Can you worship in a van? Can you worship with a fan? Can you worship in a house? Can you worship with a mouse? Can you worship in the dark? Can you worship in a park? Can you worship in a tree? Can you worship . . . ? The answer to all of these should be “yes”! Because worship is a matter of the heart.
I just saw a blog that was posted in which the title was “Why Churches should ditch projector screens and bring back Hymnals.” Seriously! Now the author does attempt to make some defense for his thesis, but I suspect that the bottom line is: he personally worships better with hymnals than screens and so he assumes that everyone should.
His first argument is that “screens are ugly” (actually, the author states “they’re horrifically ugly”). He argues that they may look okay in a house or gymansium, but they “don’t fit” in a traditional church building. I’m laughing, sorry. But, do I need to note here that Jesus, Priscilla and Aquilla, Tertullian, and most every Christian until the 4th century worshiped in houses?
Next, the author argues that screens “reflect our tech obsessed culture.” Now, there is something to be said regarding our tech obsessed culture. But, does he not realize that he is writing a blog!!; which was published on a website? (let that sink in for a moment). And that in order to read his blog I must look at a screen? And does he not realize that hymnals didn’t exist until after the invention of the printing press—aka technology. And that organs and acoustic guitars can’t be played without electricity? Shall I go on? If we rail against technology, where do we start and where do we end?
He then contends hymnals are better than screens because it is difficult to teach new songs with screens because there are no notes. He says, “If you’re not already familiar with the tune, you cannot sing from a screen. There are no instructions on how many pitches you must devote to each syllable.” Seriously? I can’t read music. And I suspect that most (?) people can’t either! So, where does that leave us? Of course, it doesn’t matter for me how many pitches to devote to a syllable because I can’t stay on tune anyways.
Finally, the author contends, “To Save Worship, We Must Rediscover Hymnals.” Do I really need to respond here? If so, please reread the title of this blog.
If you want a hymnal, then use one. But many don’t know how to use a hymnal. And they are not likely to learn. Getting rid of the screens will hinder worship for them because they will not know the words.
I have many thoughts about traditional v contemporary and all that. But, for those in the church who are having this debate, I simply ask: where is your heart?
In addition to this, I find it ironic that people in the Church argue for one form of worship over another when worship at its core is self-denying and other focused—namely, God/Christ. So, when a person argues that my preferred form of worship is better than yours, they are often failing to deny themselves and, thus, hampering true worship.
I would hope that you could worship with an organ, or a guitar, from near or from far!
NB: One final note: a good friend and fellow pastor posted a link on his Facebook page titled “Dear churches, here’s why people are leaving.” Now, I don’t think that the reasons stated in this blog are comprehensive enough, the author does hit on some good points. Basically, we are not addressing the issues that need to be addressed. I would say that the attitude that says we must get rid of the screens and bring hymnals back is a part of the problem. The younger generation doesn’t know how to use a hymnal and they spend much of their life looking at screens. Some come to church and don’t want to look at a screen. But, for many others, screens are a way of connecting them to worship! So, if you want hymnals and no screens, you might have them. But you will also need to shut your doors in a few years.
 I realize that “worship” needs to be defined here, but I think most readers know that I am using it in the context of deep praise and adoration during a public service. I certainly agree that “worship” should be holistic.
 If you are not familiar with them I encourage you to read Acts. They were a key couple in the life and ministry of Paul
 I really want to say, “I guess they should have used screens!” but I won’t.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
What is discipleship?
Let me state it from the outset of this chapter: discipleship is the goal of the Christian life and the essence of discipleship is cross-bearing. Jesus commanded us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). And He added, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Matthew 28:19-20 is the central command of Christianity. The command is to make disciples, not converts. A number of years ago the late Dallas Willard wrote, “The Great Omission.” Now an omission is to leave something out. What is it that Willard suggests we have left out? His answer was “the Great Commission.” The Church has omitted the Great Commission. The very thing we have been called to do is the very thing we have not done.
Instead, most churches have replaced discipleship with conversion. Now do not misunderstand: conversion is a part of the process of making disciples. But, conversion is not the same as discipleship.
How so? Conversion is a one-time event. It is a one-time deal—though, admittedly, it may be a process for some. A person prays and asks Christ into their heart. Done! Fini. Game over. Even for those who come to faith in Christ over time, there is still a point, even if it is unknown to them, when conversion has taken place. Discipleship, however, is a lifelong journey.
A disciple is a learner, or a student. Essentially, the goal for a disciple is to grow in the likeness of their rabbi or teacher; which for a Christian means that we are on a journey to Christlikeness. When Jesus commands us to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20), He is saying that we are to help people join the journey of growing in the likeness and image of Christ. Making disciples, then, is a life-long journey.
Tragically, as Willard observed, “The governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be “Christians” forever and never become disciples.” This is because for much of evangelical Christianity the goal is conversion. Pastors and church leaders often wonder why they have so much trouble getting people to come to church, to live seriously for Jesus, to read their Bibles, to come to a prayer meeting, to volunteer and serve. Yet, the answer is simple: why should they? After all, if conversion is the goal, then all else is extra. If the choice is between the football game and going to church, between the kids soccer and a Bible study, between sleeping in and not sleeping in, between a night at home and a night at a prayer meeting, then the decision is simple: “if I am already a Christian and all that is good to go, then I might as well as stay home and enjoy the game, or the extra sleep.”
The problem is that, for many, they were never told they were supposed to do anything beyond believe. Though, admittedly, it is sometimes implied, and often taught, that those who commit their lives to Christ “ought” to live moral lives. What is not recognized enough is that the preaching of moralism (do good things and not bad things) is often a source of conflict for many. They feel burden to do the right thing. The result is that we find degrees of faithfulness in the church, but mostly as a result of a sense of obligation.
The reality, then, is that we have sold them the wrong product. Then we wonder why they are not doing what we believe is vital to their spiritual growth.
 Willard, The Great Omission,
 Willard, Omission, xi.
I would like to take our discussion of what is the Gospel further. In doing so, we need to ask two questions: First, what is the goal of the Christian life? Secondly, what is the purpose of the Christian life? The first question pertains to the topic of personal discipleship. The second question to the mission of God’s people. It is essential, however, to note that the answers to these two questions are intricately interwoven. We must not, and cannot, separate our growth as disciples from our call to fulfill our mission.
Here again, the Gospel of personal salvation becomes problematic. I suspect that if we were to ask most western Christians what the goal and the purpose of the Christian life are the answers would be something along the lines of: “to accept Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die.” For most, this is both the goal and the purpose.
As a result, it is not uncommon for Christians to consider Christianity as a one-day-a-week, or even a one-day-a-month thing. Most Christians have little sense that there is much beyond accepting Jesus as their savior. Pastors struggle to get their members to come, to be engaged in Bible studies, to engage in outreach, and to serve. As long as Christianity and being a Christian is defined in terms of my personal salvation alone, then the struggle to help Christians understand that there is more and to experience this more will be ever present.
In order then to understand the Gospel further we must explore what discipleship is and what it means to be a disciple. This will be our next series of posts.
The Gospel and the Kingdom
To this point we have established that the gospel in its simplest expression is “Jesus is Lord” and that it is to be believed because it is the truth. In order to further our understanding of the Gospel, it is, also, necessary to observe the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God!
The gospel and the Kingdom of God are deeply intertwined in the NT. We see this in Mark’s opening description of the ministry of Jesus: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). Though some might suggest here that Jesus was referring to two related but different things—first, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), and secondly, He was also “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark 1:15)—the Greek construction indicates that these two elements are in fact one. That is, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God,” and what He was saying (i.e., what constitutes the gospel of God) was: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this statement, then, we see a clear connection between the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, likewise, connects the gospel with the Kingdom of God. Matthew uses the word “gospel” (euangellion) four times (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; and 26:13). In each of the first three occurences (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) the gospel is directly connected with “the kingdom.”
Matthew’s first two uses (Matt 4:23; 9:35) are especially significance for our sake. A comparison of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 shows that these two verses are virtually identical:
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (4:23)
“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (9:35).
The repetition of virtually identical statements, as we see in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, forms what is known as an “inclusio.” An inclusio is one of the primary means by which an ancient author identifies the beginning and ending of a section or an entire work. The use of an inclusio not only serves as a way of indentifying the beginning and ending of a section, but also serves to indicate its key purpose—somewhat like what we do with a “thesis statement.” This means that Matthew 4:23-9:35 should be viewed as one extended section. The central themes of which are Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and His doing the work of the kingdom. We see then that one cannot separate the proclamation of the Kingdom of God from the acts of the kingdom.
This means that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”; and, this proclamation is directly correlated with both the proclamation and the doing of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, this means that in order to comprehend the gospel more fully we must gain an understanding of the kingdom of God. (to which we will turn in a future post)!
NB: if you like these posts and find them helpful please let others know!
 This understanding is reflected in the NET, NIV, and NLT translations: NET “Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’”; NIV “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”; NLT “Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” The key here is that the Greek will often introduce a quote by utilizing two references to “saying.” For example, the Greek NT will often state, “Jesus was teaching and saying.” In such cases, we are not to suppose that Jesus was doing two different things here: namely, teaching and saying. Instead, the second verb “saying” is just the ancient writers way of introducing the content of the speaking. Note, they didn’t use quotation marks. So, the second verb often serves as our English equivalent of quotation marks.
