Christianity Is About More Than Signs

I read a fascinating article today on the so called “oil producing Bible” in Georgia that got me thinking about what we as Christians look to for support of our beliefs. At the end of the article, someone interviewed said, “It has brought people closer to God, it has brought people healing, it has rekindled people’s faith and curiosity even if one day it’s proven that all this was a sham.” That’s not the kind of faith I want! I don’t want to be reliant upon external signs and random happenings to trust that God will keep his promises to us. Nor should any of us! Yes, God often works through common means of grace (thankfully) to encourage us, but so often we want something miraculous when the miraculous has already happened.
I immediately thought of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15 when as I was reading this. Paul reminds us:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
The resurrection is a verifiable historical fact. There’s no argument greater for our faith than the empty grave. And if that grave isn’t empty, then we should be pitied, according to Paul.
Our entire faith hinges on that empty grave. We don’t need any more evidence to support the truth that Jesus was the Son of God and bore the penalty for our sins, and because of that we are now his ambassadors to the watching world! That gives us hope in the midst of our long obedience in the same direction, the obedience that is impossible apart from the Spirit at work in us through the support of our family in Christ. So let’s not forget to keep Christ at the forefront of our minds and lives as we rely on that sign of the empty grave.

Are You Boring?

For much of my life I’ve tried very hard to be someone who is interesting and will stick out in a crowd. This is generally easy for me because of my outgoing and extroverted nature. In fact, most people I’ve met wouldn’t describe themselves as boring people. After I turned 25, I realized I’m not nearly as exciting as I try to make myself seem. In fact, I might even be considered boring. I get up around the same time every day, do the same things during the day, and then go to the same church every Sunday to meet with and encourage those around me. This week I read the book ‘Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life‘ after seeing it recommended on Tim Challies’ website a while ago, it had been on my list for a while.

Starting with Shane Claiborne, there has seemed to be a resurgence in living a “radical” or “sold-out” life to Christ. And generally this means that the way Americans live is bad and living on 10% of what we make should be the mark of a REAL Christian. Yet what about those who don’t make six-figure salaries, but are faithful in the jobs they’ve been giving? Those that lead their families faithfully, help serve in their church body and commune with God regularly? Is there room for a person like that in Christianity? I sure hope so, because that is essentially my life. In the introduction to the book, Michael says, “Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.” Throughout the rest of the book he does a wonderful job showing how the gospel affects our entire lives and purpose as we live out our boring lives to the praise and glory of God.

The first few chapters lay the groundwork for the specifics of following Christ in a boring life. First the story of Saul, who was called to be king when he was looking for donkeys. Is there anything more dull or boring than looking for donkeys? Yet God met him while he was looking for his families’ lost donkeys and used it as an opportunity to grab hold of Saul’s life and redirect his path. The problem is not many of us view or ordinary lives in view of God’s continual grace and guidance of our lives. We see ourselves as ordinary people, yet through Christ’s work in our lives we are anything but ordinary. Michael argues that the key to this is finding our contentment in Christ. He argues, “True contentment isn’t about settling for less. It’s about seeing the true value of what we already do have in Christ.”

This contentment and peace that comes from trusting that God is working in the ordinary means leads to a thankful and repentant heart trusting that God is using us for his glory. This includes regular times in God’s word, relationships with those around us, our spouse, our kids, our finances, our jobs, and our Sunday morning gatherings. All of these areas are things we see as ordinary parts of our lives, but because they have been infused by an extraordinary God, they are no longer ordinary. We are to continue to follow Christ in our daily monotonous lives. That is a truly extraordinary life. A life that is “radical” and “sold out” to Christ.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to you. It removes the pressures of performance in our modern culture and allows you to rest in the grace and truth of what Christ has done for us. It views life through the lens of the gospel and demonstrates how to glorify God in the moments we consider boring and routine.

Love God and Love Others

This has become one of the biggest themes I’ve heard repeated throughout the church recently. We are called to love God and love others. This is very true and what Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:34:40. In fact, Jesus said that those two commandments sum up the entire Law and the Prophets, so the message of the Old Testament is the same as the New: love God and love others. I worry that we have forgotten to first part of that phrase, and the only true way that we are able to love others, by loving God first and foremost above everything else. Jesus even takes it further than summing up the Law and the Prophets by telling his disciples in John 13 that love should be the mark of every Christian, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This commandment is the very foundation of our faith and is revealed to us in the beginning of Scripture in the creation of the world. 

