Monday, June 15, 2015

Church 101: Restoring Restoration



Restoration is a familiar theme for those of us who have grown up in Churches of Christ.  For over 150 years we have been working the principle of restoration.  And we need to continue doing so.  Yet, I believe that we need to rethink restoration.  The prevailing assumption that has driving restoration has been that if we can restore the FORM of New Testament Christianity (i.e. the way they did it in the 1st Century), then the FUNCTION of the 1st Century Church (i.e. their power, influence, spirit, unity, courage, hope, love, devotion, etc.) will be experienced again by us in our churches today.

Over time that has led to what can only be described as an obsessive interest in forms and patterns of practice that must be scrupulously followed.  And we were good at it.  And we were committed to it, particularly in the areas of Worship (we have the 5 Acts of Worship - no more no less), Church Organization (A plurality of Elders and Deacons), and the Plan of Salvation (Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized - by Immersion, for the right reason (forgiveness of sins), and saying the right words) and a few others items.  We were so committed to this principle and the underlying assumption (Function follows Form) that any deviation or anything that sounded like an innovation, was to be rejected as unscriptural, unfaithful, and too often something that resulted in being subject to being disfellowshiped by the those who were holding to the "pattern of sound words."  But the question needs to be asked, "Did searching out and restoring the Forms of the 1st Century Church result in a renewed experience of the Functions of the 1st Century Church?

When I look at the overall impact of our fellowship - shrinking numbers, shrinking influence, and too often shrinking spiritual strength among our members, I have to say the answer is no.  I am not saying there has been no good done among us, for there has.  Multiplied thousands have become Christians through the preaching and teaching of our members, lives have been helped, good has been done around the world by us.  But there is no denying we are loosing ground.  And how do we stop our slide into irrelevance?

What we we shifted our priority from Forms to Function?  What if we instead of trying to restore forms, we focused on restoring the Function, the Mission of the church, and allowed, where there is freedom to do so, to let the forms develop naturally from the function as they are being exercised in our time and culture?

What would that look like?  That is what we are going to explore in the coming weeks.

To listen to the full sermon on this topic go to:
http://universitychurchdenver.org/sermons/church-101-restoring-restoration/

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Church 101: Reclaiming the Whole Story

Most of us are familiar with John Godfrey Saxe' poem, "The Blind Men and the Elephant." It tells how 6 blind men came to have very differing opinions about what an Elephant was because they had each only experienced part of the animal and took that as the whole of it. Often our experience of church follows the same inadequacies. We often connect with only a part of the Story, and therefore our understanding of church, is going to be limited.

Gabe Lyons in his book, The Next Christians describes 5 ways that Christians connect to only a part of the story in the way we interact with our current culture.

Insiders are driven by a desire to maintain personal purity and faith, and we do that by withdrawing and separating from the broader culture around us.  Our primary interactions are with other Christians.

Culture Warriors are driven by a desire to protect and maintain cultural expressions that reflect Judea-Christian values, and are very concerned by the 'secularization' of society.

Evangelizers are motivated to 'win souls for Jesus'.  The world needs the message of the Gospel in order to be saved.  Everything else is a distant second.

These first 3 perspectives, Lyons groups under the Separatist heading.  They connect with culture, but from the safety of the church as if it were an outpost - separate from the culture at large.  Separatists see ourselves as "a countercultural movement that uses [doctrine] as a means of defining cultural boundaries... intended as much to alienate secular culture as to give [separatists] a sense of identity and purpose."

But there are two more.  These Lyons groups under the larger heading, "Culturalists".

Blenders are driven by a desire to create an atmosphere of acceptance.  We tend to adopt cultural expressions and ways of thinking, and adapt our churches to blend with them.  Toleration is a very high value for Blenders.

Philanthropists are driven by a desire to make the world a better place.  We are very 'ministry' oriented and those ministries are almost exclusively in the arena of social needs; poverty, housing, clean water, medicine, etc.

I'm sure that with a little thought we might find one of these to be more dominant in our understanding of what the church is supposed to be.  And we can certainly find Biblical rational for each of these perspectives.  The problem is, that like the blind men 'seeing' an elephant, it is only a part of the elephant.  If we are only/primarily experiencing a part of the story, the reality is, we are missing the story.  We need to be living the whole story.