 Note the NAS translates the identical construction in the Greek of Matt 4:23; 9:35; and 24:14 slightly different in 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom”; instead of, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Of course, “this” and “the” are grammatically interrelated.
 There was no need to be absolutely identical. We must bear in mind that Matthew was read aloud. The hearers of the text, upon hearing Matthew 9:35, would recall the earlier statement of Matthew 4:23: even even if they were not able to recall if the statements were identical.
 Since the ancient text was read aloud and most were “hearers”, the use of paragraph breaks and chapter headings wouldn’t have been useful. In addition, the cost of paper was such that the ancient authors were in need of saving space. As a result, ancient writings not only lacked paragraph breaks and section headings, they often lacked space even between words. Verbal markers, that is things that could be heard, were the primary means of assisting the ancient hearer in regard to structure and flow of thought.
What is the Gospel?
A look into the NT shows that the word “gospel” is used in a basic sense to announce the “good news.” The “gospel” is a proclamation of good news! Now, this is a good start, but we still need to declare what the “good news” is about.
In its simplest expression the gospel, or the “good news” is that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem elementary, but the implications of it are profound. In fact, I would contend that we cannot utter anything more profound than the declaration, “Jesus is Lord!”
If Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is; neither is power, nor military might. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not: neither is pleasure, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. It means that my personal security is not: neither is my accumulation of wealth, my accomplishments, my talents, nor my education, nor, in my case, my good looks! It means that my personal desires are not. It means that my family is not. It means that neither is my house, my car, my clothes, nor any possession. To proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” begins with the acknowledgement that no one or nothing else is!
The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is profoundly simple. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them.
Why should someone believe the Gospel?
Now, the "gospel" begins with and extends beyond the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. But, before we proceed, we need to address one somewhat tangential question: “why should someone believe the Gospel?” The answer is simple: because it is the truth. That is it. Jesus is Lord and we are not. And that is the truth. There are no other reasons. We should submit to Jesus as Lord because He is Lord!
The problem is that very rarely is the Gospel presented in our western Christian culture as something to be believed and followed because it is the truth. Instead, we market the Gospel as something to be believed so that you can go to heaven; or so that you won’t have to go to hell; or so that you can get your life back together. In otherwords, we typically present the Gosepl as something that will result in personal gain.
The question, then, becomes: if I believe in Jesus only for my own gain, have I really submitted to Him as Lord?
Now, I recognize that submitting to Jesus as Lord may be a process. Just as we know that it is appropriate to teach a child to do right by offering them a reward, so, also, we may attract youth to a Wednesday night event with ice cream, movies, video games, and whatever is necessary. Even adults are introduced to Jesus or the Church through fun events.
The danger, as I see it, is that when we incentivize the reasons why someone should believe in Jesus, we risk minimizing the Gospel. Sure, there is truth in the notion that: “if you go to Bible study, you will may learn how, through Christ, you can overcome your troubles”; or, “if you cease living immoral lives, you can find true pleasure in Christ.” There is truth in the fact that in coming to Christ we may begin to experience all the blessings that come from being a child of God. But, there is also truth in the fact that the call of Christ is not easy.
Two potential problems arise. First, many churches are only offering more candy: “If you come to church we will make sure you enjoy it.” This makes it very hard for that same church to preach the radical call of Christ. In all honesty, it is a bit hypocritical and unfair to offer them candy one day and then demand that they carry their crosses the next. We lured them in with candy. Then, after they stayed a while, we switched out the candy for green beans!
Secondly, what happens to this person and their faith in Christ when things do not go well? We told them that in believing they would be blessed; they would have peace; God would provide for all their needs. We told them about the good things that would happen if they come to Christ—they will gain wisdom and other spiritual gifts in the present, and they will have comfort knowing that eventually they will be in heaven with Christ forever. We might also tell them a little of the demands of Christ. How they are supposed to bearing their crosses—mostly in the form of moralistic preaching; such as, be sexually pure and do not lie. But, when things don’t go well, they sometimes spiral.
When the Gospel of Jesus as Lord is proclaimed, we can tell them that He remains Lord in the midst of their sufferings, their fears, and their longings. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus as Lord entered our sufferings for us in order to redeem us.
The reality, however, and I know you are thinking it, is that if we are more explicit with the nature of and the demands of the Gospel, not as many people will believe.
This is why I believe that the Parable of the Sower is vital for our understanding of the Gospel and the life of the Church. But, that is the subject of another post!
 It has been said that there are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If Jesus is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
 This fact stands whether or not God is good. If He is Lord, then we should submit. It just so happens that He is good! Thank God! Sorry for the pun!
It doesn’t get more basic to Christianity than to ask: “What is the gospel?” The question is pretty simple. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in part 1, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer.
In addition to the alarming reality that many Christians cannot define the Gospel with any clarity, comes the realization that for many the definition of the Gospel is often “me” centric. That is, the Gospel becomes merely something that was done for me. It is common, for example, for someone to define the Gospel as: “Jesus died for my sins.” Or, “if you have faith in Jesus and repent then you shall be saved.” I suspect that defining the Gospel in terms of this “me” centered—how do I personally get saved—approach proliferates Christianity.
One website, in fact, states:
“When Christians refer to the ‘Gospel’ they are referring to the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, ‘the Gospel’ is the sum total of the saving truth as God has communicated it to lost humanity as it is revealed in the person of His Son and in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.” In the next sentence, the author of this article encourages readers who are uncertain if they are saved to click on the link to learn more about “God’s plan of salvation.” In addition, The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia states, “The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement.”
Now, let me be clear: the gospel is certainly the good news of God’s gracious gift for those who believe that we might be saved. It absolutely entails the finished work of Christ. The result includes the restoration of our relationship with the Father. But it is much more! And, in fact, I would contend that when it comes to defining the Gospel I am not sure that this is the best place to start.
For one, defining the Gospel solely in terms of what it does for me fails to account for the most fundamental element of the Gospel: namely, the sovereignty of Christ. The Gospel is not about us, it is about Him. The Gospel begins and ends with: “Jesus is Lord.”
Secondly, defining the Gospel in terms of what it means for my salvation makes salvation the focus, or the goal. The problem, as we will explore in the following chapters, with making salvation the goal, is that once a person is saved all is completed! This leaves the process of discipleship!—the very thing Jesus commanded us to do (Matt 28:19)—out of the picture. I will contend that if our understanding of the Gospel only entails that which corresponds to our personal salvation, then what we are left with is a truncated gospel; one that serves to facilitate our western, individualistic, consumerist, and self (me)-centered worldview. We must ask how much a “me” centered gospel is really the Gospel? After all, can we reconcile the summons to follow Jesus, which begins and ends with, one must “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), the very epitome of self-denial, with a “me” centered version?
There is a third problem that arises from a “me” centered definition of the Gospel. Namely, that is leaves out the mission of God’s people! A good definition of the Gospel captures the fact that Jesus is Lord, that He not only rules as “King of kings,” and that He has called us to be the means through which He establishes His kingdom! Perhaps the clearest support of this comes from 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God has chosen us, Peter says, “so that” we may “proclaim” His excellencies!
 See: https://bible.org/article/what-gospel. viewed 3-28-18.
 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), electronic media. Cited in bible.org. https://bible.org/article/what-gospel 3-28-18.
 For an excellent discussion of the Gospel see Tim Keller, Center Church, parts 1-2.
 The Greek uses hopos, which, in constructions such as this, indicates purpose.
Jesus asserts, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What He means here is that the Sabbath was made to protect people from being exploited. We were not made to observe the Sabbath (“not man for the Sabbath”). Instead, the Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humanity (“the Sabbath was made for man”); especially those who were being exploited.
If the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, then, with the coming of Christ, the end of oppression is at hand! This is what Jesus means when He enters the Nazareth synagogue and asserts that, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Now, what better day was there for Jesus to demonstrate this than on the Sabbath! The very day that was established to prevent injustices.
Therefore, contrary to popular perceptions, Jesus was not proclaiming that the Sabbath no longer applies. He was confirming that it was fulfilled. In Him, all injustices are being eradicated. This is exemplified in Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13. “When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness’” (Luke 13:12). She was freed! Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and freed, so also, this woman has been set free! This healing, then, provides an affirmation that Jesus has come to set the captives free! Indeed, the prophecies are being fulfilled. The healing of this oppressed woman is precisely what the Sabbath was for! In healing this woman, Jesus is demonstrating that the fulfillment has begun! The healing of this woman didn’t violate the Sabbath; it was exactly what the Sabbath was for! Consequently, despite the religious leaders’ objections to Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, His actions were in accord with the very nature and purpose of the Sabbath!
Jesus was not denying that He was working on the Sabbath. He was indeed working. His work, however, was not in violation of the Sabbath—though it was in their mind. Instead, it was fully in accord with the Sabbath.
Sabbath as Holy
Now, in order to complete a theology of the Sabbath it is important to also note that practicing the Sabbath is also a holy act. Genesis says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). While the first six days of creation are called “good”, the seventh day is blessed by God and made holy. To be made “holy” or “sanctified” means to be “set apart.”
It is also important to place the Sabbath discussion in the discussion of God’s economy! Throughout Scripture we see that in God’s economy He provides for His people as an act of grace. That is, God’s people will succeed because they are blessed by God. They do not get ahead because of their hard work, or their ingenuity. They certainly will not get ahead because they abuse their workers!
Another way to understand how the economy of God is directly related to the issue of the Sabbath is to note that the land was also supposed to enjoy the Sabbath.
