Archive for February, 2013

One of the blogs I’ve recently been following is Her.meneutics, a blog by Christian women hosted by Christianity Today. This recent post by Amy Simpson suggests some practical lessons that churches can take from the US Postal Service Crisis. Its a worthwhile read.


The Gospel of Jesus (part 2)

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Many years ago I served a church in St. Louis. One day I received a call from Governor Ashcroft’s office inviting me and our staff to attend a speech that was to be given by President George H.W. Bush on NAFTA. I said that I’d take 10 tickets and our staff put the date on the calendar. I had never attended a speech by a US President, and was very excited to see what all was involved. We pulled up to the venue in the church van and were directed to parking. We walked through the metal detectors and were directed to seating. For several minutes we watched as the Secret Service men dressed in dark suits and sunglasses surveyed the room, speaking into their lapels. They brought out a podium, and affixed the presidential seal. The room went silent and the announcement came: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

The Jesus declared was that the Kingdom of God was breaking into history. His first and ongoing message was “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17, NLT). Jesus made that announcement at the height of Messianic expectation. The citizens of Israel were tired of those pagan Romans running their government and were longing for the day that Messiah would come and restore Israel to her former glory. Jesus ongoing message was that the Kingdom of God had arrived. But he did not come to fulfill the Messianic expectation that Israel as a geo-political state would be re-established to its former greatness under David and Solomon. Jesus focus was not the Kingdom of Israel, but something bigger. His concern was the Kingdom of God.

As I’ve said in previous posts, the Kingdom of God is the effectual range of God’s will where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God was breaking into human history and yes, had arrived through Christ. Jesus declared himself as the Lord of the new Kingdom, demonstrating the power of God’s reign (Luke 7:22-23). His miracles were displayed in order to demonstrate all that had been lost in the fall.

The Gospel of Jesus recognizes that each of us live in the kingdom of “me,” where our will is done and our desires are met. In order for us to inter into the Kingdom of God we have to step out of our Kingdom where we rule and reign and step into God’s Kingdom where He rules and reigns. It’s not just about getting our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die. It’s a change of direction, turning away from ourselves and our kingdoms and turning to God and His Kingdom where He reigns and where His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

This Sunday I’ll finish up this two part sermon. Check in next week for more!

Categories : Gospel, Kingdom of God
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The Gospel of Jesus

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Jesus Christ is without a doubt the most compelling and confusing person in human history.

He is compelling because of the sheer magnitude of his life. His teaching, his actions, his miracles, his compassion for the marginalized and his sacrifice make him loved by those of all ages around the globe. Even those who claim to be atheist have a sincere appreciation for the historical Jesus, and value him as one to be esteemed, respected, heard, and modeled.

But at the same time, Jesus is the most confusing person who ever lived. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus fed 5,000 and then later fed another 4,000. A paragraph later, the disciples began to bicker over not having any bread to eat. Jesus asked them, “How many baskets of leftovers did you gather when I fed the 5,000?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And how many baskets when I fed the 4,000?” “Seven,” they responded. Jesus then asked, “Do you get it?” The disciples looked at Jesus, shrugged, and said, “No, we really don’t.” Two thousand years have passed and if we’re honest we would confess, we don’t get it either.

Jesus was a counter cultural revolutionary. He spoke of turning cheeks, going the second mile, and descending into greatness. He ate with sinners and condemned religious leaders. His teaching makes us nervous. He said that if we don’t hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters we cannot be his disciple. If we put our hand to the plow and look back we are not worthy of his kingdom. So what do we do about that? Explain it away by saying, “that was then, this is now?”

So what do we do with Jesus? We’re pretty good with the spring weekend that describes his death and resurrection, but what about the rest? Ever since the Protestant Reformation we’ve relied on Paul to help us understand Jesus. That statement alone should send signals flashing and alarms ringing. But that’s what we do. Go to any local bookstore and pick up a gospel tract. Take three minutes and read it and count the number of verses that quote the words of Jesus and how many verses cite the writings of Paul. We use Paul to understand Jesus when the opposite should be true. We should be examining Paul through the lens of Jesus. One wonders how we would even read Jesus if Paul’s writings were not available. What then?

Until we get Jesus right, he will be nothing more that one who forgives our sins and solves our problems. If the only time we turn to Jesus is when we need our problem solved, we use him. And when you use someone in any relationship, all you can ever hope for is approval. You’ll never enjoy the benefits of acceptance.