Gabe Lyons suggests a third way, not a balance of all 5 perspectives way, but an entirely different way of being Church.

Restorers are engaged in the mission of God in the church.  What does God intend the church to be from Pentecost to the Last Trumpet?  That is the question we will explore next week.

To listen to the full sermon go to:
http://universitychurchdenver.org/sermons/church-101-reclaiming-the-whole-story/




Saturday, June 6, 2015

Church 101: Recapturing the Dream

The Church is the most amazing thing in the world.  It was dreamt of by Nebuchadnezzar, built by Jesus, preached by the Apostles, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The church is the eternal purpose of God through which he intends his wisdom to be made know to creation.  In it people are transformed into the household of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is the glorious bride of Christ for which Jesus came into the world, gave his life for on the cross, rose from the dead and is coming back for again.  It is hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be a part of that awe-inspiring church.

And yet we know there is often a disconnect between that amazing church we read about in the New Testament and our own personal experience.  We know the unsettling news that numerically, the church is in decline in America.  For years, we've been reading books like; Inside The Mind of Unchurched Harry & Mary (Lee Strobel), Surprising Insights From The Unchurched, and The Unchurched Nextdoor (Thom Rainer), UnChristian, and Churchless (David Kinnaman), all telling us about the rise of the unchurched population in America and how to understand them.  Those who mark, "None" when asked about the religious experience are a growing population, and a growing concern for concerned Christians.

But the problem isn't just out there.  A number of other books reveal an unsettling trend within our own walls.  Books like, Why Men Hate Going To Church (David Murrow), Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore (Thom Shultz), You Lost Me (David Kinnaman), and Why They Left (Flavil Yeakley) reveal that while the "Nones" are a growing group, so are the "Dones"; those who are leaving the church for a variety of reasons.

While it's distressing, I don't think we need to hit the panic button just yet.  Thomas Rainer's book, Autopsy of a Dead Church, isn't meant to distress us, but to help us avoid that becoming a reality.  And the truth is, we do need to take the time to assess where we are, why, and most importantly, how to move forward in the 21st Century.  Can we recapture the dream of Church - as God intended it?

Yes, we don't have to be The Last Christian Generation (Josh McDowell), instead what if we could be The Next Christians (Gabe Lyons).

That is what this series is about.  I want to encourage you to listen to the message I preached at University on Sunday, May 31 and join us on this journey to Recapture the dream of what God intends for his church in the 21st Century.

http://universitychurchdenver.org/sermons/recapturing-the-dream/

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Wisdom of God


This is a transcript of a sermon I preached Sunday morning at University Church of Christ on August 5, 2012.  It was the 5th in a series designed to help keep God at the center of our lives.

I am posting this because several felt confused and/or upset after hearing the message.  I hope that by a careful reading of this sermon (I do tend to talk a bit fast at times, so it's understandable that some of what I said may have been missed in the initial hearing - I apologize for that), it will help clear up any confusion as to what I actually said and didn't say.  The audio of this sermon and the others from this series can be found at www.UniversityChurchDenver.org

THE WISDOM OF GOD
We’re glad to have our youth back from Honduras, and our young adults back from where ever they were last week, they were off doing something.  And if you are a guest we are glad that you are here and hope your time with us is well spent and a blessing to you.

We are in the middle of a series trying to reorient ourselves back to God because it’s so easy for us; it’s our propensity to move ourselves into the center of everything.  We have probably all experienced conversations with somebody, who you can barely get your thought out before they are already jumping in and they got their own thing, ‘Oh, yea I’ve had that same experience…’ And everything about the conversation, everything about it turns back toward them.  And they are truly in their own world, the center of their universe.  And we know that’s a problem and we’re frustrated by it when it happens to us.  But the truth is we probably do that to some degree or another in some point in our life.  It’s just our tendency to view everything through our own lens, our own experience, and our own ideas.  And whenever we do that it’s going to get ourselves in trouble.  And so what we need to do as the people of God is to force ourselves to recalibrate from time to time and make sure it is God who is at the center of our life, God who is at the center of our thinking, God who is at the center of our actions; our everything.  