“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” (Exodus 23:10-12).
It is very important to note that the provision of letting the land rest is also in accord with providing for the poor and the needy: “so that the needy of your people may eat” (Exodus 23:12).
Now, if one thinks about it, this doesn’t appear to be the best way to reap an economic boom. After all, only sowing in six out of seven parts of the field will not reap as large a harvest as sowing on all seven parts. Sure there are studies that have concluded that the land is actually more productive when it is allowed a year of rest. But we must wonder if the ancient Israelites knew this. There were simply instructed to give the land a rest every seven years. How were they to find provisions during the seventh year? God will provide!
This is how the economy of God operates. God provides and His people are blessed. They are blessed not because they followed the economic ideals of the world. Instead, they are blessed because they have been obedient to God.
Donald Trump is no Saint
I received the following note (italics) and thought it was necessary to respond:
“Throughout Biblical history God has chosen very flawed men and women to lead:
[NB: In writing this I am making no assertions as to whether Donald Trump is a good president or not. Frankly, that is very far from my concern. My concern has always focused on the people of God. Are they growing in Christ and fulfilling their mission of making God known to the nations? Of course, by “making God known” I mean is the Church doing so effectively?: that is, are we demonstrating love and grace?; showing compassion and advocating for justice?; etc. I am writing this because I believe that the evangelical right’s unapologetic support for Donald Trump as president is downright shameful and often extremely hypocritical; not because he is a bad president, but because he is exemplifying a seriously flawed character that in now way should be affirmed by the Christian community. Again, let me reiterate, my focus is on the Church being the church that Christ called us to be in whatever country we might live in and under whatever laws that country may wish to impose.]
It must be noted at the outset that the basic premise of this argument is seriously in error. For one, unlike many evangelicals, I am not looking for a saint to be our president; nor, am I expecting the President to be our savior. I am constantly bewildered how western evangelical Christianity continues to look to a secular state and its political leaders as though they will be the salvation for the Church. One reading of the book of Revelation provides us with an indication that the state is not the means of the salvation for the people of God. This conception seriously confuses a secular office with a religious person and the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God. [This error is perhaps the most serious error reflected in the assertion above and in the evangelical communities embrace of Trump; but, it is beyond the scope of this response.] Thus, I have a pastoral concern for you and others who minimize Trump’s sin and behavior. My concern is that you are minimizing sin which diminishes what Christ has done for us, as well as, diminishing our witness to a hostile world. I hope that you are putting your trust in Christ as our king and not any politician, nation, or government.
It is worth noting that the line of reasoning presented in this letter inherently contains a concession that Donald Trump is “very flawed.” The argument seems to be that though Trump is seriously flawed, so also were these many biblical men and women, as is all of humanity, yet, God used them, so, also, God can use Trump.
Furthermore, the implied, if not stated, assertion that Trump is no more flawed that the biblical persons mentioned above is seriously suspect. The basic premise is that we are all “very flawed” people. The use of “very” seems a little loose here. If we accept the premise, then it could be used to suggest that even people such as Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot may be used by God “to get us back on track.” After all, they were “very flawed” men too. But, if we are going to use “very flawed” for Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot, then I would suggest that its application to all people is inappropriate. After all, we have to have some means of distinguishing Hitler from Mother Teresa. One may absolutely affirm that all persons are flawed, with varying degrees of flawedness, but not all are “very flawed.”
Additionally, the letter used “very flawed” in regard to Moses, Noah, Rahab, and the above list of biblical men and women. Although the point that God has used flawed people, and continues to do so, is a valid point, I am not sure that “very flawed” is appropriate for most, if not all, of the biblical characters listed. Neither does it seem valid to equate the sins and character flaws of these biblical persons to Trump.
For one, the sins of most of the biblical characters listed above probably do not qualify them as “very flawed” persons. The assertion that Noah was a drunk is simply unfounded. Noah got drunk. But, that doesn’t make him a drunk. In fact, Scripture says that, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). The author of Hebrews speaks of Noah in the following terms, he “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb 11:7). Sure, Noah had flaws. We all do. But I dare say that comparing the flaws of “a righteous man” to Trump, or most any other person, is quite dubious.
Including Moses as “very flawed” is likewise highly questionable. Yes, he committed murder. Though the act was in response to an abusive Egyptian who was beating one of his kinsman. Luke records Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 in which Stephen contends, “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:24-25). This one time act, which we may well consider horrific—though we must acknowledge the fact that the Jewish world had come to consider Moses as a rescuer of the Jewish people—hardly qualifies Moses as “very flawed.”
Perhaps, we could contend that Moses was “very flawed” because he struck the rock twice in anger (Num 20). This, also, appears to be stretching things a bit too much. Sure, he got angry. We all do. This is hardly enough to constitute him as “very flawed.” The author of Hebrews, in fact, also describes Moses in quite glowing terms, which hardly befits considering him “very flawed.” Hebrews says, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Heb 11:25-28).
Finally, I am not sure how one can say “worst of all” was Paul. For one, the “character flaws” of Paul listed was that he persecuted Christians. This hardly seems to qualify as a character flaw. He was doing his job. In fact, he references his actions as a Jewish leader prior to his conversion to Christ as religious zeal (Phil 3:6). He likely held the conviction, derived from the OT law, that blasphemers within the people of God must be punished lest God punish the nation: “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev 24:16). There is no doubt that Paul had flaws—as we all do—but in terms of Christian character, I think we are safe to say that Paul was one of the most exemplary persons in history. I don’t think many Christians in history would dare make the assertion that Paul does: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
We could do the same exercise with each of the persons listed above. Thus, I am not sure that “very flawed” is an appropriate designation (with the possible exception of Gideon—though that brings into the discussion the purpose of the book of Judges, which will take us too far afield). As suggested above, we should reserve “very flawed” for persons such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the like, in order to distinguish them from the rest of humanity.
Now, at this point, those who were attempting to promote the supposition that Trump is “very flawed” just as the following biblical characters are may attempt to backtrack and contend that perhaps, then, Trump is not “very flawed.” It is not necessary, of course, to get into a semantic war. The interesting point is that those who make this argument appeared content to acknowledge and accept Trump’s flaws when they were thought to have been no worse than Noah’s, Moses’, and Paul’s. I dare suggest that even an effort to backtrack and contend that Trump isn’t that bad, is not going to result in an adequate comparison between Trump and any of the biblical characters listed in the above argument.
Moreover, there are other significant difficulties in the above reasoning. Most notably, and this really is the bottom line, the biblical characters above, and even others not listed, all repented. They recognized God’s sovereignty in their lives. They, indeed, were flawed—though I would hesitate to use “very flawed”—but they sought God. Trump has shown no genuine indication that he is seeking after God. Nor, has he shown any sign of repentance for groping women, demeaning foreigners and the less fortunate, mocking handicapped persons, his acts of belittling others, etc.
Furthermore, and what is most significant from my perspective, is that the above argument appears to be employed in order to justify Trump’s ill behaviors. The argument, appears to acknowledge Trump’s sins, but this passing concession becomes a seeming acceptance of them. It is sort of a “yeah, well so did Noah, Moses, and Paul.” But should we so quickly accede such ill behavior? Should we laud a leader who has grossly abused women, mocked handicapped persons, and displayed blatant disrespect for so many? I dare suggest that if this behavior were to come from persons who were not republican leaders, then these very same evangelicals would cry out against them. Evangelicals would quickly assert: “How could someone lead our country and be so unChristlike and irreverent?” But since the offender is of the same political persuasion as those making the argument, somehow, the offenses are acceptable—after all, God used Moses!
Now, it must be said that I do not agree with the approach of the so-called Moral Majority (though I admit that I once did). I do not believe that the Church’s role is to be moral police of a secular state. We are to be the bearers of light and the source of hope. Sure, we are the source of truth. But when truth puts out our light/witness, then the truth (which is a ultimately a person) has become a weapon and not a source of life. The western, evangelical church must wake up to the reality that their efforts as the moral police within a secular nation have done more harm than good.
It is bewildering and grieving that the very same people who have decried the immoral behavior of those they oppose (especially homosexuals and advocates of abortion), have been so quick to accept, and even at times justify, the behavior of Trump. If evangelicals are going to speak against the sins of others, and I am not convinced that they are going about this in any way that conforms to the imperative of following Jesus, then why are they so quick to overlook and even ignore the blatant and despicable acts of Trump?
My question is why are evangelical Christians endorsing this man and his character? Why are they not speaking out when it comes to his harsh and sexist attitudes towards women, minorities (inside and outside our country), and the handicapped? Let me note again: you may like him as a President. You may consider him the greatest president of all time if you’d like. You may endorse his foreign policies. You may support his judicial appointments. But we cannot endorse this man as a champion of the Christian values and convictions. He is not, nor can any secular leader ever be, the savior of the Church. To suggest that God uses “very flawed” persons should in no way be used to endorse this man’s moral failings.
Finally, the task for the people of God is to be God’s witnesses. Our task is to make Christ known. It is not to live in peace and security. If our nation allows us such, then so be it. But we are called to live for Christ. Endorsing a person because of their political abilities is one thing; but to laud a person who has shown serious character defects, and then to dismiss them as acceptable because God has used others with such flaws is deplorable.
Tragically, and this is my most important point, the evangelical church’s endorsement of this man’s many moral failings and character flaws, has had a significant impact on the church’s witness in the world. This alone would suggest that this is not the hand of God, but the hand of the enemy.