What do we do with Jesus? Is his story just a story about a weekend 2,000 years ago? What about his three year ministry? Does that matter? What about the 33 or so years he lived on earth? Is there significance that he was born a Jew in Israel? Does that context matter in light of the previous 4,000 years of Old Testament history? Does that stuff matter? Or shall we be content to limit our understand of Jesus to one spring weekend? In order to understand Jesus we need to see him as the resolution of the story of Israel.

What was the gospel that Jesus preached? The only way for us to learn the answer to that question we need to examine what he said.

Categories : Gospel
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My wife shared this article with me and I thought I’d pass it along. It’s titled, “How Free Play Can Define Kids Success.” Enjoy!

Categories : Education, Parenting
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The Gospel as Story (part 2)

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“You must then say in the presence of the LORD your God, ‘My ancestor Jacob was a wandering Aramean who went to live as a foreigner in Egypt. His family arrived few in number, but in Egypt they became a large and mighty nation. When the Egyptians oppressed and humiliated us by making us their slaves, we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors. He heard our cries and saw our hardship, toil, and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and powerful arm, with overwhelming terror, and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey! And now, O LORD, I have brought you the first portion of the harvest you have given me from the ground.’ Then place the produce before the LORD your God, and bow to the ground in worship before him. Afterward you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration (Deuteronomy 26:5-11, NLT).

Stories are very important to our faith, for they serve as the medium through which we learn. If you read the Bible with story in mind, you’ll see there is a basic pattern that emerges: alienation, departure, and return.

Think about Abram. He left his native land and migrated to the land of Canaan. His pilgrimage was interrupted by a famine, causing him to migrate to the land of Egypt. There he was threatened by Pharaoh with regards to his wife. God enacted plagues upon Pharaoh until he called Abram and told him to go. As he departed, Pharaoh bestowed riches upon him. He left Egypt for the Negev, returning to Canaan where the land was divided.

Then there’s the house of Jacob. They travelled to Egypt because of a famine. Centuries passed and the Israelites grew stronger, so strong that Pharaoh enslaved the people. There was a threat to the males as the Pharaoh ordered the male babies to be cast into the Nile River. One was spared, named Moses. Moses presented himself to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Hebrew slaves. Plagues ensued upon the land until Pharaoh called the leader and commanded him to leave. As the Israelites departed they were bestowed with gifts from the Egyptians. The nation began their journey by way of passing through the waters of the Red Sea as they journeyed toward the land of promise where they would divide the land. Along the way they are tested for a span of 40 years with regard to food.

When the reader enters the New Testament, another Joseph, who was also a dreamer, surfaces. He was called to take Mary and together they were to care for the Incarnate Word. There was a threat to the males as Herod commanded all the males under the age of two be slaughtered. They travelled south to Egypt, taking the gifts of the Magi with them. When the coast was clear they returned to the land of Egypt.

After Jesus passed through the waters of baptism, he travelled south to the Negev where he was tested with regards to food for a span of 40 days. He then returned to Israel where he began his earthly ministry.

This pattern of alienation, departure, and return occurs time after time in Scripture. If you look carefully, you’ll see it for yourself in places like Jacob’s flight from Esau and the Babylonian exile. Even Luke’s version of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:31) contains the language of departure (literally, “exodus”) as Moses and Elijah spoke to Christ about what was to come.

So what’s so important about this?

By understanding the story, we are able to see that salvation is more than getting our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die. Our lives in Christ are part of a larger story that begins in Genesis 1:1. When we understand the story, we can enter into it and make God’s story our story.

Categories : Gospel
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Should We Give Things Up for Lent?

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Fasting has been a part of every world religion and belief system since the beginning of time. The practice of fasting is not uncommon or unknown in secular culture. But what makes fasting and abstinence a Christian practice? Should Christians consider giving up things for Lent? If so, what do we hope to gain from it?

Some people use fasting as a form of asceticism, “buffeting the body” with self denial in an attempt to gain mastery over the flesh and its appetites. But the apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:20-23 that outward practices of self denial do not automatically guarantee inward holiness.

Others use fasting as a talisman to obtain a reward or a goal. By demonstrating piety, these people fast in order to gain God’s attention in hopes of earning grace or obligating God to grant whatever request we desire.

