cherish Jesus as their greatest joy, thus intentionally existing to glorify God. They are dead because they do not worship (rightly attributing to Jesus His value) in all aspects of their church community which include daily spiritual disciplines, the work week, in the individual homes, in the prayer services, in the Sunday services, and in their programmatic ministries. In everything that a person/church is Christ must be treasured more than anything else. This is vibrant, exciting, and life-changing faith.

I certainly cannot say that I always attribute to Christ His rightful due in a life of daily worship. I have not arrived at some place, which others must be pulled up to. I am an average Christian fighting to keep my faith from going stale. What I know above all else that which prevents my faith from going stale is drinking deeply of Jesus character, person, work in His life death, and resurrection, and His continuing work through the Spirit in my life as I open the Bible. I do not have the silver bullet for to remedy all symptoms for a boring faith, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the heart of a boring faith can only be changed by glorying in, celebrating in, finding our greatest joy in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, a.k.a. the gospel. Has your faith gone stale?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Palatable Jesus

Conservatives are really good at pointing outside of themselves to liberal theologians and mainline denominations. We are quick to underline the areas they have departed from orthodox biblical faith, but we fail to realize where we have practically done the same. While we might intellectually hold the Bible as our authoritative source of truth, we live as though these truths don't matter. This is why conservative churches are dying in the same manner liberal churches have already declined. We are self-professing conservatives, but by becoming result-oriented we have become liberals in practice.

How can I say this? Conservative, Bible believing evangelicals are just as guilty as liberals of reshaping Jesus into our own image. It is just a different image. The conservative version of Jesus is a Messiah who doesn't have a problem confronting sin. He calls people to holy living. He died to convert people. All of these are not necessarily wrong, just not complete. Our problem is that we have made Jesus so familiar to our conservative sensibilities that He doesn't inspire our hearts towards worship. We forget that the cross saves us, but also confront us with our own ugly sin forcing us to lean totally on Jesus' perfection. We cannot please God on our own strength. We forget that on our best day, the day we witnessed, read our Bible, had our quiet time, fasted etc., on that day our works are dung in the sight of our holy God. We often teach salvation by faith, but teach becoming a mature Christian (sanctification) by step-by-step instructions trusting in a can-do attitude. See all our Christian self-help/church growth sections in our bookstores.

How often do our congregations become so moved by the majesty, power, and glory of Jesus that it falls on its face in the presence of the King. I do not mean a coerced, feelings-oriented manipulation of people, but a realization of the reality of Christ's majesty. Worship is making much of something/someone. Does your congregation make much of Jesus in worship? Or has Jesus become so familiar and common among us, that we are deceived to seek other focuses that make members excited and thrilled? How can we call people to give up everything to submit to a Savior that we find boring?

I am guilty of making Jesus palatable to my tastes. Conservatives and liberals are guilty of this. Rule followers (typically conservatives) make Jesus to be a pharisee. Rebels (typically liberals) make Jesus to be a rebel. Even post-moderns (folks that don't want to wear a label) reshape Jesus. They don't want Jesus put in a box. He is made so big that He almost cannot be known. The truth is that Jesus is more righteous than any Pharisee and more of a rebel than any boat rocker in today's society. We can know who He is because He has revealed everything we need to know about Himself in Scripture. The problem with all camps is that when we make Jesus out to be like us our faith is not about Jesus, but about ME. When churches do this their focus shifts from the author and perfecter of their faith, to placating the membership. Scripture clearly reveals everything we need to know about Jesus, and testifies that your and my life should be about Him. He is really that important.

