Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

Here is a post I wrote on our Church blog at Freegracefresno.com

Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

After discussing how sin reveals itself in social structures I discuss the way that Jesus calls us to stand against the current around us. But that is still expensive. How could anyone be joyfully willing to pay that price?

“Here is the good news. Every other group that demands your allegiance will take advantage of you. They will use you for their own ends. They will expect you to sacrifice yourself for the good of the group. But Jesus is different. Just before he says that he did not come to bring peace, he says this, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished?” (Luke 12:50). What is this baptism? It is referring to his death on the cross (Mark 10:38).  Every other group is a kind of vampire. They will use you for their own ends.  And if you fail them, they will disown you. But Jesus, the only one worthy of your complete devotion, laid down his life for yours.  And he had to do that because of your misplaced loyalties.   And it is this love and sacrifice that is the power that moves us. It allows us to suffer the loss of relationships, respect, and approval that comes from standing with Christ against the world.”

Source: Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

You Need To Go To Church

You need to go to church. Sometimes people say ridiculous things about Jesus and Christianity. And here is something crazy: Christians can be the worst of all at this.

Here is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard believers say, “You don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian.” Some nuance is needed to pick this statement apart because there are some christians that are separated from the body of Christ. But when I have heard this statement the overall meaning is that we can do this on our own… that we don’t need to give or receive fellowship.  That we can live as amputated limbs without the rest of the body.  Well, below is one of my attempts to Biblically deconstruct this idea. Here are some notes and a link to a sermon I recently preached on this.  At the core of this message is the truth is that Christian community is tied to the work of Jesus on the cross and in our lives.  The need for fellowship and worship is much bigger than “being a good Christian.”

Hebrews 10:19-39 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Community starts with understanding what Christ has done for us. This is true because sin has separated us from God and one another. And the most important work, the first work is to repair the breach that our sin has caused between us and our God.

Sin separates us from God, and God from us. And sin also separates us from one another. God’s righteousness has barred us from his presence. And because our consciences are defiled, being in the presence of God is no longer pleasurable. We now run from him rather than to him. The OT temple worship was a depiction of this situation. We are separated from God’s presence, but he has made a way for us to return and be cleansed.

The work of Jesus (especially v. 19-21), as described in this passage, shows us 4 things that are the foundation of Christian community.  We cannot separate the way we relate to God from the way we relate to other people.

1.     We are welcomed. We have bold access to God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ. His blood has cleansed us. We are no longer banished. This is not because we have become good enough or worked hard enough. This is purely because of his work on our behalf.

2.     We are clean. Our hearts have been sprinkled by his blood. We are washed and forgiven and our consciences can be at peace. What the Old Testament animal sacrifices could only depict, Jesus has accomplished. We no longer need to be controlled by guilt and shame.

3.     We are secure. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it, and we are safe and secure because he who promised is faithful.

4.     We are in process. Though we are forgiven and accepted completely, there is much work to be done in us, on us, and through us.  And this work is explained (in part) in this passage.  God is at work in us through other believers. We desperately need them to help and encourage us.

Continue reading You Need To Go To Church

Jesus Friend of Sinners

Rabbi friends

I was recently invited to give a devotional at a pastor’s meeting where we discussing outreach and the importance of loving our neighbors.  The general text of my talk is below:

Luke 5:27-32

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV Bible Translation)

In this passage, we see that Jesus has rescued Levi… one of the worst kinds of men, he was a tax collector. He was most likely a Jewish man, probably from the tribe of the priests. He should have been receiving tithes to fund worship in the house of God, instead he is a traitor… taking taxes to give to the Romans.  And most tax collectors also committed extortion.

But Levi has come to follow Jesus.  And he will become one of the most of the most influential men in the history of the church. He is the apostle Matthew. We still read his gospel.  This is what Jesus Christ does, he takes the people that we look down on, people that are hopelessly corrupt and despised… and He saves them and gives them a great calling. He makes them sons and servants of God. This should give us hope. God might even use someone like you!

After Levi comes to follow Jesus, he is so overjoyed with his new relationship with Christ that he throws a party. He wants all of his friends to meet this Rabbi that is different than any other rabbi… Let me say this, the only way the people in our churches will ever do anything like this, is if they are so amazed and thrilled with Jesus Christ that he is their treasure.

So, Jesus is eating and drinking with tax collectors, and “Sinners.” And the Pharisees protest, they ask the question in v. 30, “Why are you doing this?”  Jesus is so close, and so friendly, with these awful people, there can only be one reason.  He must be supporting them in their sin.

Jesus answers with his own mission statement in v. 32. He is like a doctor that came to help the sick. He didn’t come to help healthy people, but the lost and broken.