And so it takes intentionality to go back to the Word, to go back to the conversation that God gives and say, “OK, who is it that is God?” And, “What is it that He is doing?”  And so for the past few weeks we have been looking at this.  We looked at the Word of God; His message to us.  We looked at the Will of God; what is it that God really wants?   We looked at the Ways of God; how does God get the thing done?  And we even looked at the Wrath of God.  And the truth of it is that all of those things are not the way the way that we would naturally do it.  Our natural way is ‘Me Centered.’  So I have to work at listening and paying attention and letting God finish His thought.  And taking the time to mull over that and to consider the weight of it and then yield my life to it.  And it’s a hard thing to do. 

It was hard for the people of Jesus’ day because even in the very presence of Jesus, who in some of his condemnations of the people said, ‘The Queen of Sheba at the final judgment, she is going to rise up against this generation because she sought out the wisdom of Solomon, and one greater than Solomon is here’ in Jesus.  But there is a story about Jesus who goes back to home town.  And we know the truism where Jesus says, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own home town.”  And that’s because they know us.   You go back to the place where they know you, and no matter how smart you have gotten, no matter how sharp you’ve gotten, they’re going to remember little Johnny and the time he set his sister’s hair on fire.  I mean that’s just the things they remember.  And any time you encounter someone who knows me prior to High School, it’s, “Johnny.”   And you sort of loose some respect.  And that’s certainly true for me.  It shouldn’t have been true for Jesus though because he didn’t set his sister’s hair on fire.  He didn’t do those things as a kid.  He is the Son of God.  Listen to what the text says, “He began to teach in the synagogue, (this is back in Jesus’ home town) and many who heard him were amazed. (But this is their amazement-)  “Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him , that he even does miracles!” (And again, so that we know it’s not in admiration, it says) …And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:2-3).  They listened to His wisdom.  They saw His power.  They were seeing what He was doing, and it bugged them!  They were offended by it.  They didn’t just say, ‘Man this is amazing, this guy is awesome, and we need to be paying attention.’  No, they did just the opposite.  They did the thing most of the word does when they hear the wisdom of God, they are offended by it.  It doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t fit the wisdom and ways we do things.  We rely on things for power and significance and for accomplishment that God doesn’t really put much stock in.  We need to learn how to make that transition. 

So I want to share with you this morning just three things that are the wisdom of God.  And they are rather unexpected things again.  Very much like when we had our conversation about the ways of God and the will of God.  It’s things that it would not be our first inclination to go there.  But these are the things that God does. 

The first thing is that God has vested His Wisdom in people; specifically His church.  Ephesians 3:10 says, His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rules and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose.” (Ephesians 3:10-11).  That may not seem like a big deal to us, because we are a part of the church.  We would think, ‘Oh yea, that’s good.  God really is smart because he chose us.’  But we need to remember who “Us” is; who we are.  We are nothing particularly special.  Paul outlines that in kind of painful detail in 1 Corinthians where he asks the question, ‘Where are all the wise folks in your group?’  He asks, ‘Where’s all the wise people, where’s all the noble people, where’s all the powerful people?’  And he’s looking around the church in Corinth and he says, ‘Truth is there’s not many.  You are an ordinary group of people.  And even, really, less than ordinary.  You are not very smart, you’re not very noble, and you’re not very wealthy.  And here’s the thing: God INTENTIONALLY chose you to be his church.  Now that doesn’t mean there are no wealthy people, there are no influential people in the church.  It’s just that there’s not very many.  And part of the reason is, is because we as humans tend to glorify…
With a little bit of reluctance I want to bring up last week as an illustration.  You know last week was rather a roller-coaster week for us as a nation with the Chick-fil-A thing in particular.  And a lot of you may have gone to Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, and if you did, fine, I’m not going to disparage that a bit.  And if you did it because you wanted to make a statement about the support for traditional, Biblical marriage, fine.  If you did it because you wanted to support the constitutional right to free speech, fine.  That’s all good.  And I know some of you didn’t go to Chick-fil-A, and not just that you didn’t go Chick-fil-A, you kind of disparaged and thought it was sort of foolish and not really the best thing to do for those who did.  And that’s fine too; I don’t want to disparage you either.