[NB: as for the notion that one can see the hand of God in our founding documents let me note briefly a few points. First, the founding documents of this country have been influenced greatly by the Scriptures. So, it is not surprising that one might see God’s hand in them. They reflect, to some extent God’s principles. But, I have great hesitation in making this assertion. For one, the notion that this country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all is simply not true. It is not true if you happen to be an American Indian—the original inhabitants of this land; who were displaced and, at times, ruthlessly treated; and finally relegated to “leftover” parcels of land. It is not true if your race did not correspond to that of the founding fathers. Furthermore, the Scriptures do not exhort God’s people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in accord with the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we are to forgo the pursuit of such things and take up our crosses and follow the one true King. In doing so, Scripture warns us, we will be persecuted and often killed. So much for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness].
 It is quite interesting to note that evangelicals are often quick to defend Moses’ act, and God’s righteousness in using Moses, lest it be that God use a murder to dispense the law; a law which states, “thou shall not murder.” Yet, many of these same evangelicals then determine that Moses “very flawed” in order that a secular leader like Donald Trump can be seen as “no different than Moses.” You can’t have you cake and eat it too.
It doesn’t get more basic that this: “What is the gospel?” The answer is pretty simple; yet, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer. I was at a conference recently with 5,000 church planters—mostly from evangelical backgrounds. During one of the breakout sessions the speaker commented that if he were to ask those in attendance “what is the gospel?”, he would likely get a hundred different answers from the hundred people that were in the room. I was, in one sense, flabergasted, and in another, grieved.
I was flabergasted and grieved by the notion that the church has become so shallow that a hundred pastors and church planters could not come to any consensus on what the gospel is! Now I do believe that this speaker was overstating his point. But, at the same time, I do suspect that many in that room would have had trouble articulating what the gospel is!
If that weren’t enough, I became significantly more flabergasted when this speaker went on to define the gospel. He said, I define the gospel as, “radically transforming the world.” I am serious. This was his answer. Note, there was no Jesus in his answer. I immediately thought to myself, “what makes this statement uniquely Christian?” After all, wouldn’t most religions aspire to “radically transform the world?” I then commented to someone next to me, “Hitler did that!” Which apparently caused them to suddenly realize the emptiness of his defnition.
I am not sure what was worse: his pathetic attempt to define the gospel in such a way it fails to distinguish it from a corporation, tyrant, or any other religious group’s mission statement; or the fact that most of the 100 pastors and church planters “oohed” and “awed” after he made this declaration!
I am not saying that there is one definition of the gospel that all Christians adhere to. Of course, it would be nice if this were so. There are, however, core, essential elements of the gospel that underlie the Christian faith. So, what is the Gospel?
The gospel is quite simply that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem quite simple, but the implications of it are profound. For one, if Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is! Furthermore, if Jesus is Lord, then I am not! If Jesus is Lord, then neither is wealth, power, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. If Jesus is Lord, then my pride is not.
It seems so easy to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them. Will we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him?
There are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If He is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
What does the NT teach about giving?
Some of you are likely reading the title and deciding to at least peruse this blog because you want to know what the Bible, and the New Testament (NT) in particular, says about giving so that you can be obedient. You may be a little fearful about venturing forward. But you are willing—as long as this blog doesn’t get too long!
Some of you are reading this because you want to know what the Bible says so that you can be faithful, but in all reality you are hoping to discern, “what is the least I can get away with giving?”
Some of you may be reading this because you are convinced that the idea of a tithe is Old Testament (OT) and that giving is simply not required in the NT. You may be reading with the mindset that if I say anything contrary to that you are ready to disagree.
Let me answer the question right off the top: there is no law on giving in the NT: NT giving is strictly from the heart! To say, however, that giving in the NT is from the heart is not enough! And it likely lets most of us off the hook way to easy! So, let’s go a bit further by examining Jesus and the law.
First off, Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). Then He clarified that statement by saying that no longer was it merely acceptable to not murder someone, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that hatred towards a brother was murder; and He added that no longer was it merely acceptable to not commit adultery, but from this point forward His concern was with the heart so that to lust was to commit adultery. So, what then do you think Jesus might say about the tithe?
Before we answer that, let me note that I would affirm that the command for a “tithe” (i.e., giving of 10%) is not found in the NT. But to stop here, and make giving simply a matter of what one decides in their heart (2 Cor 9:7), seriously misunderstands the relationship between the law, Jesus, and the life of the people of God today.
What, then, does the NT teach in regard to giving?
Since Jesus did not abolish the law, the notion that the tithe is not in the NT and therefore it doesn’t apply for us today stands on precarious footing. Secondly, when Jesus affirms that the two great commands are to love God and to love one another (Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27), He is upholding the essence of the law. Thirdly, as noted above with regard to murder and adultery, Jesus, not only doesn’t abolish the law, He intensifies it. These three things should sound an alarm to anyone who simply wants to dismiss giving as something previously, but not presently, required. As well as those who want to relegate giving to only “what we decide in our hearts.”
In addition, it is important to note that Paul says we are “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1 NAS). The significance of this is that, though we fully affirm that the sacrificial laws were fulfilled by Jesus, and that we have no need for sacrifices today, the principle of sacrifice is not eradicated but transferred. Yes, Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. Now, we, also, are called to be living sacrifices!
How then does this affect our understanding of giving? Simply put: what if we were to understand giving as something that Jesus and the NT intensifies? Just as murder has now been extended to hatred and adultery to lust, might we also surmise that giving is intensified beyond the tithe (10%)?
Now, there is much more to say of course. And a brief blog post cannot address it all. Let me note two things.
First, if you cannot afford to give, then don’t! There is no law in the NT on giving. What I am arguing is that NT principle—not law—is that we should give everything we have—and that stopping at 10% may not be fully surrendering our hearts. The person who makes $250,000 might well give more than 10%. But the family that makes $25,000 might not be able to give financially at all.
Secondly, if we give 10% or 20% and our hearts are not right before God, then our giving is worthless.
There is much more to be said. I encourage you to listen to my two sermons on giving delivered Mar 11 and Mar 18, 2018. See www.northpres.org
The relationship between doctrines/teaching and obedience is inseparable. Generally speaking, one cannot obey Jesus unless one first knows Jesus; and one cannot do the will of God, unless one knows the will of God.
Now, in saying this, I do not deny that there is a problem on both sides of the spectrum. On one side, there is way to much theological debate within the church and not enough doing the Gospel. On the other side, however, those who are actively doing the “Gospel” apart from theology and knowing Jesus are not any better off.
I hear way too often the notion that we do not need to be concerned with the words of Jesus but with doing the works of Jesus. In fact, just this last week I was at a conference where a speaker gave a impassioned plea to stop worrying about theology and doctrine and to simply get busy doing the work of the kingdom. Now let me acknowledge that there is a sense in which I not only understand the motivation behind the presentation, but even to some extent agree with the thrust of the message.
The problem with this message is that it was presented as an emphatic either-or-proposition. Either we spend our efforts on understanding the teachings of Jesus, or we spend our efforts doing the deeds of Jesus. The problems with this line of thinking are numerous. I will try to keep this brief.
First, there is the logical inconsistency (the argument is self-defeating) in that they must teach us that we don’t need teaching. The presentation I heard this week was a 20 minute passionate plea to stop talking about Jesus and start obeying Him. Hmm?
Secondly, the Scriptures are clear that learning precedes obedience. Ironically, another speaker at the same conference, who not only applauded the previous speaker, but also went on to scorn the role of seminaries in training leaders, used an illustration from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) to support her argument. The problem here, and this speaker apparently failed to notice, that in the story Mary (the learner) was praised by Jesus (“Mary has chosen what is better”), while Martha (the doer) was reproved.
One does not have to look hard to find that the role of preaching is foundational to the Church (see the book of Acts). And we could cite Romans 12:1-2 (“renewing of your mind”) as well as John 8:32 (“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”), and 22:27 (“love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”), and a plethora of other such references.
Thirdly, to deny theology its proper place leads quite easily to the problem of identifying what Jesus one is following. If it is true that Jesus is the way, then there remains a valid and necessary place for theological dialogue. (Again, let me affirm that there is indeed to much theological bantering going on in many places within the Church). But it is essential to know which Jesus we are following.
A symptom of the problem inherit in this theology v action thinking was evident in one of the breakouts I attended at this conference. One of the speakers defined the gospel as “radically transforming the world.” What? There was no Jesus or anything explicitly, or implicitly, involved in this definition. Does he not realize that Hitler “radically transformed the world?” Many people radically transform the world. This is not the Gospel! The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord; and Hitler is not! The Gospel includes the fact that Jesus is in process of radically transforming the world. But to leave Jesus out of a definition of the Gospel is incredulous!
Now, I must close by reiterating that I fully affirm that there is way too much debate and theological rancor in many Christian circles. There are many churches that need to get beyond “knowing” Jesus—as regard intellectual assent—and get busy with imitating Jesus. The point is that one cannot do the deeds of Jesus unless one knows Him and are doing His deeds.
Colossians 1:28 “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
It is sad that I have to hesitate to write a comment on contemporary American politics. But, too many are so entrenched in their views that they have trouble hearing criticism.
My exhortation remains: the Church should be above politics—especially above political parties. We should be willing to acknowledge truth and error regardless of what side of the political spectrum it comes from. We should be willing to compliment and criticize. And we should always do so in love. We want to see justice for everyone; redemption for everyone; respect for everyone.
