Redefined and Rediscovered: The Gospel

Hello again brothers and sisters!

It has been sometime. I have been busy and it has been productive. I pray that you have done well as well.

When we last talked about the Gosple I left y’all with a quote from a friend of mine,”The Gospel is a righteous God declaring sinners righteous in a righteous way.”

Really what the Gospel is about is God, not man. Its about God being God. Period.

Making the mistake of putting man before God in the Gospel creates problems in how you live life and share the Gospel.

As I said, it is all about God being God.

Many times we put God in our terms. For instance, we think of God as the all-powerful  super-mighty ultimate strong-man. This is true. He is all of that. Thankfully however He is SO much more than that. Being God means ultimate perfection. Not just perfect and almighty strength. His perfection is so utter that in many instances theologians instead of calling aspects of God attributes rather denote their excellence in degree by referring to them as perfections.

At any rate, some grab cling of certain verses, such as 1 John 4:8

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

And define God as love. This is a grave mistake. God is love. Love is not God. Nor is God only love. God is also justice. God is also righteous anger. Indeed love is excellent, but God is PERFECT. Instead of simply being love, God is in His very nature the perfection and manifestation of all positive attributes. Not only does He manifest them, all of them are not seperate perfections(attributes) within Him warring for control or decision making, but rather are completely in harmony.

This might seem like a bit of a diatribe, but it will make sense in a moment. Not only is God love, but He is also perfect justice. Not love fighting justice for control of God’s decisions…but rather a perfect harmony of perfect justice and perfect love.

So often the Gospel is the good news of God forgetting our sins. While He does forget our sins, the epic amazingly awesome rock your socks off-ness of the Gospel is so much greater than God forgetting our sins. God forgave our sins.

See…it is not just, and thusly not righteous, to forget sin without it being forgiven. Justice demands payment for sin. Love demands forgiveness. And God is so perfect that He doesn’t even have to perceive it that way. We have to talk about attributes and perfections in contrast to each other because our members war within us. God is so excellently perfect that what we have to weigh out as being acceptable to multiple perfections of God is not simply second nature…but first nature to Him…indeed it is His indelible nature.

The beauty of God’s nature is that the separation between attributes that is a part of our nature since the fall in Eden is not a part of His nature. Whereas to our perspective righteousness is made up by multiple different attributes all put together, instead in God’s nature righteousness just is.

And the beauty of the Gospel is that it embodies this righteousness. Instead of God simply forgetting our sin…He forgave it. Instead of denying justice for love’s sake, or denying love for justice’s sake, He in perfect righteousness forgave our sins by taking upon Himself the iniquity for which we were condemned.

And in this embodiment of His righteousness, we are declared as righteous as God by God Himself. By His imputation of our iniquity to Him, He imputes His righteousness to us.

He does this because of His righteousness…but to put it more in our terms…it is because of His grace, love, and righteousness. He covered over our sins through payment rather than forgetfulness. He was the perfect sacrifice who in His righteousness declared us righteous righteously.

And God chooses us as the ambassador’s of His message. He also chose faith/belief as the vehicle by which His salvation comes to us.

As such we implore you…be reconciled to God! Furthermore, go forth and engage and implore others so that they will be reconciled to God!

As is evident from the Gospel, God’s salvation for us, self-sufficiency is a joke. We cannot be self-sufficient. Rather in the salvation that God has offered as well as everything else, we depend upon God for obedience.

We are, regardless of how we delude ourselves and regardless of whether we wish to admit it, utterly dependent on God.

The question is whether we embrace that dependence or run from it. Indeed that is the question for all.

Stay dependent brothers and sisters.

karch

There’s a new kind of Pharisee in town.

There are a lot of words and phrases that get tossed around blindly in Christian culture. We use them so often that we believe we understand the words content as best we can. We use some of these terms to layout accusations. There is one word in particular that I see crop up more and more these days. It seems every day I see more and more people hurl the accusation of Pharisee on others. We use this accusation with often a very limited understanding on who the Pharisees were.

