Thursday, May 27, 2010

How the Gospel Works Through Us

For a few posts I have been addressing this question: "What does this Gospel do in us and for us?" But I'd like to ask another now, specifically, "How does the Gospel work through us?" Quite frankly, these are questions we ask simultaneously throughout our spiritual journey; but for the sake of this discussion, let's investigate the latter one individually.

I'll get right to the point. One word describes how the Gospel works through us: Reconciliation! And the best passage that describes it is in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

As a doctrine, reconciliation is the act of God in which he, through Christ, removes the enmity that is between us and himself, brought about by our sin, and instead brings us back into fellowship with himself and establishes peace between us.

As an event, reconciliation happened on the cross, and it happens in our life when we believe in the Gospel.

As a word, it is not a legal term (like justification), but rather a relational one. We go from enemies to family; from strangers to friends.

Further insight into reconciliation is found in the previously menioned pasage; truly these verses explode with depth by showing us that . . .

. . . God initiates reconciliation solely,

. . . Christ provides reconciliation sacrificially,

. . . God shares reconciliation expectantly,

. . . all because man needs reconciliation desperately.

There are at least three specific aspects to reconciliation that I'll discuss in a future post, but it is important first to understand something fundamental about reconciliation from these words of God through the Apostle Paul: The Gospel assumes and assures we will extend what we have experienced; that we will reach out with what we have received.

Truly, the Gospel message knows nothing of a pond-like experience where it trickles in and stagnates. Instead, the Gospel always runs along like a flowing river, coming in and surely going out. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4, "The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (v. 14).

Let us first cement this fact: The question should never be, "Does the Gospel work through us?" but only, "When and how?" Indeed, it's a raging river that cannot be dammed once it enters your life. Hallelujah!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bold Belief

Acts 16 paints several pictures of bold belief that can serve as patterns for those committed to living a Gospel-centered life. After all, that’s one of the things the Gospel does in us and for us – it encourages us to believe God boldly.

Kep in mind that bold belief stands in contrast to two extremes: relunctant faith (which is rooted in fear and control) and presumptuous faith (which is rooted in foolishness anmd carelessness). Bold faith, however, is the biblical balance that the Gospel encourages us towards.

(vs. 1-5) We must have faith in/believe God boldly when it comes to people. Paul selected Timothy, an unlikely candidate for a church planting journey. Easily intimidated, probably a little sickly, and no doubt young, Timothy may not have been the first choice of those with only physical eyes. But he was God's man for that time, and Paul exercised the faith to believe God boldly about this young man's potential!

How would this have looked if they were reluctant? Like they were superior. They would have appeared like Pharisees. How would this have looked if they were presumptuous? Like they were being trivial; like it really wasn't that important or valuable. The right response to people? Let your bold faith look for people who are empowered/anointed.

(6-15) We must have faith in/believe God boldly when it comes to opportunities. God was moving the crew northwest, and to do so he had to open -- and close -- some doors. Believing God boldly about both was essential to correctly concluding how God was working and leading.

How would this have looked if they were reluctant? Like they were image-based. Like they were concerned about appearances at all costs. How would this have looked if they were presumptuous? Like they were results-based. Like they were concerned with outcomes at all costs. The right response to opportunities? Let your bold faith keep you Spirit-led, then effort-centered.

(16-40) We must have faith in/believe God boldly when it comes to trials. A severe beating followed by imprisonment is not an ideal ending to a days work. Yet, Paul and his companion, in that exact position, were singing and praying at midnight. What a perspective and testimony! In the end, their trial and testimony was something God used to bring the jailer and his family to saving faith.

How would this have looked if they were reluctant? Like they were victims. They would have simply won the sympathy vote. How would this have looked if they were presumptuous? Like they were idealists. They would have been seen to be giddy about and ignorant of the human reality of suffering. The right response to trials? Let your bold faith help you see you are victorious. As Paul said, "We are more than conquerors" (Rom. 8).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Idolatry 101

Some additional yet basic insight about idols . . .
Something isn’t an idol because of what it is, but rather because of why we choose it and how we use it. (Rom 14)

We generally don’t know what our idols are until we evaluate our consistent choices in the face of competition. (Joshua 24)

For instance . . . let's take Harry and Mary, a husband and wife from Anytown, USA. They look forward to Monday nights becasuse its their "date night," the night they catch up and talk, laugh, and enjoy time together. But come the NFL season, Harry says to Mary, "I'd love to see the season opener; can I get a rain check for that night?" She responds, "Sure, no problem." After all, it's just one game, Mary reasons, and Harry really enjoys football. That's a workable compromise.

