Archive for April, 2011

Last week I was listening to a local talk radio station handicap the early candidates for next year’s Iowa Caucus. These prognostications, complete with individual summaries of “pros” and “cons,” caused me to say, “Didn’t we just elect a President?”

Barna Research has conducted an early poll on the issues that are top of mind for voters as we head into election season. To read these interesting findings, click here for the link.


Hope that Transforms 4

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When we moved from Texas to Arkansas, the Lord blessed us with a nice home that was in a stalled development. Har-Ber Meadows was the dream of a philantropist named Bernice Young Jones. She had envisioned a 600+ home development that was characterized by sitting porches, rear entry garages, and 55 acres of parks and lakes. There were stringent rules on the architecture, to the extent that after about 75 homes were built, the subdivision died.

We were able to purchase a home at about half the original asking price because it had sat there empty for nearly three years. The home was great. The yard? Well, not so much. The builder placed sod around the circumference of the house, but as a cost saving measure, simply seeded the rest of the lot. The house was great but the yard was horrible.

I called a lawn service company to come and provide and estimate of what it would take to turn the yard around. After walking around the yard for a few minutes, he told me that I had no lawn to rescue! It was all weeds. He suggested that I have the lawn saturated with weed killer the re-sod the entire lawn. When I saw the estimate possessed a number with a comma, I knew I had to come up with “Plan B.”

In St. Louis we had learned how to groom and maintain zoysia grass. It was pretty simple and very low maintenance. Then in Texas we learned all about St. Augustine grass, which was so sharp and brittle it felt like walking on broken glass. The advice I received in Arkansas was to plug my lawn with bermuda grass. Bermuda grass sends out runners and spreads quickly. So I went to the store and picked up two 6′ rolls of bermuda sod and began to place plugs in random spots throughout my yard. Guess what? Within a year the bermuda grass had spread like wildfire, choking out all of the weeds. My lawn went from worst to first!

The reason I tell this simple story is to illustrate how the resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives. When a person commits their life to become a follower of Christ, he goes to work and plugs our weed filled lives with his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Given time, those plugs begin to crowd out all of the stuff that gets in the way of us reaching our God given potential.

There are two ways we can approach life. We can focus on weed management or we can allow God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness transform us from the inside out. Weed management doesn’t work. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. The only way we can experience life change is inside out by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

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Hope that Transforms 3

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The New Testament is clear. Our hope is rooted in the context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, Paul asserted that the consistent nature of gospel preaching is one proof of the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection. He then followed that declaration by sharing the first implication of the resurrection: transformation.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8-11, Paul took an unpredicted turn. He had provided a listing of those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, but then suddenly cited his own personal testimony of encountering the risen Lord (cf. Acts 9:1ff). Paul equated his own experience with the experience of the apostles, et al, save for one detail: his birth was “abnormal.” The word here he uses was the word commonly used for a miscarriage or an abortion in the first century. But his emphasis was on the unlikely nature of his transformation. Unlike the other eyewitnesses who had walked with Jesus for up to three years, he had not “come to full term.” So why was it so unlikely that the risen Lord would appear to Paul? Because he had persecuted the church (15:9). Because of God’s great grace, even Paul could experience life change.

Paul’s point is simply this: the transformation he experienced from zealous persecutor of the church to the hardest working apostle in the first century was possible through the resurrection of Jesus, not through some form of personal reformation, like the kind so often sought today.

There is a big difference between personal reformation and spiritual transformation. For example,
Reformation is based on self-effort and self-improvement;
Transformation is strictly the result of grace.
Reformation focuses on behavior modification;
Transformation focused on transformation of the heart.
Reformation relies on rules and regulations;
Transformation relies on the law of love.
Reformation is accomplished through will power;
Transformation is accomplished through surrender.
Reformation seeks a “better you;”
Transformation seeks a “different you.”
Reformation lives as though all the world’s a stage;
Transformation lives for an Audience of One.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power to change your life. You don’t need to make resolutions or turn over a new leaf. You need a complete transformation that works from the inside out.

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Hope that Transforms 2

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The New Testament is not bashful about basing the Christian hope squarely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel. So it should come as no surprise that Paul began his epic teaching on the certainty and the implications of the resurrection with a review of the content of the gospel.

For the Corinthian believers, the gospel was a message that they had decisively received and continued to stand upon, even though they may not have fully understood it. When I was six years old I gave all I knew of me to all I knew of Christ. Frankly, I knew very little about either one! But I can still recall the time and place where I made the decision to commit my life to following Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to be clear on the fact that the message of Jesus is the gospel that saves. It had saved them and continued to transform them. Paul handed forward this message to them, but it was not his own. As he had received it, he passed it forward. In verses 15:1-7, Paul presents the content of the gospel as based upon two historical events, each which possessed its own evidence.