What I do want to point out though is our tendency to take a look at this and think, that’s how we get things done.  It’s the exercise of political power through a protest or through the support of something, and we think that’s really it.  And I want to contend to you that that’s not it at all, on either side of the thing.  That is not how the kingdom of heaven gets advanced in this world.  But it’s how that we in our culture tend to gravitate toward and we think that we’ve got to flex some muscle in some way or other to get things done.  That’s not it.  God has invested, it was his intention to declare to the universe, to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (these are both spiritual and I think earthly rulers and powers), that God’s wisdom is vested in a group of ordinary people that he has transformed through the world.  And we are pretty much ordinary. 

But if we’re going to accept the wisdom of God we have to resist the kinds of muscle flexing practices whether if it’s in politics or whether if it’s in education… and you know, it’s not that the educated… I’m grateful that we have some very educated, sharp, smart people here in all kinds of fields… I love that, I love to be around you and learn from you.   And it’s not that there are no wise, educated people in God’s kingdom. And it’s not that the educated have to commit intellectual suicide to come to Christ, but what the educated have to do and what the wealthy have to do is to sacrifice the pride in all of those things, and that’s hard for a lot of them to do.  It’s hard for someone who is highly educated to deal with the pride that goes with that or the wealthy to deal with the pride that goes with that, and on and on.  That’s the issue, that’s the struggle that people have to embrace Christ.  The people here in Nazareth, and listening to Jesus, and being offended by him are having to overcome the pride of familiarity.  “Ah, we know that kid…”  It’s our pride that keeps us from embracing and accepting the wisdom of God.

But even those of us, again who are in the church , we have to pay attention, we have to resist the draw that we’re going to be God’s kingdom, God’s people, because we are able to exercise worldly power; Whether it’s political influence, or whether we’ve got a great budget and a great group of people and we’re very intelligent.  And that’s where I get sucked in.  I get sucked in thinking we’ve got a great building and great talent and we can do great things.  And all that may be true, but that’s not where God has vested his power.   His power is simply that he’s transformed a group of ordinary people in a way… as Paul would say in another place in Ephesians where, they “are God’s workmanship.”  The church stands as God’s show and tell.  And really, its God saying, “See these folks, see how ordinary they are, see how pitiful they were, but look at what my grace has done to them.”  So we stand as the object lesson to the powers of this universe that says, “God can’t do anything.”  And God says, “Really, I’ll show you what I can do.”  And so God’s wisdom is found in His people and we need to rely on being the people of God, and that’s the key phrase here, ‘of God’.  We are not our own people, we belong to God.

The second thing is, is that God has vested his wisdom in a message.  And we’ve talked about this a little bit, so I’m not going to go too long on this.  But in 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul says, “Christ did not send me to baptize…” Sometimes we misunderstand that statement.  He said that only because some people were glorying in who it was that baptized them.  ‘Well I was baptized by Paul.’ ‘Well I was baptized by Cephas.’  And Paul said, ‘Are you kidding me.’ Paul said, ‘God didn’t send me to baptize.’  The truth is every person who accepted the message of Christ was baptized; it was just that Paul wasn’t doing the physical thing.  But here’s the point that Paul is trying to make: Christ… sent me to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  Paul’s preaching wasn’t about eloquence, it wasn’t about building an argument that was just unassailable, that he preached in such a way that you and I are just, “Ooo and Ahh.”  That’s not what Paul was sent to do.    The message of the cross is simple, straightforward, and offensive to the wisdom of the world.  And if we do anything else with the cross of Christ, if we try to make the church something really special, if we try to market it in a way that the world is going to accept it, we have emptied the cross of its power.  Because people will accept the cross in spite of its offensiveness, because they have been honest enough with themselves, the message of the cross has impacted them to say, “I am a sinner, I am the reason Christ died on the cross” at least from my point of view.  God’s love is the reason Jesus died on the cross from God’s point of view.  And so I have to accept who I am.  But people don’t want to do that.  Because to be encountering the message of Christ, forces me to challenge the wisdom and ways of this world.  And for a lot of people, that’s too uncomfortable, too difficult. They’re not willing to sacrifice their pride.  So he says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.“  (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)
The truth is, even in the 21st Century, we find ourselves very much like the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews of the 1st Century.  For the Romans everything was about power.  They were the Iron Kingdom.  So the very notion of the cross is the very epitome of shameful weakness.  In Roman law in the 1st Century, Roman citizens couldn’t be crucified.  They may get the death sentence, but it was not by crucifixion.  Because crucifixion was not just a death sentence, it was a statement that the Romans were making to the rest of the world, “We are more powerful than you, and we’ll prove it to you by killing your people on a shameful, humiliating cross.  So the Romans couldn’t get past that.  The Greeks, they were all about wisdom and smarts, and ‘this just doesn’t make sense,’ they would say.  How in the world could someone beat death, be victorious over death, by dying?  It didn’t make sense.  It didn’t make sense from a worldly point of view.  And so they wouldn’t accept it.  The Jews, they were looking for signs.  ‘We need something spectacular.’  So they stumbled over the cross, it just didn’t make sense to them either. 

