Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’
Theoretically, today is the first day of a week-long work marathon where I get absolutely everything on my “to-do” list squared away.
I won’t bore you with every single detail (plus I don’t want the accountability of people knowing too much!), but I will admit to The List including things like:
- “Clean my study,”
- “Do the taxes,”
- “Outline (and possibly write a few chapters of) my next book,”
- “Take care of a couple of major home-ownership headaches….”
GRANDCHILD TIME: The occasion for such confident planage (I know “planage” is not a real word, but I’ve decided it should be) is the fact that Rebekah is on her way to Connecticut for some serious post-Easter grandchild therapy. Theoretically this puts me in a good position to concentrate on several marathon work sessions.
The best thing about getting to the airport before 6:00 AM is the absence of traffic. Both ways. Consequently I was back home walking the dog by 6:30 and at my desk before 8:00.
GOSPEL OF LOVE: The first thing I read was my daily devotional from The Upper Room. Here’s today’s suggested reading, taken from 1 John 4:7-12
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
What a great summary of the Gospel message! If I really want people to see God and to be drawn closer to God through my work and my life – and I believe that I do – then the clarity of my witness is necessarily correlated to the quality of my love.
Here’s the thing about Jesus; he loved selflessly and he loved indiscriminately.
No approach to introducing people to the message of salvation is more effective or Christlike than living love out loud.
No approach to introducing people to the message of salvation is more effective or Christlike than living love out loud. God’s love, John says, is “perfected” in us. Another way of translating “perfected” is “made complete.” In other words, God’s plan to love the world actually counts on disciples of Jesus loving with God’s kind of love.
Otherwise, the scripture says, the conclusion is that we really don’t know God.
PRAYER: Teach me the Jesus quality of love, dear God; live in me, and love through me. Amen - DEREK
[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)
Along with all the buzz and excitement of yesterday’s Palm Sunday celebration (BTW, the choir rocked!), my “Everyday Christianity” Sunday study group enjoyed a very productive hour discussing the New Testament book of Hebrews.
To date, during 2013, my class has read the following New Testament books (We’re looking at them in the order - best scholarly guess – that they were written).
- I Thessalonians
- I Corinthians
- II Corinthians
Once again, reading an entire book in a single sitting (Hebrews took about 45 minutes to read carefully) facilitated a refreshing exposure to The Word that was (and always is) an entirely different experience than the practice of picking out a few select verses for in-depth analysis.
CENTRAL FOCUS: As a complete piece of work, Hebrews focuses on the idea that the “New Covenant” Jesus established has made the first one obsolete. In fact, to help us out, the writer essentially hangs a “This is the main point” flag on the first verse of chapter 8:
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Temple worship, Hebrews 8 continues, takes place in a setting that is ”a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” In other words, Temple Worship is at best a flawed approximation.
But Jesus is not a shadow, not an approximation, not a copy, not a hint… Jesus is the real thing. Jesus is – in the words of Hebrews Chapter One - ”The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
And so today, Monday of Holy Week, it’s easy to see how “The Jesus Way” threatened the entire raison d’être of the ruling class. In Jerusalem, the triumphant entry was yesterday’s news and “push-back” was the order of the day.
As Jesus said in Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…”
This opening picture -”Watching the sun rise from Mt. Sinai” – supports the story I’m telling in today’s “Wednesday video-blog.” I’ll cover some of the same ground in the written version; but this photograph – taken on Mount Sinai in early 2012 – ties in specifically with the short video. Click here to view.
Yesterday I launched an on-line discussion in response to a promotional post that landed on my facebook news feed. The item in question was – in my opinion – deceptive, because it used the title “The Emerging Church” to present ideas that reject foundational Christian beliefs (such as the existence of God, the deity of Jesus, and atonement via Christ’s death on the cross).
My comment/question was immediately removed and my right to comment revoked. “So much for intelligent dialogue and conversation about faith,” I posted on my own status. In consequence, and on my facebook page, an encouraging amount of intelligent conversation ensued.