Unless conservative, Bible believing evangelicals (even reformed churches) realize that their faith, their lives, their churches are not about us, but ought to be about Christ, we will find ourselves on life support just like the mainline denominations are. Who is worshiped in your church, Jesus or you? Has Jesus been made palatable in your church or in your own life so that He does not move your heart to praise Him? Lord, Jesus forgive us (myself most of all) for making too much of ourselves, and too little of You.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Greater than Death

"The benefactors, those who are given unending, undeserved goodness and unmerited perfection, in Jesus are (and will be) more powerful in life than death itself, which has had power over mankind through Adam." This is my understanding of Rom. 5:17. The result of Jesus' person and work is far greater in its accomplishments than the results of Adam's sin on mankind and creation. This is a phenomenal concept with radical implications. This claim is extraordinary.

Sin damned the race of men. It ravaged a perfect world. Sin crowned as king an alien, destructive enemy of mankind, death, to war against life. Death was given power like none other. It reigns over kings, emperors, dictators, and generals. Excepting Christ, none has mastered this 'master of the world.' It brings the great and powerful low, placing great and small on the same plain before its dark throne. Death reminds us that we are a broken and weak race. Its long terrible arm is inescapable.

And God subjected creation and mankind to this ruler, knowing that He would place himself under its power to restore that which had been broken. He tasted the pitiless, uncaring power of death in order to disarm its power and replace it with a greater power, a power He gives to all that love and trust in His finished work on the cross. He gives us greater gifts, than the ones that were robbed from us by sin. What we lost, we lost so that we could receive that which is greater. What we experience in this life because of sin in the world, we go through in order to glory in the good gifts we have received in Christ. The greatest of these gifts being Himself. Our reign, our rule with Christ begins in this life and is brought into fullness and completeness in the next. We can, each moment of every day, experience the power and fullness of God in this life that is greater in its power than death's own tyranny. Our good gifts are abundant grace and the perfection of Jesus given to us freely in the person of Jesus.

Drink deeply of the concept of abundant grace! Grace is the idea that goodness in being shown to those whom do not deserve it. That's you and me. The term "abundant grace" used in Rom. 5:17 communicates that there is such an abundance of God's goodness shown to you in His Son, Jesus, you will never be able to exhaust this eternal source of grace. You and I can drink our fill beginning in this life and spanning all of eternity. Grace implies that you and I will never deserve it, but regardless it will be shown to those of us who are in Jesus. This means that as Christians we never wear out our welcome with God. We are not required to clean ourselves to receive God's favor, instead we clean ourselves up because of God's favor already has been shown to us. We are simply becoming what God has already made us in His Son. Our appetites will never be ambitious nor ravenous enough to indulge ourselves past what is freely available in Jesus. We may daily drink deeply filling ourselves with the beauty and majesty of God revealed in face of Jesus Christ until we are saturated to our core, yet there in an infinite surplus remaining for us.

The goodness shown in Christ which is unending and undeserved is more powerful than the sin which unqualifies and brings death. Whether we embrace this or not, we Christians are kings and queens of the earth in Christ. We get to experience the power and fullness of life which is greater than what death can steal, because it cannot be stolen by death. Christ has accomplished more than what Adam lost for humanity. If we lose everything in this life but still have Christ, we still have everything.

May your life's ambition be summed up in these words that you might reign in this life:
"It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed but that with full courage now, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20)."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Powerful Foolishness of the Cross

We should be honest, honest with ourselves and honest with those around us. Jesus dying on the cross is often received with a shrug by you and by me. As Christians it is often received as tired, old tune. For others is seems senseless, barbaric, and out-dated. Christians lose joy and excitement in the cross because they do not embrace the reason it is so controversial for everyone else. Instead we shy away from the controversy.

How can love be displayed in the death of the innocent? How can a loving Father kill his Son for the injustice of others? Why does blood have to be shed? Why would the death of God the Son bring life? Doesn't the cross portray a vengeful, wrathful, morbid God rather than a God of love?

The Gospel defies conventional wisdom (ex. above questions), does it not?