As for what I have seen lately. I have seen a country that is opposing freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech, and the right to protest and speak your thoughts (whether we agree with them or not), is a basic freedom that has made America a great country.
As for our president’s comments the other night (that the NFL players who are protesting are - - - [insert profanity here] and that they should be fired), I am grieved that our leadership is shaming those who are protesting. You don't have to agree with the protests. But the right to protest is what makes this country great. Our president and leaders, in fact, should do everything to protect that right. For our leader to refer to professional athletes who are protesting with profanity and to suggest that they should be fired, is to take a step towards tyranny.
Again, I don't have to agree with your views. But I should absolutely defend your right to have them. As a Christian, I affirm that you are made in God's image and that you have freedom to act as you believe. I believe that in your acting on your freedoms you are acting humanly. I, of course, believe that to be truly human one must use that freedom to bring Glory to God. Thus, to slander those who are using their freedoms to peacefully protest, is unAmerican; but more than that it is unchristian.
#freespeech #ImageofGod #determineTruth#loveyourneighborevenwhenyoudisagree
I was recently having dinner in Jerusalem. Our group had just arrived that day from various part of the States. Though many of the people at the table knew each other from previous relationships, I was just getting to know most everyone at the table. The group decided that we should go around the table and introduce ourselves: tell about our family, etc. Then, they suggested, we had to answer any questions the group wanted to ask over the next three minutes (yeah, they were mostly younger and more adventurous people).
When it came to my turn, I gave the generic info about myself, my wife Toni, and our four kids. (Okay so I probably bragged a little about my family. Okay, a lot). Anyway, during the three minutes of questioning I was asked, “what is the greatest advice you would give you’re your kids?” I replied, fairly quickly, “never be afraid of the truth.”
Now, I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses of the others at the table. They were taken aback—in a good way. At was as if I had just given the greatest answer in world history (okay, maybe not the greatest answer, but one of the top ten—or top one hundred). The questions then followed, “what do you mean by that?” “Why would you say that?”
As a Christian, I would state emphatically, that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). This is a pillar of my faith. He is not merely the source of truth. He is the Truth. All truth resides in Christ (Colossians 2:3).
Because of this conviction, I believe that all truth will only point me to Christ. If I am in error on something, then, ultimately, I have a weakened understanding of Christ. I need to be corrected and aligned with Christ. (fortunately, this for me this doesn’t happen very often! Maybe I should have said, “hypothetically, if I were in error”!). Yet, I believe that we tend to live in fear of truth. We shelter ourselves (though some might object to this statement, I am convinced that it is far more correct then we are willing to admit).
But, if all truth leads me to Christ, then what am I to fear? I’ll tell you what we are to fear: we should fear being in error. Of course, we will never hold all truth. The sad reality is that some of what I believe now is wrong. I know this because I can tell you a long list of things I used to believe five, ten, and twenty years ago, that I now no longer believe. As a result, I am sure that some of the convictions I hold to now, will change also.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can’t know anything with certainty. Of course we can (in fact, to say we can’t is a self-refuting statement).
What I am saying is that it is our sacred responsibility to seek the truth. And, as a Christian, I have nothing to fear because all truth will only lead me to Christ. (Oh, how I wish I could stop this blog at this point. But I must say more).
Be forewarned: There is nothing easy with seeking the truth. For one, I have to be willing to admit that I was wrong. We don’t like this. Especially when it comes to issues that that annoying uncle holds to. I’d rather rot in a cave somewhere, than admit that he was right! Never being afraid of the truth means that I will have to face situations like this. What if that Republican, or Democrat, of Libertarian was right after all?
There is another difficulty that comes along with never being afraid of the truth. Namely, that truth always demands a life change. Now, I could always choose to go on living as I am and never face up to that change. That is what we do most of the time. But, if I admit to the truth, then I have to admit that I am not living consistently with what I know.
For example, let’s say that I am a smoker. I could just deny that smoking is harmful. Or, I could try to avoid the question. Or, I could minimize the hazards of smoking. The fact is, however, if I agree that God has given me a responsibility to care for my body, and if smoking is bad (i.e., it is deadly), then I must confront the fact that I should stop smoking—of course, you might say, “many things are harmful and we all do them, this is just my weakness.” (now some of you are probably thinking, “preach it brother.” While others are upset, or frustrated, or wanting to object). (PS whether you quit smoking or not is up to you. I am just using it as an illustration).
The list goes on. If I know that going to church is important to spiritual growth, and I believe that spiritual growth is what Christ calls me to, then I need to change my life and make church attendance a priority. If I know that I should stop (fill in the blank here), or start (fill in the blank here), then I should change my life accordingly.
The problem is huge. The fact is, we simply don’t want to change. We like things the way they are. So, we ignore truth. We deny truth. We resist truth. We spend time, money, and great effort to reinforce our convictions as to what truth is. We bully the other. We demonize the other. We silence the other. We do whatever is necessary to maintain our convictions as to what the truth is and our comfortable way of life.
Now, most of you have read this blog and thought, “well, that is interesting.” Many of you will find this helpful. And that is good. You see, I wasn’t too edgy here. I didn’t challenge you on issues that you hold dearly. I used smoking and church attendance as my illustrations. But what if I used __________ as illustrations? Would your attitude have changed? I hope not. But, let’s be honest, we have core convictions that we don’t want challenged. And then Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Have you ever experienced giants in the land? A time when jobs weren’t opening up and the bills were piling up. A time when the doctors weren’t giving the diagnosis you wanted to hear. A time when relationships were crumbling and you saw no way out. A time when you learned that your beautiful child was addicted and you couldn’t get through to them. A time when your debt was so great you had no idea how you would ever get by. A time when. . . .
In case you don’t know the biblical story, it goes like this.
God’s people go down to Egypt during a famine (end of Genesis). They become enslaved (beginning of Exodus). 400 years later God calls a man named Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go and to lead the Israelites back to the land of promise/Canaan (still Exodus). Moses, at first, resists God’s call. Finally, he agrees.
Pharaoh, of course, rejects Moses’ request to let the people go. Why, after all, would he allow hundreds of thousands of slaves go free? God, through Moses, performs a series of miracles; which for the Egyptians were more like plagues (still Exodus). Pharaoh, finally, agrees to let them go.
The Israelites flee Egypt: only to be chased by the Egyptians after Pharaoh changes his mind. The final miracle—that ensure the Israelites escape from Egypt—is the parting of the Red Sea in which the Israelites cross on dry ground and the Egyptians are swallowed in the waters (still Exodus).
The Israelites, however, disobey God and are forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Exodus and the book of Numbers). During this wilderness time, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each of the tribe of Israel) into the land of promise to check out the land before they plan their attack (Numbers 13).
After viewing the land, ten of the spies report back to the Israelites:
“When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Thus, they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there’” (Numbers 13:25-28).
Caleb, however, one of the other two spies (along with Joshua), reports: “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
The voice of the ten, of course, overtakes the voices of Caleb and Joshua: “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size’” (Numbers 13:31-32).
This story reminds us that there are often giants in the land. We all face giants. The fact is that God often calls us into places where the giants are. In fact, it seems like God likes to put giants in our way. We can’t seem to avoid them. Well, we do when we disobey.
But there is something beautiful about giants in the land. When God calls us to something and there appears to be no way that it can be accomplished, it seems that this is the time when God is most active in our lives. At times like this we must rely on Him. We know we can’t do it be ourselves. So, we cry out to Him. Our prayer time increases. Our searching increases. Our walk with Christ increases. Of course, our heart rate, our anxiety, and our stress levels all increase too. But these don’t have to.
When we face giants in the land, maybe we should step back and stand behind the One who rides on the white horse and has a sharp two-edge sword coming from His mouth (Revelation 19:11-16). Maybe if we surrender all things to Him. And in doing so, we can step back and watch Christ slay the giants in our lives.
The beauty of all this is that when we face giants in the land we get to watch the miracles. And when the giants are slain, only God gets the glory for slaying them!
I find it quite interesting that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other author of the NT addressed Jewish or Roman politics. They didn’t address slavery—there were millions of slaves throughout the empire—nor Roman militarism, nor the many other ills that proliferated throughout the Roman world.
Now one can make the argument that Christians in the US have a different role because we live in a democracy. Certainly, living in a democracy carries with it the responsibility to participate in the political system.
One of the problems I see rising with regard to evangelicalism and politics has been the failure to properly distinguish between the church and the nation. It seems as though many within evangelicalism are convinced that it is necessary to impose Christian laws on the nation. For many, the reasoning is that Christian laws make for a better nation. And though I am certainly inclined to agree with this, my question is whether or not this is the role of the Church?
Is it the job of the Church to make sure the nation has good laws?
I see several weaknesses and unintended consequences that call into question this approach.
First, the people of God need to rise up and follow the law of love, which is THE law for the Church, well ourselves before we seek to legislate it on others. In fact, demanding that others obey what we ourselves do not is the essence of hypocrisy.
Secondly, imposing Christian laws does not address the issues of the heart. And it is the heart that matters. Having godly laws with uncircumcised hearts didn’t do the Israelites any good. Why should we expect things to be different today?
Thirdly, such efforts are more and more impacting our Christian witness in a negative way. Why is it that many Christians are surprised when non-Christians reject Christian laws? After all, if they don’t believe in God, or if they just don’t wish to follow Him, then why should we expect that they would want to follow God’s laws?