Just what is a Pharisee? In Jesus time the Pharisees were the top dog religious men in Judaism. They study the law, followed the law, interpreted the law, and added to the law. They told others how best to live their life. Jesus often had run-ins with the Pharisees. He often had some harsh words to share with them. Sadly we often misunderstand why some of Jesus harshest words were reserved for these men, and in so doing, we hurl horrendous, slanderous, and inaccurate accusations on others. It ironically also gives off the horrible misconception that Jesus was “against religion”.

The misconception starts with assuming that the main mistake of the Pharisees was that they added to the law. We then take this a step further in saying a Pharisee is someone who is judgmental towards someone’s sin. In truth this is actually a symptom of the Pharisees main blunder. The true issue is found in a parable.

“9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

There are some really crucial things to point out in this parable. The first is the context of this story. Notice that Jesus is not specifically talking to Pharisees. He is talking to a large crowd, and this parable is directed towards a certain type of personality. Verse nine does not say that Jesus said this parable for the Pharisees to hear. He spoke this parable to those who were confident in their righteousness and looked down on others.

The next thing to notice is the comparison between the Pharisee and the tax collector. There is a huge element in this comparison that we miss completely. We focus on the arrogance of the Pharisee, and his focus on all of the things he does right by the law, but we miss the main heart issue. All of those other things are simply symptoms of the heart issue. The real issue is that this Pharisee has been consumed by pride. Pride that he is doing things better than others. Pride in that he has become more spiritual. The focus is not on the thing he believes make him more spiritual. The focus is purely on the fact that he believes he is more spiritual. There is a difference which we will see momentarily.

Now look at the tax collector. More specifically look at what he does not do. He does not acknowledge the Pharisee. He does not thank God for making him so much more humble unlike the Pharisee. He does what you are supposed to do in prayer; focus completely on God. Here is the real shocker. If the tax collector had gone on to say how much more spiritual he was because he was so humble, and did not rely on his obedience to the law for salvation, he would have been just as guilty of self-righteousness as the Pharisee!

We are seeing this happening so often now, and it is getting worse. We look at those who speak out against sin and proclaim them as a Pharisee because in our mind we believe they are saying they are better than those in sin. People proclaim sin as sin because sin needs to be brought to light. The problem with the Pharisee was not telling people to get right with God. The problem with the Pharisee was that they thought they were more righteous than anyone else around.

The roles have changed, but the sin has remained the same. Too often we look at the “conservatives” and think about how much more spiritual we are compared to them. We do not need to focus on so many rules because we have a “real” relationship with Jesus. We believe we are more spiritual than those we accuse of as Pharisees (And often wrongly accuse), and in the process we become the Pharisee.

The Pharisees root sin was not found in their obsession towards the law, their telling others of the need to follow the law, or even in their attempts to add to the law. Their flaw was found in their pride. This root sin escalated all of their other qualities from some being very beneficial, into sins themselves. The “humble” are at the same risk. There is a new Pharisee in town, and it may just be us.

Musings from childhood: The sky is always falling.

Please note that this post was written before today. Circumstances just happen to be a very neat God coincidence.

There are plenty of things my dad would say to me growing up that I still remember. Phrases like, “Fortunes can change” or “A real man plays the cards he is already dealt.” There was one statement though that I have always found extra pertinent to my life. I no longer remember the topic of the discussion. The truth is that the remembrance of the topic was not important. The statement my father made was, “Ever since I can remember, the sky has been falling.”

We like to overreact at things, and in the process lose the big picture. I think of when Obama got elected to president, and all of the wild things that went through peoples heads over that. At the time I was a RA in college, and had to do a fair amount of “counseling” to help the students through this very traumatic time of life. I dealt with some who believed the end of the world was near since Obama was clearly the antichrist. I had a couple of people tell me they now planned to move to Japan since Obama was president. Everyone know Japan is the Christian hub of the world. I had one individual come into my room to announce that Obama was going to be sworn into office on the Koran rather than the Bible. When asked where he heard this he said it was just a fact he had already realized in his head since Obama was a Muslim and not a Christian. I proceeded to throw my shoe at him and tell him to come back when he was ready to stop making up facts.