Then there are those who use fasting as a response to a grievous moment, such as our sin or even death. We see this evidenced in the Old Testament in the lives of Job and David, to name two.

But what does the Scripture say about fasting and abstinence? What makes it unique to us as Christians? Check out what Jesus said.

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fastf like we do and the Pharisees do?” Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved” (Matthew 9:14-17, NLT).

Christian fasting, at its root, expresses our longing for God. But this longing is only half of the story of Christian fasting. Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our longing for God is so intense. The other half is that our longing for God is threatened because our appetites are so intense. In the first half, the appetite is lost. In the second half, the appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the hunger that isn’t.

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not the bitter but the sweet. It is not the banquet table of the wicked that dulls our appetite for God, but rather the endless nibbling at those things that become substitutes for God. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not the poison of evil, but the simple pleasures of earth. For when those replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. They become deadly substitutes, functional idols, if you will. Places and things we turn to in order to find comfort and help with the burdens and challenges of life.

Anything can stand in the way of true discipleship. Not just evil, and not just food. So it should not be surprising that the greatest competitors for our devotion and affection for God would be some of his most precious gifts. This is why fasting and abstinence of the good gifts of God is likely to be more beneficial than using the practice during the Lenten season to break some bad habit.

Christian fasting and abstinence is a test to see what desires control us. What are our bottom line passions? In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “More than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what inside of us with food and other things.”

When our souls are stuffed with small things of life, there is little if any room for the great things of God. The pain and the emptiness we feel that is created by loss reveals how we have stuffed ourselves with substitutes. That pain or loss teaches us important lessons and invites us to draw near to the bread of life and the living water that quenches our thirst.

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The Gospel as Story

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G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “There are only two things that can satisfy the human soul, a story and a person. And then, even the story must be about a person.”

When we think about the gospel, our minds first turn to the story of Jesus. God incarnate, coming to Earth through the Virgin Mary, living a sinless life, dying an inhumane death of which he was totally innocent, and then rising from the dead on the third day. It is that story that makes forgiveness of our sin possible so we can go to heaven when we die. But even the story of Jesus is set in the context of a larger story…the story of Israel.

One of the elements of the apostolic preaching of the first century that we gloss over is the insistence that Jesus is the resolution of the story of Israel. The New Testament is full of Old Testament quotation. Fulfilled prophecies are cited as well. The consistent use of titles such as “Messiah” or “Christ” are not just wordplay or fancy Hebrew aliases. Those elements linked Jesus to thousands of years of history. The story of Israel is the full context of the gospel. If we try to understand the gospel without the broader context of the story of Israel, then our view of the gospel will become distorted.

So what value does this broader view add to the simple message of the cross? How does it help us understand the gospel? Shouldn’t the story of Jesus simply be enough? Granted, that’s a loaded question. But it’s worth thinking about.

Categories : Gospel
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What is the Gospel? (part 2)

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This month I’m preaching a series titled, “What is the Gospel?” What is in jeopardy? What’s at stake? What questions should we be asking? How should we think about the gospel?

First, the message of salvation is very accessible in our culture. This is a good thing. But are we sharing the complete message of the gospel? The cross in the first century was scandalous. It was an instrument of death…a vehicle of execution. Christians of the first century would know nothing of our pale Galilean affixed to a smooth oak crucifix. Crucifixion was the most inhumane means of capital punishment known in human history. And Jesus said that if anyone wanted to come after him that they would have to pick up one of those crosses and follow him day after day.

Second, have we so emphasized personal and individual salvation that we neglect the significance of corporate life in the body of Christ and participation in God’s ongoing mission? Remember, we are the people of God, not the persons of God. The gospel is always contextualized in community, whether the community be a faith community or your geographical location.

Third, have we so diminished the message of the gospel that we run the risk of creating crowds of consumers instead of armies of disciples?
In a recent blog post by Thom Rainer, titled “The Main Reason People Leave a Church, Rainer offers the most common reasons sheep give for leaving a church in search of greener pastures.
• The music director wouldn’t listen to me about the songs I wanted.
• The pastor’s sermons did not feed me.
• No one from church visited me.
• I missed two weeks and no one called me.
• The programs the church offered didn’t meet my needs.
• I asked the pastor to visit my relative and he didn’t do it.
Rainer went on to write that church members should expect some level of ministry and concern. But the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality. In other words, it’s the fault of the people.