This is key. The fact that they have rejected God’s laws and often God Himself means that our efforts to impose such laws on them will often result in a further alienation of individuals from Christ.
This is one of those unintended consequences I was speaking about. The effort to impose Christian laws on a secular society is often received by that society as an attack. It is perceived as an attack on their freedoms; an attack on their convictions; and sometimes an attack on themselves personally. The end result is a further alienation of such people from Christ!
Such efforts have placed our civil responsibilities above our kingdom responsibilities.
Our goal is not to make a Christian nation. Our goal is to reflect Christ to the world in such a way that the world is attracted to Him! If our efforts to impose Christian laws on a society have a negative impact on our witness, then we should discard such efforts.
Now I am not saying that our intentions aren’t good; or that such laws are not good. But if the end result is detrimental to the cause of the kingdom, then we must abandon ship!
Is the Church called to be agents of social change?
Yes, but not by forcing such change on the state. Our means of affecting social change is first by living it out ourselves—regardless of the laws. This is how the early church overthrew Rome.
Finally, many Christians are operating from the perspective that our responsibility is merely to present the Gospel. That is, we are responsible for what we say and not what others hear. But if love is our over-arching ethic, then we must care how others are hearing our presentation of the Gospel. Now, certainly, we cannot control this at all times. But we do bear some measure of burden to communicate and express ourselves in love.
“But, God’s laws are good for society!”
I would agree. But we live in a democracy (a democratic-republic) and the nature of such is that people have the right to vote and decide what they want. We can try to influence their vote. That is true. But we must do so in a way that respects them and their vote!
This, I fear, has not been done well by the Church in recent years.
The Church must proclaim the Gospel in a manner that is relevant and palatable to the culture. Preachers should always speak against injustice. They should exhort the Church to be the people of God in the midst of injustice. This is the Gospel facing culture! We should raise up our congregations to advocate for those who are suffering oppression.
Many Christians are convinced that our country is going downhill and going there fast! This great nation is in decline. Election day is viewed by many as the means of reversing this trend. Folks, election day is not the day to reverse this trend. Every day is. Every day is another chance for us to reflect Jesus to the world. Only He can change hearts!
I would like to reiterate that my blog and facebook blog posts are intended to address Christians. My tag line is “Challenging the Church to be the Church.”
In recent weeks I have posted a number of comments on my facebook blog page about the refugee crisis. I am somewhat grieved by the Christians who are contentious on this matter. One of the primary mistakes people are making in their responses is the failure to divorce their responsibilities as Christians from their nations concerns.
One person honestly asked about the need to balance the love of Christ with the need for security. Here is my response:
My response is not just for you but for the many who might read this. I would simply say that sometimes the balance you ask about involves a risk. Though I personally don't think that part of the equation (the risk issue) is our (i.e., the Church’s) responsibility. Our job is to love like Jesus. The nation’s job is to maintain national security. And the US has one of the most extensive vetting processes already in place. But if they choose to close the borders because Christians are telling them to do so, then we have a problem.
Christians should be advocating love towards everyone! Period. Sure, we all take the personal responsibility to lock our doors, etc. But to shut them and not let them in: ever?
The entire Bible (OT/NT) is a story about refugee people! We are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13). Jesus told parables about welcoming the refugees. He says, "I was a stranger and you let me in" (Matt 25:35). Jesus Himself was a refugee—remember the Christmas story how they fled to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Him? The early Christians were refugees after Saul began to hunt them down. Christians over the centuries have been refugees!
So, where is the Church now? Are we hiding behind our western comforts? Sleeping in warm beds and homes while our brothers and sisters are struggling to survive? Are we content and well fed while our brothers and sisters go hungry? Are we amusing ourselves with all the luxuries of the western world, while our brothers and sisters flee? I could go on for a long while with Scripture after Scripture (OT and NT) that commands that we take them in! Love our neighbor; love the alien within our midst; They will know we are Christians by our love; etc. Why are we as Christians more concerned about political argumentation and our nation’s self-interest than we are our responsibilities toward the refugee?
(Note: I am not saying that we don't have the responsibility to our families and our neighbors to be wise. Neither am I saying that a nation shouldn’t do what is right for its national interests. Nor, am I saying that nations do not have the responsibility to protect its citizens. In fact, I am not addressing how a nation responds!)
Instead, I am speaking as a pastor and a leader in the Church. I am speaking as a scholar and a teacher. I think I know the Word a little. And the Scriptures I read are unambiguous on this one. What I am saying, then, is that for the Church the command to love trumps these in times like this. Love the Refugee. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).
Lord, Jesus, have mercy on your Church, that we might give mercy to the world.
I often hear people say that they want a class on how to share their faith with others. I understand fully this desire. Many Christians want to share their faith but are afraid to do so. Some are uncertain because they don’t think they have they know enough. Others are uncertain because they think they do not know how to do so. The fact is that we will never know enough and that there is no perfect way to do it. We just need to get out there and tell the world about Jesus.
Now, if anyone says to you, “here are the 10 keys to effective evangelism,” or, “use these effective strategies for guaranteed conversions”, or, “win them over with this irresistible trick,” be cautious. They may well have good insights. But no one has the corner on “sharing the Gospel with success.”
When we think about it, our theology tells us that those who come to Christ are called by Christ. This means that there is no way we can be certain that our “secrets” to sharing Christ will ultimately lead anyone to faith. No matter how good our presentation was. If they are not called by God, they will not repent.
At the same time, however, we can go about it the wrong way. So, here are some thoughts on how we might share the Gospel more effectively.
Pray for them
Really, truly, deeply, and consistently pray for them. We believe that it is only God who changes the heart! God is the one who calls! God is the one who saves! Prayer helps us see things the way that God sees them.
In addition, our motives and ego can so easily get in the way. So pray for ourselves also. That the Light of Christ might shine through us to them despite our sinfulness!
Just be real with people. Love them. Care for them. Come alongside them. And live Jesus before them.
Love them for who they are. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t assume that they have to become like us to be saved! Sure, we hope that they will become more like Jesus each day. But, that is not a pre-requisite to being saved either! Being saved starts with recognizing that I am not like Jesus! I am a sinner. I need Jesus to change me!
Being real with people also means that we admit our faults and weaknesses. We believe that we are not perfect; so don’t pretend to be.
What to do next!
Invite them to Church or a Church event. Don’t worry if they say no. Just keep looking for ways to integrate them into your community. Allow them to journey to Christ.
Sure, some people have an experience in which they accept Christ. Some of us can name the day and time and place in which it happened. Others cannot. They just know that previously they were not a Christian and now they are. When that change took place, they do not know.
I remember a time when I was sharing the Gospel with someone. We met weekly and just read the Gospel of Matthew together. Sometimes we would discuss what we read. Sometimes we just kept reading. About 8 months later I asked, “why don’t you get baptized?” He was startled. The reality, however, was that sometime during the previous 8 months he had become a Christian. He had gone from just reading and inquiring to believing and desiring. I could see the change. I don’t know when it happened. Neither did he.
Within a month, I had the pleasure of baptizing him!
An important part of loving people and sharing Christ with them is to ask them questions. Find out who they are.
As people talk they will let you know how they are struggling; what they are looking for. You will find that be listening to them you will learn easy entry points to bring Jesus into the conversation and into their lives.
Sometimes they will be closed to the Gospel. That is important to know! Give them time. Sharing the Gospel too forthrightly with such persons will only cause them to repel further. Just love them. Be there for them. Model Christ for them. Perhaps, on occasion you can insert the Gospel ever so gently into a conversation and then let it go. If it is received, perhaps it will be a seed that germinates over time. Later, you can tell them more.
Others may be struggling with something. Perhaps it is a loss that they cannot comprehend. They cannot accept Jesus because it doesn’t make sense how God could have allowed this to happen. By asking questions you will find this out and learn how to bring the Gospel to them personally.
Share your story
This is crucial. You may not think you have a story, but you do. Sharing your story let’s people know that you are real too. You have struggled with growing up in a broken family; or suffering a divorce; or the loss of a loved one. Let them know that you are just another person. You have struggles. Life is not perfect for you either.
Some people have this conception that they have to have it all together before they can become a Christian. The problem is accentuated when Christians pretend that they have it all together. We, for some reason, think we are supposed to let people know how great our life in Christ is. The result is that people are distanced from Christ because they think they will never have it all together!
So, to the Church I exclaim: “be real with people.” Don’t put on a face of something you are not. Sure, Christ has made my life infinitely better. But my life is still full of gaffs and blunders.
In hearing your story, people might come to find that there is hope for them too. If God can save people like us, then He can and will do so for them!
For some reason we Christians think that we not only have to our life perfectly together but that we have to know everything. We don’t know everything. And no one expects that we do!
So, be ready to answer people’s questions. But not with this supposed “I know it all” mentality. In fact, one of the best answers we can give is: “I don’t know.” Now this answer should be immediately followed by, “but let me find out.” Then go and find out and come back soon and let them know what you learned.
Also, in answering people’s questions, acknowledge them as good questions. What might seem as a simple question for you, might be the basis for a real struggle for someone else.
The fact is that I struggle with the problem of evil and suffering too. I don’t know why, or even pretend to understand why, God allows 25,000 people to die each day from starvation.
I do know this though. That God has done and is doing something about it! The beauty of the Gospel is that, though evil and suffering is the result of the mess that we made of this world, God has entered into our mess by sending His Son that we might live. This is it. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why there is so much evil in this world. But, I do get the fact that God has done something about it! My son lives because God’s Son died! There is no greater comfort to a grieving parent than that!