I would like to suggest that the Pharisees don’t really have a problem with WHAT Jesus is doing. The idea of telling these dirty sinners that they need to repent is probably OK with them. If he stood on the street and yelled at them, they would probably stand and cheer. No, Their problem is with HOW he is doing it.  How is Jesus calling them to repentance? By eating and drinking with them. He has become friends with them, and through friendship calling them back to fellowship with God. His actions are a living parable of the message of the gospel. God makes his enemies to become his friends.

This doesn’t fit very nicely into our box does it!  In many places in the church people live at the far ends of the spectrum.

Some embrace the lost and “sinners” by becoming friends with them. They want to love and support them, but they don’t offer them any medicine.  In fact, they think that if you suggest that people are spiritually “sick”, then you must be judgmental.

On the other end there are Christians that want to call people to repentance, but they do it from a safe distance. They want to do it the way we are fighting terrorists, with drones. They do it by tract bombing, or doing “outreach” twice a year. They want to do it from a place of moral superiority. They are concerned that getting too close to lost people might get them dirty or damage their reputation.  Though I have probably been guilty of both extremes, I think this second one is far more common among serious christians.

But Jesus does something different, he is able to receive and love people without endorsing or participating in their vices and sins. And he is able to call them to repentance, without alienating them or withdrawing from their company.

Brothers and sisters, this is our great salvation and our great example. And we will never be able to do this if we think we are the healthy and righteous ones. We will only be able to do this when we see that we are the sinners he came to call. When we see ourselves like Levi, completely beyond hope. But thrilled that we have a place at the table- that we have been loved and received by Grace.

 

Photo used courtesy of the University of Washington. 

Who Am I? My Identity Creed

selfie mirror

One of the deepest questions of human experience is this: “Who am I?”  And this question seems more urgent for our generation as we tumble into the abyss of self definition.  Is there anything that I “objectively” am.  And I mean this as a human, and especially as a Christian?  And is this something I need to create or to recognize?

How can we wrestle with the contradiction that we are? How can we honestly embrace the innate virtue and vice that is humanity?

It seems that everyone is trying to sell us a story for this. And it is hard to take the answers seriously when they come from marketers, politicians, and angry preachers. On one side are the cheerleaders telling us how amazing everything is.  If I could just recognize my inner superhero, euphoria awaits! On the other side you have the misanthropes that can only see the evil and injustice of humanity.  They downplay the obvious value and virtue we see in the world.  Both sides see something important, and simultaneously miss something obvious.  How can we wrestle with the contradiction that we are? How can we honestly embrace the innate virtue and vice that is humanity?  My answer below comes from Christ and what he has done for me.

  • I am a unique human being designed by a wise and powerful creator. I am not merely an animal. Like every human I have an eternal soul. I have value and dignity because I am made in the image of God. I was made to be like him in goodness and creativity. I have the ability to love and be loved by God and others.
    • I am a fallen person. I have turned my back on God and chosen to break the laws he gave for my good.  Sin has affected every part of my body, soul and mind. I was designed by God for good, but on my own I do not have the strength or will to do his good purpose.  I am now broken by guilt and shame. My natural tendency is selfishness. My attempts to fix myself often make things worse.
    • I am now a redeemed child of God. I am not what I once was. Jesus took my nature so that he might die for me and be raised from the dead. I am loved and forgiven because of the work of Christ, and his Holy Spirit lives in me. I have confessed my sins and returned to God.  I have been made righteous in Christ, and though I battle with sin, his grace is at work in me to restore my soul. I am now part of the body of Christ, and my fellowship with God has been restored.
    • Though I struggle, my faith in his promise assures me that he will complete the work he has begun in me.  He is daily renewing me and I am slowly growing to maturity.  Through Jesus my sincere love and faith please God. One day he will completely renew me and all things. And though my body is still decaying, I look forward to the day when I will be with him forever. He is making me more like Christ. In this joy and hope I live and serve.

Photo Used By Permission Jonathan Lidbeck. Some Rights Reserved

Jesus and the Crowds

Crowds

In his commentary on Luke, while discussing the parable of the sower, Darrell Bock says, “Jesus relates the parable to ‘a large crowd.’ In Luke the mention of a large crowd often means that a warning about not getting carried away about the response follows (cf. 12:1–2)”

There is a lesson here about crowds. Too often Christians view crowds according to their temperament (introvert/extrovert) or the success (or lack of success) of their church or theological tribe. “Large crowds are the sure sign of God’s blessing.” Or, “Large crowds equal compromise.”

The parable of the sower, and the rest of Jesus ministry shows us something different. We should neither worship nor despise crowds of people. He did not. We must look at them more critically. They are both opportunities for for ministry and occasions for temptation.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Photo used by Permission National Archives 

The Teacher or the Teaching? Why Jesus is Different

This passage is from Ravi Zacharias Book, “Jesus among Other Gods:”

“He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Notice the power implicit in the claim.