CONSERVATIVE or LIBERAL? One response caught my attention, and will eventually become the tie-in with the Mount Sinai photograph above. “Sounds to me like you’re getting a little conservative in your old age, Derek.”
I’m not picking on this comment – in fact it was helpful – I’m simply using it as a departure point for discussion.
Here’s how I responded: “Not conservative so much as clear regarding the Gospel. That’s a whole other ball game than ‘conservative-liberal.’”
You see there’s this whole layer of misunderstanding circulating that confuses being clear about the Gospel with conservatism. A Jesus-loving liberal can be just as clear regarding the Good News as a Jesus-loving conservative. The Gospel is an invitation to be reconciled to God through Jesus, and that new relationship can be expressed in a variety of ways. But the bottom line is always Jesus.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE MOUNTAIN: The whole point of faith is our relationship with God. And I believe it’s critically important that we take the opportunity seriously enough to actually do something about it. Listen to this story from Exodus 34.
The Lord said to Moses: “Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain… So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him.
The important lesson I have learned from this is the intentionality, the value of being deliberate. God told Moses to get up early and to climb a mountain in order for them to have their conversation.
The amazing, transformational, spiritual experience I had on top of Mt. Sinai last year had a lot to do with getting up at 1:00, hooking up with the Bedouin guide, riding a camel along precipitous paths in the dark and the freezing cold, climbing at least another hour after the camel stopped, and waiting for the dawn.
Jesus is neither conservative nor liberal… and he’s certainly not moderate! Jesus is the answer to our most essential questions; Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:66-69)
riday evening I enjoyed the privilege of spending a few hours with around 40 men from Holy Innocents Episcopal Church here in Valrico. We enjoyed some great conversation, some really good barbecue, gathered for “the program,” and then hung around talking for another half hour at the end.
The program was me. The rector, Father Doug, asked me to talk for an hour about what it takes for men to shift their focus from being church members to owning their identity as disciples of Jesus.
MEMBERSHIP Vs DISCIPLESHIP: I’m always a little bit surprised at how this kind of event animates me. But I guess that’s what happens when you actually implement a personal mission statement. It’s one thing to come up with a few guiding principles, but it’s something else entirely to follow through and actually live a mission statement out loud.
- Membership is all about numbers, I told them, it’s about counting. Whereas discipleship is about being, about being transformed, and about living as Followers of The Way of Jesus.
FUNDAMENTALISM? After my presentation was over I sat behind the book table and talked with a number of the men. One expressed concern about how we communicate (or not) the Good News beyond our doors. He said he wasn’t a fan of “witnessing,” and doing things like handing out tracts at airports, but that churches that do those things seem to have no trouble filling their parking lots on a Sunday.
I reminded him that fundamentalism in all religions tends to attract numbers. But it’s not the hard-line doctrine that draws people in, it’s the passion, the commitment, the enthusiasm, the unwavering conviction, and the personal invitations.
“Compromising God’s message via fundamentalism won’t keep our churches alive,” I said. “But, what will make us thrive is to embrace every day in such a way that our very lives tell the truth about the Gospel of Love.
“The most compelling witness any one of us has is authenticity,” I continued. “However, simply being on the church roles doesn’t mean that my life is defined by authentic faith; I must become a sold out disciple, I must be a passionate follower of The Way of Jesus.”
LIVE FAITH OUT LOUD: In other words, it’s not about what we say we believe; it’s about how we live what we believe. My “personal mission statement” will do nothing to advance the Kingdom of God until I begin to live it out loud.
This is the “so-what,” both of my mission statement and the end of my talk yesterday evening. If you are not “Exhibit A” when it comes to a Gospel message that’s literally transformational, then why would anyone want to come to your church? What are you inviting them to church for, small-talk and free coffee?
If you are not “Exhibit A” when it comes to a Gospel message that’s literally transformational, then why would anyone want to come to your church? What are you inviting them to church for, small-talk and free coffee?