Let the Light of the Gospel Shine Forth in Our Lives as we Love One Another
Finally, we need to do a better job of loving each other! Jesus said that this is how they will know that we are Christians!
OK Church, get over it. The conception that the prophets were like us. We do Bible studies on Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and the like and we think of them as leaders among the people of God. We memorize their words. We cite them in argumentation. We paste Jer 29:11 as a tag line at the end of emails.
But folks. Though they were leaders among God’s people, the prophets were hated. They were outcasts. They were killed!
Stephen, in his debate with the religious leaders shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus states, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
Yet we read this and assume that Stephen could not be speaking to us. He was speaking to “them” (whoever the “them” may be all we know is that it doesn’t include “us”). Ironically, most of the people to whom Stephen and the prophets were addressing didn’t think they were in the wrong either. They pointed to their fasting and giving and all things apparently religious as proof that they were on the good team. Surely, the people thought, the prophets were speaking to “them” and not “us.”
So, if the “them” back in the day thought that they were the “us”, then shouldn’t we be more cautious about assuming that we the “us” aren’t the “them”? Why should we assume that we are somehow different?
I suppose it all stems from the fact that we always assume that we are the good ones. Since the prophets were the good ones, then they must be part of us. Since the prophets were speaking to the bad ones, they must be talking to “them.”
Jesus Himself warned, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city” (Matt 23:34). Here again, when we read Jesus, we of course assume that He was speaking to “them” and not “us.”
You see, we all know that we are in league with Jesus. So, we are part of the “us” and Jesus was definitely speaking to “them!” We may even go so far as to assume that we are the ones about whom Jesus was referring when He says that He will send prophets and wise men!
Now, I am not suggesting that we know who the “them” might be today! I just think we ought to be careful to too quickly assume that it aint us. Something I think we don’t even consider.
So, who might the “them” be? Well, if we think about it, the “them” cannot mean the secular world; the state; the people of other religions. After all, when we look at the text we realize that the “them” to whom Jesus was addressing was some of the religious leadership within Israel (the OT people of God). Does it stands to reason then that, if there is an application today, the “them” would similarly be some of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God)?
Ouch, that hurts. Since, I myself as a pastor would have to be considered as one who constitutes the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God). Of course, I am a part of the other “some.” But, no one considers themselves today to be a part of this “some.” Which means that the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God) today are actually “none.”
So, maybe it would be good if we regularly step back and assess our place in God’s household—without always assuming that we are the “good.” Now, I don’t say this to suggest that your salvation must be questioned regularly. Or, to have you constantly being introspective to the point that you live in fear. I am, in fact, not even speaking to you (singular), but to you (plural).
My point: as long as we assume that we are the “us” and do not allow ourselves to consider the possibility that we might be the “them”, we will never hear a prophetic message. As a result, we may well continue the pattern of shooting the messenger! Then we will indeed have become the “them”—the very “them” Jesus was warning against.
PS I chose this particular photo of a prophet to accompany this blog because the prophet here is left-handed! Like me! See, I am definitely one of the “us.”—or is it that he is like me?
Jesus is the center of the Apocalypse. Or, perhaps, it may be better stated—Christ is the Apocalypse.
The Book of Revelation opens with the words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).
The phrase is actually ambiguous, both in English and in the original Greek. The phrase can be understood to mean: “the revelation that is about Jesus Christ”; or, “the revelation that is from Jesus Christ.” When it comes to something like this the interpreter’s best option is to read the book and see which one makes the most sense. Is the book of Revelation about Jesus or is it from Jesus?
Even after reading the Book of Revelation, however, one is still unsure which option is best. This leads many to conclude, and probably correctly, that John was intentionally unclear and that he wanted us to understand the book of Revelation as both a revelation from Jesus Christ and one that is about Jesus Christ.
But when we say that Revelation is about Jesus what do we mean? Well, that is quite simple: it is about who He is and what He has done. Okay, but what is it that He has done?
Through the pages of the book of Revelation John highlights Jesus’ person and role in terms of three key features: 1) Jesus is God made manifest; and as such He is worthy of the worship due to God alone; 2) Jesus is the fulfiller of God’s promises in that He has accomplished the mission of God’s people; 3) Jesus, as the fulfiller of God’s mission, is the model for the people of God to emulate.
All three of these are vital and will be explored more deeply in future blogs. But for now, I will focus on one aspect of the third point. It is this third point that explains John’s somewhat surprising opening description of Jesus. For, instead of describing Jesus with all the glorious titles that He uses later in the book, John attributes three apparently mundane titles to Jesus: 1) He is “the faithful witness”—likely indicating that He was faithful unto death— 2) He is the One who has overcome death and is therefore “the firstborn from the dead”; 3) He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
Of all the titles ascribed to Jesus in the book of Revelation, that these three are the first is somewhat astonishing.
The importance of these three titles, however, cannot be underestimated. They serve to highlight John’s message to the churches—as well as to us today. Namely, that, in the same way that Jesus did, so also the people of God must: 1) persevere as faithful witnesses—despite the fact that this may well result in death— 2) knowing that we will also be raised from the dead, 3) and through all this we will reign as the kings of the earth (as C. S. Lewis put it: “we are kings and queens of Narnia!”).
One of the first principles in understanding the book of Revelation is that the book is about Jesus. Knowing this will help us not only understand the book, but also its message for us today. Jesus is “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). And as such He is the model that the people of God are to emulate. If one gets anything from reading the book of Revelation may it be: “Go be faithful witnesses just like Jesus!”
This year the session (ruling board) at my church has decided that we should focus our attention on “Thy Kingdom Come” (sometimes that King James English just needs to come out). Sounds great. I personally wish that Christ’s Kingdom were here. Now! I want it now! (reminds me of the girl in the new Willie Wonka Movie who bratishly—yes, that is a word: after all, I can make up words if I want because I have a PhD!—says, “but, daddy, I want it now”). That’s the point. We really want the Kingdom and we want it now!
What is God waiting for? Why is He taking so long? I mean it has been two thousand years (well, almost). One of the problems we have with this line of questioning (which many of us are guilty of) is that it begins and ends with a poor understanding of the Kingdom.
The problem is simple. Many of us have been taught that the Kingdom is wholly spiritual. After all, it is the Kingdom of heaven, right? Because of this we have concluded that the spiritual (heaven) is good and the physical (earth) is—well—not as good; or, for some it is bad.
This leads us to a problem. This sort of thinking tells us that only spiritual things really matter. Life itself, however, tells us something different. After all, we need to eat, drink, sleep, work, etc., in order to live.
What many Christians tend to do at this point is to try to live in these two worlds at the same time. One world is the Mon-Sat world. For many, this is the real world. We live, eat, and breathe in this world. The other world is then some sort of spiritual world—the Sunday world. This is the world of religion and spirituality. In this world, we pray and go to church. (Pastors often get befuddled as to how to get their parishioners more involved in the life of the Church: how to get them to pray more; give more; learn more; do more. This conflict will continue, however, as long as we allow ourselves to live as though there really are these two worlds).
The problem here is that this thinking stems from a poor understanding of the Kingdom. Think about it: Is it not true that God is the creator of ALL things (Col 1:16)? Is it not true that through Jesus God is reconciling “to himself ALL things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:20)?
Here’s my point. If God is Lord of all, then the Kingdom of God is not some spiritual thing that is detached from the world. Jesus is Lord Monday through Saturday too! This means that working, being in fellowship with others, resting, eating, and praying are all spiritual acts. After all, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden (Gen 2:15); they had fellowship in the Garden; and, they ate in the Garden. Such acts, then, are part of God’s eternal plan. They are not just things we do in this world until someday we escape it. They are all part of God’s kingdom, which are in need of being redeemed and restored.
What does this have to do with Thy Kingdom Come? Everything. The ECO (which is our denomination) document on the Church says, “Before the foundation of the world, God set a plan of mission to reconcile the world to Himself and chose to use the Church as His instrument of reconciliation. It is incumbent upon all members of the body of Christ to participate in the work of building one another up in Christ and be deployed for His work in the world” (ECO Polity 8).”
Therefore, instead of us sitting back and waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, we have been commanded by God to be the agents through which God brings His kingdom. We must learn to view our jobs from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to view our relationships from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to enjoy our food from a kingdom perspective (a kingdom perspective with regard to food would begin by acknowledging God for His provision and would include our recognition of others who may be in need of food). As we do this, the Kingdom of God comes!
Next, we must begin to look at the world around us and realize that it too is in desperate need of being reconciled to God! For, the Kingdom of God comes when we care for the broken in this world. This includes the broken people who need to see that Christ loves them and wants to redeem and restore them. It also includes the brokenness of the creation. After all, God created mankind to care for His creation (Gen 2:15).
In one sense, we have no other options. We cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” and do nothing. We must do something about the lack of peace in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the children starving in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the brokenness of families in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. And of course, we must do something about the lostness within our neighborhoods and the world.
Thy Kingdom Come is a charge for us to get busy!
Oh. One last thing. We must do all of this with joy in our hearts. After all, we are children of the King and we will get to eat at His table forever!
A few years ago we conducted a seminar on understanding the ‘end-times’ in Scripture, and why and how it matters for our lives. I opened the seminar by asking, ‘What do you suppose is the most significant question that Jesus asked regarding His return?’ The answer, I believe, is found in Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?"