John 1, echoing the phrasing of Genesis 1 tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God didn’t have a need to create us to receive for honor or worship, but chose to create us from an outpouring of his love and perfect fellowship that he has experienced among the Trinity for eternity. Tim Keller in his book Center Church writes that, “he created us to share in his love and service.” The holy and perfect God chose to share his love in his creation of us. Then in the overflow of that love, he allows us to enter into a relationship with him as sons and daughters. He was the one who initially modeled the “love God and love others” within the Trinity. The commandments that sum up our entire Scriptures have been forever displayed by God to bring about his glory. Then as we continue to love God we are able to even more abundantly love others. The overflow of God’s love in our lives should pour over into the lives of those around us – both believers in the church, and nonbelievers we are sharing the Gospel with in word and in deed. 

This whole idea leads me to my focus the past few months – my love of the church. The way we are expected to show our love to our brothers and sisters is through the church. We meet together to: “encourage one another” (Heb 10:25), partake in the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:17-34), “address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19) and “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). These things should be a part of all of our meetings and allow us to grow and “stir one another up to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). Love is best demonstrated within the local church and helps us better demonstrate Christ’s love to the world. How have you demonstrated Christ’s love this week? How can you better demonstrate Christ’s love?

What Is the Gospel?

What is the gospel? We’ve all heard the many different examples listed and been told that it is literally “Good New” to the world. The Good News that Jesus has come to take our place and pay the penalty for our sins, but what does that mean? (It’s even been asked in a book.) I think it’s even become the “hot topic” within Christianity today with more books and conferences than any of us can or should partake in. But that pat answer doesn’t seem to do it justice, and while I never want to minimize the importance of the gospel, I think many of us take it for granted.

  • It it exclusively about “Good News”?
  • Is there multiple ways to express the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just another name for the Bible?
  • Do we have a “hole” in our gospel?
  • Can it be summed up in 6 words?
  • Have we missed the heart of the gospel?
  • Have we made it all about morality and sexuality separated from grace?
  • Is it all of these things? None? Some?

Obviously I can’t deal with all the issues raised about in regard to the gospel, but I think as I’ve read what people have said and are saying about the gospel, we’re missing a huge piece of it. The piece that we’re remembering this week in the church calendar. The biggest piece missing from our discussion about the gospel is the cross. Apart from the cross, the gospel isn’t good news at all. In fact, if the cross is taken completely out of the discussion, the Bible just makes me want to curl up and die.

So many times I’ve heard the gospel message summed up as either a salvation message or a call to “fix” the world by bringing God’s kingdom to earth. And while Jesus did inaugurate a new kingdom, it hasn’t yet reached it’s conclusion. We live in a time period where Christ has ALREADY begun his work in redeeming the world but it has NOT YET reached its final point. There are a number of things that won’t be resolved until Christ comes again to “judge the living and the dead.” We need to learn to be content living within this unresolved tension until Christ returns. No, the gospel can’t be summed up in a list of moral codes or absolutes, but it can be summed up in the cross. The fact that God loved and loves us despite our sin. The fact that God sent His one and only son into the world and “tabernacled” or “made his dwelling” among us. The fact that God has now reconciled us to Him by taking our sins, past, present and future, upon Himself. The fact that He continues to relentlessly pursue us and woo us to Himself.

It doesn’t take me very long to daily be reminded of my sinful state. I’m continually attempting to find ways to build myself up, even if it means tearing others down. What hope could a sinful man like me have? Through the cross, infinite hope.

In his expose of the gospel message, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 lays out the message of the gospel – but then shows us the hope we can have because the cross isn’t the final word – the resurrection is. In today’s culture it’s become commonplace to question the validity of Jesus. Was He really who He said He was? Did he really rise from the dead? Paul takes this to its logical conclusion when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Questioning the message of the gospel is in vain because we have it clearly laid out for us in Scripture. No, it can’t be put in a list because it’s how we should live.

BUT

Jesus did leave his disciples, and us, with this command:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

I have yet to hear a sermon or read a blog that deals with this part of the great commission. Jesus told his disciples to observe all that He commanded. And Jesus laid out some pretty specific things. Honor your parents, love your neighbors, give to the poor and needy, and be perfect. How much of that list have you broken?

In one of my classes in college we attempted to condense the gospel to 140 characters to find out if we could tweet the gospel. I came to the conclusion that it can’t be done. In order to truly explain the message of the gospel I need to tell you about my life. Yes, the message of the gospel is that Christ has already done the work for us, but the implications for that have changed my entire life. Does your life paint a picture of the gospel, no matter how blurry or broken it is, or does it paint a picture of you? How has the gospel shaped your life today and where would you be without Christ’s work on the cross?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Philippians 1:27

Can A Conservative Evangelical Millennial Still Have A Voice?