Come on, we can do better than that!
LIVING TESTIMONY: Fact is, each one of us is a living testimony to something. We’re either a testimony to the transformational love and mercy of God through the saving grace of Jesus… or we’re a living testimony to the fact that the Gospel really doesn’t offer anything that might disturb our status quo.
So which answer is the truth for you?
One of the (many) super-cool things we’re involved with at our church at the moment is reading huge chunks of scripture.
Rebekah has been promoting, leading, and encouraging a highly focused regimen of Bible-study for several years. And now, for 2013, we’re following a guided “Read through the Bible in one year” routine.
In a corollary initiative, my Everyday Christianity Sunday-morning study group is tackling the entire New Testament, looking at the books in the order in which they were written. Consequently we read First Thessalonians last week, and then the whole letter to the Galatians for today’s study.
EMOTIONAL IMPACT! Most of us more typically read the Bible in short sections. A verse here; a story there; a passage with the Sunday sermon; a quote or two to accompany a devotion or meditation.
But when you read a complete book at one sitting – as I just did with Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – then the experience is completely different. The emotional impact of Paul’s exasperated combination of scolding, theology, and encouragement is really quite riveting..
So it’s with some hesitation that I’m quoting just one or two passages in this post. But I’m doing it anyway, because I want to encourage each one of you to sit down for 20-30 minutes sometime later today, and read the entirety of Galatians in one sitting.
ONE IN CHRIST: The passage I have in mind comes from the end of chapter 3. Paul is bolstering his argument that the Gospel is about following Jesus, not about how well people follow any given set of rules. There are no gradations, no hierarchies, no “holier-than-thous” any more. Doing a (supposedly) better job of following the law doesn’t make a hill of beans worth of difference, Paul insists. Christ is the answer, period. Christ is sufficient. All who follow Jesus are “heirs according to the promise.”
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
MY COMPLICITY: And I can’t help but think, with shame, about the exceptions, modifications, and caveats I have worked into that list during my lifetime, about my complicity when it came to perpetuating the lie that people who fail to fit into certain narrow definitions of acceptability are somehow on the outside, while those of us who “get it right” (according to us) are closer to God.
“Are you so foolish?” Paul asks rhetorically – and cuttingly – at the beginning of the chapter. “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”
- The only standard is to trust Jesus.
- The only requirement is faith in Christ.
FREEDOM! Now listen to what Paul writes in chapter five! Read this short excerpt, but then take the time to read the entire book!
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Gospel is about following Jesus, and about serving one another, humbly and in love.
As Paul said back in Galatians Chapter One, “Any other Gospel is really no gospel at all!” - DEREK
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things (Galatians 5:22-23).
My main goal for 2013 (note that I didn’t say, “resolution”) is to always improve the quality of whatever situation I find myself in. In other words, it’s my intention that my presence in any given discussion, event, outing, class, game, group, seminar, conference, booklist, on-line posting, etc… will always be associated with the following:
- Self Control
EASY? My goal sounds good, right? Clear, simply, easy to do, and just the ticket for what ails this world? However, in actuality, following through is a constant challenge. Consider the following scenarios:
- Someone on facebook posts a link or an opinion that is harsh, derisive, inflammatory or otherwise insulting to intelligent, civilized dialogue. How do you respond, given the above list?
- Your spouse has a hard day at work followed by a bad commute home. He/she walks into the house smothered in angst and fishing for a fight.
- Your group, team, or class at church is boring and lacks inspiration. You feel frustrated and unfulfilled. You find yourself tempted to simply walk away.
But the words from scripture are so clear, so healing, so unequivocal… so difficult.
JESUS: Our faith as Followers of the Way of Jesus calls for responses that move our interactions into the realm of healing. Christ doesn’t ask for compromise; instead, his way requires love, peace, and gentleness – responses that are winsome and compelling.