But is it really completely the fault of the sheep, given that much of modern evangelicalism uses marketing tactics to draw people within their doors. State of the art facilities that house the latest and greatest programming conveys to church shoppers that church is about them and their needs. Then, once they are engaged, calls to deep commitments of time and money surely sounds like “bait and switch.” I learned a long time ago that whatever it takes to get people into church is what it will take to keep them in church. Creating consumer cultures that broker religious goods and services is not what Jesus and the apostles had in mind.

Finally, does our emphasis on salvation as a one time experience contribute to the fact that American Christian’s lives are virtually no different than our nonbelieving counterparts? Statistics show that we, as American Christians, are just as prone to addiction, divorce, depression, debt and bankruptcy, and obesity (to name a few) as anyone else.

If the gospel is more than the message of salvation that gets my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die, then what is it? What does it include? Check in next week and I’ll begin to unwrap the package.

Categories : Gospel
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What is the Gospel?

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve started a five week series focused on dealing with the question, “What is the Gospel?”, using Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel as a guide for the series. What comes to mind when you hear the word “gospel?” For some, the word gospel is most readily associated with music. There is gospel music as in the African American tradition, and there is also southern gospel, which includes a broad range of recordings all the way from Elvis Presley to Bill Gaither. Others use the word gospel as a colloquialism to testify to the truth of their story. You may have heard someone remark, “That’s the gospel truth…” Then you have the obvious association with the first four books of the New Testament: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As people of the Bible, we understand that the word gospel is important. In Sunday School children learn that the word gospel means, “good news.”

The gospel that we heard growing up primarily had to do with our sin, Jesus’ death, and going to heaven when we die. But is that really all there is to it? It seems as though there should be something more, that some how that simple description is lacking or is incomplete. It seems that much of our understanding of the gospel today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision for Christ. The apostles, however, we obsessed with make disciples.

There are statistics that report numbers as high as 75% of Americans who have made some kind of decision to accept Christ. Those same statistics show that only about 25% of Americans attend church on a regular basis. No one would suggest that church attendance is the perfect measure of discipleship, but you would probably agree it is an important indicator to some degree. According to Barna research, 60% of teenagers have made a “decision” for Christ. That number swells to 80% among mainline Protestant churches and again to 90% for non-mainline Protestants. But when we compare those numbers to young adults between the ages of 18-35 we find some dramatic and discouraging information. Of the 60% general teenage population who made decisions for Christ, only 6% continue with any kind of meaningful practice of discipleship following high school. Among mainline Protestants, 80% drops to less than 20% and for non-mainline Protestants 90% drops to right at 20%. At the most conservative of estimates, we lose about 50% of those who make decisions for Christ.

The difference between decisions and discipleship is clear. But what do we do with it? What is our responsibility? Before we can get into it, we have to deal with one very important question: What is the gospel? The word gospel was a word used in the ancient world for declaring good news about an event. In modern times one would think that the gospel is a simple thing, whereas other subjects like hell, intelligent design, and same sex marriage cries out for debate. Those issues need to be studied and debated, but not until we get the gospel question resolved. Our current understanding of the gospel is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. We need to go back to the Bible and find the original gospel. Our understanding isn’t necessarily wrong as much as it is woefully incomplete.

I believe the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about personal salvation, and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making decisions. The result? The gospel we understand no longer means what it meant to Jesus or the apostles. For most American Christians, the gospel is about getting my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die. But if the gospel isn’t about transformation it isn’t the gospel of the Bible.

It appears that we’ve emphasized the call to personal faith which has created a salvation culture that focuses on and measures people on the basis of whether or not they can witness to an experience of personal salvation. The value we have is focused on who is in and who is out. Or, more personally, “are you in or are you out?” The difference between salvation messages and gospel is the difference between the decided and the discipled.

What is in jeopardy? What’s at stake? What questions should we be asking? How should we think about the gospel? That’s what I’ll take up next.

Categories : Gospel
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Just in time for the Super Bowl, Barna has released new research on The Influence of Pro Athletes on Faith. The big surprise in the study is that Pro Athletes have a more favorable impact than pastors. What do you think about the influence of athletes? Does their public platform add impact to their messages?

Categories : Uncategorized
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