If there’s anything the recent World Vision issue has taught me, is that I am increasingly going to be on the short end of the stick. I am someone who sponsors a child through World Vision and was concerned when they changed their employees stance on same-sex marriage. No, I wasn’t going to abandon the child I sponsored, but I was uneasy about identifying with an organization that I cannot agree with theologically, especially when there are other organizations that do the same thing World Vision does without compromising their beliefs. This issue isn’t simply about marriage, but about the authority of Scripture. Yes, there is room for different interpretations of Scripture, but not for questioning what God has clearly commanded. And despite what many have tried to argue, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin (not the only sin, mind you, but still a sin).

As these issues begin to become more frequent, I am continually seeing that people don’t want to listen to or agree with me because I am a conservative Evangelical who looks to Scripture as my final authority and look back to church history to help me understand the issues of today. As soon as Scripture begins to be questioned the rest of the Christian worldview falls apart. So what do we do when, as a writer at Desiring God put, the Bible is the controversy?

I know that there are a number of Millennials who are in the same boat as me. After all, the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement is still on the rise among many of the people I talk to. There’s a growing awareness of the need for biblical authority and understanding to help us deal with issues like what happened with World Vision. People are willing to change the message of the Gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable. But the Gospel isn’t palatable. It’s offensive. Jesus said things that got him in a lot of trouble. He said things that were incredibly offensive, like “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Our whole faith hinges upon the brutal execution of an innocent man. This is how God showed his love to the world. By hanging his one and only Son on the cross in our place. How can you soften that blow? How can you being a sinner sound rosy and cheerful? And it’s not a one time event, it’s not saying a sinner’s prayer and having fire insurance, it’s a daily act. I think Luther said it best when he said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

With all this concern that Evangelicals are shooting themselves in the foot by being too controversial, I think it’s necessary to look back at Jesus’ ministry to see just how offensive the Gospel really is. And I hope that drives people away! I’ve been saying for a while that I hope I offend people regularly. Not because of the things I do, but for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus being lived out in my life. I know I’m not always going to take the popular road, or the easy road, but I know that I will do my best to continue to follow the Lord’s leading and guiding in my life as I continue to live as a saved sinner in a sinful and broken world. I eagerly look forward to the day when Jesus will make everything right with the world and there won’t be controversy like this, but until that day, I will continue on.

For another look at this issue, see Trevin Wax’s article on this issue, it’s very helpful.

Doxology & Theology Review

I just finished reading a new book edited by Matt Boswell titled Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader. Throughout my life I’ve read a number of books on how to be a biblical worship leader, and have regularly felt like I have a good grasp on what the Bible says about leading worship, but this book stretched me in some very good ways and in some ways that were very uncomfortable for me.

This book was written by a number of different worship leaders from many different churches across the country (interestingly, they all seem to be from larger churches). In the first couple chapters I thought it was going to be just like a number of other books I’ve read on worship, but then I got to the third chapter, “The Worship Leader and Scripture” and realized this book was much more personal than the ones I’ve read before. In the introduction to this chapter, Michael Bleeker writes, “Our churches are filled with uninformed worshippers.” From here on out in the book I was forced to deal with many of my faults in my leading the worship through music at my local church. As soon as I got to the third chapter I thought, “well this will be the highlight of the book for me,” but then I would read the next chapter and think the same thing!

The most difficult chapter for me to read was ‘The Worship Leader and Justice,’ by Aaron Ivey. Social justice has become something of a hot topic in America and is something I personally have struggled doing. How do I pursue social justice when I live in a primarily white smaller city in Wyoming? I know the command in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” How can I become involved in this justice that God requires of me? I’m going to be working through the implications of this chapter for a while.

For anyone that is involved in the leading of worship through music at a church, this book is a very helpful resource for personal growth and reflection. I would add it to your library and read through it with your senior pastor to help you become a stronger Christian and better equipped worship leader.

“Love Jesus. And don’t be afraid to show people that you love Him. It will help them love Him more.”

The Pope Is Probably the Antichrist

I’ve said before that the only virtue praised in America today is “judge not, lest you be judged.” This includes people within the church, yet the Bible commands us to help each other in our struggle with sin (see Galatians 6:1-2, James 5:16, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:25, James 5:19-20) and that includes “judging” as many people tend to use that word today.

There was a very interesting article on judging written at the Cripplegate today on the Catholic church and their election of a new pope. He brought up some points that I had never heard before, that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Edwards all condemned the pope as being an antichrist. The article ends by saying:

And if calling the Pope the antichrist seems like a very unchristian thing to do, I assure you that it is not the theology of the thing that has changed in the last 50 years.Today’s reluctance to make that connection says a lot about how far our evangelical culture has drifted, and very little about the Pope.

The whole article is worth reading, and a good check of where we as the church have been and continue to go. How can we continue to hold true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ dying for our sins and raising to life on the third day, now sitting at the right hand of God until he will return to judge the living and the dead in our current culture?