After week one, Harry says to Mary, "Honey, Bill is coming over for Monday's game." Mary is a tad surprised, but no bigee, she thinks. He and Bill are good friends, it's still early in the season…no harm done.

Then on week three Bill shows up about an hour before the game, and Mary finds out it was actually a standing invitation. So later Mary asks her dear ol' hubby about the news from Bill -- that the game is now a regular event for him and his friends. He responds by saying that there really is no problem, for the season "is only 16 weeks long. And that leaves 36 for you, my dear -- more than twice as many as the football season." Without any conflicts, to boot!

More than likely, Mary would leave that conversation crushed. Why? Because her place in your husband's life was revealed, not by his commitmement to her in the absence of competition, but rather by his consistent choices in the face of competition. Hard as it would be to admit, Mary would be left realizing that, at least in some weird way, her husband loves football at least as much, if not more, than he loves her. Is football in and of itself wrong? No. But the way Harry uses it, and why he consistently chooses it over and above other more important priorities, makes it a "graven image" in his life that is pulling him away from his real love. And it wasn't even revealed until the fire of competition was lit.

You can substitute anything you want in into that illustration/analogy: Music, food, work, money, family, exercise, on and on and on. The hard reality is that we show what we really trust -- worship -- by the consistent choices we make in the face of competition. The question I am left wrestling with is this: Do my consistent choices prove I worship and trust Jesus?

This was the whole point of Satan's accusation against Job -- "give him some competition and he won’t worship you anymore!" Would Job remain faithful even when tempted with apparently better roads than the one labeled "trust God?" Hallelujah, he did!

This was the primary backdrop of Moses' decision in Hebrews 11. Would he worship and follow God in suffering even when faced with the lure of Egyptian riches and security? Hallelujah, he did!

This was the billboard that blazed behind Joshua's charge to the Israelites in Joshua 24 when he ever so boldly brought them to the crossroads of decision, forcing them to "choose this day whom you are going to serve." Would they follow Yahweh to the Promised Land even amid the competition of the gods (i.e., idols) on the other side of the river? Hallelujah, they did (albeit not without incident!)

Without a doubt, our decisions that seem to be about so many whats -- budgets, schedules, projects, ideas, commitments, work, hobbies, etc -- eventually reveal who we really trust and worship. Indeed, at a certain point it no longer becomes about the whats at all, but rather about who you're going to trust -- Jesus or an idol?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Unbelief and Idolatry

All unbelief is idolatry. Frankly, when we refuse to believe God, we are saying we believe/have faith in something other than God. Indeed, that is idolatry! In no uncertain terms we are replacing him with our own functional savior, someone or something we think can "take care of us", "handle things" better than Jesus, or "meet our needs."

This is why Paul says in Romans, "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). In this verse, faith doesn’t refer to our body of beliefs, but rather to our bold belief. It is referencing our actions and what makes them glorifying to God. In the words of the ESV Bible commentary on this very verse, "anything believers do apart from faith is sin, for faith glorifies God by trusting him and lack of faith dishonors him." And why is that? Because we reveal we don’t trust him or worship him after all as the only God. And what is that? Essentially, idolatry.

Earlier in Romans, specifically 11:36-12:1, Paul painted a similar picture by highlighting three words and linking them together: Glory (11:36), sacrifice (12:1), and worship (12:1). While no doubt a host of sermons can be preached from these verses, at least one message rings out clearly: What we sacrifice for is what we worship. And what we worship is what gets glory from our life. If that isn't God, it's an idol; and that, plain and simple, is idolatry.

Unfortunately, the glory that results from idolatrous actions doesn't ultimately become an attraction to God or a reflection of God, which is really what God desires from our life (Matthew 5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31). It is, instead, a distraction from God. Indeed, that's what idols do -- distract attention from God. So I hesitate calling this type of attention from idolatry glory, simply because it is anything but glorious. It is actually gross, a glaring type of self-centeredness that replaces the Creator with created things, including us at times (Rom. 1).