So, I wish to examine why an understanding of biblical eschatology (the ‘end-times’) is essential in the process of making disciples. You may already see the relationship. But in case you don’t, let’s explore.
First off, we must note that an important aspect of discipleship (which incorporated then what may now be understood as an apprenticeship) takes the form of imitating Christ. This is part of what is entailed in Jesus’ charge: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Mark 8:34). But what does it mean to imitate/follow Him?
Here is where a proper understanding of discipleship must include a proper understanding of our mission. So what is our mission? Let us suggest that we find the root of it in Genesis, where we can summarize as follows: mankind’s’ mission includes ‘ruling over God’s creation’ (Gen 1:28), ‘caring for His creation’ (Gen 2:15-16), and ‘bearing God’s image to the world’ (Gen 1:26-27—though in light of the Fall in Gen 3 our bearing God’s image to the world now includes making Him known to our fellow mankind).
As we continue in Genesis we find that Abraham was called to be the means by which God would redeem mankind and bring about the promised restoration in order that mankind might fulfill God’s purpose (Gen 12:1-3). Now, we know from the NT that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (e.g., Gal 3:13-14; 2 Cor 1:20). We must also note that the commission to Abraham included blessing the nations: ‘. . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 12:3).*
It was this failure to bless the nations that brought the condemnation of the prophets on Israel. And this was also the source of Jesus’ judgment on the leadership of His day. This was, in fact, a central reason for Jesus’ actions of judgment in the Temple (cf Matt 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). For, in the midst of His overthrowing the tables and creating a stir in the Temple Jesus cites Isa 56:7: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations’ (Mark 11:17).
Yet, interestingly, when we look at the ministry of Jesus in the four Gospels, we note that He seems to intentionally limit His ministry to Israel. On one occasion, in fact, He states, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 15:24). So, if in Jesus we find the fulfillment of God’s call to Abraham and the promised blessing to the nations, then why is it that He didn’t extend His ministry to the nations? Answer: because that is what He commissioned His disciples—and us—to do! That is, the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) calls the NT people of God to carry forward to all nations the mission that Jesus inaugurated.
Therefore, an understanding of Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT and His ushering in the ‘last days’ is essential for the understanding of our mission and what it means to make disciples of all nations! If we are His disciples, then we will follow Him. Among other things, following Him includes fulfilling the mission of God’s people to bear His image to the world.
So are we being faithful? Will Christ find faith when He returns? The answer is found by asking if we are making disciples in fulfillment of God’s call for His people.
In my first article I wrote about the danger of the obsession with the ‘End-Times’ and how many are caught up in the hysteria that accompanies it. I closed the article with this charge: ‘So, are we spending our time becoming disciples of Christ who are prepared to face the tribulations inherent in living as kings and priests for His kingdom? Or, are we overly enamored with speculations about ‘the end’?’
This leads me to an essential declaration for the Church: we are called to be disciples of Christ. The problem for many is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Gospel is and what it means to be a disciple. What do I mean?
First off, the Gospel is, among other things, the declaration that Jesus is Lord of all. We did not simply come to faith in Christ by merely asking Him into our hearts; as though that were to mean that He did not become Lord of all of our lives. The Kingdom does not work this way. We must surrender everything (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-27: ‘a man must deny himself’) or we ‘cannot be his disciples’ (Luke 14:26-33). Jesus said that we cannot love God and mammon (Matt 6:24).
Understanding the fact that we either give our allegiance to ‘Christ as Lord’ or to ‘ourselves as Lord’ is central to the Gospel. Surrendering everything to Christ is just that a total surrendering in every way of everything.
This leads to my second point. Once we have done such we have begun a journey of discipleship. I stress begun because often times after coming to faith in Christ we live as though we have arrived. All one must seemingly do now is wait to die and go to heaven. This thinking is not only mistaken, but causes one to miss all the joys of living as kingdom people!
Paul tells the Colossians that he is ‘admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ’ (Col 1:28). The word ‘that’ in the Greek indicates purpose. That is, Paul is admonishing and teaching everyone in order that all men might become complete. The word of ‘complete’ [NAS] (or ‘mature’ [ESV, NET], ‘perfect’ [NIV, NJK]) suggests a process. Paul notes in Phil 3:12-13 that he has not yet attained the status of ‘complete’.
All this indicates that the Christian life is one of a journey. We begin this journey by submission to Jesus as Lord. We are enabled to do such by means of His atoning sacrifice: i.e., His life, death, and resurrection. But that is not the end, but merely the beginning. We are now endeavoring to become His image bearers as we grow in discipleship.
But, how then does one grow in discipleship? This is indeed a large question. Space will allow me to briefly explore only one key factor in our spiritual development.
Note that Paul says in Colossians 1 that he is ‘admonishing and teaching’ them in order that they might become complete. These are indeed two important aspects of the journey of being a disciple of Christ. The verbal root for the word ‘admonish’ [NAS, NIV] (‘warning’ [ESV, NJK]; ‘instructing’ [NET] entails a putting one’s mind to a proper order (which suggests that it is not now in order). The second verbal root is ‘teaching’ (all major translations). What do these two suggest? They strongly connote that all followers of Christ are to seek to become ‘complete/perfect’ in Christ by means of sound instruction and growth in the Word of God!
How does this relate to eschatology (the end-times)? The New Testament clearly teaches that there are two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. These two kingdoms are at war. We were once slaves to the kingdom of this world and its god, the devil. Now we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and called to wage war as members of His Kingdom. We cannot sit idly by. In warfare, the enemy will continue to attack whether we are prepared to participate or not. One means of preparation for battle is to grow in discipleship.
When are all the speculations regarding ‘Eschatology’ going to ‘end’?
Sorry for the pun. But we have so much talk about the end of the world beginning to circulate again with the ‘prediction’ of 2011 by a well known radio preacher, as well as the secular interest in 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar.
My first thought is to wonder when will the church begin to learn from its lessons in the past? Don’t we as Christians realize that hardly a generation has gone by in the last 2,000 years where various individuals or groups have attempted over to determine the date and time of Jesus’ return? One only has to go to the New Testament itself to see that Paul was constantly battling false teachers in his congregations who espoused various speculations about the return of Jesus (see especially 1-2 Thessalonians).
All this despite the explicit teaching of Jesus that ‘no one knows’ (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32) the time of His return (Now some have suggested that we may know the week or month of Jesus’ return, just not the ‘day’. However, the fact that Jesus used the terms ‘day’, ‘time’, and ‘hour’ interchangeably in Matt 24:42-51 suggests that He indeed meant that no one would know the time period at all).
Why then, one might ask, do we have in the New Testament so much teaching about the return of Jesus and ‘signs of the times’? And what are the key features of the New Testament’s teaching on the ‘end-times’? Space will only allow me to make a few brief observations.
First, I think that most of the current dialogue about ‘eschatology’ (or the ‘end-times’) in our churches fails to understand the nature of eschatology in light of the New Testament. For many Christians today, eschatology is a wholly future prospect. In the New Testament, however, eschatology is present and future. It was present in that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, as well as the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, were eschatological events. I will write more in subsequent articles on this point. Let me just note for now that in the account of the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter explains to the people that the events that have transpired are the fulfillments of prophecy. Peter then quotes an eschatological passage from Joel, which notes, ‘and it will be in the last days . . . . (Joel 2:28-32; cf Acts 2:17-21). Peter exclaims that the present events that have been manifested amongst those gathered in the Name of Christ are a fulfillment of this eschatological passage!
Secondly, the present aspect of eschatology in the NT is also affirmed in that one of the key elements of the book of Revelation is the truth that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has ‘overcome’ (Rev 5:5). That is, Jesus has already won! And now we are to live in the aftermath of His victory as ‘kings and priests’ (Rev 1:6)! Now I am not denying or even addressing the issue of whether the book of Revelation addresses the future. What I am suggesting is that NT eschatology absolutely deals with the present. And as kings and priests we have a job to do! Fundamentally, this job is to proclaim that Jesus is Lord to a world that has its own kings and lords.
This brings us to our final consideration of the present aspect of NT eschatology. Namely, Jesus’ explicit warnings to His disciples that the time between the first coming of Christ and His return, in which they live as kings and priests, will be plagued by difficulty and hardship. This warning is very apparent when we read Jesus’ eschatological sermon in Mark 13 (or Matt 24, or Luke 21) and note the commands/imperatives. They include: ‘watch that no on leads you astray’ (13:5: all translations here are my own); ‘do not be afraid’ (13:7); ‘watch for yourselves’ (13:9); ‘do not be anxious’ (13:11); ‘but pray’ (13:18); ‘do not believe it’ (13:21); ‘watch’ (13:23). Mark 13 then closes with a series of commands/imperatives: ‘watch, stay awake’ (13:33); ‘therefore, be on the alert’ (13:35); and ‘be on the alert’ (13:37). This shows that Jesus understood well the adversity that His followers would face and the necessity for them to be prepared to face these challenges. Paul, in fact, affirms that ‘through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).
Now it is not wrong for us to anticipate the return of Jesus. But if we spend so much effort looking for the signs of the times and failing to live faithfully today, then our efforts are misdirected. As Christians, we are to work today for His Kingdom knowing that ‘tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (Matt 6:34: NAS).
So, are we spending our time becoming disciples of Christ who are prepared to face the tribulations inherent in living as kings and priests for His kingdom? Or, are we overly enamored with speculations about ‘the end’?