Archive for September, 2011

So what do we do with those pesky habitual sins? I think one has to look no further than the Book of Romans for some timely words of wisdom.

In Romans 6:1-2, Paul offers the premise of the believer’s attitude toward sin. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT). Evidently the recipients of Paul’s letter were challenged by a false approach to grace. Some in their community of faith believed that if God’s grace was made available to them when they sinned, then logically the more they sinned, the more grace they could receive. Paul replied, “Not so fast,” which is 21st century speak for “God forbid! (KJV).”

If we’re going to appropriately respond to chronic patterns of sin in our lives, we have to begin with the premise that God’s plan is for his children to not sin. Some faith traditions believe that Christians can attain sinless perfection. I personally have not seen any place in the Bible that says we can become sinless. But I do think Christians should sin less.

I’m troubled any time I hear someone define themselves by their sin. I’m writing about those who wear their challenges as a label that has become their identity. The problem with that is that your identity is not your sin…any sin…no matter how deep or dark. Your identity is that you are a child of God, redeemed by his grace and made new. In Christ we are new creations. The old stuff is dead and everything is made new.

Sin, therefore, for the believer, is an act inconsistent with his or her character, nature, and identity. Understanding who we are in Christ is the first step in dealing with our sin. Tomorrow I’ll offer the second step in Paul’s progression from Romans. In the meantime, spend some time thinking about your nature and character in Christ. Your true identity is that you are a child of God.

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John, Sin
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Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded. The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him
(John 5:1-15, NLT).

The third miracle Jesus performed in the Gospel of John seems pretty straight forward. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem, and on a particular day walked through an area, the Pool of Bethesda, which had a dense population of sick people. Some were crippled, some were blind. Apparently they stayed by the pool due to a superstition that claimed an angel would occasionally come down from heaven to the pool and stir the water. The first one into the pool when the water was stirred would be healed of their infirmity. There is no historical evidence that this belief was anything other than superstition. In fact, better translations footnote this portion of the passage because it is not in the oldest, most reliable Greek manuscripts.

Of all the people at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus singled out one man who has suffered some form of paralysis for 38 years. Jesus asked him plainly, “Do you want to get well?” When I ask simple questions like this to my children, they sometimes reply, “Duh, dad!” The reader would expect that the lame man would answer Jesus directly and affirmatively, but he didn’t. He simply made excuses. He told Jesus how he didn’t have help to get into the pool when the water stirred. He described others who were able to race ahead of him selfishly to get into the water. Never mind the fact he had been waiting his turn for 38 years.

I love the plainspoken manner of Jesus. He had little tolerance for excuses, and commanded him to “stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.” And so he did.

Like I said, this is pretty simple and straightforward. But there’s a twist. The healed man did what Jesus said. He stood up, picked up his mat, and began to walk. As he walked, he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day, who rebuked him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. When they inquired how he was healed, he described a man who was no longer in sight.

Being healed of a disease that had ravaged his strength for nearly four decades is certainly cause of praise and thanksgiving. The scene moves to the Temple, where the healed man must have offered thanks to God for the miraculous healing. In the Temple he meets Jesus, who simply says, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Didn’t see that one coming! Did Jesus just imply that the reason for his long term disability was his sin? Yes.

I don’t believe that every instance of adversity or suffering is the direct result of some sin we have committed. Without a doubt, we live in a fallen world and our depravity does create complications. But it’s not fair to assume that every illness or problem we experience is the consequence of some sin we have committed. In John 5, however, that is precisely the case. He had been disabled for 38 years as the consequence of a sin or sins he had committed.

Sin is its own consequence. This week I want to offer some practical stuff from Romans regarding how to deal with chronic sin patterns in our lives. I hope that you’ll check back each day, because Jesus wants each of us to be “well” and to live “well.” In the meantime, think about this: What sin(s) in your life is keeping you from living life as God intended?

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John, Sin
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Here’s an article that was in today’s Des Moines Register. It shares five practical ways that parents can teach their children about charitable giving and volunteerism. While the article doesn’t target or specify giving to churches, the principles are still helpful. You can find the article here.

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Scripture and the Authority of God

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This book came recommended to me by one of our members at Ashworth Road. Jason had finished the first edition, published under the title, The Last Word, and encouraged me to pick it up. Scripture and the Authority of God is the 2nd edition of that original title by N.T. Wright.

Scripture and the Authority of God is not a book about hermeneutics, but rather Wright’s suggestion as to how we should approach reading the Bible in our modern culture. Certainly the Bible is a hot button among evangelicals today, who often resort to using the Bible for the purpose of proof texting their own traditions and values. While many concur that the Bible is an authoritative document, opinions vary as to what kind of authority that conveys. What are the limits or extents of that authority? And what role does the Holy Spirit play in relationship to this authority? With those concerns in hand, Wright presents a balanced approach to the challenge.