So who do you ultimately trust to meet your needs? Handle your problems? Answer your questions? As you answer those kinds of diagnostic questions, a word of warning: Whenever we push God off the throne and repeatedly trust other things, we become idloaters. At that point we aren't living a lifestyle of bold belief in the only true God, but one of fleshly unbelief in our own version of another god, and its nothing short of practical atheism.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Bird Saga and Sanctification

I had mentioned that I would try and follow the nest saga outside our back far so good with the bird story! Of course, so many things rush to the forefront of my cranium when I view a pic like this. But when I compare this pic to the one with just the eggs (below and smaller), the word "sanctification" comes to mind.

In other words, little by little, the mama bird is making sure the baby bird(s) has everything necessary for development. Indeed, the bidrlings can do nothing but depend upon the mother! Sure, at some point they exhibit the result of their growth and provide effort, "doing" the things birds do (i.e., fly around and poop all over your car!) But it is first and foremost all about "being."

Though a loose analogy, it does provide a basic visual understanding of our sanctification process. It, like our salvation, rests upon the grace of our God; and though we provide effort at points along the way, it is simply responsive effort to the work caused by the Gospel of Jesus (Titus 2:11-14).

He develops, we depend.

Chrip, chirp.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Gospel's Effects: An Example

The body of believers among whom I pastor are currently enjoying a series entitled “The Gospel-Centered Life,” and we are using the study guide of the same title (by World Harvest Mission) as a companion tool for our small groups. The numerous effects of the Gospel (i.e., what it does in us and for us) are our focus for a few weeks, and to help us see the effects more succinctly, I, along with some help from the GCL workbook, have grouped the Gospel’s effects into three larger categories:

1. The Gospel empowers us to obey joyfully. Not dutifully (legalism) or discriminately (liberalism).
2. The Gospel enables us to repent regularly. Not sporadically (resolution) or selfishly (remorse).
3. The Gospel encourages us to believe boldly. Not reluctantly (fear/control) or presumptuously (foolishness/carelessness).

You'll find that the Gospel’s effects can always be biblically understood from one of these vantage points. We are either enjoying them (obedience), denying them (and need to repent of that), or increasing in them (believe).

In light of this, someone kindly asked me this week, “How about an example?” Here’s what I shared with them.

Consider giving. When we give cheerfully because of the Gospel's work in us, that's obedience. When we hoard and refuse to share, living neglectfully of the needs of others and God's Kingdom, that’s disobedience, and we need to confess and forsake that, trusting that Jesus through the Gospel is sufficiently able to forgive us and empower us for change. That's repentance. Then as we increase in giving and living sacrificially, even though we don’t understand how all the numbers add up, we are believing boldly and showing that the Gospel is able to not only save our souls but pay our bills.

That’s how the Gospel’s effects show up in our life even after salvation, which is really the point of our study – learning to living every day in light of the power of the cross. That’s the Gospel-centered life!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Gospel is the Cause, Our Effort is the Response

I’ve had some requests for more info from my message on Sunday, May 9 (since we didn’t have the usual study guide available), so here are some excerpts from my notes (in multiple posts) with the humble prayer that this will be of help to some as we increasingly learn to live a Gospel-centered life.

When we see that list (refer to post from Wed., May 5, Just Exactly What Does the Gospel Do?), most of us immediately think, "That's a lot to do. I'd better get to work." But what if I told you it was the Gospel that did all of these things? And, as a result, you simply experienced the effects of the Gospel?! Sure, in the Gospel's effects we find ourselves putting forth effort, but it's what I call responsive effort or consequential effort, not resourceful effort or causal effort. As Paul pointed out in 1 Thess. 2:13, "… the Word of God [Gospel] … is at work in you believers."

Let me provide an example for you. How many of you are working to stay alive right now? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ isn't it? Yes, you are breathing -- inhaling and exhaling so you can “stay alive.” But quite frankly, no, your breathing isn't keeping you alive. You are merely responding to the things your heart and lungs are doing without your intentional help. They, and other vital organs, are providing the causal effort. Even if you held your breath to try and not stay alive, at some point you would pass out. It would be your body's way of trying to keep itself alive in spite of what you are attempting to do (i.e., deprive it of oxygen). So in a most technical sense, no, you are not causing yourself to be alive. You are responding to the fact -- and quite happily -- that you are alive. You exhibit responsive effort to the causal effects of life with in you.