This is especially true when our spouse is involved. We’re talking “Fruit of the Spirit” here, and we can always preface our interactions with prayer. How might kindness look as a bedrock value in your marriage? How about gentleness? What about self-control?
And what does following the way of Jesus call for when we feel that other people are dragging us down? The Way of Jesus calls for faithfulness, patience, and generosity.
2013: So my goal is simple; to be the presence of Jesus in any given situation. I want to tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being. I want my life to be the compelling evidence of God’s love that someone was waiting for. I want to actually be a Christian.
Today’s story is a simple, whimsical tale. It goes with this “lovely” photograph (right) of an even lovelier Christmas Tree ornament (a more complete version of this story is featured in my book of Advent stories, In My Heart I Carry A Star).
Kelly and Tim were looking forward to decorating their first home for Christmas, and filling their yule-tide tree with love, lights and ornaments that told the timeless tale of The Greatest Story Ever Told.
One day, Tim bought home a unique creation that reinterpreted traditional Christmas themes, making a strong statement in terms of alternative style (I believe it was a lipstick-clad reindeer wearing some kind of Christmas underwear and draped with a fur boa).
The young couple’s friends, Derek and Rebekah – evidently cultural Philistines with no appreciation for avant-garde costuming – declared the ornament “deliciously hideous” and determined to gift the unfortunate newly-weds with a similarly themed tree-adornment every year thereafter.
The ornament featured above is – I believe – the seventh in a series that may well force our long-suffering friends to – eventually – get the collection its own tree.
(NOTE: When the first ornament “happened,” I unwittingly offended the person who originally purchased the “stripper reindeer.” Later, after I explained how the humor of it had evolved, she forgave me and said she appreciated the spirit of the ongoing joke.)
Rebekah and I now scour the country in our quest to find the “perfect” addition to the alternative decorations. The quest is a lot of fun, it’s fueled by a lot of love, and it even serves to communicate some truth – albeit quirky – about our celebration of the season.
CHALLENGE: These ornaments remind me of how easy it is to build walls around narrowly defined points of view regarding what is “appropriate,” or “beautiful,” or “Christmassy” when it comes to celebrating the coming of the Christ-child into our world. And it’s not limited to this time of the year; we tend to hem God in behind our own preferences and prejudices as a matter of course.
We too readily categorize “different” as unacceptable, forgetting that the invitation to come to Bethlehem and “see this wonder that has come to pass” was first issued without regard to dress-code, political persuasion, or behavioral profile…
- We talk as if what Jesus came to save was our particular interpretation of the North American life, when what Jesus really came to save was/is every single person on the face of this planet…
- We try to make Jesus more like us rather than striving for us to be more like him…
- We have “stylized” Christmas according to the precepts of nostalgia rather than changing our life-style in response to Christ’s invitation to “Follow me….”
I pray that we see enough Christmases to witness Tim and Kelly’s tree overrun with “deliciously hideous” Christmas ornaments…
…and also to see every possible variety of the human experience represented in the Body of Christ, irrespective of how comfortable they make us feel, sharing the same branch of the holiday tree, gaudy and outrageous… and beautiful.
are we leaders – or followers? We should be both: followers of Jesus, and leaders in Grace and Mercy…
NOTE: Please don’t construe the following story as partisan. All of us – Democrat, Republican and Independent – have much to learn about civility and following The Way of Jesus.
What I’m writing about this morning happens every Sunday, and in thousands of “Christian” churches. And I am, I have to say, dumbfounded as to how far from the Gospel of Love and Light so many of us have strayed…
“LAST DAYS” Here’s the scenario: My parents’ Sunday-school class were studying the New Testament book of Second Timothy. The leader asked everyone to turn to chapter three.
The text talks about how “terrible” things will be in “the last days,” and goes on to describe the characteristics of the times. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Tim 3:1-5)
AN ANGEL? Several members of the class were asked to read the verses out loud. When it came to my mum, there was some issue with her glasses – so she passed the Bible over to my dad. But, as she passed it, the page must have flipped, so when he read from chapter three he was actually in the Book of Titus. This is what he read:
- “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone….”