But God goes on in this passage to say that he intentionally, just like he intentionally chose a people, he intentionally chose a foolish message -from the world’s point of view- to declare his wisdom in overcoming sin.  We have to submit our pride to God’s wisdom and that’s a hard thing for us to do. 

And the last thing is that God vests his wisdom in is good works.  Wisdom is not about talk, wisdom is not about intelligence.  You know, sometimes we try to define what really is wisdom?  We know for sure that wisdom is not intelligence, because there are a lot of very intelligent, highly educated people out there who are dumb as dirt when it comes to the practical application of life.

One of my favorite stores, and I’ve talked about this before, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version of the story of Ahithophel in the Old Testament.  Ahithophel was a counselor of King David.  Ahithophel is described in scripture like this: to ask of Ahithophel was as if you asked God.  That’s how smart he was.  He was always right.   I’m mostly right, but he was…no, I’m just… until you ask someone who really knows me.  But he really was always right.  But one of the things that happened was…  David’s son Absalom, he had his eye on the kingdom and he pulled off a coup, David flees, and Ahithophel becomes Absalom’s counselor.   And Absalom says, ‘Hey I need to secure my kingdom now, so what do I need to do?’ And [Ahithophel] gave him advice, remember his advice is always right, his advice is, ‘Muster the army… the army we have right here, go after David, you’ll catch him and you can kill him and the kingdom will be yours.’   Had Absalom taken Ahithophel’s advice, Absalom would have been king.  But David sent another counselor back to overthrow Ahithophel’s advice.  And so he appealed to Absalom’s fear of David, the Goliath… the giant killer.  And he said, ‘Your father is fierce, he’s not going to get caught by just a few guys.  You need to take some time and get a lot more men and go after him.  Absalom, David’ son thought, ‘Yea that sounds like the right thing to do.’  And the question that I always… Well the rest of the story goes on, Ahithophel goes home and he hangs himself, because he knows David is going to survive, he’s going to come back and when David comes back he’s going to deal with the traitors, Ahithophel being one.  But I always have struggled with the question: “If Ahithophel was so smart, why did he ally himself with Absalom and not stay faithful and true to David?”  Because he may have been smart, but he wasn’t wise.


So wisdom isn’t just about intelligence, wisdom is an application of truth.  And when God calls us into his kingdom the practical application of truth is not just having really good arguments or really good tracts, it is having a life that is engaged in the spiritual battle and warfare of kingdom living, and that warfare looks like good works.   That’s always what warfare looks like.  It may be prayer, it may be counseling, it may be comfort.  But it is always good works.  And James asks it this way: Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility (see there’s that key that keeps coming up.  It’s our pride that keeps us from embracing the wisdom of God) that comes from wisdom… The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”  (James 3:13, 17)  Wisdom is about doing good things.  And so it’s not about making a statement.  It’s not about a protest or a support.   It’s about actually going out and doing good deeds, making a difference in the life of someone.   And that’s God’s wisdom.  And again it doesn’t really make sense to the world.