These are good questions, but they are questions that stem from a fundamental misunderstanding. This thinking flows out of a complete/partial dismissal of sin. Sin is not a mere breaking of a rule, or the violation of an arbitrary standard. If this is all that sin is, then such a display of God's wrath as the cross would rightly be an overreaction. Sin is a rebellion against the authority of God as God. It is the rejection of his nature, his character, his attributes, and his person. It is a declaration of war against all that God is. It is the natural drive of every human to say, "I will do what is right in my own eyes." We desire to determine what is good, which is described solely of God in Genesis 1 & 2. The sin of mankind was not eating of some fruit, nor was it the mere dismal of God's rules. The sin of mankind was the decision to see the world as glorious, rather than God. Reread Genesis 3. Our sin was to define good as we see fit, and reject God's rule all together. The fall was a revolution, humanity's attempt to set on the throne as the ultimate authority. It was a declaration of anarchy. You and I have committed high treason!

Could we really expect God just to forget the fact that we completely reject Him as Ruler of the Universe? We do reject him everyday. We don't even have to do anything necessarily "bad" in order to do this. All we have to do is live life the way we see fit, try to be a good person, and hope for the best. "God, sorry about my complete disregard for you on a daily basis, but I am going to do things my way and things will ok between us." This statement is the reality that most folks who acknowledge the existence of God live in. We can insult, disregard, disrespect, despise, and refuse to submit to God, but since he is loving he can't get mad. Right? Wrong!

We all wish God was really like that, because a god like that is like a boss who lets you do whatever you want. Sure you like the guy, but you will never respect him or take him seriously. In truth, most of the time we delude ourselves with the idea that God is some soft old man in the clouds. We refuse to see that God is all powerful and very just. Meaning everyone will get exactly what they deserve and He has the authority and power to make the penalty match the crime. In light of the earlier paragraph, can we really expect heaven? To slight an infinitely perfect being, is an immeasurably weighty sin. This is the highest form of treason. Only an eternal punishment will do....hell.

So back to the cross. At the cross the infinite wrath of God was poured out on the Man-God, Jesus (fully man and fully God), because only an infinite being could absorb infinite wrath. Death is the penalty for high treason, even today in almost every country. Out of love God paid the penalty for your and my highest treason so that you and I might live. So what may seem very foolish to our culture and most cultures on the planet, is the power of God for your and my salvation from his wrath. This reality is only beautiful to those who first realize that they actually stand before God as rebels, but now through Christ realize that they stand before God wearing Jesus' perfection. Do you live in light of the gospel as the power of God or without a second thought to the gospel (treating it as foolishness)?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

I imagine that most people who might read the title of this blog entry (though I am fully aware that when I say most I am being overly optimistic about the readership of this blog, lol) might think that this entry is about the saving power of the Gospel. In other words, it might be assumed that I am going to write about the Gospel's ability to transform those opposed to Christ (a.k.a. the "lost"). Indeed, this would be a valid and wonderful subject on which to expound, but it is not my topic of interest for the moment. The Gospel is not merely a introductory course for the new believer, but is to be the life blood and daily bread of the oldest, most astute Christian.

Apart from the person and work of Jesus (the Gospel) there cannot be any spiritual growth. If there is any perceived spiritual growth divorced from Christ, in reality it is an inflation of an individual's pride, self-righteousness, and a self-delusion of holiness. John 15:1-11 was the source of this shocking revelation in my own spiritual development. Jesus could not be clearer. If we are separated from him, we do not flourish. We whither and become useless fodder, meaning we become the fruitless, bitter, self-serving, joyless people you and I have come to avoid in the church.

There were two realizations that flowed from this passage that were chilling to my zealous religiosity a few years ago, and one powerful truth that warmly clothed my naked soul. The first realization was that I had not looked to Jesus as my life line. I was determined that I would forge ahead in my Christian life relying on my determination, my head knowledge, and (unknowingly at the time) my ability to deceitfully ignore my lack of love for God and for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Had God not awaken me from slumber, I was on the path to becoming what I had hated in churches I had attended and served. I would have continued the process of transforming into the hypocritical, self-righteous, prideful, arrogant, loveless, and bitter church member. God in His grace showed me that what I hated around me, was really what I despised about myself. My frustration with church, ministry, and Christian organizations was flowing out of a seething hatred of my own hypocrisy. I knew how to play the pious part so well in public, that I began to believe it in private. This piercing conviction awoke another realization.