“At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching. Mohammed, to the Koran. Buddha, to the Noble Path. Krishna, to his philosophizing. Zoroaster, to his ethics.

“Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable. They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you.

“By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. “In Him,” say the Scriptures, “dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, “I am the truth.” He did not just show a way. He said, “I am the Way.” He did not just open up vistas. He said, “I am the door.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the I AM.”

“In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”

Zacharias, Ravi K. Jesus among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message. Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 2000. Print. (p. 89)

An Important Observation on the Search for Meaning

The box is empty: On iPhones, religion and disconnection - Macleans.ca

“Now, nine months later, I am not a different person. I am not more zen. I am not any nicer. I am not happier. I’ve saved a lot of money, and that is about it. The truth is I have not found new meaning in my slightly more ascetic life. But neither did I find it in that iPhone box. I don’t think anyone lined up on those sidewalks has either.”

Scott Gilmore was getting fed up with the hamster wheel of always buying new things, especially technology. This is the natural consumer response to planned obsolescence and the social pressure to have the newest device.  We don’t intend to do it, but after a while find ourselves carried out by the tide.  And before we know it we are a long way from shore. He decided to take a consumer “fast” and not buy anything he didn’t really need.  It sounds like the experience was helpful and he saved some money. But what he found was interesting.  He didn’t find meaning and fulfillment in all the stuff and technology. He also didn’t find it in the absence of all the technology and stuff.  If we want to satisfy the deepest hungers of the soul, neither trinkets nor self discipline will do the trick. We need the Bread of life.

via The box is empty: On iPhones, religion and disconnection – Macleans.ca.

Dealing With The Accuser

“Satan accuses Christians day and night. It is not just that he will work on our conscience to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can; it is something worse: his entire play in the past is to accuse us before God day and night, bringing charges against us that we know we can never answer before the majesty of God’s holiness.

What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad?’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the Lamb.”

—D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 98-99

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis is the author of many famous books, including The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.


“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.

Purpose in the Savior’s Name



What’s In a Name?

In studying science, it has surprised me again and again how many strange names there are for scientific things. The vocabulary is often ugly: borrowed from many languages, then chopped and pressed into our usage. Look at a junk food label if you don’t believe me. One of my instructors often takes pains to explain the origin of these names. Sometimes they are named after the scientist who discovered it, sometimes based on appearance, and sometimes based on function. He always says he prefers a name that is explanatory rather than a technical catalog sort of name. The reason: it helps us to remember what that thing is, or what it does.

To the man on the street, the name of Jesus doesn’t hold any special meaning. It is just a reference symbol. For many His name is filler in a sentence. For some, a source of jesting and mockery; For others still, a distant historic name that has little personal significance; and for a number who call themselves by that name, “Christian”, it is a good luck charm. But the name of Jesus wasn’t chosen because it had a pleasant ring to it. When my wife and I chose our children’s names that was an important factor. How does the name sound when you say it? Can you picture yourself calling the baby this name? And what about when he grows up? And of course we practiced saying them, and comparing the sound of competing names from baby books. Not so with Jesus. God had picked his name and delivered it to Joseph by an angel. That name was not picked because of how it sounded. It was picked because of what it meant. It was picked because of Jesus’ job description. In our country we used to have names based on job description: smith, wainwright, etc. I used to work with a man with the last name “Goldsmith.” Jesus name fits his calling.

In Matthew 1:21 we read, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” The name of Jesus means, “The LORD is salvation.” He is a savior, and it is important to note that he will save His people “FROM THEIR SINS.” The whole purpose for the baby in the manger was to rescue sinners from their sins. And that is what He does. He takes people who are full of themselves, miserable because of their shameful behavior, sick in sin, and he rescues them…from their sins. What that means is that people who are saved by this Jesus are saved from their old way of life. Not saved to remain in sin, but to leave it behind. When Jesus saves a sinner he picks them up and puts them on a new path, a wonderful path of serving him.

That is my experience. I heard the story of the Bible many times, but when I really began to listen to the story of Jesus in my high school years, my sins began to look worse and following Jesus looked better and better. Most people that I speak to don’t see that they need to be saved from anything. Except maybe election commercials! And they’re probably partly right. But every time you say the name of Jesus you are handling a loaded gun. Jesus’ name has distinct purpose. It tells us about His skills, His purpose. His name is His resume. He saves us from our sins and reconciles us to God. That is why we pray in Jesus’ name, and that is why we baptize in Jesus’ name.

Most Americans say they believe in Jesus. Do you know anything about the purpose of this name? Have you been saved from your sins?