The funny thing? I do not even like Obama, but in each of these situations I found myself shaking my head at the sheer lunacy of people’s reactions. In each of these situations I strived to point them all back to the one they should have been looking at all along. To those who desired to move I asked why it would do any good to leave what you believe to be darkness when you have a light that could pierce through it in Christ. To the antichrist nuts I asked of them to give any biblical reasoning at all for their claim. For the Koran enthusiast I had to bluntly explain how gossip isn’t fact, and thus unbiblical.

Ironically I was already writing this post the other day before the Supreme Court’s decision for healthcare. I’m not going to talk about that issue because that is not what this post is about. This post is about any issue that receives a reaction that entails “the sky is falling”. So often we look up, and can’t look past this perceived falling sky to see a God that is still in control. I’m jumping in now and calling foul. This simply is not healthy.

When people look at difficult times and ask me if this means we are getting closer to the rapture my response is usually the same; we are closer to it today than we were yesterday. That fact would have been true whether or not there was an election, a natural disaster, or some other calamity that the world faces. We see signs of the end times and put our focus on this falling sky. We’ve missed the point.

There is an episode of Charlie Brown where he loses a spelling B, and is mortified. He proceeds to stay home the next day. He makes the decision to never get out of his bed until Linus comes by to check in on him. Linus explains that Charlie Brown has reason to be bumbed out about how yesterday went, but that there was something that he seems to have failed to notice. The world did not end. Might as well keep living life to the fullest until it does.

Do I think we should ignore bad things that happen? No. Do I think we should ignore signs of the end times? Certainly not. They were mentioned in Scripture for a reason. My desire is simply that we remember what that reason was. The reason was not so that we could throw our hands up in the air and cry out about how the sky is falling. I believe the real reason was twofold. One was so that we may be reminded to turn towards God in the midst of strife and hardships. Sometimes we must be reminded that we are weak, and that only God has the strength to protect us. The other is to remind us that we only have so much time to make a difference on this earth. Why then would we waist our time doing worthless tasks?

I think this is why I like working with younger generations. I find that they have a significant difference in their reaction to various events that go on in our world. Rather than sit around and talk about how bad things are they want to answer a much more important question. What can we do to change things? Then, once they have the answer, they set out to do it. They do not bother to look up at the sky to discuss whether or not it is falling.

When we become focused on a falling sky we lose focus on God, and we lose focus on people. Christ was a beautiful example of this. When He was preparing to be crucified He saw the disaster that was coming before him. He knew the pain He was about to experience. He was aware that His sky was falling, but He did not lose focus of everything else. He prayed to God for another way, but was willing to move forward when there was no other way. He was willing to move forward because He did not lose focus of two crucial things.

He did not lose focus of people. We see this when He was hanging on the cross and prayed to God to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing. He hung on that cross because his focus on people was sharper than his focus of a falling sky that would mean a painful death.

He did not lose focus of what laid beyond that falling sky. He remembered the main focus. It was the focus that in the end God wins. What did this knowledge allow Christ do? It allowed him to take action in face of a falling sky. When everyone else ran and hid because the sky was falling, Christ moved forward because He knew what lay beyond it.

What is beyond any falling skies we face? A God who is still in control. What exactly did that phrase from my dad teach me? It taught me that the sky is always going to be falling. It should never change the way we live. If something happens tomorrow that changes the way you live, you were already living today wrong.

The cost of assumptions

A few days ago I heard an interesting statement. It was from a man who was explaining his story on how he came to believe what he believes. He was not a Christian. He now considers himself to be an atheist. There was one very telling statement when he explained his history though. He said, “I grew up in an area where everyone just assumed you were a Christian.” And that ladies and gentleman is where our post for the day begins.