Wright devotes the first chapters of the book to a historical survey of how the Scriptures have been handled since the Old Testament. The author reminds the reader that not all generations through history have treated the Scriptures the way we presently treat them. Does the manner in which the Bible has been read in history inform us in any way as to how we should read the Bible today? That, in part, is Wright’s point.

So what purpose does the Bible serve in history and our present day? According to Wright, to understand the purpose of the Scripture we have to think macro and not micro. The Bible was written to bear the gospel of Jesus and to serve as the missional document of the Church. The story of the Bible is chiefly the account of God’s involvement in human history and His redemptive plan that is unveiled through Jesus Christ. As the church emerges in the first century, she becomes the standard bearer, proclaiming the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world. We live to day as a continuance of the plot that was inaugurated through the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.

How then shall we read the Bible? Wright proposes five ways that will assist and empower us to read the Bible in today’s culture. The list is provided as follows:

1. A totally contextual reading of Scripture.
Meaning, we must renew our commitment to understanding the words of Scripture in their proper contexts, including the verses, chapters, and books of the Bible, and past that into the historical and cultural settings. The words of the Bible meant something then as well as now.

2. A liturgical grounded reading of Scripture.
In other words, Scripture must be read in community. In the first century, public reading of Scripture may have been the only way that people heard the Scripture. Bible reading was not primarily an individual exercise. First and foremost came community. With this being said, Wright presents a powerful argument for the systematic reading of the Bible in corporate worship today.

3. A privately studied reading of Scripture.
While the primary hearing of Scripture may be conducted through the worship of the people, private reading and study is to be encouraged. Private Bible reading is both the privilege and responsibility of each Christian.

4. A reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship.
Wright views scholarship as “a great gift of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of Scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world (134-135).”

5. A reading of Scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders.
Years ago the pastoral leaders of congregations had “studies,” whereas today they have “offices.” This significant shift over the past four decades has impacted the church. Wright recognizes that pastoral leaders have to deal with the management and operation of congregational ministry, however, the preaching and teaching of Scripture remains the heart of ministry.

Scripture and the Authority of God is a simple, yet helpful treatment of how to read the Bible in the 21st century. I recommend this book to you, especially if you’re weary of petty arguments about biblical interpretation over things that, by and large, just don’t matter.

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iBelieve: When I Feel Helpless

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What makes you feel helpless? For me, there are a couple of factors that contribute to feeling helpless. One is having no options, and the other is lack of clear direction. When I think that I’ve run out of options or I am not sure of the next step, I feel helpless.

John 4 tells the story of a government official who experienced his own version of helplessness…his son was dying. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have been in his shoes. Last weekend in worship, one of our members shared a beautiful testimony about this very experience. I hope that you’ll take a moment and watch it. It’s a strong challenge that reminds us that though we may feel helpless, we are never hopeless.

Categories : Belief, iBelieve, Jesus, John
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Taking Inventory on Worship

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This video is pretty funny! However, there’s usually a shred of truth in all good humor. While this will bring a chuckle, take a moment to do a little self inventory on the sincerity of your worship.

Categories : Worship
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National Back to Church Sunday

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September 18 is “National Back to Church Sunday.” I think this video invitation is one of the best things I’ve seen produced in a while. More important, however, is the need we have as the people of God to worship together. If you’re not attending a church on a regular basis, why not plug into one? You don’t even have to wait until September 18 to begin!


iBelieve: On the Third Day…

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Today I want to end this series by returning to the beginning. How does John chapter 2 begin? The NLT has, “The next day,” with a footnote. Most other translations render, “On the third day.” So how does the chronology work? The miracle conducted at the wedding in Cana was performed on the third day following John the Baptizer’s announcement that the long expected Messiah was fresh on the scene of human history.

But this “third day” language dredges up other thoughts in the reader’s mind. The third day, after all is resurrection day, the day when the old becomes new, death becomes life, doubt becomes belief, and disappointment becomes hope. In my opinion, this is hardly a coincidence.

So here’s the point I’ve been working toward all week. I think God allows us to experience disappointment so that He may put to death our wrong expectations. He puts them to death so He can resurrect them to something new and glorious. When we lose that which is valuable, God replaces it with something invaluable. When we give up what we demand, we then find what God desires.

In our moments of disappointment we want to be rescued, but what we really need is resurrection.
What do you think they talked about on the way home from the wedding? Some, oblivious to Jesus presence and work, undoubted talked about the greatness of the host. Others, however, who had witnessed Jesus miracle, walked away saying, “God has visited us today.”

What is the difference?

The difference between rescue and resurrection is belief. You have to believe to experience resurrection. Without belief, all you have is rescue. With belief, you find life, even in the midst of disappointment. And, as the Apostle Paul suggested in Romans 5:5, our belief and hope “never disappoints.”

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