I know a lot of people were being critical in a way of the people who went out last Wednesday and bought Chick-fil-A.  And you know Chick-fil-A, you know, unless you were living under a rock, set a one day sales record for fast food restaurants.  And the comment was made several times by people, “wouldn’t it be awesome if all of those people would have shown up at a food pantry or a soup kitchen to work instead of going there.”    And my only thought was, “Are you surprised that they didn’t?”   That’s the way of the world.  We love the little things that I can do that don’t require any investment of me.   And we shouldn’t be surprised, truly we shouldn’t expect it.   We should not expect the world to act like the kingdom of heaven.   That’s our responsibility.   And we spend a lot of energy trying to get the world to act like the church.  They ought to be doing… The world is not going to ever, ever act like… the government is never going to be the church.  We need to be the church. We need to be the church that accepts the wisdom of God.  This is who we are; the people of God.   We need to understand if we ever… it’s going to be through the presentation of the gospel.  Not by voting blocks, not by social justice, none of those things.  It’s going to be primarily through the preaching of the cross.   That’s the only thing that will change the world.  And we need to understand it’s not just about talk.  When we present the gospel, we need to present the gospel in harmony with, hand in hand with doing good deeds.  That’s the wisdom of God.  Centered on the things that God says are essential to life.

 And I stand confessing that I gravitate to these worldly ways of things that I think, ‘that’s where real power… that’s where real wisdom is… I wish I was smarter, I wish I was more educated, I wish I was more influential…’ and I realize at times, I wish for these things in a way that’s out of step with the wisdom of God, because God chose the things that are foolish of this world, He chose the things that are ignoble, He chose the things that are pitiful on purpose so that His power would not be stripped, but it would stand able to change the world.  Let’s not fight… let’s not get caught being drawn into the way this world tries to do things.  Let’s remember who we are, let’s remember how God has changed the world through the Cross.  And let’s remember that God’s wisdom is shown in good deeds.  Let’s be the people of God and by so doing we will have accepted the wisdom that God has shown in this world.  It’s contrary… A lot of the world, just like in the first century, listens to the message, listens to Christ and they are offended by it because of the way the world does things.  That’s OK, we should expect that.  It shouldn’t throw us off guard.   But we should continue to stand in the wisdom of God.

One last verse:  Paul says this in the next chapter of 1st Corinthians, he said, I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified... My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 2:2-4)
Let’s let our faith rests on the power of God, not on the way the world thinks this is the way to do things, but on the power and wisdom of God.

If you need to come to the Lord for any reason, If you are wanting to accept his wisdom, become a part of the kingdom, accept the cross as God’s answer to your sin and turn your life over to him.  If we can help you in any way, please come as we stand and sing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Bad Things Happen the Good Things Go Unnoticed


Bad things happen, and so do good things. Bad things happen like lightening; sudden, dramatic, and when it strikes really close, terrifying. When good things happen however, it's more like electricity; its all around us to the point that we don't hardly notice it, but just take it for granted when we flip the switch.

Our problem is that when the bad happens we tend to view all of life through the lens of that bad event. That's neither honest nor healthy for us. So think for a moment about what didn't get reported, but what somebody did last Friday...

 
Got their first job; got that big promotion; or retired after 40 years of work
Got their first hit in little league, or their first home-run
Put on their first pair of ballet shoes and did a pirouette
Went fishing with their dad and caught their first fish
Bowled their first strike; Bowled a perfect game.
Rode their bike for the first time without training wheels
Climbed their first 14er in Colorado
Learned to swim; jumped off the diving board for the first time
Swam in the ocean for the first time
Met the love of their life; went on a first date
Got married; celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary
Gave birth to a beautiful little baby.
Took their first step; Said 'mama' or 'dada' for the first time.
Got to hug their grandchild for the first time.

There are literally thousands, even hundreds of thousands of good things that happened last Friday, and every day. Bad things, like lightening, happen - but not all the time. Don't let this bad thing cloud your view of life; don't think everything is bad because this terrible event happened.

I have to believe that even when bad things happen, Life is still good.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Icons of the Christ - Part 4 (conclusion)

Oxymoronic Faith is all too common.  Peter had it bad.  No less than 3 times did he say to Jesus, "No, Lord."  There is no more profound oxymoron than those 2 words in the same sentence.  If Jesus is Lord, then we don't say 'No.'  If we say 'No', then he isn't our Lord.