Imagine a man who is going to build a house. He draws up the blueprints and calculates all of the measurements before cutting anything. He then goes to the material he is going to cut and measures it a couple of times before he cuts. The final result is a house that looks great, and is exactly what it was set out to be. Now imagine if the man had made assumptions. “If I cut here it is probably the right length that I need.” The result will likely become a mess and only a shadow of what it was set out to be.

Assumptions make things fall through the cracks. Making assumptions about building a house makes details about the house fall through the cracks. Making assumptions about people makes people fall through the cracks. Sadly, there are people all around us that fall through the cracks every day.

I hear it all the time, “Why should I be so concerned about sharing the gospel? Everyone around here already knows it.” Do they though? Do they really know the gospel that you and I know? Do they understand the gospel that truly exists, or do they understand an incorrect gospel that was either presented to them years ago, or that they misunderstood?

Sometimes we assume people are Christians because we grew up around Christianity. It is almost hard to believe that people around us are not Christian. That is something that you find in other countries or in really corrupt places of America. We assume that people are saved when they attend a church, and yet I have known plenty of people in a church that will voluntarily give out the information that they are not Christians.

The confusion comes in when we have allowed superficial actions to dictate our opinion on whether or not someone is saved. For instance, I went to a Christian college. People always assumed that everyone who went there was a Christian, but every year I knew others on my dorm that were not only not Christians, but actively lived a life opposite of a Christian. Going to a Christian college did not mean they were a Christian. Growing up in a heavily Christian town does not automatically mean you are a Christian. Circumstances in environment do not dictate whether or not someone is saved.

Assumptions can be costly. Assumptions let people fall through the cracks. I was grateful that everyone I knew growing up did not merely make an assumption about me. People try and figure out why so many young people leave church and the faith itself following graduation and never return. I think there are actually multiple factors for this because people are individuals, and individuals are simply different.

However, I do believe there is one underlying connection with all of them. They had all been victims of assumptions. It was the assumption that they are just going through a phase and will work it out. It was the assumption that they must surely be Christians since they grew up in the church. It was the assumption that they had heard the gospel often enough that they must understand it by now. No matter what reason the youth leave the church in droves you can almost always lay the underlying issue for that reason on assumptions being placed on them.

What if we stopped assuming? What if we stopped assuming that people in the church understand how to deal with issues of creation and evolution, and instead we started confronting those issues? What if we stopped assuming that people in our community and school understand the gospel and started explaining the gospel? What if we stopped assuming people understood Christians and started interacting with them as though this was the first time they would ever experience love and compassion from someone. What if we stopped assuming that people lived in a fairly healthy family environment and started trying to understand the individual’s background?

What if we stopped assuming people were a statistic and all the same, and started treating and interacting with them as an individual instead? If we started carrying this kind of life out then we would not have to assume lives would change; we would know they would.

Christian community: Finding the secret in humility.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Rom. 12: 9-13)

Selfishness and pride on the enemies of healthy community. If one is to develop proper community in church then you need to understand how best to combat pride. The key is found in humility. The above passage in Romans is a personal favorite in mine. If you were to sum up that passage in one thought it would be to consider others more important that yourself.

That in essence is the definition of true humility. Some try and define humility as lowering yourself in comparison to others. This is a bit of a flawed definition though because in the end the focus is still being placed on you. True humility is focused on others rather than focused on you. True humility raises others up. Humility brings about harmony and healing.

As a church we are meant to care for each other’s needs over our own. We should strive to help one another with a joyful spirit. Paul says in this passage that there should be a passion in us to serve God by serving one another. It is not something meant to be done out of simple duty, but out of a heart that has been radically changed because of God.

Think about what would happen if everyone in the church took this Scripture to heart? Gossip would cease to exist, and would be replaced with a genuine love. Paul tells us that our love must be genuine. This means we cannot simply act as thought we love someone, and then speak ill of them when they are not around. It must be a love rooted in our heart that then flows out in our actions rather than a love whose roots start in the action themselves. There is a huge difference between the two.