Then (and as if the scripture my dad read had never been spoken) the class began to sound off about the 2 Timothy passage. It was a tidal-wave of terrible, with voice after voice decrying “how bad things are in America,” all supporting the idea that we really and truly are in “the last days.”
DISRESPECT OBAMA: People piled on, my mum said. It was all “unholy” this, “ungrateful” that, “treacherous,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” Plus, every one of these extreme negatives were directed exclusively toward President Obama and the Democrat government. The conversation sounded like one of those hate-spewing emails that tend to get passed around.
This went on for a long time, and with no attempt at moderation from the class leader.
GRACE: Eventually, my mum told me, she raised her hand. “I’ve been listening to all this judgment and harshness and condemnation,” she said. “But what about the scripture that my husband David read by mistake? We can disagree with someone’s politics, but can’t we be respectful?”
And she re-read the passage from Titus:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone….
The response to her statement, essentially, was dismissive. The leader said something like, “Hmmm…” and then the class picked right back up again with trashing Democrats and spewing disrespect about President Obama.
QUESTION? So here’s my question. As Christians, as Followers of the Way of Jesus, how do we represent the Gospel of Love and Light? Is there anything about the way in which we present ourselves that speaks of the Grace, Mercy and Peace that characterize the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit?
Listen to how the passage from Titus continues (and, is there any doubt that it was an angel from God who caused the breeze that turned the page?), right after the admonition to “do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone….”
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared….” DEREK
There is something deeply peaceful and affirmingly right about Saturday evenings at our home. I think maybe it’s the mixture of hard work and good faith, and how everything seems to come together in a special kind of beauty.
It’s simple, really. I’m at my desk, working on some writing assignment and preparing to teach my Sunday morning class. Then it’s time for a fresh cup of coffee, so I get up and walk through the house, just taking it all in.
Everything is clean. We’re seldom messy, but Saturdays tend to see a little more attention to detail and the house is looking extra nice. So I pour the coffee, looking out at the garden in the fading light, noting how good it all appears from the hours of mowing and digging and weeding.
Over by the piano, Scout lies curled up in a ball, completely still but tracking my every movement with her eyes. Beyond her, in the front room, Rebekah sits at the dining table with her laptop, surrounded by her Bible, a couple of books, several pages of notes and a mug of coffee.
Rebekah is finishing off her sermon for Sunday morning. The process is a week-long journey of study, conversation, notes, listening, research, prayer, more Bible-reading, reflection, more conversations, and – finally – the hammering out of details.
SO RIGHT: It all feels so right. This life. This living out our faith through the words that we share and the way we live in community. This home we love so much. This grappling with scripture, and prayer, and hard questions, and a gracious God. This good, mutually respectful, encouraging relationship we enjoy with one another and with Jesus. This sense of spiritual community that pervades the very fabric of our home.
And I return to my desk, conscious of God’s good peace and the grace of a love-charged home.
A SHADOW and a PRAYER: But at the same time, there’s a shadow. I’m worried, not about this weekend’s approaching hurricane but about another kind of disturbance, a hard cynicism and simmering anger that seems to be gripping this world that we love; and I have to pause and pray:
Loving God, generous Spirit, great friend and motivator Jesus… I am so genuinely thankful for this life I enjoy here with Rebekah. I feel so richly blessed and so completely happy. But – at the same time – I am worried for our world. I am troubled by the hostility and the bitterness that have become so pervasive and so far-reaching. I’m not sure that the message of your redemptive and invitational love is reaching people in the way you intend; in fact I’m convinced of it. How can I share the truth about the Good News in a way that won’t fall on so many deaf ears? How can I tell this story in a way that will open closed hearts to your kind of peace? How can we be encouragers, who bring the message of hope and promise? Your friend and servant - DEREK