The first time Peter said, "No Lord" to Jesus is recorded in John 13*.  Peter didn't want Jesus to wash his feet.  Peter understood that this menial task was beneath the dignity of Jesus as Rabbi, not to mention, as the Christ.  And for Peter, the principle that says "high position exempts one from service" would also be applied to himself, except for the fact that Jesus totally destroyed that principle forever, by his act of service to Peter and the other 11 disciples - including Judas.

To fully understand what Jesus is doing you have to read verse 1-5

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.   Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.


Jesus served the disciples out of the knowledge of who he was.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, he know where he had come from and where he was going.  The knowledge of who he was didn't exempt him from service, it compelled him to service.  And it is here where we find the last (at least for this series) Icon of the Christ; the towel.  This is clearly the least recognizable compared to the Manger, the Cross, or the Table, but it is no less significant.

One of the essential qualities of the Messiah is that of service.  Jesus himself said he did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).  Paul's description of Jesus leaving the glories of heaven, emptying himself, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7) is one of the most loved passages about the nature and work of Jesus.  Jesus chose to be a servant.  Jesus calls us to the same.

In Christ we are invited to be born again (MANGER), it is expected that we deny ourselves and take up our own cross (CROSS) and follow him.  We experience fellowship and communion (TABLE) with one another and Christ, and lastly Jesus calls us to imitate him as we love and serve (TOWEL) one another.

You see these are not just Icons of the Christ, they are our icons as well, symbols of who we are and how we should be living.  So when you see these icons in life, let them be reminders of who Christ is and what he's done, and also who we are and how we should live.


* For the other 2 occasions where Peter said, "No Lord", see Matthew 16:21-22 where Peter put Safety above Suffering and Acts 10:11-14 where Peter put Tradition above Mission.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Icons of the Christ - Part 3

In 2006, Leisa and I had the privilege of visiting Israel.  Needless to say it was one of the most amazing 10 days of my life.  However, it wasn't without some unexpected disappointments.  What I was really interested in seeing were the places and events I had read about in Scripture.  What I wasn't prepared for was the presence of middle age churches (and some newer) built on the sites of Biblical events.  There is a church where Moses was shown the promised land before his death, another church built over Peter's house, a church where (possibly) the Sermon on the Mount was preached, and the most disappointing of all, a church built on the site (again possibly) in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

I supposed it shouldn't be surprising, considering our propensity to want to be near 'holy' objects.  Just think of the middle age church's obsession with relics.  But what is so ironic is that the Church of the Nativity as it's called is elaborate, ornate, and imposing, while the actual birth place of Jesus was anything but.  Jesus was born, most likely in a cave where animals would be penned up for the night.  He was laid in a manger; a trough for feeding animals.  That manger has become an icon of the Christ.  And it's meaning is extremely profound.

When I think of that event, I am humbled by the question of 'Why?'  Why would God leave the glories of heaven and come to this earth in such a lowly manner?  How is it possible that the Infinite God would become an infant?  Surely we would imagine God coming in glory; elaborate, ornate, and imposing.  We think that, because that's how we would do it ourselves.

Yet even beyond questioning the manner in which, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us", is the question that Jim McGuiggan raises in his book, The God of the Towel.  Jim writes, "I must confess that the most perplexing part of my faith is the truth that God can be bothered with us."  Why indeed?  That question drives us back to the meaning of every icon of Christ; because he loves us.  God want us to experience his love on a level we can understand.  God doesn't want to overwhelm us, and he could - oh how he could.  But that would leave us intimidated and defenseless against his power and desires.   What if he had come initially as described in Revelation 19:11-19?

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

What a Savior!  How could you deny him?  You couldn't!  And maybe that's the point.  For God to have a truly genuine love relationship with us, he had to let us be able to say, "No!"  So God chose to place in a manger, a 7lb Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Some events like the Cross and Empty Tomb - blow me away, they are so epic in scope and power.  The Manger on the other hand draws me in to that humble and silent moment of profound truth; God would even empty himself to love me.

I'm still amazed that God would be bothered at all with us, but aren't you glad he did.