A love rooted in the heart is one that is pure, and will withstand even the harshest of temptations. A love rooted out of our actions is something that is forced. We act out love towards someone because of duty rather than genuine care for that person. Perhaps we love others based off of what we feel we can receive from them in return. This is a love based off of personal gain rather than a selfless act. A love rooted in the heart springs forth loving acts. A love rooted in acts can never spring forth to the heart. True community has genuine love.

True community understands who they really serve. As a church we must always remember that we answer first and foremost to God. Even when we serve others it is being done with the understanding that we are also being a servant to God. This attitude negates the danger of picking sides within the church. Our duty is first to God.

Our true community turns to God under any circumstances whether it be a time of joy and happiness, or a time of despair. God remains our center. A community with God as the center is one that withstands any hardship. God is our nucleus and is what holds us together. This is crucial since we are all sinful people. We will mess things up sooner or later. Only God can mend our mistakes.

A true community cares for one another. When there are needs of someone in the church then we need to step up and help meet those needs. However, there are a couple of things that need to be understood here. We need to know the people in the community in order to know who has needs. We cannot simply show up to church and sit in the back for a sermon, and run off. We need to actively be engaging in relationships with people. Community is about fellowship. I cannot have fellowship with someone if I never speak with them. I cannot help someone in need if I never invest in their life.

If you have a need then you need to be willing to share that need. It baffles me sometimes when a family gets furious at their church when no one helps them or comforts them over a difficult time in their lives, but when you ask if they told anyone about the issue they reply with a no. How can you expect your church family to help you if you never ask for help? A church family is not the type to be embarrassed about going to when you face hardships. We are here to help one another.

What makes a true Christian community? A humble heart tied to a servant for God with a love that is rooted in the heart. Turn away from pride, and seek wisdom from God. Humble yourself before God, and you can humble yourself before men.

Christian Community: The dangers.

If community is so important then why does it seem to crumble so easily? Satan likes to target things that can have a lasting impact on the believer. If you can cut off the supplies and reinforcements in a war then you could damage the morale of your enemy, and eventually starve them out. Unfortunately, the best way Satan damages community is by using the people in it. He appeals to the desires of our flesh in order to harm others. I believe there are some very key dangers towards the church community.

1. Pointless debating.

I talked about this one a little bit yesterday. Christians know how to argue, and often they know how to argue childishly. We don’t like hearing that, but we need to face the truth. It is so easy for as to be manipulative. We have no problem giving off a bluff in order to get things our way. Maybe you saw it from the wealthy people in your church. When something would happen they didn’t like they would withhold their tithe.

We debate over the pointless things. Maybe it is something about the building, a course of action, a minor theological issue, or just a simple misunderstanding. I always strive to major in the majors and minor in the minors. I’m not saying the small things should be ignored, but they should have the value placed on them that they deserve.

2. False teaching.

This can really throw things off. I‘m not one to run around with a torch and pitchfork proclaiming people to be heretics, but I see the need for keeping a watchful eye on teaching taking place. When lies begin to be believed in the church decay begins to do its work. Just look at the Corinthian church. In Paul’s first letter he is pointing out multiple false teachings they bought into, and the damage it caused. If it is so dangerous than why do people allow it? Because it appeals to them. They like what they hear. False teaching normally tries to make the hearer feel better.

3. Loyalty to men.

This is what leads to painful and destructive church splits. We put our faith and confidence in a pastor or elder rather than in God. Whenever dissension breaks out between two leaders in the church people dig deep into their opposing sides. They seek their flawed leader for guidance, and follow his lead. We turn to the men in our church rather than to God for wisdom in assessing the situation. If we did this more what we would likely find that both sides have wronged each other. Perhaps if we spent more time praying to God, and less time picking sides we would see more restoration between people in the church.

4. Gossip.

This one hurts. The biggest reasons why I hear people do not want to go to church is because they feel it is judging, and full of gossip. Now I have talked a fair amount about judging, and the fine line there, but there is only one stance on gossip that you should take. Gossip is the well-known, but rarely treated, cancer in the church. We know it exists, we hear it and even indulge in it, but we never seem to confront it.