So it is spiritually with the Gospel. When it brings new life to us and through it we are regenerated by power of God and given the Holy Spirit of God, that becomes our source of life. And everything that happens in us and for us is because of the life the Gospel births in us. It is the cause, and we experience its effects. Consequently, we respond to it with effort (2 Peter 1) -- things like the strength to serve others, peace in difficult times, power to resist sin, willingness to confess sin, endurance during trials, and the desire to share the Gospel with others -- these are all things in which we provide responsive effort. In the most biblical sense, you are not doing them; rather, God's Spirit, through the Gospel, is doing them in you, and others are simply seeing the result of his work. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Greatest Thing About the Gospel

Here's a good reminder that, though the Gospel does many things in us and for us, it's greatest gift is in who it brings us to!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So Are They Superstars?

The recent rash of Christian concerts in our area has been, at the very least, a lesson in marketing. At the very most, it’s been an exposure of carnality. I’d like to address the latter.

Bluntly, the perk of backstage passes and really close seats for those who want to shell out an extra $10-$15 just seems like an exacerbation of the superstar syndrome we’re already drowning in. Whether politically, socially, culturally, we create these bigger-than-life people and encourage the average man or woman on the street to pay homage. Don’t kid yourself -  that’s exactly what we do in our Christian bubble as well. In so many ways we are no different than the fleshly world around us. We’re in it and of it more than we want to admit.

I wonder how a statement like this would go over at the church where I serve: “For those who give an additional $25 today, our pastors would like to share an intimate time of communion with you in the private conference room. Consider making this further investment in your spiritual life and in the body of Christ.” Yuck!

I wonder what kind of commentary James, the brother of Jesus, would have about such a situation. Let’s see . . . “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:1-4)

Sadly, we are more like 1 Corinthians 3 than 1 Corinthians 4. We prefer superstars over servants.

And quite honestly, it appears we like to create them. Not just in the music industry, either. Preachers and pastors as well fall prey to this delusion and allow themselves – ourselves – to be raised up as someone who is almost superhuman. It’s nothing short of a graven image. A golden calf. No wonder we struggle with idolatry.

My critics (and I suspect this post will generate a ton of them) will say I’m anti-Christian culture, against honoring people, or even jealous, etc. I’m not. I’m just one pastor stating the obvious and asking a question – can I also get a bobble-head to place on my mantle after the concert? 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Just Exactly What Does the Gospel Do?

There's no question, according to Romans 1:16, that the Gospel is the power of God, and that it is for salvation.

But is that the extent of the Gospel's work? Is it only powerful enough to save us? Or does it do more than that? Just exactly what does the Gospel do, especially in us and for us? For sure, the Gospel does lots of things, but no doubt these 15 will bring you to your knees in worhsip!

Rom 1:1 - It separates us to God
Rom 1:16 - It saves us by God
Rom 10:15 - It brings peace from God
Rom 15:29 - It blesses us with God
Rom 16:25 - It strengthens us for God
1 Cor. 4:15 - It births us in the family of God
1 Cor. 9:23 - It links us to one another for God
2 Cor. 4:4 - It opens our eyes to see God
2 Cor. 8:18 - It is our source of praise about God
Phil 1:27 - It helps us fight the enemies of God
Col 1:6 - It bears fruit from God
Col 1:23 - It stabilizes us while we wait for God
1 Thess. 2:13 - It works in us as truth from God
2 Tim 1:8 - It empowers us through the Spirit of God
1 Peter 3:18 - It gives us God!

Hallelujah! I'll be posting more later about how all these things actually show up in us, but for now let's just be eternally thankful that the Gospel is enough for our whole life. It is completely sufficient to save us and sanctify us!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More Than Birds!

Lately I’ve been thinking and looking at what it means to make sure I spiritually trust before -- and more! -- than I physically try. Well, perhaps this vivid illustration from the fence right outside our back patio will get us pondering even more about those two words. Combined with these words from Matthew, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (6:25-26), these pics preach a sermon! I am praying God will use it in my own life to teach me more about who he is, how he works, and why I can radically trust him at all times. Which, in turn, removes any fear I have of “putting my best foot forward in faith.”

As a family, Julie, I and the kids are enjoying watching this whole thing develop right in front of our eyes; maybe I’ll keep you posted and even have more pics when the little eggs hatch!