Event #1: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture” (15:3).
Jesus death was sacrificial and on our behalf. Paul uses atonement language (think Old Testament sacrifices) to help us understand that Jesus, though thoroughly innocent, became the perfect sacrifice for sin. He not only was the perfect sacrifice, he was the perfect substitute.

Evidence #1: “He was buried” (15:4).
Much of the apostolic preaching of the early church included the burial of Jesus Christ. It was also included in the early church creeds, such as the Apostles Creed. Why? Burial is verification and evidence of death. That’s why the graveside is such a challenging part of the funeral process. Nothing presents the reality of death more clearly than the burial of the body. Paul’s point is this: Jesus really died a physical death on the cross. He did not swoon or enter into some kind of soul sleep. He literally and physically died and was physically and literally buried. Paul was not using a metaphor or an analogy; he was being woodenly literal.

Event #2: “Christ rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (15:4).
The Greek here uses the passive perfect, which simply means is that Jesus was raised by the Father and that he remains raised. During his ministry on Earth, Jesus raised three people from the dead. Each of them was raised to die again. But Jesus was raised forevermore, claiming victory over sin and death. Just as Jesus physically died and was buried, he was raised again to life.

Evidence #2: “He was seen by…” (15:5-7).
As burial certifies death, the eyewitness reports certified the resurrection. Paul gave an extensive list, but it is not an exhaustive list. For example, the women who first saw Jesus were not included.

This is the foundation of the gospel: Jesus’ physically died as evidenced by his burial, was experienced bodily resurrection from the dead as attested by a number exceeding 500 people. That is the seed of our Christian hope.

Tomorrow I’ll continue in 1 Corinthians 15 and address the first implication of the resurrection: it is the power to change your life!

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Hope That Transforms 1

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Spring is here! For many, its their favorite time of year. In spring we witness the earth awaken from winter’s slumber. The trees bud, the birds sing, perennials burst from the soil, and the grass comes to life. We change out our wardrobes and fire up the grill. We gas up the lawnmower and clean out the garage. We breathe in the smell of burgers and brats and revel in the sound of the crack of the bat at the nearby little league field. In Iowa, its helpful that we celebrate Easter in the spring. Easter, after all, wouldn’t be the same in July’s humidity or January’s ice. Easter and spring a neatly linked where I live because both are symbols of hope.

Hope is a popular word in 2011. It has been politicized and romanticized, but it finds its roots in the context of the Christian faith. Hope is a Christian word. And for the Christian faith, hope is the product of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each world religion has had its founding leader. Each of those leaders has lived, died, and was buried. Only the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of its founding leader.

So during the month of April I’m going to be preaching and blogging about the resurrection of Jesus with the desire that we can reconnect with our truest Christian roots of hope. And as far as the resurrection is concerned, there’s no better place to begin that in the 15th chapter of Paul’s letter we call 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 15 was written to address two questions. The first question is “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” This is a question seeking certainty. Question two is “What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in my life?” That’s a question seeking implications of the resurrection; the proverbial “so what?” if you will. So I’ve chosen to speak and write about these implications each week this month. The resurrection is not just an event settled in history and geography. It matters today and it matters to you!

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The Good and Beautiful God

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Though much of what we have available today on the subject of spiritual formation has been written by people from antiquity, there is a rising breed that has picked up the banner and have begun to wave it riotously. Among the more notable names are Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. While they have become the faces of spiritual formation in the 21st century, they do not stand alone.

James Bryan Smith is one of the names you may not be immediately familiar with, but soon you will be. As the protoge of Willard and Foster, Smith has taken the lead on developing a curriculum to teach and develop spiritual formation. He has published three volumes in this series, and I understand that a fourth volume nears completion.

The Good and Beautiful God is subtitled “Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows.” It is designed to help the reader have a clearer picture of who God is. Smith does this by deconstructing the common narratives we hold of God and replacing them with the narratives that Jesus held, practiced, and taught. Romans 12:2 argues that transformation takes place when we renew our minds and change the way we think. The way we renew our minds is to replace the old thought with a new and better thought. For example, one of the best parcels in the book is Smith’s discussion of the goodness of God. The ancient narrative held that “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished.” The narrative of Jesus, however, reveals that God is infinitely good and is always out for our good, even when we can’t understand it.

Each chapter in The Good and Beautiful God seeks to offer hope for transformation by exchanging wrong narratives for right ones. By changing the way we think, we can experience God’s tranforming power. I commend this book to you without reservation.