5. Ignoring sin.

This is sort of the opposite end to number four. When we ignore sin we are damaging the community. When there is active sin taking place in the body of believers then it must be confronted. If not it begins to spread. People see this lack of accountability and begin to follow along with the person who sinned. A congregation who never sees the consequences of sin is a congregation that bas blended in with the world to the point where you can tell no difference. We would rather be silent in fear of being judged by the outside world ourselves rather than confront a brother/sister in their sin I hopes they will be restored.

What’s really the biggest danger to the church community? It is you. This is why we must strive to have pure hearts and live a life that is honoring to God. We need to stop being us focused, and become others focused. The church community for the individual is not about taking, but rather it is about giving. What are you going to do to make the church community a place worth being?

-Fletcher

Community: The basics and the need.

I am a pretty introverted guy. I do not like spending long periods of time with a large group of people. I find it to be draining and exhausting. Being with people is not a way that I constantly rejuvenate myself. I often need to just get away for a little bit to recharge. However, I understand the need for Christian fellowship and community. I understand enough to know that I am a fool when I do not make this a priority.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Paul is always pretty big on fleeing temptations. He always seems to be saying about the need to run from lustful temptations, and to pursue righteousness and holiness. The truth is that we often realize the necessity of what Paul says, but only in the aspect of the theoretical. The practical element is where things begin to get difficult.

A man may know that he should not view pornography, but trying to flee form that temptation is another thing entirely. That young couple may know that sleeping together is wrong, but trying to keep their hands off each other proves to still be difficult. How can we keep ourselves from these sins, and instead pursue these qualities that God calls us to?

One way is found in what Paul says at the end of this verse. “Along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Paul is saying a few things in this statement. One is that we need to pick the right kind of company. We need to be in a community where we are encouraged to flee these temptations. Often we strive so hard to live this holy life that we are called to, but keep saying it is impossible to do this on our own. Paul is saying you were never supposed to do it on your own. One of the ways God helps us is by providing us an opportunity to be in community with one another. That is why we are encouraged to gather together. This is why I always tell people there is real value in going to church, and it is not just to listen to a pastor preach.

The other thing Paul is saying here is we need to be a help in this community as well. Look at the structure of this sentence. When Paul is speaking about those of a pure heart who call upon the Lord, he is saying that the reader is meant to be in that group as well. Just as we must be in the company of those with a pure heart who call upon the lord, we too must be in that category.

There is a problem. Sometimes this community does not act out of a pure heart. The very next verse says, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” There are some things that can put this community at risk. There is a reason why people stop going to church because they feel they are always being judged, ridiculed, or dragged into a pointless debate they never wanted to be a part of in the first place.

The church is controversial, but not always for the reasons it should be. Sometimes we argue for very stupid reasons. It may not always be about the color of the carpet. Sometimes Satan may disguise it as something that we believe really is a crucial issue that is foundational to our faith. Each side ends up hurling their accusations. They demand that everyone in the community pick a side. Ignorant quarreling is something that destroys a community.

Over the next couple of days I will be dealing with that issue, but I want to tackle one thing here and now. There are some who have no real reason for failing to remain in community. We explain it away by saying that we have a few good Christian friends we talk to on a regular basis. We convince ourselves that we are just loners at heart, and do not need much help from others. I think this is a lie. We have a desperate need for healthy community. When someone is struggling hard with a sin I try and ask them about their church life. Do they go to a church? How involved are they in that church? Do they get involved in ministries there?

We may try and excuse it away, but there is a real need for community which is why I want to discuss what can make a community work, and what can destroy a community. Today I simply set up for the basics, but I also needed to make the importance of community abundantly clear. We need to surround ourselves with those who cry out to God with a pure heart. We need to be encouraged and strengthened by fellow believers. We need to start waking up to the alarm clock, and get involved in a church.

The lion picks off the animal that is weak and separated from the group. It goes for the one that does not appear to have a strong support system. How do you think you look to Satan right now who is said to be a prowling lion?