The second chilling thing was that I knew so many people/churches that relied on good moral instruction as a substitute for Christian discipleship. Moral teaching flows out of biblical discipleship, but cannot be severed from a deep dependence and daily obsession with Jesus and his work on our behalf. Otherwise, it is not Christian morality. When we take the short-cut of teaching morality without digging into our identity based on and flowing out of the Gospel, we remove the branches from the vine to whither and die. We cannot have Christ-exalting, life-transforming ministries or churches unless they are fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. This stark reality ignited a insatiable passion for serving in Gospel-driven ministry.

The third reality was the nourishment my anemic soul needed and has become a very precious truth in my life. If I loose everything, my job, my home, my family, in Jesus I still have everything I will ever need in this life. I am very grateful that God has given me a wonderful wife, a daughter on the way, a job doing what I love, and a roof over my head. But this passage John 15:1-11, especially v.11, made me realize that all the joy I needed to have a full, purposeful, meaningful life is found in Jesus. He is my heartbeat, my life-blood. It is from Him that I have an identity. I have been freed to live a life of repentance and faith. I do not have to be ashamed anymore to admit that I am a messed-up person who desperately needs Jesus everyday. This should be the confession of every Christian.

He is everything so that I can be content, even happy, being nothing. There is no pressure to measure up to some obscure standard others have set, because Jesus measured up to the perfect standard for me. I have to remind myself of that precious truth everyday. This motivates me to serve him out of love, not out of duty. I am a servant of my Lord because I adore him, not because I am obligated or guilted into service. This radically changed my life and is still doing so. Jesus is the Vine, I am merely a branch. Jesus is the Vine and you are only a branch. Jesus is the Vine; churches are only branches. Without Him none of us flourish; we all whither and die. In Him we have fullness of Joy, nourishment, and abundant lives/life. Are you connected to the Vine? Is your church?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Gospel is ONLY Communicated through WORDS

    I have just returned from an interesting week of preteen camp. The first night was what I expected. The gospel was proclaimed and we saw a couple of our kids saved by Jesus! As the week went on I noticed that the speaker and musician kept emphasizing that the gospel must be seen and that actions are more important than the words themselves. While I do believe that actions are important (faith without deeds is dead James 2:17), they do not take primacy over the object of our faith, the gospel. Oddly enough there weren't kids saved through the service provided to them by our camp staffers, but only through preaching.

    The gospel literally means "good news." Specifically, it is the news concerning the person and work of Jesus for the salvation of his people. News cannot be communicated through deeds performed. At best you could possibly mime or play charades to communicate news to someone, but serving other people in and of itself communicates no involved message. It is not until the people you are serving ask you, "Why?" that you can communicate more than the fact you are a decent human being. It is true that actions do add weight to the words being spoken, but the words of the gospel alone transform hearts, minds, and communities for Christ. So let's stop saying, "we don't need another sermon, we just need God's people to act like God's people."

We need God's people to become passionate about the message of Christ, and share it as they serve Christ and others rather than themselves. Until the gospel is beautiful to them they will only serve others from guilt, fear or prideful self-righteousness. God's people need to hear the gospel too, it alone can transform them daily into a people that are conformed to Jesus' mind and heart. The Holy Spirit uses the gospel to change people from the inside out for justification (becoming a Christian) and sanctification (being daily changed more like Jesus)*.

"How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?....So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ." Romans 10:14-17 (ESV, emphasis mine)

*Obviously I am not giving technical definitions of the words, "justification" and "sanctification," but simple concepts for people to distinguish and grasp them.